Cooking course taken from ‘real life’

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As I enter the kitchen at cookery writer Vanessa Kimbell’s home, I am greeted with the gorgeous aroma of rosemary, frying peppers and onions.

The room is a hive of activity as a small group of students busily work with bread dough to whip up their own batches of focaccia, crostini and loaves.

Best known as the author of the cook book, Prepped, Vanessa’s new venture is the launch of the new Juniper & Rose Kitchen Garden School.

Run from her own home in Pitsford, Vanessa’s aim is to stage a huge range of courses – run by herself or a guest lecturer, such as master baker and food writer, Dan Lepard – to help amateur foodies get to grips with everything from eating well for less to food photography and cooking with herbs.

Vanessa tells me that baking courses and her course on how to set up a pop-up bakery have proven popular among those interested in setting up their own enterprise, selling baked goods from their homes.

She said: “People love having a small community bakery and if you have teenage children it is a fantastic way for them to make money.

“Children have the same tax allowance as grown-ups, £8,000 a year, and when you have got kids, what better thing could you do than make sourdough. If you sold them for £3.25 a loaf, you would make £3 a loaf. I also cover things like insurance and food standards, If you know what you are doing, you won’t have a minefield to walk through.”

The reason for my visit is to take part in a sourdough baking course (although I join later in the day to the other students) and I quickly learn all about how a ‘starter’ of water and flour is created and added to over the course of three weeks. The starter – which can also be frozen – becomes the basis of a good sourdough bread.

Vanessa does not like giving out a precise recipe for sourdough as variables, such as the temperature of a given day, can affect the outcome. So adjustments must be made and it seems that trial and error plays a big part when it comes to knowing how to get the bread just right.

When I arrive, flour and water have already been added to the starter mixture and the necessary preparation work has been done to the dough.

I watch as Vanessa then delicately picks up a section of dough, drizzles olive oil over a surface and gently stretches the dough, digging holes into the springy substance and adorning it with tasty ingredients, such as rock salt, rosemary, red peppers and fried red onion. Then in it goes to the oven to emerge a few minutes later as a focaccia fit for an upmarket Italian bakery.

I am impressed, and even my own efforts at using the dough to create small buns with different toppings do not turn out badly.

Vanessa is aiming to show students how they can draw the links between what can be grown in the garden and used in the kitchen.

Her own Victorian garden is filled with herbs and edible flowers. She even has her own chickens to produce eggs for use at the school. She said: “If we need herbs, people go out and pick them. You can see real life, it is not difficult to grow herbs, and people then think ‘I can do that.’ It is called the Kitchen Garden School for a reason.” For more info, log on to or call 01604 881274.