Explore Leiths Diploma Open House – 5th June 2024


Student Stories: Isabella Stuart on the Leiths Diploma

St Andrews graduate Isabella Stuart, 23, is a student on the Three Term Diploma at Leiths School of Food and Wine. As she looks back on her first term, and looks ahead to her second, she explains why mise en place is a skill that will stay with her for life. 

I would love to say that my morning routine is like an Instagram influencer’s; shouting affirmations at myself in the mirror, taking deep meditative breaths whilst lunging into a sequence of impossible Vinyasa yoga poses. My routine, however, feels more like a restaurant moments before service. Hectic but bubbling with adrenaline for what lies ahead.

Circa 8.00am, I am rushing around trying to dry my half-damp chef whites while gulping down swigs of Nescafé – student ways die hard. But as soon as I’m into my whites, my mind instantly lifts, shifting from frantic to focused as I stride into the kitchens at Leiths around 9.15am. I like to get into the kitchen early to do ‘mise en place’. French for ‘to put in place’, it is an invaluable skill Leiths has drilled into me. 

I appreciate my mise en place ritual; I enjoy this time as there is something so satisfying about patrolling the kitchen, admiring the immaculate surfaces, not yet dusted with flour. Preparing diligently before cooking ensures that each element of the dish comes together as smoothly as possible.

Having every ingredient weighed, and the equipment laid out neatly enables both accuracy and efficiency in the kitchen. Call me a control freak, but placing post-it notes on every tray of ingredients gives me an immense sense of joy, even if, once splashed in sunflower oil, they become illegible (‘tbsp’ is dangerously similar to ‘tsp’). 

I have realised that mise en place is the most important skill I have acquired so far. A recent guest demonstrator, Ursula Ferrigno, wisely noted how vital discipline is in all components of life, whether it is exercise, education, or cooking. Her words struck a chord, as I realise the skills I’m learning at Leiths will apply to many facets of life.

About a year ago, during my time at university, I learnt that I had ADHD. I didn’t realise how great cooking is for neurodivergent individuals because it allows for creativity while still providing guidance through recipes. Cooking can be stressful, there are so many things to do at once. But with a time plan and mise en place it’s almost calming because I can think about it methodically. It stops me getting overwhelmed and allows me to be really on it. 

I love the technicality behind every dish. The Diploma works by learning one skill, such as egg cookery, and then practising it. That skill, among others, will then silently crop up in future dishes, sometimes catching you off guard. This is the Leiths way of learning. It’s an effective way of learning, like learning a new language.

You start by learning different skills, practicing them repeatedly until mastered. Then you use them as building blocks, placing them all together to create a fantastic final product. For me, as a modern languages graduate, the comparison to learning a language is comforting. When I make a mistake in the kitchen, I remind myself of the countless slip-ups I made before reaching fluency in German. 

I’ve enjoyed everything about the Diploma so far but to be specific, I’ve loved unlearning how to ‘home-cook’. I have relied so much on homecooking methods. I’ve realised not that what I’m doing is necessarily wrong but that in order to create a dish to utter perfection as you have in a restaurant, there are so many elements and details you have to follow. There are no shortcuts so you get out what you put in. 

At Leiths, I joyfully surround myself with people who are absolutely passionate about food. As frustrating as it may be to hear a dish you have created is over-seasoned or too citrussy, constructive criticism is vital in making the best chefs. I wouldn’t change my learning experience at Leiths for the world. 

Follow Isabella’s journey on her Instagram here.


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