‘Not a Cookery School’, Development Director Elaine Lemm, corrects me: ‘It’s a School of Food’ – the difference being that the courses at Carlton Towers offer far more than cookery lessons. The website explains: ‘Grow, cook, photograph or write about food. Come to bake, butcher, forage, preserve, get back to basics, hone your skills.’
Carlton Towers, if you don’t know it, is the ancestral pile of the Duke of Norfolk. It’s in Carlton, a village between Selby and Goole, and the Gothic palace and its turrets, gargoyles, battlements and clock tower, half English boarding school, half grand country house, is the place the Duke’s brother Lord Gerald Fitzalan Howard and his wife Emma, call home.
Inside it’s just as imposing with yards of ecclesiastical paneling and stained glass, gilded walls and chandeliers. The upstairs is largely given over to weddings, shooting parties and corporate events but you can stay in one of the 16 bedrooms, beautifully designed and furnished by Lady Gerald herself.
Twelve months or so ago Lord and Lady G decided to take downstairs in hand and turned the old kitchen, scullery, dairy and butler’s pantry into a cookery school, sorry School of Food, and they’ve done a cracking job.
Elaine Lemm, Development Director plans the courses, Richard Walton Allen, ex head chef at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, is course tutor. Together they have put together a series of one day courses: Fiona Sciolti is guest chocolate tutor, Josh Sutton the self-styled Guyrope Gourmet is offering campfire cooking, there’s upmarket barbecuing with Andy Annat and bacon and sausage making with David Lishman of Lishman’s of Ilkley.
My day at Cooks was an afternoon tea master class with Adam Smith, the head chef of the Burlington restaurant at Devonshire Arms, Bolton Abbey and before that at the Ritz in Piccadilly, where afternoon tea is an institution.
We baked scones, cakes and macaroons and took our breaks in the housekeeper’s sitting room – very English country house with sofas and side tables and a well stocked drinks cupboard. You could easily be tempted to kick off your shoes and settle in with coffee, cake and Mrs Beeton.
But manager Nicola Shann shoos us back to the kitchen and at the end of the day we get to scoff all we have cooked in the genteel surroundings of the ‘Duchesses dining room’, a formal dining room where once upon a time the young Lord Gerald remembers sitting down to tea with his grandparents, the Duke and Duchess.
This of course is the USP of Yorkshire’s newest cookery school. An upstairs/downstairs experience. Compared to all the curlicues upstairs, downstairs is boarding school spare. Wide doorways, stone flagged corridors, the cool dairy and the spacious kitchen where they have cleverly (and expensively) combined old and new. State of the art equipment sits alongside mighty cast iron ranges, old shelves house copper pans and antique jelly moulds. Teaching takes place around a huge central island complete with a ‘listed’ pillar through the centre.
Yorkshire has any number of cookery schools, Bettys, Malton, the York Cookery School, the Cooking School at Dean Clough, Swinton Park, Yorkshire Wolds and more. Cooks is a first-rate addition to that list and promises to offer something more. The current list of courses goes up to September so the ‘more than cookery lessons’ is still in development, but watch this space. Until then, it’s a fine place to work and learn with exemplary objectives; after all, where else can you cook like the servants and dine like a duchess.
Cooks at Carlton Towers, Carlton, Yorkshire DN14 9LZ
T: 01405 861662 W: www.cooksatcarlton.co.uk
Price: Full day tuition with lunch £170. Single or double room with breakfast £95/£125