A Cookery Course at Leiths

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A Cookery Course at Leiths

A student shares her eventful experience on a Leiths course and reveals why it was the best holiday she's ever had.

Need a break? Do NOT go on holiday.

If you’re feeling blue, or stuck, or just a little bit flat, then take a week off work and do NOT go on holiday. That’s right, a holiday is not what you need. You’ll only think more, be bored and come away with nothing more than a tan. Which fades. All followed by that predictable dread of facing reality again. Holidays are awful!

Instead, take a week off work and do NOT go on holiday, find a cookery course - a proper one.

Leiths School of Food and Wine is prestigious and has produced some fabulous culinary talent, think Lorraine Pascale, Gizzie Erskine and Matt Tebutt.

But you don’t need to go there with any career ambitions in mind. You might do, or it might ignite something. Just go there tired. Tired of life. What you’ll find is a buzz of energy which you cannot help but tune into.

Arriving on your own

On day one, I nervously walked up the stairs to the class and ahead of me was a cheerful young woman who was probably in her twenties. She was about 5ft 1, like me, and she was doing the Leiths week-long course. We bonded over our similarities and became kitchen buddies for the entirety.

Friends are made right away at Leiths.

Even if you don’t come across someone who is at all similar in height or age or gender, you bond over your first cup of coffee because everyone here is obsessed with food.

I found myself talking to a retired IT manager who was extra-ordinarily passionate about Goats Cheese; we proceeded to talk about cheese for at least 15 minutes. I also met two sisters who were doing the course together. Delightfully jolly, they loved to host dinner parties and couldn’t wait to impress their friends with new dishes. There was Sandra who had just moved to Norway with her husband; she needed to sharpen up her skills because they were going to launch their own B&B. We could have talked for hours about all the new foods she had experienced since living out there.

I mention this social aspect first because what you gain from Leiths is far more than culinary knowledge and if you are feeling a bit lackluster, there’s nothing like meeting new people, especially in a learning environment. When you’re learning, you’re vulnerable; when you’re vulnerable you’re open-minded and curious - the spark is lit.

The course

The students on my course were there for all sorts of reasons – a career break, a holiday, a gift bought for them. While there are numerous reasons for attending Leiths, ultimately, improving your cookery skills is the outcome.

You are presented with a textbook which you are told to graffiti with your name. You spend half of your time in the professional kitchens where a professional chef guides you through various recipes. The rest of the time is spent in the demonstration classroom where you watch the pros at work and feverishly take down notes on ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’.

In the demo room, it’s tempting to sit back, watch the performance and enjoy the delicious tastings, but whatever we watched, we would then be practicing ourselves.

In the kitchen, under the eye of a professional, you learn to do things properly. How to prepare your station, how to keep things clean, how to use a knife. If you like BBC’s Masterchef, you’ll enjoy the sheer novelty of having your own station with all ingredients provided and washing up done.

The Best Bit

You do feel the pressure at times, after all, you are being watched and you are surrounded by others. If you over-whisk or take your eye off a pan, it won’t go unnoticed. However, at Leiths, the best things happen when you get things WRONG. The days where I made mistakes, or someone else did, were the best days. We all learnt something. Importantly, we found out WHY it went wrong.

The worst bit about cooking at home is that you don’t always find out why you ruined it. Here, a professional is there to explain. A professional is also there to help you recover. The techniques where you ‘save’ a dish are some of the best-learnt and you rarely find them in a cookery book.

While you learn a vast selection of techniques, recipes and dinner party staples, Leiths teaches you so much about how to ‘behave’ in a kitchen. Being in a kitchen is a mind game; if you give up when things go wrong, you're not going to last. The Leiths team help you enjoy the experience. Mistakes are prevented by preparation and preparation is also to be enjoyed. The chopping, the weighing, the equipment you need at hand.

You can see why chefs can be angry or impatient, kitchen life is hard, especially when preparing multiple dishes at once with lots of people around you. It’s a bit like navigating London roads; constant distractions, unpredictable pedestrians and cyclists cutting you up, but if you approach the situation calmly and at the right speed, you can master it. After attending Leiths, you can see how a certain calm can exist in a kitchen environment and with the right preparation and techniques, cooking is there to be enjoyed. Much like a holiday!

Fancy booking your own holiday at Leiths? Take a look at our current list of classes here.

Author: Lucy Anstie


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