The Good Life
If the BBC was looking to remake 70's hit show "The Good Life" with a culinary twist they could do worse than knock on the door of Bod & Annie Griffiths, owners & hosts of the Vale House Kitchen near Bath. I had heard a lot of good things about this rural foodie retreat, so when I was recently invited to go along on their Breadmaking Course I jumped at the chance of learning this much-kneaded skill and rising to the challenge. (Sorry)
I was picked up from the village by gentle giant Bod Griffiths; a near fatal car accident during a trip to New York was the wake up call Bod needed to throw in the towel on his city job and create a cookery school that would teach the field to fork philosophy that he and Annie had dreamed of. After a year of wrangling an old barn into a state of the art kitchen, fighting with planners, dealing with the sleep deprivation of having a new-born, and gathering together a group of award winning tutors, Vale House Kitchen was finally up and running in the Summer of 2013.
I was expecting to watch a couple of demo's, pick up some recipes, maybe tap a couple of loaves on the bottom to check if they were cooked. Nope. This was bread bootcamp. The morning saw the students learn and make 5 different types of bread, weigh, measure, knead, fold, rest & cook a LOT of bread. I was stationed next to a young Clergyman, not something you get to say everyday, and really wanted to ask him about his calling as much as he wanted to hear about life as a Food Photographer. We were quickly established as the chatty corner by the course tutor as over the first recipe of Ciabatta bread we chatted about food banks, food miles, food magazines and four year olds. Turns out it is hard to learn new techniques & talk. We threw out our first attemps and tried harder! Next up was English Wholemeal, Pain Paysan, & Bloomer. Kneading techniques, pre-doughs & Poolish's were explained. Doughs were made, thrown away, and made again. Pizza's were made & finally it was time to sit down and eat some of the mornings work.
Ever the genial host, Bod poured wine into the willing glasses of the students while we ate our Pizza, and the conversation turned to favourite restaurants, guilty food pleasures and celebrity chefs. It was very hard to return to "work" but after the flurry of the morning, the afternoon was altogether a more relaxed affair.
We cooked some of the now-risen loaves and compared bakes – Paul Hollywood & Mary Berry would have been proud. We plaited sweet Pain Viennoise dough & added chocolate pieces into the mix (one for the dough, one for me, one for the dough, one for me…) before finishing with Irish Soda Bread, which after the technical bakes of the day felt like childsplay.
As the day was coming to an end, Bod offered to show me his new pigs and the "girls" as he called his chickens and we made a quick tour of the grounds while I tried to keep my envy under wraps. This is indeed the Good Life.
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I look forward to hearing from you.
- November 26th, 2014