As the first blush of dawn painted the Manchester sky, I embarked on a train journey through the heart of the idyllic Ribble Valley. My destination was the Northcote Cookery School, tucked within a Michelin-starred restaurant.
The day ahead promised a gastronomic adventure overflowing with a cornucopia of flavours, thrilling discoveries, and an enlightening foray into the art of fine cooking. This wasn’t just any day out, it was a day of total culinary immersion, a day that, unknown to me in those early hours, would mark the beginning of a gastronomic love affair.
With the morning still in its infancy (8.30am), work began. The culinary school itself is sat cheek by jowl with the restaurant’s kitchen, separated only by glass sliding doors which afford a glimpse of how the professionals do it. Spearheaded by Lisa Goodwin-Allen, the personable and passionate head chef (and TV cookery royalty), it offers a variety of courses accessible to cooks of all levels.
Under the watchful eyes of our instructors, Richard Ogden and Ben Hinchliffe, our small group of enthusiastic chefs was tasked with making three dishes: warm-cured salmon with white balsamic sauce, salt-aged beef with a marrowbone crust, and the restaurant’s signature apple cheesecake as the grand finale. We were in safe hands – Ogden has worked at various UK Michelin-star restaurants while Hinchliffe’s experience takes in prominent pubs, butchers and fishmongers.
But it wasn’t all graft over a hot stove: we set aside our spatulas in order to enjoy a lunch of rare pork and rhubarb followed by a light vegan crème dessert, both of which were carefully modified to suit my dairy allergy.
After we’d licked our plates clean, Ogden and Hinchliffe patiently and enthusiastically guided us through the rest of the course, teaching us numerous vital techniques including creating the ideal emulsion and modifying traditional French sauces to be dairy-free. Their enthusiasm for food was contagious, and their expertise was extensive.
Meanwhile, Northcote’s managing director, Craig Bancroft, introduced us to a selection of outstanding wines, including my new personal favourite, the 2016 Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz. Another special experience was meeting Goodwin-Allen whose fervour for cuisine and tight ties with suppliers shone out.
Despite the day’s success, I hit a slight snag with my dill emulsion which required Ogden’s assistance to rectify. But we live and learn, right? Overall, it was a wonderful day brimming with learning, tasting, and fun.
Needless to say, Northcote‘s allure extends far beyond its cooking school. The building itself, decorated with the Yates family coat of arms, dates back to 1880. Over time, Northcote has evolved from a private property to a family home to a 50-seat restaurant in Langho, near Blackburn with 26 rooms and suites. Bought by Craig Bancroft and Nigel in 1983, Northcote won a Michelin star in 1996 and has never lost it.
If you’re looking for a present for a culinary friend or keen to improve your own home-cooking, the Northcote Cookery School is well worth a look. After spending a day in their kitchen, I promise it’s an experience that will linger long after the last crumb of cheesecake has been scooped up.
For more information about Northcote’s Cookery School click here.