We interviewed Camilla Schneideman, MD of Leiths School of Food and Wine to find out more about her role, Leiths and more!
I remember spending time in my Dad’s shop, Divertimenti. My brother and I grew up amidst the jumble of our kitchenware store, which was filled with hand-painted plates and platters, as well as bowls and jugs brought home from our holidays. From the age of about six I would often spend Saturday afternoons whipping up sponges on the Magimix my father brought over from France. I cooked alongside my Grandmother as we showed our customers how well this exciting new piece of equipment worked.
Although I had grown up in a family very connected to food, I had no interest in working in the industry. I wanted to be an actress, so did a Drama degree. I should have realised I was destined for a career in food when I wrote my dissertation on food in film! After graduation I travelled to Australia and spent some time being inspired by the café scene. I became obsessed by the idea of having these types of fresh and delicious foods in England.
Upon my return, I found that all the jobs I was interested in had a connection to food, and so at age 25, I finally realised that a life in food was what I wanted.
I knew that Leiths was the place to go if you wanted a solid career in this industry. I wasn’t interested in becoming a chef with a traditional French style, and I knew Leiths had a curriculum that included the modern concepts I was so excited about, so I signed up for the Diploma.
Cooking has become more democratic. At the beginning of my career I worked in a professional kitchen where I was one of two female chefs in a kitchen of 16. There are definitely more women in the industry forging interesting and successful careers now.
The rise of casual dining has given us access to a wider range of experiences. London is a truly global melting pot. This has broadened our tastes and made many more people curious enough to embrace the culinary spectrum that we are privileged to be a part of.
Being self-taught can bring tremendous freedom in a chef’s journey. Many who choose this route are hugely creative and bring forth innovation in whatever they pursue. However, every year we have restaurant chefs coming to Leiths because they feel as if they hit a glass ceiling. It’s often a case of lacking solid training in foundation skills and the science behind food.
Although some chefs manage to do the research and teach themselves, in reality most benefit from being in a learning environment with a professional teacher guiding them through both theory and practical application.
It can also be challenging to develop a full range of skills in a restaurant kitchen, as the restaurant will often focus on one or two concepts or cuisines.
This is why we have our Leiths Two Term Diploma. It allows chefs with a certain amount of kitchen experience to bypass the Foundation Term and consolidate their knowledge.
Students learn a full set of skills, preparing them for success in each and every type of kitchen. Techniques are taught then repeated in a logical sequence across a range of dishes, until they are mastered. Students also have the opportunity to experiment, making mistakes and learning from them, without it affecting customers or business. We actually encourage mistakes, as experimentation helps you develop a wider set of skills.
Our student teacher ratio is 1:8 so they get lots of individual attention and guidance, so when they graduate they have the confidence they need to take their career further.
At Leiths we have always followed the tastes and fashions of our times. Our curriculum has shifted tremendously since I took the Diploma 20 years ago. With easier access to international travel, ingredients and exotic flavours, people are eating a wider range of foods, and the curriculum embraces modern tastes and trends. Our students have the opportunity to learn cuisines such as Middle Eastern, Persian, Asian and Peruvian.
Interesting guest chefs have always lectured at Leiths, but as the years have gone by, the food industry has become more innovative and creative, and we reflect this in the course.
This year Sarit Packer of Honey & Co visited our students to share her experience of a thriving female-driven kitchen; whilst Ben Tish showcased his shared plate concept from his new opening Norma. Jennifer Joyce, on other hand, told the class what it’s really like to be a food stylist. They all share honest accounts of the industry, because students need this inside information. Our graduates are following far more diverse and varied career paths than they did 20 years ago so we want to give them as much inspiration and insight as we can.
The range of skills we teach has also broadened. Sourdough, curing and fermenting are all ancient cooking practices which we now teach because they are at the forefront of food fashion. The use of modern equipment such as Thermomix and sous vide machines has become standard in restaurants, so we teach students to use these too.
Our curriculum focuses on the timeless techniques and skills required to succeed, but always shifts and evolves to stay on top of what’s happening right now.
As an integral part of our Diploma programme, students are required to undertake work experience in restaurants or food related businesses. Some will gravitate to food styling, recipe development and food writing, others towards catering and starting their own business, and of course many look towards restaurants.
Our Careers Fair in the Intermediate Term is attended by top chefs, restaurant groups and private chef agencies, as well as food editors from magazines and Leiths alumni who have set up their own food businesses. They share their successes and challenges, and a Dragon’s Den style exercise sees students pitching their food business ideas.
During the course, all of our students are taught costings, menu planning and the practicalities of running a food business, including things like insurance. They take part in large group cooking exercises and supper clubs, which gives them the chance to practice planning, shopping and cooking as a team, independent of their teachers.
Spread your wings. After graduation, working freelance over the summer months is a wonderful way to gain varied experience. Be open to many roles. Options are abundant and no two kitchens or businesses are the same.
There is a chef shortage in the UK so be brave, hone your skills first, prove your competence in the kitchen and seek creative roles in an environment that feels right and challenges you to grow and continuously learn.
Stages are a valuable way to understand the different styles of kitchen. Even if it is unpaid, these experiences can give you a chance to see if that environment suits you. However, your skills are valuable, so I wouldn’t recommend getting on a hamster wheel of unpaid work. Up to two weeks is worthwhile and a reasonable timeframe to discuss the prospect of a paid position with a potential employer.
Restaurants are opening continuously, but there is a lack of highly skilled, trained chefs to work in their kitchens. The prices of rent and produce are increasing, making it challenging for food businesses to make money. People continue to want to eat out, but they are not usually prepared to pay more as costs rise. Food delivery services are making it easier for people to stay in, so students may wish to consider opportunities outside traditional restaurants as eating habits change. These might include working as development chefs for meal box companies or supermarket dine in ranges, roles many of our alumni already hold.
River Café - always on my list.
Norma - my favourite new opening (and Ben Tish is actually at the school today!)
Maroush - for a Lebanese Shawarma. This has been a staple for me since 6th form and acted as my version of street food as a teen. I will never stop craving this.
The Wolseley – perfect for a special Afternoon Tea.
The Dusty Knuckle Bakery - for their dreamy focaccia.
On Wednesday 6th November (next week) we will be opening our doors to anyone who is interested in taking the Two Term Diploma. Guests will have the chance to look around our purpose-built cookery school, watch an advanced term cookery demonstration and chat to our careers advisor. I’m also thrilled to say we have three very inspiring alumni visiting us for a panel show discussion. Esther Clark is joining us from BBC Good Food, climate specialist and herb producer Alistair MacVicar is coming up from Bristol, and we’ll also be joined by the wonderful Marcie Barrington, who took the Two Term Diploma and then used her skills to cook in Valencia, teach cookery in London, and set up her own food consultancy.
It’s completely free to attend and all you have to do is sign up on Eventbrite, through the Leiths website.