Bruno and Catherine Loubet have been busy.
Since Broadsheet first visited their Willow Vale property in May last year, lots has changed. The garden beds are stuffed with fresh produce, and there are now pigs, sheep and ponies roaming its eight-and-a-half hectares of lush Gold Coast farmland. Most importantly, the Loubets’ garage has been converted into a beautiful light-filled kitchen. Finally, Willow Vale Cooking School is open.
It’s been far from smooth sailing. The plan to open the cooking school this time last year was pushed back due to delays with council approval, longer than expected building work and chef Bruno badly cutting his hand, putting him out of action for three months.
“It’s [taken] a bit longer than we thought,” says Bruno, who is known locally for his iconic Bruno’s Tables restaurant in Toowong (now 85 Miskin St), and in London for Four Seasons, Inn on the Park – where his cooking earned the hotel a Michelin star – and more recently Grain Store, which closed in 2017. “Maybe we were a bit too ambitious at the time, but we thought, ‘We’re not going to rush. We prefer to lose [some time] and do it properly’.”
The Loubets’ intention with Willow Vale Cooking School is to break the rigidness of cooking classes. Each session begins with a tour of the property, meeting the animals and picking produce from the garden. Once you’re back in the kitchen, a whiteboard outlines the plan for the day. The class is part private demonstration, part workshop. The maximum number of attendees is six, which gives you the opportunity to ask Bruno questions and get involved with the class. But if you just want to stand back and watch the cooking, that’s fine too.
At the end, you sit down with your fellow classmates for a three-course meal. You leave with a goodie bag of recipes from the day, a Willow Vale Cooking School apron, honey from the property and seedlings to plant at home.
Upcoming classes include Mastering the Flame, which will centre around a woodfired oven Bruno has built outside the school. There’s also one called My Mother’s Special Recipes – students will learn how to cook prawn bisque, wood-roasted duck and pear tart.
“I will decorate the table with items from my childhood – my mother’s matchboxes, the soup bowl my grandma used to use and old plates we used for dessert every Sunday,” the French-born Bruno says. “I want them to feel like they’re in someone’s home in France.”
It’s all part of the Loubets’ vision to create an experience that’s more than just a cooking class. “Usually in cooking schools, they follow a format,” Bruno says. “There’s no heart or soul. I want it to have lots of soul … to take the cooking class to another level.”
Willow Vale Cooking School opens this week. Check out the classes and dates here.
Elliot Baker was a guest of Willow Vale Cooking School.