Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mucky Dripping

Not for the faint hearted
Next time you have a pork roast. pour all the fat and sediment into a dish and let it go cold. The sediment and jelly will settle on the bottom. Stir the sediment and jelly into the fat (dripping) but do not over-mix it. The aim is to leave bits of Jelly and sediment in the dripping, in a sort of ripple effect. Cover with glad wrap and store in the fridge.

To eat spread a generous portion on a slice of good quality bread and sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper.


Also great for roasting potatoes  

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lost in translation

Hi everyone, here’s another tale from my time as a young chef.
One of the first places I worked after I qualified was a country house hotel in Yorkshire. I am sure John Cleese must have visited this place at some time because it would have been a great inspiration for Fawlty Towers.
I started work there, as a one of the two commis chefs, there was a head chef and a kitchen hand. We also had a number of extras that joined us when we were busy.
The head chef, if you could call him that, was in his mid 20’s and was really crap, he was totally dominated by the hotel manager who made all the decisions about what went on the menu. The menu was pretty typical for the 70’s too many courses with the usual suspects of prawn cocktail, deep fried scampi, gilled steaks, and a dessert trolley.
My job included stoking up the solid fuel stove first thing in the morning, making up starters, salads, sandwiches, vegetables and deserts. I am not quite sure what the other commis did! I worked 80 hours per week and got one and a half days off. After I had been there a month I was asked if I wanted to be the second chef, which meant a bit more money and working on the chef’s day off. Other that that, I did exactly the same things as before!
When the head chef wasn’t there the manager came into the kitchen to do his job.
The manager was worst than the chef; he didn’t really care about what we served as long as he was making a profit. He did all the buying and used to get the cheapest he could, as a result the quality was always really poor. We used to joke that he went to the market and pulled faces at the stallholders until they threw things at him and that’s what he brought back!
The manager preferred to be behind the bar and always had a glass of wine or whiskey in his hand so was normally pissed. His wife seemed to ignore him most of the time; she had a couple of horses in the stables and, when not riding, spent a lot of time there with the groomsman! I lived in a room above the manager’s house that was so small I could just about touch each wall when I sat on the bed, which had been shortened to fit in the room! Even though I am not tall I couldn’t stretch out straight without banging my head on the wall. There were about 5 other rooms where I lived, all bigger than mine, which besides the other chefs, housed 3 attractive middle aged women who didn’t seem to do anything much but swan about the bar now and again and spend a lot of time in their rooms. A rather prim and proper middle-aged woman, Mrs M, who lived in the main hotel, ran the dining room. The waiters, who were Portuguese, used to take turns to “look after her”. She flirted relentlessly with them in a way that only prim and proper English women can. As chefs we were safe from Mrs M’s amorous approaches as we were considered too rough, rather smelly and beneath her (not literally of course). There were 4 waiters and yes, one was called Manuel. He didn’t have the looks of the other waiters so was safe from Mrs M’s attentions. Manuel was really short and very serious, he rolled the sleaves of his waiter’s jacket up because they were too long but the jacket still came down to his knees. He was picked on all the time, especially by the chefs.
One day Manuel said to me “Chris can you cook me some hot kippers for my tea” I said sure and that afternoon presented him with a pair of grilled kippers with a knob of butter melting over them. He just looked at them and in a strong Portuguese accent said “what this?” “Hot kippers” I said. “No” he said “I want hot kippers” “they’re hot kippers” I said but he said “no this kipper, I want hot kippers” I said “it is hot” and pushed his nose in them, saying “see there kippers too”. At this point he threw his arms up in the air and stormed out. About 10 minutes later he came back with one of the other waiters and said “you tell him this not hot kippers” The other waiter slapped Manuel on the back of the head and said “you idiot you mean octopus!”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Silver Service

When I trained as a chef in England I also did courses in housekeeping and food service. Along with the other students in my class, I was not really turned on by housekeeping but I think all chefs should also learn what it is like to be a waiter, though there are some chefs I have known who would probably make customers run for cover if they ever ventured into the dining room. Anyway, having some food service skills meant that I could always earn some extra money waiting on at functions.
My first experience as a function waiter happened during my first year of study, just after I started to learn to use a spoon and fork for silver service. Egged on by some of my so called mates, I put my name down on a list pinned to the student notice board to do some “waiting work”. When the day came to travel to the venue we met in the college car park and about 12 of us piled into a small bus for the journey from Leeds to a big hotel in Harrogate. On the way, the 2ndyear student who organised the gig told us we would be doing silver service. Oh shit, I thought, I have only used a spoon and fork a couple of times and never with real food! I thought about pretending I was sick but I probably wouldn’t get anymore work and my mates would have paid me out big time.
We arrived at the hotel and were told we would have a table of 10 and would be serving a poached fish dish followed by grilled lamb cutlets and vegetables and then dessert and coffee. I started to feel decidedly ill and was just thankful that the first course was a cocktail which would be placed on the table before the guests arrived. All too suddenly we were ushered into the dining room to get our signal from the head waiter to clear away the cocktail glasses. This went fairly well though I nearly dropped a spoon or two on the floor as I carried the glasses to my sideboard.
Next the fish course, I lined up in the kitchen, my spoon and fork slipping around in my sweaty hand, as I approached the pass a very hot, heavy, silver salver was thrust onto my left arm which, even though covered with a doubled waiter’s cloth, radiated heat through to my hand. On the salver were 10 immaculately decorated pieces of poached fish, I immediately had a vision of the salver gradually tipping with the weight and the fish sliding onto the dining table as I tried desperately to keep control. Suddenly I was in the dining room, approaching my table, spoon and fork in hand with a frozen smile on my face the muscles in my left arm aching from the weight of the salver. “Serve from the left, clear from the right” was going through my mind like the sound of a high speed steam train. I spied a gap between two people at my table and lowered the salver downwards. My arm ached and my hand shook as I picked up the first piece of fish and plonked it on the plate of the first guest. I started to move round the table gradually feeling a little more confident plonking less and placing more. The salver was getting a little lighter as the fish was removed, and I was starting to think this is easy. I came to the last piece of fish and was feeling so cocky I didn’t even lower the salver down next to the plate, just picked the fish up with my spoon and fork and placed it on the plate. When my spoon and fork reached the plate the fish had disappeared, oh no where had it gone? There it was sitting neatly between the breasts of a rather well endowed, attractive woman with a deeply plunging neck line. I just stared with my mouth open, I didn’t know what to do, I momentarily thought about reaching in with my spoon and fork but luckily was beaten to it. The man seated next to the victim of my incompetence had already grabbed a spoon from the table and was deftly removing the fish, placing it delicately on her plate. He then helped her wipe her breasts with a napkin which they both seemed to find quite amusing. Bright red with embarrassment, I escaped back into the kitchen, looking round in a panic to see who had noticed what had happened, but was told to get back in the dining room to wait for the signal to clear my table. I went back and stood next to my sideboard, making every effort to avoid looking at any of the guests on my table. When the signal came to clear, I approached my table with some trepidation, but it was as if nothing had happened, as I cleared away the plate from the man who had rescued the fish he pressed a one pound note in my hand and whispered thanks for the fun. What a feeling of relief, I managed to serve the rest of the meal without incident and my table had lots of smiling faces and a knowing wink from my generous tipper.
It was a memorable introduction to silver service and I had a great tale to tell my mates, plus an extra pound in my pocket and a definite decision that, whilst I was happy to do some casual waiting, I definitely wanted to work in the kitchen not the front of house.