WHAT IT’S LIKE
White Pepper Chef Academy and Cookery School is a collection of rustic farm buildings nestled in the Dorset countryside not far from the south coast resort towns of Poole and Bournemouth. Poole’s affluent Sandbanks neighbourhood is nearby, which could quite possibly be my ideal place to spend a weekend.
There are courses for budding professionals at the chef’s academy while the cookery school, with a host of courses that run from three hours (knife skills, veggie cooking) to five days (patisserie masterclass, intermediate cookery), is aimed at home cooks.
WHAT I LEARNED
I came away with a solid skill set in the foundations of Italian cookery. Chef Mark Treasure, previously head chef at Michelin-starred The Feathers hotel in Woodstock, began the day by showing our 10-strong group how to make doughs for focaccia, fresh pasta and potato gnocchi.
Going against the grain, we used strong white bread flour instead of the usual ‘00’ flour to make our pasta. Mark told us that the ‘00’ has its place but that you can still achieve great results at home with ordinary bread flour. We used local rapeseed oil throughout the day, reserving olive oil for dressing the dishes at the end.
The Academy firmly underscores the importance of local produce, quality and seasonality when choosing ingredients. A highlight for me was shaping our squid ink tortellini filled with smoked trout – a fiddly feat at first, but we got the hang of it by the third go after watching Mark’s demonstrations.
Gnocchi with chorizo and fresh tomato sauce couldn’t have come together more simply. We were instructed to listen for the chorizo’s sizzle and avoid overcrowding the frying pan to ensure a golden crunch. We enjoyed our creations for lunch, garnished with foraged herbs and edible flowers from the garden.
The class did a great job of demonstrating that Italian cooking needn’t be complicated or long-winded; it’s all about the quality of ingredients and simple techniques, and Mark showed us exactly how to put these skills into practice.
There was a balanced mix of demonstration and practical cookery, as well as the opportunity to catch up if anyone needed more time.
The school is part of the Independent Cookery Schools Association.
WHERE I STAYED
White Pepper doesn’t have its own accommodation but there are plenty of places to stay nearby – and given that you’re near some of England’s best bits including Brownsea Island, the New Forest and the famous limestone arch of Durdle Door, it’d be a shame not to make the most of it. Hotel du Vin Poole, a 10-minute drive from the academy, is housed in a beautifully restored Georgian building dating back to 1776.
It combines chic, French-style interiors with a nautical nod to the quayside opposite. Rooms are generously sized yet cosy, and the bistro, serving French-accented modern British cooking, is the soul of the hotel. Order à la carte or go for the prix fixe, which, at three courses for £29.95 at dinner, is great value.
*Doubles from £139 per night.