Meet the host | Diana Horsford, The Avenue Cookery School
No cookbooks at a cookery school? How radical! But recipes are far too prescriptive for Diana Horsford who runs the creative Avenue Cookery School in Wandsworth in London.
“I’m slightly different from most cookery schools. I say ‘please don’t use a cookbook while you’re cooking!’” says Diana. “I want you to understand what you’re doing rather than just following an A to Z. Anybody can do that. For my week course people come in and make bread, cake, lemonade and simple dishes without a recipe - it gets them to think a little bit harder about how they flavour food rather than just follow recipes.”
Diana’s love of cooking was sparked by her mother, a homely cook who excelled at comforting dishes like roasts. And as soon as she could read she’d pick up not the story books other tots were reading, but cookbooks. “That’s how I taught myself”, she recalls. “I used to collect menu and recipe cards and read them which would give me ideas. If you’re interested in a subject, the more you’ll find out about it and be creative and experiment.”
Don’t expect a staid, serious class – yes, there are the smart, branded aprons, of course, but you can also expect wine and music and plenty of creativity. The Avenue Cookery School used to focus on one or two week courses in basic cooking, but now their offerings are far more exotic. That’s ever since Diana’s daughter Sophie came aboard to plan unique events. (It’s a family business as Diana’s two sons have also joined, with older son Richard helping to run a lot of the classes.)
Now they run themed classes such as dinner party dining, sushi, and pasta-making. Diana is most excited about their upcoming class in which budding chefs will learn the art of preparing pork with the help of a top butcher from the farm that supplies all the beef to Waitrose. After dissecting a pig, the class will be shown how to deal with everything from the ribs to a slow roast, and at the end, they’ll enjoy the pork belly for dinner.
“Since Sophie’s joined we do every sort of course that you can imagine”, says Diana. “We’re booked all the time now. The reason why it’s so successful is that if people have been to us once we give them a variety of courses to come back to. If you want to do a course that we’re not doing we say tell us what you’re interested in.”
We are excited about their classes on cooking healthy and tasty food. And a week later they are holding a yoga and cookery class, beginning with an invigorating one-hour yoga session, followed by a three-hour cookery masterclass on clean cooking using sustainable produce. What could be a better way to kick start your healthy 2017, than by mixing exercise, cookery, and relaxation? It ties in with the trend for pursuing a healthier lifestyle and diet – think wholesome, low-calorie soba noodle salad and Ottolenghi-style pulses and grains.
Diana’s main goal is to get students on her week-long courses to be able to rustle up a quick and delicious meal without a recipe book, no matter what their levels of knowledge. “At the end of the week I get all the left over stuff out the fridge and they create something out of nothing. That is what I want them to do at home.” It ties in with The Avenue Cookery School’s no wastage ethos. “I waste absolutely nothing. All the bits of the veg that get cut off go into the stock pot. If you think of a potato, where’s the Vitamin C? Just beneath the skin, and people peel it all off! If you look at the amount of wastage that happens at home – the ridiculous offers that the supermarkets are making so people buy things, and bin them. Well, I can help with that bin bit making another dish.”
To set the scene for the classes and whet your appetite a little… on arrival, expect hot freshly baked bread and some extra virgin olive oil and Belazu to dip into and wine or beer, as atmospheric candles and fairy lights illuminate the cookery school. Classes begin with introductions to skills such as knife sharpening or herbs. After the session, the class sits down to eat. Diana’s delectable chocolate brownies complete the meal.
“It’s good fun and feels like coming into a family home”, she says. “It doesn’t feel like a cookery school.”