Somehow I got through the first week of my stage at the Fat Duck, and slept most of the Sunday and Monday. The alarm went off at 7am on the Tuesday morning, and it felt like I hadn’t slept at all. I forced the stone coffin off my chest and got out of bed, struggling against the temptation of snuggling back under the sheets, and forgetting all about the crazy idea of becoming a chef.
I had come a long way over the past two months. But working at the Fat Duck had only highlighted how much hard graft goes into three Michelin star cooking. I wanted to be somewhere with a far simpler menu and less hours.
Being on my feet 15-plus hours a day was soul-blanching tedium at best, however much I convinced myself that I loved cooking. The fact that I was both the oldest and crappest chef in the kitchen by a country mile made it all the more unbearable.
There was no doubt about it - those friends who had thought I was out of my mind for even attempting to get into cheffing had been right all along. It was indeed a young man’s game, and that became clearer every day as the pain in my feet, knees and back got worse. But something made me get up and face the long week ahead. It was not an in-built passion or love for the job - the buzz by then had become asthmatic to say the least - it was just I didn’t know what else to do with my life. And I couldn’t suffer the ridicule of going back to the paper. Not yet anyway.
I got in a few minutes late, panicking about whether the clocks had gone forward. My first job was shifting the boxes of veg piled up outside the prep room door. Danny, the fat Canadian, was in charge and slunk against the wall giving orders. Then he got us carrying stock across the road, tackling the fearsome assault course of vacuum cleaners, plastic bags and waiters.
We chatted to take our minds off the grapefruit, but none of the chefs had done much over the weekend – they were all too tired. I didn’t tell them I’d spent mine with my hands smeared in manuka honey to help heal the oyster wounds.
:: 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...