It’s no secret that I’m no cook. If I put my mind to it I can rustle up a decent enough dinner party dish but my repertoire is somewhat limited. So, when offered the chance to spend a day on A Dinner Party Cooking Course at The Abinger Cookery School in Surrey, I jumped at it.
The Abinger is a modern, stylish, practical but relaxed cooking school that reflects modern food habits. Run by Lewis Davies, the school is closely affiliated with the popular Meribel based chalet company Fish & Pips that is renowned for its high food standards. So much so they won The Times Chalet Chef of the year. Seasonnaire Vinnie – who trained under Jamie Oliver – has hung up his skis to lead the courses.
And with Vinnie showing you the ropes, you really are in the best of hands. He is fun, friendly, talented and just the right side of professional.
Arriving on a sunny Saturday and walking into a group of strangers felt a bit forced at first, but there was a common interest and despite a quiet start by the time we finished lunch (plus a welcomed glass of wine or two) it felt more like a lunch party.
The group was a diverse mix – a few mums enjoying a well-earned break; a couple of young guys with a real passion for food, newlyweds who had been given the course and a night’s stay (there is accommodation upstairs so it's also perfect for something like a hen weekend) as a wedding gift and a lovely lady treating her aunt to a day away.
The classes strike the right balance between demonstration and practical – with the emphasis on the latter.
When it came to gutting a fish and deconstructing squid we wouldn’t have minded just a demonstration, but nothing ventured nothing gained. Thankfully rubber gloves made it far more bearable and we were all pleased to have learnt a new skill.
The dinner party course crams a lot in… three starters: Salt & Chilli Squid, Asian Dumplings and Tuna Tartar, followed by a grown up main of Stuffed Chicken or Guinea Fowl Breast served with Fondant Potatoes (fancy looking but super simple) and Carrot Puree which with the tarragon and thyme we added was a favourite of mine. The puddings were Gin & Tonic Sorbet (a doddle) and a light and fluffy Berry Soufflé.
Highlights were the tuna tartar which was so light and fresh it would do a girls lunch served with some quinoa as well as the dumplings (another new skill) and both puddings. Heading home having cooked a soufflé, I felt most accomplished.
Other courses on offer include Gluten Free, Dude Food, Sunday Roast, Vegetarian, Street Food, Barbeque, Seafood and the four week chalet courses for which they are renowned. It was so enjoyable and inspiring that I have already booked TA in for a barbecue course for Father’s day. The school has two outside ovens plus they learn rubs and marinades, knife skills, smoking and grilling techniques, how to BBQ seafood and more. What a lot of fun. It would seem The Abinger are on to something…