Sunday, November 27, 2016

Week Nine at Leiths- The Last Blog Post

My Locker 
I'm the only one with a circular lock 

It’s already week nine? I cannot believe that I am at this point where I am through the whole term after struggling immensely both emotionally and physically. When I am asked if I enjoyed Leiths or not, the truth is, I have to say that I loved how much I learned and I loved being taught by professional teachers, but I did not like how lonely and stressed I felt. One of the hardest things for me was not being able to spend more time with the group because I’m not a major drinker. Also I have not liked my living situation.  

My Living Situation
Here is the full rundown of my living situation these past ten weeks for those who have been curious.

All in all the room has been lovely and I have my own private bathroom, the wifi has been great and I have a significant amount of private space. But the rest of the house is challenging. I have no access to the living room, the table in the dining room is never clear of clutter, and the kitchen is always a disaster. I have washed everyone’s dishes more times than I can remember and worked around crusty pans and old dried chickens and you name it. Then for five days, we had no heat and no hot water. The same week, I had to move everything out of my room so that the landlady could lay new carpet down.  

I need to cook when everyone is gone. I get the feeling that my landlady doesn’t like it when I’m in the kitchen, because she’ll come around the corner just to see what I am doing and make sure I’m doing everything properly. But when they are all gone, it is so lovely to have the house to myself. I don’t feel self-conscious and I can do whatever I want without someone telling me I’m doing something wrong. In my life, I am always trying to do something right and I never want to upset anyone even if it means sacrificing my own happiness. I haven’t gotten in trouble too much, only twice, but those little things make me nervous about everything that I am doing. 

Occasionally there have been times where I’ve come downstairs and there are notes left for the guests. There is nothing worse than coming downstairs to a note with huge exclamation marks that say, “use a cutting board,” “please turn off the gas,” or “don’t put hot pots on the counter” when I have done none of those things. 

Meat Cuts Chart 

On Monday, I studied in the morning for our theory exam which was to start at 9:30 am and finish at 11:00 am. We had to mark the test in pen, but my lucky black pen died the second we started. Hopefully, they won’t mark me down for using pencil. The test only took me about 45 minutes. The only part that truly threw me off was the meat diagrams. I did study them, but for some reason they weren’t sinking in. I needed more blank diagrams to practice and I just didn’t have time to keep redrawing every single animal at home. We also had oven temperatures to fill out, short answer, multiple choice, true and false and also had to list the step by step processes for making things such as stock, choux buns etc. It was very much an applied test.

After the test, I went to Tesco Metro and bought colored fondant for my Christmas Cake.
I went home immediately to cook all my meals for the week and worked on shaping some fondant trees, stars and presents.

On Tuesday, I woke up at 7:00 after getting 12 hours of sleep again. I don’t know why this has been happening. I think I’m just stressed because in one week I have my practical assessment and that determines whether I get my foundation certificate or not. 

Tuesday morning, we had our skills session. This was one of my favorite days at Leiths and how I thought culinary school was actually going to be. It was really relaxed, and we got to ask as many questions as we wanted without being penalized or told told to hurry up. I asked to practice filleting, lining a flan ring and sweating vegetables. One of my teachers, Annie, who I’ve really grown to like, helped me through the process of lining a short crust pastry flan ring. I finally did it without it breaking and I did another one on my own without help as well. There was just one little piece that I was missing in the process, which was pushing it forward to get it into the corners. I still had trouble filleting my Plaice fish. Annie gave me a smaller boning knife and it helped me significantly.

We ended the day with a very relaxed gift demonstration. They gave us so much food to taste including spiced nuts and popcorn, honeycomb, salted caramel, chutney, relish and charcoal biscuits. I also drank mulled wine for the first time and absolutely loved it.

Coffee Eclairs 

On Wednesday, we started the morning with a Christmas demonstration by Sue and Annie. Everyone was dressed in a Christmas jumper (sweater). I stupidly did not know “jumper” means “sweater”, so I expected everyone to show up in a dress. I wanted to have one with me, but I thought it would be pointless to buy one and then lug it home and never wear it again.

Everyone was very “groupy” and I was alone. I just couldn’t make myself get excited about Christmas when I was missing Thanksgiving. I got very homesick as they played Christmas music, served turkey, stuffing, cranberries, cake, banh mi, salmon, pigs in a blanket and more delicious food. I kept getting reminded that Thursday was Thanksgiving and my parents were preparing a large dinner. I actually shed some tears while no one was watching.

I talked to Robyn who is also from the United States. It was quite reassuring to discuss how difficult this term has been for both of us. She also is away from her family and has been homesick too. It felt good to be able to relate to someone else. After all, I haven’t had the easiest time. I often don’t feel like I fit in and I have been too scared to go drinking with them in fear of not being able to get back to my flat by myself late at night.
In the afternoon, we made coffee eclairs. My eclairs received a 4/5 because I didn’t pipe the cream all the way in and I received a typical teacher comment, “my piping needs work.” I do understand how to make choux pastry very well. We also put the fondant on our cakes which took me forever. I had to sand all the icing down on my cake before I put the fondant on. Our table got behind on the washing up and we got the talk at the end, “make sure you never let this much washing up happen again.” I believe it was partially because I took so long on my cake. I sincerely apologize to my table for this. 

Kitchen # 1

Thursday was Thanksgiving. I missed the pheasant plucking class because I had a personal emergency. I also wanted to get my laundry and cooking done while no one else was at home, so that stressed me out as well.

I went to school at 1:00 for our practical assessment lecture. We also filled in evaluations about the school and addressed envelopes to ourselves for our certificates to be mailed to us. 

It turns out that for the cooking exam next week we have to make a leek and gruyere tart with short crust pastry, pan fried lemon sole with tomato and basil salsa, mashed potatoes and a Victoria sandwich sponge cake filled with raspberry jam. While this may sound relatively easy, we only have 3.5 hours to weigh up ingredients and prepare the food as well as demonstrate the skills that we have learned including, short crust pastry and blind baking, fish filleting and cooking, knife skills, blanching and dicing, sweating onions, egg baking, chiffonading, and cake baking.  Even the mashed potatoes stress me out because last time I undercooked them and couldn’t get them through the sieve. This will definitely be an experience. If I fail, I will have to retake the test again on Friday, December 2. 

Christmas Cake 

Friday was my last full day Leiths. We started the day with a canapes demonstration and ended the day with decorating our Christmas Cakes. I would have decorated my cake better and spent more time with it if it weren’t for my living situation and the fact that I would have to go buy so many more ingredients.  However, the session was really fun. We gave a present to our teacher, David, sang Christmas songs and hugged each other and took pictures. I decorated my cake with two penguins, a bright red present and piping around the edges. Annie wanted me to put eyes on the penguins, but I liked them without it. Everyone’s cakes were so wonderful.   

At the end of the day, we had our canapes party where I said goodbye to everyone.  I hugged everyone in our group and said goodbye to a few others who I really loved chatting with.  We did so many group hugs on Friday. The highlight of my day was that I got the feeling that people actually did like me. There were times where I definitely felt like an outsider, but I guess it started building up in my head because I didn’t go to the pub with the group and was only going to be in London temporarily. I am a very sensitive person and am not a local. It is very strange that I will not see most of the people for a very long time if ever again and it made me stressed. I could have gone out to drink with the group, but I decided not to because I would have to lug my cake home and materials as well as walk about 1.5 miles home under the influence of alcohol in pitch darkness. I also didn’t want to drag saying goodbye out any longer and wanted to get it over with.  

Cambridge University 

The Weekend
On Saturday, I went to visit Cambridge by train from Kings Cross Station. I was a bit nervous about going to Cambridge because traveling makes me a bit anxious especially in a system that I am not hundred percent comfortable with. I find it all quite interesting that they don’t post the platform number for each train until the last five to ten minutes and then everyone runs to get a good seat.

I really enjoyed the small city. I got a chance to walk around the university, ate expensive fudge, got lost and walked 9 miles, went to the Fitzwilliam museum, went into bookstores and just window shopped and browsed. As I’ve said before, I really love just walking around. 

I also met up with my new friend, Eddy, who lived in my airbnb for six weeks while doing an internship at Red Bee. While I didn’t see him much during the week due to different schedules, I am so glad that he lived below me, and that I had someone to relate to especially when the carpeting was being redone and the heat was gone. We both survived this comedic soap opera together and have been able to laugh about it all term.

Victoria Sponge Cake 

On Sunday, I went to Joy’s to practice for our practical exam. She was one of the first people that I talked to on facebook about Leiths last summer. I am very appreciative that she allowed me to drag all my materials and come to her home.  We made the leek and gruyere tart, a Victoria Sandwich with jam, mashed potatoes and concassed tomatoes. 

Blue B with Teacher David Gee 

 The End
At first, I thought that this course was above me having seen many of my peers succeed within the second week as they jointed chickens and made short crust pastry. However, I accomplished so much within this term. I was finally able to line a flan ring by the end. I never give myself credit, but this week I can confidently say that I am very proud of myself for taking this adventure on. I accomplished living in a difficult flat, being alone and surviving busy stressful cooking situations.  I also no longer have to strain when I listen to the British accent. The first two weeks, I seriously had issues understanding people when they talked softly. 

I cannot believe that in the last 24 hours I said goodbye to over 20 people who I really got along with including teachers, peers and Eddy from my flat. However, I do believe that I will see some people again. I will return to London maybe for vacation, on a work visa or to take another two-week course at Leiths.

Before I close these nine weeks I need to say:  
Thank you to all sixteen students of Blue B, and Hannah, Robyn, Joy, Marianne, Pauline, Lara and Camilla for reaching out to me. I really hate goodbyes and I prefer to say, “see you later” because it makes the “goodbye” more optimistic. Please keep in touch everyone and I cannot wait to see how the rest of the diploma goes for you all and what you plan to do in the future.

Thank you to all of my readers. I have received a lot of feedback on this blog and am so glad that you have followed my journey.

Onward to my exam, exploring London and Florence with David who I haven’t seen in over 12 weeks now. 

Jenny Niedenfuehr

Here is what I learned from my six months in the culinary industry. If you plan to go to Leiths or any other culinary school in the future this may be helpful.

1.       Go into the kitchen with an open mind and an empty slate. You may have been taught different ways to pipe meringue, sweat onions, joint a chicken or even crack an egg. You can always learn more methods.  
2.        Ask as many questions as possible. There’s nothing worse than going into the kitchen and not knowing what you are doing and then falling behind the group on top of it.
3.         Practice outside of school or your restaurant as much as possible. If you don’t practice, you cannot get better. It doesn’t just take four pastry cases to master one skill. The way that I became good at making homemade gnocchi was by making it at least thirty dozen times. 
4.       Take lots of notes and re-read them every week.
5.         Re-read the recipe before you go into class at least three or four times. Even if I read the recipe three times, there are moments where I would forget one tiny little piece.
6.       Be aware of your surroundings.  Make sure you say, “sharp” if you are walking with a knife, or “hot pan” if you are carrying a pan because there’s nothing worse than crashing into someone with a plate full of food.
7.         People are cranky and sleep deprived. It appears that the majority of people are tired when they are in the kitchen and that affects the mood sometimes. It’s not personal.
8.         Most importantly, I learned that it isn’t the end of the world if your fish breaks or your pastry case cracks.  Sure, you may feel bad in the moment and I definitely have gone home in tears over frustration over cracking food. Accept that you will make a lot of mistakes and will have bad days where nothing goes right. We are human and the best thing to do is start fresh the next day and not dwell on your mistakes.
9.       We all love food. We are all in the kitchen for a reason and that is for our love of food.