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


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:


And Pause: Leiths Diploma


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.


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.


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?


The End (Part I): Leiths Diploma, Weeks 8 & 9


Thou shalt have a fishy on a little dishy, thou shalt have a fishy when the, er, Eskimo comes in…

And so we’ve reached the end of the 1st term of the Leiths Diploma. Sorry there was no post last week but hey, lucky you, you now get a double whammy! Woohoo! Hearing more about how I broke down and cried at culinary school! Again! Yeah!

Just kidding… sort of… because I don’t think there’s been a single week I haven’t had a little cry about something, now. I can’t help it – I’m an incredibly emotional person and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think it’s become a running joke at school now but at least I can laugh about it… right before I start crying again. So let’s start with the week before last and then I can get back to my little Eskimo up at the top of the post there which is a much happier ending, no? Yes.


Why All The Drama, Mama?: Leiths Diploma, Week 7


Ah the drama this week. The drama.

So I realise I haven’t really been writing very much since I started at Leiths – last week’s round-up post was particularly appalling in terms of readability and even as I hit the ‘publish’ button I couldn’t help but think that I wasn’t doing the writer in me any justice. Part of the reason behind it was the fact that I wrote the post very late Monday night, the day before I returned to school and so was very tired (and still had homework to do), but the other reason is because I’ve really been glossing over the minute details because you know what? Culinary school is hard.

I never really expected it to be easy but my God, the amount of work I do outside of school? The long hours? The sheer exhaustion, frustration and tears? It is so very hard – I mean it when I say I’ve never worked this hard in my life, because every single hour of every day I am busting my ass on all things food. Whether it’s time planning for the following week, reading up on theory and notes from demonstrations, or practising skills at home, I am constantly working and I am exhausted, both physically and mentally. I’ve already gotten sick twice but I haven’t missed a single day because I just don’t feel that I can – you would be missing so much.

So this week when I ended up in hospital I have to admit that it was really no surprise – it was just something that was bound to happen sooner or later.


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