Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Fat Duck: Sacrifice To The God Of Aero
We started work in the Fat Duck prep house at 8am. After three hours working like devils, we were herded over the road to gobble down food for five minutes. At 6pm, we stopped again for a quick meal break, and usually managed to get away by 10pm.
A 14-hour day with no pay, and the work was relentless. There was no time to rest or slope off for a cigarette. If you were spotted standing idle for more than a few seconds, a job was thrown at you.
The only way to have a smoke was to cram down your food and light-up while the others finished their meals. Smoking was frowned upon - we hid away near the bins at the far end of the garden. Only the waiters were quite brazen about it.
The prep room bins were emptied several times a day with the steady stream of pigeon carcasses, vegetable trimmings and other scraps. It felt criminal throwing so much good food away.
One of our jobs was prepping the potatoes for the lamb hot pot. First you cut them on the slicer to ensure they were all the same thickness, then gouged out 200 walnut-sized discs. The off-cuts looked like hunks of Emmental cheese. Barely half the potato was used.
For the baby turnips, you trimmed the green stalk, and then scored a circle around the stalk before slicing off the root and scraping off the first layer of skin. Once you had a shiny white moon, you shaved it until it was perfectly smooth, then vac-packed the turnips in a water-filled bag for service.
The savoy cabbage was sliced into uniform strips. You pulled off the outer layers of the cabbage until you had the right shade of green, and then used the middle leaves, chucking away the yellow inner-head. Once you had a pile of usable leaves, you cut out the stalk, and sliced each side of the leaf into rectangles, and then into strips. You used scarcely a quarter of the vegetable.
At one point, I was told to prep 5kg of tomato concasse (skinning and deseeding them, then cutting the flesh into dice). I’ve no idea how long it took me, but it was hours. Mid-way through, I asked Laurent what they were for, and he shrugged. All he knew was they were on the prep sheet, and needed doing. A few minutes later, I heard him on the phone to the kitchen. They didn’t know either.
:: 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...