Unlike other committee meetings, the review meeting is held over a meal, with a slightly more casual, friendly air and just a hint of celebration. Last year this had taken place at The Anchor in Aspley Guise, over a rather splendid meal prepared by Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards Chef of the Year, Shane Clarke. So, it was desirable to find an equally pleasant and very much local food venue for this meeting.
And so it was that the committee gathered at the newly rebranded Milton Keynes Cookery School in Brooklands. Having previously traded under the name of Inspired Gourmet, the cookery school now has a new team behind it, a new set of courses and a new direction to head in. And for this event the committee were to experience what it might be like to attend a corporate pasta making course.
I am a sucker for a cookery course and try to get myself on anything going. As such I have enjoyed pretty much every course going at The Coldsmoking Cookery School and also the bread making course run by Geoff's Real Artisan Bread. And I don't care if I already know something about what the course is about because I'm a firm believer that there is always plenty more to learn, especially from an expert in their field.
I have tried my hand at pasta making before and purchased a basic model pasta making machine from Lidl on a whim about a year ago. It is definitely a fun thing to do but not something you want to try to do in a hurry. So it isn't something I get out very often but it is certainly a great activity to do with my girls and fun to do to make something that you can't buy in the shops.
We were greeted at the cookery school by Bhav, who offered us drinks and invited us to nibble on the chicken liver pate and bruschetta. The pate, in particular, was delicious and I found it hard not to rudely eat more than my fair share of that!
Once we were all assembled, kitted out with aprons and aprised of the health and safety rules, we went round the corner of the L-shaped room to the cookery area. Here John was waiting, ready to explain what we would be doing and to get us started.
We started with making the pasta dough. Working in pairs, we created little balls of dough, using simple ingredients and plenty of elbow-grease!
Whilst that rested, we got on with preparing the two fillings - a butternut squash one and a ricotta and lemon one.
What I liked about John's approach was that he wasn't just teaching pasta making, but rather the useful elements of cooking that could be transferred into our everyday meal preparating whether or not we chose to attempt pasta making again in the future. It was details such as how to efficiently chop an onion, how to separate an egg, and what to think about when trying to work out if something is correctly seasoned.
Having created the fillings, it was now time to work as a team to turn the pasta dough into elegantly filled and shaped tortellini. This was interesting not only in terms of the creation of the food but also in the way that we organised ourselves and worked together. As people who run their own businesses but come together to organise an event, it was curious to see how the dynamics would work in a completely new setting. I could see how such an activity would be useful in a corporate setting to change the dynamics and possibly the hierarchy and to see people in a different light.
By this point we were all starving and we were very keen to get the pasta made so that we could sit down and eat so that helped us to focus and get the job done.
With trays of tortellini ready for cooking, our work was complete and we retired to the other part of the room to sit around the dining table. As we started our meeting, Bhav served us wine whilst John cooked our pasta.
Then it was time to tuck into our pasta, served with salad and sauces. And it did not disappoint - other than I could have eaten more!
To round off the meal, we were served raspberry panacotta which we'd had no part in creating and were total perfection.
The meeting drew to a close and it was time to thank our hosts and head off, a successful meeting all round.
I was, of course, eager to share my new found knowledge with my girls so, having asked Bhav for the butternut squash recipe, we set about remaking the tortellini a couple of weeks later with one of our fancy homegrown squashes.
I was glad I took the precaution of allowing a couple of hours for the task as it certainly took plenty of time! We struggled a little to gain the perfect dough consistently that John had managed so effortlessly but we got there in the end and the results were worth it.
The filling was particularly tasty and we had about half of it left after filling all our pasta. It turned out it made a lovely vegetarian pate and was also tasty spread on the toast before topping with cheese to liven up cheese on toast.
All in all I would definitely recommend the Milton Keynes Cookery School. Their set up is classy and professional and it is a great concept to have group events that are both a cookery class and a meal. Bhav is an excellent host and John is an excellent teacher and together they put on a fantastic evening.