Whether you’re a dedicated gourmand after a culinary break or are an enthusiastic, fledgling chef, the UK and Ireland are home to several cookery schools that offer immersive and life-changing courses. Whichever you opt for – from cheese-making, fermentation and butchering to tapas and dynamic vegetarian cooking – be prepared for an almost overwhelming quality and quantity of food.
Here are seven of the most revered institutions for either brushing up on, or picking up new culinary skills.
Ballymaloe is the only cookery school in the world located on its own organically certified farm
In 1964, the late, pioneering chef Myrtle Allen turned her wisteria-covered, grey stone Irish manor house (Ballymaloe House) into a restaurant. Fast forward 55 years and her daughter-in-law, Darina Allen (a celebrated chef in her own right), has taken the helm of what is now a Michelin-starred restaurant, hotel, farm and cookery school amid the bright green hills of coastal County Cork. Myrtle and Darina Allen’s ethos of using local, seasonal produce was way ahead of its time, preceding the farm-to-table movement that later took California (and the world) by storm. The experience of staying here (students sleep in residential cottages) is truly unlike any other, as it’s the only cookery school in the world located on its own organically certified farm. The days are punctuated by afternoon demonstrations and informal lunches feasting on each other’s freshly prepared dishes, washed down with kefir water flavoured with hedgerow flowers. You’re also only 15 minutes from foraging seaweed on the beach, and the smell of freshly baked bread frequently wafts through the air from the bread shed.
Leith's follows a simple, quintessentially British approach led by high-quality ingredients
Founded by chef, restaurateur and Great British Bake Off judge, Prue Leith, in 1975, together with chef and author, Caroline Waldegrave, London’s Leith’s School of Food and Wine is widely regarded as the finest cookery school in the country. At the time of its inception, it broke away from the 1970s norm (a somewhat kitsch, fussy and faux-French style of cooking) in favour of Prue’s simple, quintessentially British approach led by high-quality ingredients. That said, you can now book courses specialising in a variety of cuisines, from Pacific Rim to Peruvian. But the advanced training programmes are what Leith’s is really known for – the school even runs an agency that always gets its graduates jobs. Whether you’re after professional training like former student and now-acclaimed chef, Florence Knight, or would prefer a one-off class like Kate Middleton, you can join the alumni of this esteemed school and learn timeless tips and tricks, like how to make irresistible pastry or master the art of bechamel sauce. Stay at the highly rated, nearby K West Hotel & Spa.
Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, Oxfordshire
Making tagliatelle pasta at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons' cookery school
A destination restaurant with extensive gardens, greenhouses and orchards, Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons is located in a magnificent, 15th-century manor house in the Oxfordshire village of Great Milton. Run by chef Raymond Blanc, it’s something of a national treasure – it’s also gained a reputation as the priciest restaurant in Britain but it’ll all make sense once you’ve tasted the calibre of its food. In addition to community classes teaching local school children about farming and gardening, the restaurant shares its répertoire of culinary knowledge through its cookery school. Classes are held within the two Michelin-starred Manoir kitchens and are surprisingly laid-back, considering the elaborate, gourmet recipes and techniques that feature. The courses are appropriate for both beginners and connoisseurs, with a comprehensive schedule containing classes teaching you to properly fillet a fish and advanced patisserie sessions. Combine your course with an overnight stay in the luxurious manor house for an unforgettable overall experience.
Le Cordon Bleu, London
Learn how to make beautiful French strawberry macaroons at Le Cordon Bleu
Le Cordon Bleu (its London outpost, specifically) is one of the world’s most respected culinary institutions, having trained chefs such as Julia Child, Mary Berry and Yotam Ottolenghi. Since the 1930s, students have been forking out to attend diploma courses here (available at beginner, intermediate and superior levels) and receive some of the best training in the industry on subjects ranging from boulangerie to nutrition. While it is more of a school for aspiring professional chefs than those who simply want to improve their cooking, there are also short courses, monthly events and demonstrations around gastronomy – from mastering the preparation and cooking of fish and shellfish to learning how to make beautiful French macaroons. Stay at the Arosfa Hotel, in a pretty Georgian townhouse just a 12-minute walk from Le Cordon Bleu.
Daylesford Cookery School, Gloucestershire
Daylesford is located on a 2,350-acre working farm in the Cotswolds
On a 2,350-acre working farm in the Cotswolds, an area of bucolic beauty defined by blonde stone villages and fields dotted with Friesian and Hereford cows, Daylesford Cookery School teaches students all about the best of organic British food. You can choose between becoming an expert in afternoon tea and artisanal bread-making, or learn about game preparation and sustainable seafood. Almost all of the ingredients used are sourced from the farm and gardens, and you can take some home to play around with yourself – thanks to the on-site farm shop and café selling butter churned in the Daylesford dairy to ginger and turmeric honey. You can book a private day course, which makes a great outing for a group – especially when combined with an overnight stay or a full weekend away at one of Daylesford’s own cottages, or at the nearby 16th-century Kings Head Inn. There's also the option of attending a half-day course without spending the night, too.
River Cottage HQ, Devon
River Cottage champions ethically produced food with a nose-to-tail approach
Lending its name to several TV series, cookbooks, restaurants and a cookery school, the River Cottage is a culinary empire that has come a long way since it was founded in the late 1990s by chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The concept started in a small game-keeper’s cottage in Dorset, from where Hugh grew his own vegetables, raised his own livestock and championed ethically produced food with a nose-to-tail approach. These days, River Cottage HQ can be found near Axminster in Devon and is an organic smallholding offering a range of cookery courses and events for chefs of all ability levels. Lasting from one to several days, these courses teach students how to cook straightforward but impressive food, be it seasonal fruit galettes or fresh fish that you’ve filleted yourself. The emphasis is on food with integrity, showing you how to use the offal that’s usually discarded by abattoirs, or making delectable homemade sourdough that’s totally free from additives unlike bread you’d buy from the supermarket. Stay just a short drive from River Cottage HQ at homely and inviting B&B, Spillers Farm.
Padstow Seafood School, Cornwall
Padstow Seafood School uses the freshest of catches delivered straight off the boat each morning
Started by inimitable chef, Rick Stein, Padstow Seafood School is a site of pilgrimage for food-lovers. Located in the Cornish fishing village of Padstow, the school looks out over the Camel Estuary and uses the freshest of catches delivered straight off the boat each morning. It’s part of The Seafood Restaurant – one of the most revered eateries in the UK, from which Stein made his name – and was started 20 years ago to give the resident chefs more training. The passion for good food is palpable, with lecturer Nick Evans (also Head Chef at The Seafood Restaurant) running the show; according to Stein, ‘what he doesn’t know about fish isn’t worth knowing’. Pick up expert tips here on every aspect of preparing and cooking seafood, including scaling, boning and filleting, before enjoying the fruits of your labour with fine wine and sea views. There are also meat, vegetarian and baking courses, as well as those that focus on Japanese sushi and Italian fish, plus evening demos infused with Stein’s laid-back signature style. Stay at The Old Custom House and wake up to views of the village's medieval harbour.