Take the Chef Challenge in Cornwall

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MasterChef has given us so much: the idea that shouting at each other from close proximity is a reasonable way to debate, the phrase "cooking doesn't get tougher than this", and now the chance to take part in a holiday 'cook-off' in the style of the TV show.

Lee Groves, a 2010 semi-finalist in MasterChef: The Professionals, and head chef of Seagrass Restaurant in St Ives, has teamed up with the owners of Lanyon Holiday Cottages in Hayle, near St Ives, to offer competitive cooking afternoons for groups of friends. You don't need to go through X Factor-style auditions to give it a go either – just round up a group of friends.

We stayed in Coswyn Barn, which was once a grain barn for the Elizabethan estate and is now a luxury holiday let for 14, with underfloor heating, quirky period details such as an old stone fireplace built from reclaimed medieval slabs found on the estate, a snug lounge with open fire, and an outdoor pool. Despite being ancient and historic, it's one of the greenest buildings in the area, with a ground source heat pump buried in the field and a wind turbine beyond it.

The competitive cookery afternoon goes like this: Lee introduces us to a table piled high with local delicacies in the style of a Ready Steady Cook reveal. Everything – from the gleaming hake and hand-dived scallops to the enormous leg of lamb, plucked pheasants and lamb sweetbreads – comes from within a 30-mile radius of the Lanyon estate. Then he divides us into pairs, sets a timer and tells us to start cooking.

It's a pretty nerve-wracking experience. We have two hours to devise and cook a main course. And just as we're starting to get the ideas together, he throws in another challenge: to add a fish dish to the menu as a little nudge – intimidated by the hake's tiny triangular teeth, we had all avoided the fish in favour of pheasant and lamb. And then, later, another: to construct a dessert from a set of ingredients that he's weighed out for us. This dessert, it turns out, is the one that got him to the MasterChef semi-finals and went down a storm with sweet-toothed judge Gregg Wallace.

Spending the afternoon cooking with friends is not usually as stressful as this, and when a local cameraman turns up to film us for the holiday cottages' website it gets even more like the real thing. I no longer wonder why MasterChef contestants seem to sweat so much: when you're in a confined environment cooking with lots of people, it's really hard to keep cool. My glasses fug up immediately.

At the end of two hours comes the judging. Lee, along with his restaurant's owner, Julia, and Marie from Lanyon Holiday Cottages, try to be nice about what we've made. None of us gets it spot on, but that's part of the fun. Lee's advice and comments are constructive, and it's certainly more enjoyable than any other cookery lesson I've ever had.

We walk off the food by rambling round the estate, which extends a mile in every direction from the Elizabethan manor house, and driving to sand dunes for a sight of the sea at Carbis Bay.

It's not right to visit Cornwall without having a cream tea and a pasty, even if you are a fine-dining MasterChef fan, and thankfully St Ives delivers on both fronts. We think about paying a visit to Lee in his restaurant to judge his food in a reciprocal manner, but are diverted by the glorious cakes of the Tate St Ives cafe. The Black Rock restaurant, also in the centre of St Ives, is worth booking in advance – they serve fish caught from their own boat and wild foods foraged from nearby hedgerows. It's too rainy to visit Porthminster beach cafe, St Ives' other foodie claim to fame, but fans might like to know that a more easterly outpost is opening this spring at Mawgan Porth, just west of Padstow on Cornwall's north coast.

Returning to these parts to open a restaurant seems a very long way off for us. But if we ever did, the cook-off victors Harriet and Jo would be serving up a winning combination of seared scallops topped with sweetbreads and pink micro herbs, along with pheasant cooked two ways (roasted leg and pan-fried breast), served with parsnip puree and carrots. All that remains from me to say is that, in the manner of all losers in telly cook-offs, the experience has made me stronger and I'm going to carry on cooking anyway.

• Lanyon Holiday Cottages (01872 242166) has a two-night break in Coswyn Barn, sleeping 14, from ?1,260, and a week from ?2,156. Prices start from around ?65pp for a Chef Challenge class at Lanyon, plus cost of ingredients. Chef masterclasses and private dining, with dishes cooked by Lee, are also available. Lanyon Holiday Cottages and the Chef Challenge can also be booked through premiercottages.co.uk

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