We Went to the School of Artisan Food to Try One Of Their Delectable Cooking Courses

Words: Claire Jones
Photos: School of Artisan Food
Tuesday 09 April 2024
reading time: min, words

Nestled in the expansive Welbeck Estate in north Nottinghamshire lies the School of Artisan Food, a hands-on cooking school dedicated to traditional processes and proper craftsmanship. Catering to everyone from the hobbyist hoping to perfect their puff pastry to budding professionals seeking the tricks of the trade, it's a haven of all things homemade and an antidote to a food culture dominated by the mass-produced and ultra-processed.

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To celebrate their fifteenth anniversary, the School is serving up a special programme of over sixty short courses between June and August, alongside an immersive four-week Summer School. When they invited us to get a taste of what's on offer, it's fair to say we bit their hand off. 


We start the day in one of the bright training kitchens with a patisserie class. Stood in our matching School of Artisan Food pinnies at wide, gleaming workspaces, it's giving serious Bake Off vibes. An effect no doubt enhanced by standing opposite Series 9 contestant Karen Wright as we weigh and whisk. I narrowly resist the urge to peer intensely into the oven like my life depends on its contents. It's the closest I, and indeed most of us, will come to the iconic tent.

Luckily there's no panic-inducing technical challenge to contend with as tutor Martha Brown guides us through our first recipe of the day: Chocolate Hazelnut Amaretti Morbidi. Sounds fancy right? They look it too. They turn out to be one of those rare recipes you come to treasure; straightforward to prepare, undeniably impressive. A crisp crackled exterior enveloping a morish, marshmallowy centre. Delicious. 


Martha is one of many members of staff who first joined the school as a student, in this case on their Advanced Diploma in Artisan Baking: a six-month qualification for those wishing to work in or establish their own baking business. Martha has done both in the time between studying and returning to share the skills she's honed in the industry.  


We move on to the culinary alchemy of honeycomb, transforming sugar and syrup into the centre of a Crunchie bar. Sugarwork can be intimidating to an amateur but Martha's accessible explanation of the process made it simple. Seeing the caramel swell and bubble into a pool of gold as you whisk in bicarb is intensely satisfying.

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Next on our whistlestop tour of the school's varied culinary curriculum, Martha talks us through the principles of viennoiserie as she works puff pastry. The process of rolling and folding layers of butter is simple enough but labour-intensive. It gives me a newfound appreciation for the impeccable lamination on the croissants served earlier for breakfast. 


There's also a palpable sense of community that runs through the School. Everyone we meet is united in their passion for good food and traditional craftsmanship. The whole Estate is a sanctuary for small producers - cheese makers, bakers and brewers. More than one mention is made about evening visits to the newly launched rum distillery. 'Idyllic' springs to mind, not for the first time. 

Out in the quaint cobbled courtyard, we wander between huge fire bowls to meet Sally-Ann Hunt for an introduction to BBQ. She is a fount of knowledge and her enthusiasm for wild food, fire and smoke is enthralling. Having left behind a twenty-year career in finance to pursue her passion for food and sharing traditional skills that might otherwise be lost to history, she possesses a kind of pioneer woman aura. 


She stands amongst the smoke enthusing about the haunch of wild venison hung above the flames, an animal from the Estate's deer park, which she butchered herself. Meanwhile, the shawarma butter-injected cauliflower slow cooking above the opposite ornate fire bowl piqued my interest.   

There are audible exclamations of wonder when she opens the door of the cold smoking cabinet. One taste of the smoked cheese is enough to reignite my passion for a long-forgotten project left languishing in my shed: converting a small metal filing cabinet into a smoker.


Our appetites suitably fired up by the delectable smells drifting from the various BBQs and smokers, we take our seats on long wooden benches for a feast in the former fire stable. As I suspected, the cauliflower is a particular delight, as are the homemade quiches and salads served alongside the expertly BBQ’d duck, gammon and venison prepared by Sally-Anne. 

Feeling more like a nap than a workshop (or a workout, which we had been fair-warned to expect) we head off to try our hand at baking soft, fluffy focaccia and crip grissini (breadsticks). 


Kevan Roberts, the gregarious Head of Baking, shares expertise gained from over thirty years in the bread industry; techniques for stretching and shaping, tips for getting children excited about bread baking, tricks for charming your local supermarket baker into a free supply of fresh yeast... These are things you really can't learn in a recipe book or absorb watching YouTube.


We stand scraping great handfuls of soft, sticky dough into the air before slapping it down and stretching it across the work surface. It's sensory, it's playful and as the wide smiles on the faces of everyone in the room attest, it's joyous. I've made plenty of bread but I've never had so much fun doing it. Cooking as a communal activity isn't something I'm used to. Perhaps now I'll think twice before escorting guests offering help so swiftly out of my kitchen. 


Being so starved for time in the real world that many of us barely have enough to scoff down a packaged, ultra-processed sarnie on our lunch breaks. The idea of hand-stretching dough and investing in the hours of fermentation that create great flavour can seem like a luxury few can afford.

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We've become detached from the provenance of our food, from the process of creating real food from scratch and from the joy to be found in that process. The school aims to address this. It was founded on an ethos of preserving traditional food skills, promoting alternatives to highly processed food and celebrating good food in the widest sense. 


A registered charity, the school seeks to share their knowledge and passion with as wide a group as possible. They fundraise bursaries and subsidies for their courses and work actively with local schools, social enterprises, healthcare professionals and disadvantaged groups to educate on eating well, healthy choices and sustainable food. 


Whatever piques your culinary curiosity, chances are they have a course for you amongst the extensive range on offer. The Summer School runs from July 29 - August 23 offering students the chance to become immersed in the world of bread making, patisserie, viennoiserie, pizza making, BBQ and ice-cream making. 


Short courses start at £95 for a half-day session and cover a range of skills from bread baking, BBQ and butchery to patisserie, pies and pizzas, foraging and fermenting to curing and cheese-making.


Head to schoolofartisanfood.org to find out more

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