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If you like the Trossachs, cooking and good food, Nick Nairn’s redeveloped cookery school is for you. There’s the added bonus that it has been carefully designed to avoid the pitfalls of ‘rural twee’ or ‘celebrity cook glam’.

17 Jan 2005

by Penny Lewis

The Nick Nairn Cook School is located near Port of Menteith, a small lochside village just south of Aberfoyle. It is run for people that love food and appreciate good quality ingredients. At present lessons last a day and students get a chance to eat as well as cook. In the future Nairn will run the weeklong master classes and the new building has been designed to cater for corporate and team-building events.

The Nairn family owns land on the edge of the Lake of Menteith and over the years has developed it creating timber holiday chalets and the original cook school in an old piggery. In the past they have got local contractors to do the work and designed and managed the projects themselves. This time the scale of the project and the regulations were a bit more daunting, so they asked architect Lisa le Grove, a family friend, to extend the existing school. Le Grove studied architecture at the Mac and took an MA in Scenography at St Martin’s. She is currently working for Glasgow City Council and ran the cook school job in her spare time.

The design extends the existing cook school building to create a new demonstration kitchen, a modest dining room and a reception area-cum-shop as well as adding office accommodation within the roof space.

The new extension sits alongside the original and is similar in form, a simple single storey block with a steep pitched roof. However, Le Grove set out the plan of the new block at right angles to a glasshouse at the back of the site rather than parallel to the old block. The result is a link element between the two blocks that is splayed on plan and acts as a means of funnelling people into the building. The link contains the reception and the shop and ramps up to provide access to the kitchen and dining room. The result is that externally the building looks box-like and conventional and internally the space is free-flowing and has a bit of a sparkle. “We did not want it to be twee or glam, but somewhere in between,” says Nairn. There are touches of glamour, eg. Alessi’s blob-like Il Bagno fittings in the toilets, but they add to the experience rather than detract from the rural setting.

The building is clad in larch, Nairn and Le Grove considered leaving the larch to turn silver over time, but in the end decided to stain it. The stain gives the building a certain, distinctive yellow glow particularly when seen through the silvery winter trees. It marks the school out as a centre of activity rather than trying to disguise it as just another outbuilding.

Around the edges of the demonstration kitchen are the student workstations and at the far end of the room is a central island workstation for the chef’s demonstrations. Nairn and Le Grove spent a great deal of energy perfecting the design of the mirror that hangs over the chef’s workstation. It is titled at a 45-degree angle to allow students to look into the chef’s pans and see precisely what is happening without being too distracted from their own preparations.

A 350kg mirror spans most of the workstation, and a ventilation system, produced by Iona Ventilation, runs across the front of the mirror to prevent it from steaming up. The mirror and spot lighting gives the space a decidedly theatrical feel. The chef’s kitchen, a elegant Poggenpohl kitchen with a fantastic deep red shiny finish, forms an elegant and functional backdrop to the proceedings. The demonstration stations, supplied by CP Hart, are finished in a warm vanilla, which looks clean and workman-like without being clinical.

Nairn specified stainless steel worksurfaces for the entire kitchen.
Forbo’s new Colourful Greys marmoleum has been used throughout the school. In the entrance area, the dining room and the new toilets le Grove has used the new material on the walls as well as the floors. The range has a warm leather-like quality and works well as a wall and counter finish. In the dining room it is used to roll out the pizzas for the wood-burning oven. The dinning room, which seats 46, faces out onto a long wooden terrace and the school’s garden, a kitchen garden that Nairn’s wife is developing. At one end of the room there is a large oven and at the opposite end there is a dark brown upholstered wall by Bute Fabrics. In winter what really transforms this space from being classic and bright into something special is the collection of light fittings, a collection of Ellipse light fittings by One Foot Taller.

Photography by Paul Tyagi

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