Saturday, October 15, 2016

Three Weeks at Leiths

These three weeks have been extremely exhausting, yet an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. Not only did I move to another country, but I am completely on my own without family, friends or my boyfriend. I have definitely been humbled being at Leiths. I used to think I was a pretty good cook, but I am being proven wrong. Leiths has proved me wrong. 

What I love about Leiths is that the class sizes are small. Leiths enrolls about 96 students per year. Some are doing only the foundation certificate, but most are doing the full year diploma. I'm only doing the foundation certificate. I am in a group with fifteen other students about the same age as I am. There is one main teacher and an extra class tutor per group. Luckily, because of the small class size, the teachers are very responsive to needs and are observant. They notice the second people are doing something wrong and will correct them immediately so we do not develop bad habits. Instructors are very willing to help you if you have questions unless it is the third or fourth time re-doing a skill or dish. The teachers rotate every once and awhile, but the grading is still pretty consistent with a few taste preferences here and there.

We either have practical cooking sessions in the morning or afternoon. The practical cooking sessions go by very quickly and before you know it you have to yell “service” to present your food to be assessed by your instructor.  The sessions don’t just involve cooking but a major “washing up/" clean up. You aren’t just cleaning up your own cooking equipment, but your peers’ materials as well.

Before or after the practical sessions, we have demonstrations which run about two and a half hours sometimes three. These demonstrations are very theory-driven and cover a lot of material. However, the best part is that we get to taste everything that they cook in the demonstration. Some of the dishes that I have tasted are so flavorful and beautifully plated. Every night I have to go home and review and read in my textbook (Leiths Technique Bible) just so I can remember it all.  We also have time plans that must be completed before class. The time plans outline the steps we must take in order to finish all our dishes before service time.

My knife set 

Week 1:
We were eased into the course during the first week. We chopped vegetables on the second day to learn and work on our knife skills and made crudites and hummus on the third. The instructors are very picky about the size of our vegetables and they will continue to look at our vegetable cuts throughout the course. Who knew that batoning carrots would be so hard? 

On the fourth day, we made a bacon, tomato and hard-boiled egg salad drizzled with a mayonnaise dressing (made by hand). It took twenty-five minutes just to make mayonnaise. We stirred the one egg yolk with a wooden spoon while dipping 150 ml of sunflower into the egg yolk with a fork every second. My hardboiled eggs were a little over-done, my bacon was a bit too crispy and my croutons were larger than they should have been. I was not responsible for the croutons and the bacon because cooking is a team effort. Even so, you are responsible for things that you did not do as well. 

On the last day of the week, we made short crust pastry. The Leiths method involves using two knives to cut the butter in with the flour in a bowl. After that, we have to rub the flour and butter together and mix it really fast with a knife. I had a hard time getting the dough into the tart pan because I forgot to roll the pastry onto the rolling pin to place it in the pan. This was demonstrated the day before. Mine ended up cracking!!! However, it still tasted great and looked fine. I definitely loved taking home a giant treacle tart.  

Avocado, Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with a French Vinaigrette 
Baked Egg Custard 

Week 2:
On the second week, my homesickness hit me hard. We started the week out by sweating onions in order to make vichyssoise soup (potato and leek soup). We also made scrambled eggs on toast. I stirred my eggs too much and got a 3/5, but got a 4/5 on my soup. The following few days involved making an avocado salad with dressing, mornay sauce for a baked macaroni and cheese, a quiche and crème anglaise as well as jointing a chicken which I honestly was clueless over.

My avocado salad looked great to me, but at Leiths nothing is “perfect." I should have broken up the basil leaves, I should have put more tomato on, and my plate was not as shiny as it should have been. For my macaroni and cheese, my roux for the mornay sauce was not cooked all the way through. When my instructor told me he could taste the flour, I could not taste it all. I felt determined not to make the same mistake again. 

As for the jointing, I was confused during the demonstration because it was hard to see what the teacher was doing. My instructors could tell I was clueless the next day when we had to make mustard baked chicken. I hadn’t gone over the jointing the day before because I thought it would be a lot clearer once I came to class. I was wrong. I should have read over what I was supposed to do at least five times, and my peers next to me went super fast.  Feeling bad, I went home and practiced and practiced, and it did get a lot better.    

Lemon and Coriander Chicken with Couscous 

Roast dinner made by me and my peers, Dejelle, Faith, Imogen. 

Week 3:
The third week was definitely the hardest for me. My group and I made a large pork roast dinner with apple-sage sauce, carrots, green beans and roasted parsnips and potatoes on Monday. The amount of dishes piling up near the sink was overwhelming because there were so many things going on at once. Our group got through it all and managed to produce a succulent, crackling roast. We also made omelettes, which got me a 4/5, because I made two and served the better one. 


On Tuesday, we made focaccia. My first one was dry because I didn’t add enough liquid, but my second foccacia was really wonderful! I am very appreciative that the instructors caught me though and told me what was wrong immediately. I still think my first tasted good when I toasted it at home. Luckily, I got a 4/5 despite making a mistake on the first one. 

 Wednesday and Thursday were definitely bad days. I started feeling sick on Wednesday, but I do NOT want to miss unless I’m actually really sick. We had to joint a chicken to make lemon and coriander chicken with couscous and we had a different instructor so that threw me off. There were so many spices and things that we had to do that it was just so overwhelming.

 Thursday was the worst.  I started off the day waking up later than I had wanted. Then a guy on his bicycle guy cycling down the road yelled, “move out of the fucking way for god’s sake.” 

In the morning, we made fish pie and had to serve our dish at 12:00 pm or students would lose points. I was six minutes late and the last one to finish in class. Eeek!! I cut myself so I had to put two bandages on and lost time from that too. 

A fish pie consists of mashed potatoes, poached haddock, hard boiled eggs and an infused milk sauce. My hard boiled eggs came out perfectly this time despite the craziness and people running left and right. Students were cooking much faster than usual. My roux for the sauce also was so much better than the last time, but my mashed potatoes were not soft enough and did not go through the sieve. I lost about 20 minutes of time because of that mistake. I usually never cry in public but as my class tutor put a bandage on for me she asked if I was shaking from adrenaline, anxiety or both. While they say that women should never cry in the kitchen, I couldn't help but allow the tears to come out. I wish she hadn’t asked that because I could have held it in and I think I was just crying from exhaustion too.

I still had to pipe my mashed potatoes and get the pie into the oven. The Leiths method of piping is to squeeze with your right hand. However, this summer at Family Meal, I was taught to squeeze with my left hand. I couldn’t pipe it because it was so engrained in me to use the left hand as the squeezer. The mashed potatoes came out super messy, so I basically gave up and threw it into the oven because I was late anyways. I received a one on my piping, but the eggs, roux and fish were fine. I definitely was running around like a headless chicken at the end and everyone knew. However, I learned from this experience and plan to go at it differently next time.

 Friday was a lovely way to end the week. We gutted and grilled mackerel and served it with an apple remoulade. We made mayonnaise in 15 minutes this time. I got a 5/5 on my fish and 4/5 on my knife skills, and I’m really happy about that because I read how to gut the fish over and over before class. The demonstration ended the day with meringues and I left school with a sugar high. Also everything we’ve been making lately has been super delicious and flavorful; filled with cream, cheese and lots and lots of butter! Everyone who knows me knows that I love to eat super healthy but I have been splurging everyday. Missing my smoothies, greens, sweet potato and hard-core exercises. 

This week we also had a test. I studied extremely hard for it by making flashcards, rewriting notes and drawing charts. In the UK, they call studying “revising.” I think it went pretty well for me but there were two questions that I was not sure about.


British Culture
I also have learned a lot about British culture. I have been to London before but this experience definitely has me more immersed. Who would have known that there would be so many differences? There have been a few times when I do not understand my peers or teachers. Just using a washing machine or going to a store can be stressful too. When they talk quietly or murmur, I tend to hear things incorrectly. When they talk fast, I sometimes won’t catch even a single word. I know that when I say things they may not understand me as well. I am definitely not part of a group at school due to my introverted personality, but I really like everyone that I have met so far. Everybody is so skilled at cooking, warm and unique. I also met two people from the states this week at school so I don’t feel completely alone culturally.  The different metric systems and temperatures threw me off at first and their different terms for certain words can confuse me. For example, parchment paper is called greaseproof paper. I also have almost gotten run over a few times in the past few weeks because I am so tired when I get home. I forget that the cars drive on the opposite side of the road. 

I am missing my family, boy-friend and the states so much but I do really prefer London culture better. 

Onward to see what week four has in store for me.