Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 8

It was when we were tunnel boning the huge joints of lamb, gleaming kitchen ringing with chatter and boning knives flying and scraping through meat, that someone on my table commented ‘I bet not many other people come in to London to do this on a Monday morning’. This prompted us all to briefly reflect on what we would have been doing at 10am on a Monday morning a year ago. For most of us, it would have involved sitting in an office. Perhaps chatting idly to the colleague at the next desk, flicking through emails, or wandering off to making another procrastinatory cup of tea. And I hate tea.

Finally, after a twenty five minute battle, the bone came free from my leg of lamb and I carefully eased it out, leaving the meat intact. It was huge, as long as my arm, knobbly with odd twists and turns and festooned with thick, dangling sinews. I was first to extract my bone and I briefly held it above my head in triumph, my trophy. I grinned at Will across the table.

Then I got on with my pasta dough.


Monday was creative lamb day, which saw us all boning out gigantic pieces of meat which we were then free to do whatever we wanted with. I made parsley pappardelle from scratch and minced down some lamb to make a spicy ragu. I was a little bit put out when I realised that everyone else had done beautiful, elegant, restaurant-style dishes, and that all I had to offer was a big old bowl of pasta, the likes of which grace many home dinner tables every night. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love a big bowl of pasta, but there were people turning out some seriously impressively presented plates of food and I just can’t do that. However, I was slightly heartened when Shauna pronounced my dish delicious and said she wanted to stand there and keep eating it. Then three other students came over to try a spoonful of ragu. At least it tasted good, right?

Our afternoon consisted of another wine lecture, this time on fortified wine – think lots of sherry and port tasting. I try to come in to every wine lecture with an open mind, but I have to admit that I have never liked sherry or port and I still don’t. Sherry reminds me of Christmas and port reminds me of terrible university stereotypes and bad times. However, the presenter, Richard, was clearly passionate about the subject and I am willing to admit that my aversion is simply down to me being fussy.


Tuesday morning was pretty relaxed and the lamb theme continued with us roasting a shoulder stuffed with a gorgeous feta and sundried tomato mixture. We ate our roast for lunch and it also included potatoes lovingly pan-fried in butter for ages, tenderstem broccoli, and a red wine gravy. I know it’s not a looker, but believe me, it tasted great. I ate so much that I actually felt a little sick and spent the rest of the afternoon making ‘oof’ noises whenever I had to bend down.

If possible, Tuesday afternoon was even better. We had an ice cream dem with Ansobe and Annie and, just for once, instead of trying one small bite of everything, we were allowed to come up to the front and eat as much as we liked. Pistachio ice cream, ginger ice cream, palm sugar ice cream, blackcurrant ice cream, apricot sorbet, marscapone sorbet, tuilles, brandy snaps, crumble, chocolate sauce, pistachio praline… it was wonderful. After finishing the morning swearing that I didn’t even want to look at food again lest I simply die from being hideously full, I managed to eat a stunning amount of ice cream. I don’t know if the unfettered access to desserts was Ansobe’s way of bribing us into saying it was the best dem ever, but if it was then well played: it was the best dem ever.


I know it doesn’t look too inspiring, but this is my blackcurrant soufflé and it’s the best one I have ever made. Granted, it had sunk a bit and had a spoon stuck in it by the time I got to taking this photo, but Belinda had no negative comments – it’s always a rare and satisfying treat when your food receives no criticism.


We also made marinated spatchcocked poussin. A poussin is an adorable tiny chicken, for those unaccustomed to dealing with miniature poultry (i.e. me before I started at Leiths – but now it’s all about the poussin, the partridge, the guinea fowl, the pigeon… Name the tiny bird and I’ve cooked it, probably badly). It was a delicious lunch that made me feel like a giant.

In the afternoon we were visited by the charming Peter Gordon, a New Zealander settled in London who has had a really interesting career as a chef and opened many restaurants. He is a champion of fusion food, having travelled seemingly pretty much everywhere, and was one of the first people to bring the concept to London restaurants. He was also a genuinely lovely person (or possibly a very good actor), and he cooked us lots of delicious food, including the wondrous invention of chorizo mashed potato. So simple, and yet so brilliant. I have no idea why I’ve not done it before, but I will certainly be doing it now.


Unfortunately, Thursday was just one of those days. You know? They’re not kitchen-exclusive. A day where you spend all your time rushing around in a panic trying to do seven tasks at once, and yet seem to get nothing done as time slips further and further away from you, and before you know it, it’s the afternoon, and wasn’t it just 9.30am five minutes ago and why is that sugar syrup caramelising and is that raspberry juice on your hat and where has all the time gone? We were making raspberry coulis and blackcurrant ice cream for Friday, as well as a hazelnut meringue cake and a salad with poached eggs. Our teacher for the day told me that if she’d been served my salad in a restaurant she’d have sent it back, which is never what you really want to hear. I am ate so much meringue cake I went a little bit sugar-hysterical.


Luckily, to make up for Thursday, Friday was just a lovely day. We made a sumptuous dish of sea bream (filleted by my own mauling hands, naturally), on a seafood stew with fennel, white wine, cockles, mussels, and shrimp. I was really happy with my dish and would make it again at home if only I had access to a decent fishmonger. At Leiths, we are completely spoiled by being given very high quality seafood to work with, and without it, a simple dish like this wouldn’t be nearly so satisfying.


We finished by compiling our dessert plates, which consisted of brandy snaps, blackcurrant ice cream, raspberry coulis, and fresh berries. Presentation is something I am really trying to work on, and it’s sometimes disheartening to see the absolutely stunning plates other people are serving up that wouldn’t be out of place in a high end restaurant. You can really feel that people are improving quickly and the standards of the group are rising week by week. I’m doing my best not to get left behind, but I have never had an artistic streak and making things beautiful doesn’t come easily to me.

Ursula Ferrigno led our session on Friday afternoon and it was all about Italian food. She was one of my favourite guest lecturers thusfar. Her love of what she was doing shone through and she was such a genuine and warm person that I couldn’t help but smile while watching her cook. I also really enjoyed her food and was inspired to try my own take on her recipes – I am sure they will be appearing on the blog soon. And when I say soon, I mean in a couple of months when I get a free moment. Maybe not even then.

The pace at Leiths is relentless, but I am slowly beginning to feel like I belong in a kitchen. A real kitchen, I mean, rather than my own one with the broken hob and tiny fridge. Week 9 is beckoning, exams are on the horizon, and the Intermediate Term is nearing its conclusion.


Leiths: Intermediate Term, Week 7

I’m going to make a sweeping, reductive statement and say that I’m not really a fan of red wine. If my mother is reading this, I’m pretty sure she’ll be shaking her head and tutting that I can’t possibly be her daughter, but I can’t help it: it’s never been ‘my drink’. White wine is beauty, gin and tonic is even better, but red? I’ll pass, thanks.

Monday, then, was a bit tricky for me, as it began with a wine lecture and tasting based entirely around Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Even the hardcore red wine fans struggled with it a bit first thing on a Monday morning. Our most regular WSET instructor, Richard, is funny and charming, and while it was very interesting learning about the different flavours one can theoretically find in Merlot, I was hard pushed to detect anything other than ‘red wine’ from my glass. Still much to learn there.


Monday afternoon, however, was an unexpected delight. We made gluten free citrus polenta cakes and a Moroccan spiced spinach and chickpea strudel (pictured above – believe me, tastier than it looks). Both of my dishes received actual praise from Ansobe and I was glowing all afternoon. Anyone who reads this blog will likely have noticed that I make a fair bit of cake, so that wasn’t too much of a challenge, but it was my first time with filo. Of course, we had to do it all by hand. Even Queen Mary Berry says on Bake Off that filo is the one pastry she would buy rather than make, so that should give you an indication of how high the Leiths standards are. Filo pastry, from scratch, by hand. People: we are not messing around here. It was actually quite enjoyable in the end, and though I don’t think I’ll be doing it at home any time soon, the end result was an achievement.


Tuesday’s cooking session was slightly less serene. We had to skin whole slip soles, so that we could serve them grilled with burnt hollandaise, which is a retro throwback of a dish that I doubt will be gracing my dinner table. Pulling skin off a whole sole is oddly satisfying: if you do it right, you should be able to rip the whole thing off in one go, leaving the flesh below intact. I am slowly gaining confidence with hollandaise. I usually have to stop myself eating it from the bowl with a spoon and remind myself that it’s supposed to be used to glaze fish/ top an omelette/ smother poached eggs and so on, as opposed to simply being a tasty snack. My fish was a teeny little bit undercooked, but my sauce was well made and seasoned and I am finally getting the hang of turned courgettes, so Tuesday was fairly good to me.


Wednesday was an all day session on food safety and hygiene, finished by an exam, which enabled us to achieve our CIEH Level 2 Award in Food Safety. It’s a compulsory part of the Leiths Diploma and it was exactly as fun as it sounds. As there are no photos of the actual event, please enjoy this picture of the sunrise from the train.

Thursday’s morning of cooking was all about preparation for our all day kitchen session on Friday, so we made and shaped hot water crust pastry ready for our veal and gammon pies (no standard pork pies here), prepared our pie fillings, and cooked a spicy tamarind chutney. Hot water crust pastry breaks all the normal pastry rules. It’s hot, and we’re used to taking elaborate measures to keep pastry as cold as possible. You have to work it, and we’re using to touching pastry as little as we can. It’s very forgiving and can be shaped like plasticine, and we’re used to pastry tearing at the slightest provocation. Basically, it’s awesome.

In the afternoon we were visited by another Leiths alum: Henry Harris, formerly of Racine. While telling us interesting stories about his career in restaurants, he prepared us brains in black butter, duck hearts on toast, scallops with crab and celeriac remoulade, and steak au poivre. I think even some previously self-professed offal haters were won over by the brain dish, which was lovely, and it’s always a treat to take a bite from a lump of fillet steak that probably would have cost me half my weekly food budget in a restaurant.


Finally Friday: all day cooking. These sessions used to inspire fear simply because they’re so full on, but now that we do them reasonably often our stamina has improved and they don’t feel so much tougher than a normal half day. That said, I did wish there had been somewhere convenient to have a little nap at lunch. We finished the above dish first – spicy pea and potato cakes with poached eggs and tamarind chutney, which was a very satisfying meal. Then it was on to the parade of pies. Okay, so we only did two pies each, but in a class of sixteen that totals 32 pies, which is not to be sniffed at. The pie below is a chicken and red pepper special, which may not look too remarkable at first, but is crowned by my first (and happily successful) attempt at making flaky pastry from scratch. I am quite proud of the way all the layers have puffed up, even though it was pronounced underbaked. This was entirely my fault, because I was so impatient to get it out of the oven and see the pastry that I didn’t want to give it another five minutes.


Finally, the hand raised veal and gammon pie. This was a labour of love, constructed over three days, and I have to say it was worth the effort. It was absolutely delicious, even though it was so heavy that it could have easily qualified as a weapon. I literally had to take an entirely separate bag home to accommodate all the pie, and ended up borrowing spare tupperware from my kind classmate Shalini when my own supply was exhausted. The businessman sitting next to me on the train home to Oxford looked at me oddly as I lovingly cradled my bag of pie on my lap all the way home.

So we say goodbye to Week 7 and move on to Week 8, and the end of term looms terrifyingly close. Onwards.


Leiths: Foundation Term, Week 5

In one of our many introductory talks, I distinctly remember someone saying that by the end of Week 5, everything would have started to fall into place. We’d be used to the routine of Leiths, we’d have built up some stamina, we’d have the basic skills to be able to navigate most of the recipes… we’d be amazing, basically. That last bit’s not what they said, but you know.

I don’t feel amazing, exactly, but I’ve settled into the routine. It now seems like a completely normal thing for me to get up at ridiculous o’clock and trek to London to cook daily. So much so that the clocks going back has thrown me off a bit. I’m used to leaving the flat in the dark: the new cold light of morning is not kind to my 6.30am face. Nevertheless, I now know exactly where to stand on the train platform so that the door of my favourite carriage judders to a halt directly in front of me: it’s the small satisfactions that get me through the commute.

Looking at our timetable this week, it initially seemed like Leiths was going easy on us Monday-Wednesday in order to make up for the fact that Thursday was our first all-day cooking marathon. More on that in a moment. Monday was fairly lovely as cooking sessions go – brownies, scones, tartare sauce, and feeding our Christmas cakes. We were delighted to find that we had been provided with a substantial vat of clotted cream and gigantic jars of jam for scone-garnishing purposes (cream then jam, obviously, you heathens) and spent a happy afternoon melting chocolate, shaping scone dough, and sampling the booze we’d brought to feed our Christmas cakes, in the name of science.


Things were slightly less relaxing on Tuesday, when we made pastry and chilli. Because we’ve made pastry four times now, we were expected to know what we were doing… and it turns out that I don’t. I messed up the shaping of my pastry in the flan ring, and even after I’d spent a good fifteen minutes perfecting the edges, it still ultimately came out of the oven ugly and misshapen. The chilli, while a relatively simple recipe, did involve sixteen people browning mince over high heat at the same time. Such was the heat of the oil that things occasionally went up in flames, and not on purpose. We later finished our chilli – mine came out incredibly spicy – and developed our little pastry cases into lemon meringue pies. My meringue was a bit of a mess, but my lemon filling was tasty and held well, so I’m calling that a draw.

My slightly dodgy pie, on the left, and my partner’s much neater meringue, on the right.

Thursday, our first all-day cooking extravaganza, saw us making slow-cooked beef stew with caramelised baby onions and a potato and celeriac mash, individual loaves of white bread, goujons of plaice with tartare sauce, and fish stock. When I list it like that, it doesn’t actually sound like much. The thing is that at Leiths you can’t cut corners. If I was at home, for example, I’d whack my meat for browning in the pan all at once, and sort of vaguely get some colour on it whilst half watching 90s music videos on YouTube in the background and call it a day. At Leiths, we season and brown the meat in batches – being sure not to crowd the pan – lovingly turn each perfectly-sized piece in rotation to ensure all the meat is coloured evenly on all sides, and deglaze the pan after each batch and taste the juices. Obviously, doing everything properly takes much longer. Who knew? You can’t even have Mint Royale on in the background, and if you absent-mindedly start singing or whistling to yourself you get reprimanded, so you know they mean business.


Anyway, everything all went swimmingly. No, really. The day was absolutely fine, stress levels were pretty low, and the only real problem I had was that at the end of it I was so tired from being on my feet for eight hours that I had to sit on the floor while I waited for my bread to be marked because they could no longer carry me. And then I cycled 4.5 miles back to the station in the dark. And in the evening I went to bed at 9pm because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. But other than that.


Our Tuesday morning dem was with Belinda, who is a lovely, calming presence. She demonstrated many wonderful things that can be done with choux pastry (we demonstrated the eating of choux pastry – I always like to do my bit to be helpful), and we saw profiteroles, three types of éclairs, canapés, and savoury choux gougère. Wednesday was just as great, because it was steak day. Need I say more? Probably yes. Phil was technically demonstrating ‘tender cuts of meat and pan sauces’, but we all knew what that really meant: steak day. We got to sample bites of fillet, sirloin, rump, ribeye, and onglet, with various accompanying sauces and butters, and I felt quite spoiled. I don’t usually buy or order fillet steak because the price sort of scares me, so I’ve barely ever eaten it before, and it was gorgeous.

I know this is a rubbish picture, but I couldn’t get a proper view from where I was sitting and I wanted to demonstrate the abundance of steak.

The dem of the week, though, against very strong competition, was Friday’s buffet session with Hannah and Hélène. They prepared us a gorgeous array of delicious buffet food, and stood back to let us feast. I don’t know what would happen to me if I had to prepare eight or ten dishes to feed fifty people in a morning, but I imagine it would probably end with me crying in a corner and begging for mercy. We all had second helpings of everything, and then dessert, and then I don’t really know what happened for the next hour or so because I was in a happy food daze.


Also, chocolate roulade? Surprisingly amazing. I have had very dry and crumbly roulades in the past, but this was moist and chocolatey and completely lovely, and I will definitely be making it at some point.

The trouble is that now we have to work in groups to produce buffets for 32 people, and making a buffet doesn’t sound quite as relaxing as eating one was. In our teams, we have to come up with a theme, design a menu, work out costings to a strict budget, source all the ingredients, and, er, cook the whole thing in three hours and serve it beautifully to a jury of our peers and teachers before receiving feedback and being marked. I am sure I will panic more about this in a future blog.


So Week 5 is over, and we are officially halfway through Foundation. Everyone keeps telling me I look tired and pale, last night I was so exhausted that I got confused and walked into a wall, and next week I will continue to work with lots of knives and fire while practically sleepwalking. Still, on Monday we get to make chocolate mousse, blackberry pavlova, and steak, so that will definitely ease the pain a little if I end up losing a finger.


Leiths: Foundation Term, Week 4

Let this week go down in history as the week that I actually seasoned some things correctly. On Monday, I made cauliflower cheese, and the seasoning was pronounced acceptable.

Let us all take a moment to consider this achievement.

Let’s bask in the glow of a correctly seasoned cauliflower cheese.



The ride continued when, on Tuesday, I produced well-seasoned spinach and chicken in tomato sauce. Then, on Wednesday and Thursday, well-seasoned fish. Want to know the secret? Loads of salt. Seriously. You season something as you normally would. Then add more salt. Add more salt. Think that’s enough? Ha. Fool. Add more salt. Now you’re good.

Another first, though less triumphant: this week I got my first burn. Not my first burn ever, obviously, but my first at Leiths. I took a tray from a 200 degree oven using oven gloves that had a hole in them. I didn’t realise they had a hole in them until the whole pain and burning flesh bit. Ow ow ow. Aren’t burns annoying? You sort of forget how inconvenient they are until you get one and then you remember the stinging. Oh, the stinging. On the plus side, that was on the Monday morning that we made roast beef as a table of four, and everything went surprisingly swimmingly. We had so much to do that morning that we thought we’d be stymied from the off, but we worked efficiently as a group and hit the service time perfectly. Also, best lunch ever.


Continuing down First Lane, we had our first real and proper exam this week: the WSET Level 1. Now, luckily we weren’t examined on our wine tasting skills, because as I have mentioned before, I am a bit, um, terrible at tasting wine like a professional. It tastes of booze, damnit, now bring me the bottle and stop asking questions. Instead, we had a 45 minute multiple choice question paper. Luckily they don’t tell us the results until just before Christmas, so I’ve got ages before I have to find out how badly I’ve done.

On Wednesday, we filleted sole. Tip: do not wield a very sharp filleting knife if your hands are shaking. Luckily we got to have another go at filleting on some beautiful plaice on Thursday and I managed to avoid completely cocking it up. We also made delicious meringues of joy (technical term for you there). You know, I thought I wasn’t that mad on meringues – I mean, I’ll eat them, I’m not crazy, it’s dessert – but when Hannah made them in the dem last week they were so good that I changed my mind, and luckily mine went well too. Perhaps I have just been doing them wrong for years. Anyway, I am a meringue convert.


We also had a cake dem with Sue, which was amazing because, well, cake dem. Scones, fruit cake, Swiss roll, ginger cake, yoghurt cake, Victoria sandwich… this was right after the meringues as well, so I floated home on a cloud of sugar. That’s a lie, obviously: it poured rain that day and I slogged back to the station to cram onto a train as always. But that’s a less romantic image.


This week, we also made Christmas cakes. In October. We’re going to lovingly feed and nurture them with alcohol for the next few weeks until we get to decorate and, hopefully, eat them. I must admit that traditional fruit cake is not usually my favourite, but when we tried some in Sue’s cake dem it was actually delicious. I am quite happy with how my little cake came out and am really looking forward to tasting it. In a few weeks. We’re all about the delayed gratification.


I went into the week thinking that Friday would be a lovely day, as we were starting with a slow-cooking meat dem and finishing by making lots of cake. Unfortunately, I reckoned without my comically brilliant ability to injure myself in ridiculous ways. I got up at 5.30am as usual, got into the shower, leaned down to pick something up, and my back went. I’ve been having issues with my back since an accident way back in July (I was trying roller derby and the universe always warns me off organised sports by making terrible things happen to me), but this is the first time I have had the experience of my back going from fine to completely not fine in one second for no apparent reason. I was literally paralysed, couldn’t move my legs, and thought I was going to black out from the pain. Poor James was sleeping, as normal people generally are at 5.45am, and was roused by me hysterically shouting for him in panic. He had to carry me out of the shower and lay me on the bed and together we slowly worked to get my legs moving again. Romance isn’t dead, people.

At this point, I was crying with pain, prostrate on my back, and half-paralysed, but bullish and determined to make it into school because I am a massive idiot. I took many painkillers and put on a heat pack and practised walking slowly around the bedroom until I felt less like collapsing. Of course, this all took such a long time that I missed my train, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to ride a bike for 4.5 miles at the other end of the journey anyway, so I decided to drive from Oxford to London. It was after I’d been stuck in solid, unmoving, accident traffic on the M40 for half an hour, still in agony and starving because I’d not had the chance to have breakfast, that I started to think that perhaps I should have admitted defeat and stayed in bed.

It was all worth it in the end though, because Heli did the slow cooking dem for us, and the food was pure, delicious comfort. Cottage pie, lamb daube, carbonnade of beef, oxtail stew, and loads of mashed potato. I sat in the dem room and slowly calmed down, aided by occasional injections of slow cooked meat and carbs. Then I limped through an afternoon of baking. My Victoria sandwich was one of the messiest cakes I have ever made, but I was happy with my Swiss roll, and even happier that I got to gently medicate myself with sugar all afternoon.


On Monday we begin Week 5, the completion of which will mark the halfway point of the first term. Somehow it’s nearly November, the leaves are going, I’m back in wool tights and knee-high boots, and the fact that there are Christmas things in the shops doesn’t seem utterly ridiculous.

I bought some Calvados to feed my Christmas cake. That’ll work, right?



Leiths: Foundation Term, Week 3

It’s been a funny old week. When we started at Leiths, we were told that by the end of the third week we’d be so exhausted that we’d basically be dragging ourselves around on our knees, begging for mercy and occasionally weakly lifting ourselves up to the stoves to attempt to make a white sauce before falling asleep. This is probably why Leiths went fairly easy on us this week – because they fear our collective complete collapse. We don’t get anything as lavish as a half term, but we do have a three day weekend, which is why I am writing this at 10am on a Friday morning in my PJs, having just eaten cheese on toast for breakfast and experiencing that odd feeling of unsettling freedom. You know, when you’re consciously aware that you’re allowed to be at home and barely moving, but you’re so used to rushing around all the time that your subconscious is quietly panicking and going ‘Come on, get your act together, woman! Up and at ’em! Go and do something! Anything!’. So I occasionally leap up and walk purposefully into the kitchen, turn around in a circle, realise there’s nothing I have to be doing in there, wash up a mug or something as a token effort, and then go and sit back down again.

Oddly enough, though, I’ve not been as tired as I’d expected to be. With the epic commute, the long days, cooking for hours on end, and trying to absorb huge amounts of new information, I thought I’d be sobbing quietly in a corner by now. But I’ve been surprised at what my body and my mind can handle. It might be because I am so used to being stupidly busy and working very hard, or it might be because it’s only been three weeks and I’m going to have my real crash in week five or something. Instead, what I’ve found tough is going back into an educational environment. Being observed, criticised, and tested, puts me on edge and basically makes me a rubbish cook. I mean, that’s my excuse, anyway. Perhaps I am simply just a rubbish cook.

You would think that sixteen nervous people flambéing Crepes Suzette in one kitchen would be a recipe for disaster and hair-aflame, but no, it was simply how we ended Monday. We’d started it with a wine lecture – tasting included, naturally – so having covered both drinking alcohol and setting it on fire, I went into the week feeling prepared for pretty much anything. I mean, frankly, what other life skills does one need? We were also informed that our wine exam would be, um, next week. This seems terrifyingly soon to me, but hey. I’m sure they know what they are doing. I will be able to confirm or deny this by the end of next Tuesday.

The wine lectures have been really interesting and it’s been great to branch out into a new area of the course, but I have to say, I’ve found it quite tricky. The theory has been fine, but I’m not very good at the tasting. I usually choose wine at the supermarket based on a) whether or not I can afford it and b) how nice the bottle looks. Seriously. So my wine-palate is not what you would call refined. Tasting wine is part of the lecture process (first thing on a Monday morning, which takes a bit of mental adjustment), and one of the first things to do is check the ‘nose’ of the wine to see what you can smell. People were offering answers such as ‘black cherry’, ‘leather’, and ‘oak’, but to be brutally honest, all I can ever smell is ‘wine’, and if I said I could smell anything else I would be lying. Still, it does sound quite impressive to throw out ‘herbaceous notes! Hmm… possibly mint?’, so sometimes I join in for fun. I particularly enjoyed the session on matching food with wine, during which we were presented with little taster plates of food to try with different wines to see the effect they had on each other.

Green apple + Sauvignon Blanc = very bad idea. Who knew?

On Tuesday morning, we had a fish dem. Now, I love fish and wouldn’t mind eating it for breakfast (which I essentially did that day), so I was a very happy culinary student, although I think sole meunière at 9.30am may have been a bit much for some people. Michael laid out a great display of various types of fish – I think fish are beautiful – and I considered stealing that turbot which is probably worth more than my laptop, but ultimately decided against it due to the impracticality of hiding stolen fish in a locker room. And my impeccable moral code, obviously. We even got to end the dem with delicious plaice goujons (posh fish fingers), freshly fried and dipped in home-made tartare sauce, before heading off to, er, eat more lunch.

Yes, all I do all day every day is eat. What of it?

This week also saw our first foray into bread-making. We made rosemary focaccia. We actually made it twice, as you can see from the picture, to make sure we had the method forever imprinted into our dough-weary heads. The 17.49 from Paddington that day was suffused with the smell of freshly baked bread, and as no one knew my rucksack was full of focaccia I think it may have caused some confusion. I distinctly heard one girl say to her friend ‘Am I going mad, or does it smell like bread to you?’ Stranger, you are not mad. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you so. You would have thought I was weird.


On Wednesday afternoon we made fish pie, which all went a bit wrong for me. I’ve made fish pie dozens of times, and I’ve noticed so far that somehow it’s the stuff I make all the time which I screw up, and the stuff I’ve never made before that I somehow manage to fluke my way through. We’d been given a specific service time to test our organisational skills, and were told that we’d lose points for being late. I took this all very seriously and worked as quickly as I could, only to find myself on course to finish about 45 minutes before the specified service time. Because I’m an idiot, I hadn’t initially understood that we weren’t allowed to serve early either, so at this point I had to come to a squealing halt and leave my pie sitting on the side for a while to kill some time.

I’ve also been told I am under-seasoning my food so far, so on fish pie day I went absolutely wild with the seasoning. I then tasted it and thought ‘Oh god, this is incredibly salty, I have massively over-seasoned’. The problem is that you can’t really reverse over-seasoning, but I thought ‘Ah well, at least I won’t be under this time!’. Of course, as I am sure you can guess, when my pie was tasted it was pronounced under-seasoned. Essentially, I think I must have a really bad palate, and I can’t tell when something is correctly seasoned, so that’s definitely something I have to work on. I was also really disappointed to have messed up the piping of my mash on to my pie in my haste to get finished – before I realised we couldn’t be early – because I do a lot of piping (as you can probably see from all the cupcake and birthday cake recipes on this blog), so I really should know what I am doing by now. All in all, a disappointing day.


Finally, Thursday began with a beautiful meringue dem from a fellow Hannah. (Side note: usually, there are a dozen other Hannahs wherever I go – in every class or group I’ve ever been in, in every job I’ve had – but I am the only Leiths student in our group this year called Hannah! I can just put my first name on everything without my surname initial! The Lauras and Emilys of my generation will also understand the delight of this). We got to taste an insane amount of meringue nest, pavlova, meringue roulade, and lemon meringue pie. They then cleverly gave us a test while we were completely hopped up on sugar. I think I refrained from simply scrawling ‘MORE MERINGUE please feed me delicious meringue forever’ across my test paper, but cannot be sure.

The day came to an end with my inexpert gutting and cooking of that beautiful mackerel up there. I think this week has been the toughest for me so far, but I have still learned loads and, although it’s slow and halting, I feel like I might have gradually started to make some progress.

Also, I can cycle all the way up the stupid hill on my commute now without feeling like my lungs are going to explode. So that’s good.