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Review of The Jean-Christophe Novelli Food Academy at The Corran Resort and Spa – Laugharne

After a bit of unwinding in the spa, we nipped back to the cottage to get ready for the meet and greet at the academy kitchen. Armed with a glass of bubbly on arrival, we got to see the ribbon cutting of the kitchen from chef and owner of the Corran.  We all got to introduce ourselves to the rest of the students for the weekend then Jean-Christophe talked to us about how the Academy came to be.

This was chance meeting with head chef of the Corran at an airport, where they got talking and got invited to visit the resort. He also spoke a bit about his cooking style and healthy lifestyle he aims to promote during our tutored cooking session the following day, which tries to dramatically reduce our intake of salt from cooking.

Jean Christophe Novelli talking at Corran Academy Laugharne

After being acquainted with each other, we were allowed to feast on the table of food that had me salivating for the past hour during the introductions. I’m a sucker for a buffet and although there weren’t any cheese and pickle on a toothpick or part baked sausage rolls I absolutely annihilated the wheels of gooey camembert the size of my head, moped up with fist sized pieces of fresh focaccia, meats, olives and a mountain of slightly more impressive items i’ve never had in a valleys 50th birthday shindig. A few more glasses of bubbles were consumed before we retired to our luxury farmhouse cottage to catch a few winks before a busy day ahead of us.

After an amazing breakfast of smoked haddock and poached eggs, we convened at the Academy kitchen, located next to the spa at 11 for a brief run through of the plan for the day. Being the first ever class, the timings and schedule were a work in progress. We were to have Jean-Christophe and the head chef talk through a fair few techniques and dishes, where we would then have the chance to have a go ourselves and get a chance to taste our little masterpieces.

Caramel

First on the cards for the culinary lessons delivered by Jean-Christophe was caramel. I’d made some alcohol spiked salted caramels in my time and a black toffee apple for halloween for my sister once so I was aware of the process.I’d usually use a sugar thermometer that I held, nervously inches away from liquid sugar magma till the contents of the pan hit that precious marker on the thermometer.

This time however we were letting our senses guide us as to when the caramelised sugar was at the optimum temperature and consistency. Another thing we learned though was that the type of sugar used along with the surrounding humidity in the room also influenced the final result. I’d just go for a bag of silver spoon granulated sugar in the past but Jean-Christophe and head chef Syril use something called isomalt that is a sugar substitute that is cleaner mix that gives the perfect glaze and cloud free finish.

The caramel can be used as the base for many a dessert or decorative purpose. We were shown how to make a apple tart-tatan in a pan then over. We also allowed the caramel to cool slightly before some of us got a chance to shape to shape it into sugar baskets and spring like sugar ornament.

Chicken Balloutine

Next up was a crash course in making the French favourite, chicken balloutine . A deboned chicken leg, stuffed with sweet potato and rolled into a sausage like parcel that is poached for around 10 minutes then left to cool. It can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for several days before it can be unpacked from the cling film and browned in a pan. Ideal for dinner parties and two days later, since i’ve been coaxed into organising our works Christmas dinner it’s featured on our chosen menu as the main course but substituted for Turkey instead.

 

Filleting Fish

It was now time for us all to get our hands dirty, by learning something that I will find massively beneficial, filleting a whole fish. I really enjoy fish, but I just stick to pre-filleted fish and that’s only once in a blue moon. Buying whole is usually much more economical too, as i’ve seen two whole seabass for the same price as two fillets recently in M & S.

filleting fish at Corran Academy

Jean-Christophe showed us how to gut the fish then fillet. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to gut the fish, we just did the filleting. I didn’t do as bad as I thought I would be we were told that trout is one of the hardest to fillet due to the bones. Not sure if that was true or just to make me feel better but I was happy with my effort.

Baked Seafood in Scallop Shell

Keeping in with the seafood theme, we now got to make a seafood dish of king prawns, scallop and salmon (even though the pink fleshy fish is usually of the menu for me) topped with ratatouille, mozzarella and fresh herbs of our choice. The scallop shell was sealed with a ribbon of pastry, so that the fish steamed inside the shell with the fresh herbs adding a fragrant, herbaceous perfume. Again, the idea was to cut down on the amount of salt in the dish so there was no seasoning with salt. We got around this issue by using olives in the mix, which are naturally salty.

I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so it’s fair to say this didn’t touch the sides. I even ate the salmon, which when steamed with all the herbs and other fish was more than agreeable.

 

Scallops and Chicken Consomme

The Jean-Christophe Novelli Academy at the Corran Resort is going to headed up by head Chef Syril in Jean-Christophe’s absence, so it was time to hand the over gloves over to Syril for the next dish.

I love scallops, so I wasn’t too disappointed scallops were in the next dish too. This was a chance to learn how to cook the perfect scallop in a pan with a lovely golden crust, yet soft and tender in the middle. I learned to dry my scallops first and use a good quality, hand dived scallop as mine usually end up with a lot of liquid in the pan that just end up stewing, without a nice sear on them.

scallop and chicken consome at Corran Resort

A scallop starter dish would only usually have two pieces but this was a sharing platter for us to savour between us. The scallops were seared in the pan and plated beautifully with an intense chicken consommé that they create with 24 hour roasted chicken bones. To go with it, he served shaved, crispy fennel shards, a  fruity gel, aerated white foam and grapefruit.

The finished product was absolutely delicious. My only issue was I didn’t have the 8 scallops myself and had to share them.

Pasta Making

I’ve never, ever made pasta. The reason being, I’m too tight to invest in a pasta machine. Little did I know, you can make a decent attempt with your bare hands, a rolling pin and some elbow grease.

After a quick demo by Jean-Christophe’s brother from an Italian mother, we were handed some eggs, a bowl of flour and a rolling pin. After making a little well in middle of a small pile of OO Flour, we cracked an egg in and swirled it with our fingers, to incorporate the two together. Adding a little flour at a time, until I got the right consistency, it was time to start the needing by hand. Instead of getting the the pasta rolling machine out as I’d seen so many times on Masterchef recently, we got to work with a rolling pin on the two balls of dough.

Pasta making at the Corran Academy

After I got the thickness I wanted, we got some tips on making some of the popular types of pasta shapes. I’m definitely going to give this a go when I get back, especially attempting some filled tortellini or raviolli. the best thing is, it only takes a couple of minutes to cook too.

Soufflé

Being pressed for time, last up at the academy was a fruity soufflé. We didn’t get to make them ourselves but we got some really good tips on a dessert I really enjoy eating, but always avoided, due to their well known difficulty in mastering.

Soufle making with Jean Christophe Novelli at The Corran Resort

The secret to having that perfect, equal elevation that keeps it’s volume is the addition of corn flour to the mix. This goes in with the addition of freshly blended berries and making an indent to the edge of the mix so it rises equally.

True to form, the soufflés came out perfect. An equal elevation that kept it’s shape for ages after coming out of the oven. It didn’t half taste bad either to be fair.

 

The Verdict

What can I say about this weekend dedicated to my favourite thing in the world, curated by a 4 Michelin Star Chef in a luxury spa resort, staying in an epic two story cottage with a log burner? It was off the scale! I’d say my brain is thinking about food 99% of the time I’m awake, and 100% of the time I’m asleep. I’ve wanted to attend a cookery school for some time now, to learn some new skills and hone in on some i’ve probably been doing wrong my whole life. It’s not very often you get an opportunity to learn from a chef who has a total of 5 out of a maximum 5 AA Rosettes either.

This was the first course they have run at the Corran Resort, but seeing that they’ve built a swanky new kitchen and academy, they will be running a fair few in the near future. Jean-Christophe won’t be doing all the courses himself, but judging from the couple of dishes Syril talked us through, plated and served us in the evening in the restaurant, you are going to be in safe hands if you are interested in attending one of the courses.

We had a pretty intensive schedule pencilled in for the day, but had to skip a couple due to timing. Being the first run of the course, this was bound to happen as they needed to run one to gauge how long us novices took with a knife. It also depends on the people attending the course as some people just take everything in or are too shy to ask questions. Our class on the other hand, were firing questions at both chefs like a machine gun, so we over ran on a couple fo courses. This did mean that we got to learn a lot more than if we kept shtum though, so not all bad.

If you are looking to book a cookery course for either yourself, or a food loving family member, I’d highly recommend booking a class at the Jean Christophe Novelli Academy at the Corran Resort. If you want to buy for a partner but not too keen on cooking yourself, you’ve got a lovely little spa you can take advantage of whilst they are cooking up a sweat in the kitchen.

The rooms, well ours at least were amazing, a delicious breakfast and the evening meal was superb too. So get booking and make the most of this hidden gem.

 

Details

The Corran Resort & Spa
Marsh Rd
Laugharne
Carmarthen
SA33 4RS

Tel: 01994 427417
Web: thecorran.com

The Corran Resort and Spa Review – Laugharne, Carmarthenshire

We recently traveled to the home of Dylan Thomas in Laugharne, Carmarthenshire for the launch of the new Jean-Christophe Novelli Food Academy at The Corran Resort and Spa. I’d only ever been to Laugharne once and it was a brief stop to see Dylan’s boat house on the way back from camping down Tenby a couple of years ago so I wasn’t sure what else was around.

The Corran is located on the grounds of a 300 year+ farm house a short drive from the town centre of Laugharne. We thought we’d taken a wrong turn with my less than impressive google map reading skills taking us to what I thought was in the middle of nowhere, but we finally saw the resort coming into view from a narrow single track farm road.

The Spa and Novelli Academy building are built in a more modern outbuilding next to the car park  less than 100 yards form the reception within the original farm building. I didn’t know what to expect from the hotel as I’d heard mixed reviews online. Whilst carrying our bags for the weekend to reception we were blown away by the idyllic setting of cottages and converted farm buildings creating a perimeter around a grassy courtyard, drenched in sunlight that was hidden away from view when you first arrive at the car park.

Our Cottage Room

The Cottage at The Corran Resort - Laugharne

After checking in, we had a quick tour around the main building and were shown to our luxury cottage less than 10 metres from the reception building. Again, I really wasn’t expecting such charming, rustic lodgings set over two floors with a log burning heater taking centre stage on the ground living area, huge TV with original wooden beams making a big impact when you first walk in. To the left a massive bathroom with open top bath, exposed brick walls with a shower nestled in the middle of the room, attached to a rugged, old wooden pillar. The room was lush and I couldn’t wait to test out both washing devices. I’ve had actual hotel rooms smaller than the bathroom.

A doorway on a raised platform took us out to a decked area outside with tables and chairs that gave a sheltered escape to sip a vino away from the main hotel or enjoy a bbq if you fancied making the most of the summer sun. Back inside a set of stairs led to a mezzanine floor hiding a massive bed, some seats and area to get ready.

Terrace seating outside cottage at The Corran Resort

The room offered a fridge to keep drinks cold, with a couple of bottles of complimentary water, although I’m not a fan of sparkling. Tea and coffee supplies were also available. A box next to the log burner was filled with some logs, ready to light in the evening with a large lighter.

The Spa

We had a couple of hours to kill before we had to meet up with our fellow cookery students and Jean-Christophe of course, so we dumped the bags, threw some swimming attire on and made use of the complimentary robes in the room. We then trotted on over to the spa about 20 metres from our door and across the grassy courtyard.

Swimming pool and spa at The Corran resort and Spa Laugharne

The woman on reception was lovely and couldn’t be more welcoming. She gave us a tour of the facilities in the spa, which included indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, chill out room and sauna. Unfortunately the steam room was out of order but by the time we did a lap on the other rooms we were pushed for time anyway. We happened to be the only people in the spa at the time so we had the whole place to ourselves, which was great.

They offer a full spa service if you’re there for the weekend and fancy making yourself look extra fabulous with an extensive list of massages and treatments. I forgot to bring any gym gear but was keen to have a nosey in and to be fair I was really impressed with the kit especially for a hotel gym. You usually just get a running machine, 5kg dumbbells and a half deflated exercise ball.

They had the usual runners, rowing machine and cross trainers but they also had an ample amount of kettlebells going up to 20kg. They had selection of dumbbells up to 25kg, which i’d probably struggle on these days and a cable pulley multi gym for all your upper body needs.

The Restaurant

The restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and evening meal was lovely. It’s also used as the function room for weddings and events and you can see why in the pictures.

I just don’t get why people pay to get married in a big white tent in a hotel, it could be anywhere and always look the same. They don’t need to do anything to the room here, it’s ready to roll as it is. Long glass chandeliers, vintage white chairs and long glass doors looking out into the adjacent grass courtyard that can open up during the summer for a perfect game of halves with inside and outside space to cater for everyone.

Breakfast Day 1

As we were staying for two nights I thought i’d go off piste with breakfast the first morning in the knowledge I’d get my full Welsh breakfast the following morning.

On top of the selection of cereals, pastries, fruit, cured meats, jams and honey there are a few other options you can have in addition if you want something a bit healthier than a fry up.

Both favouring a pescatarian breakfast, I opted for a smoked haddock and poached eggs, Llio opting for the smoked salmon and eggs.

There wasn’t a radioactive yellow fillet in site. What I did get was a generous, delicately smoked, white, flakey portion of hadock teamed with the most perfect poached eggs on top of a toasted muffin.

I had a very busy day planned ahead with the cookery academy so this filled me up with the fruit and pastries without the potential to leave bloated and flagging later on like a fry-up sometimes does.

I’m not a fan of salmon in any form but Llio enjoyed her smoked salmon and creamy scrambled eggs.

Day 2

After slightly more alcohol being consumed the night before compared to the first night and the thought of long drive down to St Fagans straight after breakfast to do a talk about gin for Cardiff Gin Club, there was only one thing on the menu today.

I loved the smoked haddock the previous morning but it was only right that I covered the other options on the menu for research purposes and put my order in for the full Welsh fried breakfast.

Full welsh breakfast at The Corran Laugharne

The oversized plate does make it look like a child’s portion but I can confirm it was ample in size in real life. Thick cut bacon, local sausages, tender wheel of black pudding, runny egg and actual beans. Beangate seems to be a common occurrence lately, with more and more places starving me of my daily ration of baked, tomatoey plant based protein, much to my dissatisfaction.

The breakfast was cooked to perfection with no chisel needed for any item on my plate, which i’ve resorted to carrying on my person when attending breakfast serving establishments in Cardiff of late.

Evening Meal

With all of us leaving the Jean-Christophe Novelli Academy clutching all of our fingers and thumbs in tact, it was cause for celebration with a bit of French dinning and vino to finish off an epic weekend stay at the Corran Resort.

A menu can’t be truly French in my eyes with out Fois Gras on the menu for starters and much to my delight they delivered.

fois gras starter at The Corran Resort Laugharne

Foolishly devouring the bread for the table as soon as it came out, I could of used an extra square to finish off my slab of rich, buttery goose liver. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man (or woman) in possession of a good fois gras, must be in want of an extra slice. Wherever you are in the world, the ratio of bread to spreadable liver concoctions is never quite right, so I won’t hold it against them as the dish was all that I craved and more (apart from an extra triangle of carbs).

For main, I went for the sirloin of beef cooked medium / rare, with carrot puree, potatoes and a rich jus. The beef was perfectly pink and meltingly soft. A sweet carrot puree, with the jus adding a thick lick of emulsion to each chunk of beef I used to mop up with.

Llio opted for pork with with wilted greens and little pearls of apple caviar. Both dishes were delish, but I was glad I had the beef as that just pipped the two.

Plenty more of the free flowing vino tinto was consumed in between courses, which then led to my dessert of molten chocolate cored pudding, nuggets of honeycomb, a swirl of caramel and a healthy slab of ice cream. This was a dreamy dessert, with lots of textures going on. Intense, rich chocolate, sweet caramel, a light bitter crunch from the honeycomb with a creamy ice cream thrown in, just because. Lush!

Llio struggled on her dessert, just from being full and not through lack of trying. I played the good boyfriend and helped her polish her creme brûlée with a healthy slice of brioche to slather the the crunch nuggets of sugar and blistered cream on for a decadent finisher. This was a close one to choose between and I think I’ll score them an even Steven.

The Verdict

I loved every minute of the weekend stay, from relaxing in the spa, falling from gazing at the inferno I created with my own hands in the log burner, letting it all hang out whilst showing centre stage in the huuuge bathroom. We then had the intensive schooling from chef supremo Jean-Christophe Novelli at the Academy, learning some very useful cooking and prepping skills in the kitchen.

I couldn’t fault any of the food we ate over the two days from healthy breakfasts of fish and fruit on the first day and finishing on a full Welsh fried breakfast on the last morning.

It was great to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine and good food with the fellow academy students and sitting with Jean-Christophe. Chef  was in full entertaining mode, giving us some stories from growing up in rural France and how he got to where he is now, warts and all.

I was gutted we had to rush off early on the Sunday to do a gin masterclass and talk at the St Fagans Food festival because I would of made the most of the Spa again and tried to fit some pampering in from the masseuse.

We got chatting to the owner too, who gave us a run down of the events of Christmas. We’ve got our minds set on the New Years Eve extravaganza if we aren’t up North, which sounds like the perfect way to see in the New Year.

We were invited to attend the launch of the new food academy. The accommodation and food was complimentary but I really couldn’t fault our weekend stay and would go back in a flash. There’s not much around the resort but that’s the point, it’s all dedicated to escaping the norm and unwinding in the countryside with everything you need on your doorstep.

Details

The Corran Resort & Spa
Marsh Rd
Laugharne
Carmarthen
SA33 4RS

Tel: 01994 427417
Web: thecorran.com