Where are they now? Christina Dale

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Where are they now? Christina Dale

Leiths Diploma graduate and Pastry Chef Christina Dale talks about her lifelong passion for food and cooking.

Name: Christina Dale

Year graduated: 2013

Current job title: Pastry Demi Chef de Partie at Murano by Angela Hartnett

How would you describe your year on the diploma at Leiths in 3 words?

Unforgettable, inspiring, educational.

What were you doing/Where were you working before the Diploma?

I took a gap year straight after finishing school in Colombia. I started working at a German bakery in Bank, Konditor & Cook, and then moved onto an organic health store in Marylebone, The Natural Kitchen. I also did a 7 week course at an Italian cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi, and had the chance to do the Pastry Course at Leiths. I wanted to try out the school, the way of teaching and the curriculum.
Whilst doing the Pastry Course, I was lucky to have Heli and Louisa as teachers and thought it would be amazing to learn from them for a whole year, so I had a look at the Three Term Curriculum and decided straight away to start in October 2012. This was February, so all I only had until October to wait before beginning what has been an incredible and whirlwind journey.

Pear frangipane tart
poached egg saffron hollandaise

What were the highlights of your year at Leiths?

Well, although it has nothing to do with food, I think friendship is one of the biggest things I took from the course. The people you cook with and spend nine months with five days a week, become your kitchen family and you get to learn from them as well as the teachers.
Also, being half Colombian-half English I got to know classic British food from scratch. I’d seen my mum do Sunday Roast before and I’d made Victoria Sponge with my grandmother, but a full one-on-one training in the basics of British food was what I enjoyed the most. The first term was all about basics and theory, pastry pastry pastry! How many ounces is 100g, what is the equivalent of a pint in ml, the endless stages of bread making which, in retrospect, was very, very useful. Why is it essential to bake shortbread at a low temperature? I could go on and on. Leiths was all about precision and making sure we knew the theory behind everything we were doing. I think the main reason for that was because we can’t always rely on technology nowadays, anything can go wrong in the kitchen and by anything, I mean EVERYTHING! Knowing how to fix a split mayonnaise by adding a bit of lemon juice or water, whisking egg whites by hand for a soufflé, things I’ve had to use as a professional chef. Leiths gave me that extra oomph in confidence.
I would go back and teach, eventually. I still have a way to go, but I know I belong to the Leiths family and I am very proud to say I went there and would recommend it to anyone who is in doubt.

What was your first job or work experience following the Diploma?

Before graduating I had done evening work experiences at several London restaurants looking for opportunities or job offers to start as soon as I graduated. I went to The Glasshouse, The Ledbury, St John’s and Salt Yard. I got along really well with the head chef at the time at Salt Yard and managed to start in July, just one month after graduating. It was simple but really tasty food, and having never worked in a restaurant, I thought a small tapas place would be just the place to start.

Murano blackcurrant tart
Quince tart with crema catalana ice cream

How has the Diploma helped you in your current role?

Besides the classical training Leiths offered, it also gave me the confidence to stand on my own two feet and work in a fast pace environment. Also, Leiths has a huge database of chefs and contacts in the food industry, so everywhere you go within the food world, you will come across graduates and be able to connect with others from a similar same background.

How often do you use the skills you learnt at Leiths?

Everyday I remember something I learnt at school. There are things that I don’t do as meticulously as Leiths taught me to, you have to cut a few corners in a professional kitchen without the luxury of time. I use the skills I learnt on a daily basis, to the best of my ability within the time given.

What are you cooking or eating for dinner tonight?

Well, today I had a lovely dinner at Dishoom in Shoreditch. But on my day off, if I have the energy I will normally make some pasta. To be really, really honest, I often eat bowl after bowl of cereal. It is my guilty, not so secret pleasure. I can assure you every other chef can agree with me on this one.

What is your signature dish?

I was afraid of this question coming up! It is the typical question someone you just met asks you as soon as they know you are a chef. I can’t really say something that screams my name when I make it, but I can tell you I thoroughly enjoy making ice cream, bread and pizza from scratch. The thing I enjoy the most is cooking for friends and family and to hear them say with a huge mouthful/smile on their faces, “Whenever you decide to finally open your own place, you can definitely count on my investment!”

What key piece of advice would you offer to this year’s Diploma students?

Enjoy every moment of it, it goes incredibly fast. Do not take for granted any demonstration or advice any teacher gives you, always remember to be organised and most importantly, make sure you learn and absorb everything you can in order to eventually make yourself indispensable in any kitchen you may end up working in.

What is your favourite restaurant to eat at?

I am a very cheap date and I absolutely love burgers. So I would say either Patty & Bun or Tommi’s Burger Joint in Marylebone. It’s only £10.50 for a burger, fries and a drink!

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