Posts Tagged ‘Leiths’

Has it really been 5 months since I wrote a post? Needless to say, like everyone else I’ve been busy!

Since my last communication I have

  • Taken and passed my Wine exam with a distinction
  • Sat through the Leiths diploma theory exam and stood through a 5 hour practical and passed!
  • Enjoyed a lovely long weekend with my family on the outskirts of Rome
  • Spent a month taking in the sights, hospitality and divine food of Hong Kong, Cambodia and Vietnam
  • Fed nine hungry golfers for a week at a gorgeous villa in the hills of Catalunya
  • Worked freelance for various catering companies
  • Baked an enormous and rather delicious chocolate cake for a 50th birthday party
  • Run my first independent canape and bowl food events to great success

So whats’ next?

You might remember my post: Lessons from work experience as I considered my options post Leiths. One of the greatest things about a life in food is that it is constantly evolving, you can never stop learning new styles, techniques and recipes, from yourself and from others. I wanted to do something I loved and to be my own boss so I have taken the first steps to setting up my own catering and events business. Details of what I will be doing will follow, and cookery classes are comings soon. But in the meantime here is a recipe (especially for Hayley) that makes use of a fabulous ingredient currently in season: Fennel

Fennel and lemon risotto with prawns
Serves 2

1 fennel bulb
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter, plus 1 tbsp to finish
1 onion, finely chopped
180g risotto rice
1 large glass of white wine or vermouth
600ml vegetable stock
zest of 1 lemon, and juice to taste
25g parmesan, grated
6 peeled, raw large prawns

Finely chop the onion. Trim any green fronds from the fennel bulb and reserve for a garnish. Cut the fennel bulb in half and thinly slice three slices from each side using a mandolin or sharp knife. Finely chop the remaining fennel.

Very gently simmer the stock. In a separate pan gently sweat the chopped onion and fennel in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the rice and stir until coated in oil. Turn the heat up and add the wine or vermouth. Stir until evaporated. Turn the heat down and add a ladleful of stock, stir from time to time until it has reduced. Repeat until the rice is al dente (has a slight bite). You may not need to use all of the stock.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan and add the fennel slices. Cook until golden and then gently flip over. Add a ladleful of stock and allow to simmer until the stock has evaporated and the fennel is soft and golden.

Devein the prawns, make a shallow cut along the length of the black line and lift the intestinal tract out using the tip of a knife.

When the risotto is al dente, add the zest, butter and parmesan. Season to taste. If you would like a more lemony flavour, add some lemon juice. Cover  the pan and leave for 5 minutes while you cook the prawns.

Push the fennel slices over to one side of the pan. Turn the heat up and fry the prawns on each side until pink.

Spoon the risotto into bowls, top with  three fennel slices, three prawns and the fennel fronds.

p.s apologies to any followers that received an earlier email notifying them of a new but only half written post. The new changes (probably not so new anymore) to wordpress temporarily confused me!


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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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