/ Category: Student stories / Author:


Diploma student Clare gets to grips with offal and speedy service in the fifth week of the intermediate term...

Week five began with a return visit from butchers Peter Holmes and Graham Portwine for a second session of Meat Appreciation. 

Following our previous tour through pigs, sheep and the front part of a cow, this time we were introduced to some bovine hindquarters as well as plenty of poultry and offal. 

After decades in the meat trade, the depth of Peter and Graham’s knowledge is incredibly impressive and their dexterity in dismembering carcasses a wonder to behold. I learned an awful lot, about animal physiology and rearing and how different cuts of meat are best prepared and cooked. Also that a bull’s penis can be dried and turned into a walking stick! Whatever I choose to do post-Leiths, doubtless this pizzlestick proficiency will come in handy somehow.
Tuesday we applied our newfound offal knowledge, preparing chicken livers for pâté and calves’ liver to be served with bacon and savoy cabbage. The chicken innards posed little problem, being relatively easy to prepare but the calves’ bits were a different matter. They were so full of little tubes needing removing that, by the time I’d finished worrying away at them with an office knife, there was hardly anything left.  It was only later that I realised I’d been so focussed on the task at hand I’d failed to make even one “offal” pun. 

That afternoon’s wine lecture was a more sedate affair as we attempted to get out heads around the complex labelling system of Chablis. I’m really enjoying wine at the moment. Well, I’ve always enjoyed wine, but the vinous element part of the course has really taken off in the last couple of weeks. Now we’re onto learning about specific regions and grapes my understanding is really blossoming. Plus I can always claim to be doing homework if I open a bottle in the evening.

Wednesday was our second all-day cooking session in as many weeks and I’d been looking forward to it. Who wouldn’t when it included steak and chips, Chelsea buns and fruit tarts? Yet things didn’t go quite according to plan. Firstly I seem incapable of cooking steak any other way than how I like it myself – rare with a bit of a char on the outside. Try as hard as I might it always comes out like that and not the politely browned medium rare we’ve been told to aim for. I don’t feel too sad at the prospect of further practice though.
The tarts were fine if a little hastily glazed but I was disappointed by my Chelsea buns. I grew up in Cambridge, home of Fitzbillies tea shop which serves the best and stickiest specimens you’ve ever had. The recipe we were using made a lovely dough but lacked syrup so my over-risen versions fell a long way short of that platonic bun ideal. I enjoyed the day, nevertheless! 

I was pleased when Thursday turned out comparatively relaxed. We made a soda bread to go with out pâtés from Tuesday – both delicious – and had some time to brush up on whichever skills we felt needed it: soufflés and pigeon preparation in my case. My tablemate opted to have a go at her vegetable presentation, a task she hates for it’s finickiness and waste so I was pleased to make up for Tuesday by observing that “the lady’s not for turning.” 

That morning and a lovely dem on flaky pastry and hot water crust revived our energies, which was just as well because Friday really required concentration. We prepared duck breast with cherry sauce to a very strict service of 12.00 and for the first time were allowed creative choice when it came to sides. This was really exciting but added an element of pressure as, after service, we toured the other kitchens to see what everyone else had done and how they’d chosen to present it – obviously they came to inspect our work too.  

I opted for celeriac puree and kale with lemon and garlic. They both turned out well but may have had their presentational impact lessened by the puddle of blood seeping from my under-rested duck breast.

As if time wasn’t already of the essence, an added challenge of short-order Szechaun prawns demonstrated just how quickly ten minutes can pass in a busy kitchen. 

Although time passes pretty quickly at Leiths anyway, I can’t quite believe that the end of week five means we’re now halfway though the course. Constantly learning new skills means that you can sometimes feel like you’re struggling to keep up. However, this midpoint provides a moment to stop and look back and realise how far we’ve come already. 

Lily Grouse

Author: Lily Grouse


Loading course information...