As someone who works on a food magazine you’d think I’d love going on cookery courses but generally that’s not the case. There have been a few that I’ve really enjoyed – among them trying Japanese home cooking in the motherly hands of the Women’s Asociation of Kyoto and making pumpkin soup, seabass and chocolate soufflé with convivial chef Jean-Claude Aubertin around a table in the 18th-century kitchen of La Mirande, in Avignon (before eating it, kitchen party-style, with two Parisian couples also on the course) but, in the main, I’ve found myself following recipes I’m never going to make again that involve kitchen gear I don’t own, ingredients I can’t afford and time I don’t have.
Kitchen Table Cookery offered something different. Run in the back room of a pub in the Somerset village of Mells these informal workshops and tutored tastings are the creation of Clare Liardet, formerly of Primrose Hill’s The Engineer, and cookery writer Joanna Weinberg. Joanna is the author, among other books, of How to Feed Your Friends with Relish which she introduces by stating that great meals aren’t just about food but “about feeling at ease among good company”.
It’s a similar, fuss-free, ethos at Kitchen Table Cookery, where courses range from focused workshops (pie-making or superhero food to moveable feasts for picnics, camping and festival-going) to seasonal tasting dinners and drop-in 75-minute demos focusing on one ingredient.
The event we signed up for was the company’s ‘Best of Autumn Tasting Evening’, which took place earlier this month. A meal of taster dishes, with a print-out recipe booklet to take home and a few cooking tips along the way, this followed Joanna’s philosophy of food made not to be fetishised, or to show off with, but for the simple pleasure of eating.
If that last paragraph suggests a lack of attention to detail, that’s not the case. Held in the Grill Room at The Talbot Inn – its wooden tables, eucalyptus-coloured panelling and gilt-framed portraits lit by candles – the effect is like stumbling on a classy dinner party. Little beetroot and apple bullshots got the evening off with a velvety kick, though most people had turned up slightly earlier and brought their own tipple of choice to the table, bottles of rioja or pints of Keystone Brewery’s Talbot Ale foraged from the pub’s bar.
While there were plenty of couples, and groups of friends, the communal u-shaped seating plan and inclusive spirit meant there were plenty of solo guests too. Most of the dishes were served at the table, family-style, for guests to help themselves to (giving lots of opportunity to strike up conversation with neighbours).
The evening’s 14 veg-based recipes included sweet potato soup with tamari and lime, Pitt Cue green apple slaw (“great for using up that veg box cabbage in your fridge you don’t know what to do with”), a rich mushroom bourguignon, tarragon-laced mushroom pithivier, a deliciously gooey, Ottolenghi-inspired baked pumpkin fondue that tasted a bit like a savoury bread and butter pudding (“how much cream and cheese can you eat at one meal?”), dinky little Normandy apple tarts (“peel around the apple horizontally, not vertically, for a prettier shape when you slice them”) and scented cardamom yoghurt (a good alternative to cream for heavy autumn and winter puddings).
Even the simplest dishes, like baked pears, were taken to new heights (in this case, adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe and given a Somerset twist, with Pomona in place of marsala). And while Clare divvied out useful cooking and serving tips throughout the meal, the instruction never got in the way of the socialising. Or the eating.
If the proof of the cookery course pudding is whether you actually make the recipes again then this one was a definite hit. We made the cardamom yoghurt for breakfast the following morning.
How to do it
The autumn tasting evening cost £20pp but upcoming events range from £10 for the drop-in demos to £95 for a one-day workshop with lunch (kitchentablecookery.co.uk). Stay over at the Talbot Inn if you want to make a night of it; double rooms start from from £95 b&b (talbotinn.com).
Written by Rhiannon Batten
First published November 2015
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