Thursday, 02 April 2020

Have fun learning how it's done in the Crooked Billet's kitchen

Have fun learning how it's done in the Crooked Billet's kitchen

So. You fancy some professional cookery experience. But the competitive torture of MasterChef is more than you bargained for with its cheffed-up multiple ingredient dishes and plates tarted up with an artwork of smears and blobs, writes Paul Clerehugh.

A cookery demonstration isn’t involved enough for you. Besides, watching some narcissist chef charring mackerel fillet with a blowtorch and making cauliflower couscous isn’t “hands-on” enough for you .

Despair not. Authentic kitchen experience is at hand with some wonderful cookery schools, courses and days offered in our area.

I can recommend the Woodspeen cookery school in West Berkshire, overseen by supremo chef John Campbell. Or get hands-on at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, Great Milton. Check out the Jericho Kitchen Cookery School in Oxford ( And watch out for Sophie Grigson’s pop-up cookery schools around Oxfordshire (www.sophiescookeryschool.

As for me, I’m offering the real kitchen deal at the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row. See how a professional kitchen works, preparing actual menu items and getting involved in service cooking and presenting dishes to our paying guests.

We’re running a month of fun, informal cookery days where you can join myself and our brigade at the Crooked Billet.

No worries if you’re a complete novice, have never seared a scallop or peeled a grape — head chef Chris will treat you with patience and respect.

Similarly, if you’re kitchen-confident and fancy a bash at MasterChef, we’ll keep you busy. Be as involved as you like, hands-on and dirty or simply stand back with a glass of wine and observe.

With a maximum of only four trainee chefs each day we can give you complete attention. The sessions are relaxed, enjoyable and informative.

Arrive at 3pm for afternoon tea, home baking and the kitchen briefing where we discuss the evening menu, produce, suppliers and mise en place.

You’ll get a Crooked Billet apron and recipe book as part of the adventure. Wear something practical for the kitchen — covered flat shoes, long trousers or leggings. Shirt, long-sleeved T-shirt or a lightweight top.

Spend the afternoon helping (or observing) baking and bread-making, chopping and chocolating, filleting and flambéing, searing and sizzling.

Assist and observe the brigade preparing shellfish, seafood, poultry, red meat, game, vegetarian specials and desserts for the evening menu.

A complete spectrum of age groups enjoy our cookery days. Refreshments are provided through the day. While our brigade won’t join you in a glass, there’s a bottle of wine for you to sip at during the afternoon.

At 6pm early dinner guests arrive to enjoy menu dishes you’ve helped prepare. Cookery students are encouraged to assist the brigade in cooking and plating dishes for our paying guests’ dinner. Out of curiosity and support, often friends and partners of the cookery school students book for dinner. The 6pm dinner menu caters to all tastes with complimentary champagne on arrival and three courses for £30.

Once early dinner guests are fed, cookery school students join the restaurant and enjoy unlimited champagne, wine and three courses from the dishes you helped prepare. You’ll feel like MasterChef finalists when entering the dining room.

Remaining dates for our cookery school are March 6 to 9 and 13 to 15. The fee of £150 for the day includes afternoon tea and home bakes. Kitchen briefing. Cookery school, tasting wine, afternoon refreshments. Restaurant service. Crooked Billet apron and cookery booklet, three-course dinner and unlimited champagne and wine.

Contact the Crooked Billet for further details and bookings on (01491) 681048.

l Paul Clerehugh is chef-patron of the Crooked Billet, Stoke Row, and the London Street Brasserie, Reading. Catch Paul every week on Food on Friday (BBC Radio Berkshire, 2pm to 3pm) for light-hearted foodie chat, recipes and kitchen help live on air.

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