A Love Letter to London by Kelly Stretton

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A Love Letter to London by Kelly Stretton

It's the halfway point and Diploma student Kelly is starting to realise that her relationship with London is more than just a crush. This week she discovers Brixton, "haggles" for sea bass and gets to grips with nose-to-tail butchery and curing methods.

Officially halfway through the course… how did this happen? 

Now, I thought I would dig my heels in a tad more and my love affair with the 'Big Smoke' would be more of fleeting fling but, as a foodie, I have to say: London, you have taken up permanent residence in my heart. From walking down the river at night to strolling through the parks during the day, from brunch or lunch to supper and drinks there is always a list whirling around my head of established and pop up places I’m dying to try next (cleverly justifying all the indulgence as "research").

With so many cultures in one city,  there are so many different food experiences to be had. Lucky for me I have nearly 100 fellow students all with recommendations… tough life 'ey? So I took up an offer from from George (@parnerscakegirl) and Gemma (@gemmascoffs) for a guided tour of Brixton Market.

My palette thanks you both greatly, my waistline... not so much! However, I’m very pleased to tell you all I got chatted up in Brixton. Good to know that, after 6 months of butter at school, this old gal’s still got ‘a lil bit of game'... ha!

From the minute I got off the tube and heard the police whirl past on one side and an amazing steel drum band on the other, I saw my ladies straight ahead welcoming me to Brixton! The whole place has such a buzz, it was a great day to visit. Cold (it is February in London after all) but the sun did have its hat on; I was wrapped up warm with sunnies on, and all my senses were deliciously activated at once. 

My eyes followed the amazing art work on the streets and my nose led the way around markets, from freshly baked bread wafting through the air to the full onslaught on the fish market: I fell in love the vibe of the whole place. 

We had cocktails upstairs at Pop and brunch at Salon, and neither disappointed at all. I have to mention the Nduja croquettes at the latter… if you get a chance you absolutely have to try them!

As ever, as a student at Leiths, all of this “research” has to be put into practice. So, with my cool bag at the ready (geeky student till I die) and after learning the art of haggling, I was on a mission to find 3 sea bass for a tenner. My friends, I did indeed get 3 sea bass for a tenner (because that was already the price)… I headed home with my  bag of goodies to cook up a selection from the sea! Surprisingly it was the Sea bass goujons that were the firm favourite by all (just a light batter of plain flour and za'atar).

You’ll be pleased to know my quest to become chef/host/presenter/writer/author/photographer/gardener is continuing and I have moved on to becoming a butcher/curer/smoker. I know, I know; where do my talents end!? 

A new fave guest demonstration arrived at school at the start of February in the shape of these two gents (above). Where are all the straw hat butchers? I ask.

We took home parts of the animal not normally used. I have therefore become half interested in the following concept: If you're using an animal at all, then all of the animal should be used. However, I'm also half interested (after seeing a severed & skinned lamb's head) in becoming vegan!

Which nicely takes us down this culinary journey from butchery to curing. I signed up to Steven Lamb's (River Cottage) Home-Smoking and Preserving course conveniently held at Leiths and learnt the rules of curing, taking home some of the bacon we cured. We were told not to open and eat it for 2 weeks… 

WHAT? I am a cooking student: we cook it, we eat it! But ok, I’ll give it a go... 

Boy was it worth it! We were told we would never go back to supermarket bacon (a dirty bacon butty from the greasy spoon whilst hungover is still going to happen!) but I would wholeheartedly recommend giving this a go. 

Ok, back to school…

I have to say I’m feeling it this term. We were warned the gear would suddenly change but, if you imagine the Foundation Term was a nice leisurely stroll, it now seems like I’m training for a 10 second mile… and I can’t run!!! I won’t go into my ailments on here but, after 12 days of this Aussie flu that has been going around and subsequently being unable to go into the kitchen (no teacher would have wanted to eat what I had touched… it was fair, I looked rough, very rough!) I seem to be a touch behind. To be honest with you, I feel like I’ve just about got my head above the water, paddling like mad underneath to keep up! 

I randomly answer “Erm… it stabilises it?” hoping that is the correct answer to what is going on (it usually is). Two more weeks to go to till our three week break where I will have the time to catch up, maybe even wash my hair!  But I still wouldn’t change anything (well maybe the sickness). We have five months till graduation and this both scares the hell out me and also makes my eyes widen and give me a smile from ear to ear at the endless possibilities I am currently setting myself up for. 

The question is what to do first? Watch this space!

By Kelly Stretton | Instagram: @kelstretton 

Inspired by Kelly's newfound love of smoking and curing meat? You too can learn from River Cottage's Steven Lamb in his Home Smoking and Preserving masterclass.

Or, if you're looking for a comprehensive education in all things food, learn more about the Leiths Diploma and our other professional courses here

Kelly Stretton

Author: Kelly Stretton

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