You’ve built a treehouse, learnt how to speak Italian, restrung the family harp and Zoomed yourself half to death in lockdown. What’s left? To be honest, if you’re anything like me, its more a case of having committed to a three option rotating dinner menu and telling the time by whether you’re looking at the small, medium or large screen. When the opportunity arose to try a live online sushi lesson with the Avenue Cookery School, I was ready to chew off someone’s arm to break the cycle (then chop it, roll it in rice and dip it in soy… you see where I’m going).
The online sushi course is one of many courses that the school now run online instead of at their professional kitchen in Wandsworth. A family-run business led by Diana (who also answers to ‘darling, sweetie, honeybunch’), The Avenue Cookery School has flourished over the 16 years since its inception and has cleverly diversified into online courses during 2020 while attending in person is an impossibility. This has meant adapting some of the lessons to account for the logistical limitations of a private kitchen (although there is a course on how to use your own sous vide machine). The emphasis is on developing technical skills and exploring flavours while having as much fun as you can.
Joining the Zoom meeting with Diana immediately put a smile on my face. She is lively, funny and gently guides all her students through their various mishaps and flustered moments. The Avenue Cookery School also enthusiastically promotes what my parents refer to as the Keith Floyd approach to cooking (if you’re unfamiliar with Floyd, a TV chef from the 80s and 90s, I’m trying to delicately suggest that the consumption of alcohol in the kitchen was heartily encouraged). While we waited for other participants to arrive to the meeting, I prepared a large dry white á la piscine and nosed through the contents of the sushi kit that was sent out by The Avenue Cookery School in advance of the lesson.
Of course, you’ll need to buy your own fresh ingredients (I chose tuna, salmon, avocado and a couple of other veg), but the sushi kit contains a bamboo rolling mat, chopsticks, nori (seaweed), ginger, soy, rice vinegar, wasabi and the all-important sushi rice, boil-in-the-bag style for complete ease. Before the lesson, I assumed the kit would be one put together by The Avenue, but this one, by Saitaku, seems fairly readily available. It is really helpful, however, to have everything in easy portions and the experience of the lesson itself is far more fun than doing it from the instructions in the box! I also had a few specialist ingredients lying around already, but emails from The Avenue Cookery School before the lesson also made some recommendations for optional extras. I had some limes, black sesame seeds and shichimi togarashi (hot Japanese spice blend) on hand to create my own bespoke flavours.
In the course of the lesson, we made maki rolls, California rolls and hand rolls. Diana was very patient and gave lots of useful tips about how to handle the nori and sushi rice (I still managed to get it everywhere). With repeated reminders to keep drinking (not required), Diana frequently asked to see how our creations were progressing and offered additional advice if we were struggling, just like being at a cookery school in person. I was quite impressed with how my maki turned out, but my California rolls were… structurally compromised.
Diana explained the history of sushi, which was fascinating, and also shared some of her favourite flavour combinations, some of which may have been controversial to a sushi traditionalist (pickled ginger IN the rolls?!), but were all in the spirit of exploration and personal taste that The Avenue Cookery School encourages. This is, of course, how home cooking should work – do what makes your tastebuds tingle! At the end of the lesson, we said our goodbyes and all parted ways to enjoy our brimming plates of delicious sushi, which, for me at least, tasted much better because I had made them myself!
The Avenue Cookery School live online classes are an excellent way to learn something new in lockdown and to make those oh-so-important connections with real people that we have been missing. Diana could not be more enthusiastic about what she does and it really helps those participating in the lesson to have fun. The price of an online lesson for two is £150 for an hour and a half and it is the experience that you are buying as much as any technical know-how; it’s lovely to welcome Diana into your house and kitchen (and laptop) to share her love of food with you. Now get down out of that treehouse and learn something you’ll actually use…
Sushi is not the only live lesson on offer. Head over to The Avenue Cookery School website to find out about live online classes on pasta, macarons, curries, knife skills and more.
To book see online at The Avenue Cookery School.