Proving that cooking can actually be a brilliant way to relax, Fleur Tucker enjoys a refreshing Summer Asian Cooking class at Angela Gray’s Cookery School at Llanerch Vineyard.
words: FLEUR TUCKER
Tucked away in the Vale of Glamorgan, a mere 20 miles outside of Cardiff, Llanerch vineyard is the idyllic home to Angela Gray’s new cookery school. I recently attended the Asian Summer Kitchen, one of the numerous practical courses run by the school, to see what Angela has to offer.
After greeting us over coffee and biscuits, Angela leads us into the school’s kitchen area which is light, modern and comprising of eight fully-equipped work stations boasting De Dietrich hobs and multi-function ovens. After a brief demonstration of a few knife skills, including how to paste garlic with the side of the knife blade and how to prepare lemon grass, Angela lets us loose on the ingredients table, abundant with an array of vibrant Asian produce. Guided step by step, the time speeds by as we cook our way through a selection of tempting dishes including green papaya salad, lemongrass chicken skewers, Vietnamese style marinated pork with a smoked salt caramel sauce, fresh egg noodles with spring onion and ginger, Asian greens, and a coconut rice pudding with sticky pineapple sauce. Fortunately Angela highly encourages tasting as you go, as I’m not sure I’d have been able to help myself otherwise!
It’s easy to think attempting to cook so many dishes in the space of a few hours would amount to nothing but stress, but as the beautiful Asian aromas of coriander, lime, garlic and lemongrass filled the kitchen, we were transported away from damp and dreary Wales to more exotic climes. By the end of the day, we all agreed we felt wonderfully relaxed and contentedly worn out, and it was clear that Angela had succeeded in her mission to ensure her tutees not only have fun but also unwind.
“I want to take people outside of their everyday lives, to allow them to take time out and just exhale. It’s not something we do often enough,” she explains, firmly believing that the kitchen need not be a stressful space to which people are drawn out of necessity only. Instead, she is keen to demonstrate how the kitchen can become a hub of calm, somewhere to retreat to at the end of a busy day and a place to de-stress through the preparation of simple, quick and delicious recipes.
The relaxing nature of her courses is tribute to her calm and friendly teaching style and her inexhaustible patience for repeating instructions and providing individual guidance. With the small size of her practical classes, on average six to eight participants per class, Angela can give everyone plenty of one-to-one attention and come instantly to your aid should you get stuck or lost along the way.
“I devise my recipes so that they can be easily replicated at home,” says Angela. “When people leave the school after a course, I like to imagine them as my little disciples, going home to spread the word about just how enjoyable, relaxing and creative cooking can be and how easy it is to treat our bodies to great tasting, healthy food every day. Because people just don’t feed themselves enough good food,” she insists. “And I’m not talking about fancy, expensive food, there are plenty of beautiful, inexpensive foods around that are just brilliant for us; it’s about knowing how to cook with them that’s important.”
At half one we take a break from the cooking and sit down in the school’s bright and airy dining room to enjoy sumptuous whole seabass, prepared using an Asian marinade of lemongrass, chilli, garlic and lime, served with a fresh and zingy Asian rice noodle salad and Asian greens. Angela selects a bottle of Riesling, its sweeter notes perfectly complimenting the Asian flavours.
Eating lunch with Angela, it’s clear that, as she insists, she loves meeting people. She isn’t simply here to impart her wealth of knowledge and experience, gained through cooking her way around Europe as personal chef to the rich and famous, followed by a career in food writing and broadcasting. She also wants to get to know her class participants, to find out a little about their own cooking experiences, and to enthuse and inspire everyone as an individual. “I especially love welcoming people back to my school. It’s great to see their confidence building and their desire to learn more.”
And with a tantalising array of courses on offer, including Moroccan, Lebanese, Italian and Patisserie, along with the knowledge that you will leave the course laden with a feast of cooking to take home and a pack of fantastic, easy to reproduce recipes, it’s unsurprising that Angela is frequently welcoming people back for more.