For some people, going on holiday means getting a break from cooking chores, but the food-obsessed are simply travelling to their next kitchen. They make Airbnb choices based as much on the number of burners on the range cooker as the size of the bedrooms. And when I say “they” I, of course, mean “me”. Holiday arrangements in my household centre on food and, selfishly, opportunities for me to cook.
I’ve travelled far and wide to attend cookery school classes, from Mimo in San Sebastian to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, but this year I found somewhere a little closer to home to indulge my culinary fetish. The Kitchen was launched in March this year in the grounds of Chewton Glen hotel in the New Forest in collaboration with James Martin, the television chef.
When Martin appears in the dining room in full chef regalia, he’s stopped by table after table for selfies and autographs. He joins our group of 12 briefly to explain how the session will work (he runs monthly classes; the rest of the schedule is filled by guest chefs such as Dan Doherty and also courses run by the school’s own tutors) and we’re given tablets with the recipes we’ll be cooking – scallops with ravioli and butter sauce and a strawberry roulade.
We file through to the school and explore our gleaming and well-equipped work stations, then take a stool at the central demonstration area where Martin holds court. He’s in serious-head-chef mode, flashing expensive knives and whipping up pasta dough in seconds.
The lesson is organised into a series of short demonstrations and we’re soon back at our stations, tipping ready-weighed flour and cracking eggs into our posh food mixers as Martin barks out reminders of what we should be doing. The matey persona we’re all familiar with from his decade fronting Saturday Kitchen is never far from the surface; he’s constantly cracking jokes and making encouraging noises.
“I know of 14 different methods to incorporate sugar into meringue,” claims Martin, who thankfully doesn’t demonstrate them all, but shows us what he calls “the chef’s way to make a classic cold meringue”, separating eggs by allowing the white to fall through the fingers of one hand, leaving the yolk behind, then whisking the whites to a firm fluffy cloud with the addition of sugar. He flavours it with lemon verbena (“the best herb in the world. End of”) and spreads it onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper that he’s snipped at the corners so that it lies flat. “They don’t teach you that on Bake Off do they?” he quips.
I’m beyond pleased when I manage to follow Martin’s example to the letter, baking the meringue to just the right shade of light brown, spreading it with strawberry sauce and whipped cream and forming it into a Swiss roll without it cracking.
We learn how to roll the pasta, fill it with raw diced scallop, sauté more scallops (“Whatever time you think the fish takes, quarter it”) and make a sauce by cooking sliced shallots, garlic, white wine and fish stock together and finishing with butter, chopped chives and diced tomatoes. “That dish at The Waterside Inn in 1988 when I was there? £62 and that was back then,” says Martin, never one to miss the opportunity to big up his CV.
We attempt our own versions then carry them through to the dining room where Martin joins us. I’ve over-reduced my sauce, but it’s delicious nevertheless. The lesson has overrun but Martin stays and chats and, as the class breaks up, instead of roaring off in one of his collection of 20 classic cars, Martin starts making dinner in the restaurant’s open kitchen.
At £350 a head for a cookery class or £500 a head for a cookery demo and dinner, The Kitchen experience is not cheap, but Martin is a big name and, if you’re a fan, you won’t feel short-changed. As I box up the roulade to take home to a grateful brood, I’m already planning our next cooking holiday.
A morning or afternoon Cook with James Martin course at The Kitchen at Chewton Glen costs £350 (01425 275341; chewtonglen.com)
New Forest, Hampshire, England
8Telegraph expert rating
A traditional country house hotel with a set of contemporary treehouse suites in its grounds. The hotel is also home to a world-class spa and an award-winning restaurant. Service is traditional but the hotel is still fun for families. Chewton Glen is a place of many parts, all of them wholeheartedly luxurious. Read expert review From £315per night Check availability Rates provided by Booking.com