A big thank you to my fiancée Emma for buying me a cookery lesson with one of my food heroes at Season cookery school
Lainston House is part of the Exclusive hotel chain, who take their dining very seriously – The Latymer at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey holds 2 Michelin stars, The Bybrook at Manor House in Castle Combe, Wiltshire holds 1 Michelin star, The Pass at South Lodge hotel in Horsham, Surrey holds 1 Michelin star and head chef at The Pass, Matt Gillan got his main course dish to the banquet in Great British Menu this year. I’ve been a very happy diner at The Latymer and The Pass.
Season is a new if natural venture for Exclusive hotels and the cookery school has been running for a couple of months. They offer a variety of courses from basic knife skills to cooking with kids through to cooking with Michelin starred chefs. My advice is to pick a course pitched at your experience in that area and the booking staff are available for help. I leapt at the chance to cook with 2 Michelin-starred head chef Michael Wignall from The Latymer, who was going to demonstrate a dish, taking us from the concept through to the plating
Lainston House is a short drive out of the pretty, quintessentially English city of Winchester. Driving down the sweeping drive leading to the hotel tells you this is classy country house hotel. The cookery school is located in a separate building from the main hotel, near to the main car park
I walked into the large welcome/dining/lounge area to be greeted with a warm welcome and offered a pastry and a drink (tea, coffee, juice and water). I was given a little paperwork to be filled in and a course pack of a Season apron to wear and to keep, a Masterchef contestant style name badge and the recipes for the course. Yes, recipes – we had a bonus that chef Wignall wanted to push us with 2 dishes and show as many processes as possible that we could take back and use in our own kitchens. This was perfect for our group of experienced cooks. By the way, a quick word of reassurance, I was a little daunted when I first saw the recipes with 11 components and many new processes but the masterclass shows how to do it and help is readily available when it’s time for you to tackle the dish yourself
They have really gone all out with the cookery school. Gaggenau have outfitted the kitchen (discounts available for Season customers) and Season have also commissioned bespoke branded cookery equipment for the school, which is available for purchase
The morning kicked off with a quick introduction by cookery school director Sylvain Gachot and we were then taken into the kitchen to meet chef Wignall (he told us to call him Michael, so I’ll do that for the rest of the review) and his assistant Kieran
The cookery stations had generous work space but Michael reminded us that good chefs work tidily and clean up as they go along. It was interesting to hear that he shares my distaste for induction stoves. Do ask for help if you’re not familiar with induction stoves – you need specific sized pans for specific sized rings and it’s easy to boil things over if you don’t have a feel for them
The lesson started with a masterclass. Superb. I love watching experts in any field at work and in his hands, Michael made the processes on the recipe sheets seem achievable. Lots of opportunity to ask questions and lots of professional kitchen tips. He was very happy to share his knowledge and expertise. One major thing I will take away is that the key to greatness lies in attention to detail – for example, sieving the baking powder into the caramel makes the resulting honeycomb lighter and smoother
Michael then plated up the 2 dishes – Oxfordshire hay-smoked trout, linseed cracker, horseradish emulsion, trout belly rilette, sea vegetables, dashi and Poached pear, ginger beurre noisette, caramelised chestnut, dolce chocolate namelaka, pear bubbles, honeycomb – to show us what we were trying to achieve and to taste. Heavenly with a balance and contrast of flavours and textures. I was very excited that we were going to attempt to cook dishes of that level of calibre and finesse
Then, it was our turn to have a go. The day was set up nicely for us with the chefs telling us what order in which to tackle the tasks. A constant stream of ready measured ingredients arrived on our work benches in readiness for our next dish to be tackled. If only I could always have that service in my own kitchen!
There were several new experiences for me – the most exciting was preparing a fresh trout from scratch by scaling, cleaning, gutting, filleting and pin boning the fish in readiness for curing and smoking
We had a go at classic recipes like making honeycomb through to the molecular gastronomy world of spherification using alginate and lactate to make thin-skinned bubbles of pear purée to go in the dessert. I loved every minute and Michael, chef Kieran and and chef Sylvain were always circulating, checking in on us, advising, helping and even helping with the washing up!
It was also nice to chat to my fellow students and share our favourite restaurants and recipes. Always good to meet fellow foodies
As with all cooking tasks, the time flew past and soon, it was time to plate up our food. By the way, we were able take home all our uneaten food to share at home, which was nice as many of us had received the course as a present
This was truly one of the best cookery experiences of my life and I learned a lot but those skills were easily transferable to my day to day cooking. Thanks to Michael and Season cookery school for a great time. Now, to save up for the lesson with chef Matt Gillan, who is hosting a lesson in cooking his winning dish from the Great British menu
Season Cookery School weblink
Season Cookery School, Lainston House Hotel, Woodman Lane, Sparsholt, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 2LT