It was earlier this year, March to be exact. Like many people, some less open as me, I had just come through a bought of serious anxiety and depression, sick to the teeth with the company was working for, I needed an escape plan! Historically, I had always had a holiday booked in advance, and usually some sort of foodie adventure. It was to take a while to sort out work, which I have done, feeling like a new person within minutes of getting the job offer, but to keep me going I needed to book an escape before that series of events took shape.
Them the boss at home said, ‘try and find a short cookery holiday, see what you can dig up’, so finger at the keyboard I ‘hit’ on Rick Steins Cookery School in Padstow, fish is my preferred protein over meat (most of the time), so I found a two day course that worked, and also a nice hotel, 2 minutes from the School, perfect, so I booked the 2 Day Fish & Shellfish Course for November which looked ‘fab’!
Hun, I have found something, a two day course, Ju Ju (that’s what she sometime calls me), that’s a long way to go for two days, make it a week and see if you can find some nice places to eat…….. Padstow, nice places to eat, hell yeah!
I left first thing on Monday, I had hired a car as my company car was not ready, I used a local firm rather than one of the well known brands and boy was I pleased I did. A mere £362 (including all the optional extras like collision damager waver etc.) and I was the temporary owner of a BMW M Sport Series 530 EDrive, wow what a motor that was! I had booked a series of restaurants for the week which will feature in separate reviews but the itinerary was Monday – Caffè Rojano, Tuesday Lunch – The Mariners in Rock, Tuesday Evening – Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant, Wednesday Evening – St. Petroc Bistro, Thursday Evening – Paul Ainsworth at No.6! I arrived late afternoon and took a wander to get my bearings in Padstow, the restaurants, school were all within a hop, skip and jump of the hotel, perfect.
It was soon Wednesday and after a quick cuppa, I was at the school in minutes. It was very spacious, well laid out with plenty of COVID precautions in operation from individual bacterial hand wash at each station and instructions to wear masks if we went into reception on the way to the toilets. Our Head Tutor for the week was Nick, ably assisted by Arran and the rest of the team, all we had to do was focus on learning and having fun, all the cleaning, ingredients trays, teas’ coffees’ and lots of wine were supplied like magic, there was over 40 years of professional cookery experience available to us and we could ask anything!
There were a mixture of people attending from complete novices, to my newly found friend Graham, who had the station in front of me, and had been a Chef on Naval Submarines for years! I am kind of a really keen cook, amongst the considerable number of courses I have attended over the years, I did a 5 day seafood course in France a while back so understood some of the the basics but there is nothing like practice and spending more time with ‘fish experts’ as these guys really were.
To set the ball rolling (and make our first of several ‘snack’s, it was a grazing kinda day), we were to make a Sliced Salmon with Ponzu and Pink Grapefruit, which was to introduce us to preparing a Sashimi style dish. Nick demonstrated how to prepare a whole salmon and then we got to cut our own ‘steaks’ into appropriately sized slices, whilst the Ponzu dressing we had made rested and developed the distinctive flavours. To add extra interest we also had to finely julienne some daikon radish and deal with nori seaweed, which is more difficult that you think.
Poached Lobster Risotto Anyone? Yes please, well to be honest I had the Lobster Risotto in Nicks famous Seaford Restaurant the night before so it would be really interesting the compare the results! Due to time, the Lobster had been cooked, but we were shown how to tell the difference between Male and Female, had to remove the lobster and head meat from the shell and make the Risotto, a large pot of stock was prepared in front of us to share so we could again, save time on the more laborious tasks which were time consuming but relatively self explanatory.
I was well chuffed with my Lobster Risotto, I have only cooked Risotto 3 times before, once in Italy at a cookery school, the 1st time abroad learning to cook many years ago, the 2nd (a failure to be honest) at home, and then last year on a another Italian themed online (zoom) event which went much much better. I was slowly getting it right, it was very rich and tasty.
Padstow is beautiful, and the school location offers stunning views over the estuary towards ‘Rock’, which I had visited the previous day on the small ferry, great fun indeed. My mind was drifting, I was happy, content, in my personal foodie space and as the day drifted on we learnt more techniques, working with Mussels, Clams, braising fish, emulsions and chowder, it was thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying, and then we had completed day 1, time to rest for a few hours before eating !!!
Being a working harbour, with fish boats constantly leaving and arriving as the tide allows, and nestling in an estuary the harbour entrance needs constant dredging, as I watched my mind wandered to those brave fisherman who often tackle storm waters to bring us a constant supply of whatever they are allowed to catch or fortunate to find in their nets. Much of what you learn on the course is through questions and conversation, the state of the industry both restaurant and fishing, it SHOULD change your perspective on shopping and eating and cooking especially with what has been happening over the last few years, its priceless value just for that alone.
I believe this was one of the whole school’s favourite dishes! Deep Fried Coconut Prawns with a Papaya Dipping Sauce, jeez it was damn good, and came from Rick Stein’s ‘Road to Mexico Book’. The school was originally setup to help chefs working in Ricks’ restaurants, he is a cook not a chef and as we were told on numerous occasions, examples of choice words when things were too ‘cheffy’ which is not his style at all.
So, onto Madras Fish Curry of Sea Bass tomato and tamarind, we had to deal with filleting and pin-boning a beautiful bass, a lovely fish and definitely one of my favourites. We were shown the technique on the two large overhead screens which everyone could see and made some of the explaining so much easier, ok, lets give it a go.
Not too shabby, haven’t done that for a few year too, after a few minutes grappling with the fish, swift smooth knife action and tugging with some seriously good bone pliers the job was done and all that was needed was a little bit of tidying up.
This dish was another belter, the Madras sauce only taking 10-15 minutes to prepare the combination worked very well, and another ‘snack’ was ready to consume. Before you think I eat a lot, I had not had breakfast since Sunday, and I had not eaten all of the dishes in their entirety, especially as evenings had been 3 course meal events my constitution has its limitations!
Each station has its own professional range, they were great fun to work with, in this case doing the final prep for Malaysian fried Lemon Sole with roasted tomato and chilli sambal, another knockout dish.
So, over the two days we cooked 8 dishes and were treated to 2 cooked by Nick and the team as ‘end of the day relax and wind downs, they were all fantastic to cook and eat, and on the way introduced you to a range of cooking techniques you can easily reproduce at home in a normal kitchen without any specialist equipment, although a small temperature probe for getting the fish ‘on-point’ is probably a small investment worth making, I have one and it does make the different between perfect and ‘bugger, overdone’, they are not expensive.,
So to sum up, apart from having an amazing escape to a beautiful and peaceful part of the UK, free parking in the hotel for a week (The Harbour, through Booking.com), enjoying some great food, I went for the school, and it lived beyond expectations from the booking, follow up calls confirming and details of having my own station/bubble, Nick and the team were fab, Harri on the reception desk welcoming us with a beaming smile each morning it was a brilliant experience and one that will remain with me forever.
Would I go back, bit fat yes, when the diary allows, I already have my twice covid postponed annual trip to one of my two French Cookery Schools booked next year but if can enough spare time, The Rick Stein Cookery School is top of the list.
……………………………………Until next time……………………………………L8ers…………………………