Top Ten Lessons I Learned at Chef Night School

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Top Ten Lessons I Learned at Chef Night School

This week, food and lifestyle blogger Emma Hatcher (a.k.a She Can't Eat What?!) fills us in on ten valuable lessons she learnt whilst studying our Professional Essential Cooking Certificate.

Earlier this year I completed the Essential Cooking Certificate at Leiths School of Food & Wine. For 10 weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday night after work (along with some Saturdays), I commuted over to Stamford Brook, put on my chef whites and eagerly stepped into the kitchens. 

Like a few in my class, I worked in food already - part time at Borough Market, managing their social media, and as a freelance food blogger for the rest of the week. There were many reasons I wanted to study at the renowned institution that is Leiths, but education and confidence were my two main goals.

“If you're passionate about cooking, you'll find the energy. ”

From basic vegetable prep, to stocks, fish, meats, and pastry, I learned an incredible amount during my time at Leiths, and could not be more enthusiastic about the whole experience. The list of things I learnt could go on forever but, if I had to narrow it down, my "Top 10" are:

1) Filleting a fish isn’t as hard as it looks. And it’s the same when it comes to jointing a chicken and preparing a rack of lamb.  The skills might take a bit of patience to learn but, once you’ve mastered them, you’ll be on cloud 9.

2) You can make do with what you have. Yes a Magimix and a stand mixer are lovely to have on hand, but you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to produce delicious food. No pan lid? Just use a baking tray. No juicer? A pair of tongs will do. 

3) Read the recipe from top to bottom before you start cooking, and read it thoroughly! There’s nothing worse than finding out that half of that butter you’ve chucked in the mixture was actually meant to be for another part of the dish. Those lengthy daily time plans (which you're required to prepare for each class) are worth it, people!   

4) Mise en place (having everything in place before you start cooking) is everything. We were expected to arrive early and get everything set up before the class had even started and, although I may have huffed and puffed about it (inside my head of course!), I quickly realised how much of a difference it made to the cooking experience each night. You’re not constantly weighing ingredients, or walking back and forth to the fridge. Your cooking experience is smoother, quicker, cleaner and much more enjoyable. 

5) If you’re passionate about cooking, you’ll find the energy. Even if it flew by, ten weeks is a long time and some days I felt completely overwhelmed and knackered – and that was often before class. But I loved every moment I was in those kitchens and our hard work in an evening always paid off. Plus, you get to eat the best dinners.

“Big or small, a team of people is required to run a kitchen. From kitchen assistants to the head chef; each individual matters.”

6) Don’t forget to season! Much like the message in Samin Nosrat’s brilliant book ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’, when it comes to seasoning, small tweaks make all the difference to a finished dish. FYI: I learnt I’ve always under salted EVERYTHING, a pinch of sugar is great at enhancing the flavour of savoury foods and a squeeze of lemon juice is your best friend at cutting through fat and giving that zing to sauces.

7) Teamwork makes the dream work. You’ve all had a long day and are tired, but service is going to be a lot more fun if you work together and can have a laugh at the same time. Big or small, a team of people is required to run a kitchen. From kitchen assistants to the head chef; each individual matters. Oh and while we're on this – always, always do your share of the washing up! 

8) Small skills add up. I remember our (brilliant) teacher Annie recapping what we’d covered over the last couple of classes and it emerged that if we put three of the skills we had learnt together we could easily make a soufflé. Hurrah!

9) Great quality ingredients don’t need a lot of help. Dishes don’t need to be over-complicated, if you start with high quality produce, cook it well and season it properly, you’re always onto a winner.  

10) Inspiration is everywhere. You might be at a fancy new restaurant, on a walk in the park or in the kitchens with one of the chefs talking about a past experience. Always keep your eyes and ears open and you never know what kind of dishes you might come up with. 

To summarise my top ten things I learned at chef night school are: 

1) Filleting a fish isn’t as hard as it looks. 
2) You can make do with what you have. 
3) Read the recipe from top to bottom before you start cooking, and read it thoroughly! 
4) Mise en place (having everything in place before you start cooking) is everything. 
5) If you’re passionate about cooking, you’ll find the energy. 
6) Don’t forget to season! 
7) Teamwork makes the dream work. 
8) Small skills add up. 
9) Great quality ingredients don’t need a lot of help. 
10) Inspiration is everywhere. 

Inspired by Emma's cookery school adventures? Our next Professional Essential Evening Certificate starts on the 29th September. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to maximise the amount you learn in the shortest space of time we also run this as a full time four week course during the day - click here to learn more

Author: Emma Hatcher

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