Mastering a dinner party menu at The Woodspeen…

by Katie Rowe

March 11 2015

Take note...

Close up of the Smoked Haddock Risotto topped with crisp hen egg Close up of the Smoked Haddock Risotto

Grab a pen before you head to The Woodspeen Cookery School nestled in the resplendent Berkshire countryside. It’s the only thing you’ll need to bring. Chef John Campbell and his steadfast team have the rest completely covered.

All the ingredients you need for the day are meticulously prepared for you beforehand, allowing you to concentrate on learning from one of the top chefs in the country. 

We’re not exaggerating. John has worked in some of Europe’s best kitchens, he achieved his first Michelin star during his first year at Lords of the Manor in Gloucestershire before gaining two Michelin stars at The Vineyard in Berkshire. He has also won Catey’s Chef of the Year and makes regular guest appearances on Saturday Kitchen and MasterChef.

With such a long list of accolades, you’d be forgiven for feeling a tad intimidated, but there’s no reason to be. John's love for teaching and sharing copious servings of tips and tricks (this is where your pen comes in handy) was apparent from the start of the day-long course. 

With every sentence that John uttered I felt like I learnt something new, some of it relating to the dishes we cooked as part of the Seasonal Dinner Party Course and other gems too, such as sprinkling sugar around tomato plants to help them grow – who knew?

Going local...

Close up of the venison fillet main course Venison fillet main course at The Woodspeen

He dashed to the white board to jot down the science behind avoiding scrambled custard as we started working on dessert and then again to explain why yeast is such a fussy ingredient during an impromptu bread making class.

“If you want great meat go to a local butcher, the difference is huge,” John declared as he got to grips with our main course, his gleaming knife effortlessly cutting through the locally-stalked venison as we watched from the side lines – squeamish types need not apply.

Along with a freshly cut venison fillet drizzled in jus, accompanied with choucroute – the tastiest cabbage I’ve ever eaten, cooked with lardons, chicken stock and wholegrain mustard – and a melt-in-the-mouth potato fondant, a smoked haddock risotto with a crisp hen egg starter and chocolate fondant with cherry ice cream dessert were also on the menu.

Looking at it all on paper, I must admit I was a little afraid to begin with. I’d never attempted ice cream before and my risotto has never been what I’d call dinner party worthy but John and his assistant Bear were always on hand to help.

Foodie enlightenment...

Freshly baked bread straight from the oven Freshly baked bread straight from the oven

John and his team demonstrated the key stages of each course and performed taste tests with the class at various stages in the demo area before doing laps around our spacious work stations, keeping a beady eye on the simmering venison jus and armed with a thermometer to make sure none of us scrambled our custard as the calming smell of baking bread lingered in the air – they had their eye on that too!

You don’t just learn how to cook show-stopping dishes at The Woodspeen, you also leave with a newfound sense of foodie enlightenment and staunch views on the importance of seasonality and buying local produce – that, and a freshly baked warm loaf.

Find more cookery courses in England...

Katie Rowe

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