One of my ultimate dreams is to own a house with a very large, fully equipped, sociable kitchen. Kitchen’s for me have always been a place where you ‘whistle while you work’: you talk about your day, current events even laugh at yourself.There are many reasons for this: cooking can be a pretty daunting experience, even for me. Finding new recipes online and trying to duplicate them at home can been hit and miss: the measurements can be off or the author fails to explain some of the techniques clearly. Unless you have the privilege of having an experienced Chef next to you probing your sorry attempt at pasta dough, the temptation to slip away to the local takeaway quickly emerges.
However after spending an evening with John and friends at Food at 52 Cookery School, I am relived to say that there is no better place to get your culinary experience on the right track.
Add ‘Passionate’ and ‘Welcoming’ to the title ‘experienced Chef’ and you would have John Benbow, the founder and resident Chef of Food at 52 based in Clerkenwell. Food at 52 actually started in his family home, No.52 not far from where the cookery school is now based, where he provided cooking classes covering a wide variety of cuisines. It caters for all levels of cooking so if you are simply looking to improve on your skills or extend your cuisine, Food at 52 is a brilliant start.
As like any other family home, I rang the door bell to Food 52 and was led into the lounge area decorated in interesting vintage artefacts, which did so much to relax and engage conversation. We had all selected the Flavours of Italy course; the brief had provided us with a selection of possible recipes, but we didn’t know until we arrived which recipes we would be making, so there was a lot of anticipation.
It was when John led us into the vast homely kitchen, that we were told what we would be cooking that night – at least 4 authentic Italian dishes. The first thing which caught my eye was the Smeg Fridge, which I imagined to be filled with homemade relishes and organic goodies. A close second was the large oak table prepared for us with aprons and individual cutting boards. This was not going to be a spectator course for sure, we were going to work for our supper.
As the soothing music played in the background, John took us through what we would be cooking, which included two sweets: Biscotti and Amaretti Semifreddo. Without delay John took us through step by step how to make Tagliatelle (from scratch) and answered all our questions about the recipes. He was very accommodating: many of us may never own a pasta maker or the other gadgets that most cooking schools take for granted, so where possible John utilised elbow grease to roll out the dough; you could see he genuinely wanted us to see how accessible and easy cooking can be when you understand the rules.
Needless to say once the first recipe was on its way, our mouths were watering, so while we waited for the pasta to cook we dipped fresh chunks of Focaccia bread into bowls of oilve oil and sipped on generous refreshments which lined the table.
Cooking was truly a communal experience: we worked at the same pace, keeping check on each other and sharing our cooking woes and travel stories. Everything we made, we shared which added to the satisfaction.
If I could take anything away from the course, it would be the cooking techniques: from how to hold a knife correctly for chopping, to creating a more flavoursome pesto to achieving the perfect crunch to our almond biscotti. And of course where would we be without a doggy bag of food to take home, just to savour the experience the following day.
Food at 52 makes no compromise on flavour or quality: good quality ingredients always give you better results. Food at 52 represents authentic recipes made accessible in a fun, welcoming environment.