Friday, April 17, 2009

'How Long Have You Been Cooking For?'

The rush subsided, the adrenal tide went out, and then came crashing back like a vicious tsunami. Seven a la carte orders came in for the radish ravioli of oyster with goat’s cheese and truffle, and rissole of fromage de tete. Even I knew we were fucked.

The detail that went into them was frightening. It was the fiddliest job I have ever - or hope to ever - come across. The thought of my sausage fingers butchering those delicate fancies still gives me nightmares now.

The success of the dish rested on the thinness of the sliced radish, and Jon was taking no chances with that. He cut insect wing slivers with the finest setting on his mandoline, lay them out on a piece of towling, then let me get on with it. He put a silver thimble where he wanted the ravioli built - right near the rim of the plate, that no-go area I’d always been told was ‘waiter’s territory’. But then nothing at the Fat Duck followed the rule book.

I set about the dish with a pair of tweezers, building the radish slices in a circle around the thimble, each overlapping slice meeting the middle of the previous one. I took my time, but my first two were rejected before I’d even completed the bottom ring.

Yet even with my cack-handed efforts, you could see the kaleidoscope magic – it looked like a mad man had drawn Venn diagrams on the plate with a ridiculously thin pink pencil.

The fillings – a brunois of goats’ cheese, black truffle and chopped oyster - had already been portioned out like lumps of hash in clingfilm wraps. You formed it into a ball, placed it in the centre of the ring, then built up the radish wall around it using tweezers to position every sliver. And with the clock ticking and the adrenaline pumping, I was shaking like a surgeon with a smack habit.

A minute later and the confirmation finally came...

I wasn’t a Michelin chef at all. Far from it. The nearest I’d get was four tyres and a road map. The whistle was blown and Claudia, the German stagier helping out on pastry, was brought in to fill my place.

:: 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...


Melinda said...

I like the quote from Lord Sutch,
'If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you'.

They would have kicked you out of there in a minute if you were only sucking air and taking standing room space.
So you can't do micro meshed radish slivers in a hurry?
I think you have showed some courage and stamina.
You came back the next day!

Lennie Nash said...

Great quote Melinda! Thanks for that. Yes, I did go back the next day, but not for radish duty...bloody radishes!

All the best


theundergroundrestaurant said...

Charlie Nelson who assists me sometimes did 6 weeks at The fat duck and you can see it...his knife skills and orderliness are a wonder to behold.
You learnt a lot Lennie.
When are we going to meet?