After a three-year hiatus, celebrity chef Nick Nairn is back with a new state-of-the-art cook school. Rosie Morton joins him for a masterclass and shares some of Chef’s top tips for keeping a cool head in a hot kitchen…
THE last three years have been unfathomably trying for restaurateurs, but few bear quite as many battle scars as Nick Nairn.
Since 2021, the celebrity chef has been dealt a series of blows by the pandemic, a major flood and a disastrous fire that ripped through his Bridge of Allan restaurant. Happily, though, rising from the ashes has become an area of expertise for the 64-year-old.
Proving that you can’t keep a good man down, Nick is back with a new state-of-the-art cook school which is kitted out with induction hobs and ovens from premium household brand, Miele.
The cook school, which is based along the beautiful foreshore of the Lake of Menteith in Stirlingshire, can host up to 12 people or be transformed into a private dining room for up to 50.
From January, budding chefs will be able to put their skills to the test in a range of classes – including Asian, Indian and Mexican cuisine – with the majority being hosted by Nick himself. Throughout the year, Nick also plans to introduce a series of guest chefs.
On a crisp winter’s morning, I joined Chef at his new cook school to learn how to make what can only be described as the most decadent fish taco – with monk fish, scallops and langoustines – as well as some top-notch canapés.
Here are some of the top tips I gleaned from a day with Nick Nairn that will help you keep a cool head in a hot kitchen this Christmas…
Good Parma ham is your friend
The guests are on their way, the dog stole two out of three plates of canapés, and the panic is creeping in.
Fear not. One of Nick’s favourite, fail-safe (and frighteningly quick) canapé recipes is made with two Christmas staples – rocket and Parma ham.
First, toss your rocket in a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a dash of lemon juice. Toss again. Grate in a generous amount of Parmesan and toss one more time for good measure.
Then, lay the Parma ham on your worktop, with the fat at the top (away from you). Place a good handful of your cheesy rocket at the bottom of the Parma ham (at the end nearest to you) and roll it up. The fat will help the meat stick together to form a cigar-shaped canapé. Chop it in half and stand it on end for a show-stopping nibble. Delicious!
Tune into your mushrooms
Val Stones may have been caught listening to her cakes on the Great British Bake Off, but Nick Nairn prefers to listen to his mushrooms.
When frying these woodland wonders in a pan, they should not spit and pop. Instead, you should hear a constant, low sizzle – a ‘happy pan’, as Nick calls it. As mushrooms have a high water content, it’s important to encourage that moisture out for a fuller, richer, earthy flavour.
Know your onions
Think you know how to chop an onion? Think again.
I don’t know how many of these tear-inducing beauties I’ve cooked in my time, but I can count on one hand how many I’ve chopped correctly: one.
First, cut it in half from top to bottom, leaving the root intact. Peel it, then with the tip of the blade, make evenly-spaced lengthways cuts, again avoiding the root. (The root will hold the onion’s layers together and keep them from sliding around). Carefully make one or two horizontal cuts through the onion half (parallel to the chopping board). Finally, dice vertically for perfect little cubes.
Keep the stems
Before you start pulling off the stems from your beautiful bunch of coriander, Nick urges you to think again. Whether you’re planning a departure from tradition with a Thai green curry, or cooking up a carrot and coriander soup this Christmas, keep the stems. These may not be as pretty for garnishing a dish, but they are far more intense in flavour.
How do you like your eggs in the morning?
Christmas can be inordinately busy, and buying ingredients ahead of time is often the only way forward. However, it really pays to source eggs that are as fresh as possible, especially if you’re planning to poach them.
But if you haven’t got hens laying you fresh eggs each morning, how do you know if they were laid a day ago or three weeks ago? According to Nick, egg whites should be nice and thick, sitting tightly around the yolk. The older they are, the runnier the whites will be, therefore making it harder to get a neat, round poached egg.
Embrace the fresh shellfish
Speaking of fresh, it doesn’t get much fresher than live langoustines. That said, many are apprehensive about dispatching them. But when you’ve been shown by an expert like Nick, it’s much less intimidating.
First, Nick recommends putting them on a tray, covering them with a cloth and popping them in the freezer for 20 minutes. This will put them into a sleepy state and make them easier to handle. Take one out, place on a chopping board, and put a sharp knife just behind its head, pressing down lengthways along its body. Quickly turn it round and do the same through the head.
If you’re still not sure, ask your fishmonger.
A day with Nick Nairn is £195pp and a day with the resident chef is £149pp, which includes two hands-on cooking courses – a starter and a main – and a dessert chosen from Nick’s restaurant menu plus wine.
A half-day with the resident chef costs £89pp and includes one hands-on cooking course – a main course – with a dessert chosen from Nick’s restaurant plus wine included.
For further information about the full schedule of events and availability please contact the Cook School directly, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website.