A stone’s throw away from the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the city of London you will find Foster Lane and nestled down it at number 10, the cookery school and cook shop, ‘L’atelier des Chefs‘. This is one of two – the other is in Wigmore Street – soon to be three locations of the cooking school, with a further 17 across the water in France.
Originally set up by two French brothers, Nicolas and Francois Bergerault who wanted to bridge the gap between chefs and the day to day cook. The ethos of the company was to bring people back in the kitchen, around the table and share the love of cooking. The brothers have hired passionate and skilled chefs to teach cooking classes to budding food enthusiasts. Classes range from half an hour, whereby you cook one dish over a lunch time or after work, to a four hour ‘chefs masterclass’, therefore appealing to those of all standards and budget. Class sizes also range from small intimate groups to larger corporate events/team bonding; there is even a class for kids so everyone is included and encouraged.
I headed down there earlier this week with my mother in tow. I enlisted the pair of us on the Indian cooking session. Whilst I am very comfortable around the spice rack and cooking Indian food, my mother, who is a fabulous cook, is slightly less comfortable cooking a curry. I was keen to see if the session would appeal to both of us.
We were greeted by friendly staff who offered us teas and coffees before class began. There were seven of us in our class and we were introduced to chef Daniel Stevens who has just returned from an extended visit to Kochi in Kerala, India, where he has been working closely with Lily Vanilli and Atul Kochhar in their new joint venture, Bloomsburys Cafe, which focuses on celebrating Kerala flavour in Western style patisserie.
Introductions over we rolled up our sleeves, washed our hands and began slicing, dicing and chopping away. Over the course of the morning we all helped to prepare a lamb rogan josh (lamb curry), chana masala (chickpea curry), vegetable pakoras (similar to an onion bhaji) with a tamarind chutney and saag aloo (potato and spinach curry). We all took turns with stirring and adding ingredients and all tasted for spiciness and saltiness along the way. I liked how Daniel allowed the class to decide if more salt, spice, sourness or sweetness was required in a particular dish. After all Indian cooking is not an exact science like baking where exact measurements are integral to the success of the cake or bread. Indian cooking allows you to be a little flexible with measurements and a more ‘go with the flow approach’ to creating a dish – something that definitely appeals to my style of cooking.
Time raced by and after two hours we had prepared all the dishes. We all sat down on a long table, admired the curries we had created and dived in before anything got cold. We all agreed that the morning had been a real success. We had all picked up new tricks and skills and unanimously agreed that we would all be able to replicate the same dishes again in the comforts of our own home kitchens. Would we return? Most definitely. In fact a couple of my class mates were already on their third return visit and if that isn’t the seal of approval on a fun and informative cooking school, I don’t know what is.
After squeezing in second helpings we were given goodie bags to take home some more. We said our goodbyes and headed out into the rain with a glow in our bellies and a spring in our step.
Adapted from the L’atelier des Chefs recipe.
250g tinned chickpeas
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 whole cloves
1 whole cinnamon stick
3 green cardamom pods, split open
2 medium sized white onion, finely sliced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 whole garlic, finely grated
4 tomatoes, chopped into small bits
150ml vegetable stock
1 handful of fresh coriander
2 tsp rock salt
1 lemon, juice
1. Heat a saucepan and add the vegetable oil. When it is hot add the cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick and allow the aromas to be released. After a minute add the onion to the pan and cook on a medium heat for around five minutes until it begins to soften and brown.
2. Now add the turmeric, chilli powder and ground coriander and give a good stir. Add the garlic and ginger and stir to make sure they do not burn at the bottom of the pan. Adding a very little water helps to prevent burning!
3. Add the tomatoes and allow them to soften for a few minutes before adding the vegetable stock and chickpeas and allowing the curry to simmer and soften gently. Allow the juice to soak up and if it becomes too dry then just add a little more water.
4. After ten minutes add some salt to taste and then turn off the heat and scatter the fresh coriander on top. Before serving add some lemon juice
Chilli and Mint was a guest of L’atelier des Chefs. You can find more details about the course and other courses on offer here.