Picking up cookery skills at a time when you’re finding it hard to cope is a daunting task.

Those who’ve been bereaved – or suddenly find themselves caring for someone – can find themselves with the dilemma of having to fend for themselves in the kitchen.

Help is at hand at Princess Alice Hospice in Esher, where short, practical cookery classes are proving a lifeline to people who’ve never dabbled in the culinary arts.

Groups of nervous novices have been amazed and delighted to find they can turn out mouth-watering dishes including pies, pasta, fish dishes, curry and stir-fries, in just four two-hour sessions.

Led by head chef Allan Barclay, the courses focus on building the class’s confidence through teaching basic techniques and recipes that can be adapted to a variety of dishes.

Allan said:

“We show them how a simple pastry recipe can be used as the base for crumble topping, a sweet or savoury pie or quiche, for example. A meat and tomato ragout can be used for bolognese, lasagne, or chilli con carne.”

Allan believes that confidence is the key to successful cookery; trial and error can teach a lot – and the results aren’t always a disaster.

Allan starts by asking the class what sort of dishes they’d like to master and goes on from there – introducing techniques, tips and advice on what to look for when food shopping.

Learning together is also beneficial for the class. They can work alongside each other, practising chopping, folding, rolling out, baking – and washing up!

It is hoped that at the end of the course the novices will have learned about food hygiene, know more about nutritional values in food and what a balanced diet looks like. They will be able to buy and prepare fresh vegetables, know how to handle sharp utensils safely and how to use an oven and be able to prepare and cook a variety of meals.

The most recent intake – the second course – included Chris, who was very impressed with the experience.

Chris said:

“Allan gave us the confidence to try new things as well as to plan and manage our menus – we learned basic food hygiene, food handling and menu planning. I certainly benefited a lot.

“The time went so quickly and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Sue found the food preparation and tips on nutrition the most useful.

Sue said:

“To be honest, it was all helpful – and I hope I can now achieve some good results!”

She also mentioned the professionalism of the coaching – while leaving room for some fun as well.

James was pleased to discover the variety of dishes that can be made by adapting the ingredients in different ways – and surprised himself with his ability to make pastry for the first time.

James said:

“The numerous tips that Allan gave us were particularly useful – especially using the chopping knife!

“I was very pleased to do the course and found it very helpful. It has given me confidence for the future.”

Allan was pleased to report that the group had swapped telephone numbers and plan to meet up; the same happened on the first course, whose members had a get-together in the weeks following the course.

James added:

“It was nice to get along so well with the other participants.”

A final mention for volunteers Lynne and Natalie, who encouraged the newbie cooks and whose extra tips and advice was most welcome.

Two further cookery courses are planned for the autumn; all on Thursday evenings from 5-7pm starting 5 September and 3 October. There are two spaces left on the first, and four on the second.

Contact Sally Holland via email – sallyholland@pah.org.uk, or phone 01372 461996.