'From the Somerset edition of the award-winning blog Muddy Stilettos written by Sue Tucker: an urban guide to the countryside, a guide to the very best food and drink, independent shops, arts & culture, hotels, spas, walks, days out – and more – in Somerset.'
Two of Somerset’s top chefs show how to made dishes that will really impress your friends at the Clavelshay Barn Cookery School in North Petherton.
I turned these…
… into this: seared fillet of bream with crushed potatoes, braised fennel, olive oil and caper dressing…
…this: roasted scallops with couscous salad and citrus dressing …
… and this: ceviche of scallops with mizuna salad, lime, vermouth and coriander.
Impressed? The miracle took place at the new cookery school at Clavelshay Barn, the award-winning sustainable restaurant on a working dairy farm in North Petherton, on the edge of the Quantock Hills.
The classes are run by award-winning professional chefs Olivier Certain and Andrew Dixon. Marseille-born Olivier had a Michelin-star training in France before moving to England (head chef at Woods in Dulverton, finalist South West Chef of the Year) and is now chef at Clavelshay Barn, producing modern British food with French style. Andrew Dixon trained in some of the UK’s best restaurants and country hotels before setting up Andrews on the Weir (3 AA rosettes) and now The Cafe Porlock Weir, which won the 2015 Best Somerset Restaurant Dining Experience at the Somerset Life Food awards.
The classes take place on the airy upper floor of Clavelshay Barn. Each table was set with its own induction hot plate, all the necessary bowls, whisks, spoons and pans (all brand spanking new), as well as oil, garlic, shallots, salt and lemons –
– and the biggest knife roll I’ve ever seen.
First there was some helpful advice about buying fresh fish (firm shiny flesh, clear bulging eyes and no fishy smell) and scallops (should be closed if still in the shell). Then we put on our little chef’s hats and aprons and the two chefs started to cook. They took turns to demonstrate each dish, throwing in tips (crush garlic with salt, it draws out the moisture; score fish skin to allow heat into the flesh, it cooks quicker; cook scallops to perfection by placing one on each finger of the left hand, then putting them one by one into the pan clockwise, so you can take them out on the right order) and answering all of our questions (what olive oil to use? Pomace, 2nd pressing, it turns out). There was a great dynamic between the two chefs; while one was taking the floor, the other acted as sous chef and chipped in every now and again with extra bits of info, so it was no surprise to discover that they’d worked together at Andrews on the Weir for several years.
Then it was our turn. The chefs wandered amongst us offering advice and help as we followed our recipes.
It was hectic getting just three dishes cooked and plated up (you see, I’ve got the lingo), so hats off to chefs who do it for restaurants full of diners. And aren’t you supposed to clear up as you go along?
Finally, we were able to sit down and eat. Wine expert David Morley from Oliver & Bird was on hand to suggest the perfect wine to go with the food: Picpoul de Pinet or a Sauvignion Blanc from the Langedouc. Even if I say so myself, the food (and the wine) was wonderful.
Try one of these recipes from the class, a delicious, bright green, herb oil
1 bunch coriander (or other soft herb like basil or parsley) 300 ml olive oil
Wash the herbs thoroughly and dry on a cloth. Plunge the herbs (stalks and all) into boiling salted water for one minute (this is what will keep the colour) and then into a bowl of iced water, then drain, squeeze out excess water and pat dry. Put the herbs and oil into a food processor and blend for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is bright green; leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Take a piece of cheesecloth/muslin and fold in half (ie double thickness), soak it in cold water (this is important), then wring out and place into a fine sieve over a bowl. Pour the oil/herb mixture into the cloth-lined sieve and allow to strain naturally; then pour into a jar and chill. This will keep for a week in the fridge; you can use it with any fish or pasta dish, or whatever you like. There’s a different cookery class each month. The next one is on Tuesday 10 May, when you can learn how to make fresh pasta, which will include making the dough, flavouring and filling pasta and how to make different pasta shapes. Classes cost £95 per person and include lunch and wine.