Then I got an email. I’d applied for stage placements (a cheffing term for unpaid work experience, or slavery) at a few of London’s top restaurants. And I’d pretty much forgotten all about them.
I stared at the words, wondering whether it was some cruel joke from one of those bastards at the paper. It was from the human resources manager at the Fat Duck, a three-star Michelin restaurant renowned for concoctions like snail porridge and bacon-and-egg ice cream – but perhaps more famous now for the mystery outbreak that has struck down up to 400 diners.
“Further to our recent communications, please find attached confirmation of your stage placement here at The Fat Duck.”
I couldn’t believe it. My luck really was changing.
I was going to find out how to cook with liquid nitrogen, ice baths, dehydrators, vacuum pumps, and all manner of weird science in the gastro-wizard’s lair. Secrets from the great culinary alchemist Heston Blumenthal himself. Crumbs from the table of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. I was so excited I could barely sleep. It felt like I’d just ripped open a wrapper and found a golden ticket for a one-day tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Of course, the work was unpaid, and there was a rather disconcerting mention that my “actual” hours of work would be shown on the departmental rota when I got there. But how many people could say they’d worked at the Fat Duck? It would be something to tell the grandchildren – even if it was only as a slave.
Sardine on toast sorbet, salmon poached with liquorice, hot and iced tea, chocolate wine – the man was clearly insane, and that’s what I liked most about him...that and him being an entirely self-taught chef, who’d only managed a week in a professional kitchen before opening his own restaurant.
:: 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...