A cookery class with a difference at Saffrons

20/10/12

Why 'just' go out for dinner when you could get a few of your friends together, have a cook-off, learn about wine tasting and then finish it off with a fabulous meal? The Saffrons cookery course at the Hotel de France is like a dinner party with a rather delicious twist. First try your hand at cooking and plating up a few Saffrons dishes yourself, Ready Steady Cook-style, with chefs on hand to help out. Then sip your way through a wine-tasting masterclass from sommelier Melanie Drapeau. Finally, take your seat at Saffrons to enjoy a three-course fusion extravaganza with your friends. Read on for a behind-the-scenes glimpse...
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First stop - the cooking.

We each have our own cooking station set out with gas hob, plates of chopped ingredients, top kitchen utensils and pans. Oh, and a chef hovering around to help us. All we have to do is follow the Saffrons kitchen team who talk us through how to cook the dish, while we copy them, watching their techniques on a big screen.

Perfectly cooked sea bass, seared squid, it's all so easy when you're following the experts. What's not so easy is plating up, and the 'class' of budding chefs collapse into giggles as we realize creating artistic dishes fit for fine dining isn't as simple as we'd first thought. Filling tiny squid rings with roasted peppers is a challenge, but our finished dish of Punjabi style fried sea bass, squid, poached cardamom flavoured strawberries, mint chutney and sun dried tomatoes looks impressive, but perhaps not quite as impressive as Chef Kundeti's!

New utensils appear for our main course attempt where we'll sear a lamb fillet to perfection and top it with a papaya-paste marinated lamb cutlet, broad beans in coconut, glazed baby carrots and a delicious rioja and cassia bark sauce. We're talked through the bowls of spices in front of us - essential in Saffrons cooking - and learn how to use them, and then it's onto creating our dish. Ready-chopped ingredients appear as if by magic, then it's a whirl of searing and stirring and fifteen minutes later, we've all prepared an incredible rich lamb dish with delicious baby vegetables, and plated it up, Saffrons-style. After we've sampled our dishes (they're all amazing), it's off to the wine-tasting, complete with our own recipe book and Saffrons apron to keep.

Next stop - the wine-tasting.

Melanie the sommelier is passionate about wine, and tears herself away from her native French wines to share three of her favourite discoveries, teaching us how to taste wine at the same time. Under her guidance, we try a crisp white, a softer, more mature red and a champagne, noting the balance of flavours, the intensity and the finish. Lessons have never been so enjoyable, and before we know it we're discovering all sorts of hidden flavours in our wine, assessing the mouth-feel, noting the tannins and learning lots of new wine-tasting vocabulary. Now it's time to put it all into practice. After cooking and quaffing, it's time to sit back and enjoy the full Saffrons experience - and see how the professionals do it.

And it's time for dinner...

We're ushered into the restaurant where exquisitely spiced dishes like the Saffron's Rattan with bite-sized Gressingham duck breast tikka and saffron cream dip, almond crusted lamb shami kebab and mint chutney, and home smoked tandoori salmon with crispy milk fritter are presented like works of art, and all the elements of the meal tie in with the restaurant's Ayurvedic philosophy: balance in all things.

Delicious palate-cleansing shots of coconut and fennel icecream appear between courses, proving the kitchen can handle soft flavours just as well as spice. My main course, tandoori monkfish with picked spice king prawns, curry leaves and squid salad is excellent with an exceptionally high quality of ingredients presented perfectly. Saffrons is pure fusion innovation, thanks to the influence of French head chef Philippe Maratier who mixes French techniques with Indian tradition with practiced skill.

The desserts? Well they just have to be experienced. Subtle flavours of cardamom and chocolate with a fruity punch where it counts. And almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.

Our cookery class has given us a new-found understanding of every aspect of the meal, from cooking and presentation techniques to choosing wine, as well as an unforgettable evening out. We've all attempted high level cooking techniques, gained a greater understanding of our wine choices, and enjoyed a real Saffrons experience.  It'll be hard to go back to 'just' dinner out after this…

Saffrons Cookery Class, Wine Tasting and Dinner, £79 per person (Cookery Class and Dinner £68 per person). To book your place - contact Julie on 01534 614046 or click here to discover more at www.defrance.co.uk

Dates for 2013 classes:

- Saturday 2nd March 2013
- Saturday 20th April 2013
- Saturday 25th May 2013
- Saturday 22nd June 2013

Follow this link to discover more about Saffrons and its unique fusion style

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