If you are a keen amateur cook like myself and an opportunity comes along that allows you to learn from the best, then it’s something you should grasp with both hands.
That was certainly the case for me when I had the chance to spend a day at Nick Nairn’s Cook School at Port of Menteith, in the Stirling area.
The TV chef and presenter is reopening his cook school this month following an enforced closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a major flood, plus the knock-on effect of a devastating fire at his Bridge of Allan restaurant.
Undeterred by these setbacks, Nick and his wife Julia have taken the opportunity to revamp the cook school to the highest order. Fitted with the latest technology and state-of-the-art Miele induction hobs and ovens, it now provides a more intimate setting, with a maximum of 12 in each class.
Designed to be fully flexible, the beautiful space is also able to host a cool “Chef’s Table” for up to 12 and transform into a stunning private dining room for up to 50.
Skills to take away from Stirling class with Nick Nairn
The majority of the hands-on masterclasses will be taken by Nick, and visitors will learn how to prep, cook and present two courses from scratch.
The techniques that are taught can then be applied to a range of other dishes, giving amateur cooks even more skills to take away with them.
From Scottish and French, to Asian, Spanish and Japanese, Nick will explore the cuisines of the globe, as well as showcasing and picking homegrown ingredients from the garden grounds.
Meanwhile, Nick’s at Port of Menteith, the site restaurant, serves up a relaxed menu.
This changes with the seasons and majors on the vegetables available in the kitchen garden and from local producers.
The cook school’s lifestyle store features a range of cookware classics, cookery books, tableware, interiors items, food and drink, all carefully selected by Julia and Nick.
Settling down with a lovely glass of sparkling wine, Nick began the day by showing us how to make tasty canapes that were both simple and delicious.
Smoked salmon simply served with lemon and black pepper kicked things off, followed by more delights, such as celery, Parmesan and custard tart, which was completely new to me and worked so well.
My favourite, though, was undoubtedly the rocket and Parmesan wrapped in Parma ham.
Incredibly simple, this crowdpleaser was rocket dressed with some olive oil,
salt and pepper, lemon juice and Parmesan, and rolled up in a slice of Parma ham.
Rolling it with the fat away from you ensured it would stick and voila! A mouth-watering canape was created in seconds.
After picking up so many hints and tips from the preparation of the canapes, it was on to the main event – making a dish ourselves.
Expert guidance from chef Nick Nairn near Stirling
We were making fish tacos. Nick expertly guided us through the process of creating every element of the dish completely from scratch – even making our own tortilla.
The tortilla was simple to make. If you plan on making them at home, the most difficult part is getting your hands on the masa corn flour. But a quick online search reveals it can be purchased from specialist retailers.
It is such an easy process, with water added to the flour until you get a “playdough” consistency.
We were provided with a press to make our tortilla but I was guessing that maybe pressing together two plates could perform the job.
Failing that a good old rolling pin.
Next, we made our pico de gallo – a salsa that is synonymous with Mexican cuisine.
Lovely ripe tomatoes, red onion, chilli, coriander stems, garlic, salt, olive oil and lime combined to make one of the tastiest salsas I have ever enjoyed.
Using the coriander stems rather than the leaves is a game changer. It really gives it some added depth of flavour.
Then we made the guacamole.
Again, this was another simple dish requiring only one ripe avocado. This was mixed with the juice of half a lime, some salt and a little olive oil.
White sauce for garnishing the finished dish was a delightful velvety combo of mayo, sour cream, lime juice, garlic, salt, cayenne pepper, cumin and milk.
This was easily made by whisking them all together to a pouring consistency. With all of our other elements ready to go, we moved on to prepping our fish for the dish.
You can probably use the best fish that is in season. But for our tacos, we were cooking with scallops, monkfish and langoustines.
I had absolutely no problem “shucking” (removing) the scallop from the shell and the monkfish needed little prep. However, the langoustines required some expert help, which Nick was happy to provide.
With everything ready to go, it was showtime.
We cooked our tortillas in a dry frying pan. These were fairly easy to cook as you just wait until they begin to puff up, flip them over. Then you cook them for around 30 seconds to a minute, and the base part of the dish was done.
It was then a case of cooking off the three fish in a frying pan with a little olive oil. This ensured that they were not overcooked.
I was delighted with how mine turned out and then turned my attention to quickly assembling the dish.
The taco was warmed through in the pan used to cook the fish in. This was then placed on the serving plate and topped with a dollop of guacamole. The fish was then added and dressed with some pico de gallo and some of the white sauce.
I garnished the finished dish with some micro coriander and then put some
more of my salsa around the edges of the plate.
I was delighted with my finished dish, which looked and tasted fantastic. I came away with the feeling I had achieved something really special.
You are provided with a set of recipes from what you have made. This means you can recreate the experience at home.
How much does a day with Nick cost?
A day with Nick Nairn in Stirling cost £195pp, while a day with the resident chef is £149pp. This includes two hands-on cooking courses – a starter and a main. Plus a dessert chosen from Nick’s restaurant menu plus wine.
A half-day with the resident chef costs £89pp. This includes one hands-on cooking course, a main course, with a dessert chosen from the restaurant plus wine included.
For further information about the full schedule of events and availability, contact the cook school directly at firstname.lastname@example.org