Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 10

Week 10 dawned bright and cold, and brought with it our last full week of Intermediate Term, along with our theory exam and the promise of a practical assessment next week. We get two weeks off for Easter and I am booked up for every single day of the break, but a change is as good as a rest (I mean, it’s not, that’s clearly nonsense, but I’m trying to kid myself), and it will be a pleasure to have a pause on the 5.15am starts and constantly being freezing cold. I intend to spend as much of my time off as possible curled like a lizard in front of the wood-burning stove on our narrowboat, as an antidote to the school’s consistently Arctic air-conditioning and Spring refusing to get its act together.

But first, the last couple of hurdles. Monday morning started inauspiciously when my train from Oxford to London was completely cancelled. This of course happened on the morning of my theory exam, one of two or three days of term when I absolutely had to be in school on time. I had a little panic and then worked out an alternative route which involved a local stopping service and a terrifying mad dash in an anxious crowd of fellow commuters to make a tight connection, followed by the dubious pleasure of being rammed in a standing-room only carriage for a while. I had hoped for a serene hour in my usual seat on the quiet coach of the train to get some revision done, but it was not to be, and though I got to school on time in the end I was already frazzled. Consequently, the theory exam could definitely have gone better.


Luckily, Tuesday began with a skills session. These are always very relaxed as they involve no service times, and we all gently pottered about trying to perfect various techniques. I made bread and flaky pastry, and while my wholemeal beer loaf had a bit of ovenspring, my flaky pastry finally rose up proudly and dispelled last week’s failure from my mind (almost). Also, I now have loads of flaky pastry to make palmiers with. I should probably do something with the leftover flaky pastry I always have other than making palmiers, but unfortunately I find them irresistibly delicious.

On Tuesday afternoon we were treated to a visit from Phil Harrison, the chef from local pub The Anglesea Arms. I have never visited the pub before but now intend to get there at the earliest opportunity, because all the food Phil made us was fresh, seasonal, expertly cooked, and so delicious I was very sad to only be allowed to try a taste of each dish. Phil was a lively and entertaining presenter, who claimed to be very nervous, although I have to say the nerves didn’t translate to the food at all. We had poached duck eggs with Jerusalem artichokes cooked several ways, a glorious turbot dish with wild garlic and morels, saddle of lamb with kidneys and anchovies, and crème brulee with rhubarb and pistachio. Yes, they’re spoiling us. I never eat turbot because it’s frighteningly expensive; Phil told us the fish he was prepping for us to taste cost around £100.

On Wednesday we returned to butchery, a process I usually really enjoy, and luckily this time was no different. We had been given the task of boning out a chicken. I remember when this concept was first broached thinking it sounded mad and completely impossible, but that which can be spoken can be achieved and so on, and sure enough, I was eventually left with an entirely boneless chicken, which I then reformed around a ricotta and herb stuffing, ready for roasting the following day. It’s a bit of a hassle and not something I’m going to be cracking out every weekend, but nonetheless, it was oddly satisfying.

Annie and David then took us for a canapé dem, giving us a whistlestop tour of the twelve incredible canapés they dreamed up for the end of term canapé party on Friday. They managed to pack a huge amount into the afternoon, and we jumped from beetroot meringues with almond and goats’ cheese to bavette steak with onion and thyme to passionfruit brulée on pate sucrée, with several other stops along the way. Canapés, though miniscule, are a huge amount of work, and it’s a real skill to turn out hundreds of little mouthfuls of food that are all delicious, identical, and beautiful, so the whole thing was very impressive.


Thursday morning’s cooking session was basically an exercise in preparing lots of intricate and tasty food which we then got to eat for our lunch. My spaghetti vongole, pictured above, features pasta made, rolled, and cut by my very own hands (well, with a pasta machine, but the pasta was fed through the machine with my very own hands). Below you can see the results of Wednesday’s foray into chicken boning, sliced atop a bed of an Ottolenghi salad containing quinoa, red rice, pistachios, and apricots, amongst other delights.


Our guest dem in the afternoon was given by Jeremy Pang from the School of Wok. I do not know nearly enough about Chinese cuisine, or Asian food in general, so it was a treat to be guided through by an expert. Jeremy’s dim sum demonstration made shaping the intricate little dumplings look easy, but this was entirely down to his professional skill and years of practice, as we realised when we came up to have a go at shaping ourselves and realised just how difficult it is.

Finally, on our last proper day of term (I am not counting the practical exam next week as a proper day) we helped prep the canapés for the evening’s party – I got to pipe out hundreds of little beetroot meringues – and finally were told what we will be cooking for our end of term assessment. In case you’re curious, we’ve been tasked with cheese soufflés, sea bream (scaled, gutted, and filleted) with sauce vierge and skordalia, vanilla bavarois with raspberry coulis, and a loaf of beer bread. Sounds like quite a big ask for a four hour exam, right? I’m off to go and panic quietly in a corner. I hope you all have weekends far more relaxing than mine is about to be. See you on the other side.


Leiths: Foundation Term, Week 8

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.