There are few feelings nicer than being able to chuck a file of revision notes in a drawer and forget about them. I have had the Leiths Techniques Bible sitting on my table for weeks, along with piles of flashcards, lists of culinary terms, diagrams of cuts of meat, and a collection of highlighters frankly obscene in range and number (colouring things in rainbow order makes them more memorable, right?). But now? It’s all been cleared away and my table is gloriously uncomplicated once more. Monday morning brought us the final theory exam of the course, and while it wasn’t a particularly welcome gift at the time, by Monday evening I felt like a chainmail vest had been lifted from my shoulders. No more memorising conversions and French technical terms. No more lying awake at night panicking because I can’t remember how much butter there is in a three egg quantity of choux pastry. No more people thinking I am crazy on the train as I mutter to myself about which fruits have high, medium, and low pectin. Yes, we still have the practical exam to contend with next week, but that a different kind of skill and a different kind of worry, and it’s good to have many and various anxieties.
So, Monday’s exam went, if not exactly swimmingly, certainly reasonably. And then it was an odd week, in the way it always is when it’s end of of term anywhere. Bitty and broken up, with the previous weeks’ rigid structure sliding away and a confusing mix of fear about the upcoming practical exam and joy that the wine and theory exams are out of the way. On Tuesday morning we had a skills session in the kitchen, which is basically an excuse for us to practice cooking whatever we fancy for lunch – I went with a rack of lamb and some scallops. The morning’s excitement was provided by Prue Leith herself, who dropped into the kitchens to visit for the very first time since we’d started the course. True, she was there to film an Australian TV show rather than to benefit from our sparkling company, but I’d like to think she did both in the end. I spent most of the session trying to dodge the TV cameras and look as busy as possible so that no one would try to interview me.
In the afternoon, Bruce Poole, formerly of the Michelin-starred Chez Bruce in Wandsworth and now half of the business partnership that owns Chez Bruce, The Glasshouse, and La Trompette, came to do a dem. He hates taster menus and restaurants that do small plates and likes to talk about his peeves at length. What a happy afternoon that was.
On Wednesday and Thursday we were focused on preparing for our last assignment of term: dinner parties. Well, lunch parties technically, but that’s not a thing. In groups of four, we made a three course meal for ourselves and four members of the other half of the year, the Blue group. The idea was to showcase some of the things we’ve learned this term and have a lovely lunch with some of the other students in the year who we don’t often get a chance to chat to. We made a smoked buffalo mozzarella salad, sous vide beef brisket, and a peach and raspberry mille feuille.
The picture below was taken by Leiths staff when I was in the middle of assembling the dessert. It’s made with almond biscuits, peach and raspberry crème pâtissière, meringues, pistachio crumb, fresh raspberries, raspberry purée, raspberry sorbet, and chargrilled peaches. Because I get carried away.
Not the neatest or the most well thought out dessert I’ve ever produced, but people seemed to enjoy it and it was undeniably bright and summery, despite the freezing rains and howling winds of a British mid-June day.
In the midst of all this madness, we had a dem from Atul Kochhar, who was completely charming, dryly funny in an understated way, vastly knowledgeable, and a master of Indian flavourings and spicing. He treated us to some fantastic Indian food and impressed us all with his terrifying schedule, which involves flying to Madrid for a day every week to work at the restaurant he’s set up there. It’s made me very keen to visit his London branch of Benares, so, you know, if anyone fancies taking me there for a post-Leiths treat…
On Friday, we were finally informed about what we’ll have to cook in the practical exam next week (salmon with braised vegetables and a chive beurre blanc, a lamb dish with a best end of neck which we’ll have to butcher and serve with creative farinaceous and vegetable accompaniments and a jus, and pithiviers with homemade puff pastry – oh god oh god oh god) and then were treated to a wonderful lunch by the group that we fed in our dinner party. They made us a Mediterranean vegetable salad starter with a gorgeous goats’ cheese cream, salmon on spinach tortellini in a watercress veloute, and a decadent chocolate and salted caramel dessert with caramelised peanuts. I ate lots of everything and drank much wine and successfully distracted myself from thoughts of the impending practical exam.
And that’s it, my friends. The last week of Leiths, done and dusted with icing sugar. I’ll probably check in next week to let you know if I passed my final exams (please send me good thoughts on Tuesday), so it’s not quite goodbye yet… but very nearly.