The Chef's Room, Blaenavon

PUBLISHED: 17:02 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 17:51 20 February 2013

Emma Wildsmith, Emma Corfield-Walters and Julie Fall indulge in a little tasting as other students carry on cooking with Franco and Lindy

Emma Wildsmith, Emma Corfield-Walters and Julie Fall indulge in a little tasting as other students carry on cooking with Franco and Lindy

Martin Griffiths visits The Chef's Room where students prepare, cook and eat with the help of the food industry's finest

Master cheffing

Martin Griffiths visits The Chefs Room where students prepare, cook and eat with the help of the food industrys finest

The Chefs Room is an impressively smart new teaching kitchen run by Lindy Wildsmith in the village of Blaenavon, a few miles outside of Abergavenny. Here small groups of students who have an interest in extending their skills can watch and learn as professional chefs work. They also have the chance to become practically involved and at the end of the session, eat the fruits of their endeavours.

Lindy is a highly accomplished chef, food writer and teacher who has run the G2 Club in Ross-on-Wye, staging cookery demonstrations, lessons and events for more than 10 years, and she is bringing in seriously talented guest chefs to help her run specialist sessions. These include the acclaimed Franco Taruschio, Chefs Room Consultant and founder of Abergavennys legendary The Walnut Tree, Shaun Hill, Giuseppe Silvestri and Michelle Clippy McKenna.

The range of courses offered is really diverse and ranges from Classic Italian and Light as Air Pastry to Simple Seafood Skills, seasonal specials like Preparing for Christmas and next year, Creative Asian Cooking with Shaun Naen whose recipes regularly appear in Herefordshire Life. There are opportunities to learn about matching food and wine with Peter Ayling and even a curious but highly popular course entitled Welsh Italian Fusion, again with Franco. As the teaching room forms part of Vin Sullivans fantastic fishmongers and food store then you know the food you are going to be cooking with will be superbly fresh and of the highest quality.

The morning I went to visit the session was called Basic Fish Skills and promised to inform us how to choose, prepare and cook to perfection a range of simple fish dishes. Franco Taruschio was running the course and the opportunity to watch the master chef at work was to prove to be an absolute delight for the 10 students who had enrolled on the course, and for me. The students that day were from a mixture of backgrounds but what they all shared was a passion for cooking and good food.

The day started with Franco and Lindy working in tandem making the delicious rosemary biscuits that we were to enjoy eating later with our coffee. With these in the oven Franco set students to work chopping a range of herbs and spices. As their fresh aromas mingled with those of rich olive oil, capers and coffee the conversation became increasingly relaxed, informal and fun. Advice from Franco was accompanied by intense little hand gestures as he implored the students to smell, to feel, to taste the food, telling us: Its about life, its about passion. And then there were the nuggets of advice, try a little chilli, it helps pull out the flavour and can be used as a substitute to salt.

Franco called in master fishmonger Jonny Jenkins from Vin Sullivans to demonstrate how to fillet a huge whole salmon in seconds before getting the class to attempt to fillet their own fish the mackerel that were to be cooked as part of our lunch later in the day. Demonstrations and instructions are followed by supervision, hands-on help and advice, which enabled everybody in the group to have a go. Here Franco and Lindy are in their element and you can see the students growing in confidence and skill.

Emma Corfield-Walters, Julie Fall and Emma Wildsmith worked together chopping up thin strips of ginger and rhubarb that will form the base of the salmon sauce later in the day. They were clearly enjoying the opportunity to see cooking being done up close and being given the chance to be involved in the process.This would seem to be what makes The Chefs Room work so well. During the session an extraordinary amount of cooking was done and the salmon dishes we ate for lunch had not just been cooked for us but with us. We had all been involved in the process of preparing and cooking it before finally eating it. Equally we also produced and tasted the cured and steamed mackerel and some fried fish goujons cooked in a coating of light panko breadcrumbs and served with three remarkable dips that had been created during the morning. Somehow there was even time for Franco to produce a beautiful pudding of grilled fruits, given an extra special kick by the addition of a good slug of plum liqueur. Finally, coffee and wine were served with lunch, along with more of those delicious rosemary biscuits that had been made at the start of the day.

Lindy has a book coming out this autumn called Cured and in it she explores the delights of curing, spicing and smoking: skills she regularly teaches to small groups of students depending on their different degrees of skill and experience. Franco originates from the east coast of Italy. He settled in the UK after meeting his future wife and they have now been married for 49 years. Having retired from The Walnut Tree after 37 years he met Lindy at a charity cooking demonstration and theyve worked regularly together since.

The Chefs Room kitchen is brilliantly laid out and organised and allows you excellent visibility when observing a demonstration and plenty of space to work when having a go yourself. If you have a love of cooking and a passion for food, it really is a great place to see it in action and enjoy tasting the endeavours of your day.

Getting there
The Chefs Room, Vin Sullivan Foods,Gilchrist Thomas Industrial Estate,
Blaenavon, Gwent, NP4 9RL.
Tel: 01989 562353


Chefs Room Pickled Mackerel with Mint, Garlic and Chilli

Serves 4

4 mackerel, 800g in total
200ml white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of chilli flakes
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
25 roughly chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 lemon wedges

1. Remove heads and fins and carefully fillet the fish
2. Score the skin twice
3. Steam the fillets until cooked through-around 5 minutes
4. Put the fillets in a shallow dish close together
5. Cover with the vinegar and leave to marinate for 1 hour
6. Drain the vinegar and scatter the salt, pepper, chilli, garlic and mint over the fillets before serving with sliced new potatoes and a rocket salad

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