Archive for the ‘Leiths Diaries’ Category

Well I promised photos and here they are!

This week Mark Best, owner of Marque in Australia, was in London for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (he came in at number 61). He was also promoting his new book ‘Marque’. While he was here, he dropped in to Leith’s to demonstrate 3 of his dishes. He said these dishes represented the Marque style and showed the evolution of cooking since opening. I have to admit, when they said Mark Best, I had no idea who he was, though I was told he was ‘big’ in Australia. By the end of the demo, I was asking for work experience in his restaurant. Slightly out of my way being in Sydney!!!!

The dishes he showed us encouraged us to think about ingredients in alternative ways. Squid for example became rice in one dish and noodles in another. Every ingredient be it an onion or caviar is as important as the other. In this dish ‘Risotto’ of squid flavoured with cauliflower puree and leeks, is covered with a prawn that has been flattened and arranged into a circle, and served with a prawn broth foam, topped with crispy curry leaves. It was absolutely delicious but no longer on the menu, as apparently it is a bit dated.

A much more contemporary dish was Ike jime squid (as noodles) with smoked goats curd, young coconut and black radish.

This dish is about contrasting texture and colour. It was amazing.

But we’ve been learning to cook less contemporary dishes! We’ve roasted and jointed a duck which was served with orange and almonds (alla Prue Leith) and Pommes Anna. Apparently this was her signature dish (in the 1970s)! Remember this is about classic techniques.

I’ve also temporarily (I hope) been put off lemon sole having whizzed it in a magimix and pushed it through a drum sieve to make fish quenelles. These were served with savoury tuilles which I decorated with sesame and poppy seeds.

Do not serve with 4 squares of concasse tomato as I did – odd numbers only!

Finally a dish with a number of component parts; roasted pollock with sweetcorn puree, sweetcorn and tarragon salad and mushroom mousseline

All in all a busy week. Coming up a demonstration by Yotam Ottolenghi, gnocchi and tortellini. I’m a happy girl!

Oh and Mark’s response to work experience at Marque was positive 🙂 once I’ve saved my pennies for the flight.




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From the lack of recent posts it may appear I have fallen into food induced coma.

I’m still here and two weeks into the advanced term of the diploma. Since my last post I survived and passed the intermediate practical and theory exams and spent the Easter break doing various work experience placements with a catering company, a restaurant, at Olive Magazine and assisting at cookery workshops.

So what did I learn?

Three days in a restaurant helped me understand its lure despite long hours, for little pay. I worked in an establishment that is a bakery and lunchtime cafe during the day and a restaurant at night, so I gained an insight into all three. The best of British seasonal produce was served and I was trusted enough to be thrust a load of ingredients and told to get on with making soup for the evening service. Not something I expected, so it was a thrill to see if go out to paying customers. The buzz during service is certainly alluring and were I doing this 10 years ago it may be a direction I’d pursue. Some further restaurant stints may be on the cards.

Professional catering is definitely an area I am interested in and has been a consideration for a while. It appeals to my events management background and need for variety and projects. In the longer term, is something I could set up from home.

Recipe testing, going on photoshoot or assisting in the office were three things I could have found myself doing as I walked into the BBC Media Centre for a day working at Olive Magazine. As it turned out I was working on the later, and interesting and informative as it was, the experience reminded me of where I have come from and why I chose to do the diploma: I no longer wanted to work in an office environment. While I really appreciated my day there I do not think it is something I wish to return to … yet.

My last work experience stint was assisting David Bailey, formerly Head Chef at Saf, and now owner of the very successful Wholefood Heaven with his raw food workshops. David is an amazing chef who went from committed carnivore to vegetarian following health issues. He now runs Wholefood Heaven with his wife and won Best Main Dish at The British Street Food Awards with their Buddha Bowls. I found the day really inspiring, it was so interesting to learn about raw food techniques, though it is not a diet I would follow. Helping others to learn new techniques, improve their cooking and diet or just have fun with food is really rewarding so teaching is another area I’m interested in exploring further.

All in all, the experiences were great, though I’m still not sure what happens at the end of June, a scary 8 weeks away!!!

So back at Leiths, things have stepped up a notch. Foundation term could be described as home cooking, intermediate as gastropub and advanced as fine dining. Marking is getting tougher and precision is the word of the moment, if you’re serving concasse of tomato make sure all pieces are identical in size and shape and they are all the same way up!

We’ve been introduced to jus, gastriques, fancy vegetable garnishes and making our own puff pastry, (though I think it is easier than making flaky), and the highlight for me; consommés and clearing. I’ve done a rubbish job of taking photos and wish I had one of a strawberry suspended in clear lemon jelly. It was pretty cool.

Dishes have a greater number of components requiring consolidation of, or learning new skills and next week I’ll try to take photos of some of the dishes which include Roasted Pollock with sweetcorn puree and mushroom mousseline, roasting and jointing a duck and serving it with a gastrique, Pommes Anna and orange and watercress, and learning to make yeasted pastries. For now though I leave you with a picture of a suckling pig which struck quite a few students because it was so young and looked like “a sleeping baby”

In my opinion, whilst it may impress some at a dinner party, it’s worth letting the pig run around in the mud for a few more months for a better flavour!

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Quite a few weeks seem to have passed since my last post. I’m not entirely sure where the time has gone except to say it has been rammed packed. Week 7 started with our first full day in the kitchen. Seven hours baking delicious Chelsea buns, making pate sucree and creme patisserie for individual fruit tarts, steak with Bearnaise sauce, rosti potato and tenderstem broccoli and espagnole sauce ready for a madeira sauce to go with rose veal the following day. It was tiring and my feet ached by the end of it but it was great to be in the kitchen for the whole day and get more of a taste for what it will really be like.

We have had the opportunity to flex our creative muscles where a little like Masterchef we are presented with a load of ingredients to turn into a culinary masterpiece but, unlike Masterchef we have days rather than 20 minutes to think about what we are going to do. In creative lamb I cooked lamb steaks marinated in Chermoula, a butterbean and caramelised onion puree, roasted red peppers and wilted spinach which was described as a very flavoursome plate (whoop!). I didn’t have the chance to take a photo but next time I cook it I shall post my recipe.

What I have photographed is my genoise commune cake smothered in coffee buttercream.

But this is no ordinary butter cream. For this very smooth, rich and exceptionally buttery butter cream, a creme anglais is made which is then mixed with butter and flavoured with coffee, chocolate or whatever takes your fancy. It’s a lot more faff that an ordinary butter cream but the smooth result justifies the extra effort for a special cake.

The birthday boy certainly enjoyed it!

Leiths Coffee buttercream

170g sugar
225ml milk
3 egg yolks
170g salted butter
170g unsalted butter
coffee essence to taste

Gently bring the milk and half the sugar to the boil.

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar.

When the milk has come to the boil, pour it on to the egg mixture and mix well. Return the mixture to the saucepan and stir over a low heat without boiling until slightly thickened. To test it has reached the correct consistency, coat the back of a wooden spoon with the mixture and run your finger up the back. If you rock the spoon from side to side the line should remain. Once thickened strain into a bowl and leave to cool.

Beat the butter until creamy and gradually whisk the custard mixture in to it. Flavour with coffee essence

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Two weeks in and I am beginning to settle in to my new life. Days are long, information is plentiful, the pace of learning is relentless. Days are split in half, either cooking or watching demonstrations, scribbling madly to ensure nothing is missed as you are bound to be cooking it, or a variation sooner or later. Then it is home to write a timeplan for the next day.

In the past couple of weeks  I have probably consumed as much, if not more,  butter, cream and meat than in the six months previous. Sweating onion in olive oil is a distant memory, everything is cooked in butter. I’ve pot roasted partridge with lentils and pancetta, made veal and ham raised pie, baked creme caramels, ridged, rolled and folded flaky pastry for my chicken pie, made gougeres, risotto, hollandaise, and enjoyed trout en papilote.

Demonstrations are great, yesterday we munched our way through various offal. I enjoy calved livers but rarely venture beyond them in restaurants or in my own kitchen, so I was pleasantly surprise to love lamb kidneys, faggots, and slivers of pan fried ox heart. Tripe less so – just because it is so bland! I will definitely be more confident ordering offal dishes in future.

They warned us we would be exhausted by the end of the first two weeks and they were right. My fatigue was enhanced by completing the cooking for 50 challenge, where 4 of us cooked for the harshest of critics, fellow students. It was up to the wire – making vast amount of rough puff pastry took longer than I thought but my right angles are now near perfect –  we made it and the majority seemed to enjoy it. We get feedback next week…


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For the next six months I will be making the trek from North East London to Shepherds Bush, a three hour commute. First week excitment has had me jumping (well crawling out of bed) at 6.30am (an hour not usually known to me) to get there in time to change into my chef whites.

On the first day 19 or so excited yet nervous new intermediate chef school students entered the glass doors of Leiths School of Food and Wine. Some confident in their abilities, others wondering if they should have done the foundation term. We were issued with chef jackets, blue check, elasticated trousers, skull caps, neck ties, aprons and the most hidious kitchen shoes known to man. This certainly isn’t a fashion parade! The first morning was spent learning a little about the course, assessment and what we would be covering in the first week, with many references to “this should be revision to you, you should know this”. Cue nervous glances from nearly every student in the room. Did we know enough? We were about to find out…

Dressed in our chef whites for the first time, our knife skills were put to the test on an onion and a carrot. My onion chopping skills passed muster, my carrot batons needed a little practice to be at the required 90 degree angle demanded by our firm but friendly teacher. Next up was preping and cooking a rack of lamb which made a delicious lunch before an afternoon of demonstrations.

Thursday was a whole day in the kitchen, we’d all made a timeplan the night before and set to putting our shortcrust pastry skills to the test by making Quiche Lorraine. Now I’m not usually a fan of Quiche Lorraine, a bit retro, a bit naff, but done properly, I had to admit it was rather delicious. Beef Carbonnade was even better and Mr W. appreciated the Lemon Sole Meuniere for dinner, even though it had been reheated – not great for fish.

Friday concluded with an afternoon of wine tasting, I’ll admit to swallowing the wines I did like, it was Friday afternoon afterall but I won’t be repeating it in the morning class. Perhaps not a great idea when one has to brandish knives in the afternoon.

So at the end of the first week I still have all my fingers and have yet to burn myself but I did along with 80% of the class gain a blue plaster after cutting myself on my very sharp new knives. Fortunately, it is only a teeny cut, there were worse – much worse! Even better I met the required level to join the foundation students whom I meet tomorrow along with my tutor.

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