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


  1. Sounds fabulous - and would make a great gift too, by the sound of it! Love the look of the sea bream and the lovely creamy yellow broth :)

  2. I love cooking classes like these in intimate groups with enthusiastic chefs! You've reminded me that I need to get out to Billingsgate Market (p.s. they have cookery classes there too)...the fishmongers there are so great, though it does require a 5am arrival...

  3. Tracey, sounds like a great choice of class. I like the way you describe it. i will be checking on the available classes.