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