I used a Virgin Experience Voucher to book a cookery class at Ann’s Smart School of Cookery. Founded by Ann Hood, a contestant on BBCs Masterchef 2009, there are branches in West India Quay, Canary Wharf in London, Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire and Chelmsford, Essex.
I chose a two-hour class (3pm to 5pm) on Caribbean cookery in London for two. Whilst classes can accommodate 16 cooks, we were fortunate that we were only six (two other couples) as the kitchen space is quite small and would have felt crowded with a full house.
The menu for the session was jerk chicken with rice and peas, lamb curry and spiced glazed pineapple with cinnamon cream.
The class was a mix between demonstration and us helping out with various jobs in turn. Again, with 16, hands-on time would have been very limited. My task was to halve chicken wings which sounded simple but relied on finding a small gap in a bone which made it easier to cut through. We sat up at the counter on high stools which gave us a good view of what was happening.
Our chef was great and happy to answer questions, offer top tips and discuss any foodie issue, like should you rinse rice or not – his view, not necessary. Although I think I’m a relatively experienced cook, I still picked up several ideas: for example, blitz unpeeled cloves from a garlic bulb with a generous glug of olive oil and keep it in the fridge as ‘lazy garlic’.
Once all the dishes were prepared, the food was served and there was as much as you wanted to eat.
Personally, I always find chicken wings a lot of effort for little meat, but the jerk sauce was wonderfully spicy and the rice (with the addition of coconut milk and kidney beans rather than peas) was light and fluffy. Whilst I enjoyed the spicy, tomatoey potatoes cooked under the lamb, I would have liked the lamb, which isn’t my favourite meat, trimmed a little better to remove all the fat. However, the pineapple was absolutely delicious and not too much effort so I can imagine it will appear on the menu next time I have friends round.
At the end, we were given leaflets with exclusive offers valid for 24 hours and the recipes were made available afterwards via a portal which we could log into. They were however a little basic and I missed being able to take in a notebook to jot snippets down. There was also a small ‘shop’ with selected items recommended by Ann.
There is a vast range of courses on offer ranging from cheese and bread making, through world cuisines to gin tasting and canape making. However, I’d strongly recommend buying a Virgin Voucher which can give a considerable discount (around 56%) as otherwise the courses can be expensive – my course was originally £129 per person.
Other helpful information – A variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks can be ordered (48 hours in advance), disposable plastic aprons are provided, masks have to be worn, drinking water is available (you don’t need to take a bottle as suggested), mobiles cannot be used (health and safety) and left overs cannot be taken away.