Review: The School of Artisan Food – An Italian Summer

The School of Artisan Food is a haven for food lovers of the kind who enjoy creating their own culinary adventures at home. An Italian Summer, taught by visiting tutor Valentina Harris, sets its five tutees – including myself, a keen home cook and food writer at Meze Publishing – up for a season of warm evenings centred around groaning tables of Italian dishes from salt-baked fish to fruity and boozy semifreddo.

After a light breakfast of tea loaf and hot drinks, the first hour passed us by while Valentina regaled the group with memories of growing up in Italy (where her father insisted on them listening to hours of the BBC World Service so his children would acquire first-rate English accents) and facts about the food we were going to prepare and eat. My favourite concerned panzanella – a soggy, salty bread and tomato salad, that tastes far better than it sounds – which in her childhood was chopped up on the deck of a boat, made with a loaf so stale it had a nail bashed through it in order to be tied to the boat and soaked in seawater.

We started with semifreddo, working in pairs which took the pressure off and made the time much more sociable (at the price of a full day course you’re very likely to find yourself sharing a workbench with other keen cooks and bakers). Valentina was good at ensuring we rotated our prep duties, so no one got stuck slicing or frying the vast pile of aubergines for hours.

We did end up a bit late for our lunch break, standing over the soffritto (an Italian sauce base) until it could be left to bubble away untended. There was still time to pop over to Welbeck Farm Shop though, which is on the part of the estate open to the general public, and use our 10% off on a range of mouth-watering local produce, before coming back to the school for a lovely homemade lunch featuring a local cheeseboard, colourful salads, a very moreish chilli bread and fruity cordials.

Suitably refuelled, we headed back into the kitchen to finish our tasks, which were well worth the day’s work when we sat down to eat together. It was slightly rushed because things had overrun, which also meant having to rearrange travel plans – not ideal for a place in the middle of the countryside – but we all left feeling full and satisfied, with piled boxes (and tupperware, which you’re encouraged to bring along, saving on disposables) full of leftovers which didn’t last long back home!

The venue has a homely atmosphere, the staff were unobtrusive and helpful, the equipment was obviously well-used but functional and the general vibe was really laid-back. If you have plenty of disposable income and enjoy cooking, it makes for a lovely day out in beautiful surroundings. Take the timings as well as the fish with a large pinch of salt, and go for the fun stories, meeting other foodies, and a relaxed day of eating, drinking and cooking. Bellissima!

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