The Edinburgh New Town Cookery School is situated in the heart of the city and offers a variety of courses for beginners to professionals. Erisea magazine took the time to chat to Principal Fiona Burrell before the start of the new term to find out more about the school.
Your cookery school caters to those training to work in a professional kitchen and home cooks, and you even run a class for children. What courses are most popular, and why do you think that is?
Apart from our professional courses we run very popular Saturday courses. Of these the most popular are Baking, Patisserie, Curries and Thai Cusine. I think the reason why baking ones fill up quickly is because baking is very popular just now and many people didn’t learn how to do it when they were young. The Curries and Thai course being so popular show how much people love ethnic cuisines. Our one week and two week courses are also very popular. This is probably because people can take a week’s holiday to learn a skill.
Even though you are now principal of the school, you used to teach – what is your favourite class?
I still teach whenever I can and I also give quite a lot of demonstrations to our professional course students. I have written books on cakes and baking, so I would say that bread making, cake baking and patisserie are my favourite things to teach because they are quite technical.
And what do you personally like cooking more than anything?
I love making bread and I also enjoy making preserves but at home it is probably the Sunday roast that goes down the best!
Where do you and the team get your inspiration for dishes which are cooked in class? Do you have lots of relationships with local producers and suppliers?
We get our inspiration from lots of different places: Edinburgh is a very foody place and sometimes a spark of creativity is set off by just eating out in one of the many superb restaurants. There are many fantastic food writers around at the moment and although the style these days is more relaxed, we still teach our students the classic ways of cooking.
We all love Ottolenghi’s take on food because his food is vibrant and has a wonderful mix of spices and flavours. We also love Diana Henry’s food – Diana was a student of mine when I worked in London.
Sometimes we are inspired by a particular ingredient to devise a recipe for it and we encourage our students to occasionally come up with their own creative ideas for ingredients.
We also have good suppliers who provide excellent quality food and, when possible, we will source locally.
We usually do these as specially commissioned events often for companies or people who are visiting Scotland. One of the things we have often been asked to do is to have a Haggis making class! We always point out that the butchers make that, not the cooks!
It can be quite intimidating for nervous cooks to come to a professional school to learn about cooking – what advice would you give them?
We recognise that people can feel intimidated when they first arrive. People often think that they should know how to cook and are rather embarrassed that they can’t. We try to quickly put them at their ease by showing them we are not shouty chefs and that we are there to help them. As a cookery school we are used to people coming with all sorts of abilities and we will always give everyone as much help as they need, irrespective of their experience.
Have you any famous alumni?
We haven’t been open for 5 years yet and so I wouldn’t say any of our students are famous just yet. We do however we have a very good employment record. For example one ex student is now head chef at Ottolenghi in Islington, another managed to get a three month stage at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in Bray before securing a job in one of Edinburgh’s best restaurants. Another ex student just told me that he has worked his way up to head chef at a restaurant in Aberdeen.
Not all our students go into restaurants though: one ex student is now working as a food stylist in London and writing her first cookery book. Another has set up her own Cafe and cake making business in Edinburgh and two other ex students have combined their skill set and set up a catering company.
I would suggest a visit to the Farmers Market at Castle Terrace on Saturday or Stockbridge Market on Sunday; there you can pick up some fantastic local produce, whether it be meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, breads, cheeses, oils, or dressings.
In terms of restaurants there are so many excellent restaurants in Edinburgh, so it is very difficult to chdose and I could go on forever. But Pompadour, Castle Terrace, Cafe St Honore and The Kitchin are definitely worth a visit.
Find out more about the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School by visiting their website.