Sunday, January 13, 2013

Week One in Leiths: The good, the spilled and the ugly (woodcock)

In numbers:

1: The number of giant pots of hot custard I spilled all over my counter.

730: Layers in flaky pastry with 6 rolls and folds.

1, 500: Stirs in my risotto alla Milanese. 

37 million: Rabbits in the UK.

5 million: The number of commuters I battled my way across London with. 

998: The number of times I pinched myself and thought 'this is really happening'. 
What a difference a week makes: 120 little hours. I've learnt more about food and cooking this week than in the last few years. From the moment you walk in the doors of Leiths in the morning, one thing matters and one thing only: cooking.  It's flown by in a blur of Tube - classes - Tube - homework - bed.

The BiblesBedtime reading

The course

There're 96 students altogether, split into classes. 17 of us have just joined for the two term Diploma. Monday - Friday we have demonstrations and cooking sessions which alternate each week between the morning and afternoon. We also have a wine tasting and food matching class once a week. Homework is compiling your time plan for cooking and reading up on techniques and recipes. The first few days felt like being back at school - who will I sit beside? But happily the other kids are very nice and letting me play with them.


This week I had morning demonstrations ranging from the beautiful (and sometimes trauma inducing) Hollandaise sauce to the marvellous world of pastry and game. We taste all the recipes cooked. Tender wild boar cheeks - yes, woodcock - no thank you. Sitting there watching the teachers cook I mentally jumped up and down and screamed yes, yes, yes. I can't quite believe I'm getting to experience this and want to savour every single second.

Wednesday morning and I'm learning about the intricacies of flaky pastry. I thought I knew about pastry. But oh dear, there is so much more to pastry. And really that's what I've learnt this week. There is so much more I need to know about EVERYTHING.


Then it's time to clamber clumsily into my Chef's whites, trousers, necktie, apron and safety trainers.  We work together in fours on each counter and cook two - three recipes which are tasted by the teachers during each session. All the time our skills are being assessed; knife skills, seasoning, egg cooking, meat preparation, timing, presentation, organisation, teamwork, health and safety. And then some.

My bubble 

Time loses all meaning in that kitchen.  It's a bubble in which cooking the dish correctly and serving it on time are the only things that count. It's not saving lives, or changing the world. But when I'm in that kitchen they're the only things that matters. The. Only. Things.

And washing up.

Within the space of 3 hours cooking you go through so many ups and downs. One minute I'm thinking 'brilliant I can do this'. The next I'm shrieking in my head 'What are you doing, don't do that!'. Then I do it (slowly). Like chicken and red pepper pie with flaky pastry, crispy Chicken Kiev, crème caramel and aubergine and prosciutto gougeres.

On Friday it was time to make Eggs Benedict. I love making Hollandaise and I can poach eggs. Remember what I just said.

My eggs were a lovely teardrop shape and I started my Hollandaise. No splitting. Let's season it shall we?  Let's go overboard with the salt. Because that would make sense wouldn't it?

After I called service and my teacher tasted it I could feel myself cringing, extra salty Hollandaise, how did I just do that? But sure it couldn't get worse could it?

My beautiful teardrop eggs won't let me down, they'll save me. My sweet little eggs.

She cut into them.

They weren't fully cooked. My terrible little eggs.

How. Did. I. Do. That.

I could tell you how I can really poach eggs. But that doesn't matter. What matters is what you serve in that kitchen. I can't make excuses - I messed up.

But then you have to just carry on, get on with the washing up and now that I'm outside the bubble it seems a little funny to be so obsessed with poached eggs. But when you're in it they matter.

The first week has opened my wide eyes to all I have to learn. I can't wait to keep going. There'll be ups, downs, twists, twirls but it feels like there's no where else I should be but right here, right now.

Tomorrow we're cooking partridges, I'm off to dream of one in a pear tree. Fingers crossed there're no poached eggs with that...

What's next:

Each weekend I'll do an update on my adventures in Leiths.

But that's a bit one-sided now isn't it? Check out the blogs of my lovely fellow students if you'd like to follow their journeys too; SteffiJackie and Kate.

What happened next?

Week Two in Leiths: Edible clouds and fascinating fish.
Week Three in Leiths: The Very Hungry Cookery Student.
Week Four in Leiths: Meringues gone wild and ovens behaving badly.
Week Five in Leiths: Confessions of a cookery student


  1. Ah, you are learning from the best, you will shine, you'll see Laoise ;)

  2. Ah thank you Colette! A great comment to start Monday off! Learning from the best is right Xx

  3. What did the woodcock do to you to warrant such comments?!

    1. Aw I feel bad now for the little woodcock! We had a game demonstration on Friday tasting partridge, wild boar, rabbit, pigeon and...woodcock. I loved them all except the poor little woodcock, 'tis an acquired taste I imagine... ;-)

  4. Love your blog already!

  5. Ah thanks May, delighted you like it! Stay tuned for more updates...Had a brilliant day today after Poached Egg Gate ;-)

  6. Sounds like your having an amazing time :D Oh and thanks to you leaping into Leiths head first I'm planning to go to Le Cordon Bleu next summer (If I get in). So thanks for the inspiration my dear

  7. WOW Tash! That is brilliant news, of course you will get in! Le Cordon Bleu, oooohh la la...very exciting....I'm guessing the pastry course with your love of baking? Can't wait to hear all the details. Leaping in head first is sometimes the only way isn't it? :-)

    1. I'm more dipping my toe in rather than leaving head first, going for the cake decorating course first lol. Costs a lot less and then save for the pastry course. Thanks lady, fingers and toes all crossed

    2. That's a lot more than a toe dipping. Exciting times ahead :-) Can't wait to hear all about it. And I'm happy to help with any cake tastings required of course.

  8. Love it! Keep living the dream for those of us who can't :-D I'll be reading each week and can't wait to see what you'll be able to produce by the end of all this!

    1. Thanks BB, jeepers the pressure's on now to produce the goods! I'm concentrating on getting my techniques right...there's so much to learn. Will keep you posted :-)