Lessons learned in virtual cookery class, by Cate Devine


What strikes me most about taking part in a virtual cookery class is the number of things you learn without expecting to. For example, the amount of advance prep that’s required from the chef and staff. Receiving one’s box full of each carefully-measured, weighed, portioned, chilled, sometimes partially-cooked, and packaged component of the multiple-course menu, plus printed instructions, is the first thrill. Some are sent to hundreds of participants all over town and beyond. Not only does it makes you realise the sheer hard graft that goes into running a professional kitchen; the added complication of logistics – getting the ingredients safely delivered intact and in compliance with health and safety regs – is pretty impressive.

I took part in one of the first @Home classes hosted by Stuart Leslie, head chef at The Cook School, the sister company of Braehead Foods in Kilmarnock. The £50-for-two menu was Italian and we made aubergine cannelloni (ten ingredients), mushroom risotto (11 ingredients), chicken breast wrapped in Parma ham (four ingredients), and chef kindly threw in a pre-made vanilla Panna Cotta for dessert. The equipment list packed into my box required some 19 items to be found around my kitchen and laid out in advance (a useful time-saver during the 90-minute class).  

My mis-en-place sorted according to chef Stuart Leslie’s instructions

The second thing I learned that night was how great it was to be able to ogle other participants’ kitchens. Forget politicians’ bookcases being featured on news channels as TV interviews have been conducted at home, following social distancing guidelines: this was far more interesting, if a little envy-inducing.

The third thing was how to chop an onion. Finally. Chef Stuart cheerfully – and tearlessly – demonstrated how you’re meant to cut the top of the onion off and keep the root on so that vertical slices stay together until you cut the root off. Bravo. As the atmosphere between us and the dozen or so others was relaxed and full of banter, helped along by the fact that most of us had a glass of wine to hand, I didn’t feel embarrassed at my ignorance.

“There’s no such thing as a silly question, as we’re here to be comfortable as we go,” chef Stuart assured me. I’ve since been told that someone in another class on vegetarian cookery enquired about the best way to cook a steak.

So I wasn’t abashed to discover that risotto should be served slightly sloppy, otherwise it’s more of a paella, and that it should be eaten on a cold plate to stop it continuing to cook and congeal.

Speed, precision, keeping the work station clean and tidy, sticking to the plan and paying attention to detail were also important lessons I learned as a home cook. Thanks to chef, I was really pleased with the end result of my dishes.

I also discovered that the presentation skills of the host chef are key to the whole thing. Chef Stuart has been running The Cook School for some years now, so is used to performing in front of an audience. Others may have to learn this – it’s no longer the case that a chef’s life is destined to be led in obscurity, stuck behind the stove. If the Coronavirus pandemic continues and lockdowns are imposed around the country, online classes are set to stay.

“Doing live classes were Stuart’s idea, and the reaction and feedback so far have been absolutely brilliant,” says Craig Stevenson, managing director of Braehead Foods. “They were designed for lockdown to cater for those working from home, learning to cook, who need a break or a date night, but can’t go out to eat,” he says. “We will be continuing this into the future even if lockdown stops. It’s a good way to educate and entertain customers, while helping local producers and suppliers and even delivery drivers stay in work.”

My version of the aubergine cannelloni …

About Cate Devine

As a journalist, Cate has been covering developments in food and drink for over 25 years, variously as a deputy monthly magazine editor; weekly magazine editor; daily newspaper commissioning features editor, women’s editor, senior writer and food specialist; and latterly freelance contributor, broadcaster and interviewer.

To view more of Cate’s writing, please visit her blog: https://www.catedevinewriter.com/

National Pie Week – Steak Pie Recipe

Individual Steak Pie, Creamed Potatoes & Carrots

Individual Steak Pie Ingredients

  • 100g braising steak, cut into cubes
  • Plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, for dusting
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 pork links
  • Salt and pepper
  • 70ml hot beef stock
  • 200g ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Small bunch thyme leaves only


  1. Dust the cubed steak with the seasoned flour
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan and fry the meat, stirring frequently, until browned on all sides.
  3. Add the diced onions, herbs, salt and freshly ground black pepper and the stock and bring to the boil.
  4. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for an hour and a half. 
  5. Preheat the oven to 180c. Cook sausages, then slice up and add to steak mixture.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a dish to cool down this will make it easier to line the pie dishes.
  7. Brush tins with oil and push puff pastry into them being careful not to cause any tears.
  8. Fill generously with steak and sausage mix and brush rim of pie with a little beaten egg carefully before cutting an appropriately sized lid and sealing it on top.
  9. Eggs wash thoroughly and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes. Serve immediately. 

Creamed Potato Ingredients

  • 1kg red rooster potatoes cut into even chunks
  • 125ml double cream
  • 25g butter
  • 25g crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper
  • Whole nutmeg


  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the potatoes and boil for about 15 mins or until tender. Transfer to a colander and drain well, then return to the pan and set over a very low heat for 2 mins to dry completely.
  2. Heat the cream and butter in a small pan, then pour over the potatoes. Remove pan from the heat, then mash potatoes using an electric hand whisk or potato masher. Tip in the crème fraiche and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy.
  3. Season with salt, pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg. Serve immediately

Carrot Ingredients

  • 250g carrots, chopped to desired shape
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Small bunch thyme leaves only
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Peel and cut your carrots then boil in slightly salted water for 8-10 mins depending on the size you have cut them.
  2. Strain then place on a suitable tray with the butter, cumin, thyme and salt and pepper then roast for 5 mins at 200 degrees to give them a nice glaze.