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Learn to cook in a French-inspired village on Banks Peninsula

10 April 2018

It’s not unusual for Ant and Lou Bentley to turn up at work in the morning to find basil or some other fresh herb on the doorstep.

The couple behind Akaroa Cooking School feel lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of local seasonal produce – from berries growing wild in hedgerows to fresh fish from Akaroa Harbour.

During their classes, Ant and Lou share recipes, cooking ideas and entertaining secrets with small, intimate groups of up to 16 people.

They want to show people that cooking healthy nutritious meals can be quick, easy – and most importantly, fun.

The couple set up Akaroa Cooking School on the waterfront eight years ago, swapping a home in the city and corporate jobs for a new life.

Lou, a trained chef, says they knew if they built something amazing, people would come. More than 800 classes later, they have – and from all around the world.

The cooking school has been named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 places in the world to learn to cook local cuisine.

“We get all sorts – from people who can’t boil an egg to people who are quite accomplished chefs.”

Lou’s mother has played an instrumental role in the business, moving to Akaroa to help look after the couple’s two children, Chloe and Oscar.

“We used to holiday over here as children and loved it. Mum always used to say, ‘I would love to retire in Akaroa’. When we said we were thinking of opening a cooking school [in Akaroa], she put her house on the market and started looking [for a property] over here,” Lou says.

Classes are themed – from French, Thai, Italian cuisine to tapas and canapés, and generally run from 10am to 4pm.

“When we set [Akaroa Cooking School] up we wanted it to be like people in our home on a Friday night at a dinner party and we’re just chatting to them as we’re cooking,” Lou says.

Ant, who worked as a finance manager before they set up the school, enjoys the change of pace and being able to take their kids sailing on the harbour after work.

“I had to decide whether to quit my nice salary and come over. It was an easy decision. It is those life riches that we appreciate,” he says.

Akaroa

The charming French-inspired village of Akaroa is a picturesque 90-minute drive from Christchurch and the perfect place for relaxing and recharging.

Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront or indulge in some retail therapy while canvassing an abundance of galleries and artisan gift shops.

Take in the natural beauty of the harbour aboard a sail boat, or get up close and personal with its marine life by swimming with the dolphins or visiting New Zealand’s largest onshore blue penguin colony.

Top it all off by checking out the village’s enticing cafés and restaurants, serving fresh local produce and seafood.

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