Chef Dan Kennedy believes cooking in a social atmosphere helps to enthuse people about food
Dan Kennedy has seen many walks of the culinary world but having trained as both a teacher and chef, cooking for fine dining, banqueting and events, he set his heart on running a cookery school to pass on his knowledge and enthuse people about the journey from field to fork. We meet the entrepreneurial cookery teacher ahead of his chef demonstration at this year’s London Produce Show and Conference
After the 40-minute mad-dash from London’s St Pancras on one of those trains that are too fast for your stomach, Dan Kennedy’s cookery school feels surprisingly like it’s in a countryside oasis. Located a converted barn, the Kent Cookery School nestles amongst tea rooms, landscaped gardens, restaurants and craft shops in Mersham-le-Hatch’s neat and tidy business village. Feeling almost like I’ve time travelled, I arrive at the school’s large doors that open directly onto a country kitchen turned home economics classroom with a huge teaching island that fits 10 pupils and an equally impressive oak dining table to the back where Kennedy and his wife, Lucy Moore, give a warm welcome.
The family man
From the start, Kennedy is keen to point out that this is not a one-man show. A joint venture between husband and wife, the cookery school is the balanced outcome of a varied and hard-earned London-based career as a fine dining chef and raising a young family of three children under 10 years old. But most of all, it’s born from a passion for sharing interesting, fresh and seasonal food. Only 18 months after the couple took on the pre-named Kent Cookery School already they have three to four full-day courses and several evening cookery classes a week, and they seem very at home.
“Coming from a working class background and having grown up in a deprived area of London, the part I always found rewarding as a restaurant chef was passing on knowledge to young or less-experienced chefs, and seeing motivation take over,” explains Kennedy, who, from the moment he donned his first chef whites during his three-year diploma at Westminster Kingsway College, knew he was meant to be a chef.
“It was nice to give something back and I get the same feeling here when someone with low cookery confidence takes a course and you see the joy on their face when they have made that perfect loaf of bread that they thought they never would. And, of course, I’m mad about food, so that helps.”
Born to an Irish mother and a father from El Salvador in 1980’s Brixton, Kennedy was surrounded by a diverse mix of foods and cookery techniques from an early age, and after a short and thankfully unsuccessful dabble in engineering he went back to his childhood passion. Having worked at various Italian and French style restaurants through his diploma, Kennedy’s first job out of college was at the Houses of Parliament, where he moved from banqueting to restaurant. He then experienced fine dining in Gordon Ramsay’s three Michelin-starred restaurant in Chelsea in 2003 and later worked with Raymond Pattison in Mayfair.
Inspired by his banqueting days, he then went into event catering in Battersea, putting on canapés at the Tate and dinner at the FA’s (Football Association) headquarters, but somehow, he didn’t feel that his resumé was complete.
“A friend was working in a Devon hotel at the time and said that I’d love it there,” shares Kennedy. “I went up for an interview, made the team dinner from what was in the garden and got the head chef job. It was truly creative and experimental and brought my passion for all things local and seasonal to the forefront. It was then I found my specialism: Italian-influenced food with local British produce.”
Kennedy’s love affair with local and seasonal lasted much longer than his year-and-a-half in Devon, and after meeting Moore and having a family, he trained as a teacher. Now the couple run classes in many different topics, as well as the full-day Kent Cookery School course, which includes artisan bread making, preparing meat and fish and working with local seasonal produce. Not forgetting the hobby cooks, the school puts on evening classes in pasta, barbecuing and dim sum, amongst others. When I arrived the couple were preparing for an Indian evening class and all the spices, as well as huge chunks of meat, were out for the pupils to see.
“A wide mix of people attend our courses from the over 40s who have decided it’s time to learn how to cook, to young couples out on a date night,” explains Kennedy, who also turns the school into a restaurant once a month, offering the large table at the back as a chef’s table, whilst he cooks in front of the diners.
“We do a Field to Fork two-day course where you go out to shoot rabbits and pigeons, then skin and gut them, so the following day you can cook and eat them. We are planning to hold a similar course just for fresh produce, where pupils will go to a farm to see how things are grown, before harvesting and cooking the food there and then. It will be called Farm to Fork and we hope to do it this summer. It’s about enjoying the whole journey.”
Kennedy took a trip to his London Produce Show cookery demo sponsor, StubbinsFP in preparation for his kitchen slot. “It couldn’t be better for me, as they have an Italian background and produce the most amazing tomatoes,” says Kennedy, who will prepare a Piccolo tomato gazpacho, a fresh tomato and tiger prawn linguine and an old-fashioned cherry and chocolate knickerbocker glory with a hazelnut wafer with ingredients supplied by Stubbins on the day. “I was lucky to go out to their base recently as I got to speak to other people who are passionate about produce and see what the country has to offer.”
The demo is a great opportunity to show something new and educate both people and the trade, says Kennedy, who’s been busy conducting chef demos since he took over the school. He has even graced the demo kitchens of Grand Designs Live, the Kent County Show and Leeds Castle, to name a few. “Many chefs have a different mindset and the social aspect is forgotten about,” he explains. “We need to get out there and start communicating with our customers and the food industry.”
Experience Kennedy’s cookery school for yourself:
Kent Cookery School
Mersham-le-Hatch Business Village