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.

Last week was all about plucking and drawing pheasants, Indian food and buffets. Must be said: plucking and drawing pheasants is not the most pleasant of jobs and for somebody like me who doesn’t particularly like gamey tasting things, the reward is not great, either. In all honesty, the pure smell that was coming from the carcass was enough to put me off pheasant for life. As I stood there, my hand groping around blindly for the innards, leaning back slightly to avoid the rancid smell, I did have a slight outer body moment – I seemed to be floating above myself, looking on in horror and yelling, “you’ve got your hand halfway up a pheasant’s arse, woman!” Maybe that was why I started giggling hysterically, a laugh that was only moments away from insanity. Worse still, my first attempt at drawing only took out part of the intestines which meant that yep, I had to go back into the lucky dip for attempt number two! This time much more fruitful: the gizzard, heart and liver came out with a swift pop, the tiny incision I’d made in the bird now a gaping disaster zone. So guess who doesn’t want children now?

The next few days were full-on and buffet fuelled – first we had our mock exam at school (mine a veritable disaster but there were many other factors that affected it and my teacher said to me that she knew it didn’t reflect my cooking abilities; I, of course, cried), then the other half of our group did their buffet (Christmas themed) and finally we did our buffet (Scottish themed).

The other group’s buffet was, in a word, stunning. They had buckets of food, the presentation was beautiful, they worked really well together as a team and, overall, did a fantastic job. Obviously, as you can see from the above photos, there was a lot to eat but special mention must go to the dried fig and cracked black pepper bread rolls (made by Lizzy), the Scotch Eggs (made by Libby) and the meringues with chestnut cream (made by Christina), all of which were just delicious. Very impressive stuff but then I’d expect no less from them!

I handmade all of the table placards – yes, it took a while…

With the pressure well and truly on now, we dove headfirst into our own buffet assignment the following day and, amazingly, emerged unscathed and successful. A couple of items had a few issues (small budget meant we had to use lower quality meat and fish than we would’ve liked which, obviously, affects the flavour) but the hit of the school proved to be the sticky toffee pudding which Lucy & I had made (seriously, some of the teachers are still talking about it, 1 of whom was chased around the staff room because she refused to share her portion). They loved the different mugs for the Scotch Broth, all of which were tied (lovingly and painstakingly the day before) with different ribbon bows, the deconstructed cranachan which had been my creation (I sort of half referred to a recipe and half made it up) and, overall, thought that the ideas were well thought out and executed (a bit of seasoning trouble here and there but to be expected). So a big fat tick next to the 1st group cooking assignment! Phew. Got there in the end!…but thank God we won’t have to cook in such a big group again – way too much stress!

And so we came to the end of the week where we cooked a big Indian/Sri Lankan meal together then all sat down and ate it! It was the first time we’ve ever done that and it was lovely – really nice to actually get to eat the food you’ve cooked, hot and on plates instead of out of plastic bags (seriously, it’s the most depressing thing in the world to go into the dining room of a culinary school and see 96 students, half of whom are noshing out of plastic bags with flimsy plastic forks and the other half who are nibbling on cheap homemade sandwiches and salads).

Then this week! The last week at Leiths for term 1 and the week that Christmas came to school. It was a very relaxed week in the kitchens but the real excitement was for the Christmas cake decorating competition we were having on the last Friday, followed by a canape party for the 20 or so students leaving. I had spent most of my previous Sunday evening making little fondant and marzipan figures to decorate my cake with, having sketched out my idea about 2 weeks prior to this (yes, I am incredibly organised, what of it?!) and, honestly? I really, really enjoyed it. I am pedantic as anything and making tiny little detailed things is clearly my forte… so if anybody wants a Christmas cake decorated, call me! I would be more than happy to do it if it means I get to make more penguins and snowmen…

I didn’t end up winning anything for my creation but I had lots of people tell me that they thought I should’ve won something, if only for my Eskimo’s little fishy! I knew I wasn’t going to win something for it – there were some far more creative ideas out there than mine – but I was genuinely very pleased with the end result. I’d wanted to put the penguins on the bottom of the cake so that it looked like one was trying to steal the Eskimo’s fish, but I’d made them, er, a little on the chubby side and they wouldn’t fit! So my teacher came up with the adorable idea of having them holding fins in the background (!) so there it was… and can we just take a moment to check out my piping around the bottom of the cake? Oh yeah, baby – my piping brings all the boys to the yard. Honestly, I feel so sorry for my poor boyfriend who has to hear these kinds of terrible cooking-related jokes and innuendo all the time.

A selection of Christmas cakes from my class and others.

So that was the week! And now we crash into exams week at Leiths with our theory exam tomorrow and my practical exam on Thursday; on top of that I’m also baking for The Meringue Girls on Tuesday and helping them sell meringues at their stall at We Feast London on the Friday (buy tickets! Come and see me and buy tasty meringues!), plus I received some more recipe editing work and have a couple of small baking related catering jobs over Christmas before I head out to Malaysia for a wedding and Hong Kong for New Year… not too busy then, eh?

Our group, minus Remi & Bonnie – we say goodbye to Steffi (center in green snowman sweater), Bonnie (absent), Remi (taking photo), Sophie B (blonde, right of Steffi) & Rachael (right of Sophie B with white scarf) this term, sadly, but say hello to five new shiny people!

Wish me luck with exams next week and I shall return in the new year with more tales of how I lost my mind at culinary school. Until next time, peace and love.

Jax x

PS: Are you not all just absolutely loving the actual photography in this post? My poor little dSLR, how I’ve neglected you of late…

2 Responses to “The End (Part I): Leiths Diploma, Weeks 8 & 9”

  1. Paula Says:

    I really don’t think that I could pluck and draw a pheasant, or any bird for that matter. There’s a reason I never entered this school LOL.
    Your little fishing eskimo is very cute, the entire cake was a great idea and I love your teeny fish and chubby penguins.
    Good luck with your final exams and best wishes for in the New Year :)

  2. Emmyw @ Kitchen Goddess (in training!) Says:

    Wow you’ve certainly been busy! And I swear I am in love with that eskimo!!! Certainly gives me a thing or two to think about for my own Christmas Cake! I can’t believe how fast this term has flown by! You must be very proud of youself :) Good luck in your exams!

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