Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Failed Chef's Book Becomes Kitchen Best-Seller


Bit of press - story about my book in The Cornish Guardian. Original article HERE...

Surprise Bestseller Features Alex's Stint As Padstow Chef

PADSTOW'S most famous kitchens have a starring role in a surprise bestseller which has stormed to the top of the online cookbook charts.

Rick Stein's restaurant and café feature in a new book by a journalist who jacks in the day job to try to make it as a chef.

His experiences, which ended in failure, led Alex Watts to write Down And Out In Padstow And London.

The humorous account recounts the years he spent training to be a chef, including stints at Heston Blumenthal's famous Fat Duck restaurant and Rick Stein's establishments in Cornwall.

The eBook version has become an overnight success, sparking dozens of good reviews on Twitter.

It is also the bestselling eBook in Amazon's professional cooking chart and is in the Top 40 of the Amazon Kindle Store's food and drink bestseller chart, above the likes of Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson.

Alex, 41, a journalist and sometime cook from Burnham in Buckinghamshire, said: "I've been really pleased with the success, especially as it's self-published and I've just had to rely on word of mouth.

"But it is ironic that a book detailing my disastrous attempt to train as a professional chef is now top of the Kindle professional cooking chart. There's a section on my failed audition for Masterchef, which I think helped a lot because so many people watched the last show."

The paperback version of the book came out on Amazon last month, but Alex hadn't even seen a copy until his father Brian, 73, flew out to Cambodia, where Alex is writing his second book, based on a cook's tour of South East Asia.

"When dad arrived in Phnom Penh with a couple of copies, it was a very strange and proud moment to see it finally in print," said Alex.

"I've been really pleased with the sales of the Kindle book, so hopefully the printed version may do as well.

"It's definitely a book aimed at armchair chefs and foodies who'd love to learn the trade first-hand from the professionals, braving the stress, 16-hour days, and low pay of kitchen life, but are far too sensible to do so ... ."

The book describes what really happens behind the scenes of both Michelin-starred restaurants and lesser establishments – and the extraordinary, larger-than-life characters who inhabit them.

It begins with Alex's decision to give up his job as a journalist, and a fateful meeting with TV cook Rick Stein, when the cheffing door is opened.

There follow stints in the kitchens at Padstow, work as a commis chef under a crazed former football hooligan, 16-hour shifts as a kitchen slave in a gastropub, and the rigours of the Fat Duck.

Unable to keep up with the younger chefs around him, he gives up the dream and returns to office life, only to find he can't forget about the experience and puts pen to paper.

MORE: Being Wined And Steined In Padstow

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Taking Cambodia's Banned Street Food To The UK


An article I wrote for the British Street Food Awards 2012...

At the British Street Food Awards, we like to think that we know our business. Check out our knowledge of world street food HERE. But we don’t know everything. Alex Watts does. The travelling journalist, and sometime chef, writes the food blog CHEF SANDWICH – and we’re huge fans. So when he offered to write us an atmospheric piece about a side to world street food we hadn’t seen first hand, we jumped at the chance.

WALK DOWN any road in Cambodia, and you’ll see street food – sometimes an ingenious bicycle-driven cart hooked up to a car battery, sometimes a stall with a few plastic chairs to perch on.

There are old women pushing barrows of freshwater clams that are slowly ‘cooked’ on a metal tray in the morning sun for an hour or two, baguette stalls (a hangover from French imperialists) serving Cambodia’s version of the banh mi, and sometimes hawkers flogging local delicacies like fried tarantula, bugs, snakes and duck foetuses.

But the most memorable – and easily the best for my money – has to be the spit-roast cows (koo dut) you see being slowly cooked in the street next to crowds of tooting mopeds. The hunks of grilled veal are always served the same way, with a tray of crudités, salt, pepper and lime dip, and Cambodia’s fermented fish ‘cheese’ prahok.

I’m so impressed with the dish, I’ve been toying with the idea of setting up a ‘koo dut’ street food stall when I get back to the UK. I’m not sure how it would take off, and I know I’ll have more chance of getting hold of a Dodo egg in Blighty than prahok. But I reckon hunks of spit-roast calf would go down well on an English common with the sound of leather on willow and the chink of warm beer glasses.

In readiness, I’ve worked on a couple of koo dut stalls to watch how they do it – starting the day by butchering and washing the carcass, and then filling the belly with lemon grass, lime leaves and rice paddy herbs before sewing up the cavity. And then constantly feeding the coals as the beast slowly spit-roasts for hours.


Of course, I know I’ll be facing far more stringent street food regulations in the UK, and will have to fill out forms giving details of everything from my inside leg measurement to the name of the calf before the council offers me a pitch. But there’s one ludicrous law that recently came in over here that I won’t have to worry about.

The Cambodian government, in its wisdom, has banned restaurants and stalls from spit-roasting cows in public – over claims they incite violence and are bad for the image of Cambodia. It follows a meeting by the Supreme Council of the Mohanikaya Buddhist order, which decided the sight of roasting carcasses glorifies the killing of animals.

Other officials cited hygiene concerns about cooking in the street, which is ridiculous when you see the state of many indoor kitchens here, and the dozens of busy food stalls perched on every corner.

I’m delighted to say that so far the ban has been widely ignored with barbecued cows still on display in the capital Phnom Penh and in the tourist hub of Siem Reap.

But however much it is against Buddhist sensibilities, I think it’s a shame if the government does enforce the ban. It would undoubtedly lead to a lot of restaurants and stalls closing, and a lot of families being plunged on to the bread line.

The government should be showcasing these dishes, and promoting the country’s badly-marketed cuisine, rather than ordering them to be swept off the streets. Perhaps if there is a major crackdown, a koo dut stall in England wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all…

UPDATE: Sadly, the Cambodian government got tough with restaurants flouting the ban, and threatened to close them down. Now you won't see a spit-roast calf on display anywhere in Cambodia (they're being cooked in kitchens and yards at the back). The only koo dut advertising allowed is on beer signs like the one below. Mmmm beer. Now that never causes violence does it.


MORE: Ten Days In Cambodia: Street Food, Spit Roasts And Freshly Boiled Crabs

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

The Factory Shooting Farce & Why Cambodia Needs An Aung San Suu Kyi


A column I wrote for Khmer 440...

I read an interesting interview at the weekend with a Khmer academic living in America who warns that Cambodia desperately needs an Aung San Suu Kyi or Nelson Mandela figure to protect the rights of its down-trodden people.

The country is not just being let down by what he calls “Class Z” leaders who rule the Kingdom largely unopposed, but also by the weakness of its opposition figures, says Naranhkiri Tith, a former professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who fled to the US in the 1960s.

“Where on Earth can a country like that survive?” he told Voice Of America Khmer. “Cambodians need the quality of Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who have great moral strength” to fight for freedom, human rights, and protect the land and its people, he added.

Critics say many of the problems in the country are the result of a failed court system and a government where the power is concentrated into the hands of one person rather than the state.

There are few better examples than the continued foot-dragging over the arrest of former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith – a scandal that has become a major embarrassment for Cambodia...

Continue reading...

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How To Make Soup In A Hotel Room Kettle


I’ve always been amazed how good food tastes when you’re hungry, and this was no exception. I got back late to my hotel room, absolutely famished. None of the restaurants were open. So I decided to cook myself something using the $4 kettle I’d bought from the market. It was my second attempt at cooking in a kettle after the pleasures of the duck eggs I’d boiled up earlier. In fact, they were the only thing I’d eaten all day.

I’d been planning on boiling, or ‘kettling’ to give the cooking technique its proper name, some diced potatoes and sliced snake beans, and then serving them with a few slices of corned beef and tomato for my next experiment - a recipe Bruce had highly recommended.

“I have a couple of slices with my potatoes, which I cook in my hotel room with my little electric kettle, with some slices of cucumber and tomato, and I always bring a genuine pot of English mustard when I fly in from Australia - I’m in heaven!”

He used to bring Colman’s Mustard wrapped in cling film, smuggled in with his hand language, along with a stash of Oxo cubes he’d sometimes hand to restaurants to make gravy for his pies. I hadn’t even got any of the cheap, nasty, vinegary Dijon stuff French expats like out here as they stretch out their invalidity benefits.

But when I picked up the tin of corned beef, I saw the key had fallen off. I wasn’t going to search for a tin opener at 4am on an unlit street in Cambodia, and the handle of my large Thai knife that said “Kiwi Brand” on the label, but had “Kiwi Brandy” engraved on the blade, was far too flimsy to stab into the tin.

So I decided to jump that stage and go for soup. Bruce told me he normally just puts a centimetre of water in the kettle, pours in a tin of Heinz soup and simmers it for five minutes, stirring all the time with his wooden spoon.

I had two potatoes, a tomato, four red chillies, a handful of snake beans, an onion, and no tin, or not one I could open anyway. But I still had the napkin of salt and pepper I’d got from the cafe across the road. It didn’t look too promising, but I was too hungry to care.


Then I remembered the head of garlic I’d been using in the ridiculous belief it would ward off snakes. Someone had found a small one in one of the rooms. It must have wriggled under the door, and I was on the bottom floor and was taking no chances. When I heard that a backpacker had been sunbathing on the balcony when a large serpent had crawled over the back of her legs, I’d have taken any advice on the matter.

So I found myself listening when a Khmer friend told me that snakes don’t like garlic. They don’t go near the stuff, apparently. I don’t know if it’s the sight or smell. I didn’t ask. It was hard enough getting that much. But she said many people in her village left garlic around in their houses, especially during the rainy season when rising waters bring huge pythons and other serpents to the area.

Perhaps the snake had come up through the toilet? And how big did they mean by ‘small’? A small one wouldn’t have been able to get up there, would it? I checked, and the toilet lid was still down. Then I put a couple of books on top just to make sure.

I staggered around the badly-lit room for a bit looking in the corners, while trying to think of something else, anything else, then remembered what I was doing, and poured 250ml of water into the kettle. Not that I had a measuring jug or anything. I know because I used pretty much all of a 330ml bottle, and when I downed the rest there was little more than a triple in there. You wouldn’t complain about the measure, put it that way.

But the problems started when I tried to switch on the kettle. I kept wiggling the lead in the socket, but the red light wouldn’t go on. It was much worse than last time. For minutes I tried, changing plug socket and pushing the lead into all sorts of contortions, until I found that the light went on briefly if I jammed the socket upwards and twisted slightly. The dodgy electrics roared up, the light went on, then off, then stayed on again for a minute.

But every time I let go, the lead fell out of the kettle. I jammed a pen under the socket but it was too wide. Eventually I found the perfect device - one of those tiny toothpaste tubes they give you in hotels. The light stayed on. And then the water slowly started to bubble.

I used a ledge by the sink to deal with the vegetables, listening out for the faint, pleasing roar of the kettle. In my drunken haze, with my stomach gurgling and the fan making its wheezing, scraping noise, it was difficult to hear the kettle from the bathroom. I darted out a few times, delighted each time I saw the red light still on. I lifted the lid and the water was bubbling cheerfully.

Normally, most soups in Cambodia are started by heating water in a pan, and adding a little sugar, salt, fish sauce or prahok, and maybe some slices of galangal, garlic, onion or shallot, and one or two kaffir lime leaves, and a couple of whole or sliced lemon grass stalks to start the broth before you add vegetables, meat or fish. Then when it’s cooked, you season again and top each bowl with fried garlic, chopped culantro, and sliced spring onion tops.

All I had was salt, pepper, chilli and garlic. But I knew that adding salt at the start as the Cambodians do, would mean it’d take longer because salt makes water boil at a higher temperature. That meant more strain on the kettle, and it must have taken 20 minutes just to get a faint bubble, and the light had already gone off a couple of times even with the toothpaste tube wedged under the socket. I’d put the salt and pepper in at the end.

I went back into the bathroom and examined the veg. I’d stupidly left them tied up in plastic bags on the spare bed, because I didn’t want ants running up and down the walls. They’ll eat anything those bastards - even toothpaste. But it had done nothing for the vegetables.


The snake beans were now a putrid, sludgy grey and looked more like a bag of mouldy prahok. And one of the potatoes was rotten. I sliced the peel off the good potato, cutting on a split, plastic bag on the sink. I thinly sliced it and carefully added the pieces to the kettle, a few at a time, terrified that any ripple would knock the socket out.

Then I roughly chopped the onion and added it gingerly. I cut off the few remaining green bits from the snake beans. There was hardly anything there. But I sliced them anyway, thinking it would be good for the colour. Then I did the same with the tomato. I chopped up two of the four chillies and added the lot to the kettle.


It was bubbling away nicely and the potatoes were softening. Then I sliced hunks from four cloves of garlic and added them. The light went off a few more times, so I was too scared to stir much. Not just because I was worried about the jolting, but because I only had a metal fork to stir with.

Then I started hearing cracking noises. The bed-side cupboard had a glass top, or at least it looked and felt like glass, and the plastic base of the kettle was set on that. But I couldn’t see any cracks or fractures. I looked at the new sign on the bathroom door. It hadn’t been there the last time I stayed.


I stood there swaying, more hungry than drunk, counting down the minutes until the veg was cooked. The smell was incredible. It’s amazing what hunger does to your taste buds. There’s nothing like building up an appetite on a Sunday morning walk and then finishing it off with a decent roast in a proper pub. The anticipation is everything.

I wondered if they were thinking the same down the corridor. I looked at rule six on the wall: “Please do not cock or use iron in your room and smoking in bed is not advesable.” I lifted the lid carefully. The potatoes had broken up nicely, thickening the soup, which had now taken on a light brownness I hadn’t notice at first with the poor lighting. There was another crack. Or was it a scrape? I looked at the glass top again, and then checked the books on the toilet.

Surely the surface was designed for a kettle? In any other hotel for the same price, you’d get a cup and saucer. Sometimes a couple of biscuits, or a sachet of sugar to eat as well. I was starving. I gave it another careful stir. I pulled the socket out and gave the kettle a few shakes, then stabbed the potatoes and tomato with the fork to break them up more. I added some salt and pepper and waited for the soup to cool.

It was hard to judge the seasoning. I didn’t know what ratio of salt to pepper was in the mix. And when I licked my finger and dabbed one side of the napkin it was mainly pepper, but then I’d try another side and it smacked pleasantly of salt. But there was definitely far more pepper.

I’d done the cafe manoeuvre so quickly, it was impossible to know, and with the white background of the napkin you had no hope of spotting the salt-rich areas, especially in that light. It’d have to have a very peppery kick to get the salt right.

I’d written about this before, about how when I was training to be a chef, they taught me to season the soup at the end, gradually adding pinches of salt and pepper until the flavour was perfect. They lectured me about how adding salt in gradual stages has a peculiar effect on soup – it suddenly turns from an amalgam of competing flavours to a clear taste in just a few granules. There’s a section on it in Herve This' book Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavour. This did experiments with salt by giving people seasoned and unseasoned soups. Without the salt, they found it difficult identifying the type of soup it was.

It was certainly true of my veggie broth - it didn’t taste of anything. I gave the kettle a good stir and added more seasoning, and tried it again. It needed far more salt. I chopped up the other two chillies and threw them in, and added more of what I now knew was basically pepper.

I stirred again, and tried another mouthful. I was trying to eat soup with a fork. It had come to this. I had one of those moments when you look at yourself and wonder what happened, and then try to shrug it off by thinking it might make an eBook. It needed to be thicker, otherwise I’d just be eating veg in a thin coating of broth.

I let the kettle sit there for another few minutes, cooling and thickening, as I forked the veg. I would have done anything for some bread, a couple of thickly-buttered hunks of granary crust, seasoned with celery salt and a dusting of cayenne pepper. Not that it needed extra spice. The soup was explosive already, but it could still take some more salt. I added another handful of pepper mix. The chilli and pepper came at you like wild dogs, one distracting as the other took hold, and soon the sweat was running down my face. It was absolutely delicious.

I was so hungry, I wolfed it down, trying to lap up as much of the broth as I could with the prongs of the fork. As I got further down, I began swigging from the kettle, swilling it round like a mug. Then as I got lower, I noticed black marks at the bottom where the veg had caught.

It was a salutary lesson in the much overlooked art of hotel room cooking. But if anything, it had given the soup a slightly caramelised taste, the sort of notes you get from frying a white mirepoix of onions, celery, garlic and leek whites for 30 minutes. Not to that colour admittedly. I’d be sacked for doing that. But I was cooking in an almost unfurnished hotel room using a kettle with a dodgy socket. I told myself that the autumnal colour was not just down to burning, but the generous handfuls of pepper.


I finished the soup with sweat running down my chest and back, and I’d begun hiccupping from the pepper. Even sitting directly in front of the second fan I’d convinced them to give me made no difference. I had one can of beer left but it was far too warm too drink.

I tipped the last bits of soup I couldn’t fork down the sink, and washed the vessel out as best I could with the tap trickling away like an incontinent mouse. Then I filled the kettle with water, remembering the way Bruce had told me to self-clean it, and tried to connect the lead again.

I dried my hands and wiggled away for a few minutes, but there wasn’t even a flash of light this time. I gave up and put the kettle back in the bathroom. I thought that old woman at the market had a smile on her face.

MORE: Wake Up To A Full Cambodian: Chicken Porridge Soup

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cooking In A Kettle: A Delicious Breakfast Of Boiled Duck Eggs


The other day I bumped into an Australian, who I hadn’t seen for a few months. He’s a nice enough bloke, but one of the meanest men I’ve ever met - which is not helped by the fact that he’s loaded and has a huge house overlooking the Sunshine Coast.

I wrote about Bruce six months ago when I was cooking at a friend’s restaurant on the Cambodian coast. About how he’d been known to buy a draft beer from one bar for $0.75 (less than 50p), and then wander over the road to drink it in another bar, where it’s $1 a glass. He ate in our restaurant some nights, but always brought his own bottle of wine and asked for a glass.

When the previous owner got fed up with it, and said he was going to start charging him a $1 corkage fee, the tight-fisted pensioner got quite upset. One night he complained that the lasagne was too big.

“Next time, I think I’ll just ask for half,” he said.

“Well, you’re still paying $5!” the owner snapped.

In short, he’s so mean, he wouldn’t give a fly to a blind spider, and moths fly out of his wallet in the rare event he ever opens it.

“You can tell I was born a pom,” Bruce told me once. “I’ve got short arms and long pockets.”

This time, he was boasting about his usual tricks for saving money, when he let slip that he’s now cutting down on restaurant bills by cooking in his hotel room - using a kettle.

He boils an egg for breakfast, which he eats with a baguette, and then cooks some spuds, and eats them with a few slices of corned beef, tomato and cucumber, for lunch. He even cooks soup in there when the mood takes him. He puts a centimetre of water in the bottom, and then adds a tin of soup, flicks the switch, and stirs away continuously with a wooden spoon for five minutes.

“I’ve made some lovely soups in there,” he said. “The best one was a tin of Heinz chicken and mushroom. I buy a baguette from the market, put some butter on it...chicken and mushroom soup mate - it doesn’t get much better than that!”

“But how do you wash the kettle?” I asked.

“In the bloody en-suite!”

“Yeah, but it must be a bugger to clean?”

“No, I top it up with water so the remains of the soup doesn’t stick inside, then I boil it up again, and that gets all the shit off the sides. Then I turn it off, and swill it out and just rub the inside with a paper towel, and it’s clean again. The next day I’m boiling it up to make my tea and coffee.”

His latest experiment was a foray into the grandeur of Italian cuisine. He boils spaghetti in the kettle, presumably until it’s al dente, drains it, adds a tub of pasta sauce to the kettle, heats it up and mixes it with the pasta.

That’s it, I thought. I had to try it. The next day, I got a moto up to the market, or at least a few yards up the road to start with, and sat on the back for five minutes as the driver chatted to a policeman friend who was investigating a domestic disturbance at one of the bars. When I say investigate, I mean turn up and ask for 50 dollars.

I remembered how it was coming up to Khmer New Year, and how they’d all soon be hitting the streets, turning up at every bar looking for cases of beer and cash to see them through the festivities. It’s always a dubious time of year to be in Cambodia.

Eventually we got to the market. I bought the driver a num pang pate (Cambodia’s version of the banh mi) to munch on as he waited and headed into the sweaty labyrinth, looking for a kettle. No-one knew what I was talking about. But eventually I spotted one at a stall, run by an old woman with no English.

The kettle was perfect. There was no element inside to worry about when you’re stirring. It was safely tucked away in the plastic base. And the top was wide, meaning you could get at your eggs or spuds quite easily. The only trouble was there wasn’t a lead in the box.

The woman went off for five minutes and then came back with a plastic bag full of leads. She tried a few but none of them worked. Eventually after a few wiggles, one of them did. The red light came on, and as I found to my cost, the metal bottom was soon red hot. I was worried about the lead though - it fell out of the socket so easily I could tell it wasn’t the one the manufacturer had in mind, but at $4 I couldn’t really go wrong, or so I thought.

I headed off in search of food to cook. There was a bubbling bowl of live blue swimming crabs, and I reckon I could have probably got one or two in the kettle. But I’d promised myself to start with something simple. I’d give them a go when I’d got myself a bit more kettle cooking experience. You can’t rush these things.

Instead, I’d try one of Bruce’s tried and tested recipes. It was either boiled eggs or boiled potatoes with corned beef. I looked around, but couldn’t find any potatoes. Then I spotted a mother and daughter selling crockery. I bought a plastic soup bowl, a small plate, a fork, and a large Thai-made knife that said “Kiwi Brand” on the label, but had “Kiwi Brandy” engraved on the blade.

What the hell, it wobbled a bit, was blunt as hell, and the join between the blade and the wooden handle had split slightly, but it was only a dollar. Then I saw her mother had two huge bags of duck eggs she was taking home. It was decided. I couldn’t be bothered to search for potatoes, and asked if I could buy a couple.

They were so fresh they still had feathers attached. Then I wondered whether they were the fertilised types that had duck foetuses inside - a very popular street food snack out here. The brown liquor is drunk, the whole bird is spooned out and then dunked in a salt, pepper and lime dip. They hadn’t got a clue what I was talking about.

“They have small baby?” I kept saying.

Eventually the daughter seemed to understand and said, no, they were just normal duck eggs. We rode back up the hill and I stopped off at a small shop and bought two potatoes, a green tomato, some chillies, a handful of snake beans, an onion, and a tin of corned beef - just to be on the safe side.

I got back to my hotel and tried switching on the kettle. Nothing. After about two minutes of wiggling the lead, and expecting to be thrown across the room, the red light came on for a second.

Considering the shoddy electrics in this place, which means there’s a flash of sparks every time I plug my laptop adapter into the two-hole plug socket, I was taking no chances. I kept drying my sweaty hands on a towel before giving the lead another wiggle.

Eventually the red light stayed on, and there was a disconcerting roar from the electrics as the water began to heat. I wondered whether that was how I’d be discovered - cooking in a kettle in a cheap hotel room, slumped over two black eggs, the water long dry in the pan.

I remembered what Bruce had said about making perfect soft-boiled eggs.

“You wait until the water’s too hot to put your finger in, you then put your egg in and leave it there for three minutes, and you’ve got yourself the perfect egg mate,” he said.

But I’d forgotten to buy a spoon, let alone an egg cup. They would have to be hard-boiled and eaten whole. It wasn’t the most auspicious start, but I told myself this was my first experiment with cooking in a kettle, and I had to get the basics sorted before moving on to more complicated stuff like home-made soup and pasta.

The red light had gone out again. I rubbed my hands on the towel, and started wiggling. The kettle fired up, and after a few minutes the water was bubbling away ferociously, which is when I discovered there wasn’t a cut-out switch either. The angled red light I’d taken for a switch was just a light.

The only way you could turn it off was either to remove the lead from the socket - which meant losing the right wiggle connection - or pulling the plug out of the wall, with the accompanying flash and fizz of electrics. I went for the socket. The water slowly receded, and using my Kiwi Brandy blade, I carefully lowered the eggs into the water along with a burnt match to stop them breaking.


I boiled them for three minutes or so, turned the kettle off, and left them in the water as I wrote up this blog post. They would be far harder boiled than I’d have liked, but as I still wasn’t sure whether they contained duck foetuses or not, I wanted as much cooking as possible.


I rolled the eggs up the side of the kettle using a fork and lay them in my new bowl. It was the moment of truth. Did they contain baby ducks? I tapped away at the shell. They were as tough as dinosaur eggs. I chipped away with a fork, and a chunk came free. I peeled more away, and was relieved to see white albumen rather than the brown jelly you get with the duck embryo variety.

Not that I’d looked that much the last time I tried them. I’d just shut my eyes, wacked the thing in my mouth, and swallowed as quickly as I could, trying to banish the thought of dark feathers tickling my tonsils, and beak crunching between my teeth. Then I downed a tequila.

I was still unsure though. I teased the top open with my fork. I didn’t want to bite into it, just in case. I remembered a friend who went to a very expensive boarding school. He told me a tale about a pupil who’d dug into a soft-boiled egg, found a chicken foetus inside, and died on the spot from a heart attack.

A little bit more, and I could see the orangey yolk, with no hint of any alien life forms. I was safe. Then I realised there was no salt and pepper, so I nipped across the road to the cafe where I usually have breakfast most afternoons, bought a bottle of water, and poured some salt and pepper into a napkin when they weren’t looking. Then I set about my delicious duck eggs.


MORE: The Mystery Of Thailand's Pink Eggs

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fermented Fish And A Tour Of The Market With One Of Cambodia's Top Chefs


This is the second part of an interview with Cambodian food expert Joannès Rivière, head chef-owner of Cuisine Wat Damnak, in Siem Reap. To read the first part, CLICK HERE...

I meet Rivière at 7.45am at the cafe next to the old market in Siem Reap as planned. But he’s not there. He’s already begun shopping for that night’s ingredients. He appears from the sweaty cauldron after a few minutes, shouting my name from across the street. You can see the stress in his eyes - he’s got to come up with six new seasonal dishes in the next nine hours.

“I had to crack on,” he explains.

I look at my Rolex and tap it a few times. I knew I should have bought the one for $15. We neck a napalm-strength espresso, and then head into the sauna-like covered market. I’m hit in the face by the smell of freshly-slaughtered pig and gasping fish. The place smells like a blood-filled swamp.


Rivière points at the different stalls as we press on. Everyone knows him. A chef from a luxury hotel walks past with a group of Asian tourists wearing masks as we’re picking through hyacinth plants for that night’s garnishes. The cooks meet like two old boxers, slapping each other on the back.

“He does tours round the market every morning for the guests. He hates it!” Rivière (pic below) laughs afterwards.


As we head to each stall, he banters away with the women in their hats and pyjamas. What impresses me most, even more than his knowledge of the local ingredients, is his Khmer. He cracks a few jokes with the women at the next stall, and then the next, and I’m left carrying the bags.

He shows me the freshwater fish and shellfish from the nearby Tonle Sap lake, pointing out the ones that are perfectly in season. There’s a splendid display of catfish, snakehead fish, Mekong langoustine (pic below), chlung, clams, and croaker fish. He describes the latter as tasting like sea bream, and says he’s putting it on that night’s menu.


“What defines Cambodian food for me is freshwater fish and the products that are used to keep them - the smoked fish, the dried fish, the fish paste,” he says.

We pass more stalls and he talks about the wide range of preserved fish Cambodia has to offer, from smoked minnows to prahok to maam to sun-dried fillets to the most pungent of all, a thick, black paste made from tiny fish and shrimps. I point to a bowl of minced, raw fish (pic below) sweating in the river-fed furnace.


“They don’t quite have the same hygiene - and with the heat!” he throws his hands up into the air. “That will probably be there all day - I wouldn’t recommend that for anyone.”

He chats away about the need to pickle, spice or brine fish and meat to stop it turning putrid in a country as hot as this. I think about how labourers building Cambodia’s 12th century holy site of Angkor Wat would have sat among the sun-baked stones, seasoning their vegetables and rice with the rich, salty, delicious taste of rotten fish.

It reminds me of the Romans, another great civilisation that had thrived on a similar fermented fish sauce to flavour each meal - and for some reason think about Keith Floyd, when he was filming at Hadrian's Wall, recreating a traditional Centurion recipe while cooking in a gale and berating the crew and assembled historians sheltering under a tarpaulin behind the camera.

Floyd is making pork stew flavoured with carrot, onion, garlic, red wine, parsley, cumin, ginger, marjoram, thyme, and dill. And then the crucial ingredient comes - an addition that plunges it back 2,000 years to when the Romans finally tired of the dreadful weather in Britain - a few glugs of Floyd’s “Centurion’s Worcestershire sauce”. It had taken him three weeks to make, he says proudly, waving the bottle at the camera. Anchovies, sprats, marjoram, red wine, and salt are boiled up and left to ferment before being strained and bottled.

The Cambodians generally just use salt and freshwater fish to make prahok, mashed under foot like the French crush grapes for wine. They leave the bloody mush to go off in the sun for a day, giving it the roof-of-the-mouth-etching taste of blue cheese, then bung in more salt and leave it to ferment for months, depending on the desired taste.

Just as the Khmers add sugar to cut the taste of prahok, the Romans added honey (they didn’t have sugar in those days). It reminded me of the first time I ordered my favourite Cambodian dish, prahok ling. It was so sweet I could hardly eat it. When I asked them to skip the sugar the next time I went in, I threw the restaurant into chaos. Even the owner emerged from her hammock near the kitchen to quiz me.

“No sugar? But it very salt!” she said.

I told her no sugar, and she cracked a joke in Khmer to the policemen playing cards in the corner. It was probably along the lines of: “What the hell does he know?”

WE BUY some pork, and then head to the chicken woman and buy a bag of wings for staff food. Then we stop at the frog woman. She digs through blooded plastic bags in the bottom of her ice box. It’s a messy task. Rivière sniffs the frogs before taking them.

“They sometimes don’t smell too good,” he whispers to me, “then I don’t buy them...”


We sit down and eat a traditional breakfast of grilled pork, rice, and pickles at a stall in the middle of the market, and he downs two iced coffees. He picks up a small bowl of sweet chilli sauce and pours it over his meal.

“When I first came to Cambodia nine years ago, I didn’t eat anything with MSG. Now I realise you can’t get away from it. Sometimes I now think I can’t taste anything without it,” he laughs. He points to an old woman drinking coffee. “She’s the best cook in Siem Reap, believe me!” he says.

I write down the name of her restaurant - Bopha Leak Khluon, tucked down an unmade road 200 yards or so from Hotel de la Paix - and go there later that day. The walls are made from green Heineken bottles. One of her specialities is prahok ling, translated on the menu as “fried rotten fish with egg and pork”. It’s the best I’ve tasted so far in Cambodia - and I’ve eaten a lot of prahok ling.

As Rivière sips away at his third iced coffee, we talk about Cambodian food again. He tells me how important it is to differentiate between traditional, ethnic Khmer dishes and Cambodian cuisine, with its heavy influences from Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and perhaps most of all, Chinese cooking.

“People will tell you Khmer cuisine disappeared during the Khmer Rouge, but it’s actually not true. Phnom Penh cuisine from the 60s may have disappeared, but Khmer food from the countryside has always existed.

“You can still find those dishes - but people just cook them in their homes. When I was working at Hotel de la Paix people would come in and say: ‘Oh you’re rediscovering Cambodian food.’ But that’s bullshit, it’s always been here - you just have to find it and rip it off, and use it for you and claim it,” he chuckles.

We talk about the balance of salty, sour, spicy and sweet shared dishes making a whole rather than mixing the flavours in one dish - a practice popular in every cuisine that hasn’t been refined, he points out.

I ask him what he thinks every time he reads how Cambodian food is touted to be the next big thing. He agrees that it’s “definitely on the up” - but has a long way to go.

“To make a food famous is quite complicated, because people have to be familiar with it. Laos food is virtually impossible to find in France, for instance. I know one Laotian restaurant in Paris, which is excellent.

“But Laos food is very unknown, and is actually quite similar to Cambodian. People will tend to talk about it if they know about it. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for David Thompson when he started with Thai food in the 80s...”

He met the Michelin-starred chef a couple of years back, when he first visited Cambodia, and gave him a tour of the local Cambodian restaurants and street food stalls in Siem Reap.

“It was very interesting to see Cambodian cuisine with a very objective eye, not ‘I’m coming from Thailand, I’m going to compare it with Thai food’ - but more ‘is there any similarity?’”
Thompson told him that Cambodian cooking was almost the same as Thai food 20 or 30 years ago, before it became more refined, and far sweeter and spicier.

He says the biggest obstacle facing Cambodian cuisine is the lack of confidence the locals have in promoting their food, and how “some restaurants are doing a very poor job of it”.

I quiz him about Cambodia’s unofficial national dish amok, and say I still haven’t had a good one. I just hope he hasn’t got amok on that night’s menu. I’m relieved when he agrees.

“I’m still trying to figure out why amok. I think the first guy who wrote Lonely Planet must have put it in. I have no idea why it’s amok because amok is done exactly the same as it is Thailand - and it’s called the same!”


I ask him what dishes really sum up Cambodian cuisine. He thinks for a while, and then says khor trey swey kchey (pic above) - river fish braised in a mildly-spiced palm sugar sauce with grated green mango on top. I’ve had the dish a few times and it’s wonderful.

“What’s interesting about Cambodia food is it’s still quite rustic. It’s a matter of contrast - it’s not a matter of how balanced it is. You have the very sweet fish and then the very sour green mango on top with the herbs.”

I ask him for others, but he takes even longer to answer - khor trey, he adds again, prahok, maam, eels “if they’re well done”, and nom ban chok (rice noodle soup, often served with bean sprouts, sliced banana flower, herbs, and a mild, coconut curry sauce).

I mention Cambodia’s famous duck and salted lime soup traditionally served at weddings out here. The duck is deep-fried and then cooked in water flavoured with kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemon grass, garlic, fish sauce, and its most crucial ingredient, ngam ngov (salted limes). But he says it isn’t Cambodian at all - it’s Chinese.

“Chinese-Cambodian food is as interesting as Khmer food,” he adds, “It’s the only big influence in Cambodian cuisine, if you forget the original Indian influence. You have dishes in Cambodian food that are actually very Chinese, but people will just assume they are Khmer...”

I want to question him further, but there’s no time and we’re off to the next stall. I’m handed bags of fish and meat, and a crate of eggs which are then haphazardly stacked on a waiting moped to be delivered to the restaurant.


I remind him about working in his kitchen, and he looks thoughtful for a second, and then tells me it would be better if I work there the following afternoon, given all the new dishes he’s got to create. I can see he’s going off the idea.

I walk home with my shirt stuck to my back, thinking about the 14-hour day Rivière’s got ahead of him. Cheffing is hard enough anyway, but working in this heat is unbearable.

MORE: Prahok - My Secret Addiction To Cambodia's Infamous Fermented Fish 'Cheese'

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

When Will Angkor Wat Be Sold To China?


A column I wrote for Khmer 440...

I was quite surprised by the fuss this week over the announcement that a full-scale replica of the world-famous temple of Angkor Wat is to built thousands of miles away on the banks of the Ganges in India.

The trust behind the $18m project says the new temple, some 25 miles outside the Bihar state capital of Patna, in east India, will take 10 years to build, be even bigger than the original, and standing at 222ft will result in the world’s tallest Hindu temple.

Cambodian officials – clearly worried it might divert confused holidaymakers from the country’s big money-spinner near Siem Reap – came out in force to slam the venture. They branded it a “fake” and said it was an outrage that the temple would be even bigger than the real thing.

Continue reading...

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Stop Those Cambodian Witches' Knickers Flapping


A column I wrote for Khmer 440...

It’s hard to spend more than a few minutes in Cambodia without noticing the appalling amount of rubbish everywhere. There are plastic bag graveyards beside every road, rivers choked full of bottles and cans, and witches’ knickers in every tree.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a country where people love the sight of discarded plastic so much. You can be strolling through an idyllic stretch of forest and find a lotus flower-filled pond with cows supping from the water, the late afternoon sun glinting away on the ripples, and there’ll be mounds of sun-bleached bags and other human waste blighting the scenery.

Go to a picnic area overlooking some beauty spot, and it’s as if each family has filled the car with every bit of rubbish they or their neighbours can get their hands on, and then chucked it on the ground...

Continue reading...

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

Tuks Tuks And Learning To Bite Your Tongue


A piece I wrote for Khmer 440...

I’ve got a Dutch expat friend who has a rather novel idea for dealing with what he calls the “scourge of tuk tuks in Cambodia”.

“They should do what they do in Tunisia!” he says. “Ban them from even talking to the tourists – they can only speak to you if you speak to them first. It’s brilliant!”

It seems pretty extreme to me, even by Muslim country standards. But you can’t help agreeing with the sentiment to some extent. Talk to most expats or tourists, and they’ll say that one of the main detractions of this beautiful country is the continual gauntlet of pestering tuk tuk drivers trying to make a fast buck...

Continue reading...

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.

The Poor Are Losing Their Homes - But It's Okay, An Elephant's Been Saved


A piece I wrote for Khmer 440...

Call me heartless, but I must admit I greeted the news this week that Cambodia’s most famous elephant had finally been retired not just with sympathy but with a huge amount of disbelief.

It’s easy to become hard in a country where life is so cheap, and anything that helps dispel the terrible injustices here can only be a good thing, whether it’s human or animal. But it did leave me wondering whether there are far more worthy causes the Cambodian government could be concentrating on...

Continue reading...

My new book on training to be a chef, including stints at Rick Stein's and the Fat Duck, is available as a paperback and eBook on Amazon CLICK HERE

"Reading this book is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read." - Simon Majumdar

Twitter Reviews:

"A rattling good read." - @chrispople

"It's a fab read. The Fat Duck chapters are class." - @Mcmoop

"If you claim to be a foodie you MUST buy this book." - @CorkGourmetGuy

"Bought your book and am hugely enjoying. Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." - @oliverthring

"A great read about the reality of working at The Fat Duck & other less famed restaurants." - @alanbertram

"Very funny, very close to the bone." - @AmeliaHanslow

"A great read and must have book for anyone in the industry." - @philwhite101

"Thoroughly enjoyed it." - @rosechadderton

"Excellent!" - @MissCay

"Just finished your book, and loved it! Thanks for ending on a happy note; it needed it after all the reality ;-)" - @voorschot

"Fab account of psycho chefs, plus work experience with Heston and Stein." - @Laurajanekemp

"Excellent read & loved the ‘scary duck’ tale! I look forward to the follow up book (no pressure ;D). Great memories of first being addressed as chef." - @granthawthorne

"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" - @Fishermansarms

"I'm loving your book. Very enjoyable. Some great one-liners. "His legs wobbled like a crab on stilts" had me chuckling." - @griptonfactor

"Highly recommended. A great book about changing careers for his love of cooking." @Whatsinmymouth

"Downloaded the book last Sunday and finished it the same day! Great read." - @MTomkinsonChef

"Very funny." - @SkyRuth

"Any of you who have flirted with chefdom, go and immediately download this book from Amazon - Down and Out in Padstow and London. Great read." - @el_duder

"Truly brilliant." - @kcassowary

"Just rattled through Down And Out in Padstow and London by Alex Watts in no time at all, what a great book." - @leejamesburns

"It's brilliant, a fine piece of work. If you've ever wanted to peer into a professional kitchen I can't recommend it highly enough." - @acidadam

"Fantastic read - the English Kitchen Confidential!" - @cabbagemechanic

"A great eBook to buy about serving your time (literally!) as a trainee chef." - @OkBayBach

"Great read." - @rankamateur

"Don't start reading it if you have things to do:)" - @NorthernSnippet

"Great book...couldn't put it down, read it non-stop on a train and finished it in one day." - @chunkymunki

"Jolly good read, feel free to do one more." - @esbens

There are also 12 reviews on its Amazon page.