Cat's Story - From Toulouse to Leiths!

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Cat's Story - From Toulouse to Leiths!

Cat was previously editor of Haute Life Magazine, a small-scale lifestyle magazine for expats in Toulouse. Now she embarks upon her second term of the Leiths diploma and hasn't looked back. Delve into Cat's story so far.

Last January I was mulling over what to do with my life. It was one of those existential thought patterns that we thirty-somethings seem to get caught up in far too often. I should be doing this, I should be doing that. Then taking a look at Instagram and falling into a pit of despair as everyone else seems to be achieving astronomical success. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about.

At the time I was working as editor of Haute Life Magazine, a small-scale lifestyle magazine for expats in Toulouse but, for various reasons, it wasn’t working out. Running through my career and skills in my head, I tried to fathom my next move. I identified a few key things. I LOVE food. I love cooking, eating, feeding and sharing food. And I love reading about food and writing about food. I even enjoy teaching kids how to cook. Clearly, I’m pretty keen on food.

So, I started to explore the idea of delving into the food industry further, to move in the direction of a proper job where I got to cook and make people happy with my food and then write about it and make more people happy. About eight years ago I started to flirt with the idea of becoming a food writer, it was around this time that I started my first blog. I asked a friend’s mum who had written numerous cookbooks what path I could take and she suggested Leiths School of Food and Wine. I remember looking at the site and imagining what it would be like to go there. Unfortunately, as a new graduate, I couldn’t afford the fees and it seemed an impossible dream. As I pondered my future purpose in life eight years later, the idea of going to Leiths popped back into my head. Could I afford the time? Well, having just returned to the UK I was at a natural break with no job lined up, so yes? Could I afford the fees? Just about, with a bit of help from husband and family. And so the adventure began.

Back to school nerves

The first few weeks at Leiths were intensely exciting and physically demanding. I had forgotten what it’s like to be thrown into a situation with a group of strangers. After first day nerves, the ice was quickly broken as we got used to the routine of rotating between the kitchens, the changing rooms and the demonstration room. One thing was clear from the start, we were all thrilled to be there and soaking up every word. For the first few weeks I felt like I had inadvertently strayed onto the set of Masterchef or the Great British Bake Off. Every day it was as if I was being set some fiendish technical challenge, on, trying my best to recreate the set recipe alongside my classmates, a friendly bunch of food fanatics. We would nervously present our offerings at the end of the class to be critiqued by the teachers, who don’t bear any resemblance to Paul and Mary but whose comments mattered just as much to us.

I came into Leiths thinking I knew how to cook and within the first few weeks, I quickly realised I did not. I knew how to follow a recipe, but I did not know how to follow my instincts and this is what we began to learn. How to really build flavour and what steps are important to turn a mediocre dish into something exceptional. I felt as if I was a new-born in the world of cooking, relearning how to do things the correct way. Two of the most important things I have learnt at Leiths are extremely simple and will made a huge difference to the flavour of my food; how to properly sweat an onion and the importance of good stock.

Kitchen wizardry

We have mastered a whole host of culinary magic in the kitchens this term. Turning sugar and water into shiny sweet caramel, praline and sauces. Watching our choux buns puff up before we fill them with sweetened cream. Whipping the fillets from a plaice with a flexible knife. If you’re a food lover like me, going to Leiths is like going to Hogwarts for Harry Potter Fans. A temple of all things foodie, a cookery kingdom waiting to inspire. The teachers at Leiths are warm, kind and funny. They are a team of professional chefs who are happy to share their likes and dislikes, passions and opinions – and of course, impart their wisdom and skill. The demonstration room is the Leiths teachers’ time to shine. Here they can showcase the recipes we will cook the following week in the kitchen. This really is the best kind of lecture you can imagine. The whole room is filled with delicious smells and each demonstration is a feast for the senses. Just as your stomach starts to rumble a plate of food is passed around for you to taste. What other school allows you to eat a full roast dinner at 11:00 on a Monday morning?

The next phase...

As I fell into the rhythm of Leiths life I quickly realised I couldn’t imagine finishing the course after just three months, and with the option to extend to the full diploma dangling in front of me like a shining star, I couldn’t resist. I am now signed up for the full diploma and can’t wait to learn everything that Leiths has to offer. In such an inspirational environment my existential worries started to melt into exciting plans for my future career. Leiths graduates have gone on to do some wonderful things and I want to follow in their footsteps. I have this feeling, as if I am standing on the edge of something exciting. A feeling as if I meant to be here doing this, allowing the atmosphere to inspire me and the teachers to guide me. So here’s to another 6 months of eating, cooking and learning at Leiths.

Check out Cat's blog:

Author: Cat Banks


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