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.

Duck breast salad with star anise dressing.

Since I started Leiths and because I do keep blogging about it, plenty of you have emailed me asking me if I would recommend it – I would say that roughly every couple of months I receive at least 1 email from a budding cook. They tell me that food is their passion, that nothing but cooking ever made sense to them, that they’ve loved reading about my experiences; then they ask me if they should do the course.

Honestly? I cannot tell you whether or not you should go to Leiths. There are things about the course that I have loved – the teachers, the learning, the sheer joy of training in something I love – but there is also plenty that I have hated. There were days when I was so sad and disheartened that I would get home and just weep, there was a whole month last term when I was so depressed about food that I didn’t cook anything outside of school and the food I cooked at school was mediocre at best. At that point it felt like the entire thing was a waste of time and money, that I had thrown myself into something that I just found no more joy in: it wasn’t fun any more and surely that was the whole reason I’d done it?

Luckily, the good does outweigh the bad and I have some amazing friends, family & a wonderful boyfriend who have all listened to me rant, cry and despair, then come back the next day and celebrated a small success with me without ever complaining. Putting yourself through school again is not something I would ever recommend doing without a solid support network away from that atmosphere, the last part of that sentence being the key.

So should you go? If you can afford it, love to learn & have a vague idea of what you want to do afterwards & want a more general overview of food and cooking, then sure, definitely think about it, but I can’t tell you definitively yes or no: you need to make that decision for yourself. I know people who have hated every moment of it, who have found it a waste of time and money and been utterly miserable; but I also know people who would be there forever if they could, who never want it to end. If I could go back and do it all again I probably would, purely because I have learnt so much & enjoyed the learning more than anything I’ve ever done in my life… but I am ready for it to be over, now. 9 months is a long time.

Walter the whole dressed trout (retrotastic!)

I remember when I first started Leiths a friend asked me why I was paying so much money to learn how to be a chef, when I could just start working in a restaurant, earn about the same amount in a year and probably learn more about practically being in a restaurant. My answer then was that I didn’t want to work in restaurants and that I enjoyed the theory and understanding behind the cooking. 6 months later I stand behind that statement because even though I’ve now worked in a couple of restaurants and thoroughly enjoyed it, I still do not want to be in restaurants and I still love learning the science behind the dish, understanding why certain things work (or, indeed, do not).

Part of my problem is that I’m a huge perfectionist and have been ever since I was a little girl, which means that nothing is ever perfect for me and even the smallest mistakes get me down, but I’ve started to learn that my idea of perfect is so unattainable that sometimes you just have to relax your criteria a little (but never stop trying, just sometimes accept that it’s as good as it’s going to get). Maybe that’s why I love pastry and making desserts – the OCD part of me gets to work on something quietly until it’s perfect, no rushing, no drama, just making something taste amazing and look beautiful.

Tarte tatin with rich vanilla ice-cream.

Week 1 down, into week 2 & 8 weeks to go, then it’s time to hit the big bad world and find myself a job, finally doing something I really want to do, finally able to put all the learning into practice… anybody want to hire me as a pastry chef?

Until next time, peace and love,

Jax x

2 Responses to “The Beginning of the End: Leiths Diploma, Term 3, Week 1”

  1. Jane Robins Says:

    Dear Jax,

    I have read your blog on and off with interest as I have been on the wait-list for a place at Leiths. I just heard today that a space has come up on the 3 term diploma and I have until Monday to make up my mind. I am in a job which I will need to give up, but I am happy to that and I can afford the fees (although I will be broke aferwards and until I get another job).

    My question is this, like you I don’t want to be a chef, I am 51 and the last thing I want to do is work every night and weekend in a kitchen (I prefer to cook for friends). I am very interested in being in the food industry though, i.e. working in food development or for a magazine/paper, so the journalistic side.

    Is there much scope within the course to find work at the end of the course in that line (from your experience). I am going to have to find a job and I don’t want to spend £20k+ and then be unemployed.

    Any input before Monday would be gratefully received, if you have time!

    Best regards,
    Jane Robins

  2. Karl Says:

    Hi Jax,

    I have worked as a chef but I am not formally qualified. I am very interested to hear what your reply to Jane Robins was? I assume this blog is now at least 6 months old and wonder how you have got on with your hunt for work?

    Best wishes

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