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Student Stories: Kelly Orcutt on Cooking with Confidence

American in London Kelly Orcutt writes Cheers! a weekly newsletter about food, culture, travel, and life in London. Earlier this year Kelly did Part 1 of the Cooking with Confidence course at Leiths School of Food and Wine and wrote a review of her experience. Here’s her story.

“Before I was gifted all those extra empty hours in the Covid-19 pandemic, my “home cooking” looked mostly like picking up something from M&S or ordering Deliveroo. Like most people during lockdowns, food suddenly became the most interesting part of the day. After all those hours of trying to cheer myself up with new recipes, I’ve finally overcome my baseline kitchen anxiety. But while I’ve enjoyed my self-guided culinary grand tour, a few months ago I began to feel like there were some vital skills I was missing. So, I started searching for a cooking course.

It was surprisingly difficult to find the kind of course I envisioned. There is a wealth of one-off cooking classes available – an evening spent learning to make kimchi, pasta, or patisserie with a chef, some friends, and a few glasses of wine. On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of professional cooking schools formally educating people who want a career in food. But when I searched for a course for my level (a home cook who’s not quite a beginner, but not quite posting her own recipes on TikTok), Leiths School of Food and Wine was the only real option.

Even when I found what seemed like the perfect course at Leiths (Cooking with Confidence – Part 1), I hemmed and hawed about whether to sign up. Wasn’t I supposed to be saving money for a flat? Couldn’t I just learn knife skills from a YouTube video? But as I anxiously watched a few of the courses sell out – I realised that this wasn’t some passing fancy. I really did want to be in that kitchen. With a teacher. Learning. So, I signed up.

Showing up for Week One felt like the first day of school. I felt jittery. Then our teachers walked into the room and joked us out of our nerves, walking us through the dos and don’ts of the kitchen, handing us our aprons and recipes, and setting us up at our workstations.

Stepping up to your station at Leiths feels like stepping into a professional kitchen. The workstation has every utensil, bowl, sieve, and micro-plane you could desire. Your supplies for the class are laid out before you arrive, already measured out in the desired quantities for each recipe. Best of all, the clearing up and dishwashing are all done by the fast-working and cheerful Leiths staff.

Students are given a progressive six-week curriculum of recipes, focusing on a different skill set each week. Week one, knife skills. Week two, sweating vegetables. Week three, whisking egg whites. And on and on. But far from jumping haphazardly from skill to skill, each week gives the students a chance to continue practising everything they’ve learned so far. I found myself gaining confidence and building on my skills with every new class. After just three weeks, I noticed myself taking the skills home with me – chopping onions differently, julienning basil, using a cartouche .

When I asked people why they’d signed up for the course, I heard a range of answers: “I can’t cook.” “My entire family has told me that I can’t cook for my entire life, and I’m here to prove to them that I can.” “I love to cook, but I’ve never had any proper training.” A COO in Finance. An Investment Banker. A Solicitor. A Marketeer. A Retiree. A married couple. We all showed up from different backgrounds for different reasons. But what we had in common was the sense that we all had something to learn.

What really sets Cooking with Confidence apart is that it offers manageable six week “sprints” in three progressively challenging parts. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to fit Part 2 into my schedule in the coming months, but I will be on the lookout in the second half of this year to pick up right where I left off. I haven’t seen a single other school offering an 18-week course for someone at my experience level.

Part One includes recipes ranging in complexity from soy-glazed chicken thighs to cheese scones to lamb tagine to tiramisu. Looking at the Cooking with Confidence Part Two curriculum, I have to admit that I’m quite gutted that I don’t have the time to sign up just yet. The first few weeks alone cover dim sum, salt and pepper squid, wild mushroom risotto, and choux pastry. I will definitely be back.”

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