Leiths Advanced Diploma: The Final Week of Cooking by Susie Morrison

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Leiths Advanced Diploma: The Final Week of Cooking by Susie Morrison

On graduation day, we hear from Susie Morrison who recounts her final week of cooking at Leiths.

“Creative this, chef's choice of that, sprinkled with a mock exam and some oh so joyous clearing! ”

Week 9, the final week of cooking... Eeek! I must admit, when I received the curriculum, I did have that stomach wrenching moment of panic, 'how on earth was I supposed to fit all of that in?' Creative this, chef's choice of that, sprinkled with a mock exam and some oh so joyous clearing! But, the weekend saw me knuckle down to my time plans and try and break this monster of a week down. To be honest, when I got into it, my ideas starting flowing (possibly a bit beyond my technical skill, the old gem of 'it was like this in my head.....') and my creative Red Mullet and Rabbit ideas were firmly sewn.

Monday, mock exam day. I felt ill on the train, my two weak areas, pasta AND mousseline! But, cheered on by my fantastic class buddies, we saw it through, and it wasn't too shabby! Apart from being a weeny bit pushed for time and a bit scruffy around the edges, my dish was servable (a plus in my books) and for once I actually made decent pasta. This moved on to a super sunny long lunch break (including two ice lollies, first of the summer) to keep the mood high.

The demonstration was one I've been looking forward to for a long time 'Food Styling with Jennifer Joyce'. And it didn't disappoint. We were guided through the tricks and techniques of the trade with awe... This woman is a genius with food. Making it look effortless, she literally threw plates together, rustic style but still managed to make them look mouth-wateringly delicious (unlike some of my road kill attempts...) I must say, as something that I am really interested in, this lecture was invaluable. I know many agree, judging by the queue to offer our services for work experience!

Tuesday, I must admit, I wasn't impressed by the idea of a whole lecture dedicated to wine glasses.... Really, can that even last two and a half hours? But, in peeking through the doors of the dining room, I knew I was mistaken. The tables were laid as if from a Michelin starred restaurant with balloon glasses, polished so highly I swear I spotted a disco ball on the ceiling! This demonstration was fascinating; it really is mind blowing how our perceptions of flavours and aromas are altered according to the vessel we are drinking from. We learned which wines are best appreciated from which glass, and as someone who entered this very sceptical, I will now be practicing what Reidel (the glass company) preach!

Moving on to Creative Mullet.... Which happened to be Creative Gurnard or Seabass! I commend Leiths on their decision to change the fish due to the fact that the mullet was bad quality and had been trawled, it's reassuring to know that they practice ethically where food sources are concerned. At first this threw me slightly, but, not one to miss an opportunity, I opted for Gurnard, purely because I knew nothing about it! It turned out to be a great success, not only because I have now found a new fish to add to my list of favourites, but it was surprisingly easy to prep

! For my dish I decided to embrace the beautiful weather and transport myself to the South of France with Gurnard Provençal, served with ratatouille, slow cooked tomato sauce, olive & basil concasse and quinoa crisps. I was really pleased with the result, and judging by the plates throughout the kitchen, the rest of Blue B should be as well, there were some real show stoppers! It's times like this that I realise how privileged I am to be able to train amongst such talented chefs. 
I would like to say tomorrow is a nice day off, but with the theory exam looming, I'm guessing revisionist in the cards, hopefully the sun will keep shining!

Thursday, 9.30 start, always a sign of a long session! But we all seemed surprisingly perky considering the prospect of everything we had to do. Foie gras parfait, brioche and rabbit prep... All squeezed into a morning session. Easy, or so I thought until I started kneading my brioche dough. Really? 15 minutes beating a heavily lump with a wooden spoon left my biceps pumped, good upper body workout, I thought. We proceeded to enter a new level of pain...incorporating each walnut sized piece of butter into this (what seemed like steel) dough. Pushing and pulling it up to shoulder height to develop the gluten was merciless, seeing as it seemed to take hours just to get one weeny bit of butter in. But onwards we slogged, to the sound of grunts and groans and mutterings of: 'I'm really going to appreciate brioche burger buns more now'. But we all got the job done and I am now the proud owner of (one!) Arnie worthy bicep! (May have to even myself up at some point!) Next was the parfait, after curing the foie gras and chicken livers in the most vibrant pink salt, we were ready to emulsify eggs and butter into the mix. We had to work quickly and carefully to prevent the delicate mix from curdling, if I had a child, it probably wouldn't get as much attention! Into our mounds and into a Bain Marie before the bunnies graced the red boards.

“It was strange leaving the kitchen, elated and hyped by the buzzing atmosphere of everyone's accomplishments...”

Having never butchered a rabbit before, I was happy with my effort (my trip to the butcher to watch must have paid off) and we all scurried around our various tasks of prepping pearls, jus, pies and a whole host of accompaniments I've never even heard of! Creative days are so fascinating as everyone has such a different take on the same ingredients. I left excited to see what potential 'Michelin starred' creations will be created tomorrow.

Friday was our last 'proper' day of cooking, so I felt slightly sad as I entered the kitchen. Leiths has been my life for the last two years and the prospect of finishing leaves a kind of void. It's an exciting void though as Leiths has set me up both technically and emotionally to have what I know will be the epitome of my life long dream, this time my happiness really is in my clutches!

So, this day was to be huge... Not only did we have 'creative rabbit' to contend with but we also had to squeeze in brioche, Sauternes jelly (cleared!!!), foie gras parfait and our pear & saffron chutney! All pans at the ready we buzzed around like bees, starting everything at once and getting a bit bamboozled! But at 1.00 our jellies were set and gleaming alongside beautifully golden brioche and smooth as silk parfaits...A delicious lunch to set us up for a crazy afternoon. 

With jus bubbling and legs confit-ing I managed a 10 minute breath of fresh air before the mania began. With the count down until 3.00 on, the kitchen fell into an eerie silence as we all focused in out numerous dishes. But, as the walk-round demonstrated, all the stress was well worth it. There were some real show stoppers, from miniature gardens to New Yorker stacked burgers. The scope for creativity was huge, and everything was so beautifully executed.

I decided to make a pun for my last dish, so I created an 'edible rabbit hutch' complete with rabbit food, straw and droppings! I was pleased with the comments and pleased that I now have a new quirky dish to add to my repertoire.
I was reminded of one thing I won't be missing after Leiths....Cleaning! With deep frying oil, crusted egg whites and jus scum crusted into the hobs, I realised why all the big kitchens have KPs... This is probably my biggest ambition…To have a personal washer-upper!

It was strange leaving the kitchen, elated and hyped by the buzzing atmosphere of everyone's accomplishments, but slightly heavy hearted and almost 'lost' as the course draws to a close. But I needn't feel jaded yet, I still have some lovely exams to look forward to! In true 'Leiths' spirit... BRING IT ON!

Lily Grouse

Author: Lily Grouse

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