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Tuesday, 23 March 2010

London's Best Cookery Schools - Cucina Caldesi

Cucina Caldesi

Cookery classes are among my favourite things to do in London, and whenever I can, on holiday too. This is for three main reasons - in addition to having a great meal, I also get to learn new cooking ideas and recipes, and meet some interesting people. 

I regularly meet these friends for dinner or other social occasions like Emma, who accompanied me to “Passionate about Seafood” at the Billingsgate Seafood School or Regis, a fellow Brazilian, member of the London Cooking Club and like me a lover of Persian Cuisine.

Regis and I attended classes at Eat Drink Talk - another great cookery school run by the delightful Jennifer Klinec in Clerkenwell. Also interesting is Atsuko’s Kitchen, based at The Grocery on Kingsland Road, where I learnt some very authentic Japanese winter dishes. Atsuko’s cooking is influenced by Shojin Ryori, a style of Japanese vegetarian cuisine eaten by Shinto monks.

In Hoi An, Vietnam, I recently took a couple of classes at Red Bridge Cooking School, and last year, I was thrilled to spend a whole week at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School in Thailand. They were excellent experiences, very good value and an interesting angle to learn more about the culture and eating habits of these countries.

So when I was recently invited with a group of other food bloggers for a complementary class at Cucina Caldesi on well-heeled Marylebone Lane, I was thrilled. I had wanted to attend one of their classes but for one reason or another was never able to book into one.

Hosted by the owners and co-founders Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, we were warmly welcomed with a glass of chilled Prosecco and canapés made of endive leaves topped with dolcelatte cheese, honey and pine nuts which started the evening on a good note.

Katie and Giancarlo were entertaining hosts, charming and very interesting to watch. Their interaction was funny and engaging, teasing one another (and sometimes us) throughout the class, which made for a very enjoyable evening.

We were shown how to prepare an authentic 3 course Italian meal, and were encouraged to participate in the cooking of these dishes. We were all given a corn-fed poussin to debone that we were to use for our main course – this was a daunting task but I was surprised to find how well my bird turned out, all down to Giancarlo’s uncomplicated teaching.

For “primo”, Katie showed us how to prepare “Gnocchi nudi con burro, salvia e pinoli” (Spinach gnocchi with butter, sage and pine nuts).

I had made “gnocchi di ricotta” a few times before from one of my favourite Italian cookery books “Italian Food” by Elizabeth David, and was looking forward to trying Katie Caldesi’s take on this classic recipe. Unlike Elizabeth David, Katie adds green spinach to the gnocchi, also shaping them into “quenelles”, which helps maintain their form when cooking.

This was an interesting tip as more than one of my previous attempts resulted in some of the “gnocchi” disintegrating in the boiling water. I find that the dry texture of the ricotta used for these recipes is also important when making this dish.

I loved the flavour of Katie’s gnocchi nudi, they were bright green, fresh and the flavours combined beautifully into one perfect dumpling. I could not imagine eating these beauties with anything else but sage quickly fried in plenty of butter, with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. This was a fantastically simple and delicious dish.

For “secondo”, we had “Polletto al mattone” (Poussin under a brick). Once the birds were deboned, we stuffed them with rosemary, garlic and chillies and left them marinating for an hour or so before roasting. In my opinion, few things smell or taste better than good quality chicken being roasted, and Giancarlo’s “Polleto al mattone” was no exception. The meat was perfectly cooked, succulent, full of flavour and aromatic. It felt great cutting through a perfectly shaped but boneless chicken.

To accompany the poussins, we had a lovely combination of potatoes, onions and pancetta which had been diced and roasted.

As “dolce”, Giancarlo and Katie showed us how to prepare “Cioccolata in tazza” (Hot chocolate mousse in a cup). Served warm in a small tea cup, it had a rich chocolate flavour without being cloyingly sweet. The addition of brandy to the recipe was also an excellent idea, giving an elegant finish to the dessert.

Katie Caldesi has recently published The Italian Cookery Course book, a collection of over 400 recipes from various regions in Italy with some stunning photography which took her 3 years to complete. The book is beautifully laid out with some entertaining stories of her many trips around the country and the delightful people she met.

Verdict - Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi were excellent hosts, and most entertaining cooking instructors. I had a most enjoyable evening, and learnt a great deal I am sure I will be able to apply in future. On the basis of my experience I would wholeheartedly recommend Cucina Caldesi. For information on their courses, click here.


  1. This sounds like such a great experience, would have loved to attend. May have to book myself in soon!

    Pete and I did Catch of the Day 1 at Billingsgate on Friday and it was brilliant! Expensive but worth every penny!

  2. Hi Kavey, I really enjoyed going to Billingsgate too, indeed it wasn't cheap but well worth it, and we took loads of fish back home!

  3. I've been wanting to go to Caldesi for awhile - they do some kid's classes that look great too! Our friend E just went to one of the Billingsgate classes, they sounded great. And finally, the Parson's Nose, our local butcher, is now offering butchery classes - pork or lamb and you get half an animal to chop up and take home with you!! So many classes and so little time!

  4. Hi Jill, Caldesi was fanstastic and I am sure your kids would love it too. Let me know if you ever decide to do your local butcher's course, I would love to do that with you.

  5. Hi Luiz, What an excellent post. Was terrific to meet you at La Cucina Caldesi. I'm still drooling over the thought of the chocolate dessert. Mmm..

  6. Wow - this is the third write up and they all point to a fantastic cooking class - the gnocchi in particular look very tasty.

    Thanks for the pointer to the book too - it;s on my Amazon wishlist.

  7. @ Greedy Diva - thanks dear, one of the best things that evening was meeting you! I loved the dessert but was surprised to find I did not take any pics! Loved your review too.

    @ Grubworm - the gnocchi was sensational, I am sure you would enjoy that. A possible idea for a future London Cooking Club? See you tonight at Tom and Jen's.

  8. Hi Luiz, lovely to meet you this morning and put a grown up face to the little boy I'm used to seeing on your blog! Sorry we didn't get to chat properly but I'm sure we'll bump into each other again before long.

    Cucina Caldesi looks marvellous, I must confess I did receive her book for Christmas and exchanged it for something else, I am snowed under with River Cafe books and have a heady baking agenda to keep up with but seeing those gnocchi is making me reconsider whether I was too hasty and should grab myself a copy off amazon.

  9. Hi Sarah, it was lovely to see you too! I have been following your blog for ages so it was great to finally meet you. Cucina Caldesi was very good and I thoroughly recommend their cookery classes. I have added the cookery book to my Amazon wishlist, I will report back when I receive it. I was struggling with a very bad hangover this morning, could hardly keep up with what was being said!

  10. Yes, I was mostly hiding behind my bacon sandwich! Lx

  11. I'm so sad to have missed that experience. I was too busy that evening... Funny enough, I met Katie a few days later and she seemed very nice. I hope to go soon as, from what I read, it was a great experience

  12. I came across a sushi cookery class the other day,
    This lady runs courses, out of a restaurant, but also comes to your home to teach. I thought this was an excellent idea

  13. Hey Luiz, just noticed that you have a photo of me there vainly attempting to shape a gnocchi...
    was a lot of fun and a nice write up.

    I'm sure I'll see you at another event soon enough.


  14. @ Mathilde Cuisine - hey sweetheart, it was a shame you could not make it, it would have been nice to catch up with you as we didn't get to talk much at Pho, hope you are well!

    @ Anon - thanks for the info!

    @ Ian - hey mate, nice to welcome you here! It was a lot of fun indeed. I am still to write the Mooli's review though, I am very behind with my writing.

  15. Food looks great, will have to check this one out sometime! :-)

  16. Hi

    I want to take some work friends as a reward to a cooking class/dinner - I want us to prepare the starter or something, then sit down to the rest of the meal that has been prepared by proper chefs so the team can relax - can you recommend anywhere that does bespoke cooking evenings?




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