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.”
“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...