Nick Nairn knows how to play to a crowd. He has proved it time and again during more than a decade on British television, and he's determined to prove it again today at his eponymous cooking school an hour north of Edinburgh, even though there are just 10 students in the classroom. Nairn quickly takes us through the first dish we'll be learning today, a chocolate pot. (He'd never call it a pot de crème; that's too fancy.) Dark chocolate goes into a blender followed by a warmed mixture of milk and cream. He holds up a brown egg. "The eggs come from the hens that live out there," he says, waving in the direction of his chicken run. Nairn cracks it into the blender with a flourish; all the mixture needs now is a few hours in the fridge to set.
For a decade Nairn was one of Scotland's few Michelin-starred chefs. Then two years ago, he left the restaurant business entirely to dedicate himself to the Nick Nairn Cook School, spending almost $2 million on renovating and expanding the facilities on his family's property on the shores of the Lake of Menteith. It's as if Jean-Georges Vongerichten or Nobu Matsuhisa had decided to drop everything and retire to the countryside to give lessons. Today the school offers a range of options, from daylong classes in single subjects like how to cook fish or prepare tapas to a five-day master class series that covers skills like making stocks and sauces or understanding the chemistry of baking.
The school feels like a retreat, with whitewashed walls and honey-colored timbers in a modern Scandinavian style. The classroom includes 10 state-of-the art cooking stations that can handle 20 students. Across the hall is an elegant dining room with a wood-burning oven overlooking the school's organic herb garden and greenhouse.