You wouldn’t expect to find a bastion of Scandi chic in the middle of rural Lancashire, but at John Whaite’s Kitchen it’s there in abundance. The cookery school, which opened last year in the basement of a renovated, 400 year old barn in the middle of the Whaite’s dairy farm, is the personification of hygge.
We visited on a misty Sunday morning in November, ducking through the doorway to be greeted by the smell of fresh cinnamon buns (Bake Off 2012-winner, John Whaite himself, had woken at 6am to bake them). Fairy lights, twined around decorative white tree branches propped against the school’s walk-in pantry, twinkled and reflected off silver baubles and John, dressed in a cosy green jumper, welcomed us with cheer.
Despite it’s newness, John’s cookery school is already very popular. Almost all his classes are fully booked up until April. And you can see why. Not only is the interior beautiful (a little exposed stone brick here, some white, iridescent titling there and a huge oak island down the middle, large enough to accommodate ten students). But John’s energy and flamboyant personality is what brings the place together. Throughout our day, he was constantly bouncing jokes off of us and his sister (his kitchen manager and trusty washing up elf) and more than once we caught him singing to himself as he wandered around keeping note of everyone’s progress. Despite the showmanship, Whaite is a Cordon Bleu graduate and it’s this training he draws on while leading his courses.
We were there to take part in a one-off event, Billingtons’s Stir Up Sunday, and, with sticky buns and steaming mugs of coffee in-hand while we worked, it certainly felt festive. This was not to be a traditional Stir Up gathering, however. In place of the classic Christmas pudding we were set to task making cranberry and pistachio nougat and mini cheat’s Christmas puds with whisky and caramel sauce.
Before we began each recipe, we gathered around John’s station to watch him walk us through each step. This wasn’t always easy to follow as he kept tweaking the instructions as we went along. And, while his mission to give participants the skills they need to recreate dishes food at home didn’t always hit the mark (the nougat might not be something we’d attempt again without John’s softy-spoken guidance, or a nifty sugar thermometer), when they did they really did (his three-hour boozy Christmas puds with an easy caramel sauce was definitely one worth filing away in the Christmas Day dinner planner).
John’s classes always come to an end with a glass of champagne and a wholesome, sit-down lunch. On our visit he served a warming bowl of chilli and tomato soup with a soft fig and walnut bread and rounded off with an epic charcuterie and cheese board – a lovely conclusion to Stir Up Sunday and a glimpse into his soon-to-be published book on home comforts.
Cookery courses at John Whaite’s Kitchen cost £180 including lunch (10am-5pm); johnwhaitekitchen.com
Header image credit: (c) Alex Holt