“When I was 14 my grandparents gave me two Cordon Bleu cookery books. I would go on to cook everything in them over the next couple of years.”
- When did you start cooking?
II started cooking when I was very young, in fact I was cooking in my mind before I actually did cook. When I was about five, I went into the butcher’s shop next door to my grandparent’s shop with my plastic saucepan and asked for some bones to make a soup – they were very amused, but I was quite serious. As many chefs will say, the real cooking started at home with my mother. We grew a lot of our own fruit and vegetables and as we had a farm – the discipline of the seasons and the busy calendar of farming life dictated the kind of food we were eating. Dishes were simple, but classic and always really full of flavour. I think I had been blessed with a good palate, which made me inquisitive and eager to learn more about cooking. When I was 14 my grandparents gave me two hard back Cordon Bleu cookery books and I would go on to cook everything in them over the next couple of years, even de-boning a whole duck, stuffing and trussing it, which I felt was a triumph at the time. Then came another book as a gift which changed my life: “The Roux Brothers”. I found the content quite exquisite, so detailed and involved; this was the next book to conquer.
- When did you open the Cookery School at Llanerch?
To be honest, it didn’t occur to me to cook for a living until I went to college, where I trained for another profession, although I did not enjoy it. I needed something creative where I could grow. I decided on cooking after catering for a big party where several people asked me for my business card. Afterwards, my mother said to me, “I guess you’re in business kid.” I got myself an interview with a reputable agency in London and a couple of weeks later I landed my first job working privately in Belgium for a Count and Countess and I never looked back. I continued traveling the world working privately, in restaurants and in hotels. Some 28 years later – in 2010 – I realised my dream job and business after an invitation to open a cookery school at Llanerch Vineyard.
- What makes the cookery school so special?
When I opened the cookery school, I really wanted to share my passion for cooking and teaching. It was really important to me that each person attending a course or event would leave having had a really positive experience and would also feel inspired to try new ideas in their own kitchen. My approach is quite zen-like, in that the preparation of ingredients is calm and thoughtful; cooking is relaxed. This gives people time to really consider what they are doing and to be immersed in the whole process. I love being with people and witnessing them grow in confidence as their day with us progresses – so rewarding. We now have customers, many who are report, from Thailand, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Our location is special too – having a cookery school located on a vineyard makes it a destination get away.
- What was the most important thing you were taught about cooking?
Give it love! Don’t put stress into your cooking, just give the ingredients respect and do your best.
- If it isn’t the same, what’s the most important thing that you now try to teach?
I think one of the things that people struggle with is getting in-depth and good flavour into the dishes they cook. So, we like to bring classic combinations together in many of our courses to demonstrate ways in which people can invigorate their every-day cooking by just using a mix of fresh and store cupboard ingredients. We have a course specifically for this called “Flavours” and it’s like a culinary voyage of discovery.
- How would you describe your cooking style?
My style of cooking changed completely when I went to work in the south of France. I was blown away by the vibrant local food markets and I created menus as I went around each day- I literally came alive in an instant. Also the ethos of local, seasonal and fresh was bountiful, echoing the years of my youth with home grown, seasonal and straight from the soil. It was a defining moment. So my style is Mediterranean with some passion for the spice belt of Asia and the Middle East.
- What do you think makes a great cook?
A great cook has to be resourceful. If the right ingredients don’t turn up, then you make something else equally delicious with what you have. Passion, expertise and a calm nerve (with a little adrenalin of course) will get you there. Also, it’s about being mindful, using everything at your fingertips, honoring it and not wasting anything. A great cook also passes on knowledge, it’s how we learn and improve.
- What do you have planned at the Cookery School for this year?
Last year I published my Winter Collection of Recipes, the first of five books based on the Seasons. This year the Summer Collection will follow in May, then a special Festive Collection in October. So, we have lots of events planned around the release of the books including pop-up restaurants at the cookery school and a series of festive extravaganza events which are already receiving bookings! In between all of that will be our classes, monthly Lunch Club and Saturday Morning Kitchen events, corporate/bespoke and team building events, along with a showcase of Weber BBQ classes scattered throughout the year. 2017 has already got off to a brilliant start and we, as a team, are really looking forward to another exciting year
Interview by Adam Coghlan