Back to (cookery) school

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Mairead Robinson extols the merits of taking a cookery class – at any age.

Over the past few years there has been a huge increase in the number of cookery programmes on television – from celebrity chefs sharing their secrets to amateurs battling it out against the clock.  The Great British Bake-Off and Come Dine With Me are just two such programmes that are now replicated all over the world in several different languages.  And it seems that we are not all ‘arm-chair’ cooks ourselves, as cookery schools have been popping up all over the country and people of all ages have been learning new skills and having a lot of fun at the same time.

In all my years involved in the world of food and restaurants, I only ever took one cookery class, and that was ten years ago in the beautiful Villa San Michele in Tuscany.  Needless to say that was all very Italian and luxurious as we were staying in the beautiful hotel during the three days of the course.  Plenty of prosecco was consumed with our culinary creations during the day and the chefs cooked up amazing dinners for us each evening.  It was a fabulous holiday!

But back to Ireland and the rise and rise of our interest in cooking and the range of cookery schools, many also attached to hotels; that are offering courses of all types.  One thing that I particularly like about cookery classes is their range of appeal across all ages.  A big part of the fun and interest of these classes is the social interaction between both sexes and all age demographics.  You see grandparents and parents with their adult children, fathers and sisters and couples and friends.  It is extraordinary how broad the appeal of something as fundamental as preparing food can be.

A short whil’ and has over the last year decided to become completely vegetarian.  We had lots of vegetarian meals when she was a child – nut roasts were our Sunday favourites – but with all the new and exotic products that are available on the market these days, not to mention all the vegetables and herbs that we grow in the garden and polytunnel, new recipe ideas are always welcome.  After some research I came across Cooks Academy in central Dublin and booked the one day workshop in vegetarian cooking for a surprise birthday present for her.  I later decided to join her, as I thought we would have fun working together and indeed I could certainly do with picking up some tips and tricks too.

There are an incredible range of courses available at Cooks Academy from the eight week Certificate in Professional Cookery, from which many go on to open their own restaurants or guest houses; to the four week Certificate in Practical Cookery.  For some this is the first step on the ladder to becoming a professional chef, caterer or opening a food business.  There are one day and half day courses on all types of ethnic cookery as well as knife skills, chocolate, gluten free, bread, cup cakes, salads etc.  There are even ‘men only classes’ for shy males!

So off we went on a recent Saturday for our Vegetarian Workshop and were greeted with coffee and carrot cake – a great start!  I loved that we got a recipe menu of ten different dishes, and we did half before lunch, and the other half afterwards.  Most of the others on the course were there on their own, there was one Italian couple, and one mother with her daughter, and us. We had our own workstations, shared bits and pieces and chatted away throughout the day in a friendly atmosphere of busy activity.  Our tutor Cormac, was constantly on hand as needed, and Aoife was busy helping us prepare ingredients, weigh and measure what we needed for each dish.

We did not have to spend any time watching demonstrations, but we got ‘stuck in’ to cooking straight away. Help and advice was there as much as we wanted, and while some people worked on their own, my daughter and I enjoyed splitting the jobs between us.  So what did we make? Mixed bean pate and some bruschettas, spicy pepper and tomato soup, a stunning risotto with herbs and beans, a veggie tagine and a quinoa salad – and that was all before lunch!  Great dishes, we tasted them all and chatted around the tl Ffitata, and a great pie with filo pastry. There were lots of fresh herbs and some spices in the dishes, and we were constantly encouraged to taste and adapt as we liked.

I would highly recommend buying a cookery course for yourself, a family member or a friend, it was certainly one of my better gift ideas!  You can opt for a half day if you think the full day might be too much, and it is a great way for two people to really enjoy spending time together. It is highly sociable and a wonderful way to learn a new skill at any age.  In fact Cormac told me that some time ago a man in this 80s came to a class, a gift from his daughter.  He was unsure about it at first, but found he really enjoyed it, and enrolled in subsequent classes, and now holds regular dinner parties for family and friends.  This was a man who had never cooked before; had gone from his mother’s cooking to his wife’s cooking and after being left a widower he could hardly boil an egg on his own.  What a great new lease of life he got from that initial present!  It is lovely to see an older person across the workstation from a teenager, and how they both learn together in an atmosphere of fun and friendship.

There is no digital or linguistic advantage and enthusiasm is contagious.  My steak and sauces food and  wine!  There is certainly a course to suit all tastes and there is certainly a cookery school near you.

So, let’s get cooking!   www.cooksacademy.com  01-6111667

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Senior Times also publishes Senior Times magazine and are organisers of the 50 Plus Expo’s in Dublin, Cork, Galway and Killarney.

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