Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 6

I tend to write this blog assuming that I’m talking to myself, only to be surprised every now and then to hear from people who read it who I wouldn’t necessarily expect to do so. People who aren’t my family or closest friends – I assume they occasionally have a glance out of polite obligation – but passing acquaintances or friends of friends, people who I wouldn’t expect to be following along with my rambling story. So, strange as it feels to me to announce this as though I’m speaking to readers, I’m letting you know that you’re not getting a proper blog this week.

On Monday we had wine revision and an unexciting prep cooking session, on Tuesday we were out of school for a wine trip, on Wednesday we had all day cooking, on Thursday we had the day off for wine revision, and on Friday we had our wine exam. So, cooking wise, all I have to tell you about is Wednesday! I could describe the seven hours of travelling it took me to get to and from Sussex on Tuesday or the terror of the WSET Level 2 paper on Friday but, let’s face it, if you’re here at all you’re probably here for the food.


On Wednesday we only had two dishes to serve, and one of them we’d prepared on Monday. This sounds like an easy day, but oddly, it wasn’t. We started with a terrine made with pork, liver, and pistachio, served with sourdough and microherbs. Surprisingly easy and delicious, and perfect for making ahead and slicing and serving to guests. The second dish was a creative duck plate. Essentially, they gave us a duck and told us to do whatever we wanted with it and use as much of the bird as possible. I went for: pan fried duck breast; beetroot ravioli filled with duck confit, thyme and garlic; pickled baby beetroot and shallot rings; celeriac purée; baby carrots, peas, and micro herbs; and a duck and port jus. If you think that sounds complicated, you should have seen some of the dishes that other people came up with. They were seriously beautiful and professional and I am in awe of (and slightly jealous of) so many of my classmates. As we were all making complex dishes with multiple components to be brought together for service, it was a bit of a manic day and resulted in the most terrifying and comic washing up pile I have ever seen.

So, our big portfolio hand in deadline has passed, our WSET Level 2 exam is over (thank god, on both counts), and next week is Week 7. I can’t quite believe it, but we’re very nearly there.

And I’ll try to give you a proper blog post next week.


Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 5

So, everyone has a base carbohydrate, right? Apart from people on paleo or Atkins (is Atkins still a thing?), I suppose. But whether it’s pasta, bread, potatoes, or rice, I think most of us have a favourite substance for comforting after cold days, for bulking things out, for soaking up flavours, for making life a little bit nicer. For me, that carbohydrate is pasta. I could eat it by the tureen-full simply with butter or cheese and a little seasoning. I am still, after four years of student-dom, far from sick of packaged dried spaghetti with pesto from a jar. So learning to make ever-fancier pasta at Leiths is cause for celebration from this quarter.

On Monday, we made crab, prawn, and scallop tortellini, served with chives in a prawn bisque sauce. What’s not to love, really? Well, actually, I didn’t massively love grinding the beautiful scallops down into a mousseline, but the actual act of making tortellini is immensely satisfying. It all made for a very delicious and luxurious lunch.


In the afternoon we were visited by David Bailey from Wholefood Heaven. David specialises in vegetarian food, and has a very interesting background, having made the leap from being a restaurant chef to running a very successful street food van. I am no stranger to working in food vans, and it was lovely to hear his perspective on the industry. Turns out, though, that even fancy renowned foodie vegetarians still miss bacon and have nut roast at Christmas. Everything he made was delicious, and I might even have been convinced to give tofu another go.

Tuesday’s cooking session looked simple on the timetable, and then somehow turned out to be surprisingly tiring. I’m not sure why. Actually, wait, I am sure why: making sabayon by hand. Whisking furiously over a hot stove with a manual whisk surrounded by fifteen other people doing the exact same thing for twenty minutes. It’s a bit spirit-crushing. My outlook was slightly improved by the fact that the elderflower sabayon was made to be served with cinnamon maple French toast with balsamic strawberries and baby basil, which made a wonderful early lunch. My sabayon, despite twenty minutes of vigorous hand-whisking over heat, still did not have enough volume to it, but to be quite honest I was not physically capable of whisking it any more, so flat it had to be.


The afternoon brought a restorative chocolate dem with Ansobe. I love working with (read: eating) chocolate, so it was pretty much my happy place, and I only wish I had the equipment to re-produce all the beautiful chocolates at home.

Wednesday morning saw the cumulation of three days hard work: we finally baked the croissant dough we had been working on all week. As I mentioned in the last blog, croissants are not an endeavour for the faint-hearted, but like most things of these nature, they are incredibly satisfying. My croissants browned incredibly quickly in the unreliable gas oven and are thus looking a bit more bronzed than I would have liked, but I was praised for their perfect bake and lamination, so they were very tasty even though they won’t be winning any croissant beauty contests. That was also the morning we shucked oysters in order to deep-fry them and serve them with a citrus mayonnaise and pickled vegetables. I have never been particularly talented in the oyster-shucking department and was slightly worried about stabbing myself in the hand, but managed to get through unscathed and even avoided any deep-frying disasters, only to sustain a burn on my arm when the oven door swung back and caught me unexpectedly. It’s the little things. I now have a distinct oven door lock mark burn on my wrist, because I love Leiths and its ovens so dearly I’ve had to brand myself to prove it.


In the afternoon, Michael gave us a guided tour through the wonderful world of terrines, with a focus on the use of fois gras. Terrines are great because you can make them in advance and they don’t have to be too tricky (although they can be) but they can look all fancy and professional and you can pretend you know what you’re doing. Or at least, Michael’s terrines looked fancy and professional. I can’t promise the same of my attempt next week.


Thursday was another all day health and safety session, so not much to say there, but Friday was an all day cooking session. We seem to be having all day cooking sessions every week these days, and they vary. Some are fun opportunities to work on something more involved in the kitchen, some a gruelling slog with multiple service times which leave me fit only for lying on the floor and moaning quietly. I was worried this week might be one of the latter as I heard from the group that had done it first that they had lost the will to live by the end of it. It was definitely a long day but I was really happy with some of the food I produced. Above is a seared tuna salad with fennel, asparagus, and radish, and a mixed vegetable vinaigrette. Fresh tuna steak is one of my favourite foods in the world, so getting to cook and eat it in class felt like utter luxury, even if I did need a little more colour on the crust. Below is a dish of pan-fried sweetbreads on a pomme purée with baby leeks and carrots, as well as peas and a Madeira jus. I get the feeling I am in the minority in the class here, but I love sweetbreads, and thought the dish was delicious – I was even praised for my presentation, and believe me, that doesn’t happen often.


Finally, we finished with a raspberry-themed dessert: pâte sablée biscuits and crumb, served with raspberry coulis, raspberry sorbet, and fresh raspberries. You can perhaps see that I was getting a bit tired by this point – I was aiming for abstract arty presentation and ended up with a bit of a mess – but I ate everything on that slate and the ensuing sugar rush was very welcome indeed.


We’ve got a busy week next week, with a big portfolio deadline, a field trip to a vineyard, and our WSET exams (gulp), along with an all day cooking session. It really does feel like we’re in the advanced term now, with our food getting ever more complex, and the real world of post-Leiths employment is right around the corner. If anyone wants to hire me as their private chef and fancies living on a diet of tuna steak and raspberry sorbet, please get in touch…