The size of the amuse bouche fridge didn’t help much either. Each side was barely two feet wide, so you had to perform bizarre contortions with the trays of prepped food to have any chance of getting them in or out. The fear of seeing it all slide off the tray and crash onto the floor only added to the stress.
I knew how precious it all was, because whenever we were asked to carry a container of sauce or stock across the road, Tom the saucier would be hot on our heels, pleading: “Please don’t drop it – there’s a week’s work in there!” He almost had tears in his eyes at the thought of it.
To make matters worse, the quail jelly with langoustine cream and parfait of foie gras dish was served in a tilted cup. You carefully spooned pea puree in the bottom and covered it with warmed quail jelly, which set in the fridge. You’d then carefully spoon langoustine cream over the quail jelly, rolling the cup to make sure the jelly was covered before the cream set.
I’d made the basics for the cream the day before by crushing langoustine claws in a huge metal dough mixer, and chopping up veg for the mirepoix. Like all recipes at the Fat Duck, it was closely guarded and meticulously detailed. All I knew was you fried the claws with shallots, and then added cream, carrot, celery, sliced baby onions, white peppercorns and other spices before simmering and passing through muslin.
The dish was topped with a quenelle of foie gras and chicken liver parfait. After seeing I could barely open oysters, Jon was taking no chances with the quenelles, and it was at this point that I realised just how skilful three-star Michelin chefs are.
There was no two-spoon action as you see in most restaurants, Jon could make them one-handed. A flash of a teaspoon, and he’d made a perfect brown egg. He rubbed the base of the spoon on his left palm to warm the metal and free the egg, and nestled the quenelles on a clingfilm-covered tray before seasoning them with salt and ground black pepper and a sprinkling of ludicrously finely-cut chives (no, I didn’t cut the chives 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...