In mid-March I was lucky enough to head down to River Cottage HQ in Axminster, UK for three days of cookery school. This foodie treat was my 30th birthday present from my husband – not something I tend to gift myself any old day!
I wanted to try a broad range of classes and so enrolled in three individual day-long courses: (1) Advanced Gluten Free Cookery, taught by Naomi Devlin; (2) the River Cottage One Day Cookery Course, taught by Gill Meller; and (3) Meat Curing & Smoking, taught by Steven Lamb.
As I covered so much ground in three days (and took a ridiculous amount of photos, obviously) I’m sharing my experience with you across two blog posts. This first part looks at all the great gluten free baked things I made! Most of this was made on the Advanced Gluten Free Cookery course, though a few things were made on day two.
River Cottage Cookery School
I’ve been a fan of River Cottage for years. If you’re not familiar with it, River Cottage is the brand that covers various ventures (TV shows, events, cookbooks, products) founded by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It started years ago with a short TV series in which followed Hugh’s adventures in leaving the city and becoming self-sufficient in the countryside. I’d be here all day if I went into the history of River Cottage, so I’m going to focus on the present cookery school – but look it up if you want to know more!
Cookery courses are run out of River Cottage HQ, which is on Park Farm just outside the town of Axminster, Devon. The cookery school is a big part of River Cottage, with a wide variety of courses run year round. Most of the classes take place in a dedicated room which has lovely workstations set up for each participant. You’ll have your own hob, oven and fridge and lots of prep space, and a TON of pots, pans and utensils! Some of the classes also take place in the barn next door. (p.s. Other than the cooking school, River Cottage is home to an evening restaurant service, also in the beautiful barn).
Here’s a snap from the school room:
Advanced Gluten Free Cookery with Naomi Devlin
River Cottage’s gluten free cookery courses are taught by Naomi Devlin, who is both a nutritionist and passionate foodie. Naomi teaches a range of gluten free classes at River Cottage and elsewhere, plus classes focusing on gut health and seasonal nutrition.
On the Advanced Gluten Free Cookery day course, the focus is not items that are super difficult, though the recipes are complex in that they involve quite a few steps. I would suggest it’s more ‘advanced’ because the focus is on special occasion items that require a bit of extra time in the kitchen like pastries, rather than your slap-bang everyday things. Even if you’re not a pro cook, so long as you’re relatively confident in the kitchen and enjoy being in there, I think you’d enjoy this day. Some of the recipes do require a bit of elbow grease!
The format of the day was a demonstration of a recipe by Naomi, followed by us all getting a turn to bake it from scratch at our work stations. Helpfully, the flour mixes were all weighed out already for which saved time and allowed us to fit more in! We made gluten free goodies including puff pastry, choux pastry, dessert wafers and a huge focaccia. We also watched Naomi demonstrate a few extra things (HELLO French baguettes). Here’s my gluten-free roasted veggie foccacia before it went into the oven:
Naomi is a friendly and approachable teacher, with a great sense of humour. She made me feel very comfortable in the kitchen and in between demonstrations, spent time coming around to our work stations to help us. Of course I left with her book River Cottage Gluten Free! And I’m excited about the upcoming release of her next book Food for a Happy Gut: Recipes to Calm, Nourish & Heal due out in April. I’m hugely interested in all things gut health and believe that improving digestive health can be life changing.
Of course, a River Cottage visit wouldn’t be complete without some serious EATING as well as cooking. We were greeted with mini gluten free pancakes, tea & coffee to nibble on as we got settled in. And in between tasting all our creations, we also broke for a total feast for lunch. It was a generous, colourful vegetarian spread; beetroot & quinoa salad, roasted carrots with yoghurt sauce, sprouting broccoli, crispy potatoes, kale tempura, hummus. SO good! I still managed to go back for seconds despite the never-ending sampling of our baked goods. And we ate the French baguette Naomi demonstrated…yum! It was incredibly lovely; really soft and stretchy inside with a crisp crust.
One more snap from the Advanced Gluten Free Cookery Day. Here’s how that veggie foccacia turned out…isn’t it beautiful! Lovely and light inside. I took it home with me and toasted it up in the oven and served it with a very saucy casserole for dinner. Yum!
Day Two: One Day Cookery School (the gluten-free baked bits)
My second day at River Cottage was for the One Day Cookery Course, and I was lucky enough to be taught by Gill Meller, one of the head chefs who has been with River Cottage for over a decade. On the one day course, you get to try a bit of everything; bread, meat, fish, veg and pudding. For the bread and the pudding courses, the River Cottage team provided gluten free alternatives for me, which was really kind. I had emailed ahead and said not to worry about it – but they went ahead and modified it for me anyway!
To kick the day off, I baked a beautiful HUGE gluten free loaf made with a gluten free flour blend and sweet chestnut flour, and dotted with sultanas, pumpkin seeds and cumin seeds. This was a yeasted loaf, so it sat alongside the traditional (wheat) sourdough on the windowsill waiting to prove while we all went along with our pudding prep. For me; this was a buttery gluten free shortbread, spiced with a whole vanilla bean.
I’m going to end this blog post with my snaps of the loaf (which we still have over half of stashed in my freezer; it was enormous!) and the gluten-free dessert – shortbread crumbled over a rhubarb citrus jelly and served with cream. Just looking at these is making me hungry all over again. I’ll share the rest of my River Cottage experience in part two of this blog series!