Cooking Intensive Programme

Spring Cooking Intensive with Francoise Auvray

Practicing cooking in a class context is, for me, a source of on-going learning and inspiration. The opportunity to cook as a group, provides more learning experiences than in our daily home cooking practice; we learn so much from each other.

Taking on a week’s long cooking intensive is like going on a yoga retreat; when you come back home, your body wants to continue to explore. Your body may not remember all the moves, but it will remember enough to engage at a different level than before. My cooking practice has evolved over time reflecting the learning opportunities with which I engage: as a course participant, assistant or facilitator; or at home. My changing needs and varying schedules have also shaped what, how and when I cook. But one aspect that does not seem to change is my daily commitment to this practice; it’s a call I cannot resist and one I would like to share with you! You will take what you need from it, until your next learning opportunity.

After the long winter months that never seem to end, spring vegetables are appearing in the British landscape: green is the dominant colour; nettles, wild garlic have already come out in March; parsley, mint, thyme and other herbs are fast growing. May will see the short-lived asparagus season along with spring greens, broad beans and radishes creating an abundance of green, pungent juiciness and crunch that takes very little cooking. Sweetness is around the corner with the beginning of the strawberry season. It’s an exciting time of the year, after months of being creative with beetroots, swede and relishing the sweet creaminess of Hokkaido pumpkins, new season vegetables and fruits bring a freshness we have been longing for. Cooking in this season can be challenging, we think we long for summer salads advertised on food blogs and in supermarkets, but in spring in the UK, we are months away from sun ripe peaches and tomatoes. The weather is unpredictable and we still need deep satisfying dishes, yet with an increasing touch of lightness.

The intention of this course is to cook simple dishes together to hone our cooking skills and adapt them to the change of season (working on cutting styles, cooking techniques and exploring seasonal ingredients). It will inspire you to bring variety and excitement to simple meals by varying your menu (soup + main course; one pot meal; sharing type meal, etc.), adding interesting garnishes and using abundant fresh seasonal herbs.

At the time of writing, the full menu for the event is not finalised but the use of seasonal ingredients and a variety of dishes will lead us through the week, and by the end you will have learned the following:

– Making soups, including making stock (creamy soups such as red lentil and lemon, watercress or nettle, cream of cauliflower, and other soups such as minestrone with beans and pesto, light barley with new turnips and herbs, onion and sweetcorn miso);

– Preparing grains such as rice, bulgur and quinoa, either plain or pilaf style. How to turn left-overs into tasty patties or bakes;
– using noodles or pasta to make warm salads with vegetables (noodles with tahini sauce or vegetable lasagne);

– Cooking a range of beans and lentils to make light stews and warm salads; for example: simply cooked lentils are transformed by adding caramelised onions, a touch of spices, a drizzle of tahini and plenty of parsley;

– Cooked and raw vegetable salads with dressings, including quick pickles and a demonstration of how to make fermented pickles;

– Preparing greens to use them as side dishes blanched or raw, but also to make them the centre-piece in a Greek inspired pie;

– Whilst the programme’s menu is mostly based on plant food, spring is also the season when ruminants return to the fields and milk, butter and cream are particularly rich in this season. We will discuss the quality of dairy foods and explore how to make a sample amount of yoghurt and butter;

– The last day will be dedicated to simple bread baking; making meze style dishes to share for lunch and leaving the afternoon for the preparation of some delicious puddings and other sweet bites;

The cooking classes are hands-on. Participants cook in small groups of 3-4 and eat the meal they have prepared. The menu is not designed to be vegan and gluten free, although most dishes are likely to be; this is not the focus of the course and we cannot guarantee a 100% gluten free vegan meal. When possible, however, a group may decide to make some adjustments by replacing or omitting some ingredients or dishes.

Françoise is 46, married and lives in Normandy and Essex. She has trained at Concord Institute since 1998 where she participated in transformational events and learned the principles of macrobiotic cooking over time, with a range of teachers. After a career in the City, she studied Anthropology of Food at SOAS University of London and completed her MA in 2016. She is passionate about where foods come from (over time and space); how, over thousands of years, generations of our ancestors have discovered ways to grow and transform foods and the difference it makes to us as cooks and eaters to understand this. She taught cooking at Concord Institute between 2010 and 2015.