A Masters Degree in Nutritional Studies, not earned at just any institute, but from Oxford University. Years spent in the prestigious kitchen of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, alongside chef Raymond Blanc. This, and more, makes up the CV of Vladmir Niza, the Portuguese lead chef at the Daylesford Cookery School.
Located in the green, bucolic Cotswolds – about an hour by train from London – Daylesford is an organic farm whose holistic approach and passion for making food according to old-fashioned methods are applied to everything they do – which is a lot. The farm grows fruits and vegetables, raises cattle and milk cows, lamb, chickens, and in the right season, geese and turkey.
The animals are all raised according to ethical standards and are humanely butchered and then sold in the farm’s own shop – along with milk, yogurt, cheeses, bread and sweets, all produced in specifically dedicated areas within the estate. Daylesford also features a café/restaurant, a shop selling home and garden accessories and even a spa where visitors can enjoy a moment of relaxation with massages, yoga and pilates. And of course, there’s also a cooking school – where I currently find myself.
The course schedule offers something for all tastes. Students can perfect the techniques of making homemade bread, immerse themselves in the tradition of English afternoon tea, or learn to make cheese. Whoever takes a class will go home edified, and in a great mood. And this is, in great part, thanks to Vladimir Niza, who not only is gifted with know-how and discipline, but a great sense of humour, energy and a contagious cheerfulness.
One of the gems on offer is the course that combines fine cuisine and nutrition: after the ritual warm welcome, students are taken through a menu that includes healthful and delicious dishes like fresh fruit smoothies, poached eggs with asparagus, tian of crab with mesclun salad, as the chef explains the different classes of nutrients and the role they play in good nutrition – offering reasonable advice and debunking old myths. A healthy diet should and must be tasty and anything but punitive!
It’s not hard to feel like a starred chef for a day in this well-appointed space, remodelled from an ex-tool shed with high ceilings and exposed beams that would leave anyone breathless. There are six work stations available for students, with the ultimate-generation in stoves and the kinds of careful details that speak for themselves. Hand-dipped candles give off discrete scents like ginger and wild rose, perfect preludes to the aromas that will come later.
Marble shelves display an assortment of vinegars – from apple and raspberry to that made from juniper berries and an excellent balsamic vinegar that’s been aged 15 years. Oils are all organic and there are a variety of them for each kind of specific use: extra-virgin olive oil, produced on-site, is used uncooked for dressing a dish so it doesn’t lose any of its nutritional properties; for use in cooking, grapeseed oil is suggested. But there’s also pumpkin seed oil – rich in Omega 3 anti-oxidants, or, for an unusual flavour in salads, walnut or hazelnut oils. Flax seed oil, instead, is helpful to add nutritional value when making smoothies or fresh-squeezed juices from fruits or vegetables.
«We’re counting on soon having our own condiments and conserves, made right here and in the same way that our grandmothers used to make them,» explains the ineffable Vlad, who can’t emphasize enough the importance of “slow” food, the food of our origins, when each home made use of the ancient methods of conservation – oil, salt and glass jars – to capture the flavours of each different season. «Conserving helps us to recuperate lost tastes, it teaches us basic knowledge that will help us become better cookers and better eaters, to better take care of our own bodies and souls.» This is the mission of the Daylesfort Cookery School.
The authentic love for food is also palpable here even during the hours not dedicated to cooking or eating. Because leisure is also important: having fun, surrounding yourself in a environment that is aesthetically pleasing and even slightly sexy – students are spoiled with steaming tea cups, «Would you like a lemon and ginger infusion, or perhaps some Silver Needle tea?» and even glasses of white or rosé wines served at the perfect temperature with the Château Léoube label, which comes from a bio-dynamic vineyard run by the Bamford family in Provence.
Vlad continues: «A daily activity like eating really deserves attention: the pleasures of fine dining can’t be separated from the knowledge of where dishes come from and how they’re made, if they’re sustainable or not. We all need to be heading in this direction, both chefs and consumers. This is my life choice and I’m lucky to be able to share it with people from a place like Daylesford.»
Everything begins and ends with the land itself: every time that we care for it, we’re caring for the future of the planet, of our children and the future generations. This is why Daylesford is also a foundation whose objective is to promote sustainable, organic agriculture with the same principles that the project’s founder, Lady Bamford, puts into practice in all of her family’s land.
Among the upcoming courses and events, there’s the “Summer Dinner Party”, a half-day dedicated to explaining how to organise a memorable summer dinner – from the hors d’oeuvres to the dessert, using seasonal vegetables for dishes like pistou and ratatouille. There’s a “Butchery Course”, to gain familiarity with different cuts of meats (the sad steak will soon be just a memory!); a class on “Fish and Shellfish”, to help students discover all the goodness from the sea as well as enjoy a freshly caught lunch.
Daylesford is also a place to just relax and unwind at tables surrounded by trees and green, or else a place where you can learn to grow your own vegetable garden in its Organic Farm School. Children are welcome and encouraged to visit, as educating the next generation about the connections between food, land and civilization is an important step in improving individual and collective good health. With everything there is to do and see here, perhaps one day isn’t enough. But that’s no problem: a traditional stone cottage is also available for longer-staying guests.
Daylesford Cookery School Daylesford near Kingham Gloucestershire GL56 0YG Tel. +44 01608 731 700, Website
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