Just down the Northern Line in East Finchley is catering trade training centre Hospitality House. This excellently equipped facility is used by Barnet and Southgate College offering evening classes for the public, as well as professional courses.
This autumn there are several Friday evening courses, as well as children’s cookery classes, and last week I took my father (seasoned cooking avoider) along to their shellfish and wine evening. We were welcomed with Prosecco and some tasty caper berries and olives and were introduced to the two other people on the course (a much smaller class than I imagined). We were then shown through to the large training kitchen, all stainless steel and bright lights where Head of Hospitality House, Peter Tiley, introduced his team Geraldine, Serge and Lerma, and explained what was in store. Three contrasting shellfish courses would be prepared and served with complimentary wines. We would be involved with some of the preparation, but mainly observing their skillful techniques.
The first course was chilli and tomato mussel ragout. Although the mussels were ready for cooking, we had an interesting chat about different types of mussels and how to prepare them. For example, in the UK ‘beards’ are generally pulled off before cooking, but one of the chefs present, Serge from Girona, prefers the Spanish technique of removing them after cooking as it’s easier and you don’t tear the mussel meat. The tomato sauce had been made earlier from roasted cherry tomatoes with thyme, so we saw the mussels being cooked with some fried onion and white wine and, once the cooking liquor had been reduced, the dish was assembled. We were seated and some Chablis was poured that made a light, but refreshing partner to these beautifully fresh mussels from Mersea in Essex (same source as Colchester Native oysters that have been cultivated there since Roman times).
The second course was griddled and fried squid with orange aioli. We were divided into pairs (ladies and gents) to help prepare this and while the gents whipped up a tempura batter the ladies sliced up scored the squid cornets ready for the grill. A beer batter had already been prepared, so the chaps got on with deep frying the squid tentacles and the rest of the squid went on the grill. There were a few words about making mayonnaise and Serge showed us how easy it is to rustle up some Spanish style alioli (intensely garlicky mayonnaise) in a jug with a stick blender. Once cooked, this course was plated and we were served a very decent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to accompany it. The crisp acidity of the wine worked well with the fried squid and its aromatic ripe fruit chimed with the sweet orange note of the mayonnaise.
The final course was lobster ravioli with chive butter sauce. As the filling and pasta had already been made, along with a useful chat about how to cook lobster, the focus was on shellfish stock and butter sauces. This kind of demonstration is always helpful as it’s tempting to avoid things that sound too ‘cheffy’, but if you calmly take your time, beating the butter gradually into the reduced stock (away from the heat), the sauce thickens and becomes glossy without splitting. Some chives and a little splash of cream were added and the dish was assembled while we returned to the table. The wine for this course was an elegantly balanced South African Chenin Blanc, but with enough creamy weight to match the richness of the dish. It was also interesting sipping the other wines as a comparison – the Chablis was another good partner and we cleared out plates, mopping up the fabulous sauce with home made foccacia bread.
We concluded the evening with some very decent coffee before taking the tube home (East Finchley station is seconds away). Having not know what to expect, we were bowled over by such an enjoyable and informative evening featuring top quality food – and all for £35. Whether my reluctant cook father will use these skills is another matter, but we’ll be returning to Hospitality House before too long.
Details of upcoming courses
Tapas and wine (October 30th)
Trimmings with a twist (December 12th)
Children’s cookery courses (December 22nd and 23rd: three hours £25)
To book please contact Peter Tiley (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tomasz Szakola (email@example.com)
Hospitality House explains that their team of chef trainers possess a wealth of experience within the hospitality industry. They are passionate in their subject specialisms and will encourage you to be innovative and confident with your newly acquired skills. They also host a Kids’ Cookery School aimed at children from 10 to 14, allowing them to learn basic cookery techniques and equip them with the skills to create a range of dishes using fresh ingredients. Hospitality House continuously updates the portfolio of courses according to customers’ demand and current food trends.