“Keep it simple and show some respect”. We’re talking food, kitchens and ingredients; the specialist subject of Andrew Dixon.
He’s the chef heading up the newly-opened Cookery School at The Grand Hotel in York. And a cool culinary domain it is.
The shiny, new basement is home to banks of cooking stations decked out with state-of the-art kit such as fancy hobs, cheffy utensils and baking equipment, all of which makes an embarrassment of the stuff in your cupboards at home.
This is a very glossy and modern rather than rustic experience. Preparation space looks out to a courtyard area on one side and to another you clock the big communal table where happy times are to be had with something you prepared earlier.
That might mean perfect pasta, ‘proper’ pies, a seafood feast or the ultimate afternoon tea.
You could be diving into the cuisine of Spain, the tastes of Thailand or bringing you little ones along to master the ultimate burger or homemade meatballs.
Cookery school sessions cover all the bases for all levels of skill in the kitchen. From the Masterchef-wannabe tackling souffles or sous vide cooking to the amateur who just wants to be able to crack the basics of Sunday roasts and authentic Yorkshire puds.
There’s a huge array of tempting classes and Andrew Dixon and his team are truly hands-on when it comes to delivering.
Andrew has experience by the casserole-load. He’s a former 3 AA Rosette chef on a mission to take the mystery out of cooking and encourage his knife-wielding pupils to try something new.
Originally from Newcastle, the affable Andrew is a natural in front of both stove and audience. He’s risen through the kitchen ranks and with his wife opened an acclaimed restaurant with rooms, The Weir in Somerset which achieved 3 AA Rosettes within ten months of opening.
Now he’s in his element passing on knowledge and enthusiasm to his kitchen charges.
In opening week we joined the class for a session learning how to make the ultimate Thai green fish curry.
Easy you think. We’ve all grabbed a jar of curry paste, some salmon and a can of coconut milk to crack this weekday supper haven’t we?
But all Thai curries are not the same. This is a revelation. We even learn how to peel a pepper (saying less easy that doing to be honest).
Use a potato peeler, says Andrew, demonstrating the art of peeling the green pepper that’s heading to our dish. Who knew?
Top tips like this are what cookery schools are all about. Some know-how to take back home with you.
Andrew demonstrates how to make a fresh paste with zingingly-vibrant ingredients such as chilli, galangal, lemongrass, garlic and banana shallots. The smell is fabulous.
But it is ingredients such as shrimp paste and lime leaves that make dishes like this sing. You know, the ones that you don’t happen to have in the kitchen cupboard.
By far the best thing about a session like this (alongside the wine-while-you-cook), is the array of teeny pots filled with magical ingredients which add the flourish to make the dish restaurant-worthy.
“The paste makes the recipe and that’s the skill”, says Andrew. Once you master it then you can adapt it. Make a batch then freeze it in ice-cube trays.
“It is also all about the prep”, he adds.
“But food doesn’t have to be extravagant. Keep it simple and show it some respect. What you produce doesn’t have to be something from a Michelin restaurant.
Having watched Andrew’s demo and enjoyed some chat, we’re sent to our stations to create the curry based around the amazing Thai paste.
We peel those peppers, chop some mushrooms and spring onions, mixing, pouring and gentle simmering the sauce until it’s time to add the lovely fish – salmon, squid, king prawns and monkfish – the curry of kings this one.
We’re instructed to cook our own rice too. Stupidly stressful under these conditions when you’re used to opening a microwave bag (Tilda is the best says Andrew, when challenged on the subject).
Nevertheless, under the watchful eye of Andrew and team, it all comes together to astonishing effect.
We take our dishes to the big table and dine in awe of our delicious creation. It makes a huge difference creating something like this from scratch, especially when you’ve had expert guidance.