A couple of years ago I was invited to a brand PR event hosted in a beautiful cookery school called Food at 52.
Classes were run in the family home of John and Emily, located in a residential neighbourhood of Clerkenwell. The classic Georgian exterior masked an absolutely striking modern interior, decorated in a wonderfully idiosyncratic style, full to the brim of beautiful, strange and random bits and bobs collected on travels around the world and closer to home. The kitchen was large and homely, with an enormous 9 ring cooker, a large kitchen table, lots of pots and pans on open shelves and lots of light streaming in from huge windows and doors to the outside. There was a beautiful glass-walled courtyard living room and an outdoor garden area in which students could enjoy lunch and coffee breaks. I absolutely adored the house, and felt very much at ease with John and Emily, though the event I attended that day was taught by a guest celebrity chef employed by the brand.
I stayed in touch and a few months ago, John and Emily shared their news that they had moved the school to a dedicated new premises, now located between Angel and Old Street tube stations. They invited me to attend a class and check out the new school.
I was apprehensive about whether the new school could provide the same genuine charm and warmth of the original family home but needn’t have worried. John used to work in the film industry, running a set building company, which gave him the skills, experience and creativity to do the refurbishment of the new property himself and he’s created a teaching kitchen that manages to feel like a home.
Upstairs is a living room break out area. Privacy from passers by peering through the windows is provided by beautiful hand-crafted stained glass panels featuring photographic images of London printed onto the glass. Glass drop chandeliers, carried home from Morocco, throw patterns of light across the ceiling. And a full size suit of armour stands guard in the corner – do ask Emily the story of how he joined the family!
Although it’s in the basement, part of the ground floor has been cut away and a clever angled mirror bounces lots of natural light straight down and into the kitchen. That light falls onto an enormous sturdy wooden and Yorkshire stone table, made specifically for the space. It’s big enough to seat an army, so gives our class of 6 plenty of space to work.
A large range cooker and ovens sit under custom-made hoods that have Foodat52 cut into the metal. Against the walls are dressers and shelves holding huge jars of ingredients. Quirky art work adorns the walls as does an enormous mirror onto which the day’s menu is scribbled by Emily. Yellow roses sit in an old metal milk jug and a cuckoo clock keeps time.
Our class is taught by John, with a second member of staff assisting with measuring and getting out ingredients, cleaning chopping boards, knives and equipment and keeping us in caffeine throughout the day.
John is not a chef, but has always loved food and cooking. In fact, the school came about after family and friends asked for informal cookery lessons, which eventually lead John and Emily to launch the school in their home.
Today, we have gathered together to learn some Italian dishes.
I’m joined by a young lady with the most beautiful red hair, heavily pregnant and making the most of her free time before giving birth to her first child; a recently graduated engineer (or was it physics?) whose girlfriend bought him the course as a birthday present; a mother and daughter enjoying a weekend break from Scotland and a food writer / video-blogger, also reviewing the school.
I’m impressed by the agenda for the day. We work our way through cantuccini (biscotti), home made pasta which we use to make tagliatelle pesto and butternut and amaretti ravioli, parmigiana di melanzane, chicken sofrito and amaretti semifreddo.
Everything is hands on so we properly learn how to do each step of the recipes. The only thing that’s been done ahead of time is to prep and bake the butternut squash for the ravioli filling. Everything else we do during the day. It’s absolutely the best way of learning and hugely enjoyable to get stuck in.
We stop for a quick bite of our freshly made tagliatelle pesto as a prelude to lunch but enjoy the rest of the courses as a late lunch at the end of the course. I love everything we make, so much so that I’m struggling to pick my favourite dish. I’m keen to make all of the dishes again at home, and better still, I have the confidence that I’ll be able to do so.
As well as covering the recipes themselves, John throws in basic knife skills for chopping vegetables and gives us plenty of helpful tips throughout the course.
His recipes are broadly classics, but his parmigiana di melanzane is a little different to any I’ve seen before; attractively stacked and the flavours are lifted more than I would have imagined possible by the inclusion of lemon zest.
The Flavours of Italy (10 am to 3 pm weekday) class I attended retails for £115 and at first glance, that seems a lot.
However, I’ve spent a fair bit of time comparing the offerings of different cookery schools over the last few years, and many of the less expensive classes are much shorter and cover significantly less. And some that are described as hands on run all the complicated bits as demonstration only, with the hands on experience covering only a fraction of the menu. Other classes have so much prepped for you that they are little more than an assembly job, or a case of stirring this into that. So, actually, the classes at Food at 52 are very good value because you get to do it all yourself and hence, you learn better.
Two hour classes over lunch or towards the end of the afternoon are available for £65. Of course, these cover less than the day class I attended, but John still packs in at least three recipes. On Saturdays, the all day classes are £135.
I’ve attended a lot of cookery classes in the last few years, and I would rate this amongst the top two or three.
Kavey Eats attended the Flavours of Italy cookery class as a guest of Food at 52.