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The End of the Road: Leiths Diploma, Term 3, Weeks 2-10


Jun
26

As I write this, the penultimate post in my Leiths Diploma series, I’m sat in my bed with my stomach in a bundle of knots because tomorrow I’ll be cooking for the last time at Leiths and taking my final practical exam. I’m nervous, I’m excited and I’m more than a little sad – these past 9 months have been a roller coaster of emotions but, ultimately, it’s been one of the best years of my life.

I haven’t been very good about updating my blog this term, mostly because I’ve been keeping very busy with life (I moved in with TS about three weeks ago!) but also because I’ve just been so exhausted I really haven’t had the energy to post anything. Sorry, totally my bad. But, regardless, all of you have been so lovely with your comments, your emails, you Tweets, even when I disappear off the radar completely and/or start having a mild mental breakdown. So thank you, dear readers, for helping to keep me sane, even when I let you down by posting nothing/of note.

But enough of my ramblings. Here’s what I did over this past term:

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And Pause: Leiths Diploma


Jun
07


Strawberry champagne trifle

Sometimes life moves far too quickly for my liking, other times it feels like it can’t go by fast enough. At the moment I’m stuck somewhere between the two, desperately clinging on to the last shreds of school life, longing to be away from here and in “the real world”. It’s not a feeling that’s alien to me, I’ve felt like this at every final stage of education: when I left primary school I looked forward to the new opportunities high school would bring, when I left high school I skipped my final year ball to go to an Oasis concert in Manchester with my then bad-influence boyfriend (honestly, probably one of the only real things I now deeply regret), and when I was about to leave university I started working in a baby shop in West London, needing to feel independent but still very much dependent. So I’m here again, waiting to be free from education but terrified because I know that “out there” is a much harder place than “in here”. It’s a bit like prison mentality, isn’t it?

So today I thought I wouldn’t catch you up on all of the weeks I didn’t write a post about what we did at school over the past, oh, I don’t know, eight weeks that I haven’t blogged (my bad), but instead would show you a few actual photos I took when pulling together my portfolio for school and potential future clients… and maybe throw in an anecdote or two because you know me: I love to talk.

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The Beginning of the End: Leiths Diploma, Term 3, Week 1


Apr
22


Lamb noisettes, ratatouille & dauphinoise potatoes.

And so here we are: the final term at Leiths. I keep trying to get it to soak in that after 6 (hard, hard) months we’re into the home stretch now, that in 3 months time I will be a trained chef, that I won’t have somebody hanging over my shoulder, telling me what to do, reassuring me that my baked custard is set enough, that it’s time to look for a job and get some references together.

Sometimes when I look at my food I’m not sure if I’ve gotten any better since week 1 of the foundation term – I’m so involved in this world, this bubble, that I feel I’m a little too close to it all to be able to really take stock. But then somebody asks me a question or ponders over the science of a dish they’re eating & the answers come to me like second nature, proving that it has actually become ingrained in me, that I do know what I’m doing. A tiny kernel of pride is sitting deep inside my heart, pride that I’ve made it to this final term & worked my ass off to get here, hope that I am now a better cook – maybe even a chef? – but, also, pure relief that it was the right decision.

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The End (Part II) & The Beginning?: Leiths Diploma, Term 2, Weeks 9 & 10


Apr
12

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!

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Three Nightmare Weeks: Leiths Diploma, Term 2, Weeks 6, 7 & 8


Mar
05


Jamaican lamb curry I made at home with leftover boned leg.

You may have been wondering where I’ve been and why I haven’t been posting for the last three weeks. In all honesty: I’d lost my enthusiasm for food.

Now to somebody like me who absolutely loves food this was something of a tragedy. I’ve actually been feeling kind of depressed because it seemed that everything I was doing was turning out terrible – even simple things were letting me down, like forgetting to put salt into my beer bread so that it looked great and had the right texture but tasted of nothing. I was out of the zone and as a result the weeks had been fairly disastrous, the cherry on top being our cooking for 50 task experience. I started to dread going into the kitchen, terrified that my bad luck would follow me in again and on Friday I found myself wiping away tears of frustration over brandy snaps; that was basically when I realised that I needed a break. But we all have to go through the bad to get to the good, right? So this post is all about the bad – we’ll save the good for the next (I have to give you something to look forward to, right?). Enter the three nightmare weeks…

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They’ll Make a Chef Outta Me Yet: Leiths Diploma, Term 2, Week 5


Feb
11


Sole Bonne Femme with puff pastry fleurons.

This was the week where my food started to look like something I would pay good money for.

It’s crazy to think that we’re now over halfway through the course – the pace is so fast that it’s often hard to even take a moment to breathe. So when you start turning out food like the dish above (seriously. Look at it. I made that. SERIOUSLY) it is the most satisfying thing.

Something’s happening here, people – I’m becoming a chef.

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The Inevitable Existential Crisis: Leiths Diploma, Term 2, Week 4


Feb
02

Sooner or later it was bound to happen: the existential crisis. This week was mine.

I find myself spending much of my time in a perpetual state of wonder and anxiety. The days go by in a bit of a blur (are we really already heading into week 5 of the 2nd term?!): this is the wonder portion of my life. Whether I’m learning how best to prepare livers, or trying to detect the varying complexities in six different varieties of red wine, it’s wonderful, it’s new, it’s amazing… and it’s hard work, it’s confusing and, yes, at times, dull. But the dull parts are few and far between, usually it’s just my brain trying to absorb as much of it all as possible, eager to learn more, my eyes drinking in every slice, dice and fraiser.

In the kitchen I try to work faster, more efficiently (I often fail at both of these things); I work by the book, doing my best to recall the techniques we were taught that week or in previous sessions; I wash up so much that my hands peel and crack, so much that even rubbing in hand lotion stings and nothing can rid me of these hands that, in only a few months, now resemble the paws of an old crone. In the kitchen nothing else matters – only service. My plates are cleaned and warmed, my food is prepared to the best quality I possibly can, my table wiped down, cutlery at hand; and at the end of the session, all my food marked, all feedback given, I let out a heavy sigh and drag my tired feet down to the changing room. But even though I’m tired and have been on my feet for a good 3 hours, I still mentally pinch myself, asking, “is this really your life, now? You get to do this every day?”

Then I go home and the anxiety portion of the day hits.

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New News Is Good News


Jan
29

Sometimes, being at culinary school, though it is completely exactly what I want to be doing at this moment in my life, can feel like a total drag. I haven’t had routine in my life for so long that now that I suddenly have this incredibly rigid structure (get to school by 9.30am, leave school by 5pm, do homework, eat some quick dinner, pass out around 10pm) it sometimes feels a little restrictive. Gone are the days when I would go out to dinner with friends willy-nilly, purely to discover new restaurants around town as and when I pleased; gone are the days of dozing in bed until late morning, raising myself to sit in front of my laptop with a mug of hot lemon and honey (still wearing PJs until the late evening by which time what was the point in even changing?) to plonk out a piece about a food event I’d attended the night before, or edit a new batch of photos.

But then when I look back on those days I see what a lack of focus I had, how lazy I was becoming. On the one hand I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted; on the other I was bored, feeling stupider and fatter by the day, and was desperately poor with no idea whether this was what I even wanted any more. These days I’m still poor but my brain feels as if it’s overloading with new and exciting information. My need to experiment has come back in full force – the other week I bought an ox tongue just for the fun of it and I’ve been making enquiries into how to get hold of a whole pig’s head to make headcheese – but the result of this is that I’ve become quieter, less social, more reclusive and a much harder worker. So maybe that’s why I’ve decided to change things up a little.

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In Sickness & In Health: Leiths Diploma Term 2, Weeks 2 & 3


Jan
26


As those of you who Follow me on Twitter will know, last Friday TS went off on holiday for 3 weeks and around the same time SNOWMAGGEDON hit London. Simultaneously, I came down with a cold – just a mild cold, I thought, somewhat naively. TS looked after me for a day and a half before he left the country and then, as soon as he was gone, the snow came down in droves and my “mild cold” became swollen glands and a pretty nasty chest infection – so nasty that I had to take a day and a half off school (gone is my perfect attendance! Sob!) – and then, two days ago, I started coughing up blood.

Now, don’t panic. I am not secretly a Parisienne courtesan nor a character in a Victorian novel and I’m not dying; I did however cough so much that I burst a blood vessel. I was given antibiotics (which are now doing a stellar job) and I’m starting to get healthier but that did not stop my friend Jules from shooting panicked glances at me every time I coughed in our French pastry demonstration the other day, as if she were expecting me to keel over at any second. It also didn’t stop my friends and teachers from commenting that I “didn’t look very well” at any and all opportunity (I’m going to hope that wasn’t just because that was the day I chose not to wear any make-up…)

I tell you this as a way of apology because, honestly, I’m a little hazy on the past two weeks of school… so here, look at some pictures of things I made (mostly for the first time) and say things like, “ooh!” and “ahh!” I was particularly proud of the hand-raised pie and the steamed sponge cake (even if I did forget the lemon zest and ginger in the latter; no matter, it was still delicious).

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Back In The Game: Leiths Diploma, Term 2 Week 1


Jan
15

Aaaand we’re back in the room! Welcome back and a very happy 2013 to you all! I’m going to keep this post fairly short because there is just SO MUCH going on right now and I want to dedicate a proper post to catching you all up on everything (and there is much to share), so let’s head straight into my brief recap on the past week, shall we?

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