New high-fryers: It's boom time for cookery schools

It is reassuring to learn that bailiffs and loan sharks aren't the only ones making a killing out of our knackered economy. While most of us make do with simply hanging in there, cookery schools across the country are noticing a rush to learn kitchen skills from modest dinner party cooks to those in search of a cordon bleu career.

The places on day- or week-long stints and professional training courses are being filled by two main groups of wannabe chefs. The first group are thirtysomethings seeking a new direction in life far from computer screens and office politics, with or without a fat redundancy payout in their pockets. The second group are looking to build on basic, rusty or non-existent cookery skills for use in the home, and include parents seeking to eke out their housekeeping pennies without resorting to budget sausages, and those entertaining at home rather than eating out.

Tante Marie in Woking, the UK's largest independent cordon bleu school, is recommended by Gordon Ramsay. The principal, Andrew Maxwell, has noticed an astonishing upturn in interest in the school's courses since this time last year – hits on the website alone have almost doubled, and there was a surge after September last year when banks and other industries began to shed staff.

Ashburton Cookery School in Devon was voted the best cookery school for skills by the BBC's Good Food magazine. The school is experiencing such a high demand that, from August, all students will be taught in a brand new building, three times the size of the present structure.

Staff at Leiths School of Food and Wine, one of the country's most renowned gourmet havens, are already rushed off their feet interviewing candidates for professional courses, which begin in September. The school noticed a rush of students signing up for the January courses late last year. In Co Cork in Ireland, the family-run Ballymaloe School, which is attached to the Ballymaloe Restaurant and Hotel, says a large number of its courses are fully booked, and attributes this both to the popularity of career changes and to people suddenly realising that they lack life skills outside the corporate environment.

Bettys Cookery School in Harrogate, a spin-off from the famous tea rooms, has noticed that men in particular, keen to fill a knowledge gap and cut down on takeaways, are signing up to their courses in baking and technical skills. The Bertinet Kitchen in Bath and The Avenue in Putney are also reporting healthy trade, with most courses fully booked for the next few months.

Leiths runs a large range of courses, but professional diplomas of either two or three terms are their stock in trade. "We're noticing a surprising flurry of interest in the professional courses, which start in September," says Camilla Schneideman, managing director of Leiths. The full year, which costs £16,500, is not a light undertaking. "There are lots of applicants seeking a career change or using redundancy packages to pay for courses," she says.

This flurry of interest, though, will not necessarily translate into a hike in course bookings by September. "Certainly, bookings are up on this time last year," says Schneideman, "but this twist of interest has yet to unfurl." The school is running more workshops than last year, most of which are full, but has noticed a slight "chink in the armour" for their 10-part evening courses. But who can risk running out of the office at 5pm when jobs are at risk?

One of those making the transition from office to kitchen is Julian Parker, 49, a chartered accountant who has worked at the Serious Fraud Office for 25 years. He decided on a change when restructuring and voluntary redundancies were announced.

"I thought, if I don't do it now, I never will," Parker explains. "I have always been passionate about food and am thrilled to be going to Leiths. It has a fantastic reputation and there's a real buzz about the place that comes from a group of people who just love what they do. I haven't got any preconceptions about exactly where I'll end up: food businesses are not an easy option, nor is the training."

Dominic O'Nions, marketing director at Ashburton Cookery School, is delighted that Britons are pursuing cookery lessons so heartily. "We've never been busier," he says, "and there has never been more interest in cooking, which is in part driven by celebrity chefs and in part by people following their dream of cooking for a living, but also because of the dire exchange rate and a renaissance in entertaining.

"People are looking for a little bit more than usual from a holiday. With a cookery course you learn a skill for life which you can then share with family and friends, which is much better than roasting on a beach."

Ashburton teaches a large number of students who are retraining post-redundancy or hope to set up their own restaurants. It accepts resettlement grants from the Army and has two students from its £2,699 20-day diploma course currently working at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat'Saisons. "You can start as an absolute beginner, not knowing one end of a knife from another, and work your way up to Michelin star level," promised O'Nions.

Tante Marie has noticed an increase in enquiries from "motherly figures" who want to learn the secrets of cooking on a budget, and people wanting to learn how to cook using traditional methods, such as using outmoded ingredients like suet.

Bettys Cookery School reports a similar leaning towards home comforts, but from younger men rather than homemakers. "We feel sure in part this rise is due to the recession reawakening a longing for home comforts and for learning new skills to save money at the supermarket," says Richard Jones, the cookery school manager. "It may be that men want to cook more sophisticated meals so that they can entertain at home rather than foot the bill at an expensive restaurant."

Bettys also runs a £1,200 10-day course that is popular with people wishing to open their own B&B or café, which shows you can run your own establishment without spending many thousands attaining Michelin-standard cookery skills.

Learning the sort of basic home cooking skills espoused for decades by Delia Smith makes perfect sense for the generations who have missed out on learning about home economics at home or at school. What isn't clear, as droves of bankers and other high-earning professionals retrain as chefs for top restaurants, is who's going to be able to afford the gourmet meals they will prepare.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reception Manager

    £18750 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Hotel in Chadderton is a popular ch...

    Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

    £Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence