A Foundation Term Farewell by Kelly Stretton

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A Foundation Term Farewell by Kelly Stretton

With Christmas well on its way and the Foundation Term drawing to a close, student blogger Kelly tells us how to keep your cool in the kitchen and reveals the "secret" of good cooking. Foundation Term, week 10.

Remember last month when I said we were in heaven? Well, we are still spending every day in salty, buttery heaven.

However, heaven is such hard work.    

There's a reason we're encouraged to head to the pub and get to know each other on the first day of term. No, it’s not just for stealing time plans (or Panna cotta, thanks Ana). It's because only these chef-warriors can possibly understand what you are going through. 

We are physically and emotionally exhausted; crying at random things that normally you would laugh at, full on melt downs due to under salted food and burnt fingers (it happens, don’t judge). Your comrades do the dishes whilst you weep, holding ice packs, thinking "I bet this s**t never happens to Nigella". I think George said it best when, in a dem, he made this honest statement:  “Well, we all look like we’ve just got off the 4am flight!”       

“I feel like I’ve been here 2 minutes, yet can’t remember life before Leiths. ”

We are in this together and it’s a good thing too, because if you dare to complain to the outside world it sounds something like this:

“I have a 6 hour day, half cooking and half being fed by very talented chefs in demonstrations, weekends off,  a 3 day weekend in the middle of each month and every evening down the local pub having a post-food-disaster-tipple with amazing new friends.”

Yeah, you already want to swoop in and save me from this hell don’t you!

Saying this to friends with full time jobs, especially those who have full time jobs and are full time parents, puts decade long friendships on the edge of termination - so I keep this for the classroom.

The last 5 weeks brings us to the end of the Foundation Term. I can’t believe that’s it: basic skills done and dusted! I feel like I’ve been here 2 minutes, yet can’t remember life before Leiths.

In the past month we have travelled the culinary world, cooking up treats from the sea, sky and land. We’ve slow roasted meat, mastered(ish) all stages of steak from blue, to medium, to don’t you dare order this well done. We’ve tackled live shellfish, become butchers and know what to look for when buying fresh produce of all kinds.

We’ve also been taken through game season, both feathered and furred, and we’ve plucked and cooked our own pheasant. We’ve had guest chefs cooking up amazing feasts and widening our eyes with possibilities for the future.

I’m not sure we’re even taking stock (but we have made it) of how much we've learnt in the past 10 weeks.  

“Cooking is all about the senses, not militantly following a set of instructions.”

Our new found skills and successes are showing in our scores. Ladies and gentlemen, we have new levels of ratings, known (informally) as “It’s going to the staff room” and “Everyone come here and see this”. I say this both humbly and proudly (totally showing off) as my cake, my very own Victoria sponge cake, was taken to the staff room. It's a secret place on the top floor where apparently the best plates live and 5 rated cakes are taken. I have cracked Leiths… Paul Hollywood step aside, there is a new star baker in town!

In true student style, I then made a Swiss roll which was over cooked, under jammed and, to quote my teacher, “More of fold than a roll”…  Hollywood you’re back in business!     

Moving on to “Everybody stop what you are doing and see this”. We all instantly thought, “Oh s**t, what’s happened? Thank God it's not me!” We walked over to see poor Hallé stood next to our teacher and my heart sank for her as Ansobé sliced her chicken with 16 pairs of eyes glued to the bird...

Then we heard a sentence that we'll never forget: “This is the best chicken I've seen in 10 years of teaching!”  We all whooped and cheered initially – then the green eyed monster arrived, as we all wanted an “Everybody come here” moment and a star next to our 5s. Instead, we returned to our benches and presented our stupid, stupid chickens!

What I have finally figured out (to the teachers' relief) is that timings in recipes are guidelines and nothing more. We have spent the last 10 weeks begging for a one size fits all, "Do this and you’ll never get it wrong", absolute answer. But no, it doesn’t work like that and it has taken me until week 9 to figure this one simple fact out. There are so many variables in cooking that you can’t possibly have a definitive answer, no matter how many puppy-eyed looks we throw at our tutors, begging for the exact minutes needed. It’s not going to happen…

The “secret” to cooking is all about the senses, not militantly following a set of instructions. If there is one thing I could tell you from this term it's that I have finally understood that an enthusiastic amateur follows a recipe, whilst a rockstar chef follows their senses and trusts them implicitly. And I don’t know about you, but I want to be a rockstar!

So, 30 minutes to bake pastry: are we going to take it out at bang on 30? No we are not! We shall check it at 20 and see if amells, feels and looks right… then back in. For how long? Until it smells, looks and feels perfect…. I know it’s the most infuriating answer, believe me, I get it! I’ve looked at my poor tutor for nine weeks with those puppy-dog-eyes, pleading to just be told the answer. It's the same for bread, cooking meat, cooking fish, sweating onions, boiling veg… you get the infuriating picture!

But we’ve got it, just in the nick of time, as term is ending and the Christmas holidays are approaching for Leiths students. We have just had the best dem of all dems:  a full on turkey, goose and all the trimmings. We watched in amazement at just how versatile a blue J-cloth can be and just how multi-skilled our teachers are; think poetry, singing and even walking the catwalk!

So, to the holidays, where we are let loose on the world for work experience up and down the country; eager chefs at the ready with clean aprons and bright eyes!

I’ll be heading back to the great North, to do my work experience in Greens Restaurant and to speak to “The Gallaghers” (aka any Manc) to make sure I still sound northern and no R’s have been sneaking in where they’re not welcome. You’ll be pleased to know I still order a normal coffee and don’t run for a tube… it’s Christmas, I made it! And then it's time to chill because, I don’t know if I mentioned it, but WE ARE TIRED! But what a term... what a school... and what an exhausting, amazing year ahead!

P.S. I don’t know anyone who isn’t praying for Father Christmas to magically drop a Thermomix or a Kitchen Aid down their chimney. (Families, if you’re reading this: Nudge, nudge! Wink, wink!)

Happy Christmas – See you in the New Year!

By Kelly Stretton | Instagram: @kelstretton

See Kelly's last post by clicking here.

If you'd also love to master every kind of steak to suit your friends and family, join us for How to Cook - The Perfect Steak. To pick up some impressive recipes before the big day, why not spruce up your Christmas entertaining skills with Jennifer Joyce's Christmas Canapés class on Friday 8th December?

Kelly Stretton

Author: Kelly Stretton

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