Leiths: A Graduation by Marianne Alnaes

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Leiths: A Graduation by Marianne Alnaes

Today marks the end of another academic year at Leiths and our students are on the brink of their new adventures in food. Marianne looks back at the last nine months and how far her and her classmates have come since their training began. Advanced Term, Week 11.

It’s been nearly nine months since our training at Leiths started and, as an ex-doctor and mum of four, the obstetric parallels are notable (if not a little tenuous). The reality is that we will soon, ready or not, be flung into the world of professional cuisine and have to start adjusting from chefs-in-utero to professionals out in the real world. 

Are we ready? Am I ready?

Much like many other stories of how people came to find themselves at Leiths, mine is a case of wanting to do something different, something creative. But, unlike many, I didn’t know exactly what this “different” was going to be. 

I’d been at home with four children for several years, having left a career in medicine, and was starting to feel restless, bored and, frankly, depressed. My days would be very busy, yes; but for some time I’d been yearning for a creative outlet – something I could call my own. I realised that I had to start somewhere and, after a particularly gruelling day with the kids, I decided to look into Leiths. In September I finally took the plunge and enrolled on the Diploma course. 

The first term was mainly about adjusting to a new routine. I was used to getting up early but having to brave the 8am commute was a new experience; not least because I had to get the children all out of the house and off to school before I myself could leave. Some days would be chaotic, filled with cries of, “MUM! Where is my PE bag/packed lunch/homework?!” But slowly, and with the help of my husband and our nanny, it became more manageable. 

Most days would be long and busy, especially if we were cooking in the afternoons. Our group was notorious for being late out of the kitchens due to our fastidious and, sometimes too-measured, attention to detail. I’d come home at around 7pm and then do homework/bath/after school activities with the children before settling down to complete coursework at around 10pm after the eldest child had finally gone to bed.

There would be days I’d struggle and feel like I wasn’t meant to be a chef but I’d also have days filled with exhilaration of finally master something and getting a good result. I came to realise that any fiddly Blue-Peter-ish task involving templates or precision were definitely not my strong point, but that baking bread was. Also, why was my apron always, ALWAYS the dirtiest one of all after a day’s cooking?! 

Christmas came as a much needed break for me and my family. I did some work experience, cooked as often as I could and got plenty of rest before starting the new term energised and with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. As the days became lighter, we cooked our way through more advanced recipes and became quicker and more efficient in the kitchen. Our group welcomed three new students who settled in fast and, as Easter approached, the group dynamics had changed markedly and a real sense of bonding became apparent. 

I started to realise that the first term had been as much about finding my own strengths and weaknesses (hello cake decoration!) as adjusting to the interpersonal dynamics in the kitchen. I was becoming more resilient as well.  Whilst a poor mark could bring me to the verge of tears during the first term, I slowly became more adept at handling stress, mishaps and criticism. This seemed to be a mutual experience across our group and, as we became more more in tune with each other’s idiosyncrasies strengths and weaknesses, so also did our group gel. 

“In addition to us all sharing a genuine passion for food, there's a shared generosity of spirit and zest for life.​”

Friday afternoons would invariably involve after-school drinks at the Eagle where we’d bond over failed Crème Anglais or over-proved loaves. Despite our various age differences, nationalities and professional backgrounds, it became clear to me that what we had far more in common than I’d thought. In addition to us all sharing a genuine passion for food; this seemed to also manifest in a shared generosity of spirit and zest for life.

Looking back, the third and final term has been as much about maturation and practice as honing our skills as chefs. As well as turning out crystal-clear consommés, producing the most perfect little squares of Petits fours and rolling and folding puff pastry; with the help of our amazing teachers we have also become more confident, self assured and comfortable in our own chef-skins. Ever patient, they have guided us through these past nine months with utter dedication and professionalism; disasters have been met with humour and kind words, successes with smiles and congratulatory pats on shoulders. 

I will very much miss laughing with my friends over mountains of dishwashing (although I will NOT miss washing up the little plastic cup and tubs!) and the buzz of making my teacher proud over a well-executed dish. But, most of all, I’ll miss seeing my friends and sharing what has truly been an amazing experience. 

So, to answer my earlier question: Am I ready? The answer is, “Yes. As ready as I’ll ever be.”

By Marianne Alnaes

Instagram: @marianne.alnaes


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