Helen Peacocke speaks to the head chef of a WI college named best tutor in the UK

Being a chef is one thing, being a cookery tutor is quite another. Yes, both occupations call for a depth of culinary knowledge, but both approach cooking skills in quite different ways. Although linked by subject matter and edible ingredients, these two tasks belong to separate worlds and call for quite different techniques.

Being a chef calls for highly-tuned practical skills, an ability to work within set time scales and frequently work as a member of a fast-moving team, whereas being a tutor requires an ability to empathise with your pupils and encourage them as they struggle to come to grips with the task required of them.

Peter Lien, a talented Oxfordshire chef, has just beaten dozens of other cookery school professionals from across the UK. He is the head chef at Denman College run by the Women’s Institute that’s situated in Marcham.

His skills have won him the prestigious accolade of Best Tutor at the British Cookery School Awards. The award ceremony, which was hosted by BBC Radio 2’s food and drink presenter Nigel Barden, took place at the Vintner Company, London. Nigel said that in the Best Tutor category he and his fellow judges were looking for someone who could be seen as a sublime all-rounder, an individual who stands out as a top tutor who knows how to engage with students to get first-class results and feedback. He is confident that Peter displays these abilities, saying he manages to bridge those very separate worlds of teaching and cooking.

Peter is currently head of the school as well as tutor, with his unbeatable practical knowledge and five years’ teaching experience placing him at the top of the league. Although he could have worked as a top restaurant chef, the position would have committed him to long hours during evenings and weekends when his main aim is to achieve and maintain a work/life balance giving him time to work and time to play with his five-year-old daughter Honour. Too many chefs lose out when it comes to family life. Peter is determined this won’t happen to him: his family is too important.

Peter moved to his current tutor role two years ago and as well as managing the school and the 100 different courses, he now teaches at least a third of the courses himself. This actually calls for a wide spectrum of knowledge, as the courses include diverse subjects such as World Street Food, Moorish and Moroccan cuisines, Thai food, and edible gifts which is particularly popular at this time of the year.

Indeed he has transformed both the school and the programme of courses, updating them to fit into complexities of cooking today. As a result the school’s income has increased by 68 per cent during the past two years. He goes to great pains to explain that the courses they now run are open to all members of the public and are not confined to Women’s Institute members. As the winner Peter needed to provide evidence of new services, systems and innovations that have been spearheaded recently as well as proving they are the best. The awards are sponsored by Kenwood, Analon and Premier Foods, which is why, as well as the prestige of winning the award, each category winner will receive £1,000 of Kenwood products. Peter has no idea what he’ll select yet, though he is familiar with Kenwood products which he uses in the cookery school.

He believes that the fun in choosing a prize such as this rests in taking time to choose equipment he can use at home when he is cooking for his family.

Apparently there has been a great interest in baking since The Great British Bake Off appeared on our television screens. Jam-making plays an important part in the courses too, though one of the most popular courses is The Street Food of Asia, which sells out immediately. He says “it is word and mouth”, those attending the college are part of an amazing network, which grows organically.

“Today’s budding cooks and chefs all want to embrace the street food of the world. They absolutely love it,” he said.

When Peter first arrived at the cookery school he thought that the task before him might be intimidating. He admits being slightly apprehensive.

But this was not so. He loves the fact that those attending his classes really want to learn and are filled with excitement as the dishes they create turn out to be as tasty as those he produces. He says that the tide is turning and schools like Denman are playing an important role in driving Britain’s passion for creating good home-cooked food.

With more than 400 cookery schools now operating in the UK, the excitement mounts as their students are beginning to discover just what a thrill it is to produce real food for their families. Peter is certainly proud to be part of this growing movement.