Unravelling the secrets of the sea

Chris Ashton

I filleted a fish once. It was possibly one of the greatest crimes ever committed against seafood. Family were polite when eating, but inside I could tell they were screaming for help! Not one to be disheartened, I thought I'd give it another go and take part in the Fish Masterclass with Valentine Warner.

Aimed at helping me 'unravel the secrets of the sea and ignite my culinary imagination', according to the blurb on the website, the one-day course certainly had its work cut out for it.

Photo: Chris Ashton

Held at the renowned Leith's School of Food & Wine in London, the day began in typical British fashion, with biscuits and a cup of tea. Following this was a short safety briefing and intro from our teacher for the day, TV chef Valentine Warner.

To my relief he was nothing like Gordon Ramsay.

Our ambitious seafood menu included crab gratin, squid with chermoula, deep-fried oysters with barbeque dipping sauce, and octopus with white haricot beans. But the dish I most looked forward to was lobster mojo de ajo - barbequed lobster with a chipotle chilli and garlic sauce.

Being in a professional kitchen, you'd expect nothing but the best appliances and workspaces to aid you in your culinary quest. As one of the most respected schools in London, Leith's was equipped with sleek stainless steel ovens and pine bench tops, and more knives than I knew what to do with.

Photo: Chris Ashton

Each of the dishes we prepared was big on flavour, utilising ingredients that are common in nearly every household. The one time I came unstuck in the class was attempting to shuck an oyster with a blunt shucking knife. Aside from that, none of the skills needed were too hard for the average cook.

Valentine was a great mentor, offering advice on how to perfect the various dishes. At lunch, as we sipped on wine and feasted on our creations, he was chatting to students and imparting what knowledge he could in the relatively short timeframe.

Lobster Mojo de Ajo. Photo: Chris Ashton

The dishes that we prepared were fabulous, but it would have been great to learn a few more skills to utilise in day-to-day cooking. If you're serious about your food, and have the time, I'd definitely recommend taking part in one of the weeklong courses. For me, the one day course was a great introduction to seafood. The secrets are still a mystery, but my culinary imagination has definitely been ignited.

Find out more about Leith's School of Food & Wine

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