Archive for November, 2009

Where are they now?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Make no mistake, it’s a hectic life running a busy cookery school, writing about cookery, handling the usual administration and trying to fit in a bit of social life occasionally. With so much going on it’s easy to miss many of the achievements of the business happening right under your nose. In my case, it took a peek at our website’s ‘Where are They Now?’ section to remind me what our students have gone on to achieve.

Around the world in a few mouse clicks

We’ve got this clever interactive map on the site; you click on a red dot and up pops a mini case study. A few mouse clicks on the page is a sure way to enjoy a virtual globetrotting experience that would make even a seasoned round-the-world traveller such a Michael Palin very envious.

Bartering for fresh food in Tahiti

Take Claire M for example, fixing farm machinery and bartering old clothes for fresh food in Tahiti after a 3-month yacht passage from Panama. Or Suzie R, another yacht chef who does culinary wonders in 30 knot winds off South Africa. Closer to home, Freddie and Reaveley’s chalet was voted best chalet in Meribel/Motarret – not least due to their fantastic cooking. And then there’s Iain P, rubbing shoulders with the stars in film location catering here in the UK. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he’s cooking in Beverly Hills one day.

The heart-warming loyalty of our ex-students

Looking through all the case studies on the site, one of the first things that struck me was the loyalty shown by our ex-students, and by the genuine affection that they show towards the school. After putting 1000 students through The Gables, we know how people’s careers (and lives) can be turned around. But to hear it from the students themselves, as they feed hungry après skiers in the Alps or fish for supper off a luxury yacht in Antigua, is immensely satisfying.

Transforming lives for ever

As so many students have shown, it is possible to come from very varied backgrounds, at all sorts of life stages, and build a strong foundation for a future career in catering. It takes a burning passion and it demands hard work and commitment. But time and time again we see raw ambition transformed into skill, experience and the kind of confidence that takes formerly reserved people around the world in a flash and transforms their lives for ever.

Forget recession, there are loads of catering positions around the world

And at a time when there’s so much talk about recession and economic gloom, it’s reassuring to know there are still lots of great careers to be built, often in very exotic parts of the world. Australia and Canada, for instance, are rich hunting grounds for ambitious people in catering, whether chefs or kitchen back-up staff. And there’s loads of scope for students to get into catering for super-rich high net-worth individuals, on yachts, as private chefs or in Alpine chalets.

From a cosy little bistro in Cheltenham to the galley of a round the world mega yacht, if someone has the passion and is willing to work hard we can almost always place them. How many other training courses can offer that these days?

Taking the plunge – we’ve all got a book in us…

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

We’re all supposed to have a book in us. After years of planning, my sister and I have just taken the plunge and published ours. The title Simply 3 – 5 refers to the number of main ingredients typically needed to create delicious, stylish meals for any occasion. It’s the cookery book we’re sure many of you are waiting for – and of course, we encourage the use of local and seasonal produce wherever possible.

Simply  3 – 5 – food was never simpler or more stylish

Years in cookery have shown me how classy, delicious food needn’t take all day to prepare – or need a supermarket trolley full of ingredients. From students to busy business people, we’re all time-pressured these days.  But why should this stop us enjoying fast, nutritious and interesting meals every night of the week? With Simply 3 – 5 there’s no reason at all.

Since childhood, Kathy and I have enjoyed cooking. The more I got into my catering and cookery career, I realised that most cookery books spend their lives, unread if not unloved, on kitchen shelves – or coffee tables. Many people only try a handful of the recipes; and once they’ve done them a couple of times they can usually prepare them from memory.

Many recipes are too complicated with too many ingredients

So why do so many great recipes remain untried? It’s often because of the time they take. But even more often I’m convinced it’s down to the intimidating list of ingredients  – not all of which are easily available, especially in a snatched lunch-break or on the way home after another exhausting day. We’ve written Simply 3 – 5 with this in mind. It’s the cookery book that Kathy and I wished we had years ago; the book that so many students have said they’d like to see.

A cookery book you’ll carry with you

Forget about yet another ‘kitchen shelf tome’ full of arty photographs and page-long lists of obscure ingredients. Ours is a compact book packed with 200 winning recipes that only need a few main ingredients. And unlike Jamie or Gordon’s latest bestseller, Simply 3 – 5 is easy to take with you, in your briefcase, a handbag, on holiday, or in your car glove compartment. That way it’s always there to inspire you when you’ve got a few minutes.

All the taste without a huge shop and long preparation

Simply 3 – 5 contains easy to cook recipes that are big on flavour, style and culinary heritage, delicious recipes for everything from a family meal to a romantic lovers’ supper. We’ve taken classic dishes and stripped them down to the tastiest, readily available essentials. That way you get to enjoy all the taste and all the finesse without the time-consuming shopping and preparation.

What are you waiting for? All it takes is three to five ingredients.

Kennet & Avon here we come

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

With winter well and truly with us, I’m reflecting on a rare break that Chris and I, along with our friends Dino and Kate, took in October. Given that so many Gables students end up cooking on luxury yachts around the world, it’s ironic that our two-week break was on a narrowboat in the heart of the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.

Visions of Rick Stein’s French canal trip in our minds…

What a revelation the trip was, as we navigated the beautifully restored Kennet and Avon Canal at little more than walking pace. I’d always harboured a desire to own a narrowboat but Chris wasn’t so sure – his perception of narrowboating was of a caravan holiday afloat. Our compromise was a ‘try before you buy’ experiment, which is how, with visions of Rick Stein’s waterborne adventures in France in our minds, we set off, armed with only a few holiday essentials, some cooking basics and a copy of my new book Simply 3 – 5.

A string of lovely country pubs

October’s good weather, a string of lovely country pubs, and the joy of a slower pace than our normal busy lives, was a refreshing contrast to life at the helm of a busy cookery school. By the end of the trip, even Chris and Dino’s  scepticism had been converted by days of sleepy canal banks, gently puttering engines and the manual work demanded by a series of locks.  The funniest thing about the trip was Dino’s transformation. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that he isn’t a great fan of water, or heights, so the combination of a canal and those high locks ensured that he started the holiday with trepidation. He even spent quite a bit of time walking alongside us on the towpath, only returning to the boat when he’d built up a healthy appetite for the next meal…

Anyway, after a few days even Dino was converted to the fresh air and freedom of the narrowboat lifestyle, and all four of us appreciated the enthusiasm of die-hard narrowboat enthusiasts and their wonderful sense of community. If you’ve never tried it, I’d urge you to make narrowboating a priority for 2010. I’m sure you’ll love it.

It’s easy to prepare stylish, delicious food on board

Thinking about priorities for the New Year, maybe 2010 should be the year for revitalising and updating your cooking repertoire with some simple, stylish dishes and easy to prepare new recipes. Our trip was a perfect opportunity to revisit some of the more than 200 recipes in Simply 3 – 5 and prove yet again that delicious, sophisticated food really can be prepared very quickly with minimal ingredients. Whether you’re on a narrowboat, in a holiday apartment, rushing to prepare a stylish meal after a busy day, or just want to avoid a long shop for ingredients, it’s got everything you need.

It’s perfect for caravan holidays too!

New Simply 3 – 5 Book

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Since the launch of Simply 3 – 5 in November, I’ve had many requests for sneak previews of the recipes contained in the book. It’ll probably be one of the most useful cookery books you ever buy. In the meantime, here are a few tasters to show you how fast, simple and very stylish the recipes we’ve collected in the new book are.

A wide range of culinary influences

You won’t be surprised that, with my sister Kathy in Australia and me here in the heart of the Cotswolds, the recipes cover a wide range of geographical and culinary influences. What all the recipes have in common is that they simplify classic recipes and make them possible with only a handful of ingredients – and without sacrificing any of the taste. How do we do it? Buy a copy of the book!

Actually, our secret lies in taking out the unnecessary ingredients that have crept into so many recipes over the years. It happens because some cooks like to show off, and because, often with the best intentions, they misguidedly believe that ‘more is better’. In fact, as we show you in Simply 3 – 5, less is very often much, much better.

A classic Mittel-European dessert

Take the classic Mittel-European white chocolate torte for example, the dessert that you may have enjoyed in Germany or Switzerland. In its traditional form, it’s a complex, time-consuming culinary adventure. But in the book we simplify this classic sweet treat, make sure it tastes as good as the one you’d  enjoy on Munich’s Marienplatz, and give you a foolproof recipe. Wunderbar!

Taste of the high Atlas

Heading south and across the Mediterranean, imagine wowing dinner guests with a delicious beef casserole with Moroccan spices. A simplified version of a classic Moroccan tagine, you can make this dish in a regular Pyrex casserole dish. Of course, if you did bring a genuine tagine back from Marrakesh you can use that instead – but you won’t have to spend a whole day scouring your local souk with a long list of  supposedly essential ‘authentic’ ingredients. It’s your choice; I know what I’d do!

Inspired by Normandy

For a rather different starter or a light supper dish that’s sure to impress, please try the cheese and herb pate. Inspired by Normandy’s tradition of soft cheese making, it’s a fresher and tastier version of shop-bought Boursin-type cheeses. And it’s so easy to create with a handful of readily available ingredients…

Kathy’s favourite from down under

Last but not least, my sister Kathy (who co-wrote Simply 3 – 5) has asked me to mention her favourite chicken, avocado and cheese melt. This dish takes us both back to teenage years in Australia – a wonderful, healthy and rather exotic alternative to a sandwich when you fancy a quick and easy lunch or supper snack.

That’s enough for the time being. With four down and only another couple of hundred delicious recipes to go, you’ve had your taster so why not order your copy and discover how easily you can create such delicious meals. What are you waiting for? All it takes is three to five ingredients.

Why I started the Gables Cookery School

Friday, November 20th, 2009

To be honest, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked why I started the Gables Cookery School. The subject came up only the other day when I was talking about old times down under with my sister Kathy (my co-writer on Simply 3 – 5).

Mince and spaghetti at age 11

During another long-distance phone call, we both remembered my first attempts at Spaghetti Bolognese, and how proud I was of my first creation at age 11 or thereabouts. It left a little to be desired and should probably have been graced with nothing more than the prosaic title of mince and spaghetti, but it meant the world to me. I’ve never forgotten the thrill I got from telling the family how I’d achieved my masterpiece.

Fate intervened

It must have been around about then that my twin passions for teaching and cooking really started to develop. Later, when I moved back to the UK, I worked in business but never abandoned my passion for all things culinary. Then, as so often happens, fate intervened with a once in a lifetime opportunity to run a hotel with a 50-cover fine dining restaurant. Was I in my element? You bet!

Fulfilment of a long-held ambition

After that, I believe it was inevitable that I’d achieve my dream of combining fine cooking and culinary training. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that you should never let go of your dreams. Fuelled by a passion, it is amazing what you can achieve. I’ve seen it with my students at The Gables and I’ve proved it to myself – first, when I trained as a professional chef, then, some 12 years ago, when I opened the Gables School in the Cotswolds. I did it because it was meant to be, it was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition and I believed I could make a success of it. It’s that simple.

You can do it too

I’m often asked whether anyone can learn to cook. My answer is to look at what I’ve achieved, at the way I’ve progressed, through study, hard work and grasping opportunities, from ‘mince and spaghetti’ to  successfully launching more than a thousand exciting new catering careers. If I can cook at this level, then so can you.

Is that your dream? If so, I know how we can make it come true.