Tuesday, February 03, 2009

'Chef, Can We Have Some More Parsley?'

Chefs like to see themselves as kitchen warriors, showing off their scars and fighting each day like it’s their last. And Rick Stein’s crew were no different – with the low season in fast flow, they missed the 150-plus covers of the summer, when the air conditioning had stopped working, pushing the temperature in the kitchen past 50C, and they were left sweating like a Geordie in a maths test.

“Just 100 in tonight,” one chef moaned before service. “It’ll be a quiet night.”

Then later...

“It wasn’t a bad night, only 93, but they all came at the same time.”

“Yeah, we got hit well tonight,” agreed an Aussie.

Cooking was so different from my previous life. Offices were filled with clock-watchers, ready to grab their coats and sprint out the door the moment their shift was over. But for a chef, there was never enough time in the day. Always something that needed doing. And when it was over and the cleaning done, they basked in the glories like fighters discussing a battle.

They might have been ready to rip each other’s throats out an hour before – “Why the fuck are you asking him to sort the meat out? He’s on starters! Put the fucking veal bones in the milk yourself!” – but after service, most of the insults were forgotten. And after a couple of days toiling like a devil, I was very nearly included in that camaraderie too.

I burned a naan bread moments before the monkfish vindaloo was to be served, and tried to blame it on my eyesight, only to come under a storm of derision and threats on my life. But afterwards, they just laughed and muttered something about everyone making mistakes. Only the female Kiwi chef who’d had to make another naan in lightning speed was still pissed off.

“Jeez, I don’t know how you can fucking burn it if you’re stood there like a twat watching it under the grill!”

:: This blog eventually became a bestselling book, called Down And Out In Padstow And London by Alex Watts, about my disastrous attempt to train as a chef, including stints at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and Rick Stein's kitchens in Padstow. You might like it if you're a foodie or have ever entertained the ridiculous idea of entering the padded asylum of professional cooking. It's here on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle book if you want a read...


La Bête said...

So you did really try to get on Masterchef? Excellent. Can't wait to hear how it went.

Anonymous said...

There's a Cookery School in Ashburton, Devon that does a four week course (and shorter ones) you may find useful.


MsMarmitelover said...

Got to hear the rest of this...I've always thought of going on Masterchef but I hate the way they want you to pour your heart out Xfactor style.
I so admire you for retraining and starting again. Inspirational.

Some Chilean Woman said...

Someday when I am done being a nurse I will be boning ducks!

Lennie Nash said...

Monsieur La Bete,

Yes I did have a stab at Masterchef, although it wasn't what I expected. I very much hope the book is going well, and keep up the good work sir.


Lennie Nash said...

Hi Petronius (what a splendid name!)

Thanks for the tip about Ashburton. When you first mentioned Devon, I thought it was somehow associated with that River Cottage charade and HFW. But I see from the prices it isn't!

While on the subject, how can HFW justify charging £200 for one of his lackeys to show people how to fillet a few mackerel!

Anyway, Ashburton looks good. I'd be interested to know if you've been there Petronius? If so, what's it like?


Lennie Nash said...

Dear MsMarmitelover,

I think you should go on Masterchef. I think with your personality and passion you'd do very well on it. But, yes, I agree about the X-Factor stuff and those ridiculous Chris Tarrant-style pauses when they inform people whether they are through or not.

Thanks for your kind words about my retraining. I must admit it has been the hardest thing I've ever done, and has been very bleak and lonely at times.

Well done with your cooking venture! Sounds great fun!


Lennie Nash said...

Dear Some Chilean Woman,

A nurse hey! And I thought I had a tough job. I hope you get to bone ducks to your heart's content. In fact, why stop there - make a durkey!


MsMarmitelover said...

So what happened on Masterchef? Did you get through the opening round?
Or is this something to discuss on a drink?
My problem is I'm a shy show-off so I don't think I could do it.

Kate said...

You *are* going to write a book about this, aren't you? - as in, I'd buy it! I read your posts through from being to end and was hooked. Tell me more!

Lennie Nash said...

Ms Marmitelover,

Been working AFDs all week, so no chance to update blog. But Masterchef stuff to come. Look forward to reading about your resto opening. Can't believe you'd be too shy for Masterchef!


Lennie Nash said...

Dear Kate,

Thanks very much for your kind comments. Means a lot! And keep up the good blogging too!