Indie Oxford Interview: Sophie Grigson of Sophie’s Cookery School
This week we catch up with the fabulous Sophie Grigson of Sophie’s Cookery School to find out more about the cookery school and the amazing classes they hold as well as how other indies also play a role in the success of this innovative business.
Tell us about why you started Sophie’s Cookery School
After writing about food and cookery for nearly three decades, I thought it was about time I put all that information to some use. I really enjoy teaching cookery, and so Sophie’s Cookery School emerged. At first it was just a class here or there, but it has grown and grown. Now we have some brilliant specialist teachers so we can cover a wide range of cuisines. We offer Japanese sushi, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian and even Georgian.
What skill level is required for taking a Cookery Class?
Anyone, whatever their level of skill or knowledge or kitchen confidence, can join our classes. We keep numbers small (10-12 maximum) so that everyone gets support when needed. We work in a very communal way, everyone pitching in to create gorgeous food together. My teachers and I guide and support our co-cooks through the recipes, demonstrating particular techniques as required.
Talk us through how a class works
A normal class runs something like this: once everyone has arrived, there is a brief introduction, and then we dive straight into cooking. Our classes are absolutely hands-on, very relaxed and informal, peppered with information and helpful tips (from how to chop an onion, to making our own tamarind puree). Each class has its own rhythm, but we reckon there’s about 2 – 2 and a half hours hands-on cooking. And then, the pay off. We pull up our chairs and sit down to the meal we’ve created, washed down with a welcome glass of wine. It’s a fantastic feeling to look around the table and see a bunch of people chatting animatedly together, when just a couple of hours earlier they were strangers. Food is remarkably powerful.
Where are the classes held?
We’re a pop-up so we have what we grandly call a ‘portfolio of venues’ around Oxford. The one we use most is the lovely Restore Garden Café on Manzil Road, off Cowley Road. We also pop up in a number of other venues – Castleyard Café near Malmaison, various church and community halls, and then we also bring our kit to private events in people’s houses.
As you know, we are passionate supporters of local independents. How important is it that you work with local producers at Sophie’s Cookery School and how does this effect your classes?
We love the fact that Oxford and Oxfordshire have so many strong, inspired independents. The outrageously high cost of property and rates in this city makes it particularly powerful achievement. Most of our venues are in independent community spaces. The people who run them understand us, and aren’t mired down in swamps of bureaucracy. They have an inspiring can-do attitude. I so admire all the independent growers and food producers, particularly the guys who stand in the cold and rain (and so much snow this year) at our farmer’s markets. I got very excited a short while ago about a Sandy Lanes onion! Chopped small, tossed with a little tomato, coriander, chilli and salt, it made the very best Mexian Pico de Gallo I’ve ever tasted.
Lastly, which are your favourite independent businesses in Oxford?
Well, I guess I would have to say pretty much all the food related independents. Plus Objects of Use, and The Story Museum.
To find out more about Sophie’s Cookery School and forthcoming classes, visit www.sophiescookeryschool.co.uk or head to the Independent Oxford events page.