Could online cookery courses become the new normal?

PUBLISHED: 09:46 05 October 2020

Sue Riley's online cookery course included a recipe for American style pancakes

Sue Riley's online cookery course included a recipe for American style pancakes

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An online course helped freelance writer Sue Riley brush up her skills in the kitchen

Squid wasn't easy to find during lockdown for Sue Riley's online cookery courseSquid wasn't easy to find during lockdown for Sue Riley's online cookery course

Trying to find fresh squid during lockdown was something of a challenge. But apart from a few shopping issues, the online cookery course I signed up for was a great way to pass the long weeks. I devoted entire days to mastering choux pastry and making stock and I spent hours struggling to perfect the texture of a hollandaise sauce.

I cook and follow recipes all the time but had begun to realise I wasn’t sure of the basics. In the past I’d attended day courses at Lucy’s Cookery School in Staveley where I came away with some great tapas recipes; Paul Heathcote’s Longridge Restaurant where I learnt a simple and quick three course meal (both establishments now sadly closed) and an excellent baking session in a shepherd’s hut in Beetham. But I still felt I couldn’t go to my store cupboard and rustle up something amazing. That’s why I signed up for a six-month course run by Leiths, founded by Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith.

It felt like an investment – not cheap, but half the price of the course if you take part at their London headquarters. The course is run via an App and each week new videos and recipes were unlocked which I then cooked, posted pictures of the dishes and commented how I had got on. Then the tutor and classmates responded. Some of the other people on the course had great advice and it felt like being part of a supportive/helpful team. Weekly themes included emulsifying and cooking eggs (I can make a great poached egg now) to fish cookery where we learnt how to fillet fish, prepare prawns and my least favourite, butchering a chicken.

The obvious difference between learning online compared to face to face is that the tutor isn’t tasting your meals – giving advice on seasoning, textures, nor are they there to immediately answer your questions when your hollandaise splits. But it taught me all the basics – from making stock, sharpening knives and how to create brunoise and julienne vegetables to mastering mayonnaise and all types of pastry.

Poached pear with creme fraiche and crumble, one of the recipes on Sue Riley's online cookery coursePoached pear with creme fraiche and crumble, one of the recipes on Sue Riley's online cookery course

Of course, if you are really organised you could teach yourself all of these skills via books and online but to be given a weekly structure over six months provided the motivation I needed. Each week I was keen to see how my colleagues had coped with the challenges – particularly pasta week which was a soggy, grey disaster for me. Once I’d got used to the App I really looked forward to cooking the recipes, some of which have become firm favourites in my house. There are also opportunities to progress to more advanced online course with Leiths.

Leiths believes in creating tasty, flavour-filled food so prepare for large quantities of oil, cream and butter in the recipes – and as you are taught to do a mis en place for every dish there is a lot of washing up, too.

They suggest you should commit three hours a week to the course which is about right. To really become a better cook you need to practise so that’s what I’m doing now, as you have access to all the videos and notes for six months after the course ends. I am slowly repeating the recipes and processes and every time I repeat a dish it’s usually always better, even the homemade pasta.

So am I a great cook? No. Do I have more knowledge and skills? Yes. Has it made me more confident in the kitchen and love cooking even more? Definitely. Mission accomplished!

Butchering a chicken was Sue's least favourite part of the course, but the end result looked and tasted goodButchering a chicken was Sue's least favourite part of the course, but the end result looked and tasted good

To find out or more, or sign up, go online to leiths.com

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