REVIEW | Carlton Towers Cookery School, North Yorkshire
Now I have room for all sorts of gadgets and gizmos and most importantly, I have a wine cooler. I enjoy nothing more than cracking open a bottle of plonk on a Sunday afternoon and cooking up a storm. In fact I enjoy nothing more than cracking open a bottle of plonk most nights of the week.
You certainly won’t find a microwave ready-meal in my freezer. I can throw my hand at most meat and poultry-based dishes and nine-times-out-of-ten they are a roaring success and Iain, my husband, will once again be reminded of one of the many, many reasons why he married me.
Fish, however, is not my strong point. I love fish but I’ll be honest, aside from baking a salmon fillet and grilling a fish finger, my fish cooking skills are (or were) limited to say the least. Until recently I thought a sea bream was a cocktail and a sturgeon was someone who carried out an operation. I wouldn’t have a clue what to do with swordfish and up to the age of 20, I thought tuna only came in a tin. And if my Gran bought a tin of red salmon, it was a VERY special occasion.
So it’s fitting that I was invited by a friend’s BF to one of his cookery classes just outside of Selby to learn how to prepare and cook fish.
Set in 250 acres of Parkland, Carlton Towers is a pretty majestic looking abode. It has an air of posh boarding school about it. As I made my way up the grand sweeping drive, I left behind the modern world: Selby and Ferrybridge were forgotten as I approached a building straight out of Downton Abbey.
I arrived a little later than the 9.45am start so I was swiftly escorted straight into the pretty impressive kitchen complete with the world’s largest Aga. There was already a gaggle of five ladies sporting crisp white Cooks Carlton aprons and arranging their work stations in preparation for Chef Lionel Strub’s Fish Master Class.
Chef Lionel was sharpening his knives and cracking the odd joke in a very non-French fashion. For me this really was one of the many highlights of the class; Chef Lionel has quite obviously been in the UK far too long, as his impeccable sarcasm and wit shone through throughout the course. The ladies hung off every word and giggled like schoolgirls as he showed them the art of fish gutting.
The course is a full-day and participants are taught how to prepare and cook a number of fish dishes, including salmon and spinach filled sole with beurre blanc sauce; trout pate; baked mackerel with lemon and tomatoes; and my personal favourite; Thai red curry with sea bream.
Cleverly, the course has been designed not just to show one how to cook some super tasty fish dishes, but also to demonstrate a whole range of techniques associated with buying, preparing and cooking fish.
Another highlight of the day was lunchtime. We all moved into Carlton Towers’ formal dining room and together we tucked into the wonderful dishes that we had prepared that morning, in surroundings that resembled Windsor Castle. Chef Lionel joined us and this was a wonderful opportunity to ‘fish’ for more cooking secrets and techniques. Once again he impressed the table with his humour and wit.
Cooking schools conjure up visions of lots of steel. Everywhere. Hot plates, rows of modern ovens, high-gloss tiled floors and a machine for everything. Not Carlton Towers. It’s as every bit Downton Abbey inside as it is outside. The main cooking school kitchen is adorned with rich wood tones and chequered flooring. A once derelict wing of Carlton Towers, the cookery school has been carefully and lovingly restored to create a days-gone-by feel, but with all the mod-cons cleverly incorporated as to not ruin the Victorian period feel that this space radiates.
The school boasts another number of working rooms to include a smoking room (fish, not fags) and a butchery that have once again been carefully restored to project their past, at the same time as offering equipment that is in line with modern cooking techniques.
The brainchild of Cooks Carlton is Elaine Lemm, who is a food writer and author and a regular contributor to the Yorkshire Post. Elaine, who is an integral part of day-to-day running of the cookery school insisted on taking me on a grand tour of Carlton Towers, which is part of the Duke of Norfolk’s Estate.
Possibly the most unique element of this cooking school is that it is essentially housed within a private estate; the cookery school at Cooks Carlton is in someone’s house! That someone is Lord Gerald and his wife Lady Emma; both of whom have a passion for food and can be seen from time to time around the estate.
The tour took me out of the cookery school and into the main house. I was whisked around rooms fit for royalty; in fact judging by the vast array of photos of everyone from the late Princess Diana to The Queen herself; the house has been host to many a royal over the years. Parts of it are available for functions such as weddings, and the house comes with 16 exquisitely decorated bedrooms.
My day at Cooks Carlton was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. I just wish I could have spent the night in one of those rooms fit for the princess that a I am.
Cooking up a storm in a cookery class with a gaggle of my girlfriends, savouring the fruits of my labour washed down with a few glasses of Chateauneuf du Pap in a dining room fit for a royal, curled up in front of the opulent drawing room fire gossiping and quaffing Tanqueray No.10 and tonic with a cucumber slice, and then spending the night in a bedroom that one would find at Sandringham is quite simply my idea of heaven.
If I could get hitched all over again it would be at Carlton Towers.
Book your cookery course at Cooks here:
A big thank you to Elaine, Lionel and the staff at Cooks Carlton for inviting me to take part in the cookery school.
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