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Lockdown Life after Leiths

/ Categories Student stories, Alumni / Author:

Lockdown Life after Leiths

What does life after Leiths look like in a pandemic?

Each year, we wave goodbye to a new bunch of bright-eyed, ambitious diploma graduates, sending them off into the bustling, dynamic realm of opportunity that is the food industry. 2020, however, brought about a wildly different sentiment to the end of term. With the hospitality industry suffering from ever-changing restrictions and uncertainty, our students were faced with total ambiguity at the very start of their careers.

Nonetheless, one thing the current state of the industry can’t take away from those who work in it is their drive to adapt, innovate and persevere. Amidst the struggle, we have also seen creativity and determination shine through like never before; from nationwide home meal kits to virtual cook-alongs and supper clubs. Somehow the spirit of hospitality has been kept alive and kicking.

With this same attitude and energy, our recent grads have found innovative ways to kick-start their professional journeys, despite this introduction being far from what they’d imagined. We’re proud to hand you over to an inspiring handful of our 2020 alumni, here to tell us about their unexpected lockdown projects and jobs against the odds.

The Real Junk Food Project
Cat Banks

“After finishing Leiths on such a high, it was a shock to the system graduating into a global pandemic and a hospitality industry that was barely functioning, a pale shadow of its former self. However, where there’s passion and hope, new ideas can formulate, and silver linings can be found. My silver lining was volunteering. When I realised that jobs were thin on the ground, I started to look for voluntary work where I could use my chef’s skills to help others who were suffering during the pandemic. A week later I was part of the volunteer kitchen team at the Gardner Café.

This pay-as-you-feel café is part of the Brighton branch of The Real Junk Food Project, a nationwide charity that focuses on intercepting food waste that is destined for landfill. The project repurposes surplus food as affordable and delicious meals on a pay-as-you-feel basis.

After a few months of volunteering, I was delighted to be offered a paid role as part time Sous Chef at the café. During lockdown, we’ve been really busy in the kitchen providing 50 takeaway meals for one of our other food banks/ cafés, as well as providing takeaway food for our regulars. I’ve learnt a lot over the past year and changed my career plans a million times, but I’ve found that when you’re feeling a little lost, helping others is often the best way to help yourself.”

Fallow Restaurant
Jin Park

“Having graduated, I found myself wondering what to do. The pandemic meant that any work experience that I had planned for Easter was cancelled. Thankfully I was able to complete a month stage at Portland restaurant helping with prep work and running the snacks section.

After this I applied for a job at Fallow restaurant; surprisingly they accepted me and I have been there ever since, running a section. Even during the short time I have been there, I have learnt so much about how a restaurant is run and have felt the incredible attention needed to create quality food in such a high pressure situation. The knowledge and skills I learnt at Leiths definitely helped me get used to the restaurant environment and I am incredibly grateful for it.”

Holl at the Hob
Holly Walmsley

“After the most magical year at Leiths, the school’s career agency helped me line up a 6 week placement at Kol, Santiago Lastra’s new fine dining Mexican restaurant in Marylebone. At the start of November, I moved back to London to start, only to find out the next day that lockdown 2.0 was upon us and that restaurants must close. With little chance of employment in the hospitality sector, I decided to start my own business - Holl At The Hob. My obsession with all things sweet led me to focus on postal brownies, hoping that during what was turning into a bleak winter, treats through the letterbox might bring some joy. I set up my website, created an online shop and spent most of December manically baking brownies from my parent’s kitchen. With everyone forced to do their Christmas shopping online, I was fortunate to find high demand.

January arrived and with it, no need for Christmas presents. I needed to branch out and had a stroke of luck when walking through York on New Year’s Eve. It was the opening day of Grindsmith Coffee and strangely enough, I was their first customer. Noticing they had no baked goods, I enquired as to whether they’d like any. I’ve now been their supplier for the last five weeks and it’s been an incredibly exciting journey. I’ve expanded my online shop to now include corporate gifts (brownie or breakfast meeting boxes) and have been grateful for orders from the likes of Deloitte, Accenture, Houston PR and Atlantic Technologies.

It’s been a turbulent year, with many hurdles still to come and lots to learn but I’m incredibly excited about 2021 and thankful to Leith’s for making Holl At The Hob a possibility.”

Cook to Care
Michael Fuller

“I have been volunteering with a charity called Cook to Care, based in South London. Cook to Care provides meals for disadvantaged people across the area who might otherwise go hungry. As part of their work, I led a team of myself and two other chefs cooking lunches for 80 primary school children per day during the summer holidays. I had to plan meals, deal with suppliers, manage a professional kitchen, and get healthy meals out on time. Meals that young children with very diverse experiences of food would all enjoy eating too, no mean feat! It was a fantastic experience and I learnt so much, I am truly thankful that I could use the skills I was taught at Leith’s in this way, and for the trust JoJo and the team at Cook to Care put in me. I’m also so grateful to my teacher Ben at Leiths, who guided me and gave me confidence to do it.”

Home Economist & Caterer
Jess Mcintosh

"The reason for my huge career change was to have a skill that could easily be applied to various scenarios. Coming from a career that was focused around one job, the Leith’s Diploma gave me the tools and confidence to say YES to try everything. During the diploma, I had reached out to various restaurants, caterers, food stylists, and home economists for opportunities for work experience. You name it, I tried it! Thankfully I had done most of my work experience prior to Lockdown 1. These opportunities lead me onto assisting the fabulous Lisa Harrison, who in turn gave me my first assistant home economist role for a 3-week TV stint just after I graduated. I have also been assisting various food stylists such as the talented Leith’s Alumni, Katie Marshall for some cookbooks, editorial and commercial jobs. What I love about these roles is the variety and the pace at which anything and everything can be thrown at you! The knowledge and skills I have learned at Leith’s are constantly applied which in turn becomes second nature.

I have also been working as a private chef, where I have been delivering drop-offs for various local clients and working for catering companies, such as Braizen Kitchen who supply on-set catering fo TV and film"


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