The last ten months of my life have been completely dominated by Leiths. Rising in the dark at 5.20am and staggering home at some time past 7.30pm every weekday, ploughing through daily timeplans, doing endless whites washes, working out creative recipes, fretting over coursework, and frantically revising for exams, has left me with very little time to dedicate to anything else, and no energy to do so even if I wasn’t so busy. It’s funny; the things I have cared about so ferociously would seem insane to an outsider, but when you’re in the thick of something as all-consuming as Leiths things that would once have seemed tiny suddenly become overwhelming, and you find yourself devastated when you’re told you’ve only been scored a 3 out of 5 for your puff pastry or indignant when you end up staying late for extra cleaning for the third week in a term.
But for all the ridiculous lows, there are also giddy highs: being praised for finally managing to neatly and efficiently fillet a round fish; hitting a service time perfectly, down to the second; laughing hysterically to the point of tears with classmates over bread dough for no real reason.
On Tuesday, I passed my final practical exam. The theory exam was already over and done with, we’ve been given our marks for our continual assessment in class, and I know I passed my wine exam too. That means that, although we won’t be given our actual marks until July, I know I attained the full professional Leiths Diploma in Food and Wine. I also managed to get through the entire course without a single absence or late mark, despite living a stupid distance away. I know it sounds silly, but I’m proud of that too, even though it was pure pig-headed stubbornness and nothing more. The graduation is over, and that’s the end of my time at Leiths.
So, I guess that’s it then. I’ve done thirty-plus blogs on Leiths, and that’s the end of it.
Oh go on, one last ramble.
If anyone stumbles across this blog who is considering going to study the full diploma at Leiths, here are some things I have learned.
- The school will go on about you having to iron your whites. I don’t even own an iron. Not one single piece of my uniform has ever been ironed. This has caused no problems.
- You will inevitably lose perspective. When you feel like crying over a curdled custard or a mutilated fish fillet, remember that even though it feels awful, at least you’re not a brain surgeon or something. Of course you care about what you produce, but remember that culinary school, in the grand scheme, is not high stakes. No one has died.
- Take the chance to interact with all the people around you: they will come from a huge range of backgrounds and you can learn a lot from them. I mean the students, as well as the teachers. Don’t stay in the bubble of your own class group all the time – chat to people in other classes and the opposite half of the year. Help each other out, share knowledge, make friends. You never know who could be your next business partner.
- Try everything (unless, you know, you have a life-threatening allergy). Now is not the time to be picky. Junket? Octopus? Brains? Give everything a fair chance and have at least a bite while you have this amazing opportunity.
- Keep your attendance up if you can. Obviously, sometimes you might be truly ill and unable to crawl from bed, or there might be a genuine emergency which prevents you from getting to school, and such is life. But don’t slip into the habit of staying at home when you’re exhausted or hung over. The more time you miss in the kitchen, the fewer chances you will have to get high marks, and the more demonstrations you miss, the trickier you are making the theory exams for yourself. You paid a lot of money for this course: don’t waste it.
- Do actually read the wine textbook. I didn’t and I wish I had. It would have made things a lot easier down the road.
- Be generous with your resources. Help others, whether it’s by photocopying a lost handout, lending a spare piece of uniform, or giving a heads up and tips about a tricky cooking session. In a big group in a busy and pressurised environment, be a force for good and bring some light. It will all come back to you. And even if it doesn’t, at least you know you have been a positive presence. (This is my general advice for life as well).
- Get your mandatory work experience out of the way early and don’t try and do it all in the last possible week.
- Keep your knives sharpened as you go along. I didn’t do this and nearly wrecked them, which is a shame, as they are expensive and beautiful.
- Remember to enjoy it. You are very lucky.