Luxurious Magazine’s Jamie Ndah meets with Rosalind Rathouse the founder of Cookery School at Little Portland Street, and talks luxury in the kitchen, cooking, courses and sustainability at the leading London cookery school.
LM: How long have you been teaching the fine art of cooking and where did your journey begin?
RR: I started teaching in London over 50 years ago and a few years after my arrival I had to go back to South Africa for three years for family reasons. During this time I ran a cookery school in Johannesburg and as it was the apartheid-era white and black students had to be segregated. In fact, I had to keep it quiet that I was teaching black people as it was illegal to do so. I managed to keep the special branch policeman who happened to live over the road quiet about it by essentially bribing him with gifts of Sole Véronique and other popular ‘sixties food’!
LM: What was your first cookery position?
RR: In the seventies when I was head of the remedial department at King Alfred’s School in Hampstead, London, I used cooking as part of the teaching programme with some of the students because it engaged them in a way that regular teaching did not. Cooking was a treat at the end of work sessions and it allowed me to establish a good relationship with them through it. We also cooked for the tuck shop, with fresh pizza being a particular favourite!
LM: Why has Cookery School at Little Portland Street become such a leading school in its field?
RR: We teach students good home cooking skills and tuition is by chefs who have been trained to teach in the Cookery School style. The teaching method we use, whenever possible, is based on learning key principles that can be applied to many dishes in the same category so that by learning one skill you can make many different dishes. For example, if you understand how to roast one kind of meat you can apply the same principles to roasting other kinds of meat.
We do not focus on technical skills but on making the cooking of good food as accessible as possible. We consider that we offer sustainable learning because the manner in which we teach makes cooking understandable and that means that it lasts. Where other schools can be “cheffy” and faddy we focus on teaching good home cooking.
LM: What is your personal definition of luxury?
RR: Using the best possible, seasonal ingredients and never stinting at all! It’s not about the price of anything but an understanding that you have to pay for quality.
LM: What luxurious item could you not live without?
RR: Lobster. Although it has to be sustainable English Lobster. Plus perhaps cream too, if I can name two items!
LM: What makes the Cookery School at Little Portland Street so special when it comes to delivering first class courses to its students?
RR: It’s a highly personal experience, with a high teacher to student ratio. We also stick firmly to our principles around sustainability, quality, and seasonality. We try to ensure our ingredients come from within a maximum 100-mile radius and are primarily organic. Being an island, this is not always possible but we do as much as we can to fulfil this aim.
What are the fundamental principles of the Cookery School at Little Portland Street?
Sustainable, local, Best of British, seasonal, no additives or preservatives. We cook with the same ingredients you might find in a top quality restaurant.
LM: Please tell our Luxurious readers why they should visit and experience Cookery School at Little Portland Street.
RR: Whether you’re taking a class or course, each session offers plenty of hands-on practice, the chance to ask lots of questions, hone techniques, and importantly, taste all the delicious food that has been made! In each class, you will also learn about how to be more sustainable in the kitchen, from eating less meat to not using cling film and foil.
We also try to ensure that regardless of the amount of time you spend with us, it will be fun as the environment is friendly. You will leave with lots of new skills to practice and enjoy at home.”
LM: What luxurious gastronomy delights can students explore under your supervision, guidance and courses at the Cookery School at Little Portland Street?
RR: At this time of year, fresh garlic, wild garlic and rhubarb make their appearance in loads of dishes. Lobster bisque is a perpetual treat and prune & Armagnac soufflé is a particular favourite.”
LM: Over 40,000 people have passed through the doors at the Cookery School at Little Portland Street? Do you welcome all levels and cooking skills to the school?
RR: Absolutely. Whatever your age, ability or schedule, we have a class to suit! We offer over 30 different classes, from chocolate making, pastry and knife skills, to the regional cuisines of the Middle East and Mexico.
Classes are from three hours and upwards and take place on weekdays, evenings, and Saturdays. If you have more time available we also offer short and longer term courses. Twice a year we hold our accredited professional Cook’s Certificate in Food and Wine which is for people who want to pursue a career in food and is very popular with people taking a career break.
LM: You are a champion of sustainability at Little Portland Street. Tell our readers why this is so important to you?
RR: It’s at the heart of what I do and it is something that we all ought to be doing a little of to help our planet and keep it good for future generations. I love to show people how easy it is to be sustainable in the kitchen. My passion is using the freshest and most natural, quality ingredients to create delicious dishes.
LM: You have also been awarded a three-star rating for sustainability – the highest possible rating from the SRA (Sustainable Restaurants Association) for four years running. Tell us about how that moment made you feel?
RR: We are London’s only cookery school with 3 stars from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) and I was just delighted that all of our efforts have been recognised to achieve the award four years in a row.
Sustainability has always been a core to the school – way before it became ‘cool’ and we predated much of the sustainability movement and the SRA itself.
LM: What are the most popular fine dining dishes that students ask to create at your classes?
RR: We’re not just about fine dining, but our pasta, risotto and gnocchi and chocolate-making classes are always very popular. Baking classes of all sorts are also always full as that is currently an obsession with the British public.
LM: Please tell our Luxurious readers about the concept behind Cookery School at Little Portland Street.
RR: I wanted to help people of all abilities to learn to cook confidently with sustainable and best possible, seasonal ingredients. Demystifying cooking and providing fun, informal classes in a warm and friendly environment is as enjoyable for me and the Cookery School staff as it is for our students.
Many of the recipes used in the school come from my mother and grandmother, and it has been such a good opportunity to pass these solid and reliable recipes on to others and, hopefully, down generations to come.
LM: Exciting times ahead for Cookery School at Little Portland Street. Can you tell us what developments you have planned in the future?
RR: I have created a book but it is an antithesis of coffee table cookbooks as it won’t have any pictures, just recipes so will be useful for reliable cooking fundamentals.”
LM: Describe the Cookery School at Little Portland Street in one word.
Cookery School at Little Portland Street – Where and how?
Cookery School at Little Portland Street can be found at 15 Little Portland St, London W1W 8BW, United Kingdom. To make a reservation, visit www.cookeryschool.co.uk.Interview by Jamie