Laying the Foundations by Kelly Stretton

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Laying the Foundations by Kelly Stretton

Our Diploma students are over half way through the Foundation Term and are being put through their paces with a new culinary challenge every day. Student blogger Kelly talks about London life, going back to basics and all things fishy. Foundation Term, Week 7.

Well, we have arrived, from all four corners of the globe – the Leiths Diploma class of 2017/2018.   

The next Nigellas and Nigel Slaters, future Michelin-starred chefs, food stylists, recipe developers, sommeliers, food writers and much more - all under one roof! I feel like we’re at Julliard but, instead of ballet pumps, we wear crocs and are slightly less graceful (shouting “hot pan” and praying we don’t bang straight into someone). However, the excitement, passion and ‘pinch yourself we’re actually here’ feeling is the same I imagine!  It’s slightly surreal, I keep having moments of realisation that I’m here, back at school and living in London.

I, Kelly from Yorkshire, am currently a Londoner.

Albeit not a very convincing one, as I smile and talk to people on the tube, forget to stand on the right side of the escalators (FYI they really don’t like this) and never will I run in a blind panic for a tube when the next one is, at the very most, 120 seconds behind!

But I have been to the shard, eaten smashed avocado for brunch with the hipsters, walked the Thames, own an Oyster card - all I need to do now is have breakfast at Dishoom and I’m practically a local! However, I do draw the line at ordering a coffee with more than four words, so maybe I’ll always give myself away as an out-of-towner. Ahh who am I kidding? Give me until Christmas and I’ll be pronouncing the letter ‘r’ where it clearly doesn’t belong, shouting at the wandering, escalator-rule-breaking tourists and ordering a "venti soy quadruple shot latte with no foam" from Pret!  

“I can now take a whole fish, fillet it, skin it and cook it to perfection!”

So, we're a whole month in and it has flown by. Yet it feels like I’ve known my class comrades for a lifetime and no longer remember a life where I didn’t live each day according to a carefully constructed time plan!  

If we ever question how far we’ve come in the first month, remember this: On our first cooking day, it took us nearly three hours to produce a bacon and soft egg salad! The nerves it took when breaking the shell, praying to the cooking gods that this egg was going to be soft (but not too soft) and then everything in life would be OK!  

Those seemingly innocent eggs have taken down many a talented student. Full on tantrums as omelettes ran out on the plate or when turned over discovering that colour has taken residency on the edge of your otherwise perfect omelette. Cue a plastic pot soaring through the sky as the third attempt hits the pan (you know who you are)!

Now look at us, we are swordsmen/women with our daily sharpened knifes,  pastry perfectionists who can cook eggs 27 ways and know how to take a fish from pond to plate. We could live self sufficiently in the wilderness cooking up mackerel and plaice a plenty (as long as someone catches it, cleans it and delivers it to us on a red board with a sharpened fish knife).

I can now take a whole fish, fillet it, skin it and cook it to perfection… I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR!!!

Every day of the Foundation Term is fast paced with new skill to learn. We do everything by the book – specifically How to Cook, which has become our bible. We listen intently and try to follow instruction to the letter… apart from when they say "be happy with a 3"!

We are marked on a scale of 1 – 5. A 1 is un-servable, a 5 means you completed it to a great standard with no help.

Or, in a student’s mind: 5 equals skipping through the fields Julie-Andrews-style knowing you have found your place in the world; and 1… well it feels like Gordon Ramsey himself  screaming his best insults at you, leaving you wondering why the hell you thought you could become a chef. You can switch between these states on a daily basis, so fear not if you’re having a Gordon day, Julie is only a perfectly risen dough away!

I’m starting to think the teachers dished out a couple of 5s at the start to give us the taste… once you have a 5 anything less is a disaster. You kid yourself with a 4 saying, “That’s OK, I’m new. I can’t always have a 5 - I’m still learning.” And then you hear it coming from the other side of the kitchen; someone else gets the 5 awarded to their glowingly perfect, amazing, it-doesn’t-get-any-better-than-this dish. Of course, you are over the moon for them….. or not!  You quietly want to take a fish slice and smash it straight into their dish. This is not normally me, so I’ll blame it on the exhaustion.   

We were warned on day one in our welcome talk from Camilla, the MD, about how tired we would feel by the end of the first month and how resting is advised on days off. I, however, had other plans. I’m only here for a year, so I signed up to every evening and weekend course Leiths does, travelled back to Manchester at the weekend and headed out to explore the big smoke.

I thought to myself that the first long weekend could be used to head away and have a nice relaxing time out with the fella. But, by the time that first long weekend came at the end of October, I was going nowhere. I didn’t get dressed and slept for 12 hours straight(!) then woke up and cooked all day, taking 5 hours to make pastry. No timings, no pressure, although my friends did provide scores!

This course is exhausting. You have to be on your feet half the day, engage your brain the whole day, practice every evening (wishing you only had one après-school drink at The Eagle down the road). Then comes the theory!

I have never been so overwhelmed and exhausted. My hair hasn’t been washed in days, my makeup is gone within the first potato facial of the day and my hands look like I’ve been playing pat-a-cake with Edward Scissorhands.Yet, at the same time, I know there’s nowhere else I would rather be and nothing else I would rather be doing. I LOVE IT. And the plus side is that everyone else does too, so you never have to stop talking about food, cooking and which restaurant to try next… I’M IN HEAVEN!

By Kelly Stretton | Instagram: @kelstretton 

You too can begin your career in food in the Leiths Three Term Diploma in Food and Wine, or get to grips with the basics of professional cooking with the Foundation Certificate in Food and Wine.


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