Very few food miles were involved in gathering the ingredients for Stephen Bulmer’s Yorkshire’s Finest cookery course. That morning he’d been out and about in his hilltop garden picking the perkiest of wild garlic as one of the foraged ingredients for a salsa verde. On the doorstep, Swinton Estate’s own trout farm had provided fish from Leighton Reservoir close by and another near neighbour, Tim Pybus the egg man had delivered eggs from his free range flock (guarded by llamas) to the cookery school.
The hotel and cookery school have their own walled garden which has been painstakingly restored by Susan Cunliffe-Lister whose family runs the Swinton Estate. On the menu for the class of 12 were recipes that managed to combine sweet, savoury, basic and more tricky – all showcasing and celebrating produce on offer from the locality of Masham and the dramatic Swinton Park Estate. At the helm is Stephen Bulmer who is a skilled chef and engaging showman, judging his charges and carefully guiding them through cooking processes and techniques with ease and humour.
It’s as hands-on as you like and a good set-up if you’re a food enthusiast with some level of skill. The course was made up of couples and individuals who worked in pairs making the dishes after Stephen had demonstrated them. The class ran from 10am with the food served up as a relaxed and convivial late-lunch with wine to the the participants (and partners if they wanted to join a tasting).
Stephen has a great kitchen pedigree and joined Swinton Park following the departure of well-known TV face Rosemary Shrager. As chef director, Stephen runs the majority of courses at Swinton Park, cooking for all levels of expertise – including a chef’s table experience. He’s a mate of Mary Berry and on first name terms Marco, Gordon, James and Raymond – he ran the cookery school at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons for ten years.
Luscious Yorkshire rhubarb was gently softened in the oven
Stephen rose to prominence early in his career, reaching the national finals of the Young Chef of the Year in 1992 and 1993 and the semi-finals of the Roux Brothers’ Scholarship competition. Since then he has appeared on various TV programmes including Ready, Steady, Cook and Total Fishing. Raymond Blanc is quoted as saying, ‘He is one of my most experienced chefs and a great craftsman – his enthusiasm is completely infectious’.
Indeed it is. Stephen is full of sound advice, cheats’ tips and inspiring ideas. Not to mention dodgy jokes and fine anecdotes about the chefs he has worked with over the years. A bit of gossip at the stove is a fine thing. The course proved a fascinating insight into the top-level cooking. We prepared twice-baked cheese souffles, learning the art of how to get them to rise to perfection from the freezer to the table should you be a prep-ahead dinner party kind of person.
We cooked duck breast pink – but not blood-rare which took a long time not a ‘flash in the pan’. A very insightful trick-of-the-trade. We made some truly dreamy food discoveries, not least that by sweating a load of root veg trimmings in a pan on a really low heat for ages you create a sweet, caramelised ‘mash’ which can be as rustic or as refined as you like with a blitz in the blender to become a delicious puree.
We poached and peeled quail eggs – which would have seemed like the most fiddly thing in the world until you actually dare to do it and realise that you can.
And my own revelation of the day? The foraged salsa verde, a bright green and so very ‘do-you-good’ accompaniment to well, anything. It involves heading to the garden/hedgerow/allotment, picking wild garlic, nettles, parsley – you name it – then blitzing with capers and oil to make the punchiest sauce. Just gorgeous.
“Make a load then keep it in ice-cube trays, serve it with fatty foods like a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb. Vary the green veg depending on the time of year – try kale, basil, mint, spinach”, says Stephen. We made a proper custard tart and super-thin sweet pastry, learning the tip of rolling pastry on cling film to make it easier to store, freeze and handle when you’re lining a tart tin. Luscious Yorkshire rhubarb was gently softened in the oven and Stephen explained how different foraged herbs can enhance its flavour – such as sweet cicely and tiny gorse flowers.
The course is fast-paced and loads of fun. Stephen makes it enjoyable but with his team is able to judge the learners so you’re not left behind. He imparts masses of information about cooking and has great stories to tell of life in a professional kitchen. You’ll feel inspired, invigorated and satisfied at the end of your day.
The Yorkshire Finest cookery course is a half-day course and is £85 midweek, £95 weekends | swintonpark.com