Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa
Colerne, Chippenham, Wiltshire, United Kingdom, SN14 8AZ
+44 (0)1225 742777 | www.lucknampark.co.uk/cookeryschool/
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Food and Travel Review
It’s quite a jump. From small stalls and vans on the side of the Subcontinent’s teeming, chaotic streets, to a spotless, state-of- the-art cookery school in the verdant grounds of a honey-stoned 18th-century English country house hotel. Not so much poles apart as different planets. But if anyone can bridge the geographical and cultural gap, and explain the rudiments of tasty Indian street food, it’s Hrishikesh Desai, aka Kesh, head of Lucknam Park’s acclaimed cookery school. Raised in Poona, 160km south of Mumbai, he later studied at France’s famous Institut Paul Bocuse. Since arriving at the Relais & Châteaux hotel outside Bath, Kesh has won both the prestigious Roux Scholarship – earning three months at California’s French Laundry – and National Chef of the Year. Our seven-strong group is in well-travelled, expert hands.
Unsurprisingly, the Street Food of India course provides a refreshing alternative to the generic British curry. ‘Indian food has a UK identity crisis,’ sighs Kesh, as we cluster around the demonstration worktop beneath an overhead viewing screen. ‘It’s not curry: it’s a sauce or gravy with varied spices. It’s much more subtle.’ Despite regional variations – think Mumbai’s vegetable pav bhaji stew, the north’s tandoori kebabs and the south’s dosa – the foundations are constant. Tamarind, mint, and chickpeas fused with multiple spices and cooking techniques produce a startling range of flavours and textures. Each recipe takes no longer than 30 minutes, and the well-honed programme (the pesky sourcing and weighing of ingredients has been done for you) tackles six different dishes. Whatever we can’t eat, we take home. It’s great value. Classes are kept small too, at a maximum of just ten people.
To underline the cuisine’s versatility, we prepare potato three ways: aloo tikki cakes, samosas and wada (deep-fried dumplings in chickpea batter). Accompanied by Kesh’s words of wisdom – ‘a hot pan is a happy pan’ – and tales of his chilli-addicted aunt, we grind fennel and coriander seeds, toast cumin seeds and knead dough. Clearly, street food’s heavy lifting is done by hand. When my samosas finally emerge from the deep fryer, their mutated shape ensures last place in the class challenge.
After watching Kesh create a classic chickpea gravy, we turn to a pav bhaji and murgh tikka, where chicken chunks are alchemized by ginger, garlic, cumin and nutmeg, alongside cardamom, chilli, turmeric, saffron and chaat masala. Ironically, the most multi-layered taste explosion comes from the simplest dish, pani puri. The golf balls of fried, puffed bread, stuffed with chickpeas, onion, tomato and myriad spices, and topped with tamarind and mint water, provide an instant transfer from the English countryside to the dusty streets of India. IB. £175.