Back in November, Waitrose launched a new cookery school. It's probably not news to most of you eager cooks as there have been lots of articles and reviews in the last couple of months. I'm going to add another one to the mix!
I love Waitrose! We both arrived in my neighbourhood at the same time, Waitrose and I. My local branch opened it's doors just around the corner from us just a month or two after we moved into our house. Both of us have been here for more than 16 years now and have a mutual love-in going on. I'm loyal to Waitrose; it's my primary supermarket. And Waitrose is loyal to me too; looking after me by consistently delivering good products, employing friendly staff, showing good customer service and on top of all that, it's widely regarded as an ethical supermarket too.
So, I was quite excited by the idea of Waitrose Cookery School. Luckily for me, I was invited to check out the school, along with a group of fellow bloggers, a few nights before it opened to the public on November 8th.
Located above the huge John Barnes (Finchley Road) branch in North West London, it's a beautiful space. Modern white walls and black and white flooring are lifted by the warmth of pale wooden furniture and shelving. Chrome fittings look suitably high tech. Tables are decorated with funky centre pieces made from fresh vegetables. Bookshelves are stacked with a cookery book collection every single one of us lusted after. Bottles of wine and other cooks' ingredients line other shelves. Pristine cooking equipment is stacked along deep window sills.
At the far end of the room is the cooking space. The tutor's workspace is set in a long line, faced by stools for the students. Beyond it are workstations for the students.
To one side is a bar area – some of the classes include cocktail lessons too.
There's even a state-of-the-art lecture theatre available too.
As impressive than the space are the team Waitrose has assembled to run the school itself:
Gordon McDermott has 17 years experience as a chef, much of it working at some of London's best restaurants. He was a lecturer at Rick Stein's Cookery School for four years and he established and ran the Anton Mosimann Academy in London. In his latest role as Waitrose Cookery School's Course Manager he designs the courses, picks the chef instructors and ensures that courses are delivered to the highest standard, as he did during our taster session.
James Campbell is the school's Head Chef for Pastry. He became Gary Rhode's Group Head Pastry Chef at just 24 years old and has over 20 years experience in five different Michelin restaurants. In his role as Head Pastry Chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel he ran cookery courses and demonstrations as far afield as Malaysia.
James taught the macaroon-making part of our sample class, with Eleni Tzirki (school sous chef and trainee pastry chef) assisting.
The other part of our sample class was a cocktail making course, taken by Wilson Chung. Wilson, who hails from Australia, is one of the school's sous chefs. Growing up in a family nearly all of whom work in the food industry, Wilson's career in restaurants, bars, professional food writing and Australian TV is perhaps inevitable.
Also helping on the night was James Bennington, the school's Head Chef. James began his career in professional kitchens in 1997 but his big break came in 2005 when he became head chef at La Trompette, which at the time, didn't have a Michelin star. With James at the helm, it gained one in 2008. James left La Trompette in 2009 to join the cookery school (which may explain why we didn't enjoy it quite as much on our second visit, last summer).
If these five are representative of the rest of the Waitrose Cookery School team, I am sure each and every class is bound to be very good.
Before starting our sample class, we were treated to a range of drinks and canapés, freshly made by the cooking team in the kitchen. (The school offers half day, full day and evening courses; the first two include a sit-down meal in the spacious sitting area.)
myself and lovely Becca from how to make a mess
Jackets or aprons donned, we first lined up on stools in front of James' demonstration station and watched him and Eliza take us through our basic macaroon recipe.
The school advocates making meringues using the Italian meringue technique rather than French, which means making a sugar syrup and adding it to the whisked egg whites whilst hot. This partially cooks the meringue mix before baking. This meringue is then folded into a paste made from ground almonds, more sugar and more egg white.
We were encouraged to ask lots of questions and we did! All were answered with patience, consideration and a little humour. We gleaned lots of tips on what to do and what to avoid!
After the demonstration we went back to our own cooking stations (one between two students) to have a go at making our own. The teaching staff were constantly available to give guidance and reminders, as we worked.
Becca and I had some problems; we were scuppered not once but twice by our mixer grinding to a halt half way through whisking the eggs and hot sugar syrup. Our instructors quickly brought out a replacement mixer from their cupboards but this failed too and we eventually did our whisking at James' demonstration station.
It meant we fell behind and were still piping our shells when most of the class moved across to the bar area for Wilson's cocktail lessons.
It wasn't a problem, however, as he repeated the lesson three times so that everyone who wanted a hands-on experience had a go.
Those of us who didn't make our own cocktails didn't miss out on sampling some of Wilson's delicious concoctions!
As our sample session was a shortened evening one, we made orange macaroon shells and then filled them with some "here's some we made earlier" piping bags full of orange marmalade butter cream.
We were also given some pretty pink shells (sparkly with edible glitter) and two different fillings which we piped inside – a thicker pink buttercream and a runnier mulled wine reduction that we pooled within a circle of the buttercream.
As we were finishing up, we were given pastry boxes in which to take our creations home with us, which I liked.
Although I've made macaroons twice before, I've always felt nervous about working with hot sugar syrup, and have used the French meringue technique. After attending the class, I'd feel confident in trying the Italian meringue recipe again, though I'd definitely invest in an electronic kitchen thermometer first.
Here's the recipe for the macaroons we made during our practical:
Orange Marmalade Macaroons
187 grams caster sugar
75 ml water
62 grams egg whites (roughly two egg whites)
5 ml orange food colouring
187 grams ground almonds
187 grams icing sugar
62 grams egg whites (roughly two egg whites)
180 grams whole milk
80 grams sugar
40 grams egg yolks
300 grams butter, diced
100 grams orange marmalade
- For the Italian meringue: In a small saucepan, add the sugar and water and mix until there are no lumps. Add the food colouring and place the saucepan over medium to high heat and place the sugar thermometer inside. The required temperature is 114C.
- In the electronic mixing bowl, add the 62g of egg whites with the whisk attachment. This will then be ready for the sugar syrup when the required temperature is reached.
- Cut out two sheets of parchment paper, the same size as the baking tray and set aside ready for piping. Then place the correct sized nozzle in a piping bag and set aside.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, add the ground almonds and icing sugar. Continue to check the temperature of the sugar syrup.
- Once it has reached 112C, start whisking the egg whites on slow speed. Once the temperature has reached 114C, lift the thermometer out and slowly pour the syrup down the side of the bowl ensuring not to splash yourself! Turn onto full speed and after approximately five minutes, the Italian meringue will become glossy and soft.
- Then, we need to make the paste: Add the other 62g of egg whites to the icing sugar and ground almonds and mix with a spatula until a paste has formed.
- Once the Italian meringue is ready (soft peaks will form) this is combined with the paste in 2 stages. If it is over mixed the mix will become too liquid and the macaroons will become very flat once cooked. It is important to ensure a nice gentle mixing motion.
- The macaroon mix is then ready to be piped. Using a spatula, fill the piping bag with the nozzle half way. Pipe some mix into each corner of the baking trays in order to stick the parchment paper onto the tray. Pipe in straight lines going from left to right leaving a 2cm gap in between each macaroon.
- These are now ready to be baked for 12 minutes at 140C.
- Once they are cooked, take the trays out of the oven and leave to cool.
- For the orange marmalade butter cream: Heat up the milk over medium heat.
- Separately, dice the butter and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.
- Once the milk comes to the boil, add some of the milk to the egg mix and mix with a spatula, Then, transfer this mix to back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Continue to stir over a low heat with the spatula and once the mixture coats the back of the spatula, pour it into the electronic mixer with the paddle attachment on medium to high speed. (you can also use a thermometer and once it reaches 80C, take off the heat)
- Once the mix has almost cooled in the electronic mixer, begin to add a third of the diced butter on low speed. After a minute, increase the speed and wait for a further 3 minutes. Add another third of diced butter and repeat this process until all the butter has been added. The butter cream should become thick, smooth and shiny.
- Finally, add the orange marmalade to the butter cream and mix on low speed until the marmalade is fully incorporated.
- Using a spatula, spoon the mix into a piping bag and set aside ready to pipe on the macaroons once they have been cooked and cooled down.
- Beautiful, spacious environment with good quality equipment
- Demo then practical learning format
- A strong team of instructors and support staff
- Clear instruction
- Encouraged to ask questions
- Quite large class sizes
- Sharing work stations – fine if you book with a friend but may or may not work out if you book a single and end up with someone who monopolises or you don't get on with
The Waitrose Cookery School is located in NW London, just by the Finchley Road tube station. Full day courses cost £175. Half day (morning or evening courses) are priced £105. The school also offers demonstration evenings for £65. For more information, call 020 7372 6108.