Leith's School of Food & Wine

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Leith's School of Food & Wine

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Review of "Leith's School of Food & Wine"

published 01/04/2005 | kam76
Member since : 17/11/2004
Reviews : 45
Members who trust : 18
About me :
Super
Pro Great quality food, good tuition
Cons focus on preparation, strange choice of meals
very helpful

"Here's one I made earlier!"

My husband bought me not one, but two cookery classes for Christmas. I am a very keen amateur, I love cookbooks and cooking shows on the telly, so he was not being offensive! The first of the classes was at Leith's School of Food and Wine, which I attended a couple of days ago.

Whilst the school does professional courses, I was a mere enthusiastic amateur, and I cannot review the professional courses.

----------BACKGROUND------------

Leith’s can be found in Kensington, London. They offer courses for professionals and for “enthusiastic amateurs”. They were established in 1975. They do not have any associated restaurant or catering businesses, although they do publish a variety of cook books.

---------- COURSES ---------------

Professional courses:

They do a variety of certificates and diplomas in food and wine, ranging from 3 month diplomas to basic certificates.

Amateur courses:

They do a wide range of courses, including:
•beginners ten lesson evening course
•confident entertaining ten lesson course
•Saturday morning classes (where you cook then eat a 3 course meal)
•1, 2, and 4 week intensive beginners/intermediate/advanced courses
•a variety of one day special interest courses, including pastry, shellfish, chocolate, preserving, bread, baking, fish, game, Christmas, sauces, and Italian.
•wine courses, including “matching wine with food”

-------------FACILITIES---------------
The school is housed in an old house.

At the front they have a demonstration room, with angled mirrors on the ceiling so you can watch what the teachers are doing. They say that this room can take 48 students, which it probably could, but it’s pretty cramped. The seating in the demonstration room is in individual seats with folding lecture table on the arms.

Throughout the rest of the house they have the 3 kitchens where you do your hands on cooking. The facilities, to me, appeared excellent. The kitchen I was in had a large wooden bench at each end of the room, at each of which 8 people could work. In the centre of the room are the cookers and ovens with copper pots and pans.

In the basement is the changing rooms, lockers (presumably for the students on the professional courses) and toilets. This area is a bit of a shambles - it is petitioned off so that the men and women’s changing areas are separated, but it’s not particularly private. The bathroom is uni-sex, although individual cubicles are marked male or female.

--------STRUCTURE OF THE COURSES------------

I did the one day Italian cooking course - I assume that the other one day courses have a similar structure. At my course there were slightly more men than women, and most of the class was aged between 40 and 65, I’d guess. I think I was probably the youngest there.

Upon arrival at 9am there is tea and coffee while people arrive. There’s a short welcome spiel and then the demonstration starts. You are provided with printouts of the recipes that you will be making over the day.

The head cook for us was quite a young woman, but I have to say she was excellent. She discussed what we would be doing for the day, and then started the demonstration by making bread. In true TV style there was the “here’s one I made earlier” at every stage, so you could see what was involved without having to watch her knead for 10 minutes. The demonstrator explained every thing as she went along, sent around the dough at various stages of the process so we could see and feel what it should be like (those bits weren’t baked!), answered questions about substitutions and variations and was generally very clear and informative.

After the bread she moved on to pasta, where she went through the same process again- once making it by hand, and once making it by machine.

We then broke up into groups and headed off to the kitchens to get our hands dirty!

Each kitchen has 2 teachers, and they swap with each other throughout the day. They start by quickly running through what you’ll be doing, and then you’re left to do it - they come around and give advice and directions as it’s needed.

In our case, we were making pasta with vongole sauce, pesto, pizzas and biscotti. In the morning we made the sauce and then the pasta dough, rolled it and cut it, then made our bread dough, leaving it to prove over lunch.

I was a little surprised they chose spaghetti vongole (clams) as people have allergies etc, or simply don’t like fish. For those who didn’t want to use fish they were given additional ingredients to make a tomato and vegetable sauce. As I didn’t book the course, I don’t know whether people were given the option to specify food preferences. Certainly some people seemed surprised at being presented with clams and quite a few opted for vegetarian sauces.

The school already has all the ingredients laid out in pre-measured amounts, so it is all quick and easy. Someone also runs around doing the washing up! Although as it builds up from time to time they do expect students to chip in.

In our case, we made enough pasta for two servings, but only enough sauce for one, so half of the pasta dough went home with us for later use. I had used a pasta machine before, but those that hadn’t found the experience very enjoyable.

Lunch was the spaghetti vongole, which was delicious! In addition, they put on a fabulous spread of salads, cheese, cold meats and fresh bread which was just divine. The down side is that lunch is back in the demonstration room, where there are no tables and it is quite crowded, so it’s not the most atmospheric or refined of experiences.

After lunch it was back to the kitchens to make our biscotti, pesto and pizzas. Again, everything was laid out ready to use, and the kitchen had been cleaned immaculately during lunch. Once our pizzas were in the oven, there was a demonstration of how to make zabaglione (marsala, eggs and sugar beaten until it’s creamy - delish!). We got to try that out with our biscotti, before finishing for the day at 4pm.

At the end of the day we had one large serve of pasta dough (which could be frozen and used later), enough bread dough for a small loaf (which could be kept in the fridge for up to 24 hours before baking), a large tub of pesto, around 15 biscotti and 2 8 inch pizzas (or in my case, 4 mini-pizzas). They provide containers for lugging it all home in.

------PRICING--------
Well, this was a Christmas gift, but I have had a sneaky peek at the website and have to say I am surprised by the prices. My particular course looks like it cost around £125, unless hubby managed to get himself a discount somehow.

The 10 week evening courses cost around £550. The one week intensive courses cost around £590. The evening wine courses cost between £64 and £80. The Saturday half day courses cost £90.

At first blush this seems expensive, however the ingredients are top notch. For example, the ingredients I worked with included different specialty flours for the pasta and the bread, clams, vine ripened tomatoes, pistachios, organic apricots, prosciutto, proper mozzarella (made from buffalo milk) and gorgonzola cheese. These are not cheap ingredients. The lunch they provide is also superb quality. Everything you cook you either eat or take home.

You’re also getting hands on tuition - staff to student ratio is at the highest 1 to 8, and in my case 1 to 5, which over a full day gives you plenty of one to one time.

------EVALUATION-------
I have mixed feelings about the course. I enjoyed the day, but am not convinced it was good value for me personally.

I felt that the choice of meals was unusual - the clams alienated a large proportion of the class. I personally love clams, but I have to say I would have felt a bit jipped if I didn’t. I would have thought that something like chicken is going to be far safer, in that very few people (vegetarians aside) find chicken offensive, and it’s also something people are more likely to cook with day to day.

I also thought the choice of pizza was quite odd - I understand that there wasn’t the time to bake a loaf of bread, but pizza does not travel or reheat well and I felt that it was a wasted opportunity. We could have made focaccia or something similar that we could have taken home and enjoyed properly.

I found that the focus was on the dish assembly - the ingredients were already measured out. I understand that this is necessary to save time and avoid waste, particularly on a shorter course. However, it is knowing how much of something to use that is one of the key skills in cooking, especially if you don’t always want to slavishing follow recipes.

Added to this was that there was precious little “cooking” involved - with the exception of the sauce, the teachers actually lit the ovens, set the temperatures, put the dishes in and took them out - the students had no control and very little sense of what was going on. Again, I think this is probably necessary because of the time involved, and also health and safety grounds, but it made the experience quite isolated.

In the end, all you really do is mix the ingredients - which is the key in bread and pasta making, I’ll grant you, but it wasn’t the complete experience.

I assume, and hope, that on the longer courses students are more involved in these aspects.

On a minor note, lunch, whilst fabulous, was a bit awkward, eating with plates on knees. I think that given the cost of the courses they could set up tables for lunch.

Overall, I think this was probably not the best value for me, as I didn’t really learn very much that I had not already gleaned over years of pouring over recipe books and watching cooking shows. I gathered from other students that most of them had much less experience than I had. Many were also doing several courses over the week, and so were doing the course as part of an integrated larger course. It may be that this is the best way to do the course.

It’s clearly not cheap, but nor is it ridiculously expensive, and I think that for people who are newer to cooking it would be a more useful investment than for me. However, realistically, pasta and breadmaking is for those with plenty of disposable income and free time on their hands and this particular course is therefore more of a hobby course than a day to day skills course.

Overall the school gets a "good" rating, but I don't recommend this particular course for everyone.

Stay tuned for my review of my other course (at a different school), where they take you to the market to buy the food before cooking it!

Contact details:
Leiths School of Food and Wine
21 St Alban’s Grove
London
W8 5BP
United Kingdom
Telephone +44 (0)20 7229 0177
Fax +44 (0)20 7937 5257
Email info@leiths.com
Internet www.leiths.com

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Comments on this review

  • jo145 published 15/08/2005
    It makes you realise that you must look thoroughly into courses before booking otherwise it is a costly mistake. But what a lovely present. I trained at a college for 3 years so suppose I'm a reasonable cook, large numbers were my forte though! Jo
  • LittleTrees published 21/05/2005
    That does sound good although is a little expensive. I would need a basic cookery course teaching me how not to poison myself! Jane
  • Ali1000 published 07/04/2005
    Thorough review, well done. Ali :-)
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Listed on Ciao since: 01/04/2005