Ok so paraphrasing a Robbie Williams song isn’t the coolest start to a much overdue blog post but it’s a line that is pretty apt. When I started this journey, this rapid decent into insanity as it could be termed, I received some amazing support, some puzzled looks and some rather direct comments that I would never make it. There have been times when I almost agreed with them, I would stagger from the kitchen battered and bruised not knowing how I would summon the energy to get home let alone come back the following day and do it all again. I would lie awake in bed literally unable to sleep despite my exhaustion because of how my whole body ached, even now there are nights when my hamstrings will tighten up to such an extent it causes me incredible pain, but I persevered.
When I was at my lowest, at the end of January / start of February, when the hours and work seemed endless, I was approached about a job as an event manager by a recruitment company. I did go and meet them and their client and they offered me about twice the money for half the work I was getting at the time. I didn’t go home and think about it, I went home and practiced what I would say to Osh at The Ship when I told him I was leaving to go back to events. I knew he would be disappointed but Osh and I were mates before I entered a kitchen and we will be mates long after I have left it, I fervently plan to still be drinking with him while being wildly politically incorrect when we are in our dotage (to be fair it’s a mental state that’s not too far off for either of us), but I figured he would see it as I gave it my best shot. Then I thought, you know what fuck it, you haven’t given it your best shot, you’re still standing, you’re still breathing in and out so how the fuck have you given your all. When I woke up the next morning it was the girl at the recruitment company that I left disappointed. It was a decision that would have lead any psychiatric professional to measure me up for one of those long jumpers whose arms tie securely at the back but crazily it was the best decision of my life.
It’s a few months on now and so much has changed. For the first time since it all began when people ask me what I do I tell them simply “I’m a chef”. Gone is the long winded explanation about being a food writer who wanted to try his hand at it, gone is the humble shoulder shrug when people tell me how brave I am to give it a go, I’ve fucking earned the right to call myself a chef. I’ve proved to those I work with that I can be relied upon to get the job done, that I can be trusted and that no matter what it takes I will be standing at the end of service. I recently worked back to back shifts of 13hours without a break either day because we were in the shit, on the second day I insisted others take a break and I would work through, I smashed service on the busiest BBQ in London, I ran the pass and manned the grill and put up plate after plate of fucking good food. My head chef told me I was a soldier, a comment that nearly knocked me over, 26 hours of continuous work over 2 manic days could not put me down but that line nearly floored me. It was on the Saturday night during a wind down and a smoke and I had been rostered to be in at 8am the next morning. Dave turned to me and said that it was ok to come in at 10am and I simply said there was work that needed doing at 8am and I would be there at 8am and you know what? I was, and I worked straight through till 7pm that night to help out.
I’m not sure why I did it, I think in part it was watching the attitude of the chefs at the KaiWeCare charity dinner, they way the all pulled together (cue Johnny Mountain with a “soggy biscuits” joke) to get the job done. I saw the respect they had for each other, yes the piss taking was merciless and the winding each other up constant but there was an obvious respect that was ever present. It made me see my job and my profession differently, it made me realise that at times that respect was lacking on my part in the kitchen. I’m a cocky bastard, there is no other way of saying it, it’s not a boast, it’s not an apology, it’s simply a statement. I’m used to being my own man and adjusting to life at the bottom of the kitchen hierarchy was far from easy, in fact it was the toughest thing I had to learn and if I’m really honest I didn’t try as hard as I should have to learn it. There were times I should have bitten my tongue or simply kept my head down but I didn’t. When I went back into the kitchen after KaiWeCare I went in knowing that I owed it to the guys in there to do better, to show that while it took me 4 months I realised just how much I needed to show that I was grateful for the chance they had given me. Oddly enough, despite the array of Michelin Star boys and the countless rosette holders it was 2 guys I work with every day who brought it home to me. Damien “Damo” Perry and Jordan “insert cool nickname here” Hopkins both from The Ship came to help out on the day and they were fucking superstars, no other word does them justice and that one actually falls short. The only thing they asked all day was what they could do next to help. They were the first in the door and they were the last chefs to stop working.
I had handed in my notice at The Ship before the event, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do, seeing all the talent on display in that kitchen made me think that if the reason I am doing this is to be the best then at 35 I simply didn’t have the years it would take to reach that standard. I also realised that I missed the buzz of the events game, it’s similar to cheffing but with far more fire fighting along the way, a 6am start and a 4.30am finish the following day seems an odd way to come to the conclusion you missed something but it’s how it worked. I intend to do a full post on KaiWeCare very soon (actually it will be after my tea with the Prime Minister of New Zealand this coming Tuesday as that seems the right place to reflect) so I will leave reference to it there except to say again, the the level of committment, the work load and the level achieved by everyone involved was as humbling as it awe inspiring.
I did decide that I would leave on a high note, and it’s been pretty much nothing but high notes the last couple of weeks. We’ve been busier than I have ever seen but I’ve been loving it. Oddly enough as my finishing day draws closer I know I will miss the place more and more. Instead of quite understandably marginalizing me due to my impending departure I have found myself with more responsibility and the acknowledgement that I have lived up to it. I don’t want to make this piece sound like an advert for the place but the people who turn up there to work day after day and do what they do are incredible. I have made friends there and I know if I ever wander down for a pint and see them getting hit on the BBQ I will be more than happy to pull on some whites and help them smash another service.
So what next? Well you’re going to have to wait a little bit for that, at least till the ink is dry on the paperwork but it’s as exciting as it is daunting, then again I’m the poster boy for “go big or go home” so I doubt you’re surprised.
And for those who said I’d never make it? What else would you expect me to say but “fuck you!”