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Student Stories: Gilly Smith On Her Leiths Online Essential Experience

Gilly Smith, food writer and podcaster is currently halfway through the Leiths Online Essential Cooking course to fuel her dream of becoming a chef in France. She dives deep into her background in cooking, her experience using the app and what she's learnt so far on the course...

Gilly Smith On Her Leiths Online Essential Experience

​​I’m at that age where I’ve become so bored of getting in my own way that I’m smashing up the hurdles, swatting off anyone tapping me on the shoulder to tell me I’m in the wrong room. I’ve run out of excuses and I’m on a mission; it’s finally time to do the live performances that scare me to death, learn to speak French fluently … and to bake.

I’ve been cooking since before I could talk; brought up by food obsessives in 1970s Britain, I had already been making rice with my Malay amah for years. Food was language in our house - instinctive, fun, and the only thing that we all loved about each other. My mother was the strict classically trained cook, and my father was the Army officer who would volunteer at the Cook House in his exotic postings, plucking chickens and sharing recipes with the cooks. However, when my parents randomly picked a page in their Cordon Bleu box set every Saturday night to cook up a dish, he did what he was told. Over my mother’s mise en place, he regaled us with stories of local tastes and food rituals while we tasted Heaven.

Learning to cook in such a family is a process of osmosis, although I can still hear my mother gently suggest I turn the gas down a little to sweat the onions longer, skim the gravy and add some cold water for shine. I picked up the rules because no one told me to. Learning to cook at Leiths School of Food and Wine, the most prestigious cookery school in the country, would be like unlearning everything I do in the kitchen. However, if I’m to conquer my imposter syndrome, host my food writer podcast retreats, and achieve my dream of spending our allotted 90 days a year on a French estate as a chef while my husband plays chauffeur, I need a diploma.

Lockdown has set me free in many ways and Zoom has become my best mate. So using an app to go back to school was a no-brainer. I have a whole week to make the two or three recipes per unit, upload my pictures and feedback, and digest what Angela, my mentor, tells me. Steaming through the knife skills and into eggs and emulsions in the first units, I thought I was smashing it as I uploaded my uniform batons, cigar-shaped omelette, and teardrop poached egg. I headed into mayo-making with a bit of a smug grin. ‘This is a bit thin,’ messaged Angela via the app. ‘Maybe the oil was added too quickly before the eggs and oil had time to emulsify?’ Bang to rights.

As we whisked through shortcrust pastry, meringues and sugar syrups and into choux pastry and créme patissière, I thought I’d be drowning. Weight and measure? Me? But every one was a winner. I find the sessions so easy to follow, the steps so straightforward that 9/10 dishes are unbelievably achievable. And…. I can even bake bread. Today’s rosemary focaccia was actually fennel focaccia and looks a bit like a bloke’s sweaty forehead, but hey, I am a baker.

Three months in and three to go, and I can see myself in that French market, chatting away to the stall holders and carrying my bounty back to the villa to whip up something fabulous. Leithtastic!

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