York’s finest hotel, a state-of-the-art cookery school and the secret to throwing the perfect dinner party

Newly opened this month, The Grand's state-of-the-art cookery school, spearheaded by the charasmatic Andrew Dixon, teaches aspiring culinary connoisseurs everything from bubble and squeak to a delicious thai green seafood curry. Alexandra Fraser paid a visit.

As far removed from busy London as one can get without changing countries, the peaceful and picturesque city of York should almost be in its own timezone.

The Cookery School The Grand

Surrounded by rolling hills which neglect to hint at the city which lies between them until you’re almost on top of it, its rooftops peak out at you after only one or two roads of pleasant suburbs and before you can say ‘are we there yet’, you’re on the doorstep of the Grand Hotel, being helped out by a kindly-eyed doorman who politely ignores the reality that you look like you’ve been travelling for forty hours rather than four.

The Cookery School The Grand

The town itself is famously beautiful, an attribute which The Grand makes the most of with room-wide windows and towering floors. Quintessential of a five star city hotel, rooms are luxurious, comfortable and reluctantly left, with large bathrooms and sweeping views. Well-placed on the outskirts of the town centre, a short walk over the river will land you directly between the memorial gardens, the Yorkshire museum and the imposing York Minster.

Amid hundreds of boutiquey shops lie delicious bakeries, old-fashioned armouries and a Guiness World Recording holding gin store, however it was York’s latest culinary triumph that drew me so far north, conveniently hosted in the new wing of the city’s finest hotel.

The Cookery School The Grand

Spearheaded by Andrew Dixon, The Cookery School at The Grand closely resembles what would happen if one combined the Bake Off tent with the set of Master Chef: professional yet cosy, without a grand old duke in sight. Work areas are clean cut and stocked with the latest, sharpest and easiest to utilise equipment. Newly opened this month, the school provides both full day and evening sessions, with everything from classes for precocious young chefs and their parents to courses which reveal Andrew’s top tips for the perfect dinner party.

The Cookery School The Grand

Dinner Party Secrets is a full day course, laid out as an enjoyable combination between interactive demonstration and hands-on cooking. Chef Dixon walked us through the making of a delicious green curry paste which forms the base of his thai green seafood curry (if you get a chance to smell the spices he hands around, do so, and with gusto) and then set a group chomping at the bit to get started loose on his new units to create our own.

Labouring under the promise that, with a little thought and time, “Anything you cook here would not be out of place in a Michelin star restaurant”, we embarked on the task joyfully and were delighted with the results.

The Cookery School The Grand

With a 3 AA Rosette winning restaurant on the premises, it was obvious that the ingredients had been expertly sourced, a fact which evidently contributed to the tastiness of our meal a darn sight more than my innate culinary prowess. Any chef could tell you that no amount of expert tutelage can make up for poorly-sourced ingredients, but after one tastes the dish as it was meant to be (not one person in the course was unable to replicate the curry to Andrew’s keen standards) it would seem a crying shame to not give the meal the proper care and preparation it deserves.

Even without making notes or avoiding the school’s excellent array of wine, you are sure to leave with any number of useful pieces of information, such as the revelation that coriander seeds are “more of an aromat than a spice” and frozen lime leaves retain a good deal more flavour than dried ones.

The Cookery School The Grand

The Thai Green paste can be made and frozen in ice cube trays for months in advance, a helpful tip for anyone too busy to make an entire meal from scratch with four to six couples and your token single friend waiting patiently in the other room.

Chilli seeds are best removed with a spoon if you are not a fan of spice and, as Andrew told us with a twinkle in his eye, on the off-chance you are involved in a chilli eating competition, bite from the bottom first (the heat is stored in the top). Don’t skimp the water on your rice, you want the grains to be rolling around in the pan, and never wash your mushrooms (they’re like sponges), but peel them if you must.

The Cookery School The Grand

For a little extra crunch in your curry (or stir-fry, as I discovered upon my return to my rather small and, in comparison, startlingly poorly equipped kitchen) hold back some chopped vegetables and add them in a minute before you take your dish off the heat.

Dinner Party Secrets at The Cookery School at The Grand is priced at £159 per person and runs from 9:30am to 4pm. For more information and to book, visit www.thegrandyork.co.uk.

The Cookery School at The Grand, York’s Authentic Thai Green Seafood Curry

For the Thai Green Curry Paste:

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1⁄2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1⁄2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5cm fresh galangal, sliced
  • 4 stalks of lemongrass, peeled to the tender root, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 tsp Thai fish sauce
  • Small handful fresh coriander, with stalks
  • 4 garlic gloves
  • peeled
1 kaffir lime leaf
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 banana shallots, sliced
  • 4 green chilli, deseeded
  • 10ml water

Place the coriander seeds, peppercorns and cumin seeds into a pan over a medium heat and toast until they start to brown and give off a toasted aroma.

Take off the heat and leave to cool before placing into a food processor with the remaining ingredients, and blitzing into a fine paste. Freeze or chill in the fridge until needed.

For the fluffy jasmine rice:

Place 125g jasmine rice into a bowl and cover with cold water. Rub the rice through your fingers then tip out the milky water. Repeat until the water goes clear.

Prepare a large pan of boiling salted water and place the rice in. Bring back to the boil and place a lid on top before reducing the heat to medium.

Cook the rice from boiling for eight minutes with the lid on, then drain the water from the rice and place the lid back on to the pan and keep off the heat.

Leave the lid on the pan to steam the rice for an extra six minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

For the Thai Green Seafood Curry (ingredients serve two, double as needed):

  • 300g mixed seafood, salmon, squid, King Prawns, monkfish
  • 2 tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 2 green chillies, deseeded
  • 1⁄2 finely sliced green pepper, deseeded
  • 2 finely sliced spring onions
  • 1 finely sliced banana shallot
  • 50g oyster mushrooms, torn into strips
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 5g palm sugar
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • Coriander to garnish

Heat a heavy-based deep saucepan over a medium heat, add a drizzle of vegetable oil and one tbsp of curry paste and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the seafood and fry for two minutes until just cooked, take out of the pan and place onto a tray.

Add the remaining curry paste to the pan and cook for another 30 seconds before adding the shallots, chilli, peppers and mushrooms and cooking for one minute until they start to soften.

Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, lime leaves, palm sugar and fish sauce and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave to simmer for five minutes.

Re-add the seafood and take off the heat, leave for 2-3 minutes to allow the seafood to warm through.