Saturday, January 23, 2010
The Steaks Are High
Diego took me into the main kitchen and got me to deep-fry batches of potatoes before finishing them off in the oven. The trailer was about 30ft long and as good as any restaurant kitchen I'd been in. In fact it was bigger and better set out than the Fat Duck’s kitchen, but then we were catering for 400 not 40.
The crew were due to eat again at 8pm and Diego made up a barbecue in a huge oil drum near the wash-up area. At 7.50pm the coals were glowing nicely and I’d lined up the steaks and salt and pepper ready for battle. But then a woman with a walkie-talkie wandered over with the bad news.
“They’re not going to break until 9pm,” she sniffed.
The kitchen crew scowled and put everything back in the ovens. They said sometimes the meal was put back four hours and it was a nightmare keeping food warm in the middle of a field. The coals were dying down, and I put some more charcoal on. Five minutes later the runner returned and said they would break at 8pm after all.
The place turned into chaos, and I frantically tried to fan the flames to start the steaks.
“Cook them all blue to start with and then finish them off,” Diego yelled from the kitchen.
Then pandemonium hit and they all wanted their steaks at once. I could only do about 25 at a time and the coals had died down, and it was taking a good minute just to get one side brown. The grill wasn’t even hot enough for singe-marks.
The choice was turkey, fish or steak for the main, but of course they all wanted steak. I filled a tray with the first batch – they were rare at best – but there was no time to wait and they were whisked away before I could stop them. I’d just finished turning over another layer, when Mark came back yelling for more.
“Just give us what you’ve got!” he kept shouting. But they were still raw, and I made excuses about the heat of the coals. Peter the director rushed over, demanding steaks, and I made more excuses. He ran into the kitchen yelling at Diego.
“You’ve got to keep an eye on them,” I could hear him shouting.
Peter ran off somewhere and Diego leapt out of the trailer and bollocked me for not putting more coals on. I fanned the flames frantically with one of the trays, hoping to build up heat. The steaks had barely seen the grill for a minute by the time they were snatched away. As soon as each side was sealed I chucked them in the tray. There was an inch of blood in the bottom.
Eventually the panic subsided and they stopped yelling for steaks and I could cook the last tray properly. Diego stuck his head out of the trailer.
“I’m sorry you were in at the deep end,” he said.
I shrugged and blamed the coals again.
“It’s not that,” he said, “it’s those fuckers, fucking around with the times.” There was real hatred in his voice. Twenty years of it.
We started clearing down again, and for the next two hours I helped with the washing up, trying to dry piles of plates and trays with paper towels. We worked under halogen lights and soon I could only see shadows. I was told it was going to be a long night because the shoot was moving to Pinewood the next day and we’d have to pack everything up and move before they got there.
At midnight I was told to cook about three tonnes of bacon and sausages. They went in baguettes, wrapped in foil. Then at about 1am we laid trays of curry and rice, pasties and pies, and crisps on the floor of the coach and drove a mile to the end of the runway.
Even from a few hundred yards the flood-lit scene was dazzling. There was a Boeing 747 in the middle surrounded by flashing blue lights from emergency service vehicles. Sam, one of the catering assistants, explained the scene: James Bond was fighting a baddy in an out-of-control truck careering towards the 747, and some sort of important parade was taking place.
He had seconds to control the truck before it crashed into the jet and caused a massive explosion. She said it was supposed to be Miami airport.
“Have you got your passport?” I asked her.
“We don’t need one – we’re VIP!” she laughed.
She told me Richard Branson had flown in one of his Virgin planes to get it into a shot, but it had been heavily overcast and apparently you couldn’t make out the Virgin logo.
We took a tray each and handed out food, napkins and plastic knives and forks to the crew. The director sat in a covered area surrounded by state of the art film equipment.
Suddenly a woman next to me bellowed “ROLLING!” and hundreds of extras ran about screaming as the truck careered towards the plane. They filmed the same scene five times and then all the food was gone and we went round with packets of French Fries.
Kath approached the director, a foppish-looking, grey-haired man wearing the obligatory baseball cap.
“Would you like some French Fries?” she asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he snapped pompously.
One of the extras had fallen over in the mayhem and was treated for cuts and grazes in one of the ambulances. About 30 minutes later, we climbed into the back of a pick-up truck to be ferried back to the kitchen. Kath said it was illegal to ride in the back of pick-ups on shoots, so we should keep our heads down.
The whole place seemed regulated by officious health and safety rules. I suppose it was for the insurance companies. On the door to the marquee was a 'scene schedule', which described the stunts, recommended safety equipment, and overall risk factor for each shoot. For the Miami airport scene, it said the only person who could be hurt was the baddy, Carlos, whose job it was to fight James Bond in the truck.
We got back to the kitchens to find the rest of the team had gone without telling anyone. I left at 2.30am, at the end of a gruelling 12-hour day.
It was harder than kitchen work somehow. There was far more running around and lifting, but at least you were out in the open air with the sun on your face. Peter told me that the new Masterchef Goes Large programme was sending three contestants to work there for a day. It seemed strange that people would do that sort of back-breaking work for nothing.