Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Vice City

Bonsoir mes omletes wonderous de baleine!

The Bank Holiday is looming over the horizon and the rooster is preparing his morning overture to awaken the masses, ushering in the weekend of fried foods, alcohol and an extra day off. I'm sure the rooster means well, but I will serve him up in my classic Coq au Vin recipe for my eager consumers. I'm sorry, I just cannot stand a pushy bird!

This coming weekend, for many kitchens, will be a bombardment of screaming children, adolescents in baseball caps and hoodies, middle-aged Peter Stringfellows' and blue rinse brigade o.a.p's, all foraging for their reformed chicken teddies, homemade beef burgers with relish on the side, burnt sirloin steaks with gravy and battered cod and chips. I have always wondered how I, personally, have managed the onslaught that is a Bank Holiday and now I have the answer. It is a variety of items you will use everyday yet as a Chef, I use to the point of overkill and mass indulgence.

First, we have coffee. For those of you who drink the delectable brown sludge, I would hope you would understand where I am coming from. The first cup of the morning is like a breath of fresh air, a rude awakening to the imminence of a busy, hard working day ahead. It 'sets us up' to be prepared for anything. Reviving our withered, exhausted bodies from a gentle slumber. As the first sip flows down the gullet it slowly rises to a crescendo of "Good morning world, here I am, give me your best shot!" After my tenth cup though, I am starting to wither. The buzz has gone. Even an extra hit of espresso in my standard Latte doesn't help. So its on to phase two.

Second, we have sugar. Most people will partake in a tub of Hagen Daz during a good film or that sneaky danish pastry while out shopping. For me, I don't think you can beat chocolate fudge cake. This is not just any fudge cake though, oh no, its also laced with two robust layers of dark fudge, rich chocolate icing and succulent chocolate fondant and the only way to make it even better is to drench it in in thick, luke warm custard and finally dust it with a blizzard of icing sugar. Over-indulgence never tasted so good. As you pour the custard on you can hear the cake soaking every last morsel up like a sponge. I then make another coffee.

Third, we have bread. Lightly toasted ciabatta, with a diced chicken mayonnaise, fresh roquette, sliced plum tomatoes and basil pesto. Sounds healthy, but certainly not in reality. Full-fat mayo, pesto and ciabatta. Full of extra virgin olive oil, enhancers and covered with lashings of butter. As I am sure you all know, any type of bread in vast quantities is bad for your waistline. If you have a jar of Hellmans in the fridge, look at the fat content and as for pesto, its mainly just oil! Omit the 'bad' stuff and it ain't going to be much fun, is it? After another coffee......

Last, and by no means least, I will treat myself to another derivative of the sugar family......Jellybeans. The Food of the Gods is among us and comes in the form of a bean. You can't just have one jellybean or even two, it has to be all or nothing! Each flavour opens a world of nostalgia to the consumer. Summer days of building 'dens', riding bikes through the local woods and football on the bright green common spring from every memory gland within the brain. A sugar rush of great magnitude pushes you further through your evening, egging you on into the final furlong of service.

As the evening draws to a close, your on your way down. Customers are making you irritable and grumpy. The food they have ordered won't cook with the speed you require. The end is in sight, the end of service is nigh......but wait...... some 'person' is looking at the menu! That can't be right? It's time for all Chefs' to be heading home to their comfortable beds. What do they think their doing? Ah, it's a booking for next week. Peace is restored and the clearing down can begin. All the stimulants have now left your system and your finishing your day with the inadequate waste products they have been enhanced with. Never mind, a Belgian Waffle with Banoffee Sauce has just been returned, topped with a Vanilla Bean Ice cream......Nice!

We all have vices or habits, it's human nature. Be it edible, drinkable, movable or touchable, we all have them. It gets us through our day to day existence and makes us happy. The items above are just a few of mine. Without them, I would cease to be me and that would make a pretty boring life. Tell me, what are yours? Please keep it clean, we Chefs' are very easily embarrassed.

Well, it is that time again. My comfortable bed beckons and tomorrow is my wife's birthday, so sleep is next on the agenda. My sister site, 'The Chefs Prayer' has been updated regarding the new seasonal produce and a new recipe as always. I have also added a new link to a site called 'The Brigade' that will be explaining the internal mechanics of kitchen personnel and their roles within the lunacy that is catering. So until next time.....

Au revoir ma lumière hearted des langoustines, soit heureuse!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

'Television Killed The Chef De Cuisine'

Bonsoir mes expressos excitables!

I hope you are all well this fine day. Here in Cheshire the Sun has graced us with its presence, eminating its delightful glow over the flowing waters of the Thropshire/Debenham Canal, brightening the flora and fauna of the gardens and promtly braising my herb patch as it had recently been doused with a gallon of Evian. I have decided that Chefs' are not green fingered. We relish the thought of having an abundance of freshly grown herbs and then the realisation hits us after killing numerous plants purchased from the Garden Centre. Also the fact that most kitchens will go through a colossal amount of the green stuff that within a day you have exhausted your supply and end up back at the Garden Centre searching for more!

What a fun filled week it has been. Vast amounts of blog-worthy news over the last seven days but, unfortunately, most of it has become dull, mediocre and lifeless. Another Chef is in trouble with the courts. This time Ramsay and the production company are being accused of staging certain events on the TV program 'Kitchen Nightmares US'. The 'Chef in shining armour' has found himself at the centre of a scandal that could cost him and his holdings company around $1 million to a disgruntled employee from a New York restaurant. Even if the case does go back to court, I am certainly positive that the egotistical and foul-mouthed Chef Ramsay would be able to withstand the loss of such a small amount of money from the vast fortune he has worked exceptionally hard for. With the upsurge of more and more reality shows appearing on TV, should we not be asking whether these programs are actually genuine or have they become staged and setup just to boost ratings for the TV and production companies that seem to have jumped on a bandwagon?

What will the next selection of hard-hitting, fly-on-the-wall documentaries be? How about Dishwashing Nightmares with Ainsley Harriot as he guides uneducated young adults with a brood of juvenile delinquents on the Top Ten Fairy Do's and Don'ts with a crash course in rattling pots and pans while wearing stupidly loud coloured shirts and grinning inanely. Or how about, Jamie's Guide to Rhyming Slang (or 'How to Insult Londoners and Patronise Your Viewers') - Jamie Oliver guides his viewers on the meaning of words such as 'Pukka', 'Blinding' and 'Tukka' while educating viewers on pronunciation, grammar and the promise of transforming into a complete 'Mockney Pukka' by the end of the season. Finally, Delia Cheats! Well no surprise here as Delia Smith manoeuvres her way through a selection of dishes and snacks while putting the new Norwich City manager through his paces where he makes her look even more sour-faced by saying "Its not the winning, Its the losing gracefully that counts". Actually, this is already on your current TV schedules, make a point of being out when its on. How many more cooking programmes and culinary reality shows can one nation take?

For a long time we have realised these type of shows have been increasing in number creating an epidemic of cooking disasters and culinary catastrophes. What the general public fail to realise is that many of these 'shows' are presented by trained Chefs, star trained Chefs and employ trained ex-Chefs to assist in the overall production of a majority of the programs on the TV. Christ, we even have numerous Food Network channels! Whole channels dedicated to shopping for food, equipment to help make food, making food and even selling food to other food-minded people.

I remember one instance on a popular cookery programme when two Chefs and two members of the general public, who claimed they could not cook, produce a mediocre piece of chicken with a sauce, potatoes and vegetables all the while trying to copy the same dish created by a Chef of some 25 years experience with his own restaurant and kitchens. Fantastic for the lovers of daytime telly until they get delusions of grandeur, try to replicate said dish at home for a select few of their closest friends and realise they should have ordered out to Dominoes instead of attempting to massacre a perfectly decent chicken and the rest of the collective ingredients. Trying to create these types of dishes at home is possible, I am not denying anyone that, but to get them to a standard worthy of a restaurant within an alloted timescale and for fifty people. Well that takes a trained individual. Even if the cook is trying to produce this exquisite masterpiece for only six people, it will become a nightmare within the first ten minutes of preparation. Or at least, when they realise they have either forgotten an ingredient, have set the oven to high, received an epiphany that they should have used Dolmio or purchased Jamie Oliver's 'Flavour Shaker' (I believe the correct term is 'Pestle and Mortar')to decimate the flavoursome and earthy herbs into a mushy substance which would probably taste better on your beef paste sandwiches.

Would I want to be on TV? NO! Would the majority of my colleagues in the Inustry want to be on TV? No! Would we be on TV if it was us that had been offered £50,000 a year, a mass marketing deal and as much Foie Gras and Black Truffles as our stomaches could handle? YES, of course we would, who wouldn't, but would we become that wrapped up in our own self-importance that the reasons we actually thrive on this job would evaporate just like an over-boiled pan of Conchigelle Fromage? I hope not.

My time is now at an end, my little madelines and I must bid you farewell once more. So, until next time......

Au revoir mes escargots furtifs

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Meat And Two Veg

Bonsoir mes embusqués de jammie!

T'is Spring once again.I'm sure you can tell by the blossoming flowers, screaming kids wearing hoodies on street corners at ten at night, playing with the latest Ping nine iron while drinking lashings of Buckfast wine and the fresh, sun-kissed mornings gently awakening us from our beds of slumber and tranquility before the torrential droplets of rain scour our curs'd land......'winds light to variable'.

During the last several months, certain "Celebrity" Chefs have been promoting produce using terms such as 'local', 'organic' and 'free range'. I have become quite perturbed about this since the beginning for a couple of reasons that may, or may not, hold any ground.

My first reason is the fact that if you buy any of the named products above you will find you can no longer afford to pay your utility bills, mortgage or home insurance. When promoting produce with this type of quality, better animal welfare and less damage to the environment it would make sense to me to make it affordable, yet it is not. For example, a breast of chicken ten years ago cost around £0.95 for about an 8-9oz portion (which is usually large enough for you to enjoy without gorging yourself). Nowadays, the same breast of chicken costs, in some places, almost double the amount if not more and this is where my gripe begins.

Have you eaten out recently? Either a secretarial lunch break, quiet dinner for two or a mad night out beckham-style? Have you noticed, usually through beer-goggled glasses, that the food prices have gone up ever so slightly? Even the Kebab houses are beginning to suss that the industry is slowly turning toward the French aioli rather than garlic mayonnaise just to be able to charge that little bit extra. Some of you may not have noticed a rise at all and this is because most restaurants still refuse to pass on the high costs we are now being forced to pay to the customer.

It goes something like this, the cost of feeding livestock has increased so much due to the weather in many parts of the world. Crops have been wiped out all around the globe and the farmers are starting to struggle. This is the beginning. As the farmers are not making as much money as they would desire (try selling a Land Rover or two to ease the pressure or sell some land to a group of developers, after all, we really need more housing!), they have put up their prices to abbatoirs and wholesalers. So, now we have to cost in the rise of petrol and diesel for transportation which will also push the price of logistics up, the rise of the national minimum wage looming on the horizon will be scaring most employers (unless their staff consists of non-EU nationals or the Polish) and finally the current ban of imported meats (yes, its the EU again) from countries such as Brazil, with Namibia and Argentina soon to follow.

People within the trade will see where this is going, though we must bear in mind that this is not a political blog, but an insight into an industry that is slowly deteriorating and becoming more and more difficult to prop up every year.

I now get to the crux of my rant. We are expected, as consumers, to look after the environment and ensure we buy produce that has been allowed to run free, has been massaged with essential oils, made to listen to Mozart and fed with the finest of beers and truffles. I agree, to a point. If this is the way the country is moving, why should the customer be forced to pay a vast amount of money for the produce that we are being coraled into buying. Environmental do-gooders and 'Celebrity' Chefs are not helping the situation. Not everyone can afford to pay the extortionate prices for free-range meat and organic vegetables and why should they, it should not be expensive. This type of produce should be made available to everyone, not just the select few in the upmarket counties who go on about saving the planet then pollute half the area with the CO2 from their 4x4's and gas guzzling sports coupe's. The same could apply to the 'local' farmers and food entrepeneurs. Why does a Chicken from France cost less than one from 5 miles down the road? It makes no sense.

Animals are not people! There, I said it. I can hear a few tuts and mumbles of "bad form, Chef, bad form". Yet it's true. Do you remember Planet of the Apes? Things have gone too far and I want to know where this is going to end? Soon, all the chickens in the country will be running around your back gardens, wearing iPods, listening to the Specials or Bad Manners, necking cans of Stella while chewing on Onion Bahjis and Puppodums. The cows will be even worse, hoodies, hats on sideways, spraying graffiti on the nearest train, then collapsing in a heap of drug-fuelled debauchery. I don't think we will even go near Pork as the price has risen dramatically, so the producers are obviously shoving pure cocaine up its arse to help raise the price and if thats not genetic enhancement, I don't know what is!

Salmon is another product that will be going up in price again, but for different reasons. Norway is the highest producer of cured salmon in the world and most of the salmon is bought from Scotland. So they buy the fish, cure it, then sell it back to us at a higher rate.

Where is the logic? There is none, it's all money and economical politics, yet it's the Chefs and owners that get stuck with the price increases forcing deals and promotions to get people into their restaurants thus creating a deficit within the trade and finally closing many establishments. Where to next? unemployment, lack of traditional skills as more and more restaurants turn to pre-packaged foods or the collapse of an Industry held dear to our hearts?

It is troubling times, my galloping gastros. I hope an answer comes over the horizon soon or many more will fall. Many pubs and restaurants will close and we will be forced to pay a small ransom to consume food in the eateries of the Mighty. Times are bleak, I'm sure you agree.

In the news this week......The Prince of Mockneys claims you can feed a family of four for five pounds when buying from Sainsburys, sound advice if you all eat pasta but a complete lie in this day and age considering one of your teenage children will probably be a vegan, the other will be gluten-free and lactose intolerant, Dad will have a nut allergy and Mum won't be eating anything as she will still be trying to get into those size 0 jeans she got for her birthday.

The cheeky chappette has also been named as the most iconic British Chef of all time, by Olive magazine, beating the likes of Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay and Keith Floyd to the top of the proverbial Culinary Tree. It is so nice to see that people focus on the Chefs that have been in the press recently and not the ones that have actually contributed to the world of British Cuisine. Yes, I know, he has done wonders for the school canteens of this green and pleasant island, so much so, that now the children go out for their lunch of chips, beans and highly sugared snacks which is much safer and healthier for them (at least they are now exercising).

I fear I must bid you farewell once more. I will now leave the 'Celebrity' Chefs to live in their lands of edible rainbows, glistening elderflower brooks and bitter Belgian chocolate bridges and return to the reality that is life amongst the foot soldiers of the gastros and gourmets on the frontline. To the Chefs and cooks of yesteryear, I salute you all! Without you, we would still be eating suet pudding, spam and lard. Or at least still trying to sell it with a fancy name and even fancier price tag.

Welcome back grumpy chef groupies. Hope your holiday was all you hoped it would be.

Le Chef Grincheux

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Cock -A-Doodle-Doo !!!

Très bonjour à vous tout!

"Once more unto the breach, my friends, once more" The utterance of such a phrase instills excitement and elation to Chefs' before an evening of fast-paced dinner service brimming with explicit language, sweaty brows and Chefs' arse. For most, a packed restaurant equates to a twilight rush of adrenalin, an exertion of every muscle in the body which will eventually dissipate after a feeling of euphoric joy at the end of a successful and challenging sitting. The 'high' a Chef can feel after such a night cannot be replaced by drugs or alcohol. Nor can it be equalled or guessed by anyone outside of the clique that so many are honoured to be a part of. You have to look no further than a busy kitchen brigade to see the signs of team spirit and being 'one' with your colleagues and peers.

On a weekend after service, you will find the culinary brethren recovering from an evening of chaos and heat, strengthening their bond within the confines of local pubs and nightclubs in the area they work. Competitions of drinking and debauchery will usually feature high on the agenda. Forming alliances with other brigades from competing hotels and restaurants is rare but does go on and will sometimes manifest after large amounts of alcohol, as it is always good to have a contact here and there when you are ready to fly the roost of your current employer in search of promotion or a slightly easier existence due to age, lack of ability or sheer self-importance. The night will generally end in a cocktail of lager, alcopops and spirits, kebabs and verbal abuse of anyone near enough to hurl it at. At this point, weary Chefs' make there way home to their soft and comfy beds with only a few hours to go before the most dreaded shift of them all.....Breakfast!

My fond memories of this shift go back quite a way now. A Sunday night was always the night for our clique to head out under the cover of darkness to commit extreme alcohol abuse. It would usually start at Finlays, just across from the Odeon cinema in Ayr. I remember the pool table was an 'L' shape which didn't really help matters, even after the first few rounds. It was then we would move on, with our drunkeness starting from the feet up, to McArthurs (An American theme bar a short walk away). From there, inebriation moving up to the waist, we would pirouette round the corner to Toby Zaxxs and finally, our heads now beginning to swim with the infernal firewater, our destination was Club De Mar. One of only two nightclubs in the town, easiest to get into, get served and get soused. These memories patter around my cerebral cortex releasing endorphins that stimulate my senses to sights, sounds and smells of many nights from the past. Yet, these daydreams have only one ending, which is the inevitable nightmare that will always follow.

After waking to realise you have been in bed for about three hours and the rooster is still to crow the rise of the Sun, reality hits you square on the jaw and suddenly, a baseball bat appears from thin air and begins to beat you repeatedly on your noggin. A monotonous thump, thump, thump in your head reverberates throughout your body, pushing your eyes shut with every pounding moment. Its not a rival kitchen brigade enacting revenge for the potatoes stuffed up the exhaust pipes of their cars or the old fillets of Lemon Sole shoved under the bonnets onto the radiators. It is time for work and God forbid if you are late.

The brigade I was part of then was headed by Chef Watson. An enigmatic man of few words and a knowing smile, Chef Watson always worked a Monday breakfast to allow his crew to recuperate after a busy weekend and to sleep off their booze-filled bodies. All except his Commis, who would be rostered most weeks on this atrocious shift. The reason for this being the most hated of all shifts came down to just one thing, the smallest detail that was never mentioned at my interview. The cleaning of the fryers.

The kitchen had three sets of deep fat fryers divided into two sections making six wells needing to be cleaned after a full three days of battered and breaded fish, vast quantities of chips and numerous other products that had know begun to smell of Hell itself. Despite all your prep needing doing you also had to make sure the fryers were sparkling before lunch service. Although this sounds like a small feat, if you throw in three 15 hour days, toxic sludge lolling around in your stomach, three hours sleep the night before, a dodgy kebab and the baseball bat to the skull (now developing into a sledgehammer), it becomes more like trying to chop parsley with a teaspoon while wearing boxing gloves and riding on the back of a Shetland pony in the Sahara.

Although I felt hard done by at the time, I believe Chef Watson taught me many things from just that one, solitary job. You never forget your days as a Commis Chef because that is where you begin your journey. You never forget the practical jokes, exhaustion or the hard times you are put through. You do come out the other end if you stick with it and you become a better Chef for it. Eventually, you become Chef.

Old School training has long gone now. If half the moments in my career happened now, I think I would be a rather rich individual and be on first name terms with most Tribunal judges. Things are very different these days, no matter what you see on the television or read in the newspapers and magazines. There is so much political correctness in the world that it is now reflecting in the Industry I grew up in. Many a time I have wanted to clout the back of my Kitchen Porter's head for insolence or neglect of duty. It was part of my induction into the trade, it did me no harm and you always took it with a pinch of coarse rock salt and a dusting of paprika. To gain the respect of the other Chefs' you had to work your arse off and it came at a very high price. It was worth it and I wouldn't change a single day.

Dawn is slowly approaching now and my middle-aged body is crying for its bed. As always, it is a joy to see so many of you reading my posts, yet if you have left comments within the last five days or so, the blog server I use has had a few minor issues and those posts would not have appeared. Please feel free to re-post your comments as I always enjoy reading them and I do apologise for the incompetence of my Host.

My sister site, 'The Chefs' Prayer', has been updated for your reading enjoyment and I have also begun a reference site for people interested about when the Kitchen Industry came into its own as a recognised profession. It is under the Links section on the left sidebar titled, 'The 'True' Celebrity Chef'. Enjoy!

Until next time......

Au revoir du Chef Grincheux