Monday, June 21, 2010

Food at 52

A foodie friend of mine recently arranged a day out at Food at 52, a hands on cookery school based in WC1 run by enthusiastic foodie, John Benbow. Despite being a furniture maker by trade his family recognized his cooking prowess and encouraged him to swap the hammer for the wooden spoon and start a cookery school.  

John teaches with enthusiasm, passion and humor and really knows his stuff. The course is taught at a comfortable pace and all the course notes are emailed to participants so you can concentrate on the practical aspect as opposed to note taking. The courses on offer are many and varied and run through-out the year. My foodie friend and I decided on the fish course as we both needed a little seafood inspiration!

The set up is fantastic. The ‘cooking room’ feels more like a warm, well stocked family kitchen as opposed to a formal cooking school. A long table runs down the middle of the room that comfortably allows at least 10 people enough room to prepare and cook. The kitchen features a fantastic stove/oven combo, best described as an aga with a gas top stove and nifty little deep fryer (at one time this stove was housed in a convent, and it was one of the main reasons John chose this particular house as he knew the space would cope with this monolithic stove). Peppered around the room are gadgets and utensils for all food preparation needs. Citrus squeezers, a collection of authentic Moroccan Tagines (some were purchased for a meagre £3.00 during a recent trip to Morocco and carried  back into the UK in Johns Kids hand luggage!), diamond wet stone knife sharpeners and a few gas camping stove tops used so that participants can cook at the table rather than having to huddle around the convent cooker!

Johns helper is the lovely Bibi - who can only be described as kitchen assistant extradionaire! She moves with effeciency around the kitchen cleaning up after participants so that utensils and chopping boards are cleaned even before you realised a mess has been made! She also makes a wicked espresso, and we all agreed that every home should have a Bibi - although I'm yet to find one on Amazon!

The quality of ingredients John sources is second to none. The fish is delivered from Billingsgate Market the morning of the course and even the breadcrumbs used are from a local Italian bakery. The material covered is equally as impressive.    

Participants are introduced to fish preparation by learning how to fillet mackerel for Sashimi – which is delicious. (Fresh mackerel is surprisingly different to the mackerel you buy in the supermarkets as the flavour changes as the fish gets older. Delicate in flavour and so fresh it seems to melt like butter I encourage everyone to try Mackerel like this).

Next is how to fillet sea bream for both goujons, and pan frying. The goujons are light and crisp and better than any crumbed fish I’ve eaten. John teaches how to make tarter sauce from scratch, fresh fish stock using the skeletons from the recently filleted sea bream, how to clean and prepare squid for salt and pepper squid and for main course a beautifully indulgent pan fried sea bream fillet with a mussel and saffron sauce (using the afore mentioned fish stock to create a wonderfully balanced sauce). The most impressive thing is how easy everything is as key to success is good organisation and good instruction. 

I asked John a few general 'foodie' questions and here is what he had to say:

IF: Name three things always found in your shopping trolley

JB: Burford brown eggs, pomegranate molasses, Flat leaf parsley

IF: Greatest food influence and why?

JB: Probably Rick Stein, a bit mainstream I know, but he's a west country boy like myself and has a passion for good food with few pretentions, and his love of eastern cuisine and infusing it into his own is right up my street. Great cook school too.

IF: Wine Recommendation

JB: A really good Gamay if we're on red and the most expensive Marlborough sauvignon you can afford if white. Cloudy Bay if your pockets are deep enough!

IF: Favourite Dinner Party soundtrack

JB: Well, what's the event? For me and a few friends it could be 'Sea Sick Steve' followed by the ipod genius. But for something more sophisticated I'd probably start with Ray Lamontagne or Nina Simone. My sound track is always on shuffle and meanders between 1930 and 2010.

IF: Signature dish

JB: I love knocking up a lobster bouillabaisse with fresh fennel and Pernod when I'm feeling flush (break out the Cloudy Bay!).

IF: Last supper

JB: A good curry.

The course was excellent value – You get the tuition in a great setting, all the recipes and  a comprehensive gadget page - just incase you're like me and ALWAYS need more kitchen utensils. But perhaps one of the best things - when the clock strikes 12 the wine starts flowing!

If you are looking for a day out with friends, and want to pick up some new cooking skills or brush up on existing ones I thoroughly recommend Food at 52 – its well worth the fee and you will definately come away enlightened, satisfied and completely entertained.

For more information (including course availability, dates and prices) please visit or email John at

Saturday, June 12, 2010

When you are a foodie its always fun meeting other foodies. Conversing with other food enthusiasts reaffirms you own love of food, and the subject provides reason for an instant connection or bond. When you are a food blogger and you meet other food bloggers the experience is considerably amplified! 

Last weekend I had a chance to test this out, as London played host to the 2010 Food Blogger Connect conference, held at the wonderfully chic Hempel HotelThe whole weekend was dedicated to food blogging and for a self confessed food nerd it seriously doesn't get any better than this.

Finally I met a group of people who understood and even shared my cookbook obsession, who could relate to my compulsion to exhaust all the space in my small London flat with volumes of cookbooks and piles of cooking magazines. What a relief it was to be amongst a group who also get excited about things like getting a Joseph chopping board, or a Chasseur Crepe pan or a Le Creuset Tagine. Who shared the views that shopping for food is an almost euphoric experience and that if you only had a few dollars left it would be spent on a bottle of good olive oil and a wedge of Tippico Lodigiano

Blogs for all food inclinations were represented, all with their own gems to impart. 

Feast with Bron inspired me to shop at my local farmers market, as markets can be perfectly economical as well as ensuring high quality produce. Alkaline Sisters highlighted that its possible to be health conscious, and open to new food ideas while staying true to the inner 'foodie' calling (as demonstrated by the 4 visits to Ottolenghi in less than a week ... only a proper foodie would do that!). Sparkling Ink was a reminder of how well Scandinavia partners immaculate design and beautiful photography with deliciously pleasing food, and Cook Sister was wonderfully evocative of all things South African - both with her recipes and her wit! What's in a name? proved to be a poignant question, with Dirty Kitchen Secrets and Peanut butter and Jealous proving that the reward for being curious about a name leads to a wealth of inspiring recipes and entertaining foodie stories. 

A Slice of Cherry Pie advised of the realities on the path to publication. Mowielicious, Whatsforlunchhoney and Saffron and Blueberry provided much needed insight into the worlds of food styling and photography. Simply Zesty gave us a very entertaining presentation (via skype) on social networking and blog monetisation ... all the while reminding us of the woes of travelling (or not travelling!) with Ryanair...booo....

With all that excitement I came home on Sunday and celebrated my new found enthusiasm by creating a feast for four. My Chief Recipe Taster (who doubles as BBQ King in the sumer) had the headliner of the night - a perfectly roasted leg of lamb (delivered effortlessly with the help of the newest addition to our family - the Webber BBQ!). Accompanying this triumphant joint of meat was a fresh cucumber, parsley and tomato salad, roasted rosemary potatoes, BBQ Grilled flat breads, a homemade Greek yogurt dressing with lemon juice and ginger mint and a bottle of Rose!

The perfect way to end a wonderful weekend! Thanks to Beth and Co for making this weekend truly memorable, and for starting the countdown to next years event! For all the attendees and their respective blogs check out the links below ... 

Warning: Do not read on an empty stomach as the list makes for delicious reading!!