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


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.


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


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…


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


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.


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


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.


New News Is Good News


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.


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


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).


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


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?


Junk Food Week: Leiths Diploma, Week 6


Another week gone, another batch of recipes successfully made in the kitchen. Sorry for the slight delay and if you’re wondering why that is it’s because this week we had another long weekend! You have no idea how much I needed today to recover from the last few weeks – I have been exhausted. Happily, last week’s confidence boost carried me into this week and everything I made turned out really well. Obviously a few tweaks here and there needed, but I feel like I’ve finally hit my stride, even if sometimes I do feel like I could weep at the lack of sleep I’ve been getting.

This week I also worked my first corporate job at school, which not only involved washing up a never-ending stack of pots and pans but also serving food and wine. Good practice though I am not the world’s best waitress! This coming week I’ll be washing up for the baking and cakes evening class, which I’m particularly excited by – another opportunity to learn is always greatly appreciated! (I am such a geek…) The only downside to washing up work at school is that I don’t get home until ridiculously late (unless I’m staying at TS’ place, bless) and with all of the assignments we had due last week, I didn’t manage to get to bed until 2am one night. Frankly, I’m amazed I didn’t chop any fingers off the next day at school…


The Calm Before The Storm: Leiths Diploma, Week 3


Asian Mario strikes again…

Happy to say that this past week there were no tears! It was actually a relatively calm week, possibly because it was week 3 when they anticipated all the students would be exhausted so we had our first long weekend scheduled (they give us a few long weekends instead of a half term), possibly also because we had our first test on Thursday and they were giving us time to study; either way, this week was nice and quiet in the kitchens but still packed full of essential learning.


And The Tears Begin: Leiths Diploma, Week 2


This week was the week of tears, for me. It started off well enough – my pastry at the beginning of the week was pretty spot on, despite the fact that I forgot to add the salt to the pastry in my treacle tart (SHOCK, HORROR – in my defence when there’s that much going on and the salt is waaay down at the end of the table it’s easy to forget these things… but I did chastise myself plenty, don’t worry), but my leek and bacon flan was delicious, even though the crust was a tiny bit on the thicker side, but still blind baked perfectly. My teacher even said it, “melted in the mouth” so pretty happy with that!

And then everything went downhill from there.


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