written by Mags Fenner
The idea of a Cooking Academy intrigues me. The combination of award winning chef, good food and an evening spent with like-minded foodies appeals. But I’ve always been hesitant; Academy implies some commitment to learn, right? What would be expected of me? I’ve seen my fair share of cookery reality shows. Would I be letting myself in for some kind of YES CHEF! kitchen nightmare?
So it was with a mixture of excitement and apprehension that I arrived at Maplehurst, Galashiels to attend a Nils Egtermeyer Cooking Academy as the guest of owners Peter and Silke Gruber. My apprehension melted away from the moment beautiful George opened the door and welcomed me with his beaming smile. George, the 6 year old son of Peter and Silke, dressed in full chef livery gave me a tour of the downstairs of the house and kitted me out with my very own apron. George’s joy and excitement was infectious. Other guests began to arrive and pretty soon we were all sipping the most delicious cava, nibbling canapés and chatting like old friends. The Cooking Academy has limited places, there were 10 of us in total on the evening I attended. We were a mixture of nationalities and ages, all sharing an enthusiasm for great food. The wine flowed and so did the conversation. What a treat!
I must take a moment to mention a little about Maplehurst itself. Built in 1904, Maplehurst has retained most of its original features and is an outstanding example of the Arts & Crafts period. Peter and Silke have decorated and furnished the house beautifully; it is quirky, warm, welcoming and one of those places that makes you feel instantly settled and at peace with the world. Peter and Silke are excellent hosts and have a generosity of spirit that ensures you ‘arrive as guests leave as friends’ just as their website says. Maplehurst is a very special place and it was a joy to spend the evening there.
And so to the food. I’m fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to eat in some amazing restaurants around the world. I like my food. Good food. Preferably, locally sourced. And I like to cook. I’m no Master Chef, but I know my way around the kitchen and the opportunity to pick up some tips from a Michelin starred, German TV celeb chef was very exciting to me. So how did the Cooking Academy measure up? It was great fun. And Inspiring. And (for the most part) the dishes were achievable at home. It goes without saying that Nils Egtermeyer is an extraordinarily gifted chef. He is also generous with his time and knowledge and happily talked through his recipes and method for each of the dishes on the menu. There was no pressure to get involved with the cooking; you could roll up your sleeves and lend a hand if you wanted, or if you preferred you could just chat to the other guests and drink from what seemed to be a never ending bottle of wine! Each dish that we sampled was exquisite; from the canapés to the Octopus in black squid ink sauce, the food was of an exceptional quality. With five dishes on offer, it is difficult to pick a favourite although if pushed I would go for the cod with potato. Beautiful flavours and the simplicity of the preparation was an eye-opener to me. In fact I’ve successfully recreated it at home, albeit a little lacking in Nils presentational panache!
Would I recommend Maplehurst Cooking Academy to others? You bet I would – but only after I’d made sure to book my own ticket; spaces are strictly limited you know!