What it’s like
Part of a working farm outside Truro, Philleigh Way Cookery School is set in a former cowshed and stables with high ceilings, honey-coloured beams and buckets of Cornish country charm. As well as its inside training kitchen there’s an impressive outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven, brick open-fire cooking and five Weber barbecues. Luckily, given our often-inclement weather (this summer aside!), it is covered. “It’s very British to barbecue under a roof,” head tutor George assured us.
What I learned
Starting with a charcoal-fuelled kettle barbecue, George showed us how to use a barbecue chimney – a cylindrical metal container with a handle, which enables the charcoal to reach cooking temperature much faster than just lighting it in the barbecue.
Carefully (with heatproof gloves on), we tumbled the white-hot coals into two semi-circular metal baskets in the barbie. Moved to each side, these provide indirect heat; brought together in the centre they directly heat whatever is placed above on the grill rack. These are the two key cooking methods with charcoal. Gas barbies are simpler (just ignite and you’re ready to go) but George maintains they don’t give food the same smoky flavour.
The day moved between demos from George and hands-on food preparation and cooking on the barbecues, with my six fellow classmates and I shuttling between the indoor and outdoor kitchens. George showed us how to prepare trendy beer-can chicken, which involves propping up a bird vertically on the canned beer of your choosing (drink a third of the can first as a chef’s perk to prevent spillage).
Next we made pizza dough and used a peel (giant pizza spatula) to transfer our homemade bases to a hot pizza stone, a nifty accessory. Just minutes after lowering the lid, we were enjoying our smoky, crispy, cheesy creations.
Finally we moved onto beef burgers. George explained that a burger mix needs at least 20 per cent fat content and you should use a burger press – thinner, flatter burgers won’t swell so much as they cook. “Start with too-thick a burger and it will turn into a giant meatball,” says George. With the cooking done, we tucked into spicy chicken, pork loin and burgers with a welcome glass of wine.
The recipes we tackled on the day were simple and few – if you’re looking for a hands-on, technique-intensive cookery course you may find yourself frustrated – but this made sense to me. Time was spent learning how to prepare key recipes from scratch, absorbing George’s expertise about cooking meat and, importantly, getting to grips with a new method of cooking.
If you’re looking to buy a barbecue, this course is a good opportunity to try some out and work out what style/fuel method to go for. George’s honest and unbiased advice about which equipment and gadgets are worth splashing out on is a little bonus.