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The Leiths Diaries: Skills week

This is a post in The Leiths Diaries series. Read more here.

Sauternes with mince pie and cheese

The first week of the Two Term Diploma is skills week. It’s a chance for the new recruits to get a taste of what went on in the first term, familiarise themselves with the kitchen, navigate working with others in limited space and sort out the inevitable bit of admin.

Looking over the schedule of the week on the first day, I was feeling light relief. I spotted the odd recipe that I had practised already and the rest was looking familiar. More satisfying was the automatic ticking off of skills which went through my mind as I looked through what we needed to cook. It’ll be a breeze I thought, and according to my time plan, I’ll be able to finish hours before the allocated time.

Of course knowing the theory is not the same as being able to translate it into practice and the first day in the kitchen proved to be a bit of challenge. Gone was the time when the onion can be chopped in any old way and the plight of the bendy carrot wasn’t even an idea on the horizon. Try chopping these everyday vegetables to perfect uniformity and you will see what I mean.

And embarrassingly, I grazed the base of my thumb whilst wiping my knife of chopped herbs on the first day and spent the rest of the week living in fear of my extraordinarily sharp kitchen instruments. They don’t warn you that professional equipment actually glides through meat like butter and by the end of the first day some 90% of the class had distinctive blue bandages on.

As for my time plan, the first one I’ve drafted since GCSE food lessons at school, it vastly over-estimated my skill level and under-estimated the time it would take to do everything. I’ve found myself to be the last one on the table to finish on more than one occasion but despite the odd struggle, the results, at least, have been good. Or so I’ve been told.

The week finished with a wine lecture by Richard Bampfield MW which served as an introduction to the WSET course that’s part of the Leiths Diploma. The comforting sweetness of Sauternes accompanied by a light mince pie was the perfect wind down to the week. It had me craving Tokaji for the rest of the evening but  it did well to nurse my sore thumb and bruised ego…

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Qin Xie
Qin Xie is a London based food, wine and travel journalist and trained chef. When not infiltrating Michelin restaurants as a kitchen tourist, she writes about food, drink and travel. Her work has appeared on Yahoo, FT, The Times and CNN. Her first cookbook, co-authored with YS Peng at Hunan Restaurant, is out March 2014. According to friends, her watch is always set to UTC -- ready for the next big adventure. In reality, she is happiest at the dinner table or by the sea.

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