Monday, 31 March 2008

The Forest of Culinary Delights

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been...... Sorry, wrong window. New online confessional. Saves time and in the comfort of your own home, outstanding. Anyway, here we go again......

Bonsoir mes pâtés en croûte cornouaillais désireux!

What a wondrous week it has been. A valued member of my Kitchen staff has left for pastures new, a new member of Kitchen staff has arrived, but only for a month as she will be acquiring her own kitchen in approximately 4 weeks, and my kitchen porter forgot to put his timepiece forward on Sunday making him TWO hours late for work (Yes, it puzzled me too !). Also this week, I have noticed my 'groupies' have vanished! I am forlorn and pine for them with inconsolable tears......okay, that's long enough. As always, duty calls and i must now focus on one of the most infuriating topics that has surrounded the Industry since the beginning of time itself ......CUSTOMERS!

I realise that without the mass of clientele descending upon my restaurant, I would have little purpose upon this green and pleasant land. I imagine I would be working in Insurance or Greggs Bakery and that does not fill me with a great amount of joy! I love to cook, there is no doubt in my mind that being a Chef is an honor and a privilege that should be held close to the most hardened heart. A Chef strives for greatness, yearns for recognition and will push on through the River Styx if he feels it will move his career forward. In the life of a true Chef, they will forgo Family and Friends, endure long hours, very little in way of a salary and atrocious conditions to ensure their legacy will be remembered. So why do certain patrons feel they have the God given right to bamboozle waitresses, insult bar staff and turn an amiable Chef into a gargantuan minotaur which would send even Satan cowering behind the sorbet machine crying like a little girl!

Clicking fingers, whistling and general bad manners will not get you served any quicker. Neither will bellowing the bartenders name, obscene language or waving your money in the air like you are trying to attract a stripper in a seedy lap dancing club. There used to be an etiquette when waiting to be served. I believe its called 'waiting your turn'. A small populous in this country seem to feel that the universe revolves around them getting their Stella Artois and Tikka Masala before Armageddon arrives or a vogon constructor fleet eradicates earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass with the biggest inter-galactic Little Chef you've ever seen.

The 'Have It Your Way' society that was created and lovingly nurtured by a certain Fast Food Chain is starting to get out of control. Chefs' create dishes for a reason. Not only do they take into account the changing seasons but also the flavours of the ingredients they use, that is what makes the dish......FLAVOURS! Garnishing will usually come under this heading also. A good example to prove my point is quite simply Fish and Chips. A fresh chunk of Saltwater Cod dipped into a light batter, fried till golden in colour and served with hand-cut chips, gently seasoned garden peas and homemade Tartare Sauce (sounds like an advert for M&S). There is no mention of Tomato Ketchup, Baked Beans or Brown Sauce in the Escoffier. These offending items should be removed from circulation and thrown on large bonfires made from chip cartons and Ronald McDonalds' wig collection. (For those of you who are interested, the Escoffier is the Chefs' Bible and is available in most good bookshops or online priced around £15.00 including delivery. You won't be disappointed). Those flavours are meant to be together. That is the purpose of their existence. To add anything other than a good helping of roughly chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon is sheer sacrilege and over-indulgence.

Another British abomination that should be eradicated from all menus in the UK is......The Mixed Grill! A large plate, usually oval in shape, with enough meat and fat to give even the healthiest diner an instant coronary. Why chomp, chew and coagulate all that meat together? I can guarantee that by the time you have yomped your way through even half of the humongous meal, you will have no idea which meat is which. In fact you could probably ingest the dish a lot quicker if I put it through a blender and served it up as a milkshake! It would still taste the same.

Next time you venture out for a well-earned meal, celebratory dinner or luncheon with the bridge club, think before you squeeze that ketchup bottle with the congealed lid. Spare a thought for that succulent piece of Salmon before it becomes smothered in an over-seasoned, heavy cream sauce. Ponder over your juicy Fillet Steak without reaching for the HP. In my world plain is not boring, its sensual and exciting. Its almost emotional. A world without condiments is a world full of flavours, eager to show how good things taste without so-called enhancements and mono-sodium glutamate. Simplicity is the key. Let it be your guide on your adventure through the Forest of Culinary Delights. If we carry on the forest will be burnt to a cinder. Charred and forgotten from neglect.

Which brings me to my final gripe of today. Many terms exist for this repulsive style of cooking. It eats away at the hearts of many Chefs' around the globe. We detest, despise and in no way condone this act of pure evil which has permeated the thoughts of the general public for centuries. To utter these words turns my stomach, is usually followed by heavy retching and sometimes even uncontrollable vomiting. I am talking, of course, about the black piece of cardboard that is......THE WELL DONE STEAK!

In the Beginning, God created Man, Woman, then a whole bunch of other stuff and eventually the Cow. A source of meat, milk, leather for posing pouches and hooves for gelatin. A black and white quadruped that would adorn vans, trucks, milk cartons and Chefs' trousers for years to come (I did not own a pair and anyone who says any different is talking UDDER nonsense......Sorry, couldn't help it). So for such a useful creature, a staple in most peoples' diet, we should really show a little more respect than cremating its succulent offerings, slapping it on a plate and dousing it in those hated condiments. Once a steak has been cooked past medium, it is ruined. All the flavour and moisture has been evaporated into the atmosphere, lost for good. There is no way anyone can tell a Chef that it tastes good, as there is no taste. It has become a tasteless mass of nothingness. I implore you from the depth of my heart and soul try your hardest not to utter such profanity to your waiter or waitress. Pluck up the courage to give medium a shot. You may like it and want to give medium-rare a go next time. If it isn't right for you, then Chef can always stamp on it and chuck it back under the grill for an hour. At least you will have tried and at the end of the day, that is all we Chefs' ask of you, our customers, just to try!

My time on this post has come to an end but soon I will return to enlighten and entertain you all. Until then I will leave you to explore the Forest, just don't get lost on the way and end up eating Scallops with an iPod in your ears playing sounds of the ocean. Thats not simplicity......its pure stupidity!

Yours Humbly

Le Chef Grincheux

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Is The Pen Mightier Than The Sabatier......?

Bon après-midi mon Escoffiers désireux.

For centuries, Chefs' have been concocting, inventing, creating and toiling over food. Developing dish after exquisite dish and even re-inventing timeless classics to move with society's ever-evolving quirks and quibbles. When a young naive boy begins his quest for the knowledge of the culinary ancestors, Careme, Larousse and Escoffier spring to mind, he begins a journey of learning and fulfilment. From the moment he steps out of the changing room looking like a badly dressed clown in over sized clogs and a skull cap, he feels complete. From the first cheese souffle that hasn't suffered brewers droop to his final Chateaubriand with Sauce Bernaise that could give the Roux Bothers a run for their money he will still remember how, when and who got him there. He will reminisce over the path he has walked as his mentally tortured brain and battered torso slowly work their way toward the Holy Grail......Retirement!

It's like an esoteric passion. It flows through the veins of most Chefs' I have had the pleasure of knowing, even working with, and even though this passion may be hidden to begin with it is drawn from your very soul to the surface by the colleagues and masters you learn from.

All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, all your toil, training and tears have paid off. You rise like that first light and airy cheese souffle and you've cracked it, Head Chef! Now things are different. Now, you have reached your pinnacle. You can now spend time at home with family and friends knowing your kitchen will run with military precision. Your staff well trained, hand picked by you personally, will continue working to your style and consistancy. A well oiled machine roaring away to serve eager clientele. Unfortunately, this is where the dream begins to fade. Not so much fade as collapse, dare i say implode.

If this were 10 to 20 years ago, I would have stopped writing now. My story would be over, but it is just beginning. These days, Head Chefs' are no longer creating or developing dishes as much as you are led to believe. The real Chefs', the ones in hotels and restaurants, might be becoming a bit tetchy. The impression you may get from the television is of Celebrity Chefs' teaching the general public how to cook pasta or presenting T.V shows for the descerning house buyer. Meanwhile the real unsung heroes of this Industry are sitting at home or in their sub-level offices trying to write a report on why they do actually need a Kitchen Porter to wash dishes at the weekend. Why 4 Chefs' are better than 3 or trying to justify the reason why they are using Beef and not Quorn because the EU have decided to shut off imports from Brazil, which is the largest importer for Beef in the country, and in-turn has pushed the price of UK Beef up so much that fillet steak will soon become a thing of the past. It is a puzzlement that at the moment in the media we are being bombarded with words like 'free-range', 'organic' and 'local because, although it is grown in this country, it is more expensive than importing it from third world countries. How can that be? I can buy a lettuce from France and it will cost almost half the price of a British lettuce that came from 5 miles away!

Because of large companies, most high level Chefs' have become pencil pushers and now do very little cooking at all. Though it is possible that Chef is doing a large amount of cooking (lack of staff due to cutbacks), but still trying to get the masses of paperwork for numerous governing bodies finished so he might be able to have some family time on his day off! Let's put the cards on the table. I don't know of one Chef that moved into this Industry to sit behind a tiny desk in a small, cramped office while being pounded by the bosses for using one too many onions in the Ratatouille! Its crazy to think that it could happen, but its so very true.

Chefs' no longer have the freedom they used to. In my opinion, the media have a lot to answer for, as do the Celebrity Chefs'. The Catering Industry has changed and at the moment it has changed for the worst. Corporations and conglomerates own this game we call cooking. Money men with too much time playing golf than actually seeing what goes on within a working kitchen. Discussing how many movements a person has to make to chop a carrot or open a fridge door, is it feasible this way or that and why dont' we just buy the vegetables in prepared so we can sack another Commis, save a bit of cash and then we can all buy new BMWs'.

It is a war my friends and the battlelines will soon be drawn. Who knows who will win. I will be standing proud on the side of the Sabatier, where will you be?

Before I go though, something caught my eye in the news this week. Gordon Ramsay is set to open his first Culinary School in Surrey. Nice to see your keeping to your Scottish roots Gordon. As we all know, Surrey is the ideal place for a culinary school due to its need to get youngsters off the streets and into a promising career. Or could it be that it is due to the Range Rovers, million pound houses and the fact that he wouldn't have to face two of his biggest failures, Amaryllis at One Devonshire Gardens and Glasgow Rangers!

I am now off to wash my mouth out with carbolic soap so I bid a fond farewell to you all.

Au revoir et peut la force être avec vous

Monday, 24 March 2008

Under Construction......

Buen día mis bollos pegajosos!

Snow, Snow everywhere......but not enough to throw a snowball at the MET office! I hope you are all fine and keeping toasty with lashings of whiskey, hot chocolate and deep fried icecream (yes, it is possible!). Despite the constant warnings of a freak and potentially life threatening snow storm in Cheshire reverberating around my kitchen from the transistor radio today (stereo or hi-fi for all you younger ones out there), the smattering of white particles that drifted from the sky earlier could only have been described as "God brushing the dandruff from his brand new Lyle and Scott argyle sweater before taking in a round with Jack Frost and the Loch Ness Monster". In many other parts of the country, quite possibly your hometown, vast amounts of snow have been tumbling from the sky knocking out motorways, railways and also grounding a large amount of air traffic. Although the Weathermen do seem to get it right 99.9% of the time, they obviously have a satellite that misses Cheshire out and have to guess roughly what the weather will be. I must say though, I now have a great tan as no one came into the restaurant today, they were told to stay home because of the snow!

Yet, I am now digressing from the purpose of this post. As you may well have guessed, there appear to be a few changes on the site and I am urging you all not to panic, stock up on provisions, do not venture outside (unless you have run out of Martini Bianco and Glace Cherries) and keep wrapped up nice and warm. Please bare with me as I am working (mainly at night/early hours of the morning) on a different layout and style for the blog, making it more pleasing to the eye, more accessible and easier to use for the over 60s (you know who you are!).

I thank you in advance for your patience and promise it will not be too long before I am delving into the catering underworld again. Meanwhile, remember to visit my sister site, The Chefs Prayer, new recipe within the next few days, April will soon be upon us so keep your eyes peeled on the 'In Season' section and keep checking back here for visual and written updates.

Adiós mis popsicles queridos.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Culinary Artistry?

Guter Tag meine kleinen Würste. Another day is upon us (quite inevitable really) and here, within the Cheshire countryside, life moves at its usual pace. The hoi polloi are journeying homeward from the cities and towns, motoring along the highways and by-ways in their 4x4 tractors and plush sports cars. Cruising to the latest Pop Idol/X Factor clap-trap at an annoyingly loud volume, oozing from the inadequate speakers on their factory fitted, high-fidelity sound systems. Meanwhile, the industrial kitchens prepare for the onslaught.

Cooker ranges, char-grills, deep-fat fryers and heavy duty ovens are fired up while Chefs' don their pristine white jackets, checked trousers and toques blanche. The resonance of stainless steel against diamante encrusted metal as knives are sharpened to a keen edge ensuring that any slip in the wrong direction, during the preparation of produce, will result in an accidental cut not being felt by the user. Food stuffs are being prepared with care and respect. Table surfaces are polished to a glistening sheen, Kitchen Porters stack plates in hot cupboards, sweep the floors and dispose of lunchtime rubbish bags into gigantic waste bins outside. The atmosphere and tension will begin to mount soon as the patrons begin to arrive in their droves, preparing for a night of culinary artistry and excellence. Before long, the Dance of the Morons will begin, a crescendo of "Check On" and "Table Clear" will echo amid the white tiled walls of the kitchen, hackles will rise and the minions will shudder with petrification as the Chef begins his tirade of language and verbal abuse, everything coming together in perfect synchronisation......organised chaos......a tense, exquisite harmony.

Its a wonderful thing, almost beautifully idyllic, when a busy service begins. So much happening and going on throughout the whole restaurant, front of house and also back in the depths of the kitchens. So much excitement, you can feel exhilarated, so much adrenaline pumping through your veins, pushing yourself harder and faster to keep up with the demand from the customers.

So why is it, that some over eager, experimental American artist, is putting on a piece of "modern art" at the Tate Modern, titled 'Making A Salad', and expecting to gain notoriety from such a piece of excrement? I thought Tracy Emin was bad for just being a manky cow, not tidying her bedroom, then cutting it out of her house and entering the pointless piece in for the Turner Prize. Its a load of cobblers! I believe its along the lines of giving the Nobel Prize to Ronald McDonald for creating the McRib, giving Colonel Sanders the Humanitarian award and informing the Wimpy chain that they will be awarded a Michelin Star for their restaurants because they use a seeded bun as opposed to the non-seeded bun of the other, more popular groups.

The event curator, Kathy Noble commented "It's a participatory event in every sense. The work of the chefs, the observation of the audience and then their chance to eat what they have seen put together." Well, that still sounds like a bag of grapefruits to me. In fact I think its preposterous that an over-rated 1960's feminist (who probably hasn't seen a razor or bar of soap in years) has the audacity to go and produce such nonsense with no apparent reason other than to feed 300 or so snotty art school students, lecturers and gormless passers-by.

Myself and possibly a few Chefs' reading this might well agree, that they have already achieved such a feat. Possibly even catering for more than 300 people at one time, and certainly more than just a basic salad. Yet, I have a phenomenal idea.

My brainwave is this; petition the Tate Modern and the artist herself, state that until she can do a 5 course meal, for approximately 500 people, in a marquee, in a field with only 1 gas stand-pipe, a 4 ring stove and a portable baking oven, minimal staff as the others have called in sick due to "a dodgy kebab" and the possibility of torrential rain and gale force winds, only then should she be able to get on her high horse and start mouthing off about a bloody salad!

On that rather abrupt, finishing note I am off now to contemplate the upcoming weekend. As I'm sure you are all aware, it is Easter time once again. A weekend where the whole nation collects their thoughts and emotions and heads off to Church to begin this religious weekend as good neighbours, as a community, as a whole......hang on, that's Italy. The majority of Brits' will see this weekend as they always do, an extra 2 days off work for no reason whatsoever, a time to drink copious amounts of alcohol, eat there own weight in junk food and possibly, if they have enough time left, mow the lawn on Monday before they must return to the hum-drum of modern life. We, my elated eggplants, will be on the Front Line, meat forks and carving knives at the ready, praying for its end. We are the forgotten Culinary Soldiers, a myth in peoples minds, because, who in their right mind would work a Bank Holiday weekend?
Gute Nacht und gutes Glück.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Downfall Of An Industry

Greetings my culinary Van goghs'. As you can see, the Blog is starting to take shape and a few small changes have been tried and tested for your reading and listening pleasure. I fear I must apologise for the lack of posts recently, what with Mothering Sunday and an unexpected week off it has put me behind my ever-expanding schedule causing a ripple effect. ( It has transpired that there are only 24 hours in a day, which I have come to the conclusion is not enough for a Chef on the brink of exhaustion, manic depression and complete mental collapse.) I'm sure some of you will agree with myself and understand that the chavs of this world search for the mystical concept of pure enlightenment; meaning sitting on your arse being an out-of-work, benefit grabbing scrounger who has spent too much time on games consoles rather than looking for the prospect of a JOB and self fulfilment! My yearning in life is to learn their unique ways and follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest and most infamous chavs, layabouts and skivvers; Mike Skinner, Tracey Emin and Goldie Lookin' Chain of course, this is after I have delved into the current world of idiocy, lunacy and mashup that is cooking!

On that bombshell I give you this months rant. Students! In fact even worse, Catering College Students. Wannabe Ramsay's and Oliver's with no sense of direction, style or purpose. The ever expanding universe that is food has become flooded with jumped up, ignorant oinks taking an industry of purity and finesse, stuffing it with foie gras, wrapping with chorizo and pomegranete seeds, then deep frying it in extortionatley expensive extra virgin olive oil. Serving the resulting over flavoured swamp turd on a bed of grated carrot, celeriac and pilchards, drizzled with a sauce of pressed oysters and sweet basil and finishing with a sprinkle of brickdust!

Why has food become so complicated? Why do Chefs' feel the urge to cram as many flavours as possible into a single, extravagant dish give it a fancy name and sell it at such an exorbitant price so only the Bill Gates and A.A. Gills' of this world will ever taste such a monstrosity? I know not, my fellow Kumquats. The upcoming culinary geniuses these days are ruining the classics which we hold dear to our hearts. People seem to have forgotten the roots and heritage of a dying industry, the traditional and classical dishes from which rudamentary cooking is based upon. Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice cream is not the colourful masterpiece it claims to be, nor is Carpaccio of Cauliflower (Raw) and Chocolate Jelly and you wonder why when you go out to eat you need a second mortgage on your home and have to dip into the trust fund you have set up for your childs' university education?

What has happened to pitch perfect Coq-au-Vin, Stew and Dumplings, Handmade Irish Soda Bread and Rich Arran Cheese? Foods and dishes from all over the British Isles and Europe, recipes being handed down from generation to generation, the pursuit of acquiring the most natural produce to create a classic and not something that looks like it should be hung in the The Tate Modern. All this airy-fairy nonsense is killing what was once a lucrative and exciting industry. Not only is this new age food causing us problems as consumers, the government, economic climate and rising prices of essential produce are contributing more so than you think.

Soon you won't be able to eat out unless the restaurant has checked your bank balance and off-shore accounts for accessible funds. It will cost a small fortune to drive anywhere or get a cab so I now urge you to think about your actions when you pick up the telephone and ring your favourite restaurant to book your usual table on Sunday for your family. I implore you to STOP, THINK and CHANGE YOUR MIND! Try this suggestion instead, cook for yourselves. Make it a family affair, have fun creating something that the whole family will enjoy. Stop these kitchen oddities from becoming reality by relishing in spending time with your family at home, it really is enlightening and if you dont get on with your family......go to McDonalds (Its cheaper).

On that explosive, monumental comment that will most likley see me out of work within the next few days I would like to bid you farewell. Although, before I go back to the white-tiled walls of my hot, sweaty prison I would like to unveil the start of a new project for all you culinary types. A new web page has appeared on the world wide web which I thought would be of interest to some and the mind-numbing death of others. "The Chefs' Prayer - A Tranquil Haven For Culinary Outcasts" will be online, hopefully in the very near future, with a collection of recipes, catering news and monthly produce reports. I have placed a Link for your convenience under the heading "Links" on the sidebar of this page.

Adeiu my little Loganberries, Bon Nuit!