learn to cook in the Lake District
Lake District Life Magazine
A redundant mill in Staveley is now a hive of activities - including a classy cookery school.
WHEN the once water-powered bobbin mill in the pretty Cumbrian village of Staveley finally bowed to
its fate after 150 years, the loss of 28 jobs was regarded as something of a local catastrophe. It was certainly the end of an era.
But a new one was swift to materialise. The 20 or so independent businesses that have sprung up around the old mill yard now employ almost 200 people within a thriving commercial and tourism location. The incomers include athriving bespoke bakery, a traditional craft brewery and a comprehensively equipped cookery school founded by LucyNicholson in 2006.
No one characterises the new spirit of enterprise in the Lake District more than Lucy who has grown a mini 'empire' of seven businesses, including a café-restaurant, wine bar and bistro, outside catering operation, out of the original special grocer's shop she opened in he centre of Ambleside in 1989.
The common thread for the Lucy's 'brand' is the celebration of good food 'from Cumbria to Umbria', as her ever-inventive publicity puts it, but with a particular emphasis on the epicurean bounty from the surrounding fells and lakes.
Nowhere is this more relevant than at Lucy Cooks, her purpose-built school in the old mill yard which aims to provide inspiration and fun for everyone from novice to Nigella with daylong courses, evening demonstrations, 'Demo and Dines' and technical workshops led by respected local chefs.
Demo and dine best sums up the latest Lake District Life Luncheon, for guests had their appetites well and truly whetted by seeing their three courses prepared by experts before their very eyes and being urged: 'Do try this at home!'
Luncheon began with a selection of gorgeous canapés on the decked veranda overlooking the rushing River Kent that more than a century ago powered the water wheel for the mill's bobbin-turning machines and is now home to a family of otters.
Delicate filo wraps of peas, cumin and coriander; asparagus spears with lemon balsamic and sun-blush tomatoes; chicken with sage, rosemary and lemon and bruschetta with Woodall's air-dried ham (a Lucy Cooks course is devoted to canapés) were all delightful. The accompanying fizz, Prosecco 'Empiria'
from Tuscany, provided the perfect foil. It was discovered by Organico, whose outlet in Ambleside is the first dedicated organic wine shop in the UK and will soon join the enterprises in Staveley Mill yard.
We watched our two starters - there was a choice but most guests ate both! - prepared in the school's huge "classroom" with state of the art facilities on the first floor. Chef Dale Blacow
from Lucy's Ambleside restaurant made light of producing Thai fishcakes with sweet chilli sauce and aubergine 'cannelloni' with rocket and lemon dressing - explaining the process of cooking and presentation in easy to follow steps . They were despatched with relish, buffet-style with Organico's Sangervasio Bianco 2005, a light and aromatic blend of organic vermentino, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc from Tuscany.
The main course and dessert were prepared and served in the more intimate surroundings of the school's ground floor theatre- come dining room. Chef Nick Martin, well known on the
food festival circuit and for his own website (www.nickofthyme.co.uk) stuffed supreme of plump local
chicken with goats cheese, basil and sun-blush tomatoes and wrapped it in Woodall's pancetta, which tasted every bit as good as its delicious ingredients had looked. It came with fresh vegetables and potatoes, colourful chunky salad and Organico's choice of a light, fruity pinot noir from Burgundy (the
Sangervasio was still on the table too) was spot on.
Dessert was prepared by Paul Johnson who showed his enthusiasm for working sugar while producing a crunchy, nuttytopped rich crème brulée containing wonderfully boozy raisins.
From bobbins to boozy brulée - now that's what I call progress. ?
Ray King reports
Pictures: John Cocks
Lucy Cooks, Mill Yard, Staveley, Near Kendal, Cumbria LA8 9LR
Tel: 015394 32288; www.lucycooks.co.uk
The school's November and December programme lists day courses from £100; half-day courses from £65 and a range of demonstrations and tastings from £30. Open every day (except December 25-27) courses feature knife skills, bread making, puddings, "classical cakes and bake" and Italian and French specialities.
Festive events, beginning with a free Christmas Open Day from noon on Sunday November 25, are scheduled throughout December and will feature courses on Christmas game, Christmas for vegetarians and a range of Christmas specials.