LOOKING at the menu of the day, there is a lot to do. Bread and grains; Norwegian Skrei cod with morteau sausage, salsify, oyster leaf, Alexander purée and yeast sauce; loin of venison, smoked shoulder, soil-baked potato, beetroot and julmust sauce, and gin-poached Yorkshire rhubarb, kaffir-lime custard, cardamom meringue and toasted coconut sorbet.
There are 11 of us in the kitchen at Cooks, the cookery school at Carlton Towers, just south of Selby.
New for this year is a collection of courses run by guest chefs such as Yves Quemerais and Lionel Strub. Today it is the turn of Murray Wilson, the quietly determined talent who has been making a name for Norse, the small, Scandinavian-influenced restaurant he runs in Harrogate. Murray was a finalist in the first series of MasterChef: The Professionals in 2008 and last year won Chef of the Year at the Harrogate Hospitality and Tourism Awards.
Located in Oxford Street, Norse is the evening offering at Baltzersen's cafe, which sells the likes of gravadlax, meatballs and cinnamon buns and great coffee during the day. Come evening, it re-emerges as Norse, offering a highly seasonal selection of just eight savoury dishes and three desserts. Last October, it won a rave review from Jay Rayner in The Observer and has a strong band of loyal followers.
Some of them are here today, savouring the chance to spend a whole day with Murray, finding out the secrets behind some of those moreish meals at Norse. It feels like the culinary equivalent of a bunch of music lovers getting to hang out with their rock idol.
"What was it like when Jay Rayner popped in for dinner?" asked one fan. Murray replied, he thought the sous chef was pulling his leg. Then he popped his head into the dining area and realised he wasn't.
Murray spends the day sharing cookery tips and anecdotes. About 50 per cent of the ideas in the Norse kitchen make it to the menu. Any total disasters? Murray pauses before answering. "The porridge that Jay Rayner wrote about." This "porridge" was in fact a dish of fermented grains with parsnip purée, wild mushrooms and a slow-poached egg. Rayner described it like this "It is as messy and unstructured as it sounds, not least because the water-bathed egg hasn’t fully set and is too much scary translucent white, dribbling across grains which haven’t fermented to a sourness that might have given it all a bit of light and shade. But it falls into the category of 'noble failures'." Murray adds: "About half the people who ate it loved it, but if you didn't like it, you didn't like it. I wouldn't put it on the menu now."
Murray Wilson at the helm of a class at Cooks, Carlton Towers
The most popular dish at Norse is the Norwegian Skrei cod with morteau sausage, which we are making today for our lunch.
Scandinavian food involves a lot of salting, smoking and pickling, and this is apparent in Murray's pick of dishes for this, his first class at Cooks (there will be another on March 9).
The cod is first cured in salt then pan roasted in butter; later chunks of morteau, a French smoked sausage, are added to the pan to colour. It is served with a yeast sauce and Alexander purée that Murray has rustled up in between giving us instructions on how to pan fry fish correctly (top tip, do most of the cooking on one side, then flip it to finish off. Lots of butter helps!).
Before we tuck in, we enjoy an appetiser that diners at Norse would be familiar with: bread and grains. This features a rustic looking smoked artichoke purée (not dissimilar in texture or appearance to hummus) topped with a selection of grains, wild rice and millet, that have been deep fried until they puff up (think posh Rice Krispies or puffed wheat). The grains are seasoned with salt, scattered on top of the purée, and served with warm, home-made bread rolls. Granted, it's not the most attractive dish you'll see (too much like bird seed), but it tastes fabulous.
Murray shows us how to smoke our own venison, using woodchips and a special pan he bought on Amazon. The meat is later placed in a pressure cooker with veal stock and diced veggies and cooked for an hour until it is melt-in-the mouth perfect and covered in a glossy, sticky glaze. We have this later for dinner, with some pan-fried venison loin, shavings of picked beetroot and baby potatoes that have been baked in the oven in soil (which seems to enhance their earthy flavour).
Dessert is rhubarb with kaffir-lime custard, toasted coconut and cardamom meringue
For dessert, we assemble some new season rhubarb which has been poached in gin, with a kaffir-lime custard and toasted coconut sorbet, which again Murray has rustled up while we've been snacking on the fruits of our combined labours. We've made a vat of Italian meringue, flavoured with cardamom, and all take it in turns to pipe peaks of it on to our plates and brown off with a blow torch.
The set-up at Cooks is great: everyone has their own kitchen station with fridge and induction hob and work space, set out in a large square room - you're never too far away from the chef/tutor, who is on hand to help.
Staff members at Carlton Towers do the dishes too - so you can focus on the food, the cooking and the eating.
Find out more about cookery classes and demonstrations at Cooks at Carlton Towers online at: cooksatcarlton.co.uk
Upcoming highlights include:
From Alsace to Yorkshire with Award Winning Chef Lionel Strub, March 10, full day, £140
Artisan Bread Class with Artisan Baker Simon Thomas, April 19, full day, £140
World Street Food at Cooks – Bánh mì Booth Vietnamese Class with Emily Boothroyd, April 21, half day, £75
Take Your Baking to the Next Level: French Patisserie Class with Chef Yves Quemerais, April 26, full day, £140
World Street Food at Cooks – El Kantina Mexican Street Food Class with Laura from El Kantina, April 28, half day, £75