Thursday, May 14, 2009
I arrived at the Fat Duck prep room the next morning, checked the rota, and found they’d put me down for service on the amuse bouche section. I was surprised. After my last performance, I didn’t think I’d get a second chance.
I went across the road, flexing my hands and worrying about whether the oysters would open my wounds again, and found a young US stagier called Eddy in my place.
They told me it was Eddy’s last day, and were trying him out for commis. They told me to come back after lunch service.
I returned to the prep room chores, cutting bags of onions on the slicer. After a few minutes, the larder was smoky with sulphur fumes. A workman arrived to fix the ice cream machine.
“Jesus,” he said, his eyes streaming. “You need bloody goggles to work in here!”
I headed over the road in the afternoon, and got one of those rare moments of kitchen joy - Eddy had opened the oysters I needed for evening service.
My hands were saved, and I was able to concentrate on the other jobs like juicing red cabbage for the gazpacho, and picking chervil leaves for the ice-filtered lamb jelly. Only the top piece of the leaf was used. They were like tiny green footprints dotted over the lamb tongue, cucumber, and tomato confit garnish.
At one point, Danny squeezed past me to borrow a spatula from pastry. After a minute of whining, he stormed back into the main kitchen like a child refused sweets. I could hear him moaning to the head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts. He sounded like he was about to cry.
“Ash, can you tell the pastry section to lend me a spatula! They don’t want to give it to me.”
Ashley came through and mediated calmly.
“Guys, let’s act like adults here,” he said. “Come on - let’s help each other out.”
He nodded a few times as the pastry posse went through a memorised arraignment of unreturned items, and occasions when they’d been refused equipment. Then they mimicked Danny’s whining voice for the rest of service.
:: 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...