#MadeAtLeiths: Melanie Johnson on Leiths career confidence

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#MadeAtLeiths: Melanie Johnson on Leiths career confidence

Food photographer, food stylist, Country Life columnist and Leiths alumna Melanie Johnson shares her journey in food.

I didn’t mean to become a chef, food photographer, or even a food columnist. It somehow happened entirely by accident.

When my daughter was a toddler, I wanted to do something from home. Having left the art world behind, I just wanted something small to occupy my mind. I set up Mel at Home, an online business where I could sell beautiful block-printed table linens that I imported from India.

Food blogging had just become ‘a thing’, and as I looked around at my favourite bloggers’ work, I wondered if adding a few recipes to my website might encourage more people to visit. My first food images were disastrous, but one fact I knew for certain, I was hooked. I’m not sure what drove me, but I felt such determination to get it right. Very soon recipes had taken over my website and the table linens took a back seat.

I got my first food job as food columnist for a county magazine and worked there for a few years before moving to Country Life Magazine. I can’t begin to tell you the excitement I felt when I received the call saying I had my own column.

It did came with self imposed burdens though; if this wider audience were going to see and cook my recipes I felt a huge sense of responsibility. I had, of course, always been passionate about cooking but there were definite holes in my knowledge. Why weren’t my soufflés perfect? Should I use Swiss or Italian meringue for that recipe idea? Could I fillet a fish? No way. I knew I could look everything up and stumble in the dark but that wasn’t enough, I wanted to be a qualified chef.

I spent quite sometime trying to convince myself it didn’t matter, plenty of chefs are self taught and they don’t mind, do they? But, it really mattered to me. Not only did I want the knowledge a chef’s diploma would give me, I wanted the stamp of approval so everyone else knew that they could trust my work.

I called Leiths and went the following day to meet Camilla, the Managing Director, for a chat. What? A hundred students all obsessed with food, just like me? I knew I had to do it so signed up there and then.

On my first day I was terrified. I had gone from feeling reasonably competent in a kitchen to feeling absolutely out of my depth. I realised I knew nothing. Over the coming weeks I learnt so much. The content was coming at us full speed and there were times when juggling family life, a food column and Leiths was tough. I pushed through and got exactly what I came for. I feel I have a solid depth of knowledge, combined with experience of working in Michelin star kitchens and, best of all, a wealth of foodie friends.

I’ve worked in food for over ten years now and I am reminded daily that the food industry is constantly evolving, whether it’s food tastes, photographic technology or simply plating styles. You can never know everything, but having my Diploma from Leiths means the groundwork is all there to build upon.

Follow my food journey at @melathomeltd

The first image shows a lemon and blueberry meringue pie with confit lemons, styled by Mel. The second is a raspberry ripple cheesecake brownie, which Mel made with Little Mix’s Perrie Edwards.


Mel At Home Photography

Would you enjoy creating and photographing recipes for your readers to recreate at home? At Leiths, there are dozens of routes to your dream career, from our Food Styling course to Nutrition in Culinary Practice or our full Diploma. Find out more by booking onto our friendly Open Evening on 5th June.

Share your Leiths memories using the #MadeAtLeiths hashtag.

Jen Coles

Author: Jen Coles


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