Archive for December, 2010

Recipe: Pheasant Casserole with Wholegrain Mustard Mash

This is a pretty easy recipe and a good way to try pheasant, I know everyone thinks pheasant is just a posh chicken for people who have footmen and ladies in waiting but it’s surprisingly affordable and damn tasty

For the casserole you will need

2 pheasants
4-6 Slices of pancetta or streaky bacon
50g butter
1 fennel bulb, cut lengthways into 8 wedges
1 leek, cleaned, halved and chopped into roughly 2in pieces

2 carrots, peeled, cut them in half lengthways and then thinly slice them on the diagonal
2 celery stalks (peeled), thinly sliced
2 fresh bay leaves (4 if dried)
1 sprig thyme
6 juniper berries (if you can’t get these put a measure of gin in)
150ml Chicken Stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160°C

Cover each of the pheasants with the pancetta, its best to tie these in place with some string.

Melt the butter in a large flameproof casserole dish, add the prepared vegetables, herbs, juniper berries (gin), a good pinch of salt and plenty of grinds of a pepper mill.

Turn them over a few times, cover and sweat gently over a low heat for 20 minutes until tender.

Place the pheasants on top of the vegetables, recover and transfer the casserole to the oven for 45 minutes.

Then uncover the casserole, increase the oven temperature to 200°C and continue to cook the pheasants for 15 – 20 minutes until the bacon is crisp and golden and the pheasants are cooked through.

Lift the birds onto a plate, cover and keep warm.

Add the stock to the vegetables and simmer until reduced to good sauce consistency.

You can opt to add wine for a richer sauce just reduce the amount of stock you use by the same amount of wine you add.

Remove the bay leaves and thyme and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Lift the pheasants on to a board, cut off string and then lift off the bacon.

Cut off the legs and cut each one in two at the joint.

Then cut the breast meat away from the carcass in two whole pieces and cut the meat diagonally into slices.

To serve, spoon some of the vegetables and sauce into each warmed plates and place a piece of thigh meat on top.

Put the sliced breast meat on top of that and rest a drumstick alongside.

To serve with it you could make a wholegrain mustard mash, this is a good way to make the dish stretch further,

For 4- 6 people you need about 1kg of potatoes

Peel, cut in two, put in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a generous pinch of salt.

Cover bring to the boil, then simmer until you can push a knife into them without any resistance

Strain, add 50mls of hot milk and 225g of softened butter.

Now add 3 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard and mix well

Adjust seasoning to taste

Serve “family style” in a large bowl and let people help themselves

Enjoy

Recipe (sort of): Bread

I am feeling a little lazy today, I just cooked and polished off a massize fry up, so rather than write up a full bread recipe I have just cut and pasted the bread section from the book I am currently writing, the essential details are all still there.

There is simply one basic recipe here and you can use it to make any number of different breads. I’m going to use ordinary plain flour in the recipe I give you here but if you want brown bread use brown flour or wholemeal flour for wholemeal bread. Pretty easy so far right?

The following recipe will make 2 good loaves of bread, 2 foccacia breads or about a dozen rolls depending on what size you want them.

1KG of plain flour (it comes in 1kg packs)

30grms of honey (roughly a decent size table spoons worth if you don’t have a scales)

30grms of salt

21grms of yeast (used dried yeast as it comes in 7grm packets so just use 3 of them)

650mls of tepid water (you’re going to use this in 2 halves so your best bet is to measure out 325mls in a jug and then microwave it for 20secs to make it tepid).

Ok the first thing you want to do is pour the flour out onto a table, if your table has those joins where it can be folded or extended then it’s a good idea to cover them with selotape  before you start to make cleaning up easier. Pour the salt onto the flour and then make a well in the centre all the way down to the table; this will also help mix the flour and salt. Add the honey and yeast to the tepid water and mix it thoroughly then pour it all into the middle of the well. Using your hand start to work the flour into the water from the edges of the well until all the water is absorbed. This should realistically have reduced the thickness of the flour walls by half. Now microwave the second half of the water and begin to add this to the well. Don’t add it in one go as every single bag of flour has a different absorption level so add it kind of one fifth at a time so you can judge it easier. Continue to work the flour until it starts to come into a ball of rough looking dough. You may need to add a little extra water if it feels dry or you may have some left over when you get to this stage. The more you do this the better you will get a judging it. Now you need to work the dough to develop the flour. Use the heel of your hand to work the ball of dough down flat to about a third of its original thickness. Then fold it back on itself and repeat the process for about 5mins, you have to really lean into this to make it work otherwise your breads going to taste fucking awful and very heavy. Once this is done form the dough back into a ball and make 3 or 4 slashes with a knife across the top. Then place it on a tray and allow it to rest (or prove to call it by the correct term) for about 40mins till it doubles in size. This works better if you cover it loosely with cling film.

Once this has happened pop the dough back on the table, it’s a good idea to flour the table and your hands before you start this bit (that means you really need and extra bag of flour handy but luckily it’s dirt cheap). Now cut the dough in half (or smaller pieces if you want rolls). It’s now time to decide what kind of bread you want to make, if its ordinary batch loaves then this is what you do.

First you have to knock the dough back which means knocking the air out of it. Start by punching it, its not strictly necessary but its fun, then work the dough as you did earlier for about 5mins. You can now shape the dough into a loaf and place it on a baking tray if you want plain bread but trust me that’s no fun. One of the easiest things to do with the dough is make tomato and herb bread. All you need is a tube of tomato puree, some sun dried tomatoes and some of the herbs you bought earlier like oregano and basil. Simply flatten the dough out and use your fingers to push into it making lots of little creators. Then squeeze the tomato puree all over the dough (about half a full tube or more if you want to), finely chop the sun dried tomatoes and sprinkle a decent amount of the herbs over it. Now get messy, start kneading the dough, using your fingers now more than the heel of your hand as you want to work the mixture into the dough. It’s good to have some extra flour handy as you are adding wet ingredients to the dough so you need to counter this by adding more flour a table-spoon at a time until you have worked the mixture into the dough and it has returned to the same feel as the way it was before you added the wet ingredients. Now shape it into a loaf and place it on a floured baking tray cutting 3 or 4 slashes diagonally across the top. You need to let it rest again until it has roughly doubled in size. Turn your oven on to full at this point to pre heat it.

You can add what ever you want to the bread within reason. I like to thinly slice and onion and fry it in a little oil till golden then allow to cool. Then finely dice some good hard cheddar and work the two of them into the dough with a little bit of dried thyme. Make it into a loaf shape and repeat the previous process.

Fuck it’s been a while since I told a joke or said something funny so completely off the topic, “How do you know that you live in a rough area? When you go down your local for a table quiz and the first question is “What the fuck are you looking at?””.

Ok back on topic, once the loaves have doubled in size then pour a little olive oil over the top and sprinkle with some sea salt and place in the oven for about 15mins. You will know when they are done by knocking on them and hearing a hollow sound.

To make the foccacia bread after you have halved the dough then flatten out one half with your hands till it’s about a half-inch thick, then pull it into roughly the shape of a square flat baking tray (which you will be cooking it on anyway!). You can use a rolling-pin but there is really no need, it looks better this way and anyway I can’t be arsed checking if I told you to buy one earlier in the book. Once you have it flattened now use your thumb to push indentations into the top of the dough and fill them with what ever you want, olives, sun blushed tomatoes, baby onions, cubed smoked ham, and hard cheese what ever you want to try then go ahead and try if it works then do it again, if it doesn’t then tell no one of your attempt if will damage your fast growing reputation as a great chef! Once you have it filled with the ingredients of your choice then sprinkle liberally with sea salt and a few twists of black pepper and genrerously drizzle some olive oil over the top before putting it in a warm place and allow to rise for about 20mins. Then put it in the top of the oven (the hottest part) for about 10 – 12 minutes.

In the case of the rolls merely divide the dough into a dozen or so smaller little loaves and shape them how you want. You can do this after you have added the ingredients to make it a flavoured bread or you can do them plain and sprinkle some sesame or poppy seeds on top before baking them. These will need to be allowed rise before cooking (middle part of the oven for these) for 8 – 10mins again.

That’s it you know how to make bread! Fucking great isn’t it. I mean we are not trying to put Pat the Baker out of business just trying to teach you how to make several rustic breads that are great on their own for brunch or with soups and pasta dishes which we will deal with later.

Handy tip time now….. if you are making rolls or and bread and have a little bit of dough left over then roll it out till it’s the length of a baking tray and very thin, then roll it in some grated parmesan and bake quickly for about 3-5mins in the top of the oven to get cheesy bread sticks! They are great as an alternative to tortilla chips to use with dips when watching a movie with a girl or watching the football with your mates.

Recipe: Cauliflower soup with smoked pancetta and scallops in blue cheese butter

This is the original recipe as I designed it but you can adapt it as you like

For the cauliflower soup you will need

1 Medium cauliflower

1 Large onion (sliced)

1tbs butter

1 1/2 pints of veg stock (you can use chicken stock too)

1 clove of garlic

a little mace

salt & pepper

1tbs of flour (level)

1/4 pint of milk

Wash the cauliflower and bring to the boil in salted water, allow to boil for a few mins.

Drain and cut into pieces

Fry the sliced onion in the butter over a medium heat until it goes transparent

Add in the flour, stir continuously for about a minute

Add the stock gradually, making sure the roux is incorporated

Add the mace at this point, just a small pinch

Add the cauliflower and cook for about 2omins till the cauli is tender.

Use a stick blender, add the milk, adjust the season and pass through a sieve

This can be made ahead of time and can even be frozen and defrosted on the day you want it.

To make the blue cheese butter you will need

1tbs of crumbled blue cheese

1tbs of butter

1ts of dijon mustard

Simply place all the ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork to combine them, as you are using this to cook scallops so it doesn’t have to be perfect

The smoked pancetta adds a great flavour to the scallops but you can use ordinary pancetta or bacon lardons

Cut the pancetta into a relatively small dice and cook in a dry frying pan over a medium heat so you render the fat out and don’t burn them.

Remove and place on kitchen paper to drain.

Turn the heat up a bit on the pan and season the scallops.

If there is too much fat then simply drain some off.

Cook them for about 60secs on one side before turning them over

Once you turn them over add the blue cheese butter and use it to baste the scallops as the cook for the remaining 60secs.

To serve pour some soup into a bowl and place the scallops on top, the soup should be thick enough to hold the scallops.

Sprinkle the pancetta on top and serve.

There is a great chefs treat in this dish, take a slice of crusty bread and fry it on the pan you cooked the scallops in.

Enjoy


Recipe: Chocolate Tart, with kirsch pastry, raspberry salt, chilli chocolate sauce & pistachio cream

Ok let me be honest this recipe was invented for the sole purpose of impressing girls and it worked. I feel a bit like that guy who broke the magicians code on TV by explaining how this works, but such is the power of this dish I feel I must break the guy code.

The dish is served with simply a slice of the tart on a plate, sprinkled with the raspberry salt, a little jug of the warm chilli chocolate sauce and a bowl of the pistachio cream on the side. This leaves all the decision-making about how the dessert is eaten up to the girl in question. If she is feeling a little dangerous she can pour over the entire jug of chilli chocolate sauce or if she’s looking for smooth luxury then she has a whole bowl of pistachio cream to indulge herself. Don’t ask me why this works but just trust me that it does.

Ok so now for the recipe for the pastry you will need

225g of plain flour

110g of butter, this should be very cold and diced to make things easier

2 egg yolks

a very small pinch of salt (there will be raspberry salt on top remember)

65g of icing sugar

20g of ground hazelnuts

3tbs of Kirsch

For the filling

100mls of single cream

110g of chocolate truffles, chopped

50mls of milk

2 medium eggs

For the chilli chocolate sauce

2 birdseye chillies

175ml milk

50ml of double cream

30g of castor sugar

30g of diced butter

For the pistachio cream

300mls of double cream

30g of icing sugar, add more to taste if you need it

75g of unsalted pistachios, shelled and chopped but not too finely

For the raspberry salt

25g of raspberry

25g of good salt, like Maldon or even better is Fleur de Sel

To make the pastry

Sieve the flour on to a work surface or table, make a well in the centre and add in the butter

Work the flour and butter with your fingertips until they form breadcrumbs

Now add the egg yolks, ground hazelnuts, sugar and Kirsch and work into a dough

Be careful not to over work the pastry, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Then roll out the pastry to 1/8″ and lay it into a 9.5″ flan tin, return to the fridge for 30mins

Place some parchment paper on top of the pastry and put in some baking beans

Cook for 8mins in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees, then remove the beans and bake for a further 2mins. Remove and allow to cool

To make the filling

Bring the cream almost to boiling point, then pour over the chopped chocolate truffles, stirring till it melts

Whisk in the milk and eggs

Pour into the pastry case and place in the oven for 15-20mins at 150 degrees or until set

To make the chilli chocolate sauce

Cut the chillies length ways and remove the seeds

Place in a pot with the cream and milk and bring to the boil

Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 30mins before removing the chillies

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water that’s at a rolling boil, be careful the bowl isnt touching the water or it will make the chocolate grainy. Allow to melt

Return the pan of infused milk and cream to the hob, add the sugar and bring to the boil.

Pour the boiling mixture into the melted chocolate, stirring will and allow it to begin to bubble.

Once this happens remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the butter to finish the sauce.

Personally I pass the sauce through a fine sieve but that’s up to you

For the Pistachio Cream

Whisk the cream and add the icing sugar, adjusting to taste

Fold in the chopped pistachios (keep a few back to sprinkle on top of the bowl)

Use a metal spoon so as not to knock any air out of the cream.

For the Raspberry Salt

Crush or blitz the raspberries and pass through a fine sieve.

Carefully mix with the salt so as not to break up any of the delicate crystals

Lay the mixture on a parchment lined baking tray, making sure to lay it out as thin as possible.

Place in the oven on its lowest setting to allow to dry, its best to do this ahead of time

If the salt has gone all lumpy simply break it up in a pestle and mortar but don’t grind it to dusk.

To serve

Place a singly slice of the chocolate tart on a plate and sprinkle a little of the raspberry salt on top, starting at the point of the slice and continuing in a thin line to the crust.

Pour some of the chilli chocolate sauce into a small jug and serve on the side.

Put the pistachio cream in a bowl and sprinkle the left over pistachios on top.

Enjoy,

Just remember that with great power comes great responsibility!

Reflections of the way things used to be

Next Tuesday will mark the 1 month anniversary of me first setting foot in a professional kitchen, 1 month, it’s not exactly a long time yet it seems like I’ve never done anything else. I may only be doing this for a month but I have been preparing for it my whole life.

A lot of people talk about being obsessed with food but in truth I have been more obsessed with cooking, from the time I watched Keith Floyd cook a steak on the engine block of a Toyota Landcruiser I have wanted to cook. Though you would find it hard to believe looking at me I have always been far more interested in cooking than eating. I rarely actually eat the food I cook, preferring instead to cook for others.

If Keith Floyd was the guy who got me started cooking then Eddie Murphy was the guy who made me want to cook well. When I was 16 I watched his movie Boomerang, a pretty average film in most people’s eyes, but he bedded a succession of beautiful women, including Halle Berry and Robyn Givens after cooking them a good meal. Ok, ok I know it was a movie but as a hormone charged 16 year old guy this was a revelation, this was my St Paul on the road to Damascus moment (without the BBQ’d donkey). If I learned to cook well then there was a chance girls would let me get my hands on their goodies! I hit the kitchen like a man possessed, the fact that at 16 the chances of me being allowed to invite a girl over for a romantic dinner were slim and the chances of me being allowed to take her to my bedroom to express her gratitude afterwards were fucking non-existent didn’t stop me. This I told myself would stand to me in later years, and boy did it.

You may well laugh but let me assure you that I can produce a chocolate tart that can open a bra at 28feet, my record is actually 34 feet but that was a “frontsie” so under international rules it’s isn’t counted. I once rang an ex-girlfriend at 3 in the morning to get a reference as to how good my food was when I was trying to get a girl to agree to let me cook her dinner. In fairness she gave glowing reports about my food, less so about me (the words cheating bastard may have come up), but the girl agreed to let me cook her dinner.

I used to get told on a regular basis “oh you should be a chef” and I would shrug, smile and make some make some witty comment about wanting to maintain my amateur status so I could cook in the Olympics (trust me it’s far wittier when heard in context). The fact is though that honestly for all my cockiness and swagger I never felt the confidence in my food to think someone would pay to eat it, this despite numerous offers from friends and firends of friends to pay me to cook for them.

So rather than use an obvious talent for the benefit of all man kind I used it to shag a succession of attractive women. I would drop into conversation early that I had to take it easy on the booze as I had to be up early to do a lunch for a friends birthday, my parents anniversary or a benefit for war orphaned baby ducks (that one worked a treat). They would respond “oh are you a chef” and I would reply with various lines about being just a talented amateur, that I thought about it but I wanted to maintain my joy of cooking and doing it for a living could lessen that and finally with “If you’d like I would love to cook you dinner sometime!”. Considering any single girl is likely to get chatted up by a litany of increasingly drunk guys over the course of a night, a guy who is offering to cook for them, and sounds like he knows what he is doing (in the kitchen anyway) is going to look like Prince Charming by the time they are standing in the cold, cursing their shoes and trying to hail a cab.

Despite misusing my power in a manner not seen since Superman straightened the leaning tower of Pisa, food saved my life. Don’t worry this isn’t going to be the storyline from some dreary movie about “one man’s struggle”, full of heart string pulling and eye dabbing. For one thing I am not the type and secondly I fucking hate those movies.

A few years back I was the poster boy for the Celtic Tiger, big apartment, sports car and engaged in the type of frivolous spending that would make Elton John wince. I was literally the boy who had everything (luckily the penicillin cleared it up), then I got sick. I suffered kidney failure and spent the next 8 months being misdiagnosed while peeing into more beakers than Castor Semenya.

When you’re sick people treat you like you are sick, your opinion is less valid, people expectations of you lower, they make excuses for you that you never asked for. This drove me fucking nuts, I was used to being the most important guy in the room, I was the person people deferred to, I was the guy all my mates turned to for help when they needed it and then over night I became a spectator in my own life. The only time people really listened to me was when I talked about food, so I talked about it constantly. When I wasn’t talking about it I was researching it, trolling through forums, websites, reviews, chef’s biographies, writing recipe ideas, drafting whole menus for imaginary restaurants I dreamt of owning. Suddenly when I talked about food I was back to being the most important guy in the room if only for a brief time. That make smack of a huge fucking ego but when you’re sick and there is no sign of you getting better, or even getting correctly diagnosed, you cling to what ever gets your through and I clung to food like a drowning man with a life raft.

When I got better, food was all I had left, my business, home, car and all my fucking money were gone. I spent a brief time afterwards in London being “homeless in the Kensington Hilton” as I termed it (there’s a whole other blog on that, for that matter there is probably a book and a movie deal but I doubt I would ever get to tell the story). Out of boredom I would spend evenings walking around West London reading menus of countless restaurants that I couldn’t afford to eat in. I know it sounds odd coming from someone who lived in the Kensington Hilton for the better part of 2 months but that’s the way it was. I could eat and drink in the hotel to my hearts content but as soon as I set foot outside I was back to being broke. I would walk around reading menus and then spend the rest of the night jotting down recipe ideas in my room or in a quite corner in the bar. It was during this that I realised that I wanted to do something with food, I wasn’t exactly sure what. I somehow managed to fall into food writing, which lead me to Twitter and its that which lead me to a faithful conversation with Oisin Rogers and wound up with me in the kitchen at The Ship.

So what now? Where do I see this going? Honestly I haven’t thought far enough ahead, I am loving every minute of being in the kitchen, I have been extremely lucky to get to work with a fantastically talented brigade of chefs who have been more than patient with me as I get up to speed with just how a kitchen works, especially how it works during a busy service which is sort of like a football riot that’s been choreographed by The Royal Ballet School.

Do I want my slice of culinary fame? Of course I fucking do. Do I look at people like Ainsley Harriot and think he is just a Butlins Red Coat who got very lucky? Yes I do. Do I look at Gino D’acampo and just see Chico from the X-Factor with a frying pan? Yes I do. Could I cook the balls of these guys, hell yeah! Do I want to have my culinary Mrs Robinson style flirtation with Penny Smith on Market Kitchen? What do you fucking think?

More than anything though I want to cook, every day I spend in the kitchen is a day that makes me realise this is what I want to do. I know there is a lot of you out there who have thought about doing this, if you haven’t actually made the move then you obviously have a far stronger grasp on your sanity than I do on mine. They say that a chef requires a certain amount of passion, arrogance and lunacy, three traits that I have been accused of having in spades over the year.

The question is can I make it? Do I have the talent? Working under a great head chef is hard work but being one is infinitely harder. Do I see myself getting to that stage? Truthfully, yes! I wouldn’t be putting myself through this if I didn’t. People talk about me being on a steep learning curve but that’s bollox, its more of a learning right angle, there isn’t a curve in sight. When I walk back into that kitchen in January I know I have to bang on in everything I do, the guys I work with deserve that from me and I need to be able to deliver and I intend to.

Recipe: Soda Farls & Potato Farls

People often think that these are the same thing but in fact they are different, soda farls tend to be eaten further north in Ireland where as potato farls are more of a southern food. They are however cooked the same way, in a frying pan on top of the cooker rather than in the oven the way that most breads are.

The recipe for Soda Farls contains

450 g flour (I use self-raising flour)

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

300 ml buttermilk

Just place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and give them a quick mix, make a well in the middle and add the buttermilk, then simply work it into a dough. Turn out on a floured surface and knead it a little. Roll it out into a rough circle that’s around a half-inch thick. Cut the circle into 4 quarters (that’s what the word farl refers to). Sprinkle some flour into a well heated heavy based frying pan and place the 4 farls in it. Cook for about 6mins on each half over a medium heat.

The Potato Farl recipe contains

500g of mashed potato (it needs to be warm)

1tsp salt

30g of plain flour

1tbs of melted butter

My nan always added one beaten egg and therefore so do I

Mix all the ingredients till a dough forms, turn onto a well floured surface and knead slightly. Then roll out into a circle that’s about 1/4in thick and cook in the same way as the soda farls but these will only take about 3mins on each side.

For me the best way to have potato farls is to fry some black pudding and once cook mash it up, cook the farls in the same pan then push the crumbled pudding into the top of the farls making a sort of dent in the middle, crack an egg in there and place under a very hot grill, while the egg cooks fry some bacon in the same pan, its fucking awesome.

As always, enjoy!

For Services Rendered

I once read an interview with a reformed football hooligan in which he discussed turning up for a prearranged fight with Man Utd despite being vastly out numbered, he said they knew they were going to get smashed but they thought “fuck it”. Now I don’t for a minute condone violence of any sort, even towards people who despite being told by numerous restaurant staff the kitchen is closed approach the pass at 10.40pm asking if they could order something, but I do sort of understand the fatalism of what he said. You will understand why later on in this post.

My week began with Sunday service, the quaint sounding, yet terror inducing mania that is Sunday lunch at The Ship in Wandsworth. As usual everyone and their brother decided to rock up at exactly the same fucking time (seriously do ye synchronize you’re watches or what?) looking to be fed.

I had gone in an hour early to get any last-minute prep out-of-the-way and it made a big difference. Like the lamb that was on the lunch menu I am well seasoned now, that said the quantities are still a little daunting. We had enough carrots prepped to do the on site catering for a remake of Watership Down and the last time I saw that much Swede it was trying to knock out Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV (for reasons of good taste I have omitted several jokes about just how much meat we had).

The waiting staff do their best to stagger the orders but its like doing your best to stagger incoming artillery strikes, each round is still going to knock 7 bells out of you. Tempers were running high, chefs were running in from the front demanding lunch plates to go with a la carte orders that were ready to hit the pass. Richie the banqueting chef was refusing to give ground, the food was leaving the kitchen fast but food was leaving the kitchen right.

That said we had plates fairly hitting the bench before they were sent out. This despite having 3 different veg plates to go with the 3 roast options that were on for lunch. This is a great example of the difference between Friday morning and Sunday lunch time. Friday morning we chat excitedly about what new thing we want to try this week, one person says let’s do lamb, then some roguishly handsome Irish guy says “I’ll make an awesome marinade with anchovies & truffle oil, just as soon as I am finished chatting up the waitresses”, before another chef chips in with the idea to put roast turnips and parsnips with the meat to make it different.

Then Sunday this culinary brainstorming deteriorates to a screaming match with shouts of “turnips, fucking turnips, what fucking arsehole came up with this then?”. It might seem a little dramatic but you have to understand that when the orders are “8 beef plates, 7 lamb, 5 turkey and I need them now” shouted by a flash of white jacket, speed and fury that is our sous chef Robbie its a different kettle of fish! That said we coped admirably due in no small part to my veg peeling heroics on Saturday. We sold out of everything by about half 3 so it was just a matter of checking if they were running low of anything at the front, doing the clean down and heading for a well-earned post work pint.

Monday was a full service at the pass doing the starters and a couple of the main courses, just the risotto and pasta dishes, but it felt good, like being a proper chef. The restaurant was busy but despite a small brigade we coped well and I felt like I was getting up to speed. There is a sense of satisfaction getting through a busy service. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t think so, seasoned battle hardened chefs look happy when they have put in a good shift, I really began to feel like I was getting into step. I even got to demonstrate my impressive, if suspicious, butchery skills in prepping the rib eyes for the week. It’s good to know that all those hitchhikers didn’t die in vain. Then yesterday arrived and the merde hit the Moulinex as the French might say.

I was on a 12 hour shift which is enough to make me a bit nervous, then I discovered we were going to be a man down all day and the restaurant was booked solid with Christmas parties and lunchers and there was 140 booked in for dinner, hearing this I couldn’t have been anymore nervous if I was playing pass the parcel with a bunch of Brazilian waiters at Stockwell tube station.

Straight away it became obvious we were going to get smashed. This is what I mean about fatalism. A depleted, injury hit brigade marching into battle, vastly outnumbered, facing insurmountable odds, knowing that the victory is in the survival. It was like the final scene in Braveheart except none of us are Scottish and there was considerably more salad than seen at any Scottish event. Seeing very experienced chefs looking less than confident about what’s ahead is unsettling, these guys are good, they are very fucking good, between the top 3 guys in the kitchen yesterday they have 45+ years of hard kitchen experience and they looked worried.

There was just enough time to get my section prepped and get a quick run down of how the ticket system worked. Until now there was enough time for someone to directly tell me when something I was looking after was away (technical term for when a dish that has been ordered needs to be cooked). That wasn’t going to be possible, it was a case of sink or swim with the added pressure that if I went down I would drag the rest of the kitchen down with me.

The lunch rush hit like a brick. We were under the gun from the get go. The thing about kitchens is that alot of people criticise them for bring aggressive or bad-tempered but they need to be. When I burned my hand 15mins into service Dave the head chef offered me a “tough pill”, it was a joke but it reminded me that moaning about a burnt finger wasn’t going to make my finger better and it certainly wasn’t going to get my dishes on the pass any quicker. Dave acted as the grizzled Sergeant Major through out lunch, directing operations and dispensing kicks in the arse when needed and I needed it on occasion. Normally we stop sending food around 2.30pm in a lunch service but plates were still leaving at 4 O’Clock to be taking to various tables of Christmas parties who decided to kick off corporate festivities early and get the food out-of-the-way so the drinking, singing, bad impressions of the boss and sexual harassment cases could be reached sooner.

When on a double you get a break at 4pm for a couple of hours, about quarter past 4 I had finished what I needed to do, changed out of my whites and went to sit in the bar and read the paper while resting my bones. This lasted until I looked across into the restaurant to see the rest of the battle fatigued brigade still working away. Then I pulled on my whites and reentered the fray. I quickly knocked up some staff food, restocked my section and waited for the evening service to kick off.

And kick off it did, if lunch was tough then dinner was fucking mental, 140 booked, walk ins, full function room and bar snacks with only a small brigade. There is talk amongst certain athletes that you always play hurt, american football players and boxers talk about it. You’re never 100%, you’re always carrying an injury, you just get out there and give everything you have. That’s what it felt like walking into dinner service, there is a difference though, it’s that fatalism, you’re already hurt, the restaurant has already given you a battering but you are still standing (if only just).

As the orders come flying in, and start piling up and you just start swinging, it’s out of desperation to begin with, then its down to stubbornness, that bloody mindedness that fuck it you won’t be beaten, bring it, come on let’s have you then coz I’m still here mate, I’m still standing and you’re starting to gas. You become almost giddy as the last orders arrive. I used to watch Gordon Ramsay on one of the many TV shows he sold his soul for with his “make the last plate as good as the first” and think “oh fuck off you crinkle browed, bleached blonde gobshite and get back in the kitchen where you belong” but I now know what he means.

I fussed over my last plates, half an hour after service should have ended, over 12 hours from when I first walked into the kitchen and baby I was dancing. I eyed the restaurant, packed with full, happy diners and though “is that it, is that all you’ve got because you haven’t beaten me, I’m right fucking here so come on, give me more, I can take it!”. I wanted to jump on to the pass and yell “who wants fish and chips, come on you bastards, do your worst”. That’s how pumped you feel, adrenaline courses through your veins, all the aches, all your burns, your pain has vanished, you are positively giddy, simply because you have survived, you’ve been battle tested and you’ve passed, you’ve refused to buckle, it may be nothing but brute force and ignorance that got you through but got you through it did. Of course the second you pull your whites off all the aches, pains, bruises and burns come rushing back and bring a few you never knew you had with them but you’re too damn happy to care.

I know Anthony Bourdain has done a description of service that will stand alone in terms of brilliance and brutal eloquence but I wanted to try to convey what it feels like to me to make it through a damn hard day with two manic services. What I know is that for some reason, because of some part of me I never knew till now even existed I want to go through that again, I want to be pushed to and maybe even passed my limits, because I know what to expect and as fucking crazy as it sounds I will miss it till I have it again.

And as for people who ignore waitresses and walk up to the pass at 10.40pm looking for us to cook from scratch for them, while I don’t advocate violence towards them I won’t shed a tear if a piano falls on them on their way home!

On the plus side I got paid today for my labours, well I say paid but to convey how badly chefs are paid for what they do, there are children in a sneaker factory in indonesia who are organising a charity bake sale in aid of me!