Pictured above: The brand new cookery school at River Cottage
River Cottage, Devon
Let's start with a big congratulations to River Cottage Cookery School back in its original premises, a beautiful threshing barn which burnt down 18 months ago. The pristine new school is better than ever. Whichever course you sign up for - the much loved Build & Bake where you learn how to build and use a clay oven or Pig in a Day where you are taught how to butcher a pig, cure and smoke pork, you will take away with you so much more than a handful of new recipes. They are passionate about sustainability here and it's life changing stuff. There's a one-day course to suit every inclination - fish, vegetarian, game, bread - expect to be fully involved with gutting, butchering and generally getting your hands dirty. Tutors Steven Lamb and Gill Meller are engaging and fun which means your day will be peppered with hilarity alongside some serious tuition. Hugh F-W nurtured a whole generation of men into cooking with his hands-on, blood and guts approach so unlike many cookery schools there tends to be an equal mix of men and women, old and young.
Rachel Demuth, founder of the legendary Demuths restaurant in Bath and later the cookery school, has done so much to change perceptions of vegetarianism. Under her expertise vegetarian food becomes a treat, an indulgence and encompasses pretty much every cooking trend across the globe. For anyone thinking of becoming vegetarian or simply wanting to incorporate more veg into their diet there is no better place to learn. The cookery school is housed in beautiful airy rooms with a stunning view of Bath Abbey. There are so many appealing courses to choose from - Middle Eastern, Thai and Vietnamese, Lebanese Summer Mezze, Southern Italian. Recipes will be ones you want to cook again and again. The day involves demonstration, then cooking in teams of 2 or 3, with a fabulous late lunch and a glass or 2 of organic wine. Bliss.
Lesley Waters Cookery School, Dorset
You may know Lesley from the telly, a seasoned Ready, Steady Cook and This Morning chef. She runs the cookery school out of her beautiful 16th century farm in West Dorset, using local fantastic produce to create simple but innovative modern food. She describes her style as: "unpretentious, rustic and achievable food that can be cooked every day but always with a stylish and sexy twist" which pretty much nails it for me. You can learn classic cooking here - sole meuniere with a beurre blanc or her own modern inventions such as raised pie with pastry made from rapeseed oil. She uses humour to instil confidence in beginners (her mantra is that mistakes don't matter) and shows them how to use simple, fresh ingredients with gutsy flavours. There is a course to suit everyone here from vegetarian to shellfish, Thai to breadmaking. A day with Lesley is uplifting, inspiring and about as far away from boring, necessity cooking as you can get. Courses from around £130.
Food Of Course Cookery School, Somerset
Residential courses are taught by Lou Hutton in her beautiful 16th century Somerset long house. The month long Foundation Course teaches everything from chopping to baking, sauteeing, steaming to Italian, Indian and the all important presentation of food. This is modern, light, healthy cooking with punchy flavour - think Donna Hay. Perfect for gap year students, postgraduates, divorcees, retirees and anyone else who has the time to discover the joy of cooking. Louise, formerly principal teacher at the renowned school The Grange, keeps it very hand on - students pluck home grown veg from the garden, select fish from Wells market, returning to the school to gut, fillet and cook it for lunch. They leave with a love of cooking and the perfect roast, vinaigrette and casserole at their finger tips. Elements of Cooking is a week long course, perfect for complete beginners. From £845
White Pepper Cookery School, Dorset
People rave about this new generation cookery school in East Dorset where you can learn how to make perfect sushi, bake sourdough, pluck a pheasant or cook a 3 course menu for a dinner party. Numerous courses and some, such as cupcakes, from a very reasonable £45. A little like River Cottage experience is everything here - you may find yourself foraging, meeting the gamekeeper before plucking your pheasant, watching whole animal butchery before roasting a joint. Brilliant cooking camps for kids too.
Padstow Seafood School, Cornwall
Want to take the fear factor out of cooking fish? Where better to learn than at Rick Stein's Seafood School, the man who has been pedalling beautifully fresh, simply prepared fish to us for about a zillion years. Love the fact that his cooking school revolves around a very good lunch - in the run up, though, you'll learn how to fillet a plaice, stir-fry squid, braise brill and steam sea bass almost without realising it. You'll also learn how to prepare a knockout sauce vierge that will transform your turbot and sample wine from Rick's own vineyards. Lunch (pictured above) is long and leisurely. Feels like a holiday treat.
Papadelli Cookery School, Bristol
Papadeli cafe and deli is something of a legend in Bristol so it's no surprise that its cookery school follows the same relaxed but uber-delicious formula. Courses take place in the evening and cover everything from Spanish tapas to Provencale, Mediterranean, the ultimate picnic food or baking the sweet treats for which Papadeli is deservedly famous. Classes are small, held on the top floor of the Papadeli food emporium in Bristol. Very hands on, using the best European and British ingredients straight from the deli downstairs. These classes are fun and informal though you'll put together a 4 course menu under expert, almost one to one tuition, sample everything you make and get a goodie box to take home.
Manna from Devon, Devon
Another new generation cookery school run by Holly and David Jones from their beautiful house overlooking the River Dart. Close proximity to Brixham Market means the fish course is a must - you'll learn to buy, fillet and cook seafood, knock up a stunning bouillabaisse with roux, perfect calamari, Moroccan fish tagine and scallops with ginger and chilli. The Asian street food course sounds especially tempting compiled from the Jones's travels through Thailand, Vietnam and Laos and including Pho soup, spring rolls and rice flour pancakes. Love the family courses for adults and children where you learn to make home-made pasta or bread. One adult and one child £120 for the day - perfect present for grandparents/godparents/generous aunts or uncles?
Lucknam Park Cookery School, Wiltshire
Expect the full bells and whistles experience at Lucknam Park's brand new cookery school headed up by 32 year old chef Hrishikesh Desai in a state of the art kitchen. Head here for the lowdown on Asian cookery from someone who is passionate about flavour and spent his childhood travelling around India. Courses include the street food of India, the spice route of Southern, Northern, Western or Eastern India. There is every other course under the sun if spice isn't your thing including afternoon tea, Michelin starred food at home, stocks and soups or shellfish. The adult and child cooking courses sound like the ideal holiday distraction and reasonable too - £75 for a half day.
Ashburton Cookery School, Devon
People travel from all over the world to this award winning school which has grown from being a small family run business to offering more than 40 courses. Professional chefs can train here on courses that run variously from 4 to 20 weeks and there are many recreational 1 and 2 day courses - every base covered including Indian, modern British, Italian, breadmaking, fish and seafood. Tempted by the dinner party course - 2 starters, main courses and puddings designed to take the heat out of your evening so you can get sloshed with the guests. Tutors are all professional chefs many from Michelin-starred restaurants but the vibe is informal and fun. Day courses from around £165
Philliegh Way Cookery School, Nr Truro, Cornwall
Rustic cooking rules at this new cookery school on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall. Resident chef Geoge Pascoe told us, 'Philliegh Way is all about bringing traditional rustic cookery bang up to date with contemporary ingredients and skills. We want to reconnect people with the best of days gone by - a more simple, slower paced way of life in sync with nature and the seasons. So we concentrate on cooking creatively with local produce including wild venison, samphire and watercress.' Courses start from £100 including lunch (we like the sound of Cornwall in a Day which includes learning how to make dressed crab and cornish pasties.) They are also running weekly supper clubs on Thursday nights during August and September.