by Silvana de Soissons•29th December 2012
Author of twenty food and recipe books, television presenter and cookery teacher, Sophie Grigson has recently set up a pop-up cookery school which organises courses in and around Oxford. After a career spanning thirty years it seemed she had abandoned the limelight, but in fact Sophie has been quietly working away at what she enjoys doing most: teaching others how to cook with confidence.
“The pop-up idea came to me when I realised just how prohibitive the costs are for opening a cookery school in and around Oxford. The great advantage of a pop-up is that you are using “dead time” in the evenings when the premises are not being used and you can bring people together for a few hours when they are not at work. We can afford to experiment with different courses and repeat the ones which are the most popular, it gives us a much greater degree of flexibility.”
Sophie has teamed up with Emma Collen, a fellow Oxford foodie who previously worked at La Cucina Caldesi Cookery School in London and was head of front-of-house for Jamie’s Italian restaurant in Oxford. Together they have created a schedule which focuses on hands-on, home cooking with recipes, menus and ideas from all over the world, inviting specialist cookery teachers to share their expertise in Italian, Indian, Japanese, French and Middle Eastern cuisine as well as baking, patisserie, pasta making, butchery, sausage making and preserving.
Courses are scheduled between 6/6.30pm and 9/9.30pm, cost £50 per head and include eating the prepared food with wine, or taking it home for family and friends. The work stations are laid out before the start of the course and the students work together in small teams, chopping, slicing, mixing, stirring, pouring and frying. The main attraction, of course, is Sophie herself and her relaxed, informal, didactic style.
“For me, the cookery courses are all about sharing the knowledge I have gained throughout my cooking career and travels, as well as providing encouragement and inspiration for those who do not feel confident enough to cook a whole family meal or a dinner party from scratch,” she told me. “There is a whole generation of people in Britain who have grown up watching competitive cookery on the television or reading about recipes “with a twist” in magazines. What we really need instead is real cooking, done with generosity and a sharing spirit, with no gimmicks.”
Her mother, Jane Grigson, Britain’s most important food writer of her generation, instilled in her a respect for good ingredients, simple techniques and local traditions and artisans, as well as a curiosity for international food and customs. Despite their scholarly edge, Jane Grigson’s books are still purchased by cooks of all abilities and ages for their thorough research, comforting tone and practical guidance.
Sophie was brought up in Wiltshire and went to the Oxford High School for Girls as a weekly boarder, returning home to Broad Town, north of Marlborough, at weekends and holidays. She remembers her parents entertaining endlessly, the cooking and preparations going on around her all the time. She studied for a degree in Mathematics at the University of Manchester, and it was a subject she enjoyed excelling at.
“I come from a very literary family, both my parents were writers, but I found maths, patterns and numbers really intellectually stimulating. It was a subject I could do, it was my territory and I really enjoyed it. It has not really spilled over into my food writing and cooking career because I never trained as a Home Economist. I am much more intuitive. I use a little bit of this and a little bit of that rather than totally precise measurements.”
To add to the pop-up events, Sophie’s Cookery School also creates bespoke courses for both corporate parties and private individuals, at their business premises or homes, designed around the needs of small groups of between eight and twelve people. Oxford is the ideal location for this new venture and the creation of this mobile cookery hub is a much needed community offering. I will be writing more about it in the second print edition of The Foodie Bugle, published at the end of April 2013.
In the meantime, to find out more about Sophie's courses, you can visit the website at www.sophiescookeryschool.com. Her Facebook page is: /SophieGrigsonsCookerySchool