On some lovely days, everything just goes better than expected. Monday was one of those days. We had a cooking session in exam conditions which I had been dreading, in which we had to make ravioli stuffed with chicken mousseline, wild mushrooms, and tarragon, served in a cream and morel sauce, in an hour and forty five minutes. This might sound like a lot of time, but when you factor in making pasta from scratch, passing chicken through a drum sieve, and assembling ravioli by hand, it all gets a bit tricky. Luckily, I pushed through, just about managed to serve on time, and was pretty happy with what I put up. I also learned that I passed my WSET Level 2 exam, thank god; I was genuinely worried I might have failed it and it had been eating at me ever since we sat the paper.
We also had an interesting session with Jennifer Joyce on food styling. It may not be apparent from the shoddy photos on this blog of late, but I love messing around with food styling and photography, and it was really useful to hear from an expert who clarified certain rules and ideas that I’d half worked out and half hadn’t really understood before. Hopefully, once I finish at Leiths and get a chance to start putting together recipes properly for this blog again, you might be able to see some improvement in my photos and food styling.
Tuesday morning was a prep cooking session, in which we readied ourselves for all day cooking on Wednesday. The first thing we had to do was make brioche dough, which we’d never attempted before. I’m fairly sure I’m going to end up with a puny left arm and an overdeveloped right arm from activities such as clearing, kneading, and dough-making. We had to make the brioche by hand the traditional way, working in butter a cube at a time and stretching the dough to shoulder height, and believe me, it definitely counts as exercise. We also prepped a very fancy chicken liver and fois gras parfait, and butchered our farmed rabbits for the following day’s creative session. I managed not to focus too much on pet rabbits and got the job done like a (semi) professional.
The afternoon session was another one on wine, but with a difference. We were visited by someone from Reidel, a company who make high end wine glasses. We were each given a selection of five glasses and had a wine tasting, sampling wines from various glasses to see how glass shape affected aroma and taste. It was really interesting, but basically my favourite part of the whole thing was the label on the wine bottle above, because the little animals drawn on it reminded me of Where The Wild Things Are. I am literally going to seek out this wine and buy it. I also liked the wine, I’m not quite nuts enough to buy it solely for the bottle. Ahem.
Wednesday was an all day cooking day, and I still haven’t quite recovered from it. We started off with a dish of Sauternes jelly, pear and saffron chutney, and the aforementioned chicken liver and fois gras parfait and brioche. This was to be my lunch, and it was incredibly delicious and satisfyingly fancy. We then moved on to our creative rabbit dish, pictured at the top, which was a MasterChef-style ‘do anything you like with this rabbit’ challenge, working from a list of ingredients and trying to use the rabbit in as many ways as possible. I went for (ready?): saddle of rabbit wrapped in pancetta and stuffed with a mousseline of chicken, rabbit livers, and tarragon; black pudding, confit rabbit leg and mustard bon bons; rabbit liver and tarragon paté; pomme purée with Dijon mustard; pea purée; salted pistachio crumb; sautéed baby carrots and leeks; and a rabbit and port jus. Ansobe said my portion was too generous. Yeah. Quite possibly true, but the more you put on the plate, the more you get to eat, so…
Friday was supposed to be creative red mullet day, but actually ended up being creative gurnard day, as Leiths had been let down by their fish supplier. Gurnard doesn’t sound quite as appealing as red mullet, and doesn’t really look it either: they have odd, triangular heads and loads of very sharp spikes everywhere. I also somehow got a fish that was literally twice the size of everyone else’s and was more like a small shark than anything. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by the fish’s tender meatiness once cooked, and would happily have it again in future. This was only an afternoon session rather than an all day cook, and so my plate is not as mad as the rabbit offering. I made pan-fried gurnard fillets, a Pernod and fennel risotto, pickled courgette ribbons, a Parmesan crisp, lemon caper dressing with parsley, and microherbs.
So next week is Week 10, my last full week at Leiths, and our practical exams are the week after that. I have one short story from my weekend which illustrates, if only to me, how much Leiths has taught me. On Friday night/Saturday morning, I got home at 1am, drunk and exhausted, but with a mad set idea in my head that I wanted to make some fresh bread for James and I for breakfast the next morning. So I stumbled in and, without a plan or a recipe, put together an enriched wholemeal spelt bread dough by eye. I left it kneading in the mixer while I brushed my teeth and got into my PJs, and then chucked it in the fridge to cold rise overnight. When I woke up at 7am I staggered to the fridge without my glasses on (thus almost totally blind), got the dough out of the fridge and popped it in a bread tin to prove. I then accidentally fell asleep again and woke up two hours later, at which point I popped the massively overproved bread in the oven. Despite my complete lack of attention and shockingly poor method, the bread came out lovely. Before Leiths, I would have seen making bread as a tricky project, and I would never have been able to put together a bread dough without a recipe. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to just leave it be and let it do its thing while I was completely unconscious. There’s some innate instinct in me that Leiths has developed that I didn’t have before.
Just to ease you out of the series, you will get a full blog post next week, and then a final farewell (to the Leiths blogs, not to me I’m afraid) after I have finished my practical exams. Have a lovely week, gang. And let me know if you want some bread.