Good teachers are special. Which is why we always remember them – they have the capacity to touch our lives. The best teachers engage with people, transmitting their own personal enthusiasm for a subject in an infectious way. Known simply as ‘Ros’, Rosalind Rathouse – warm-hearted, genuinely interested in people, always courteous and with deeply-held core values and high standards - is one of these teachers.
Teaching has been part of Ros’s life for 50 years. Born and brought up in South Africa, she came to London as a young woman when her husband won a scholarship to come study architecture at the Architects Association and has stayed here ever since, working for many years as a study tutor. Listening to her talk with deep affection of the children she taught, her pleasure at having helped them progress shines through. One of the boys she was teaching to read– a troubled adolescent who was being sent off to a borstal – asked her to show him how to cook, which she did. “We used to buy cheap ingredients and I showed him some easy dishes. A few years later on a Sunday night I got a phone call and it was the same boy –‘Hello miss, do you remember me?’ He said ‘I just wanted to say thank you for teaching me to cook. When I got to the institution, cookery was an option and I did it and now I want to be a chef, so thank you.’”
Ten years ago, in 2003, Ros, inspired by her love of food as well as of teaching, fulfilled a long-held personal ambition to set up her own cookery school – Cookery School, tucked away on Little Portland Street, just off Oxford Circus. “When we started there were just a few cookery schools in London, now there are more than 40,” she laughs. “I knew it would lovely to enthuse people and get them cooking. First we did demonstrations but I realised quickly that wasn’t enough – people have to do things for themselves in order to learn. What we offer here is home cooking – I feel really strongly about it. I also feel strongly that all this media circus about food means that people think if they can’t chop like a chef, they can’t cook. That’s rubbish! My mother couldn’t chop like a chef but she was a wonderful cook. I think it’s important to show people how easy cooking is. We believe that what we do is offer learning that lasts – we get people to do it and that way they really learn.”
A recent addition to the courses on offer at Cookery School was the new Cook’s Certificate course, a six weeks full-time course. “It’s aimed at people who want to get a cookery a qualification quickly – so very focussed. From the time they get in in the morning to the end of the day when they leave they are not sitting around doing theory – they don’t do any washing up here because that’s a waste of teaching time. Every few days we do an assessment where they get three hours to turn out a three-course meal and see how far they’d gone and the skills they’d learnt.” Intrigued by this characteristically practical approach to spreading cookery knowledge in a meaningful way, I met the first batch of students to do the Cook’s Certificate as they started the course. All of them, as one might expect, were keen to learn more about cooking and to build up their confidence, some with a view to setting up their own businesses, while others simply wanted to be better domestic cooks. I returned after the six weeks were up to ask how the Cook’s Certificate course had gone. The students were sitting around the table, palpably relishing the chance to rest after a busy six weeks. “The weeks have gone by very fast – we’ve learnt a lot,” said Suzanne, one of the students. “I think I can say that for the whole table, there was a lot of deepening of what we already know and a tremendous amount of new things. Highlights for me were baking- it’s taken away the anxiousness of dealing with baked things – and skills like boning meat . . . I feel more confident.” The others agreed. “They’re so good here at making sure you learn the right techniques,” comments Rebecca another student, “and if you don’t they go over and over until you do.” Ros is delighted with how the course went. “By the end of it their kitchen etiquette was brilliant, they understood about hygiene, about using good ingredients and the most important thing for me is how they were tasting everything.”
For the last eight years, Ros’s teaching and communication skills have also been put to the test in an imaginative way with Cookery School’s participation in Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s African Leadership Institute, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to nurture good leadership in young Africans. “We do cookery-based exercises with them to alert them to the issues they’ll face, such as corruption. They are these paragons of virtue and we corrupt them!” explains Ros with relish.
Not one to sit back and rest, Ros is looking beyond Cookery School at the state of the nation and is concerned by what she sees. “I feel very strongly,” she says emphatically, “that we’ve lost cooking skills as a country and that saddens me. There have never been so many cookbooks but people aren’t cooking. It’s so important for kids to cook – they need it for survival. They should be taught about nutrition, so that we can cut down on obesity and also they need to learn to eat well with regard to the environment. I would love to see every child being taught how to cook while at school. We worked with a beacon school on a programme preparing the kids for university. They all had to cook a dish which represented their families. It was so successful we’re doing it again this year. They Loved, with a capital L, the cooking. We had a group of enthused 17-year-olds. Given the opportunity, kids want to cook.”