By Chris Gower of Eating Exeter (24th August 2016) Kindly reproduced with permission from Chris Gower
A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be invited to the launch of the Exeter Cookery School. Headed up by Jim and Lucy Fisher, they are bringing the glamour of the Dordogne to our lovely little city. The school is due to kick off in the autumn from their base on the historic quayside. The full press release is here, and our write up of the official launch is here, both I urge you to have a look at.
Foodies of all ages and abilities are welcome to come and try their hand at courses ranging from Classic French Dessert making to a Chocolate Workshop, fancy some Hands-On Butchery or maybe French Boulangerie Favourites?
Jim Fisher is a former Masterchef semi-finalist who started his cooking career as a chef in the kitchens of Exeter’s White Hart Hotel (where he and Lucy met and were engaged to be married). He went on to cook alongside Rick Stein in Padstow, Allistair Little in Notting Hill and Tony Tobin of Ready, Steady Cook fame.
So, I couldn’t resist inviting Jim to be our second candidate for the Eating Exeter ’10 Questions’ interview!
1. A cookery school is a fantastic idea, what gave you the inspiration to start one?
I’ve been cooking since I was six years old, making gingerbread men with my mum with my nose just visible above the kitchen worktop. Reaching the semi-finals of Masterchef and working with the likes of Rick Stein and Alistair Little, gave me the confidence to fulfil a life-long dream. We took inspiration for the structure of our courses from Rick’s seafood cookery school in Padstow, where we’ve both worked.
2. Your previous school CookInFrance, was set in the lovely Dorgogne region of France. What made you want to come back to England and why Exeter in particular?
We both grew up in Devon and met and got engaged while working at the White Hart Hotel in Exeter. So, when we decided to sell our French cookery school to bring it to the UK, Exeter – with its vibrant foodie culture and progressive business vibe – was the perfect choice.
3. Your new premises will be on Exeter’s historic quayside. Has the hunt for a new location been a long process? What sort of requirements were you looking for in a location for your new school?
The search for the perfect venue began 18 months ago. Since then, we must have seen 30 or so properties in and around the city that simply weren’t right for one reason or another. But when we were introduced to our 1830s stone warehouse down on the Quay, it was love at first sight! It reminded us of our beloved Bombel in the Dordogne with its rugged stone features and romantic setting. And it is in the perfect location situated, as it is, in an area that is very much up and coming as a foodie and activity hub.
4. Out of the both of you, who cooks your evening dinner? Or do you take it in turns?
Mostly it’s me, even after a hard day’s cooking and teaching, but Lucy cooks occasionally and is very good. She makes a mean fruit loaf!
5. If you must choose one kitchen utensil you prize more than anything else, what would it be?
Hmm, that’s a tough one, but I think I’d be lost without my trusted De Buyer sauté pan. It’s so versatile: not only can it fry things, it also doubles as a saucepan; a lid for various pots and pans; a meat basher and garlic crusher; a Dutch oven (with a makeshift foil lid); and a roasting tray (if I remember to take the handle off!).
6. The Creedy Carver duck that you used at the launch event was delicious.
Which producers will be supplying the cookery school with the ingredients?
We are talking to many great local suppliers and have already sourced ingredients from the likes of Little Pod vanilla near Topsham (they own their own vanilla plantation); Exe Valley Eggs at Stoodleigh for gorgeous free-range eggs; and Clyston Mill flour, still milled by water power. I could go on about the abundant top- quality produce to be found in Devon and around Exeter, but you get the picture.
7. In the future, will the cookery school be hosting one-off events?
Definitely. Until our venue is finished we have a growing list of venues that are itching to have us run cooking classes and demos. And as soon as our permanent cookery school is up and running we’ll be setting up bespoke cookery courses and special events.
8. In Delia’s ‘How to Cook’ series of cookbooks, she starts off with boiling an egg. What would be the first technique you would teach to a pupil who was completely new to cooking?
Bread making! There is something about making a loaf of bread that is fundamental, almost primeval, and it takes us right back to our culinary roots. Throwing flour around; adding that magical ingredient, yeast; testing the temperature of the water with your little finger (that ‘Goldilocks moment’: not too hot, not too cold); kneading and shaping; waiting with bated breath in the hope that all that work will result in a well-risen aromatic pillow; knocking-back and watching as the puffball of dough collapses with a sigh. And then, of course, cutting a thick slice still warm from the oven and slathering it thickly with loads of salty butter! Hmm, excuse me while I just knock up a quick batch…
9. Are there any golden rules that any good cook should follow whilst cooking?
If I had just one piece of advice that I could pass on to all cooks, it would be: taste, taste and taste again! Taste your food at every stage, from raw ingredient to finished dish – you’ll be a much better cook if you know how evaporation, heat, cold, and the addition of seasoning affects flavour and texture.
10. Who is doing most of the teaching? Is it completely in-house or can we expect some guest chefs in the future?
That’ll be me, at least initially. We’ll also be hosting master classes and courses by some of the region’s top chefs both at our venue and around Exeter. Teaching cookery is in my blood, but, as we expand we’ll be looking for more chef/tutors who are experts in their field to run courses in tandem. Watch this space!