Monday, 30 June 2008

A Scottish Sabatical

Salutations mes pâtés en croûte de pomme appétissants!

Fear not my my gently poached poissons! I am still here, a bubbling and smouldering pot of sarcasm brimming over with the edge with a sprinkling of contempt for the Industry.

I have recently been on sabatical in the Outer Hebrides, foraging for flora and fauna on an exciting adventure/ramble type course (just in case Gordon Brown does carry on as Prime Minister and we end up having to eat our own garbage and Spit-roasting urban foxes to get some form of nutrients). I have been learning about the different types of poisonous mushrooms, how many different meals you can make from just one squirrel and how it can be possible to marry your Uncles' Sons' Daughters' Daughter without anyone finding out that it is actually a sheep called Doris!

I will be back on Sunday with another look at the 'Death' of an Industry as it cowers beneath its bedsheets, gripping its pillow and waiting for the rude awakening it has been expecting......involvement from the Government!

Until then......

Le Chef Grincheux

Sunday, 22 June 2008

A Staff Oddity

Bonsoir mes hocks de jambon vitrés par muscavado!

Hurrah! At last. An uneventful week. No impromptu journeys to either Hospitals or other Countries. No more worries for the foreseeable future in regards to staff. In fact, I now have too many staff. Okay, they are not trained Chefs but......alright, they are not Chefs, but that is okay! To be absolutely and completely honest, I could not wish for a better Brigade at the current moment. Sure they have their flaws (like we all do) and of course they are not trained to a level or standard I would usually expect (as I always do). I prefer to call these minuscule flaws by a different name. Lets call them quirks. That sounds much better, my staff are slightly quirky.

I believe the majority of them are late almost every day, now that does not ruffle my feathers......Well, actually, it does. A few of them find it hard to retain the slightest piece of information and I care not a jot about repeating myself over and over again like a demented parrot......Well, to be truly honest, that does push my buttons a few times a day and I can get a tad irate about that. Sometimes they call me by my first name which......Bugger It, that really does p**s me off! In fact, all the above 'quirks' do. They may not be trained but they could show a little respect and show up on time and even my daughter knows the fundamentals of cooking and she is only 3 years old! As for the first name terms business, well, I haven't worked half my existence on this planet to be called by my first name! I have had to work damned hard to earn my title and that means, when at my place of work I am to be known by one name and one name only. That name is CHEF! They can even call my all the most blasphemous names under the sun, as long as the word 'Chef' is at the end of the sentence, I don't mind. Insult me, that's fine, but show some respect while your doing it!

When I was a young Plongeur/Trainee Chef, I daren't breath the wrong way. Even the Commis was higher than I was. Days were hard and nights were even harder. "Fetch this" and "Fetch that" would echo in my ears during the night terrors I started to suffer from. Years of mental and physical abuse have left scars, I can tell you. You never forget the first Jacket Potato that has been launched at you by an egotistical and angry Chef de Partie. You don't forget because it exploded into the back of your neck and you can still see a slight splatter mark when you are looking in the mirror at your latest brandings and slashes after a busy weekend service.

I must quickly just throw in a note of interest for you, dear reader. Chefs are not vain people! It is true that when we go out on the town that we like to look our best. We have to. We look like last weeks rubbish most of the week, so we put the effort in when we hit the tiles and strut our stuff at the local dance hall. The only time I have known a Chef to be proud of the slices, cuts, brandings, scars, burns and amputations is always in the presence of others Chefs'. We trade battle-scars if you like. It is a competition. Who has the largest and most gruesome scar. Pathetic......Yep! Necessary......Damn Right!

As for being late, well, lets just say that I don't believe there are many reasons to be late. I never thought I would hear myself say this but back in my day you were in thirty minutes before you were due to start work. That gave me fifteen minutes to make the coffee for the other Chefs, have breakfast, have a cigarette and get changed. The next fifteen minutes were spent getting my section set up, collecting heat cloths from the laundry room, sharpening my knives and making sure I had filled my stainless steel thermos with coffee (just in case I couldn't take a break later). Every staff member had their heads down and were working before the Head Chef even arrived in the car park. God help you if you were lagging behind. If you were even seen to be slacking, then the Sous Chef was always on hand to either shout obscenities at you, throw a large blunt object in your direction or, if nothing happened at that moment, you would be reminded of it later with a late night finish helping the kitchen porters or a good attempted rogering with a whole Salmon, head first. Those were the days of innocence. I remember them well.

Years ago, in a kitchen, you had to be able to retain as much information as possible. To forget or let a task or order slip by, could be a fatal mistake. You learnt to adapt to hearing three different voices shouting numerous tasks and orders. When your everyday punter has several orders shouted at them, you will usually get the first and last orders answered correctly. A Chef, on the other hand will multi-task, take every command in, take a millisecond to determine which command is the most important and then act accordingly, assimilating the order of the other commands as he/she continues with the first. A natural talent? No, a survival technique. Get it wrong and you will soon be experiencing the pain and suffering of the blunt objects, coarse language and hot foodstuffs being thrown in your general direction again.

This neat little trick of evaluating the order of commands comes in very handy within a commercial kitchen environment. Unfortunately, my staff have never worked in a proper kitchen environment which makes my job a little harder. "Example", I hear you cry. Well, today I asked for my small tub of Risotto from my walk-in fridge and it didn't arrive......instead......I got an egg. So, in retrospect, I should really have asked for an egg! How silly of me.

Joking aside, I have a lot to thank my staff for. They pulled together when my Father was ill and I was called away to Scotland to be at his bedside. They covered me when I had my daughter during the afternoons and they generally put up with everything I throw at them......literally! In fact, they put up with a hell of a lot and work as hard as possible. Each one of them doing the job required to the best of their ability. Which I must admit, is a very high standard. Even my Boss has the odd night working the pass and he is getting quick!

So a great big thank you to all of my Brigade. THANK YOU! I think highly of you all and thanks for putting up with me.

The end is nigh my succulent lemon sorbets and I must bid you Adieu, Auf Wiedersehen and Goodbye once again.

I leave you with the news that restaurants, fish and chip shops and the like will soon be requested to display nutritional value of their dishes on their menus. Its like a runaway train all this healthy eating and watching what we put in our mouths. I'm sure when I joined this Industry it was to cook, not be sat with test tubes and bunsen burners working out nutritional values and fat content. Bloody stupid. Also, McDonalds is set to increase prices on certain items on their menus due to the rise in produce. The 'one price fits all' strategy seems to be costing them a little more than a burger with cheese since their produce costs rose by 5%. What a damn shame. maybe the McDonalds restaurants in the UK should start using local produce as suggested by certain Chefs. Then lets see how easy it is to run a fast food joint.

On that note......

Le Chef Grincheux

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Waiting For My Leprechaun!

Bonsoir mes dorades subtilement assaisonnées !

How are you all? Here we are again with another twisted, 'through the looking glass' view of an Industry on its knees, begging and pleading not to be taken over by large conglomerates, TV corporations or Jamie 'The Mockney' Oliver and his fellow cooks.

I would be over-whelmed with joy if I could say that is has been an uneventful week. A quiet and serene time of inner-thought, soul searching and plenty of down-time to recuperate from my fathers incarceration in an NHS hospital. Unfortunately, it has been a week of busy services, staff shortages and my Father's re-admission into another NHS hospital. While on the subject of hospitals and the staff within, I would like to thank all the Staff Nurses, Doctors, Surgeons, Consultants and the 'God-like' Senior Consultants for looking after my Father so well, that he nearly did not want to leave!

Special thanks to Mr Boom, who realised that the remedy to my Father's ailment only required a dab of Silver Nitrate and to Mr Richards who took pity on an old gent just wanting get home to his own armchair with a cup of his favourite brand of tea and a KitKat.

From myself and my family, we thank you with peace and love in our how about reviewing the parking charges in Hospital grounds?

To Business! For those of you able to enjoy a fun-filled Fathers' Day, I salute you. To all Dads, I hope you have milked it as much as possible! I do believe Mothers get to much of the credit and I also believe that when it is Mothers' Day, they are actually not that bothered. Fathers Day, I feel, should be promoted a little more. Better gifts, like a harrier Jump Jet or Porsche 911, now that would be a start. Maybe even a 'Dads Only' room that will hold the users most valued possessions like Scalectrix, train set, computer game simulators and an Action Man fortress. I m positive I asked Santa for those items when I was younger and they never appeared......should have gone to Argos. Stupid Bugger!

Times are steady at the current moment. Warm temperatures and sunny days are keeping the flow of patrons at a constant tick-over. Although, around the corner, madness awaits. The Summer Holiday season is creeping closer and closer. Everytime those words are mentioned I cower beneath my stainless steel table, slowly rock back and forth muttering the phrase, "There's no place like home", over and over again to myself.

For all you civilians out there, especially school teachers, college lecturers and university professors, it is a time of fun and larks. Apart from those individuals in the Education Sector (who seem to stop work when they need another pay rise), it is an eight hour day within an air-conditioned office, a minimum of an hours' break and enough canteen-supplied cold drinks to quench the thirst of a third world country. What a hardship! I do you pity you all. It must be a terrible chore to move from your comfortable seat to even have to go to the bathroom. To even get to your mode of transport at the end of a tiresome day must be unbearable.

Every member of my Brigade understands that all personal activities cease to exsist around this time of the year. A member of Staff wants the day off to go to a family re-union......bring them to the restaurant for a meal and maybe I will let you out of the extreme heat and discomfort for five minutes. My Commis Chef wants a day to go shopping with his girlfriend.....Tough! In fact, unless you have a family bereavement or you have managed to die on the way to work, forget about any time off unless I am obliged, by employment law, to give it to you.

So far this year I have been absent from one 21st Birthday bash, three Family Birthdays, two Stag weekends, a Bamitzvah and numerous trips to parks, farms and general days out with my Wife and Daughter. I will also be missing, later this year, from two Christenings and another Stag weekend and that is only if nothing else crops up.

When you are chosen by this Industry, and it is the Industry that chooses you, it is almost like selling your soul to the great Chefs that have gone before you. It is ingrained in your progression through the ranks of the Kitchen. You will work as and when you are needed. No arguments, quibbles or huffs. This is now your primary objective. Work as hard as you can everyday until you retire. If you are lucky, you will find an employer who understands the need for personal time with family and friends. A need for interaction with 'the outside world'.

'Once in, never out' is only one of many phrases banded around the kitchens I have worked in. You can leave the Industry, but quite a few of us do not really have another road or path to follow. If the lucky ones do achieve another goal outside of the tiled and stainless steel walls of a kitchen, more often than not, it will be as a sales representative for one of the many corporate food distributor's or advisors for restaurant management companies.

There is a silver lining though. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The jobs I speak of are very rarely advertised and are usually acquired by knowing people already within these Industries. One such position is working for gigantic pub and restaurant companies as a Development Chef, doing the job you love to do, but with the hours of an office. You could go even better than that and work in the Private Sector. Private Hospitals, retirement homes and even the Prison service have great opportunities for Chefs of all ages and levels, but these jobs are so hard to come by that they seem to be riding on the wind of myth and legend!

So, as many of us do, I will carry on catering for the ladies who lunch, business types, hooded teenagers, drained parents with excitable children and wrinklies for a while longer. Ever searching for my pot of gold, waiting to catch my Leprechaun......

Au revoir mes puddings roly poly de camarade. Until next time......

Le Chef Grincheux

Sunday, 8 June 2008

"Is It Really Worth It ?"

Bonsoir mes lapins légèrement rôtis !

Let me start at the beginning as that is the best position, I believe, that will make the most sense. I am completely exhausted. Drained and depleted of all energy, enthusiasm and stimulus. Since returning from my Fathers' bedside, which resided in one of Glasgow's' finest hospitals, I have been working like a Trojan for seven days now. Twelve hours a day. Which, for all you non-mathematical people out there, equates to 84 hours of hard graft in the space of one week. Now that is not including time in my less than comfortable office preparing specials, rotas or placing orders with various suppliers.

Unfortunately, and with great reluctance, I must work tomorrow also. Finishing my total hours worked at a phenomenal 96 hours in eight days. Had I been pimping my skills at previous establishments, then that figure would have been greatly higher. Going back, say 5 years, that total would rise to approximately 108 hours (not including breakfast shifts!) possibly even more. Go back even further in my mediocre career and I don't think my calculator could handle the equation!

It raises many questions and I'm sure a minority of Chefs would agree that once a month or even just every now and again, we wonder to ourselves, "Is it really worth it?"

So, is it worth it? Well...... Yes and no. That may sound slightly ignorant as everyone has to work, except students, and everyone has too make a living (except students) and everyone......except students and those on the dole.....has to earn to survive! We all strive for the better things in life but do we actually get there? Do those material possessions make us who we are? Of course not. Time is precious to us all. Time with family and friends is paramount to our existence. Without it we would be lost. Time and money provides us with our extra curricular activities and yet I would not change my days off during the week for anything. They are sacred.

And so to my point as to why I would not give up my days off that are usually in the week. People! People is the sole reason I enjoy my weekdays off and the answer to the reason is that if you enjoy the privilege, and it is a privilege, of having the weekends to party with friends, hold barbeque's at your home, embark on mass shopping sprees and generally have great merriment on these days then you will notice one thing. Its damn busy! Queues upon queues. People falling over themselves for the latest bargain or sale, acquaintances descending on your home for a taste of your adequately cooked ribeye or T-bone with that nice Cajun spice you bought from Sainsburys and served with a mache salad. Even going to the local supermarket or shop to purchase your groceries becomes a survival of the fittest. It is like watching marauding hyenas devouring an antelope. A 'get out of my way' attitude that seems to have engulfed our society.

I can take my daughter out for the day and not have to push through large amounts of shoppers, chavs or old age pensioners to get to where I'm going. We can enjoy a delightful visit to a park without footballs being kicked in the general direction of the children's' play area or dogs running around you trying to nip at your heels or take a chunk from your quadriceps. There are no baseball capped braggarts yelling obscenities at each other or those annoying scooters buzzing around like demented wasps.

So, is the work worth it? This is where it can become a bit of a conundrum. I love what I do and on an exceptionally busy night, it can become almost euphoric. An adrenalin buzz that is very hard to describe. After a monumental night of catering for a large number of people you feel elated, proud of yourself and your crew and that kind of high is very difficult to come down from. It is also extremely hard to give it up. There is a flip side though, as there is with everything. The hours are long. Not as long as other types of jobs but long enough to cause chaos in your personal life. Missed Birthday parties, weddings, christenings and other events of this nature, that are usually reserved for the weekends, plague my past years.

Moaners and groaners calling in sick from some airborne disease. I even once had a young Commis call in sick as he had Glandular Fever. He is back in the next day looking and feeling fine. I have to admit, he wasn't the brightest when it came to skiving off work. These are the ones who will not last. They will give up. It's inevitable. They don't feel that accomplishment at the end of a busy weekend. More often than not, they were probably pulling a sickie and were out with their mates or watching the football at the pub.

When you are in your kitchen, nothing else really matters. It can't. you take your mind off the job and your eye from what you are doing and you could lose a finger, literally! Yet your life is full of all these missed appointments, barbeque's and parties that you wanted to go to, but couldn't find the time.

Finally, with out going into more detail about the pros and cons of the Industry......IS IT WORTH IT?

I don't know. I will have to think about it some more......

We are at the end my gently poached parrot fish. I bid you 'Adieu' once more and leave you with the news that the hospitality industry must stop ignoring front-of-house staff and start giving waiters as much credit as chefs. WHY???. Also, according to the fifth annual City & Guilds Happiness Index, Chefs' are some of the happiest employees in the country. The research shows that nearly half of the Chefs' interviewed put their happiness down to a better work / life balance. What a load of cobblers! Show me a Chef that is truly happy with his work/life balance and it will either be a catering student or a pub company cook. Finally, the UK has won the right to opt-out of the European Working Time Directive for the next eight years meaning that Hospitality employees can work More than 48 hours a week. Well thank you very much! I was getting a bit worried there. I thought to myself the other day, 'I am really not doing the amount of hours I should be. I hope we do not have to get in line with Europe and only work 48 hours a week, that would never do'.

On that bombshell, I will leave you with a new addition to my 'Beyond The Hotplate' Section. An amazing blog with some fantastic recipes and info on healthier eating, additives and preservatives, the list goes on. If you enjoy it that much, scroll to the bottom of Sher's blog and vote for her in the Blogger Choice Awards. Just click the link! I will update my other pages within the next few days, so keep checking back. Until next time......

Le Chef Grincheux