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.