Last Friday I visited Natirar, a large countryside estate in Somerset County, to attend one of the Viking cooking classes. Previously the vacation home of the King of Morocco, Natirar was bought last year by Virgin CEO Richard Branson, who has had it extensively renovated, with the intention of developing it into a resort. Currently the property contains only a restaurant and a public park, but there are plans to build a spa, horse ranch, and museum.
The estate is beautiful. After passing through the entrance gate, I went up a winding road, alongside which there were hillsides dotted with trees, stretches of well-kept lawns, and a stream that flowed through the grounds. There were large areas reserved for livestock and for vegetable and fruit gardens — much of the food served in the restaurant comes from the estate itself. The road goes up a hill, on top of which is the main building of the estate, a 33,000-square-foot brick mansion, which was built in the 1910’s. The other buildings, which include barns, stone cottages, and a carriage house, date back to the mid-nineteenth century. The class was held in the mansion, in a room next to the restaurant.
The class I attended, “The Perfect Peach,” began at 11 AM and ended at 2 PM. The atmosphere was friendly, energetic, and not at all intimidating. The class was hands-on and catered to both novices and experts. The instructor, Debbie, started the class by handing out recipes for five different peach dishes: Peach Ice Cream; Peach Apricot Tart; Peach Cheesecake; Grilled Poundcake with Caramel Sauce; and Peach, Shrimp, and Tomato Salad. She ran through the recipes and gave us some basic cooking tips, and then we broke off into groups to pre-prep the dishes. Each group only got to pre-prep one dish, but we were free to roam around and see what each group was doing.
Debbie then demonstrated how to prepare each dish and told us where we could get the ingredients locally. After preparing the dishes, we got to try each of them; all of them were good, my favorite being the Peach Cheesecake. The crushed almond Biscotti crust and the cream cheese and melted white chocolate filling were not only delicious, but were two things I’d never seen in a cheesecake before. Though I liked the Peach Ice Cream, I noticed some people in the class didn’t (this was probably because it had liquor in it). At the end of the class, we were given samples of each dish to take home.
Overall, the class was excellent. The class size was small and there were two assistant instructors, so my group received plenty of hands-on instruction. This made the class much better than other classes I’ve taken, where there was sometimes only one instructor teaching over 30 students. At the end of the class I felt that I could prepare each dish we made in class. The class was $90, a typical price for this sort of class.