Leiths advanced diploma: Clare Heal, week 3

/ Category: Student stories / Author:

Leiths advanced diploma: Clare Heal, week 3

Clare gets stuck into week 3 with beautiful consommé & a lesson in sous vide

I’d been looking forward to week three, not least because it began with my birthday. Serendipitously, Monday’s wine lecture was on Sparkling Wines & Champagne which felt suitably festive. Especially when Richard Bampfield introduced a frisson of danger with a demonstration of sabrage - the art of opening champagne bottles with a sword, as popularised by Napoleon’s cavalry troops. With no sabre to hand he had to use a large kitchen knife instead but the effect was still impressive.

The morning had been spent braising a rabbit ahead of making ravioli the next day. Not an obviously celebratory task, admittedly. But since Bright Eyes - Art Garfunkel’s mournful theme for the child-traumatising rabbit animation Watership Down - was Number 1 on the day I was born, I managed to view even this piece of bunny-wrangling mis en place as part of my merrymaking.
The ravioli themselves were absolutely delicious. Beautiful little bowler hat shapes in a sauce of cream, mustard and the reduced braising liquor. Mine could have been cooked for thirty seconds longer but were still one of my favourite things we’ve made so far in a term that everyone agrees has been a huge step up in terms of “cheffiness”. 

We’ve got our hands on increasingly exciting ingredients and it’s been made clear that more is expected in terms of presentation and general refinement. The theme continued with Tuesday afternoon’s sous vide dem. Phil and David’s slow cooked eggs divided opinion as to whether the 60 minutes they spent in a water bath were worth it when you could poach one in two and a half. But their beautifully tender short ribs, cooked long and low for up to 48 hours really showed what the method is capable of. Not everyone’s weapon of choice perhaps, but an interesting bit of kit to have in your arsenal.

There was more kitchen wizardry on Wednesday with our second attempt at clearing. In contrast to the ultra-modernity of sous vide, clarifying stock with egg whites to make consommé has been a trick known since the middle ages. Yet is no less magical for that. Whisking egg whites (and shells!) into a sieved tomato and pepper soup created a murky-looking broth topped with scummy pink foam. Hardly appetising. But it’s this foam that, after straining through muslin, traps all the impurities and leaves you with crystal clear consommé. Or that’s the theory anyway. Mine had a slight haze to it, alas. Still magic though. And, more importantly, still delicious.

The day’s other return visit, this time to puff pastry, produced a tarte tatin which rose gratifyingly but could have been a touch more caramelised.

Anyone who ever wondered where their course fees go found out in that afternoon’s shellfish dem when we were introduced to crabs, lobsters, langoustines and other delicacies. Shellfish deteriorate rapidly and have to be bought live so it wasn’t one for the faint of heart: “OK, let’s get the killing over with,” Sue and Ansobe agreed at the beginning.

I’ve always been a big believer that anyone who eats meat or fish should face up to where their food come’s from. But there’s a big difference between knowing that your dinner cost a life and seeing that life actually taken in front of you. No denying they were tasty though.
Scallops don’t seem to arouse the same sympathies as lobsters so we were all fine with the ones we had to prepare on Thursday. They were served alongside a peanut and coriander sauce and pickled mooli radish. Presentation has never been my forte but I’ve really been trying hard this term. In this dish though the colours were so beautiful you’d have had to have made a special effort not to produce a pretty plateful.

We also got to have a go at those hour long sous vide eggs. The whole class coordinated their submersion in the waterbath so I can’t really claim there was a lot of skill involved, but I was still pleased when it came out OK, yolk perfectly runny and white just set.

Then a test. But swiftly followed by Annie and Jane’s journey through plated desserts which more than made up for it. They gave us all a sugar high as well as some great ideas for interesting garnishes and unusual flavour combinations. Buttermilk panna cotta with shards of meringue cuite and black sesame tuile was a particular favourite but I loved the different textures of chocolate too.

Friday brought another chance at sous vide – lamb rump this time. Once again I didn’t feel I was due many brownie points when it came out perfectly tender and rare but was pleased with the many accompaniments (harissa spiced cous cous, aubergine puree, minted yoghurt). Also we were allowed to serve it on a slate so a big bonus for presentation. Everything looks fancy on a slate.

The week ended with a visit by Ben Tish from the Salt Yard group. Their courgette flowers - stuffed with goats cheese, deep fried then drizzled with honey - are among some of the nicest things I’ve eaten in restaurants. They weren’t part of his demonstration but many other lovely things were, including chorizo-stuffed squid, Iberico pork and truffled macaroni “risotto”. It’s always interesting to hear from the restaurateurs who visit us, about life in the business and their different ways of working. Ben was no exception, talking about the flexibility offered by small plates, but how this style of food means that speed is paramount.

Sheets offering us the chance to sign up for work experience at various restaurants had appeared on the noticeboard earlier in the week and I’d already put my name down for a shift at Salt Yard. The demonstration confirmed my excitement at the prospect. I hope I can keep up…

Anyone with good UK top 40 knowledge (or just access to Google) will know from my Bright Eyes birthday reference that I’m not exactly in the first flush of youth. Having left one career behind to come here, the prospect of starting a new one can sometimes seem daunting. At Leiths I’ve learned to clarify stocks, make puff pastry and a hundred culinary skills besides. And, with these sorts of opportunities to get out into the world, it’s also taught me not to be scared of new beginnings.

Author: Lizzy Jones

Sign up to the Leiths newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest news, offers, recipes and tips from the Leiths experts. Occasionally we send information about specific courses. Help us tailor it to your interests.

I am interested in:


Post me a Leiths brochure

I am interested in:

Please complete the device above to help protect us from spam. Then press submit.

Thank you

We have received your request and will send a brochure to the address you have given us.

Loading course information...