Mr Oliver has certainly claimed his patch on Brighton lately with the recent opening of his Jamie's Italian restaurant and the even more recent Recipease store. As only the second of Jamie's new stores to open in the UK, this big pink block on the high street has caused quite a bit of intrigue amongst the locals, including myself. I had the idea that as well as being a kitchen equipment and prepared foods shop, they offered cookery classes of some sort but assumed that they would be very basic and designed for the Pot Noodlers of this world.
But I still wanted to see what it was about exactly so I decided to try out one of the classes. The idea of Recipease is that it is, as Jamie puts it, a "food education centre", a place where you can shop, learn, and create.
Yes, they cater for people who know nothing about cooking but, as it happens, haven't excluded the people that do know a little or indeed a lot. You can pop in, sling on an apron and whip up a pizza or curry as you are passing with pre chopped ingredients, attend a 20 minute Easy To Make session with simple family dishes (price per dish, £0.85-£15.95) or go the whole hog with an Easy To Learn session (£25-£35) which are a bit more advanced with butchery, fish filleting and knife skills. The store kitchen also prepares "ready meals" if you really don't have the time.
The concept of the store great because it is a high street venue where people are encouraged to go in, have a punt and have casual access to (friendly not shouty) professional chefs for advice. Believe it or not, there are people that don't know how to cook and even more horrifying, people who don't really care either. Yes, the prepared food may seem expensive to people who are used to cooking from scratch with great ingredients, but for people who are used to getting take aways and ready meals, the prices are probably comparable. At least here there is a chance these people may be converted to actually cooking something or at the very, very least swap their mass produced, additive cocktail convenience foods for something, well, a bit more real.
I went for the Easy to Learn Amazing Lamb Rack session (£35) which lasted about 2 hours, kicking off with a nice sit down and a cup of tea. This was ideal for me as my butchery skills are up there with my singing, last witnessed at a bizarre Chinese karaoke restaurant where I was told, in no uncertain terms, to shut up.
The class was led by Elly a professional chef who has 8 years of fine dining under her apron belt and was supported by the knowledgeable chef Alex. Elly has taught junior members of professional kitchens before but this was her first stint with the, let's face it, scary public and a fine job she did too. You are firstly given a complete demonstration of the dish where you can ask questions about the process, ingredients or anything else that pops into your mind then you are set at your own workstation. All the ingredients have been set out for you ready, so you can just crack on. Elly and Alex were always on hand to help out or give you any tips.
Our small class of six learnt the tricky art of French trimming a rack of lamb, where to make the incisions and techniques on scraping the bones clean. We then stuffed it with a gorgeous, salty feta, olive and sun dried tomato mixture, trussed it up and finally created and coated the lamb in a simple garlic and rosemary marinade. When you are finished they plonk your effort on top of a load of prepared veg in a classic enamel baking dish (nice touch), wrap it up with cooking instructions and you are good to go with a full main meal for 4 people.
Truthfully, I wasn't expecting the level of quality in either the teaching or the products that I found (lamb was from the Fifteen restaurant suppliers). The staff are hoppingly passionate, so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about what they are doing, you can't help leaving with good feeling. I got quite a lot out of it as this is not my normal style of cooking and what was really nice was the additional little tips and tricks thrown in there like pitting olives by pressing down with your thumbs, the benefits of cultivating a relationship with your butcher, and the different types of lamb from around the world and how and why their surroundings and diet affect their taste.
Back at home it was a simple case of popping the supplied tray in the oven. The meal even passed the test with the tough audience that is my food fanatical Italian family who had come round for dinner. The lamb was butterly tender and sweet, contrasting beautifully with the salty, rich stuffing. Whilst feta would not have normally been my first choice for a lamb stuffing, I did enjoy it and has got me thinking outside the box of what I could use next time.
I really was ready to find just a bit of a money spinner for the Oliver enterprise, thinly veiled with good intentions, because believe me, I'm one of the most cynical people at times. But I genuinely left upbeat and inspired to wield a knife on a rack of lamb again. Cookery classes, particularly casual ones are not common round these parts, so I think Recipease will prove to be a really useful venue for Brightonians.
For me, (food aside) design is pretty much everything and the Recipease store is beautiful. Chalk boards and brown stringed tags with little messages or ideas here and there all help create this welcoming atmosphere (wasn't allowed to take pics so take my word for it). The store's kitchen is in the back and the kitchen area used for classes is on the shop floor, cleverly creating a bit of excitement and intrigue from passing shoppers. For those attending a class, it is a bit like being on a TV cookery programme, but hey, some of you out there may like that!
I do really respect Sir Jamie of Oliver for his obvious passion for getting people to cook. Yeah, he is a very wealthy, well marketed chap who seems to put his name to every plate, whisk and whistle going, but which other celeb chef has given such a public service to food?