The gift of knowledge

The gift of knowledge

by Tom Shingler 09 November 2015

Stuck on what to buy the foodie who has everything? A trip to a cookery school could be the best present they’ve ever had.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Tom Shingler is the editor of Great British Chefs.

Thinking up what gifts to get your friends and loved ones for Christmas can either be very rewarding or incredibly stressful – especially if they have discerning tastes. For cooks and foodies who spend the year buying themselves the latest books and gadgets, it can be especially tough knowing what they already have and would actually use.

The three most popular foodie gifts are cookbooks, kitchen equipment and vouchers for restaurants or courses. In our recent survey, over seventy per cent of people said they had both bought and received a cookbook as a gift in the past two years, while sixty-one per cent gave and received cookware. When asked which foodie gift they hated the most, almost half chose a gadget or piece of kitchenware because they already owned something similar, it was poor quality or something they’d never use.

For a gift that’s guaranteed to please any cook with a keen interest in food, vouchers for a class at a cookery school are hard to beat. Books and gadgets might be the more popular choice at Christmas, but while only eight per cent of people in our survey received cookery school vouchers, almost all of them listed it as one of their favourite gifts of all time. This is because a day out, unlike a cook book, is interactive, entirely unique and can be tailored and adapted to particular people with interests in specific areas of cooking. The lessons learnt will last a lifetime and improve skills in the kitchen permanently – knowing how to make sausages from scratch, for example, or even being able to butcher a pig are rare life skills that can contribute to a better quality of life; something that any cook would be delighted to get. To top it all off, they’ll get to eat all the starters, mains and desserts they’ve created – perhaps with a cocktail or two – at the end of the day.

Kitchen skills
Proper technique is a vital skill in the kitchen
Plating up
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Back to school

So why aren’t more of us buying cookery school vouchers as gifts? Over half the people in our survey assumed the invaluable skills learnt at these classes come at a high price, and said travelling or location played a factor. But short courses can cost under £100 and most foodies love travelling to expand their knowledge – especially when it’s to attend a famous culinary institution. Some classes only take two and a half hours to complete, leaving the rest of the day free to explore what culinary delights the surrounding area has to offer.

As the person buying the gift, choosing which class you think your friend or loved one would like the most is easy. Over half of our respondents had heard of Le Cordon Bleu – one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the UK – where there’s a whole range of one-day workshops on everything from general skills to Indian, French or even Japanese cooking. In fact, classes for mastering specific cuisines like traditional British and even Malaysian were some of the most popular on our survey. Techniques-based courses came out top; any home cook would love to have the knife skills of Gary Jones or be able to skin a fillet like Nathan Outlaw. If you know someone who’s always wanted to whip up a batch of macarons with ease or would love to be able to bake the artisan bread they usually have to go to the bakery to buy, there’s a class for that, too. No matter how specialist the skill, there’s bound to be a cookery school out there teaching it.

More generally, food and wine pairing masterclasses are ideal for those who love hosting dinner parties, while fish and shellfish workshops put any fears over preparing the catch of the day to rest.

There are courses out there covering every aspect of food and drink, focusing on everything from the broadest of subjects to the more particular, specialist classes. So this Christmas, when you’re debating over which book someone would like best or worrying whether they’ll actually like the cookware you’ve got in mind, consider picking a day out at a culinary school instead; it’ll leave a lasting impression on the hobby they love the most.

If you know someone who’s always wanted to whip up a batch of macarons with ease or would love to be able to bake the artisan bread they usually have to go to the bakery to buy, there’s a class for that.

Tom Shingler