When you cut your finger while chopping chillis, it’s always handy to have a military medic on hand. Lucky for me, when I visited the recently-opened Mousley House Farm Cookery School, they just happen to have one in the form of owner George. Fortunately for both of us, I’m not only a bit crap at cooking but I did a rather lousy job of injuring myself and despite my dramatic cry for help, a quick wash and a plaster had me all patched up.
I’ve done a few cooking courses now, from learning knife skills at Jamie Oliver’s place in London (ironic given the opening paragraph to this post) to thai cooking in Birmingham, and most recently trying my hand at breadmaking with PAUL. Despite this, I’m still fairly sure I am one of the world’s worst cooks, but hey, I’m going to keep on trying. And so, when I was invited to check out one of the evening courses at Warwickshire’s latest cooking school, I couldn’t resist.
It’s a bit of an idyllic setting really. Hidden down quiet country lanes is a quintessentially English farm. It was already home to some self-catering accommodation and a campsite next door, but is now also the site of a brand new cooking school started by former Royal Marine George Bird.
George, whose mum-in-law owns the farm, left the marines last year and came up with the idea of turning part of the farmhouse into a cookery school. His mate Nick Rowberry just happens to be a pretty darn good chef, who’s worked at places including the Chequers Inn in Ettington, The Church Street Townhouse in Stratford Upon Avon and The Bell at Stow on the Wold.
Between them, and with help from George’s better half Charlie, they’ve created a cookery school that can host anything from basic courses for students heading off to university to children’s Bake Off parties, and team-building days to fun evening sessions like the one I attended.
The kitchen itself has been designed to feel a bit like the one in your own home. No big scary industrial bits of kit, just an oven and a hob, a worktop, and all the little bowls, boards, knives and tools that you’ll need. The only extras it has is a specially-designed wheelchair-friendly station so nobody gets left out.
On the night I went I was joined by a few friends of Charlie’s mum as well as two couples who had learned that the cookery school had opened and booked in for a fun night out – complete with a few bottles of bubbles they’d brought along for the ride.
In fact, they needn’t have worried because one of the instant winners for me at Mousley House Farm is that George dishes out beers, wine, or soft drinks when you arrive. None of this corporate stuff, it’s more like going round to a mate’s house who just so happens to have a huge, communal kitchen complete with trained chef. And so we donned our aprons and settled in for a night of fun.
They do all sorts of different cuisine, but the night I chose it was ‘South-East Asian’ so as we gathered round, Nick filled us in on the busy night we had ahead. Thai fishcakes with our own homemade sweet chilli sauce, Massaman curry, a rice noodle salad, and some delicious green beans in a peanut sauce. Lots to do! I won’t give you a step by step breakdown of every single little thing we did as there was quite a bit (plus I wouldn’t dare nick all of Nick’s recipes, who knows what he might do!) but I’ll give you an idea of some of the hands-on fun we managed to have.
First up we got the Massaman curry on, preceded by lots of ingredient gathering, general confusion and laughter. The great thing about doing something like this is it really doesn’t matter whether you go with someone or on your own – fighting over the biggest chilli or comparing notes on how many spoons of what you were meant to put in what is a great ice-breaker.
The Massaman curry in to simmer, we moved on to some Thai fishcakes and our own sweet chilli sauce. Again, we had the simple talk through from Nick that, for some of us, seemed to be instantly forgotten after he stopped talking. Not because he’s not interesting and saying important stuff, I hasten to add, but because we were just having too much fun to concentrate properly.
Fishcakes and chilli sauce brought more ingredient scrambling, more jokes, more confusion, and the cut finger mentioned at the top of this post from me.
Et voila! Between us all, we managed to produce rather a nice looking starter of Thai fishcakes complete with our own sweet chilli sauce (which, by the way, I will never buy again after seeing how easy it is to make your own). Lucky for me, an incredibly kind fellow chef was a bit handy with the camera and grabbed a few pictures of me in action, just to prove that I actually took part rather than relying on someone else to do my cooking like I usually do at home.
I have to add, not all of these dishes were the ones I produced. Some people did a far better job than me, so I thought I’d show you what you CAN achieve at Mousley House Farm if you’re not quite as cack-handed as me and pay attention!
We retired to the dining room to enjoy our starters. Interestingly, they all tasted slightly different and we had great fun trying each other’s creations. Sitting round the big dining table made the evening feel even more like a dinner party with friends than an organised cooking school. The laughter continued as a bunch of complete strangers with a shared interest in food got to know each other – but it wasn’t too long before Nick and George dragged us back into the kitchen to finish off our feast.
As our Massaman curries finished off their simmering, Nick showed us how to put together an easy rice noodle salad as well as some simple green beans with a gorgeous peanut sauce. A real feast! It wasn’t long before we were plating up and getting ready to munch our way through our masterpieces.
And there you have it – three finished dishes made by my own fair hand, with a LOT of help from Nick and George and pretty much anyone I could find to check if I was doing it right, adding the right ingredients, and adding the right amount of them. We returned to the dining room with our spoils and again enjoyed trying each other’s creations, working out where we’d gone wrong with our own, and laughing over the evening’s antics.
They say time flies when you’re having fun, and it wasn’t until gone 10pm that I glanced at my watch and realised – reluctantly – that I should probably be heading home. I left with a bowl of massaman curry for Mr M (a bowl I still need to return), some new recipes under my belt and – most importantly – a grin on my face and a warmth inside, not just from the curry but from a fabulous evening with some great people.
I felt compelled to write to George when I got home that night to give him a huge verbal slap on the back for a job well done. My words then were: “I’ve done a few cookery courses and never have I been to one that oozes so much warmth and fun”, and weeks later, they still stand.
Cookery courses and cooking schools aren’t just about the food. They’re supposed to be about an experience, about bringing people together with shared interests, learning together, laughing together, and developing skills that you can take away with you when you leave a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere and go back to reality, whether that’s heading off to uni, going to work, or cooking for your family.
Most of all, they’re meant to be fun, and Mousley House Farm has got this in bucketloads. A great setting, a brilliant idea, well-executed, and most importantly people who are passionate about what they’re doing. Bravo to George, Nick and Charlie and a massive thanks to my fellow chefs and my new-found personal photographer. I owe you!
I was invited to attend a course at Mousley House Farm Cookery School so I could review it for this blog. I never promise positive reviews in exchange for blog posts – I say what I see – and that’s exactly what you’ve got here.
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