Everyone has an image in their head of what life is like working in a kitchen.
My experience of it as kitchen porter in my teenage years was one of a hot, pressure cooker environment where chefs with asbestos hands turn the air blue and bark orders amid a cacophony of clattering plates, pots and pans.
So how can a chef who has cooked for some of the globe’s most demanding diners including royalty, movie stars and music icons possibly be nice, polite and have the patience of a saint?
I’m visiting Paul’s Kitchen in Barrowford on a spring Monday afternoon for a private cookery lesson with Paul Dickson, a 47-year-old former executive chef, who has opened a cookery school at his home in the converted former building of St Thomas’s Primary School.
I’m immediately relaxed by the homely feel as soon as I walk through the door, even though I learn I’m going to be poaching smoked haddock and serving it with piped smoked butter mash, wilted cavolo nero, caramelised shallots, crispy bacon and potato skins and a thyme-infused sauce.
Ease is at the centre of Paul’s ethos in the kitchen including the use of readily available and well-priced ingredients.
Paul said: “It’s affordable stuff. These two plates of food today will cost £3 each and it’s a nice tea. Good food is good food whether it costs £1 to make or £10 to make. You want nice, healthy, quick food and that’s what food should be.”
Paul, with his engaging, mild Northumbrian accent and clear passion for teaching started Paul’s Kitchen last March after nearly 20 years in London and then seven in Manchester as a chef.
On opening up the family home he shares with his wife and two children, he said: “I think it’s totally normal and I’m relaxed about it. Where is there better to learn to cook than in a kitchen in a house?
“It doesn’t matter how cookery schools try to replicate that lovely feeling of being in a kitchen, they can’t. It’s all stainless steel, it’s all big equipment.
“Here we do things mostly by hand as you would at home. What’s the point of me teaching you tricks with big professional equipment that you don’t have, can’t make or can’t get? It makes no sense.”
I’m working opposite Paul as we prepare the same dish together. The lesson is flying by, and the ease at which I’m making a dish with various elements and techniques is a touch disconcerting.
But Paul is firm believer anybody can cook, it is a case of a little teaching, a bit of belief and preparation.
He said: “It’s very hard to pick up a recipe book and just start cooking if you have not been shown.
“Look at how clean you are working. Everything in small containers, wiping down as you go, everything in control, the timers are on. Just given that professional edge, if you put a few disciplines in place, cooking is easy.
“Cooking is the easiest part of making a dish. Preparation is way more complicated.”
We’re approaching Paul’s favourite time of year of spring going into summer and his cookery classes change with the seasons too.
The barbecue and pizza oven in the garden are fired up and Paul is planning to further expand his outdoor offerings cooking on wood and charcoal with a second barbecue, another pizza oven and a new tandoori oven.
Alongside the cookery school, Paul offers private lessons, consultancy, TV and film food styling, private dining, weddings, children’s cookery, corporate team building, farmers markets and pop up restaurants.
And the take up has been huge, whether it is by those who simply want to learn how to cook individually or as a group, cash rich but time poor couples finding an alternative way of spending time together or a social afternoon tea with Prosecco, Paul can cater for it all.
And the final dish? Utterly delicious, and made by own fair, non-asbestos hands. Cook by name, cook by nature?
More information can be found on Paul’s Kitchen here.