The menus on offer from MasterChef winner Tim Anderson at his Brixton restaurant Nanban plus the Indochina cuisine served up by The Banana Tree in Battersea are helping make London one of the top cities in the world for fusion food and variety, according to chef Diana Horsford.
However, Diana – who runs The Avenue Cookery School with her son Richard and daughter Sophie – believes the kitchen remains the heart of any home for sale or rent in Battersea and Brixton.
“Cooking is a life skill,” she says. “I and my team of six chefs run classes for a wide range of people, from non-cooks to those who have already reached a high standard in the kitchen but want to improve further in addition to corporate events.
“The majority of the 20-plus courses we offer are based in our Wandsworth headquarters, but we are happy to visit your home or business,” she adds.
However, The Avenue is no ordinary cookery school. “Our chefs will get you to work without a cookbook. Removing the instructions gets you thinking about what you’re actually doing,” Diana explains.
She adds: “When a student asks, for example, is this ready? I tell them to taste it. Hands-on, practical lessons mean students don’t forget what they have been taught.
“We also demonstrate the importance of seasoning by getting students to taste each others cooking. There’s no point having pretty food on the plate and it tastes of nothing.”
Diana, who is getting ready to celebrate her first Christmas at The Avenue Cookery School’s new home, admits: “We moved into our premises in Enterprise Way in March and the preparations for opening was the worst three months of my life.
“We were working very long hours and were still completing the finishing touches on the day we opened for business,” says Diana, who originally joined the business as a partner in 2005.
“I started my career as a chalet chef and The Avenue continues to offer Chalet Host Cooking Course covering all aspects of work in the ski industry.
“I moved to London from Frome in Somerset, where I taught at The Grange for seven years. and took over the The Avenue Cookery School in 2015. It is now a family-run business based in the heart of the Wandsworth community.”
The Avenue’s courses, which range from Basic Cooking Days, a January Detox Cookery Class, the popular Off To Uni Cookery Class to its Workshop Supper Club and the Duke of Edinburgh Award-approved Really Useful Course, last from half a day or evening to two weeks.
Diana, who says the essential ingredients of any cookery course are laughter, fun and getting your hands dirty, supplies all the raw materials for the courses on offer at The Avenue Cookery School.
Students are, however, able to buy a range of kitchen accessories. One of our most popular products is our starter kit, which contains a chopping board, an electric beater, a whisk, scales, a tea towel, mug, wooden spoon, vegetable peeler and a spatula among other things, says Diana.
“Our website also sells t-shirts and sweatshirts which were designed by my daughter Sophie, who in addition to being our bookings and PR manager is also our assistant chef, and gift vouchers that are valid for up to 12 months.
“Our gift vouchers start at £75 because we don’t want our courses to be too expensive,” says Diana. “On the other hand, we don’t want to be too cheap because that sends out the wrong message.”
Diana’s son Richard – a self-confessed foodie with an interest in modern cooking techniques – is also a hands-on member of The Avenue team, working as one of its chefs and teachers.
“When students come in, Richard will perform a demonstration and then they will cook without a recipe. I think The Avenue is the only cookery school that does that,” says Diana.
Our classes are not limited to those listed on our website, she points out. “If you want to learn any particular kitchen skill, such as how to create a perfect Christmas dinner, cook pasta, vegetarian or vegan recipes or knife skills, we can tailor a course to your requirements,” she says.
The Avenue Cookery School runs classes for up to 20 people at a time, although Diana says she likes a minimum of 10 or 11 students per class.
Diana acknowledges that some people who come to the cookery school don’t think they like food but adds:
“Once they feel the vibe and my passion for food, they love the lessons.
“I have some people who come for a one-week course and they say that they want to stay for two weeks.”
Diana, who has taught a wide range of people, has plans to further expand her business.
A meat workshop taking place before Christmas will see the butcher who runs training courses for Waitrose carry out a live demonstration using a whole pig.
“Over the years, I have developed close links with many people in the food industry, from farmers to fishmongers,” says Diana.
We’re now quite well known, she adds, so the next step could be to open another cookery school abroad, such as the South of France. Another option is to franchise the operation and open in other cities in the UK.
l The Avenue Cookery School is based less than five miles from Brixton and just 1.5 miles from Battersea. For details of how to join one of its many daytime or evening classes, or to purchase gift vouchers, visit theavenuecookeryschool.com.
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