From chilli crabs and pepper prawns in Sydney, to the finest Kiwi cuisine on a farm near Wellington, Jenni Muir discovers food and cooking courses to suit every taste and budget



Sydney Seafood School

Hugo's, Rockpool, Claude's, Bistro Moncur... chefs from many of Sydney's most venerated and fashionable restaurants happily punt up to the Sydney Seafood School in Pyrmont Bay to lead hands-on classes.

In this sophisticated foodie city, chilli salt squid, paella, salt and pepper prawns and chilli crab are considered elementary dishes, but there's no reason to feel intimidated.

The evening sessions are cleverly constructed to include a full demonstration of the dish before participants adjourn to the workstations to prepare their own version in small groups of five or six. Later, guests move to the adjoining dining room to enjoy their seafood supper with carefully matched wine.

Perennial favourites are the seafood barbecue course, sushi and sashimi workshop, tapas dishes, and a day on Thai cuisine that begins with a shopping expedition to Chinatown.

Classes from A$70 (£29), not including accommodation. Flights are extra.

The Sydney Seafood School, Sydney Fishmarket, Bank Street, Pyrmont, Sydney, NSW, Australia, tel: 00612 9004 1111.


Duck Under the Table

The Manning Valley in New South Wales's Mid-North Coast district lies just north of the wine-making region, the Hunter Valley.

While the Manning has some way to go before it rivals the Hunter for grape production, it is fast developing a reputation for fine ingredients.

Local produce is key in classes held at Duck Under the Table, a cookery school set in a tastefully converted 1911 butcher's shop in the historic market town of Wingham. Along with sessions on Thai, Italian and baking, there is a cheesemaking course in which participants make their own mozzarella, boccincini and feta. "Doing it With Duck" takes the mystery out of preparing this richly-flavoured bird.

From A$35 (£15), not including accommodation. Flights are extra. Duck Under the Table, 22 Bent Street, Wingham, NSW, Australia, tel: 00612 6553 4057.


Tony Tan's Unlimited Cuisine

Antipodeans seem to be naturally at ease with fusion cooking, while Europeans often deride it as "con-fusion cuisine". If anyone can help you come to terms with this style, it is Malaysian-born, Melbourne-based Tony Tan.

"Tony's Choice" sessions combine seasonal Australian produce with what he calls "freestyle cooking" - being creative, but keeping flavours in harmony. Other popular sessions include Modern Thai, Modern Chinese and cooking with noodles.

Having first put his stamp on Melbourne's dining scene at vegetarian restaurant Shakahari, Tony is highly regarded for his meat-free food. The "Hip Vegetables" class inspires with ingredients such as nuts and aged balsamic, Chinese vinegar.

From A$95 (£40), not including accommodation. Flights extra. Tony Tan's Unlimited Cuisine, 28a Lansell Road, Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, tel: 00613 9827 7347.


Ruth Pretty Cooking School

Caterer, former restaurateur and author of three cookbooks, Ruth Pretty is one of the brightest lights in New Zealand's culinary firmament.

Her cookery school is based, along with her home, offices and catering kitchen, on a picturesque 27-acre property an hour's drive from Wellington.

Day-long classes for up to 30 people are held most weekends from March to November. There's no accommodation on-site, but the relaxing Te Horo Lodge is just five minutes away.

From NZ$165 (£64), not including accommodation. Flights extra. Ruth Pretty Catering, 41 School Road, Te Horo, Kapiti Coast, New Zealand, tel: 00646 364 3161.


Epicurean Workshop

Catherine Bell is the owner of Epicurean Workshop, a venue that comprises a kitchenware store, espresso bar and cookery school, and has developed a large following among amateur and professionals in Auckland.

Bell trained at Leith's School of Food and Wine in London, and has published two cookbooks as well as her own magazine, Dish.

Ray McVinnie's interactive Market to Table class is particularly popular. It starts with a shopping expedition to Avondale Market. The group then returns to classes, culminating in a feast with matching wines.

Price from NZ$55 (£22), not including accommodation. Flights are extra. Epicurean Workshop, 6 Morrow Street, PO Box 9255, Newmarket, Auckland, New Zealand, tel: 00649 524 0906.


Surfing the Menu

By Ben O'Donoghue and Curtis Stone (BBC Books, £14.99)

This is as much a travel book as a cookbook from Ben O'Donoghue, of Atlantic Bar and Grill fame, and Curtis Stone, who worked with Conran on developing The Bluebird. The recipes are easy to follow and source.

Thai Food

By David Thompson (Pavilion Books, £25)

Head chef of Nahm and keeper of all things Thai: David Thompson's tome on Thai cookery is a must for anyone interested in Asian food. This renowned Australian chef details the incredibly complex alongside the simplest recipes, encouraging anyone to have a go.

The Food I Love

By Neil Perry (Murdoch Books, £30)

Although Neil Perry is the pioneer of modern Australian cooking in his Sydney restaurant, Rockpool, his latest volume, due out in May, concentrates on the food that has inspired him: Mediterranean. It reflects simple and sophisticated cooking.

The Instant Cook

By Donna Hay (Fourth Estate, £20)

"Tasty meals that can be whipped up in minutes" is at the heart of Donna Hay's latest offering. Her books are a staple reference in the kitchens of Australia; in this, beautiful photography accompanies instructions for delicious recipes such as Caramelised Lime Fish.