The classic bistro cookery course at The Bertinet Kitchen takes you through some dinner party favourites that you can turn out again and again.
Richard Bertinet’s cookery school lies on St Andrews Terrace - a pretty stretch in the centre of Bath. Although it’s seconds from the bustling shops and boutiques of the city centre, The Bertinet Kitchen exudes an air of calm. Not necessarily the atmosphere you would expect to find at a cookery school, but as I’m ushered upstairs, freed of my coat and offered a cup of tea, you get the sense that this cookery school operates like clockwork.
There are thirteen of us for the day’s cookery class, which is being taken by Richard Bertinet himself, founder of The Bertinet Kitchen. We all linger around for a few minutes, exchanging stories of the commute to Bath and downplaying our culinary prowess. As we sip the last of our tea, Richard Bertinet strides into the kitchen to introduce himself and talk us through the day. “Relax and enjoy yourself,” he says, his French accent marking the words. He advises us that we will “cook simply”, but most of all he urges us all to get into the spirit of things and quickly divides us up into three groups, branding the last group bearing a few latecomers, the ‘naughty’ group.
Before we get to chop anything, Richard slips a damp tea cloth under his chopping board to demonstrate how to stop it slipping, and lectures us sternly to carry our knives lengthways across the chopping board, with no deadly knife tips looming out over the edge. Our task for the day will be to prepare a three-course meal of mussels in white wine sauce, followed by lamb shank and rounded off with a French apple tart. It all sounds far too complex for any of us to manage single-handed, but with Richard and his team around, there’s definitely less chance of the pan burning dry.
We work backwards, preparing the apple tart first, followed by the lamb shank and lastly the mussels. The apple tart is surprisingly simple to create. No added sugar or butter is used, just puff pastry, a little milk to glaze and apples of course. We set about peeling the apples (harder than it looks), and Richard demonstrates how to layer the fine slivers of fruit onto the pastry, with the finished result looking anything but amateur. Out tarts go into the oven, and Richard sets about demonstrating the other seemingly easy task of chopping an onion. We’re shown how to slice the onion in half, peel it, and chop it so that dozens of minute diced pieces fall about the chopping board, pretty and precise, leaving the troublesome base of the onion in tact and away from our eyes. A few of us still sniff our way through onion chopping, joking and encouraging each other through our tears.
What strikes you about the classes at The Bertinet Kitchen is the atmosphere: no one rushes around with pans burning or voices yelling. Instead there’s a warm, friendly attitude from staff and attendees, which makes the day a pleasure without any fretting or snobbery to go with it. Richard’s sense of humour provides a constant stream of amusement throughout the class, and he grins widely whenever someone attempts to return an insult, revelling in his role as the disparaging Gallic chef.
We continue to chop, sear and simmer our way through the lamb shank, which bubbles away smelling wonderfully fragrant as we start to prepare our starter. With our onions chopped and white wine ready, we all descend to the worktop at the front of the class to sort and scrub the mussels. We discard the ones that won’t budge open as “they’re dead or dying, and no good for eating,” says Richard. On his request for some finely chopped parsley, I shuffle through the group and present my attempt. An eyebrow raises itself. “Didn’t I ask for finely chopped?” he asks, with mild amusement. “It’s rustic,” offers someone. “Couldn’t you use a Magimix?” asks someone else. He shoots them a withering look.
Once everything is in the pan, Richard takes a handle in each hand and shows us how to mix everything through. Using a Gallic shrug of the shoulders, he coaxes the sauce from the bottom of the pan to the top, coating the plump mussels in a simple but mouth-watering mix of white wine, shallots, garlic and lots of good Brittany butter.
We slip the apple tarts out of the oven and admire their golden-brown finish, and the gorgeous smell of just-baked puff pastry. They’re left to cool on the worktop, whilst we sit around the table, which has been simply dressed with white napkins, bottles of wine and baskets of bread that Richard’s staff has been baking in a cool, calm and collected fashion all morning.
Enjoyment and learning about food come first at The Bertinet Kitchen. When we sit down to eat, Richard visibly squirms as he talks about his dislike of pretentious food. “Why would I want to eat foam?!” he says, shuddering at the thought of the dishes on offer at some restaurants. Good, uncomplicated dishes are favoured at The Bertinet Kitchen and as we sit around the table, it becomes clear that we’re all converts in the making.
As we break off pieces of the moreish focaccia that Richard and his team have baked, and dunk it into our bowlfuls of mussels, he asks us what we think of the dish. We nod and grunt in between slurps that we’d choose this over posh foam any day of the week. For some reason it’s hard to believe that a few simple ingredients can make a dish taste so good, but as the lamb shank and apple tart are devoured by our group, it proves Richard’s point.
Before we leave, a copy of the day’s recipes are pressed into our hands and we’re sent off to re-create the dishes at home. Since the bistro class at The Bertinet Kitchen, the apple tart has been rustled up on several occasions, (admittedly some more successful than others), whilst the mussels and lamb shank have become just what was predicted – dinner party favourites that you love cooking, again and again.
The Bertinet Kitchen: 12 St Andrew’s Terrace, Bath.
There are plenty of courses to choose from at The Bertinet Kitchen, from pasta-making to croissant and viennoiserie master classes. For more information, visit: http://www.thebertinetkitchen.com/