Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 8

Week 8, my friends, and I am winding down against my will. The commute seems longer than ever, the lashing winds and chilling rain that ushered in June were less than appreciated, and I find myself fantasising about things like sleeping in until 7am, reading for pleasure without guilt, and cooking things that have nothing to do with the syllabus. This state of mind is unhelpful, because we still have Weeks 9 and 10 of cooking to get through, followed by exam week, but I am simply bone-tired, would really rather not have another round of terrifying tests both theoretical and practical, and am ready to hang up my necktie and stop doing four rounds of whites washes per week.

That said, if I were to have given up completely, I’d have missed Tuesday’s WI style session, in which we baked cake and made jam and chutney. Granted, the cake was a fiddly genoise base for a Gateau Opera, rather than a comforting lemon drizzle, but it was still a lovely calm morning. Our strawberry jams bubbled away happily, making the kitchen smell amazing, and our spiced pear chutneys reminded us, seasonally inappropriately, of Christmas.

In the afternoon, we were treated to a visit from charismatic cheese expert Tom Badcock. Tom told us that when he dies he wants to be buried with a large amount of Roquefort, and I can well believe it. The man knows his cheese. We sampled over a dozen varieties of the stuff, ranging from the standard ricotta and mozzarella to more unusual (and expensive) fare such as cave aged Kaltbach Gruyere, Munster, and Testun Barola. He also knows pretty much everything about the history of milk and cheese, and regaled us with interesting stories.


Wednesday morning’s cooking session was an odd combination of Opera cake and grilled sardines. I very much like both of these things, but not together, and it was odd jumping from butterflying fish to soaking sponge with coffee syrup. We also over-ran by about forty five minutes due mostly to the sheer complexity of the cake. Nonetheless, I managed to produce the cake you see above – a layered creation with sponges soaked in coffee syrup and stacked with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. Below is my delicious but unphotogenic lunch of griddled sardines, salsa verde, and roasted Jersey Royals. An optimistic summery meal to counteract the dismal weather.


In the afternoon we were visited by Hilary Cacchio, a bread expert who specialises in wild yeast starters. I have gently dabbled in making sourdough at home, but my starter is currently dormant with a layer of hooch sitting on it in the fridge, as I haven’t had time for serious bread making while at Leiths. Anyway, Hilary showed us how to do it properly and I’ve been doing it all wrong, so perhaps it would be best for me to start from scratch when I’ve finished at school. I learned loads from Hilary – I have been using unfiltered water and non-organic flour, for instance, which is apparently a  bad idea – and all the breads she made us were delicious.


Thursday was the day of the shellfish massacre. I mean, I’m being dramatic, but that’s basically what it was. We were cooking crab and lobster, and had to kill and prep them both. Reader, I am ashamed to say I couldn’t do it. I am not a vegetarian. And I mean I’m really not a vegetarian; I’ll eat offal, veal, raw meat, whatever. Yes, I am a hypocrite. It’s one thing to be comfortable with eating meat, but another thing to be comfortable with killing it yourself, and as someone who isn’t skilled or confident in the arena of crustacean murder, I was afraid of causing the crab and lobster allocated to me more suffering than was necessary. I love animals and don’t even like to kill spiders; I am also overly empathetic to a fault and feel the pain of other living things. Although I am not squeamish and am fine with butchering something already dead – I had no problem prepping the shellfish once they had been killed – I just couldn’t stab a knife through a lobster skull or a steel through the belly of a crab. Watching them being killed upset me: they wriggled and panicked and tried to get away. It is the first time I have ever actually considered vegetarianism, if only in passing. But no: I am not ideologically against eating meat that is raised and killed humanely. I’m just not happy doing the killing with my own hands. I was surprised at myself, but the reaction was immediate and completely innate, and although I was embarrassed about it – everyone else in the class was fine with killing the crab and lobster – there was really nothing I could do. I had to leave the room while someone else killed both my crab and my lobster for me.

Anyway, I also made scallops with hazelnut and shrimp crumble and pea purée, so that was nice.


Moving swiftly on, we ended the week with a relaxed cooking session on Friday morning, during which we only had to make one dish: the starter portion of grapefruit jelly, crab mayonnaise, avocado purée, diced grapefruit and avocado, white crab meat, and micro-herbs you see above. Considering it was such a tiny little dish, polished off in three bites or so, it took a surprising amount of time and skill to make. I had never picked all of the meat out of a whole crab before, and, though it was actually quite satisfying, my hands now bear lots of little cuts from sharp pieces of shell.

Coming up next week: a creative rabbit dish; my first time working with red mullet; and a foray into fois gras. Have a lovely weekend.