Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Why Didn’t You Do The Cornish Pasties?
It was all going well. I’d have an early night, get up at 5am; shower, shave, and drive up to Rick Stein’s industrial unit for a day learning about Cornish pasties and successful side-crimping.
Then the phone rang. It was Colin, a pap I knew from the paper. He’d rung the day before and said he was doing a piece on the ‘snob yobs’ that pillage the village of Rock – that favourite summertime haunt of Princes William and Harry. He was in a pub at the harbour and had already got me a drink in. I promised myself it would only be one or two and walked back down the hill.
Colin was fishing cockles from a jar, listening to a folk band. He leapt up when he saw me and crushed my hand. He had cockle juice in his beard and looked like he’d been there some time. He wanted to hear all about my day at Stein’s, and kept running off to the bar to refill our glasses.
“What are you worrying about?” he kept saying. “Chefs don’t sleep! If they did, they wouldn’t have a social life!”
A posh old lunatic with his trousers tucked into his socks walked in, and made horn sounds with his fist clenched to his mouth. He danced around the pub, shouting: “Do you like hunting? I do!”
He had an altercation with the band, and then sat next to us.
“These folk lot are so bloody serious aren’t they!” He scrunched up his face and impersonated a constipated cat. “No fun at all! One of them – that woman making that hideous sound with the violin – was bending down, showing her thong to the pub...and all I said was ‘I can see your shitty bootlace!’ No sense of humour...”
“Sure it wasn’t her G-string?” I asked.
The mad bastard wasn’t listening. He was one of those barstool boors whose lives are one long, befuddled monologue.
“That’s the trouble with these folk lot - I know how it should be sung. They’re too nasal – they should sing like this…” He burst into a powerful bass-tenor. “Bella was young and Bella was fair with bright blue eyes and golden hair. Not…” He sang the lyrics again in a flat, nasal voice, his teeth protruding like a demented vole.
“What are you doing in here listening to this shit anyway,” he yelled. “You young people should be out binge-drinking and fighting.”
He introduced himself as Roger and claimed he owned 1,000 acres up the coast. He said he used to be addicted to amphetamines, and spent his twenties drinking and fighting. He could barely remember his thirties.
“Do you know Simon Cursley?” he said suddenly. We shook our heads. “You would if you knew him – I bit his nose off!”
He got louder and drunker, and insulted everyone who walked past. “I bet she was quite pretty once,” he shouted at one woman. And when a plump barmaid arrived to collect glasses, he yelled: “My word that woman has a body on her!”
I slouched lower in my seat, but Colin was loving it. A nearby drinker tried to intervene, but our drinking companion would not be silenced. “Have you ever been burdened by the ravages of intelligence?” Roger screamed at him.
Later, a small, tattooed man sat next to us, and clinked glasses. I asked him how he knew Roger. “I met him in a toilet – think it was in a prison,” he laughed. He said they used to make a living dynamiting salmon in rivers.
“But you had to know when they were going past. I’d be in a wet-suit dynamiting them, and he’d be on the bank fishing them out! We used to flog them to restaurants in the West End...”
At some point, I crawled up the hill to my room. I was too drunk to remember my alarm, and woke at nine with a stinking headache. I don’t know what happened, but bleary-headed, and embarrassed by the thought of going in late, I found myself agreeing to go on a fishing trip with Colin. I was braving my first cigarette of the day on the quayside when Raymond phoned. He sounded confused, and slightly hurt.
“I just wanted to know you were alright,” he explained, almost apologetically.
My head was still thumping, and I babbled about my friend coming down and how I’d promised him a fishing trip. A few minutes past, then Jimmy phoned. He was Stein’s executive chef, and far more direct.
“Why dinnae you dae the fuckin pasties this mornin?”
:: 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...