Thursday, January 22, 2009
Is There A Chilli In The House?
I took a deep breath and walked in the restaurant, wondering what the hell lay ahead. I gave my name at reception, and was told to wait in the conservatory area for the head chef to arrive. I sat there amongst the foliage, flicking through a menu.
It was true what they said about Rick Stein putting chilli in everything. He couldn't leave the stuff alone. There was monkfish vindaloo, Goan lobster curry, Singapore chilli crab, hot shellfish platter with chilli, smoked mackerel and green mango salad with bird eye chillis, mussels, clams and cockles masala, grilled scallops with chilli and coriander sauce, and probably other ones I can’t remember.
I was about to see whether there was chilli in the desserts when Raymond the head chef rushed in, and apologised for making me wait. I was surprised by all the fuss - the last time I’d done work experience anywhere, they'd taken the piss out of me all day, asked for tea every two seconds, and then sent me out to buy a pound of elbow grease.
I figured the same was going to happen at the restaurant. I thought when they weren't asking me to dice flour and wash salt, they'd be asking me to fetch strawberry deseeders, left-handed parsley curlers, buckets of steam, and cans of mise en place.
Raymond plainly wasn’t sure how good a friend I was of Stein’s, and was taking no chances. He led me through the restaurant and introduced me to the staff. The kitchen was clean and airy, and there was no smell of fish. The white-tiled walls gleamed under the fluorescent lights. In the centre was a large stove area, with stockpots and bubbling saucepans. One of the chefs handed me a freshly boiled langoustine.
The forelock-tugging continued as Raymond showed me each section of the kitchen, and then it stopped abruptly when I was introduced to a stocky man with cropped hair, and barnacled hands named Ted the Turbot. He looked me up and down as if choosing a ragworm for a hook, and pointed at the pass.
“There’s the coffee machine, I take two sugars.”
:: 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...