The eagle-eyed amongst you might notice that every picture in this post is slightly blurred, as if I have applied some of sort ‘hazy glow’ Instagram filter to them. Do not be alarmed – you are not drunk. Or perhaps you are reading this on your phone at 11pm in a pub, in which case, do please continue. This week my phone camera has been somehow wounded, and as I’m hardly going to lug my proper camera to school on top of all the other nonsense I have to tote about every day, I have no other means of taking pictures. I thought irritatingly blurry pictures were probably preferable to no pictures at all. The main issue is that I can’t fix the camera and I’m not due a phone upgrade until the beginning of 2017, so I think I am going to have to get used to the drunken Instagram vibe.
This week started off pretty rough and slowly limped into being better. We had our mock practical exam on Monday, and I was feeling alright about it. I’d practised the dishes over the weekend and I had a solid timeplan, and basically wanted to get through the morning and put it behind me. Mock exam meant mock exam conditions, so no talking to your fellow students, which feels very odd after eight weeks of working while Jack sings nineties pop hits and we all discuss whether or not our chicken is cooked through. The atmosphere in the kitchen was much more tense than usual as everyone got down to business, but I worked steadily and moved through my tasks at a good pace, and when Ansobe called the service time I was all plated up and ready to go, and reasonably happy with what I’d made.
What a naive fool I am. It turns out my fish was overcooked, my dressing was too acidic and ‘horrible’, my crushed potatoes were too crushed, my presentation was dated, my soup had been heated for too long and was too thick and under-seasoned, my bowl was too hot… I cant even remember all the things I did wrong now, but I think the only thing I did right was hitting my service time, and that doesn’t do you a lot of good if your food is awful.
I was very happy to put that morning session behind me and, luckily, our afternoon dem was with Peter Vaughan, an engaging, passionate presenter who worked and spoke at 96 miles per hour for his whole talk and successfully distracted me from feeling sorry for myself. It’s always good to have someone visit from the outside world and remind us that it is possible to have a career in food and love it, and that once we get to the end of this year we will actually, technically, be qualified for something. He fed us delicious, healthy food – always good to reset the balance when I am currently using brownies as my main energy source – and I left feeling much better.
Tuesday morning was very much the calm before the flood/tornado/storm for us, because the other half of our class were preparing their buffet for 32 people and we were quietly making a nice salmon salad in the corner and icing some cakes. I thought my salmon way yummy and ate the whole thing as a slightly odd 10.30am snack. The less said about plastering cakes with royal icing the better (the cake trolley they were on was in the hall, which got very hot, causing all the icing to start melting off the cakes so we had to do them again. I may have had a bit of a sulk about this), but all in all it was a very relaxed morning while the other half of the group cooked us a buffet lunch that was beautiful and absolutely delicious.
In the afternoon we had another guest demonstration, this time with Jane Nemazee, who is a bit nuts in the absolute best way. We were thoroughly entertained throughout her session, and though it was probably halfway through the afternoon before she actually got round to cooking anything, I enjoyed her stories about her career so much that I couldn’t have cared less. I think it was the first time everyone clapped at the end of a dem.
On Wednesday morning, our half of the class had to cook a buffet for 32 people. I had been worrying about it for three weeks, so was very much looking forward to crossing the finish line. We had been given a tight budget to work to and had to choose our own menus, cost everything, and buy all the ingredients ourselves. Our final menu was:
- Beef and booze mini pies
- Mushroom and mozzarella arancini with thyme and aioli
- Roasted root vegetables with rosemary and feta
- Winter crunch slaw with honey mustard dressing
- Kale salad with figs and pomegranate
- Gingerbread with pears, pecans, and cinnamon cream
- Apple, cardamom, and oat crumble
Despite the usual last minute rush to hit the service time, everything went pretty well and people seemed to enjoy the food. I had about three pieces of the gingerbread, which was so good that I ate a chunk of it out of tupperware like a starving wolf on my train home, despite being given serious judgy looks by the suited businessman next to me.
In the afternoon we had a presentation from Belazu, during which we had our first olive oil tasting – not quite as enjoyable as wine tasting but very interesting nonetheless – and also got a try a balsamic vinegar that was so insanely, weirdly delicious that I ended up drinking it right out the little cup as though it was some high-end liqueur. We also had a mildly terrifying theory revision session with Claire, in which I realised quite how much I have to learn for our theory test this coming Friday. It’s lots. Lots and lots. Excuse me while I bury my head in this nice pile of sand over here.
Thursday felt like a comparatively relaxing day after the buffet mayhem of the days that had come before it. We had a morning session with another guest teacher, Jenny Chandler, who showed us some delicious Spanish food, including an empanada (huge Spanish flat pie) that was so tasty that some people decided to go home and make it immediately. We then got to enjoy a buffet cooked by the other group for lunch, before having a fairly gentle afternoon of making yet another shortcrust pastry case for our Friday flans and going over some core skills that we needed to practice. I chose to practice steak and bread, a decision definitely motivated by a desire to learn rather than a desire for a steak sandwich.
Our Friday morning dem was a lovely way to end the week, as Michael and Annie did a session on freelance cooking and dinner parties for us. Annie worked as a freelance chef before teaching at Leiths, and so was able to answer everyone’s questions about why word of mouth business is important and how exactly it is possible to cater for a wedding party of 150 out of a home kitchen. We got to spend the morning sampling dinner party dishes, before heading upstairs for another fantastic buffet lunch, and then spending the afternoon cooking pork and baking apple tarts. I genuinely spend all my time now either eating, cooking, talking about food, or deciding what to eat next.
I completely messed up the cider sauce for my pork in about six different ways, but my little apple tart came out quite pretty and James ate the entire thing as a late night snack, so I hope it tasted alright too.
Next week is our final full week of teaching, and then it’s the practical exam the week after, before our beautifully and ridiculously long holiday starts and I must get to thinking about this whole Christmas thing. Also, I should really spend less time eating and more time wedding planning.
And if anyone out there knows how to fix phone cameras then please let me know. Seriously.