As an enthusiastic but not particularly good cook – and someone who manages to leave a trail of chaos in the kitchen – Karen Peattie gets some useful tips from Stuart Leslie, head chef at The Cook School Scotland.

If there’s one piece of advice that Stuart Leslie has for cooks of all abilities, it’s this: make cooking fun and don’t take it too seriously.

During lockdown, I was invited to take part in one of The Cook School Scotland’s head chef’s online classes and succeeded in making a presentable chicken curry that was both tasty and enjoyable to make.

The box of ingredients was delivered in advance, along with easy-to-follow instructions. It was great fun as Stuart guiding a group of seven – three couples and myself – through the seemingly simple process of slicing an onion, chopping chillies and butchering a chicken breast.

Country Lifestyle Scotland:

While it turned out that I’ve been chopping and slicing incorrectly for years, I soon got the hang of it, getting the flavours just right and boiling rice – in my humble opinion – to perfection. I failed miserably with my chapatis though – they were hard enough to sink the Titanic!

But Stuart doesn’t judge, gently encouraging his “pupils” who are taking a class for many different reasons: to learn, to improve their skills, or simply to enjoy a day out with a difference.

Now welcoming budding chefs back into his kitchen in Kilmarnock again after an 18-month hiatus, Stuart is firing up the ovens and hobs for lots of new full and half-day classes covering a broad range of subjects, from bread, pasta and home baking to fish, meat and poultry. Cuisines include Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian – and there’s also a vegetarian day.

There’s also The Cook School Scotland’s Demo & Dine evening sessions during which Stuart and his team do all the hard work. Cuisines includes Italian, French Indian and Asian, along with Steak Night – and there’s also a Christmas class.

Tapping into the trend of nostalgic flavours and classic dishes making a comeback after a resurgence during the pandemic, Stuart and his team are taking a step back in time this autumn with Retro, School Dinner, Guilty Pleasures and Back to the Future-themed Demo & Dine sessions over the next couple of months.

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Think Arctic Roll, Chicken Kiev, Duck à l’Orange and Steak au Poivre, not forgetting Prawn Cocktail. “I spent a lot of time coming up with ideas to introduce when we were open again and it’s brilliant to be back experiencing the camaraderie and buzz of the kitchen and when I’m home, nothing beats being in the kitchen with my two young boys cooking a roast dinner.

“As I’ve said before, I want people to enjoy cooking and have fun with it so at our Demo & Dine sessions you can expect chef tales, cooking tips and customary banter at the table as we try new tastes and different cuisines together.”

Stuart, whose career started at a hotel in Ayr and has taken him to London then back to Ayrshire via Enterkine Country House and the renowned Costley & Costley group, owner of Lochgreen House Hotel & Spa, admits that “food is my passion” and “even making a tuna sandwich for my seven-year-old’s packed lunch” is a joy.