Whisper it quietly, in hushed tones to empty rooms far away from any eavesdroppers but I just may make it as a chef!
I am as stunned as you are believe me, but at some point between Saturday and Sunday it kind of clicked. I can’t really explain it, ok well obviously I fucking have to try as this would be a pretty short blog if I didn’t. Last week as you know was Hell, no other word for it, by the time it ended I had pushed myself to and past breaking point, I was a wreck physically and emotionally.
I was, for the first time not excited about starting a new week in the kitchen. However when I got into work on Thursday there was a different mood about the place. Maybe they read my last blog or maybe they had seen how close I was to blowing my stack last week but something had definitely changed. I was hardly into my whites when Emma, who does a fantastic job at marketing The Ship despite being a Welshist, dropped by to tell me that The Irish Times had been on the phone and wanted to do an interview with me. Now obviously when Emma told me completely out of the blue that the biggest newspaper in my home country wanted to do an article about me my reaction was “hardly surprising, I am after all a culinary demigod” actually it was more like “yeah right, sure they do”.
It turns out they did want to interview me and did that just. I had pictured that my media interviews would take place over long lazy lunches in posh restaurant while myself and a reporter gave their expense account good battering. In reality it was a 15 minute phone chat, while sitting in the changing room surrounded by old whites, cleaning supplies and coats but it was still an interview with Marie-Claire Digby of the actual Irish Times. We chatted about how I got into cooking, who influenced me and why my blog contained so many swear words. Fucked if I know the answer to the last one! I was even asked could I have a photo taken in my whites and send it on. I chatted to Osh about it and it was decided it was best to wait until Friday when the fresh delivery of whites came in, so I could look my best. To be honest I am surprised he didn’t suggest I wear a flashing sandwich board with the daily specials on it!
I worked 2 busy services on Thursday and got a some prep done for the weekend. On Friday looking positively shiny in my spanking clean whites I posed for my close up as Emma, who has been like my Girl Friday this week. demonstrated a previously unknown (well to me anyway) talent for photography. Needless to say the other chefs were incredibly supportive of my photo shoot and didn’t rip the utter piss out of me at all, no, no not at all. We faced a manic service on Friday night, but I felt I was ok, I was constantly reviewing the checks, trying to stay ahead of where I was. I was getting stuff ready to go in anticipation of Dave our head chef calling it away. I was even finding time to jump on the starter section and help out Fabio who was getting swamped. You see it was pay-day for most of South West London on Friday so having appeased their Visa guilt, the locals were living large and treating themselves to starters and steaks while they were flush with a months pay and were celebrating buying their TV back from Cash Converters. The last few days before they got paid of eating tinned beans and no lunch (or as I call it fur coat and no knickers week) had to be expunged from memory with 3 courses and a small lake of wine. At 10 past 9 the restaurant was rammed but the food was moving out of the kitchen at an incredible rate, Robbie the sous chef even turned to tell those of us on the pass to keep it up and we would clear the board by 10pm. A mere 10 minutes later though I dropped the ball, well not just the ball, I dropped both teams of players, the stadium and the burger van parked outside. I got distracted with an order of sliders that came in from the bar, I fucking love people who order tiny burgers in the middle of a fucking rammed bar / restaurant at 20 past 9 on a fucking Friday night (next time I am going to throw the tiny patties at them and lend them my lighter and tell them to cook the fuckers themselves as I am busy serving grown ups their dinner), and I missed two fishcakes. Completely missed them! It’s like they never fucking existed, they were like Steve Brookstein if he been dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried (go on Google him then go “oh yeah now I remember him” and then come back). This is bad enough but when you hear that they were on a check with 5 other mains which are all sitting prettily on the pass waiting to be sent out you just want to stick your head in the fucking fryer.
I was all over the place after that, I just couldn’t get my rhythm back and struggled badly through the rest of service. I had been on a little high before that, I had started to feel I was getting a handle on the section and getting on top of service but after that I was a fucking wreck. I wanted to slink from the kitchen, I knew that I had fucked the rest of the service for everyone and the dreams of a near legendary 10pm Friday night finish was in ruins. Gutted isn’t the word for it, I felt like I had fumbled an easy catch under my own posts only to see it picked up by the opposition winger who canters in for a match winning try as the final whistle goes.
Saturday was prep day but quickly became burger day, something about this weekend meant everyone wanted a burger, between Saturday and Sunday I made 30 kilos of burgers, or to give it an exact scientific term “a fucking boat load of burgers” and we sold every last one of them. I worked on Sunday roast prep with Damo, who arrived bright and early and fully rested first thing on Saturday morning. It was tough going getting everything ready as well as keeping the pass supplied during a seriously busy day. We still got everything squared away and the last thing I did was marinate the beef for Sunday lunch.
Then came Sunday, it may have been known as the Lords day but not any more pal. I own that fucking day, it’s mine now, God can have Tuesday if he wants. I got in early, about 20 past 9 and got straight at it. I poached some cod for fishcakes as we were completely out, got some burger buns ready to allow them prove and bake them off and then I was told I could cook the beef. Normally the beef is cooked in “sous-vide” or in a water bath but not this day, this day 3 massive black frying pans were heated to the point of melting before the beef was introduced, flames leapt up past the salamander as I seared the beef joints 3 at a time in a fury of flame and roasting fat, I must have looked positively demonic as I danced between the pans turning each piece of meat at exactly the right moment. Then I transferred them to roasting dishes and only at this point did I season them, rubbing the salt and pepper deep into the beef.
This set me up for the day, my confidence came flooding back, as the crowd arrived for lunch I was up and moving. Damo and I were plating the roasts in the back, normally a daunting task but we were all over it baby, I was finding time to knock up a salsa verde, make a 15 kilo burger mix, as well as shaping the burgers. Checks were being dealt with in moments, not once did anyone come in from the pass demanding to know where dishes were. We were delivering them to the pass, we were holding back on occasion to make sure the pass were in step with us, this is unheard of on Sunday’s. Unbeknown to me Ben Greeno, formerly of Noma was in for lunch and dropped in to say hi, it turned out he had the beef, I casually enquired as to how it was and he said it was really good, I calmly informed him that I had cooked it start to finish. I say calmly, inside a voice was yelling “Ben Greeno said the beef that you fucking cooked was great, why are you standing here, run you bastard, run to the restaurant, jump on a table and do your patented celebration dance!”. Luckily for the sake of my cool hand presona and the poor people who would have had to try carry on eating while I danced on their table I managed to resist the urge.
After that there was no stopping me, I even learned to fettle while helping Muzzy, a supremely talented chef and serial actress shagger, deal with a dessert ticket. He told me to “fettle those sticky toffee puddings into the autosham” and I did like a natural. Then when disaster struck at 5pm, when I was due to take my break I simply said “I will work through my break and fix this”. We had no desserts, I mean fucking none, but a little over an hour later and thanks in large part to me we had apple and pear crumble and a plum tart for diners to gorge themselves on. I never felt so good in a kitchen, getting more compliments later from others who had eaten the beef made me almost light-headed, but it was the respect I got from the other chefs that made my day. There was a “fuck it, you know this guy might just make it” in their eyes, even Robbie went a whole 12 hours without telling me to speed up. I finished early as a reward and went to the bar to have a well-earned pint. The money is still shit and I know I can’t live on it, but right now I don’t want to think about that, now I just want to think about Sunday and what it felt like to be a proper chef.