In the earliest days of my blogging journey, some two and a half years ago, I met Vanessa Kimbell, a cookery writer inspired by ethical and sustainable food, a brilliant photographer and author of Prepped! I had joined Team Prepped! helping Vanessa test some of the recipes in her book, getting an inside glimpse into writing a cookery book. Before embarking on writing Prepped! Vanessa had given up a high-flying and well-paid career. Like me, she had started her own food blog, but unlike me, she was heading in a very clear direction. Describing herself as “an ambitious and an eternal optimist,” Vanessa is always an inspiration.
Back then, Vanessa was on a ‘mission’ and she very much still is. Since writing her book, Vanessa has been busy broadcasting, travelling and writing about food, as well as raising her three children, moving house and restoring their new home – an old Victorian house with a Victorian kitchen garden, now complete with hens, fresh eggs, a couple of cats and a little dog.
Vanessa’s latest venture has been to open the Juniper and Rose Cookery School from their new home in Northampton. I spent the day with Vanessa at her home just before she launched the school to chat to her about her latest project.
Upon arriving at Vanessa’s house, I was looking forward to a good natter and a catch up. I had already phoned in my request for Tomato and Garlic Pasta; a recipe I tested for her book and became addicted to. In the kitchen, overlooking her walled kitchen garden, whilst being drawn by all the vintage kitchenalia, I happened to peer into a huge copper pan bubbling away on the stove, realising that I had arrived just in time to help Vanessa finish off and jar up some homemade greengage jam.
This being Vanessa’s kitchen, we launched into an impromptu photography and styling masterclass, with Vanessa showing me how to make the most of the light, the props and the colours setting the scene within the room. I even ended up buying one of Vanessa’s spare 50mm Nikon lenses from her then and there, in the hope that I would be able to incorporate some of Vanessa’s photography advice for myself at home. Despite two years of blogging, I learnt that I was holding my camera upside down when taking portrait shots (easily done) and that I was using the wrong lens for food photography!
Vanessa is someone who is always eager to teach and to share; which is why I knew that she would make the perfect cookery school teacher and host.
Vanessa also showed me around her new home, telling me eagerly about all the restoration projects making demands on their time and purse. Vanessa’s Victorian kitchen garden was already starting to take shape and Vanessa and her husband had just finished converting one of the potting sheds into an office.
Alongside Vanessa’s insatiable drive and determination to follow her dreams and to see things through, perhaps Vanessa’s best asset is her ability to call people to action; she encourages us think about the choices we make and about how we can lead more sustainable lives whilst at the same time, helping and championing others. On her blog, now called ‘Goddess on a Mission,’ Vanessa has recently shared stories about her trips to Grenada and Uganda for the BBC Radio 4 programme, which were were both engaging and inspirational, as well as posts and articles about local food, independent shops, fair trade goods, organic food, British produce, including ethically grown flowers, and her own kitchen garden adventures.
Happily, Vanessa’s cookery school extends her message and she is able to share her passion for food on a very practical level through teaching courses.
Looking at Vanessa’s new Juniper and Rose Cookery School site, I’m completely spoilt for choice as to which of her courses I want to take first now that the school is in full swing. I learnt so much from Vanessa in half an afternoon on the subject of styling and photography, that I’m tempted to go back to take one of her Food Photography workshops. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Vanessa is also a constant champion of local producers, of re-emerging artisan skills and of simple yet impressive seasonal home cookery and indulgent baking. Ingredients are sourced as close to home as possible, in some cases, right from Vanessa’s restored kitchen garden. Vanessa is also a member of Garden Organic and of The Real Bread Campaign.
Vanessa explained that tutor groups are kept small so that you can ask as many questions as you want to throughout the day and get the maximum individual attention. Vanessa is also renovating some of the other outhouses close to her property so that the Juniper and Rose Cookery School can have a home all of its own – classes are currently held in their family kitchen.
Which course to choose? Well, you could learn how to make your own bread; Italian, sourdough, or simple baked bread with herbs, or take it one step further and learn how to start your own ‘pop-up bakery’ from scratch, as Vanessa and her children did. Or, you could learn how to make your own artisan cheese on Vanessa’s cheese making course, how to build up your confidence with fish, or mushrooms later on in the year during mushroom season.
Courses at the Juniper and Rose Cookery School are competitively priced at around £95-£145 and you can buy gift vouchers, too. Some of the courses, such as the sourdough baking day, also include an organic, fair trade bag of ingredients to take home. The full day courses also include a homemade (and by all accounts) incredibly pretty and tasty vegetarian lunch with fresh salad, edible flowers and a glass of chilled rose from the nearby Fleurfields Vineyard. In the case of the Food Photography workshop, you’ll most likely end up taking photographs of your lunch, too. Look out for special guest teacher courses, as well.
I’m still undecided – which course would you take first?
I wish Vanessa huge success in her cookery school ventures; and beyond! I’m sure there is plenty more to come.
The Juniper and Rose Cookery School is based in Pitsford, Northampton
You can contact Vanessa Kimbell on email@example.com or on Twitter @JuniperandRose
With thanks to Vanessa Kimbell for inspiring this post, as well as for her advice on photography.