This was taken 3 years ago - I am now significantly chubbier and John is significantly beardier.

So my new thing is listening to podcasts. I listen to them when I'm on my way to and from work and I hear some really interesting things, which I then force my pastry chef to listen to ALL DAY as we make brownies, ice-cream, plate desserts, etc. The other day, whilst listening to Freakonomics, I learned about living organ donors and put the question to my colleagues: would you donate your organs to a total stranger?

They mostly said no and their reasons were, "what if I need it later?" Or, "maybe for a family member...?" And that's totally fair enough, they're your organs, you can do what you want with them. I don't have an answer to this question because I cannot donate organs, tissue or give blood and if you ask me, all of the noble feelings that I have towards humanity make me want to say yes, without hesitation. But that's a hypothetical answer because I still can't do it.

I have this lovely friend called John. We haven't been great at seeing each other over the past couple of years - life has been busy for both of us, but we still try to keep up to date with each other through social media. John is a fabulously talented writer - we met when we both wrote for the same online magazine, we worked on a couple of pieces together, we ate some great food and drank some great drinks, he made me dinner at his home once which was one of the most enjoyable evenings of my adult life, I returned the favour a couple of times, and he and a few of his friends came to my 25th birthday in Central London. It's been about 3 years since we last spent time together, John is now 25, and he found out last Wednesday that he has cancer.

Today I went to visit him in the hospital, was horribly, horribly late (because apparently outside of work I cannot keep time for toffee) and we chatted. We chatted about life over the past couple of years, he told me all about his lovely girlfriend Ella, he told me about the ups-and-downs of work, I told him a little about the ups-and-downs of my work, and, mostly, we talked about cancer. We talked about life, we talked about death, I gave Ella a big hug when she left for a bit, and I thought about how if I were in her position I wouldn't have been able to sit there and listen to this conversation for the thousandth time, either. We talked about friends, we talked about family, and we discussed the good stuff and the bad stuff. I was there for a little over an hour, John was tired at the end of it and he still had plenty more visitors to come, so I left him with lemon tarts and his book, called TS on my way home and got on the bus.

John's cancer is so rare that he tells me he's something like only the 120th person in the world to have it. Because it's so rare, there's very little the doctors can tell him about his prognosis, but they tell him that he has responded very well to the steroids and when he starts chemo on Monday they feel very positive about this, too. John tells me he feels pretty good, all things considered - he's been feeling pretty crappy the past few months, so now, on steroids and antibiotics, he's not that bad. His mom visits every other day, Ella stays with him, reading Terry Pratchett, talking, reading Twitter, listening to other friends talking with John, being together. John takes selfies, Tweets about hospital food, the people around him, and his on-going treatment. Even whilst stuck in a hospital, fighting something that at age 25 he really shouldn't have to, my friend is unfailingly funny, sweet, caring and honest. He half-jokingly quipped that if nothing else at least he'll be a great addition to the research pool for his type of cancer, a cancer that only affects young men under 30. He told me before I left that it would be the greatest thing he would have accomplished with his life: I disagreed.

Anthony Nolan are a UK based charity who help people with blood cancer. They match living donors with those in need of transplants and, since being established in 1974, they have helped with 13,000 stem cell transplants. This is real life superhuman stuff - something which your body creates naturally and replaces naturally, can help save somebody else's life. It's a no-brainer, right? People like you can join the Anthony Nolan registry and, if you're a match, you can help people like my lovely friend John. This great animation from Anthony Nolan shows you exactly what the process involves:

And for the girls, if you're pregnant you can actually donate your umbilical cord blood after you've given birth, which normally gets thrown away anyway. Here's another helpful animation which explains what's going on:

I've talked before about cancer - my friend whom I wrote the post about a few years ago is now cancer free and getting married this October, which is incredible and beautiful, best of all I get to be a bridesmaid at her wedding in the US, and it'll be the first time we've seen each other in person since she left the country to start chemo back home. I might cry a bit (I probably will). I'm writing about it again because it wasn't until two weeks ago that I was even aware you could be a living stem cell donor. But you can. And it's easy. And I really, really do wish that it was something I could do, even for a complete stranger. But you can.

So now I'm asking you: would you donate your organs/stem cells to a total stranger?

Until next time, peace and love,

Jax x

PS: If you're in the US, please check out The National Marrow Donor Program.

EDIT: Since writing this, John has now set up a JustGiving page for Anthony Nolan. His initial target of £1,000 was smashed in 45 mins, his second target of £5,000 in less than a day. He is now past £6000, aiming for £10,000 to aid Anthony Nolan in its work. Check it out, read about it in John's own words and if you've got a few spare quid knocking about, please do donate to Anthony Nolan for John.

Keep Pushing: New Job (Again!), Desserts & a Cremeux Recipe


Yoghurt & honey mousse with strawberry jelly insert, strawberry gel & fresh Kent strawberries, coffee granola, cereal milk ice-cream and lemon balm.

If there was one word I could use to describe this crazy industry I find myself in it’s this: fluid.

When I started working as a professional pastry chef about 18 months ago (give or take), I never would’ve guessed that I’d have learned so much in such a short amount of time, met so many great people, or been given the opportunities to develop that I have; I also wouldn’t have guessed that I’d already be onto job no. 3.

I have incredibly mixed feelings about this. I come from an accomplished family who work in industries that value commitment and loyalty, values that were instilled in me from a young age. So moving around jobs so much as an adult leaves me feeling a bit torn – on the one hand, I feel disappointed in myself for not sticking it out or “going the distance”; on the other I know that the decisions I make are based on sound, logical (and sometimes medical) reasoning, and they’ve led me to the position I’m now in, which makes me incredibly happy.

Blueberry curd slice on maple pecan biscuit base, chai white chocolate cremeux, blueberry compote and sugar tuile; “The Malteser” – malt biscuit brushed with milk, dark choc & white choc cremeux, milk choc sorbet, malt meringue, malt streusel.

Everybody told me (and still continues to) that this life that I’ve chosen is a hard one, that I will sacrifice so much to it and that’s why I really have to love it; the talk I gave last year repeated this sage advice. The normal rules of “life” do not apply in the professional kitchen: when you burn yourself you pick your cookies up, run it under cold water and slap some cream on it, then you continue; when you cut yourself you wrap it up and keep going, unless you’re bleeding over everything, in which case you might go to the hospital, but probably you’re just going to do something weird like using meat glue to stick yourself back together (side note: meat glue is the most disgusting thing I have ever heard of); racism, sexism, abuse and harassment are just kitchen banter and if you want to complain about it you’re going to be labelled as “that-person-who-bitched-about-everything”. In other words, any normal “work-place propriety” does not apply here and that’s something I’ve had to get used to very quickly.

I remember the first time I saw something I deemed “inappropriate” in a kitchen: a senior chef was bollocking a junior for something they had messed up, which he then followed up by grabbing him by his chef whites and practically shoving his head into the pot of food. I froze, felt my stomach rise into my throat and I remember thinking, “this is really happening, this isn’t on TV, this is happening right now“. It was terrifying but the thing that shocked me the most was how the rest of the staff did nothing. If anything, they sped up, terrified that they would be next (and now, having been on the other side, I know exactly why they did/said nothing). I was called over to a station and truffles were thrust into my hands with the instruction to hurry and put these away as fast as I could – I practically ran, my cheeks red, still hearing the shouting coming from behind me.
“Why am I doing this?!” My head screamed at me, “why am I here?!”

And yet I’m still here, still working, and I’ve finally grown that thick skin everybody told me about. But I was sick of the 16+ hour days, of coming home to find my partner asleep and leaving before he woke up, of not even having enough time to look after my health properly, of being so exhausted and stressed out that I was getting sick every two weeks. So after a year in a busy hotel and a few months in a busy restaurant, I needed to take a step-back, re-evaluate and find a job that would allow me to develop my own work and progress, as well as look after myself and my partner a little better.

Amazingly, I found that and I am now so happy in my work life it’s unbelievable.


I’m Still Feeding: New Digs & A Few Developments


My first team, my best girls!

Just when you thought I’d disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again, I figured I’d stir things up a bit and write a blog post. I know, it’s almost like I’ve been doing this for nearly five years, or something!

So what’s going on with me? Well, I’m still pastry chef-ing, though I have recently moved on from a wonderful year filled with learning and excellent people at Claridge’s. I briefly worked with a small business but it wasn’t a great fit so I moved on (it seems strange to have so much turnover in this industry and yet it happens all the time! TS was just remarking the other day how the hospitality industry appears to be the only one where people regularly lose their minds and just walk out in the middle of their shift; I didn’t do this, by the way), and I now work as a slightly higher position in a restaurant/hotel which I officially cannot talk about. It’s a bit like Fight Club – the first rule of your new job is: do not talk about where you are currently a pastry chef. The second rule of your new job is: DO NOT TALK ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE CURRENTLY A PASTRY CHEF. Suffice to say that I am very happy, learning a lot, loving my team and I get to play with liquid nitrogen. Oh, also, my new executive head chef is somebody I’ve admired for a long time so the fact that I get to work with him now is just a dream come true! The chef fan girl in me quietly freaks out every time he talks to me, which I would never admit in person because I’m pretty sure he’d get very embarrassed and then, uh, never talk to me again.


All Day, All Night: Settling Into My New Routine & An Announcement!


Life has been a whirlwind lately, hence why I’ve not managed to post for the past few months. Early starts, late finishes and an awful lot of heavy lifting fill my days but you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way because I have so much fun doing it all.

Sure, there have been days when I’ve been so stressed out of my head that I’ve had to leave the kitchen to sob for 5 minutes, there have been days when I’ve questioned why I’m doing this, am I too old, too green, not tough enough, but at the end of the questions I come back to the same conclusion: I chose this because I love it, because the work I do is rewarding and because I’m so proud to be a part of it.


Welcome to 2014: Strawberry Tuxedos


Life, recently, has been somewhat of a blur. My days consist of getting up early, commuting to work (a first for me!), spending all day in a kitchen, commuting back home and, mostly, passing out on the sofa before being nudged awake by TS and reluctantly trudging up to bed for a few hours until I have to do it all over again.

I don’t make it sound very exciting, do I? But it is, oh goodness, it is so great. I love the fact that I get to spend my days making food for others, that I learn something new every day, that I get to be creative and work with people I genuinely like – I just love every single moment. Possibly my enthusiasm for even the most mundane tasks will wane over time but I sincerely hope not because, honestly, I’m living the dream. Yes, it’s a fairly exhausting, muscle aching, finger slicing dream, but it’s my dream and that’s the important thing.

Take these strawberry chocolate tuxedos, for example – I learned to make these sometime in my second week at work and I instantly fell in love, despite the fact that most of the others who have to make them find them a chore. I even have a deal going with one of the guys in the kitchen that every time I make them for a guest I have to make him one extra – I know he’s just waiting to see my enthusiasm wear thin but I don’t think it ever will… I mean: it’s a strawberry. Wearing a tuxedo. Made of chocolate. A strawberry wearing a tuxedo! I don’t need to say much more. And it’s so easy because you don’t need to temper the chocolate – all you need is a microwave, some chocolate, some strawberries and parchment paper. That’s it. Easy or what?

So the next time you need a special little something to end your evening on, something just a little more fantastic than chocolate dipped strawberries, whip out the chocolate, get yourself some strawberries and suit ‘em up. You’re welcome.


Hello Employment: Laminated Pastry


If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you may have noticed I’ve been doing a lot of baking recently. Specifically, croissants. Why? You may have asked, Why are you making so many croissants? Where are they all going? Are you just eating them all and getting really, really fat? How do you have time to keep making so many croissants?!

I’m a big believer in practice makes perfect and patience. I spent a week at the end of October working at Le Manoir in their pastry section. It was great experience and I learned loads but as I hadn’t worked for about a month and a half and this Stage came right at the tail-end of my radio-iodine treatment, I was a mess. My body felt slow and old and my brain was struggling to remember how to get my body to do what I wanted it to. At the end of my first day I drove back to the B&B I was staying in and collapsed onto my bed, still fully dressed, trying to remember why I was putting myself through this. On the second day I found myself sitting in my car during my break, on the phone to my boyfriend and crying with frustration, having spent around 2 hours that morning failing to segment grapefruit properly.

Such a small thing, right? But I wasted 9 grapefruit before anybody stopped me and it was the most awful feeling, a sense of sinking despair, right in the pit of my stomach. The excellent Chef Benoit Blin, the Head Pastry Chef, ended up giving me his knife and spending 10 minutes teaching me how to actually cut away the rind and segment properly, but even then I couldn’t do it. So when I finally went on my break, I ended up sobbing with frustration in my car – why couldn’t my brain kick into gear? Why was my body not doing what I wanted it to do? Time and time again I’ve been told that I need to give myself a break – I had just come off a month of convalescing at home by myself – and thankfully, from that point onwards I started to find my feet again as my body got back into the swing of things, remembered how to function and how it felt to work long hours and stand for most of the day – all I needed was a bit of time. It was another lesson in patience that needed to be learnt.

Needless to say, I wasn’t given the grapefruit again to segment whilst at Le Manoir, but when I came back home to London I went out, bought 20 grapefruit and spent around an hour practising until I could produce a perfect globe for segmenting. The first one looked like I had “cut it with a spoon”, according to one of my friends, but the last few? They were bloody beautiful.

So recently I found myself in limbo, waiting to hear back about jobs, jumping through HR hoops and killing time in-between interviews. I had mastered grapefruit… it was time to move on to shaping croissants. And so every day for the past couple of weeks I made a batch of croissant dough and left it to prove overnight, then, the following day, laminated it (lamination is the process of incorporating butter into dough, then rolling and folding to make layered pastries), rested, shaped, baked and put the results into a pastry box which I left outside our front door. It was a great experiment – I got to practice making pastries, the neighbours got to eat them and we even started to meet them as they popped over for a chat, or slipped a little thank you note through the door. Practice really does make perfect and a solid couple of weeks doing the same thing, over and over, just yielded better and better results.

And as for patience? Well, that’s paid off too because after waiting and holding out for a month, as of next Monday I’ll be starting my dream job, as a pastry chef at Claridge’s.


A Month of Financiers: Autumnal Matcha Financiers


HELLO WORLD! So I’m briefly back to blog this recipe because I sort of disappeared off the radar for a bit, just to get a few things in my life sorted. I’m not quite ready to share with you the direction that my life is heading at the moment but there are good things afoot! So at the moment I’m just hanging out, waiting, baking a lot of croissants and pastries (and leaving them out for my new neighbours, which has been going down very well! Hurrah for Random Acts of Pastry Kindness! More on that another time!) and catching up with friends.

This particular recipe came about because the lovely chaps over at Lalani & Co. very kindly sent me some matcha green tea to play with (no reason, just because they’re lovely and they thought I might like some! On a side note they recently launched their online shop – previously you could only get their teas through the restaurants and hotels they supply – and they genuinely have amazing teas, all from artisan family run tea gardens whom they personally work with. If you like tea go check them out because I can’t rave about these guys enough). I actually developed the recipe over a month and fed financiers to every single person who came to visit me (TS had to eat quite a few for me and he doesn’t even like matcha!), tweaking it every time, adjusting the fruit (at one point I was using white chocolate but it was just too sweet), adjusting the sugar, adjusting the matcha and now… now it’s perfect. Financiers are actually named so because their traditional shape makes them look like gold bars but obviously these ones are green because of the matcha and, due to the shape of my mould, oval. So less gold bar, more… green… oval?

Regardless, this recipe is delicious and I’ve got about 10 or so people who would fight you if you said otherwise! So this is for everybody who came over, tried them and then begged for the recipe, and enormous thanks to all of my taste testers! Without you I’d be much fatter than I already am.


Watch This Space: Honey Beurre Noisette Madeleines


At the Street Kitchen BurgerDog launch with co-founders Mark Jankel & Jun Tanaka.

After a whirlwind of activity I’m finally in a quieter phase. The weather has turned whilst we’re still only in August (big surprise, welcome to the UK) and with the grey skies come a slightly grey mood. It’s inevitable, really, the end of summer always lies heavy on my heart, but the quiet period I’m in at the moment definitely doesn’t help. I’m itching to get back into a kitchen, to keep learning, but for now I just have to wait.

Why the wait, you ask? Well, after two years of repeated visits to the hospital, I’m finally having a scan to prepare me for radio-iodine treatment. About bloody time, right? The upside is: no more fannying about with monthly visits to the hospital for blood tests or constant medication yo-yo-ing; the downside: I need to take about a month off because I’m going to be radioactive and am not allowed to work in close contact with, er, anything. I actually sent that sentence to a potential employer in an email recently, which is, to me, a big giant win.

So whilst I take a break from my mad dash around the UK Michelin restaurant scene (which I’m missing terribly at the moment), I guess I’ll just take some time to do some reading and baking, househunt (yes, again), practice rocher-ing and julienne/dice everything in sight. What else can I do?


Working 9-5: Wild Rice Salad


Team Feeder!

Since graduating a month ago (!) I’ve not stopped. Moving from stage to trial to private job, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind and, though I’m exhausted, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not the kind of person who can do nothing for long periods of time, instead choosing to fill my diary as full as I can, as many dinner dates, coffee dates, lunch dates, private jobs, stages as is physically possible. Of course the downside to this is that when I get sick I get really sick, a classic case of burning the candle at both ends, and recently this is exactly what’s happened to me.


Life After Leiths


What do you do when the 9 months of familiarity – of standing at the same steel worktops, cursing at the same gas ovens, washing up the same equipment in plastic basins, checking the same wooden drawers under your benches (knife, fork, spoon, 4 teaspoons, fish slice, slotted spoon, metal spoon, whisk, rolling pin, 2 wooden spoons: DONE), sitting in the same chair in the demonstration room (“oi, that’s my chair, get out”; “I can’t believe she’s sitting in my chair again, what’s she playing at?!”), eating lunch out of plastic bags with plastic cutlery which is guaranteed to snap in the dining room, drinking at the same pub every Friday, wearing the same whites (“do you think I can get away with wearing this apron again?”), finding an endless supply of tea towels strewn around the changing room, laughing with peers and teachers, crying over spilt milk, hospital visits for the more extreme cuts, burns and war wounds, of everything – is just gone? Done? Finished forever? What do you do?


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