Saturday, January 10, 2009

Leiths - a series (1)

Well my first week at Leiths is well and truly over, and my goodness what an eye-opening week it has been. The sheer pace at which we are expected to work is relentless, far more brutal than anything I've faced in a pro kitchen in the past, I just hope their teaching is actually sinking in whilst I'm running round like a mad march hare trying to get all stages of my recipes done in time, whilst fighting for space on hobs and ovens with half a dozen other eager and competitive students. It looks like there have been drop-outs already, and plenty of disgruntling from others who thought the pace was going to be much more leisurely. All the students who did the 'beginner' term last September return to the school on Monday, so the pressure and pace are expected to increase as our class sizes double, so it will be interesting to see how it works out. I can certainly expect that once I've got used to working at Leiths' top speed, any future work I do will seem like a walk in the park!

By the way, if you're reading this and wondering what on earth has happened in my life all of a sudden, the introductory article is here.

Getting used to the lecture-room atmosphere of the 'dems' - daily demonstrations of techniques and recipes we'll be doing ourselves later on - is a challenge too, my attention span is not what it once was! The dems are fascinating though, and watching a lot of the action via a giant room-width angled ceiling mirror is very interesting, as it allows us a birds-eye view of what's going on. It does give some odd perspective though, at a demonstration on stock-making on Tuesday there was a vat of flat-fish carcasses simmering away, and looking at them through the mirror the fleshy skeletons brought to mind the shots from Alien with face-huggers in laboratory jars!

On the subject of fish, it's widely known that I'm not a big fan, and in fact one of the many reasons I wanted to do this course was so I could be taught/cajoled/forced into learning to work with fish in a professional capacity, even if my tastebuds never conceed to it as a menu option in my private life. It's all very well for John Torode to insist to the Masterchef wannabees that they should never cook something they don't like to eat themselves (it's one of his key winges in fact, along with 'what makes you think soup is good enough for Masterchef?'), but for those of us in the real world, we sometimes have to do things which we wouldn't choose to do under normal circumstances. Fortunately we've started with sole, which is about as inoffensive and un-fishy a fish as one could hope to get, so I've had no problems there (apart from the gag reflex when I have to pick one of the blasted things up whole), but I'm not looking forward to getting to my pet hate of the piscine world - salmon. Perhaps I'll just throw in the seasonings and hope for the best.

It's no secret that Leiths teach classic cookery of the 'old school' (i.e. French), and although they work hard to bring a modern feel to lots of the recipes, and pay due care and attention to 'healthy eating', there is a hefty emphasis on the joys of butter, cream and salt. This seems to be causing some concern amongst some of the more self-conscious female students, and whilst I'm all for moderating one's fat intake and the like, I feel the fashionable healthy cause could be taken too far. Watching a dem on the classic sole meuniere - a dish which consists of pan-fried fillets of sole, served with a sauce of molten butter and lemon juice - one fashionista asked the chef if you could use something other than butter to fry the fish, in order to be more healthy. Predictably enough the answer was 'well you could, but there wouldn't be much point, given the sauce is almost entirely butter'. With a classic recipe, in which the second-largest ingredient is butter (and there are only 5 ingredients), there really is no point trying to make it more 'healthy'. Either eat it and accept the fats involved, or don't. Right? Or perhaps a sole drizzled in 10floz of olive oil would be better..........

1 comment:

Takeaway said...

All the best with your endeavours, Leiths is one of the better places to learn how to function as a proper chef.