Pulling up to Daylesford’s Cotswolds estate, there’s an inherent feeling that you’re going to enjoy your time there. Trundling through the verdant English countryside on a train away from London is always a welcome escape, but with the promise of a day cooking up a storm in the kitchen of Daylesford Cookery School at the end of it, this is certainly one particular journey worth embarking upon.
From its beginnings as a family farm in Staffordshire and then the Cotswolds over forty years ago, today the Daylesford empire encompasses the organic farm with its on-site shop - packed to the rafters with everything from fresh produce and handmade cheeses to a beautifully-crafted lifestyle range - as well as a stunning restaurant, year-round calendar of hands-on workshops, the luxuriously indulgent Bamford Haybarn Spa, on-site accommodation in the form of the Daylesford cottages and, of course the eponymous Cookery School. An invitation to spend a day whipping up a smorgasbord of delicious dishes under the tutelage of their head chef is not to be turned down, and so it was that I recently found myself stepping into the world of Daylesford for a cookery masterclass.
The calendar of courses itself is a sight to behold, covering almost anything one could possibly want to learn in a kitchen; choosing your preference of course will probably be the hardest part. From cheese-making and artisan breadmaking, to nose-to-tail butchery and masterclasses on how to throw the perfect dinner party, visitors to the Cookery School, which was established in 2010, have the benefit of learning not only from Daylesford’s team of chefs but an experienced faculty of bakers, cheesemakers, butchers, foragers, market gardeners and even an in-house sustainability expert.
From the moment I stepped across the threshold on a drizzly grey February morning, I was sold on the Daylesford life. The whole air of the estate is comforting, homely and wholesome; maybe it was the fresh country air but I could quite happily have stayed the whole weekend. With the shop and restaurant relatively quiet given the early hour, I headed to the cookery school ready to don chef’s whites for a workshop entitled Eat to be Healthy. With Daylesford’s passion and dedication to growing, producing and cooking real food, organically, it seemed like an apt choice of course to explore.
Celebrating delicious, seasonal recipes that are naturally free of refined sugars, dairy and wheat flour, Eat to be Healthy explores fast, simple recipes that utilise fresh ingredients and pack a big punch on taste with minimal effort. Led by chefs James Hearfield and Jason Christie, the day began with a bowl of homemade pistachios, orange and cardamom granola (the recipe for which was in our take-home folder) and coconut yoghurt, a delectable blend of nuts and seeds, toasted with just a smidgen of maple syrup and a thousand times more delicious than anything found in a shop. With the day’s menu comprising a warming winter soup, sprouting salad with Bagna Cauda, Keralan fish curry with cauliflower rice and a grand finale of an Earl grey winter tea jelly finished with charred blood orange, roasted pistachios and cashew cream, one would be forgiven for thinking such a feast would require hours of slaving over a hot stove. Quite the contrary; each of our given recipes was as speedy to create as it was to devour (almost…) and after in-depth tutorials from our chefs, a wealth of shared tips - from the secret to the perfect stock to how to season properly - and plenty of vibrant conversation about the topic in hand, the day flew by and six hours felt more like two.
While every recipe was something of a taste sensation, it was the Keralan fish curry that really struck a chord, since my day at Daylesford a mere three weeks ago it has already graced the plates of my house not once, but twice. I have a feeling it’s a recipe that will become a favourite.
As well as learning an arsenal of recipes to overhaul my eating habits, the course certainly set the cogs in motion in terms of thinking outside the box; while I love to cook, living alone and lacking in time means not often making the effort to cook for one and easily ending up stuck in a rut. James and Jason helped unravel some myths about healthy cooking and I’ve already stocked up my spice cupboard with a plethora of flavours to add to my dishes. With the course certificate offering a discount in the farm shop, it would have been rude not to indulge in a little retail therapy upon completion and with such a rich array of produce on offer it was inevitable one would walk away with a basket full, ready to recreate the magic of the Daylesford Cookery School at home.
The next Eat to be Healthy course takes place on March 10th, priced at £185 with 20% of bookings for full day courses until 31st March. For a full calendar of events throughout the year and to book visit www.daylesford.com/cookeryschool