Reporter Chris Harris puts on his apron and picks up some useful new culinary skills

WITH cooking enjoying a boom across the country, the opening of a culinary school in rural Hampshire was not wholly unexpected.

But Creative Catering, based near Easton just outside Winchester, are no flash in the pan: indeed, they have over 20 years' experience in the industry. So why, I thought, would they want to get their collective hands dirty teaching nosh neanderthals like me a few kitchen basics?

According to Kaye Thompson, director of Creative Catering, it was a desire to teach and pass on her skills. She added: "Good food and entertaining is such a big part of our lives now, which means people not only want to improve their cooking skills, but discover dishes that can be creating using local ingredients."

"Brave" doesn't even begin to describe it, especially when you see the range of courses on offer. As well as specialist cuisine sessions, including Thai, gastro and seafood, they offer a six-week beginners' course, corporate team-building days, children's cookery, birthday parties, singles cook-and-dine evenings and courses for students going off to university.

I think the idea of taking a children's birthday party, teaching them how to cook and feeding them, will prove to be especially popular.

During my visit, we prepared a guinea fowl supreme stuffed with a mushroom and herb filling and a pea and pancetta risotto. If the aim of the evening was to learn new skills, then it was a definite success: tips like how to prevent pastry rising, how to cook meat on a high heat without burning the pan and how to prepare meat properly all added to my culinary knowledge.

Alex Miller, our cookery teacher was excellent - patient, knowledgeable and laid back. But, with any kind of teaching, there's always a fine balance between swamping the student with too much, or leaving them wondering what they've achieved.

Creative Catering have just about got things right, but I was left thinking whether we could have been pushed a little more.

A six-week beginners' cookery course costs £300. For more information about Creative Catering courses, ring 01962 849396, or see www.thecreativecatering