Thursday, April 30, 2009

Week Two In The Fat Duck House


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...

16 comments:

Christine Murphy said...

Sounds like donkey work. Can't believe you lasted a week!!!

x

Lizz said...

Fascinating, please keep the updates coming as I'm really enjoying them. Is it cathartic to relive it?

damien said...

bang up blog!!!! this is clearly top five blogs... interesting and informative

eatmynels said...

Lennie...good reading again, what nostalgia... did you do the snail picking yet?? push on chef....!

Boo said...

You did so well to go back. 6 weeks, surely that's not possible? I'm really enjoying reading your updates.

Kate said...

It sounds horrendous. I'm much more of a traditional country pub grub sort of person - does any of this excruciating preparation actually make the food taste any better, or is it just another example of style over content?

Lennie Nash said...

Hi Lizz,

It is a bit cathartic looking back on it all. Thanks for the comment - you've just given me an idea for the next post.

Cheers

Lennie

Lennie Nash said...

Hi Damien, thanks for the feedback!

Eatmynels - no snail picking yet, the dreaded pistachio and pigeon night to come...

Lennie

Lennie Nash said...

Dear Boo - six weeks without money was a crazy idea looking back on it all now. Amazing how many far more dedicated chefs spend all their holiday time and meagre savings doing placements around the world - as if the job isn't hard enough anyway!

Lennie

Lennie Nash said...

Hi there Kate,

Me too! When country pub is at its best, there is no finer thing. Much more fun than sniffy high-class restaurants where the waiters make you feel like heathens - for my money anyway. Not sure if the blood, sweat and tears make that much difference to the food - but it certainly seems to impress the Michelin boys.

Lennie

Melinda said...

Oh Lennie, you whinging pom, hang in there!
(don't worry, I wouldn't have lasted a day there! I probably would have gone run over on the blind bend or staged it so!)

MsMarmitelover said...

Your comment "Amazing how many far more dedicated chefs spend all their holiday time and meagre savings doing placements around the world - as if the job isn't hard enough anyway!" rang true.
Maybe it's because it's hard to feel like what you cook is good enough?
Since starting The Underground Restaurant I'm always tired...
The chef for Vinoteca came one night. His eyes were red raw. I so recognised that look of exhaustion.

jeff said...

I staged here and really agree with your comments , donkey work for sure but at this level you do start at the bottom but this is soul destroying in the prep house ,so repetitive and with the hours I worked it was only a matter of time before I burned out .
Not sure if Heston is aware of the symptoms of burnout but he should take a look at his chef de parties ,they all suffer from it ,doing the same old thing everyday ,the menu never changes its BORING Heston ,have some balls to change it at least 4 times a year like every other restauant ,the cooking is not seasonal at all here, did anybody come across the pastry chef jocky , the guy is a mess and a bully for that matter, and the sous chef graham ,what a serious case of small man syndrome .

hamishwm said...

Lennie
Interesting blog. Sounds like you are having fun uncovering the real deal in some smart kitchens. Is the pain worth it?
Hamish

Anonymous said...

I have worked at The Fat Duck and other michelin starred restaurants for 2years at the Duck .
You people are dreamers ,you like to talk shit about people working at this level because you cannot do it simple as.
Pub food can only be considered better than a 3 star restaurant if you are simple minded which you people are , just because you over use metaphors does not make you smart .
Bottom line top chefs are GRAFTERS ,the rest of you are dreamers !

fresolbe said...

I was a stagier at the fat duck for three months. I had a great time. If you thought you would come in and run service clearly you were mistaking, ofcourse there is alot of mundane tasks but seeing one microscopic part that you have made go out on a plate in one of the worlds best restaurants was worth it in my book. The thing about the fat duck is...if you put in the elbowgrease and do your work, the staff will show you everything and take time to explain it too you. I learned alot. Ofcourse the long days are grueling but you are cooking in one of the worlds best kitchens. I have never work with such a dedicated team before or after, 16 houres in to a shift and the order comes too do a full scrubdown of the cookingrange ....not one complaint or souer face just one mor houer of hard work and we all had a beer on the house. Thats Dedicated.