The limitless possibilities of creativity by Lara Wood

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The limitless possibilities of creativity by Lara Wood

While they were taught techniques and recipes with great discipline in the first term of the Diploma, the students have now acquired the skills required to take a few leaps of faith and push the boundaries. Lara gets to grips with her competitive side in the Intermediate Term, Week 8.

We have been on a journey during the Intermediate term of the Leiths Diploma. 

There have been highs, such as the first time we learned to make pasta by hand, and there have been lows, learning about the many ways you can prepare offal for instance (I lean towards the ‘not keen’ camp when it comes to offal). There have been numerous butchery classes in which we’ve seen a whole cow, lamb and pig being deconstructed into their different parts; and we’ve been educated on the history and many types of cheese - from the very bland to the highly, eye wateringly stinky.

Meat and Cheese Awareness Days

For me, what has stood out the most is the increased sense of limitless possibility. I know that this sounds quite vague; I mean that, while we were taught techniques and recipes with great discipline in the first term of the Diploma, we have now acquired the skills required to take a few leaps of faith and push the boundaries. We have been invited to be creative in the kitchen. Of course we’re still required to use the techniques we have learnt, but we are now given an element of creative license to serve some of our class dishes ‘our way’. 

A few weeks ago we were asked to create accompaniments of our choice to pair with a duck breast, and cherry sauce. The sky was the limit in terms of where we could take our dish. I decided to take a leap of faith and made Jerusalem artichoke three ways (pickled, puree and crisps), leeks two ways (roasted and a charred leek ash emulsion) and an almond crumb. 

That’s right, a charred leek ash emulsion (essentially an ash mayonnaise). What did it taste like? A strange concoction… The best way of describing it is by comparing it to a creamy acidic ashtray (somewhere between horrific and intriguing). My teacher said that it was good to see me push myself, even if it didn’t quite work out. 

The charred leek ash emulsion in question

What was my takeaway from this? Despite my failings in this instance, I LOVE TO EXPERIMENT! I wasn’t put off by my little ashtray creation. In fact, I felt even more inspired. I knew that, if I worked on it, I could recipe test it until that ashtray tasted like a symphony of flavours. I felt a complete and utter buzz from trying a new approach.

Each term at Leiths there is a competition through which we’re encouraged to express our creativity. Last term I had incredible fun creating a cake for the Christmas cake contest and this term’s competition is sponsored by Belazu - a British olive, oils and innovative ingredients company. 

The brief was to create an original recipe in which one of the Belazu ingredients is the star of the dish. My mind began racing…Could I confit a form of protein in a Belazu olive oil? Could I serve it with an oil foam? Should I make a fine dining taco with Belazu’s Siyez grain and pickle vegetables with their Moscatel vinegar? 

I decided to choose their Verdemanda Extra Virgin Arbequina Olive Oil. In short, it is a strongly flavoured oil with flavour notes of banana, apple and fresh grass. More questions surfaced! Can you make a panna cotta with oil? How can I turn this into a dessert? How can I play on the oil’s flavour notes? It turns out basil and oil panna cotta tastes like an unpleasant mouthful of grass, but a parsley and oil cake is surprisingly delicious!

An Aussie Christmas cake and Belazu ingredients

I tested all of the possible dessert combinations, like a mad scientist – obsessed! From different types of ice cream to a molecular experiment, turning oil into sugared pearls using a syringe and 120 degree isomalt. My competition entry was an olive oil ice cream on an olive oil shortbread crumb, with banana panna cotta, apple curd; parsley and oil cake, siyez dust, popped siyez and molecular olive oil gems. 

Despite my competitive spirit, it doesn’t matter what happens now. I felt very proud of the finished result - it was ‘me’ on a plate. 

Molecular oil gems and my finished Belazu competition entry

I’ve always been someone who has ‘rustled things up’ in my home kitchen. Back then, it was probably of a standard that would make my Leiths teachers cry (non-existent knife skills, probably overcooking and undercooking everything), but I rustled nonetheless. My cooking since starting at Leiths has improved to a level where I can comfortably say to myself, “Hey girl, you are becoming a chef. WOW!” 

Not only do I dream about what ingredients go together but I'm gaining the skills needed to bring those ingredients together and make them shine. I can petit brunoise like a kitchen-ninja and I can make my food look beautiful in photos (photographing our dinner as it gets cold on the table while my husband patiently waits for me to say, “Ok, we can eat now!”)

Food photoshoots in the Woods household

Looking at my class around me, it is not just our ability that has changed, it is our confidence. I’ve gone from displaying the grace of a waddling penguin in the kitchen to resembling a soaring albatross. I still make plenty of mistakes but I’m beginning to see less of those, and more of the good stuff. It’s the good days that are making me feel like I have a place in this industry. 

Will I make an ash emulsion again? Maybe not! But it’s reassuring to know we are all beginning to think outside the box when it comes to food and that, as chefs we can make and break the rules. There are limitless possibilities for all of us.

By Lara Wood

Instagram: @LaraLeeEats / Twitter: @LaraLeeLondon / YouTube: LaraLeeEats

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