Conquering the kitchen by Ally Mitchell

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Conquering the kitchen by Ally Mitchell

Foundation Certificate student, Ally, finds herself cooking with more confidence and fewer accidental flambés. With only two weeks left in the kitchen before Christmas, things are hotting up. Foundation Term, Week 6.

By the end of week six, the 96 of us really feel more at ease with the day to day lifestyle at Leiths. Whether it’s cooking in the morning or afternoon, we know the secret to success is approaching the kitchen with confidence and an organised mind. That being said, it doesn’t take long for me to start running around aimlessly, spatula in hand. As already described here on the Leiths blog, organisation is key and yet things don’t always go to plan. Remembering this – that it’s not just me whose butter is smoking or sauce is under-reduced – is a relief and reminds me not to put too much pressure on myself.

In mid-September I moved into my new lodgings in Chiswick and hadn’t completely grasped the fact that I was about to start a ten-week course at a prestigious cookery school. Months of planning, anticipation, and ordering equipment and uniform led to us all being bundled into the changing rooms at Leiths on the first day. We cautiously made friends whilst being quietly thrilled as we admired our new engraved knives and tried on our ridiculously roomy chefs whites… although they’re probably not as roomy six weeks later!

So far, I’ve gutted and filleted fish, jointed chickens, learnt to respect and honour the complicated enigma that is an egg, accidentally flambéed on more than one occasion; and cursed every shortcrust pastry case I’ve ever made. 

The tears have certainly come and gone as has late night practising (pastry, you will be mastered!) but nothing can really prepare you for how the cooking session will play out once you enter the kitchen, laden with knives, equipment and a trusted Tupperware for the leftovers. The kitchen itself sometimes becomes a living, breathing space that evokes a different dynamic each day, and this dynamic can be the difference between a focused day at the office or transforming into a headless chicken. 

Set backs are always accompanied by successes. This week my marzipan was too wet which meant I had to start again, yet my second batch was effortless; my infused cake is now snug under a smooth Christmassy blanket. I’m learning not to let mistakes and delays distract me and occasionally blinkers are needed to not compare yourself to the person next to you. However, awareness of your surroundings is necessary when deglazing a smoking hot frying pan (apologies again, Elouise, your eyebrows will grow back). 

Each week I look forward to the new range of recipes we will conquer, anticipating that amazing feeling of knowing I’ve achieved a higher standard of cooking. Week six introduced us to steak, starting by experimenting with timings to produce blue to well-done; the finished result looked more like modern art than a hearty meal. This week, my class cooked in the morning thus ensuring that we produced a delicious lunch or, in many cases, mid-morning snack while we finished washing up. Each dish we make serves two, yet somehow mine never lasts until lunchtime… I’m not even ashamed! 

Our conversations currently revolve around our shock at how quickly the time has gone and how, without realising it, we have significantly improved. Our grades, originally balancing on either side of a tentative three, are now averaging four or five (out of five). This entirely comes down to cooking with confidence and consistency. No matter what we make, whether it’s steak and Pavlova or pizza sauce and choux pastry, the aim of the day is to utilise the skills we’ve mastered. We have to use the tips from our teachers’ demonstrations effectively in order to bring together new dishes, whilst staying in control of the food and not letting the food control us.

With merely two weeks of cooking left, there is so much more to accomplish. As a Foundation Certificate student I feel as though I have only just started - I’m not ready to close my locker and take my knife roll into the outside world of cookery yet. That being said, Leiths has been the stepping stone I needed. It’s so easy to pressurise and demand better from myself, especially as I have a limited amount of time before I leave. But the mistakes I’ve made have helped me learn; never again will I start cooking Pork Marsala without approximately three bowls, a plate and a lid on hand! 

It’s wonderful to be surrounded by people who love food as much as I do and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who gets irrationally excited about using copper pans. For the first few weeks, in January, I’ll probably write out time plans for my dinner because I’ll feel like I’m missing out. Even so, there’s another two weeks of high pressure, deadlines and nervously awaiting the chef’s verdict as he or she tastes my food, and I can’t wait. 

By Ally Mitchell

Instagram: @allymitchell19 

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