If ever there were an award for the most magnificent setting for a cookery school, The Carlton School of Food would surely be a shoe-in. The school is housed within Carlton Towers, a private stately home as sumptuous as any I’ve seen.
Home to Lord and Lady Gerald Fitzalan Howard, Carlton Towers dates from the early 16th century, was extended in the 1700s and transformed to its current grandeur in the 1870s. The Victorian external façade is certainly impressive, but the house also boasts splendid gothic revival interiors.
Guests who book an overnight stay – and I urge you to do so – are welcome to explore the dramatic hallways, staircases, galleried landings and staterooms, not to mention the cosy living areas and luxurious bedrooms. My simple hearty supper and evening infront of a roaring log fire was a peaceful prelude to the day of cooking to come.
The cookery school itself is located on the ground floor, where the original kitchens were located. These were sympathetically and stylishly restored in 2014 to create a modern cookery school in a historic setting. Most classes take place in the main kitchen – a spacious, light and airy room that is somehow cosy at the same time. A huge central island is built from natural and white-painted wood, older storage units, dressers and modern ovens line the walls to two sides of the room, a vast fireplace and old cast iron range occupy another and six stone-framed windows let in plenty of light along the fourth. There is also a pretty living room for students to use and an elegant dining room in which lunch is taken.
My class is one of a series called Eat Like A Local, aimed at giving home cooks a repertoire of the kind of dishes they might enjoy on a holiday and then wish to rereate at home. Today we are learning Moroccan dishes from Richard Walton-Allen, Carlton Tower’s executive chef. A professional chef with a passion for quality produce and sourcing, Richard has travelled the world seeking new flavours and cooking styles, which feed into his teaching.
First on our schedule is a tagine of lamb with dates and almond, which needs a couple of hours in the oven after the initial browning of meat and onions. After a quick introduction, Richard talks the class through the difference between lamb, hogget and mutton while giving a demonstration of the easiest way to break down a joint, pulling the meat apart along its seams. We go on to make our individual tagines with lamb, but Richard makes his with hogget so we can taste the difference later.
Once our lamb dishes are in the oven and we’ve been fortified with hot drinks and slices of homemade orange cake, we move onto the second main recipe of the day. In Morocco pastilla is traditionally made with pigeon, though chicken is sometimes used. We take advantage of the abundant game available at Carlton Towers, and make our pastillas with partridge, wrapping the spiced meat filling with strips of buttered brik pastry.
With the vegetable cous cous and salads we also make during the day, there will be plenty for lunch already, so we box up our unbaked pastillas to take home.
The course ends with a leisurely late lunch in the formal dining room, a chance for me to chat further with my fellow students, including two retired friends who’ve attended several classes at The Carlton School of Food and are already booked on a few more. I don’t need to ask them why they’re such loyal customers – not only are all the dishes we’ve made delicious and eminently achievable for the home cook, all of us have picked up lots of useful tips to apply to our every day cooking.
Recipe from Eat Like A Local Moroccan
Kavey Eats attended the class as guests of Carlton Towers. Please note that the cookery school is now closed.