Thursday, April 09, 2009

Holy Ballotine Of Mackerel 'Invertebrate'!


The gashes and blisters from my battle with the oysters were making it hard to work, and I had shovels for hands at the best of times.

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...

11 comments:

Sarah W said...

Found you on Twitter after a friend retweeted. Really love your writing! Give me more!

Christophe said...

I hate that feeling. Hoping you can get up to speed quick enough before you are sussed out as not being up to standard. Not nice at all.

Before you know it though you find yourself up there and wonder what all the fuss was about....

Nicky said...

Just goes to show, money can't buy you taste :o) But you have made me repeatedly laugh out loud whilst reading this, so clearly funny is free ;-)

Lennie Nash said...

Thanks for your kind words Christophe. Think it would take me years to get to that stage though! Guess there's a certain amount of natural talent needed that pure passion can't compensate for.

Where do you chef?

Lennie

Lennie Nash said...

Great to hear from you Nicky, and glad you found it funny. Somehow humour makes the culinary failure a little more palatable and easy to live with...

All the best Lennie

Anonymous said...

loving your blog, it has me in stitches! keep at it Lennie, your passion will see u thru. Twitter buddy, Lanna :)

Kate said...

I wouldn't think of it as a culinary failure - you're far braver than I am!

Melinda said...

I am shocked! That blonde tart was me you were talking about.
And I've had something stuck in my throat since eating those oysters.

theundergroundrestaurant said...

lol at Melinda!
I try to be an honest as you are in my blog about my home restaurant. Unfortunately it gets me into a lot of trouble...
The customers can sometimes be cunts.

Jeff said...

Can you believe they have cameras in the fat duck restaurant , I do not think its public knowledge either, how awful is that ,to be eating a meal and have the guys in the kitchen laughing at you or commenting on how fat somebody is or how ugly they are.
They have to be the biggest bunch of whiners I ever worked for ,you should send some of your experiences to the national press to teach these guys a lesson ,they have no respect for stagiers and they treat them like shit .

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