HOW did I lose the Lamb Wellington battle when victory was within my floury grasp? I just wasn’t paying attention to tutor Michael. Even in cookery school I was still the dreamy boy at the back of the class and so the pastry lattice for my loin went horribly, saggily awry. The final shot in the sequence below shows how it should look when baked for 20 minutes at 200C. I’ve spared you my doughy blob.
'Fluffed up success, finally. But were my fellow pupils’ efforts soaring just that wee bit higher?
Oh no, now I was suffering from Soufflé Envy'
Back home I got “well, it still tastes good”, and indeed the spinach and mushroom duxelle stuffing and the rare lamb emerged rather well. Ditto the intense jus I’d also brought back in a little tub in my goodie bag. But it was not the thing of culinary beauty that usually emerges from the Michelin-starred kitchen of Nigel Haworth’s Northcote.
I knew I’d cordon blew it! All my own work. Still that’s the joy of such a hands-on experience as the new Northcote Cookery School. My only criticism of my previous such experience at the amazing Manoir Aux Quat’ Saisons was that too much was done for us in the prepping.
Of course, when Great British Chef winner Nigel decided to include a state of the art cookery school inside his new kitchens – part of an expensive refurb of the whole restaurant/hotel in the Ribble Valley – he consulted Mark Peregrine, the vastly experienced Raymond Blanc sidekick, who runs the Manoir school. He also hired the personable, ultra-precise Michael Vanheste (right) from Betty’s Cookery School in Harrogate, as his head tutor. He’s still a bit of a one-man band, but it’s early days.
Looking around at the serious investment going on at Northcote, shaking off any dowdy remnants at this former textile magnate’s mansion, you can’t doubt this element will be a success, too.
It‘s all go for Haworth and business partner Craig Bancroft at the moment with new bedrooms and a completely fresh dining room under construction at Northcote following the arrival just before Christmas of the Louis Roederer Private Dining Rooms and the vast new kitchen with its Chef’s Table room, which hosts the school.
Meanwhile, a new member of their Ribble Valley Inns chain has just opened – the Nag’s Head at Haughton Moss, in Cheshire, with another to follow in that county,
The advantages of booking the cookery school are many, aside from all the insights and expertise you may pick up (I’ve learned how not to use a pastry wheel):
• Classes are for no more than eight folk, all with a fascinating view of what goes on in the main kitchen under Head Chef Lisa Allen (right). Beforehand, she gave us a tour and a pep talk. Nigel Haworth also popped in for a chat.
• You get to take home most of the dishes, sides and sauces you have prepared – plus your apron.
• Thrown in on full day courses (ours costs £185 a head) is a Michelin quality two-course lunch, with choices and a glass of wine chosen by award-winning sommelier Adam Pawlowski. Tip: don’t demand top-ups. It might affect your skill with some seriously sharp knives after lunch.
• It encourages you to splash out on an overnight stay and perhaps splurge on a Tasting Menu. This is not exactly cheap, but it does give you something to aim for!
• Northcote makes a perfect base for visiting the Ribble Valley and Trough of Bowland. Clitheroe is an especially interesting stop-off with good food shops and an exceptional wine shop, D Byrne & Co. To explore local food sources: the Ribble Valley Food Trail.
NEIL SOWERBY prepared, helped by his lovely assistant at the next chopping board, driving instructor Ken from Burnley (who impressively managed to eat three Apple Crumble Soufflés):
Black Pea Hummus Dip: An homage to a Lancastrian delicacy I’ve never quite got a taste for. Give me the Greek chickpea and tahini one any day. Still the accompanying home made biscuits, a spin-off from in-house breadmaking, were exquisite.
Home Cured Treacle Salmon, Pickled Ginger And Coriander Salad, Lime And Ginger Marshmallow: Treacle (well the Sabden Treacle Mines were only the other side of Pendle Hill) featured in the Hummus, too. Here it makes a lovely cure for the fish. The citrussy “marshmallow” is a dream accompaniment I’m going to add to my repertoire.
New Season’s Lamb, Butter Puff Pastry, Mushroom And Spinach Duxelle Stuffing, Scorched Leeks: Enough said.
Apple Crumble Soufflé: I over-whisked the egg whites and faced an anxious wait for my soufflés to rise. Now I know why chefs invariably have frown furrows between their eyes. Fluffed up success, finally. But were my fellow pupils’ efforts just that wee but higher? Oh no, I was suffering from Soufflé Envy now.
Finally, here is a gallery of some of the lovely rooms at Northcote:
Northcote, Northcote Road (just off the A59), Langho, Blackburn, Lancashire BB6 8BE. 01254 240 555. www.northcote.com. It’s 40 miles from Manchester via the M61, M6 and A59.
At the moment, Northcote offers 18 individually-styled bedrooms with all the little luxuries you’d expect at this level. Doubles, including breakfast, range from £255 for a Classic Room to £305 for a Deluxe. Perhaps the best way to book is for one of their Gourmet Breaks.
The Cookery School is taught by Michael Vanheste, with selected masterclasses from Nigel Haworth and Lisa Allen. Subjects include bread-making, fish cooking, afternoon tea, “Saveurs de France” and the course I took, Northcote at Home. All levels of expertise catered for. Half and full days are available. Rates range from £95 to £250. To view the calendar and to book visit this link.