It’s a whole week since I arrived back in London. I left Ireland on the type of bright clear January morning that makes you realise just how beautiful and special a place my country is. I have left Ireland many times, hopped on flights to destinations near and far but there was a finality about this trip. Dad and I barely spoke on the drive to the airport and he had tears in his eyes during our awkward hug outside departures. Awkward because my Dad and I have never had an easy relationship, we love each other fiercely but we are two very stubborn and very short-tempered people, while living at home taking care of Mum through her battle with cancer last year that relationship went from strained to broken on occasion. That hug sort of ended a difficult year for us on the right note.

Walking through Cork airport the same scene was being repeated far too much, as families clung to loved ones for as long as they possibly could before breaking down as they watched sons and daughters disappear through the departure gates not knowing when they would get to hold them close again. This is wrong, a generation who watched their brothers and sisters being forced to emigrate must now lose their children due to the incompetence and curruption of Brian Cowen and Fianna Fail. I was pretty annoyed by the time I had my usual full body rub down passing through security, seriously at this fucking point either buy me dinner first or at least call me afterwards!

Luckily sometimes the world gives you just what you need just when you need it, I needed something to focus my anger on and just then I saw a woman being wheeled through departures directly towards the top of the queue for the Ryanair flight I was waiting to board. Now let me put this in context, I saw that woman when I arrived at Cork airport, she got out of a car parked directly in front of us. She got out of it unaided, she walked about a bit unaided, she got her bags out and organised the rest of her travelling party unaided, she even had time to squeeze in a smoke unaided while someone went off to fetch a wheelchair for her. Once it arrived she promptly sat in it and did her best to look frail. When I saw her being pushed towards me by six, yes count ’em six of her travelling party I thought “You picked the wrong fucking day lady!”

I am always the first person on a Ryanair flight, I arrive early, I pay for priority boarding and I go directly to the boarding gate and cue rather than sit. I have flown with them countless times and I have not been the first person to board on only a handful of occasions. Those were because people with a genuine need to be boarded first were ahead of me, I had no problem with that, in fact I will usually offer to help carry a bag but this was complete bullshit designed to get her and her six companions on to a plane first. I called the girl from Ryanair over and told her point-blank that unless the woman produced a letter from her doctor there was no way she was getting on the plane ahead of me. The girl seemed somewhat taken aback and said “but sir she is in a wheelchair” to which I replied “no she is in a chair that has wheels there is a big fucking difference”. I told her the woman was perfectly fine while she was strolling about outside the airport or for that matter when she stood up to search her pockets for something while in the departure lounge. The woman herself  joined in at this stage and told me that I was being very rude, I told her to fuck off, that I wasn’t the one who was pretending to be crippled. The people immediately behind me realised that either the woman was trying it on or had suffered the fastest onset of ill-health in medical history. When the gate opened I simply walked through, as did the people behind me and the people behind them, in the end the woman sat there in her borrowed wheelchair while about half the people in the cue boarded ahead of her, like I said sometimes, just sometimes the world gives you just what you need.

Wednesday night brought a get together with Oisin from The Ship and a few friends for a welcome back / birthday drink. We started at The Founders Arms where Paul the manager took excellent care of myself Osh and Tim before John and Alice joined us and Paul impressed us all with his in-depth and widespread knowledge of the internet! We then moved on to The American Bar at The Savoy, it was my first visit since it reopened and it was amazing. The whole place looked incredible, the lobby managed to be both incredibly opulent and subtly understated. We popped our head into the Savoy Grill and quite simply I found the room I would like to eat my last ever meal in, wonderfully dark wood panelled walls, art deco design style and touches and starched white table linen that together just looked perfect. I have every intention of returning there very soon to dine, and a quick glance at the menu means I don’t have to sell my liver on eBay to pay for the liver in The Savoy.

The American Bar itself has the look and feel of a saloon bar on an old world liner, lots of quite intimate corners, staff in white jackets greet you at the door and ask you politely to wait for a minute while they ready your table. Once seated you are handed a drinks menu and treated to some rather excellent olives, be very careful though if your eating one when you open the menu as there is  a strong chance you will choke from the shock. The average cocktail is £15, now personally I am not used to paying that kind of money for a drink unless there is an oiled up pneumatic blonde dancing around a pole. Once I took time to study the menu (and make sure I hadn’t missed the strippers pole on the way in) I ordered a Golden Era which was as good a cocktail as I have ever had. Our night moved on to spotting Sir Ian McKellen in a converted public toilet while we cheered enthusiastically for one of the worst gay cabaret acts I’ve ever seen and ending the night in a haze of shots and hastily drank bottles of beer at The Roadhouse in Covent Garden, which is as close to a New York dive bar as I have ever seen outside of NYC.

On Thursday I dropped by The Ship for a chat with Dave the head chef. I asked him for his honest opinion and he said “you look weird and your Mum dresses you funny!”, so I clarified that I wanted his opinion of my chances of making it as a chef and he told me quite plainly that I was going to get he shit kicked out of me on service for the coming weeks. He needs me to be at a certain standard and the only way to get me there in a short amount of time is to throw me head long into service. I am not really going to improve by staying in the back handling prep or even putting dishes together, as good as my cottage pie is or as outstanding as my fish cakes are (it’s the very finely chopped fennel).

So Friday I arrived for the first day of my post honeymoon period as a chef. I have talked about how tough days have been before, I have been battered, bruised and burned after service, I have literally been on the verge of hitting the floor with exhaustion but to steal a line from the song by the much maligned musical genius that is Katie Price “It’s a whole new world”. I am expected not to need supervision, likewise I am expected to get things done at the same pace as the other chefs and most importantly I am expected to be able to keep up in service. I had a lot more to do on Friday than I would normally have but I was able to deal with it, then at 8pm after a full days work I was called into service.

It was the usual hectic Friday night, after work drinks turn into full nights out and that means getting something to eat, at The Ship that is almost always something that comes with fries or hand cut chips, which means work for me. Looking after the garnish section is hard work, you have to cover the biggest area of the kitchen, you generally have something on every check and you can fuck up a whole table of you are late or get something wrong. I won’t lie, I wont pretend I walked it, I didn’t. I fucking struggled, service was manic and Dave demanded I keep up. I had told him before I came back that I fully expected to get the crap kicked out of me and I didn’t want him to hold back, I would only get to where I needed to be if he pushed me.

I burnt my hand pretty badly, I messed up a fish cake order and while I was getting another fish cake ready I left the frying pan with the garnish of fennel and peas on the burner with the whole order for the table being delayed because of me I wasn’t thinking what I was doing, and the garnish was overcooked, I knew that looking at it and in a moment of rage I grabbed the handle with the intention of throwing the whole contents in the bin. Now several things go through your mind when you grab a scalding hot pan, things like “why the fuck didn’t I use a towel”, “oh sweet Jesus that’s hot”, “is someone cooking bacon?” but mostly its just “ffffuuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkk”. The only response you get from the other chefs is “whats keeping this order, hurry the fuck up”. If I was struggling with two hands I was really struggling with just one. Somehow I kept going through the rush, I was on autopilot for most of it, only vaguely aware of the screaming pain in my right hand and refusing to look at the clock. I knew if I looked at it once I would be glancing at it every 15 seconds willing the hands to move faster. We finished service around half 10, cleaned down and while the guys had a post work beer I could think only of a bus ride home and crawling into bed.

Saturday was to be another double shift with a two hour break at 4pm but the arrival of our sous chef Robbie’s new baby son meant that we would be without him, if he follows in his fathers footsteps then Robbie’s son should be terrorising commis chefs in no time. I was asked to work through my break and finish up around 8.30pm which meant more work, no rest but home to bed earlier, so I said yes. This means that while the rest of the kitchen team take a break you  are the only person behind the pass. It’s only the classic’s menu but it’s a lot to get used to, you are also trying to get some prep done for the guys when they come back, feed the hordes of waiting staff who hover round the pass looking like the kind of zombies you would expect to see in the music video for Mumfords & Sons cover version of Thriller muttering “staff fooooood, staff foooood” and just to make my life more miserable having to plate the desserts for those having a very late lunch. It was tough but knowing I was finishing early was like an extra adrenaline boost and I managed to get through.

We had some very high profile diners this weekend, legendary private chef Luke Mackay (no really it says legendary on his business cards) and Donal and Ray from Harry’s Restaurant in Donegal who have won pretty much every award in Ireland this year including Georgina Campbell Restaurant of the Year, Bridgestones Best in Ireland, The Irish Derby at the Curragh and a by-election in Cavan / Monaghan. All were great fun, Luke from what he remembers of the evening had a great birthday meal as did the 16 friends he emotionally blackmailed into joining him and Donal and Ray joined us for a late bite and then a few later beers before kicking off their culinary tour of London.

It was great talking to chefs and getting encouragement from them for what I am doing and right now I need it. Sitting down and looking at this with objectivity it looks barely possible, the money is what the money is and the money is shit. An average week will leave me with about £30 after rent, bills and food. The other option is to work so many hours that I make money while not having time to spend any, this is looking more likely with the coming weeks hours. I want to do so many things and this is my way forward, I love what I do. I get more pride out of telling people I am chef than I did telling people I was an event manager who had done events with The Kaiser Chiefs, The Scissor Sisters or Go West. I get to cook with a great bunch of guys who are all passionate about food, none of them are doing this just as a job, they love it, they live for food, there is so much knowledge there and they are all happy to share what they know. I want to repay their faith and the effort they have put into me, I want if possible to put their side of the story across, let people appreciate just how hard these guys work for you. I just didn’t think that when I embarked on this new life I would have to give up so much of my old life.

Twitter.com/CorkGourmetGuy

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