It’s been hard for me to write this post. I’ve sat staring at my screen for a couple of days now, the page just waiting for me to start typing. I could say it’s because I’ve been busy – I have, after all. We’re on Easter break now and I’ve filled my time with working like a mad woman, from a charity dinner for 50 I organised and executed with 3 friends for my mother’s homeless shelter, to turning out 200 scones every day for 3 days for the pastry section at Hix Mayfair in Brown’s Hotel. But no, that’s just an excuse. The truth is that I’ve really been taking a break from writing to contemplate my future and to spend a little more time in the present.
Blogging does not come without its traps. On the plus side, it’s an outlet, a way for me to document what I make, photograph (though being full time in school does not make for much time for that any more, sadly, hence all the Instagram photos) and eat, a way to chart my progress through culinary school, and it’s a fantastic way to connect with people and I have met some really fabulous people over the past – nearly 3! – years. It’s also a way for people who know me to catch up with what’s going on in my life, the trials and tribulations, the joy and the successes.
However, on the down side, when you have a public outlet, you also have public scrutiny. I’ve heard the whispers, the not so nice things that are said – sometimes not even behind closed doors – and more than anything it just saddened me to the point where I didn’t want to keep writing, didn’t want to put myself out there for those critics to nitpick at. I never started this blog because I wanted to show off or pretend to be anything more than I am, I started it for the pure joy of writing and cooking, I started it for distraction from my final year of university and amazingly my tiny piece of the web became something more, it made me a part of a community. When I started at Leiths back in October this blog became my way of reminding myself what it was I was doing, of trying to figure out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do – something that became very difficult a few weeks into the middle of the second term – but it was very much about me because, well, that’s what this blog has always been about: me. It may sound very self-involved but I have never pretended that this was anything more than it is.
The point is that when you put yourself out there and you try to be honest and faithful to who you are, it is very likely that you will receive criticism. Fact. The difference, I suppose, is how you choose to deal with it. And so this is how I’m dealing with it: I will not change who I am, what I write or how I write; I will stay true to myself, to my voice and to my style because there will always be critics, there will always be nasty things said and comments made but, as a good friend once told me, “haters gonna hate but haters never hate on losers”. And so, with that said, let’s get on with it because I have some exciting news!
The final weeks of term seemed to fly by. In all honesty I can’t even fully remember what we did – those last two weeks always seem to just creep up on you. The second term was not one I really enjoyed too much, it felt like we weren’t learning as much as the first term, it was just building on skills and trying not to mess up too much (something which didn’t happen for me for most of the term).
For the last couple of weeks there was a lot of buzz about the upcoming exam – we did a practice run-through in class (went fairly well but souffle was a bit underdone & potatoes were a tad scorched, though my teacher liked my attempt at mini pommes anna, which I had handcut and never made before, go team), then there was a week of not very much (lucky that was the week I gave myself mild food poisoning, doh), concluding with a sit-down Thai meal which we cooked together, and then there was just under a week of practising like crazy at home for the actual exam.
Happily, I passed the second term – a massive relief, especially as in the 2 weeks it took for results to arrive in the post I had convinced myself that I had failed entirely – and now we’ll be back into the advanced term from Monday. But that’s not really the exciting stuff I promised you.
If you read regularly you’ll know that I started having an existential crisis a few weeks into the 2nd term. I had gone from being the girl who knew exactly what she wanted to being the girl who just didn’t have a clue and was starting to wonder why I had spent all that money to not be very happy and extremely confused. Did I want to do catering? Did I want to go into a restaurant? Did I want to keep writing? Nothing but a big blank and it’s not like nobody asked me – everybody asked me constantly what direction I wanted to go in once I finished at Leiths, family, friends, strangers I’d met for the first time that day, seriously. I’d fob people off with a, “oh, I’m not too sure, I’ve got some time to figure it out, though…” and then change the subject swiftly, but I could see that look in their eyes, the ‘she has no freaking clue’ look, mingled with a touch of pity. Here I was, mid-20s, good family, good university and I was wasting it all.
Photo courtesy of Reiss.
When Easter break came I threw myself into work experience, desperately trying to find something that made sense, somewhere where I fit in. My 1st days were 2 double shifts at Racine, where I spent a lot of time trying not to get in the way, whilst also getting to do some prep and minimal plating up (on my 1st day I accidentally split the aioli I’d been tasked to make during the busy lunch service, panicking about not having it made fast enough, then spent the next half hour desperately fixing it, all whilst chef was yelling for his aioli: terrifying experience, I wanted to kick myself – I did, however, fix it). I was asked to make my churros the following afternoon for the kitchen team and, amazingly, they may now end up on the menu! So that was a bonus and I learned loads about working efficiently in a small kitchen, plus the importance of prep and how to make friends with the pot washers (who were all just the nicest guys ever).
The following week I headed over to the Street Kitchen, one of the original street food vans in the UK, co-owned by Jun Tanaka & Mark Jankel. Mark & I had become friends when I had covered the Street Kitchen in a feature for one of the magazines I wrote for and then brought him a dessert I’d invented a few days later. I asked quite early on if I could go work with him in the prep kitchen and in the airstream and, of course, he’d agreed without hesitation.
I spent a couple of days helping to prep and serve from the Hatch in Battersea and finish off boxes in the airstream and it was invigorating. In the prep kitchen I really got to get my hands dirty (literally, my fingernails were disgusting at the end of the day), then in the airstream I helped turn out around 200 boxes in the space of 3 hours – it was a little insane. It was a great experience though, highly enjoyable and I learned loads about teamwork.
The following day I was up bright and early to get to a photoshoot with my good friend Mowie Kay. Mowie is a fantastic food photographer and stylist who had agreed to let me shadow him and assist with a shoot for his new book on donuts. We spent a brilliant day together where I got to watch him work and also model for the new book! So providing the shots make the cut, I’ll be in print! It’s always great fun to work with Mowie and, as you can see from the above photo, we may have gotten a little silly as the day went on…
Image courtesy of Hix Mayfair.
The final week I went into Hix Mayfair’s pastry department for 3 days. I spent my days covered in flour, sugar and smelling of chocolate. I hauled massive industrial mixer bowls around, struggling to get the damn thing to sit right and paddle attachment in, so short that I had to climb up onto the mixer to be able to crank the bowl up; I got lost in the labyrinth that is Brown’s Hotel continuously; burned myself only once; baked 600 scones; almost lost an entire tray of birthday cake which I had placed on the industrial roller whilst I tried to find space in the rammed freezer, and which another of the chefs had then started to use on his pizza dough (almost died when I heard the rollers start up and turned around to see the tray of birthday cake narrowly avoid crashing to the floor); made friends with the potwash guys; learned to write with chocolate and was allowed to decorate the slice of chocolate cake that was needed that day (talk about brain-freeze, I had a total panic when I was given actual responsibility and couldn’t think of a way to decorate the cake for the life of me. I also learned that a good pastry chef knows how to cover up their mistakes). In short, I worked my ass off. I did everything and anything I could get my hands on, from the most mundane tasks to the most exciting and I loved every single minute of it. Even when it was time to go home and I was so tired from standing all morning, my back aching, my head throbbing, smelling from head to toe of chocolate and covered in a fine dusting of flour, I loved it. It was hard, bloody work but it was exactly the kind of work I wanted to do.
And that’s when I realised that I want to be a pastry chef.
The vague thought that maybe I wanted to bake had become something real, something tangible, something I could work towards. With 3 months left of the diploma I now know for sure where I want to be and that is not a bad place to be at all. Watch this space.
Until next time, peace and love,