This week I have gotten a far better understanding of the challenge I have undertaken. I had my first double shift, promptly followed by my first double shift with a hangover, my first experience of a service at the pass and my first experience of prep for tomorrow’s Sunday service.

I kind of always knew that it wasn’t an easy line of work, the gaping horror on most people’s faces when I tell them what I have decided to do would have tipped me off even if I didn’t. I have seen with every service how much more there is for me to learn and how much I thought I knew that was wrong.

I started the week with my first double shift, that’s from 10am to 10pm with a couple of hours break in between. Dave the head chef was getting married the same day so most of the chefs / kitchen staff were heading to join him and help celebrate his big day. This left myself, a couple of commis and Robert the sous chef in the kitchen, supplemented by an agency chef for evening service.

Tuesday wasn’t expected to be busy and the arctic conditions didn’t really entice people to battle through the snow to get to The Ship, or probably anywhere else they didn’t absolutely have to be. I got on with a little prep work in the back to begin with, at the end of every service everyone compiles a list of jobs that need doing on their section before the next service as well as an over all list written up by whoever was running the kitchen the night before.

I also got to make my first dish to go on the menu, it was cottage pie cooked in a local ale called Junction and topped with a horseradish and parsley mash. It may be far from exotic and the man from Michelin isn’t going to be racing across London with a star in his pocket but I was extremely proud of those pies, sort of the way a parent is when their child walks out during a school play, forgets his lines, falls of the stage and throws up on the band at the end of the day, for better or worse they are yours.

Things were going along fine, I was discussing recipe ideas with Robbie the sous chef about how to cook the lamb that he wanted to put on for this Sunday, in the end I suggested a marinade of anchovies, garlic, rosemary and truffle oil (if you drop in for lunch tomorrow you should try it). Then Robbie got a call to say he had to go home leaving me at the helm. Lunch service was virtually over and he said I would be fine, but he said in the same way an airline pilot might as he hands over control to a 12 year old kid with a side parting and the Ladybird Book of Flying under his arm before he pulls on the last parachute and leaps from the plane.

Mercifully there was only 2 checks that came in but with only me and a commis who is 6 weeks into his career it was still enough to have me breaking out in a cold sweat. I must have asked that poor commis how long on his side dishes about every 15 seconds as I manned the grill. I know it sounds odd but when you have spent your whole life wanting to do something and then all of a sudden, very fucking sudden in fact, you’re doing it, it’s hard not to derive a giddy thrill. I was running the kitchen. Ok, given the fact there was only 2 of us as boasts go its right up their with being the Worlds Tallest Midget or Wales Best Formula 1 Driver but I was fairly proud of myself.

If I was proud of myself on Tuesday I was not yesterday, I arrived to work with a hangover, facing into a 12 hour shift and I dragged my sorry ass through every excruciating minute of it. I was half a step behind in everything I did. Oddly I was better in the morning, I worked a full lunch service at the pass without any mistakes, knocked up a wild mushroom and red wine sauce and even cooked up a great vegetable curry for the staff meal which went down well.

Maybe it was sitting down for my hour break that slowed me or maybe it was because I had tried the previous evening to drink my own weight in vodka but when I got back in the kitchen at 6pm I was fucking awful. I needed to restart every task because I’d ballsed it up the first time, I got more and more annoyed with myself, it took me an age to prep the pork belly for the chefs signature dish during which I displayed knife skills that were so shit they haven’t been seen since the days of field hospitals in the Crimean War.

There was one bright spot, I was told that I would be put in charge of the prep for Sunday service, I thought “well its about damn time I got promoted, I’ve been here over a week”. I had a lot to plan, I mean I was going to be in charge, there were inspirational speeches to write to be delivered to my loyal crew, there was some form of name plate for my door, there was a door to get for that matter. Naturally there was the important issue of hiring an assistant, leadership with all its pressures requires someone to delegate the more mundane tasks too.

My assistant should be smart, well presented, faithful, competent and most importantly have no understanding what so ever of UK sexual harassment law, in fact it would be ideal if she thought harass was two words! What I didn’t know at the time was that being put in charge of the prep for Sunday actually means being walled in behind several tonnes of vegetables and having to peel your way out.

Two solid hours of peeling and chopping carrots to finish a shift was more than enough to turn a bad mood into a black one. I sat for 30 minutes in the freezing cold waiting for a bus home as my mood worsened. I was angry with myself for being below par, my anger turned inexplicably to home-sickness and by the time I trudged through the snow and ice filled streets of Tooting near midnight I was to put it mildly very fucked off indeed.

Some wonderful messages from my Twitter pals brought me out of my dark mood and I resolved that I would make up for a shit day by having a good one today. And I did. I got up early determined to attack the day, oh day I was going to own you, before noon arrived I intended to bend you to my will and have things on my terms. I eyed the mountain of veg that stood waiting for me and thought “it’s you or me lads and the smart money ain’t on you today!”.

I prepped every single bit of veg for Sunday service, if you lunch at The Ship tomorrow, look at the veg on your plate, then look at the tables around you and then the tables around them. Watch the endless procession of plates leave the kitchen through a mammoth lunch service and know that one man, this man, prepped every single fucking bit of that veg and hold a moment of hushed awe. Songs will be sung of these deeds, OK only by me and probably out of tune, but sung none the less they will be. I expect the statue to be commissioned any day now and  doubtless a trip to the palace to collect my award from Her Maj for services to veg is assured. You know something else, not only did I achieve this in a mere 6 hours, I had the time to prepare 10 pheasants, wrapped in pancetta (which I sliced myself) and marinated in sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic and olive oil and make a 50+ egg batch of Yorkshire puddings just for the hell of it.

I got my mojo back in a major way, and to those whose kind words helped then thanks, I would be happy to peel a few carrots or marinate a game bird for you, you need only ask.

I am still loving this and I still want to do it, although I was pretty sure I would have a TV show by now? Can someone please have a word in the right ear and get this sorted!

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