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Learn from a master

Whether it is building a dazzling wedding cake made out of glittering macaroons, or regaling Yorkshire radio listeners with tales of Creole terrapin stew, retired hotelier and cook Jennie Forster knows how to shake things up in the kitchen.

Ms Forster, a former Bermuda resident, will be offering two cooking classes at International Imports this month to raise money for the Masterworks Foundation.

She is now retired and lives near Bath, Wiltshire.

“Many years ago I bought a ten bedroom hotel in Harrogate, North Yorkshire,” she said. “It was the White House Hotel. That was once one star and I turned it into a three star in a matter of months. I got two AA Rosette awards for the kitchen.”

She said looking back, maybe it was a little crazy to buy the hotel. When she came along it was being used by travelling salesmen, but she fell in love with the building.

“It was the most beautiful building,” she said. “It was built for the Mayor of Harrogate in 1836 in the style of a Venetian villa. It was a nice basic material to work with.

“While I was there I also used to do the local radio station's weekly radio show on food. I don't know if you have ever listened to cookery on the radio but it can be pretty boring.”

She spiced things up with unusual recipes like terrapin stew and recipes where you could substitute squirrel for opossum.

“It was sponsored by Sainsburys,” she said. “I was supposed to try and introduce things that were new to Sainsburys, but I used to run out. I had a large listenership and when I was outrageous they loved it.”

She said the British comedy television programme Fawlty Towers was not far off the mark when it came to what it is like to run a small hotel.

“You have to become your own plumber,” she said. “Because the plumbing will always break down at 5.10pm on a Friday. It's amazing what you can do with a wire coat hanger.”

Ms Forster had a friend who ran a Michelin star restaurant in Derbyshire. She asked if she could work in his kitchen for a week washing dishes.

“I told him, I really wanted to spy and see how they did things,” she said. “He said I could come for a week, but I would work on four different stations in the kitchen. So I did pastry, meats, fish, starters and desserts. I learned so much from that.”

She later sold the Yorkshire Hotel and bought the Le Grande Marque in Marnac, France.

It was a 12 acre property with four holiday cottages, seven bed and breakfast rooms and a 40 plus cover restaurant where she cooked, hosted wedding receptions and gave cooking classes.

“The food in France is very regional,” she said. “Food from another region is often considered almost foreign. The region I was in was a duck region so I learned a lot of different ways to cook duck.”

She started offering cooking classes in France, because of the weather.

“People would come for a holiday in August and expect sunshine,” she said. “They would often be quite upset when it would rain all week. I started offering cooking classes.

“I would slip a note under guests' doors saying there was a cooking class at 3pm. It would be free. A lot of people would come along.”

She found she loved teaching cooking. “Children especially were fabulous to teach,” she said. “Then I started to run courses out of season. I would advertise for newlyweds.

“We would cover everything from setting the table to having the in-laws over for Sunday roast to cooking a special meal for your partner. They would do something different each day over a five day period.”

Ms Forster said one of the common mistakes people make is being unaware of how dangerous a place a kitchen can be.

“They have accidents that are completely avoidable,” she said. “I like to teach people recipes that they will continue to use. Generally, they do.

“When I was back in France recently, I bumped into a man who had never cooked before he came to one of my cooking classes.

“He said to me: ‘Jennie guess what I cooked for dinner last night.' He now cooks several times a week. Until my class he had never cooked in his life.”

At International Imports she will be teaching two classes. The first, Goodies for Giving will be on October 8 at 5pm.

Participants will learn how to make food they can give as gifts such as Parmesan Shortbread with Crushed Pepper, French macaroons and Florentines, among other things.

On October 15, she will teach Save the Best for First, and will include canapés and appetisers.

There will be recipes for spinach roulade, twice baked Cheese Soufflé and Foie Gras with figs, among other things.

Each course is $95. Tickets can be purchased from International Imports. Call 292-1661 to book.

Retired hotelier and cook Jennie Forster will be teaching two cooking lessons at International Imports to raise money for the Masterworks Foundation.

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Published October 04, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 03, 2013 at 7:58 pm)

Learn from a master

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