As the time to start at Leiths drew nearer, I was oddly terrified. Uncharacteristically terrified. I have many, many unhelpful qualities, but I am not usually a really nervy person. I didn’t feel particularly scared before my university interviews, or final exams, or any job interviews I’ve had. But the night before I began at Leiths, I was so nervous that I couldn’t sleep properly, and on the morning of my first day I felt so sick I could barely manage breakfast. I mentioned to James how odd this was, and he said ‘Well, it’s because it’s something that’s really important to you, isn’t it?’
Well, yes. That would probably be it.
On the first day we were actually allowed in the kitchen the teachers brought us right back to basics, which was undoubtedly a good idea because I suddenly felt like I didn’t even know how to chop an onion properly, let alone actually, you know, make some edible food. We were all dressed up in our full chef whites for the first time (I fell at the first hurdle by being completely unable to tie my neckerchief until a teacher took pity on me and did it for me) and all nervously unveiled our brand new knives and equipment sets and got to work. I have never concentrated so hard on cutting up a carrot in my life.
Although our class teacher warned us that we would all cut and burn ourselves at some point, no one sustained any injuries on our first outing with our very sharp and shiny fancy new professional knives. I was feeling quite pleased with myself until I got home and managed to slice my thumb open on a yoghurt pot (no, I don’t know how either) and bled all over everything and straight through a plaster. Being apparently unable to open a yoghurt pot without sustaining injury doesn’t bode particularly well for my future culinary career.
By the second day we still hadn’t progressed to actual ‘cooking’, but we did get to bust out the Magimixes and make hummus and arrange crudités around it in an artistic fashion. I was praised for my careful radish preparation – it’s funny how at culinary school the smallest compliments seem like achievements akin to completing a charity skydive or being promoted to CEO. Of course, by the time we got to the next day and were doing arranged fruit salads my presentation was clumsy, so easy come, easy go.
We ended the week on Friday with making pastry twice and using one set for biscuits and one for treacle tart, which I haven’t got a picture of because I had to sling it in Tupperware and madly rush to the station with it to make my train, and it got a bit bashed in my backpack. The bashing didn’t make it any less yummy though – I can testify to this as I am currently eating it for breakfast.
We also started getting to see some proper demonstrations this week. I am slightly hesitant to call them ‘dems’ outside of Leiths, because I don’t want to go all ‘insider speak’ on you all (there’s enough of that nonsense at Oxford), but, after all, it’s a fairly comprehensible abbreviation and I am too lazy to type it out in full for the next year, so dems it is. Anyway, our first dem was on eggs, and it was fascinating. Our teacher, Sue, made six or seven different egg-based dishes over the course of the morning and they were all delicious. I didn’t realise quite how much there was to know about eggs, but it all got a bit ‘Maths-y’ at one point, with talk of percentages of yolk and white composition and so on. We also had an amazing pastry dem with Claire, which meant my ‘pre-lunch’ that day consisted of samples of fantastic asparagus tart, quiche lorraine, plum pie, and treacle tart (covering all the bases), and a dem on stocks and soups wherein our teacher Ansobe calmly managed to serve three soups at the same time to a room of nearly fifty people at once and impressed us all into hero worship.
There is so, so much to learn. So much. I thought I knew a bit about food, but it turns out that I really don’t, and that’s okay. As we have to learn to do everything in a very specific way, I actually think that even the people who have had a lot of food industry experience (i.e. not me) are not too far ahead of everyone else, because the techniques they’re used to aren’t exactly the same as the ones required by Leiths. I mean, where else would you cut butter into flour for pastry with two cutlery knives?
Let’s end with some thoughts on the first serious commute I’ve ever done in my life, shall we?
Lessons from commuting:
- Leave spare time. My 6.55am train has been delayed three out of the five times I have taken it thusfar. Twice by only ten minutes or so (which still isn’t super-fun when it means ten extra minutes sitting on a chilly station platform in the dark), but once by 45 minutes. I have built slack into my schedule accordingly, but I wish I could get some kind of train weather forecast so that I knew which days I may as well have a lie in and rock up late.
- On the train from Oxford to Paddington, and indeed on the train from Paddington to Oxford, if I sit on the left-hand side of the carriage then I get to see the sunrise on the way in and the sunset on the way back. I mean, this should give you an idea of the kind of hours I’m doing, which is a bit depressing. But it’s still pretty.
- Trains are cold. My morning train is freezing. I have no idea why, since it’s nearly October, but they seem to be air conditioning it. I genuinely need an extra layer just for the train.
- I stick out like a duckling in a bevy of swans. My morning train is about 80% business men in suits, and there are also some business women in suits. And then there’s me, pale-faced and wild-haired at 6.45am, with an air of confusion and a massive rucksack.
- First Great Western (or Great Western Rail as they are now apparently called, I can’t keep up), say they have WiFi on their trains, but I can’t figure out how to make it work, and I have tried fairly hard. Anyone who knows how to access this magical commodity will be a new goddess in my eyes, because I am chewing through my phone’s data allowance like a piece of chocolate fudge cake (for me that equals very fast, you see?) and it’s not going to last.
- When cycling four miles through central London in rush hour traffic, it’s the tourists you have to watch out for. I haven’t had any issues with buses, taxis, or lorries (er, yet), but tourists will just blithely wander out into the middle of the road and look at you in befuddlement as you shriek and swerve to the side to avoid ploughing them down.
- There are 32 sets of traffic lights on my route from Paddington to Leiths, and that’s not counting zebra crossings.
Week 2 is looming on the horizon, and I am going to go and have a very significant nap.
Wait, you want to see a photo of me in the painfully stylish headgear? Oh go on then.