Turning gravy into jus and other miracles from the Advanced Term by Katy Dimmock

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Turning gravy into jus and other miracles from the Advanced Term by Katy Dimmock

"After mastering the basics in the Foundation Term and building on those skills in the Intermediate Term; the Advanced Term sees us learning how to put a lot more of ourselves into our cooking." Advanced Term, Week 10.

The Advanced Term kicked off with what looked like a very simple morning. We were cooking smoked haddock with new potatoes, a poached egg and a new sauce: beurre blanc, which is one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ emulsions, so unstable that it won’t hold for more than a few minutes. 

What we found strange about this session was that we had the whole morning to create just one dish. In our Intermediate Term exam we had to cook beer bread, duck in cherry and almond sauce with rösti and greens, a cheese soufflé followed by vanilla bavarois with a raspberry coulis served with pâte sucrée biscuits… all in just four hours! This stark contrast left us quite suspicious. We half expected to hear an announcement midway through: “In addition, please serve it with a Gateau Opera!” (Gateau Opera is a ridiculously complicated, but rather tasty, cake.) 

This was new a style of cooking we were being introduced to, a different kind of pressure cooking.

In hindsight we would have been better off having a coffee break and coming back with a few minutes to go as most of us over-cooked our fish by a good hour and a half.  All of a sudden, our teachers started to ask us, “What do you think?” and, “How do you think this should be cooked?” Initially we would look over our shoulders wondering who on earth they were talking to. The best way I can describe this new method is “considered.” We are being taught to think and feel something about what we are creating. Still the Leiths way, but a little bit more our way.

During the first term our teacher announced, “You never make the same mayonnaise twice”, as we were in fact making mayonnaise for the second time, having failed the first. A profound culinary twist on the words of Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “You never swim in the same river twice, it’s not the same river you are not the same man." 

You never make anything twice.  If it’s a mayonnaise, for instance, you might consider the following: What’s the humidity like? How old are the eggs? What sort of day was the chicken having when she laid them? 

It is now also understood by some that the emotional state of an animal when it’s slaughtered can affect the taste. If Peter Rabbit was looking down the barrel of Farmer McGregor’s gun before his face was blown off you can probably taste his trauma. So what about the chef? If they are having a bad day, can you taste it? Most people believe that fear has a smell, but does it have a flavour too?  I am fairly sure that in my Intermediate Term exam I felt so nervous I made fear bread and petrified duck rather than beer bread and roast duck. 

At its most basic level, food is a transfer of energy and your sense of taste is the last line of defence against food poisoning.  What if we really transfer what we are feeling? Does a birthday cake taste better if a person makes it with love? After all, you can feel a smile; so if you smile when you eat, does the food taste better? Or maybe we are predisposed to like food made by those who love us on the basis of that old adage, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” The human race would die out pretty quickly if toddlers were turning around to their exhausted mothers and saying, “Are you really going to serve that? It needs more salt and I am not impressed with your caramelization. As for your presentation…”  

After mastering the basics in the Foundation Term and building on those skills in the Intermediate Term; the Advanced Term sees us learning how to put a lot more of ourselves into our cooking. 

This new, liberating way of cooking expressed itself fully during ‘Duck Day’; a whole day dedicated to cooking a duck in any way we wanted. I believe the teachers had duck 96 ways! (There are 96 of us in our year.) Dishes ranged from deep fried duck hearts, smoked duck and duck confit; to duck sausage, scotch eggs with duck sausage, duck pasta and duck consommé. 

The classic way of making consommé is through clearing. When I wrote a post in the Foundation Term, I could tell you what we were up to without needing to provide much explanation. Now, everything has got more complicated and our cooking can take days rather than hours.  

Clearing is a process where you add egg shells and egg whites to a solution, whisk it over heat for what feels like several eternities, until a ‘raft’ forms on the surface, and then sieve it.  This removes all of the solids from the solution and you are left with a very clear liquid.  Not content with just that, at Leiths we cleared a lemon jelly and then suspended a strawberry in the middle of it. The results were stunning we all instantly forgot the pain we went through to make it… a bit like child birth!

Progress at Leiths hasn’t been linear. Progress feels more like playing a pinball machine. At first you’re feeling lucky, then you learn a technique and might experience success - and there’s nothing to indicate that things outside of your control might mess things up. Just because you have made something correctly once, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work out the next time; as I discovered with Italienne Meringue on dessert day. 

Firstly I had burnt it, which didn’t help, but what the teacher found so remarkable was that it was mottled like a turtle, something she had never seen before. In fact she found it so remarkable that she wanted to take it to show the school’s Principal! Creating a disaster of such magnitude was not the type of notoriety I was really after. However, we are all finding that the more we practice our skills, the luckier we get…

Annie and Jane gave us an amazing dessert ‘dem’ with a real focus on how to plate, which is something I struggle with. The practical day for us was great fun as we created panna cotta, lemon gel, apricot sorbet, hibiscus meringue, sugar work and an almond crumb. I decided to make three panna cotta and have them linked together in an arch. When plating panna cotta you have to invert the Dariole mould and give the plate a shake so it releases, but if you already have another panna cotta on the plate, this method isn’t possible as the other panna cotta will go flying. This is just one of the problems I experienced that day! 

Nothing illustrates how far our group has come more than these desserts.  We were all astounded at ourselves and each other, making comments like: “Did you really make that?!”

Work experience is a mandatory part of the Diploma at Leiths and I have had my eyes opened by the variation of careers available in the food industry. I had a fun day working at BBC Good Food assisting with recipe testing, followed by an entertaining shift at Salt Yard where they create some fantastic tapas in a very hot kitchen.  Not only were they kind enough to show me around but they also gave me some prep to do, let me plate dishes and insisted that I try some of their delicious food. 

To conclude, mash has morphed into pommes puree and gravy has become jus. We don’t just roast chicken anymore; we bone it, ballotine it and stuff it with herbs and a mousseline made of its own legs (or something else’s legs), wrap it in pancetta and bake it. Now, a dessert is a long list of edible successes united on the plate for a photo opportunity. In place of white bread we now make fougasse using a sourdough starter or a brioche. 

In a week we will graduate. A brilliant year, all things considered…

Written by Katy Dimmock

Instagram: @VerbalSeasoning

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