Cactus Kitchens is just off Clapham High Street and is a tardis of a building, accessed through an "ordinary" house front door on a side street. Once inside, however, a series of staircases and corridors lead to all kinds of magical spaces, including the attic classroom, where Angela instroduced herself to the twelve of us and gave us a flavour of what to expect.
First of all, everything was done for us. Ingredients weighed out, equipment lined up and whisked away as soon as it was finished with, washed up and returned. The kitchen washer up elves were working non stop and two additional home economists were on hand to answer every question. In my case, it was how to manage the finer details of the Kitchen Aid mixer, something I'd never used before and which resisted every attempt I made to change the whisk/blade attachment. I was glad not to have to waste Angela's time on such minutiae - and even more glad that she too needed assistance to turn on the hob, to adjust the oven temperature and other such "simple" processes that are anything but in a strange kitchen.
You might note that I was "Gillian" as far as Cactus Kitchens were concerned, thanks to my Hero's "correct" completion of the enrolment form. Thankfully, Angela caught onto "Gill" pretty quickly, but every label and every other reference throughout the day brought me swiftly to attention!
The lovely thing is, that Angela turned out to be as delightful in person as she appears on the box. Generous with her knowledge and expertise, she created a relaxed and informal atmosphere and we all felt immediately "at home" in her company. We quickly put a flourless chocolate cake together and whilst they baked in the ovens (label on mine "Top Shelf: Gillian") Angela demonstrated pasta making.
All rather straightforward, it seemed. At least, sufficient for me to wonder why on earth my pasta machine has sat in the cupboard for so long, unused. With the chef's guidance, it was certainly very easy indeed.
By now, it was lunchtime, and "lunch" appeared on our benches. Well, the ingredients for our starter, at least.
In no time at all, we'd been guided through the making of grilled mackerel and a delicious salad, complete with Angela's commentary and stories. We retired to the Cactus Dining Room and sat around the large square table to enjoy it, together with a glass of wine she'd chosen to accompany it.
We sat and watched, with refilled glasses, as Angela returned to the pasta dough and demonstrated the rolling, shaping and so on. She deftly made a dozen or so filled tortelloni, tossing them in sage butter before passing them round for us to taste. Delicious!
"Off you go then", she said. "Your turn!"
So we did! Yet again, I wondered why I'd not done this before, though memories of earlier efforts and sticky dough, making a mess and glueing everything together were ever present and I won't say Angela's occasional input ("hmmm....might be a good idea to fold in three with a little flour and reroll that bit") was not a crucial factor in my success. But we were here to learn and what better way could there be than have her ongoing support?
Last but not least, she demonstrated a chicken dish, with peppers, chorizo, garlic and a spot of chili, which we then proceeded to cook for ourselves.
This was the rest of lunch!
We left everything in the kitchen and Angela joined us at the big table in the dining room, where wine and conversation flowed over lunch. "Favourite TV chef?" she asked, "go-to cook book?", "can't-live-without ingredient?", "desert island dinner?" - sharing her own thoughts and reactions to our answers without hesitation. The chocolate cake she'd demonstrated earlier was served for dessert, (with a glass or two of rather lovely Australian Muscat and a dollop of creme fraiche) and we realised the day was coming to an end. She herself was going off to prepare for service at Murano in the evening, we were beginning to think about gathering our things together and wondering how we were going to transport the fruits of our labour back home.
We needn't have worried. Whilst we'd been munching our way though lunch, those kitchen elves had been gathering our things together and packing them into bags. They must be ephemera collectors like me too, because inside were all the labels, name tags and recipe leaflets we had left on our benches as well.
Time to say goodbye then, to share a few details and to find our way out of this tardis of a building.
via one room which just might look familiar? Can you imagine a familiar face or two standing behind that bench? James Martin perhaps?
Cactus Kitchens is also the location of the Saturday Kitchen TV studio and there was a quick chance to take a look around before we left.
Though I was (eventually) headed to Paddington Station and a train home, before that I had a short walk around the corner to our Godson Paul and his partner Sarah's flat to meet their (very) new daughter Pixie Jay, born just last Friday morning. So sweet, so tiny and absolutely gorgeous of course.
What a great way to finish a lovely birthday celebration. (I think that's it now!)