Thursday, 17 September 2009

Sorry for the wait, here is the Purple Cauliflower

Wow... no wonder people were asking for an update; its been a long time since I posted here, its been a long hard slog of a summer, and when we thought it was nearly over we are still ploughing on cooking for 100 plus people a night.

My nerves are shot, my fingers are coverd in cuts, my legs in bruises. I cant sleep anymore because I think I have PTS, I dream re-ouccuringly of peoples faces melting and the evening service that wont never end, its hot and all I can here is
"check on.... CHECK ON!"
"Chef theres no more food in the fridges"
but he just wont listen...

But there have been some good things to come out of it, I have biceps for the first time, and although I ache I feel fitter and harder than ever before, I can run and not get out of breath, I can talk shit like a true hardend chef and I can peel 25kg of spuds in under 40 minits. Good news tho from the kitchen, we have been awarded with a brief passing comment in the good food guide... not a full review because the inspectors only arrived on the island a few weeks before the book was published. But it did give us a little boost, its not like we ever get any positive reinforcments from our chefs... if we can only keep on improving our dishes and our standards of service then we could be looking at a good little rating by next year. Hopefully better than 2/10 which heston got for his Little Chef.

My friend asked me today "are we ever going to get 3 rosettes??" I said I dont know, I just dont know what it means. . . .

Three Rosettes are awarded to outstanding restaurants that demand recognition well beyond the local area. The highest quality ingredients receive sympathetic treatment, and there is consistent timing, seasoning, and judgement of flavour combinations. You can expect excellent and intelligent service, and a well-chosen wine list.

We have got our new menu up, its great, seasonal, fresh and stunning. The scallops are served with cauliflower puree and shallot rings. The porc tasting plate is delicious combination of shoulder, loin, crispy fried cheek, black pudding and slow roast root veg. Sadly though there is no purple cauliflower, we are not quite there on the hipness, although I did persuade the chef to make a violently purple beetroot puree to go with our salmon dish, which looks great. Any way have to get back to work ive got stocks to pass and a soup too blend hope you are all salivating for the next episode......

Sunday, 21 June 2009

just keeping it simple...

It has been a busy few weeks, The last time I blogged was just before taking over my own section, nearly two weeks ago. Well the first few days were a bit hectic, no-one to show me around, no-one to tell what to put on each dish, but I used my skills and It gave me the long awaited boost to my confidence. After a few weeks I've got it down. Peeling potatoes and carrots, teaching my little apprentice about Confit de canard and Pommes Allumettes. It is really a big step forward and a nice chance to be away from some of the louder and more bulshy CDP's in the kitchen. Im enjoying it, settling down to the 70 hour weeks, crappy little room and little social life. Just simply having, a working holiday, the sun has been out sooo much that my tan is much better, those few precious hours that I do have off in the afternoons is a great chance to run down to the beach and enjoy a quick pint and catch a few rays.

My creativity is not yet being sparked, more often it is stifeld with a damp tea towl, often the suggestions I make to the chef are too complex or too far from his own experiences. It seems that I need to get to know the customers better, and have a better understanding of what they want to eat. Great more time for self improvement. So, I trundled on my day off, to London's top foodie destination, borough market, and on my walk around amongst the Japanese tourists, french school kids and office yummies grabbing a bite to eat. I asked myself why do people come here?? Is it to catch what a London market would have been like 100 years ago? - It seems as though it is a million miles away from real markets. Here, the products are all over priced and almost every stall is selling hamburgers, or fast food. It seems that everybody loves the prestige of going to borough market, its name stands for quality, yet on arrival the want to grab something to eat fast and get out, the burgers are great, good quality, but so overpriced, its all so MacDonald's!! MMM not really a foodie experiance. Can you believe what the brits eat?? A good meal has meat in it and is in between two slices of bread. Even when they are in a hotel on the isle of wight they seem to choose the strangest things. Last week we had a coach party in the hotel, they have a sit down meal every night with three or four choices for each course. On the main course they could choose from; Duck breast with schllott tarte tatin, roast carrots and carrot puree, Home braised ham hock with leeks and mash and mustard sauce or Fish and chips. And to our disbelief, 19 out of 26 chose fish and chips. It is all a little strange. I guess that is why you have to keep food simple.

I came up with lots of suggestions to help my chef with his children's menu. But when I mentioned some of the more wacky ideas I had had he was immediately not interested. We decided to keep it simple, mac and cheese, mini pizzas and plates of melon or fruit segments. Baby-cinos, sweet potato chips and the words organic or low calorie were left out, apparently the hotels clientele are not interested, the prefer more simple things. So what happens to these clients that can afford a £200 ++++ per night stay in a hotel?? do they not come from london? or do they change on there way down? The moment the get to the isle of wight they arnt worried about what they are eating, they are more interested in living the simple IOW experiance?? eating all there food with mash and veg?? and paying £19 for fish and chips??

It seems that the elusive chef client relationship, is something that takes time to develop. And is it the client that goes to the chef or the chef that has to go to his clientelle?? Im still asking myself the question is the IOW the right place to be... seems that cooking is deffinately the right thing to be doing. I rock the pots and rock the party!!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pirate soup and posh beans on toast.

Its true I haven't had time to blog; the lack of internet access and the insane hours that I have been putting in have left me little time to blog also a little sore but I feel as though Im getting much fitter. Every thing seems to be going well in the kitchen, the oppressing silence of living on my own in a small (lets be honest CRAPPY!!) room have left me lots of time to think, about what I want to write, (see article written below, trying to capture the essence of the life of a chef de partie between 6 and 6:35). But it seems now that Im back on dryer land in greener pastures for a short break, I feel detatched from the kitchen, I have forgotten the things that I wanted to write when I left the kitchen angry or sad, even the things I wanted to write when I left elated! It seems everything is going well, the staff have become less nice and more real; the chefs as well. I have been yelled at for the little mistakes and even recieved a few sly, yet rewarding compliments. I have allready started to hate the four walls that surround me, but then who doesnt hate looking at the same thing all day?? Next week I am changing section, away from the meat and on to the garnish section, looks like I will be peeling veg for a week, I hope that does not bother me too much. I have watched the mistakes of the chefs and cryed over the number of customers ordering well-done meat. Finally, I have found a little thing, that can be improved, and maybe its something I can do. Let me set the scene;

Its wednesday in the kitchen; at lunch we cooked for thirty covers; in the afternoon anather thirty sandwiches, the evening is going to be busy a hundred odd covers booked in, and yet I have to cook High Tea for 20 kids aged 1 to 12. Lets be honest, this is the last thing I want to do, I dont have the time or the patience to make chicken nuggest and chips, and if I was a kid I would never have been given the coice of the kids menu, I would have eaten off the normal menu, like an adult. Yet in this nanny-fied land we live in the kids have to eat at 5 and they have a special menu. Well, what a pain in the ass!! and half way through it the owner of the hotel walks in and looks at me and says, "I bet you didnt expect to be doing this." I look down at the crappy white plates with chicken and chips and a cheese omlet with sliced tomato, and I think this is shit!! I smile and say "Not really, its not great is it."

So there it was, an invatation from the owner to make it better!! After a few days of watching the other chefs struggling with it, I have decided to start doing some research and to improve the quality of the foods that they give to the kids. It should be easy, armed with a bit of reaserch Im going back to discuss with my chef the options available Ill follow up next time with what was the outcome, any comments would be greatly appreciated.

A couple of articles on kids food; one from the SanFrancisco times, on hippster kiddy eats and what the customer wants; also here is one from restaurant - hospitality. com with some very interesting figures, Time outs guide to londons top eateries for posh kids nosh, and my rival named blog GASTROKIDS which seems to have a few ideas!!

Silence is a good day!

If your quiet, you can here the sea sipping at the sand, the constant, sip, splash, sip, splash. If your quiet you a can here the sand breath to, breathing out the heat of the day. Quiet after the the children's grabbing fingers and joyful screams. Quiet after the grandparents natter, instantly forgetting their constant discipline "Dont DO that tommy; Dont do that;" again and again. Quiet after the tanning girls, embracing the sand through a towl, gossiping about a soap star. Now its all quiet. The stars are out, winking, smiling, old light, traveled so far to be seen in silence, enjoyed and revered, reflections of the sun's silent burning. Quietly watching; way to much quiet.

In the kitchen its calm. The eye of the storm passes and know one notices. Only the hissing sound of knives cutting through potatoes and carcass. Calm, you can hear the sound of breathing chefs, the gentle, lilting in out calm as air squeezes in and out, in.. out... Its so Calm but you dont have time to think. Run in your head not on your feet, keep calm, Run through the list of things you have to do. Eyes down and keep calm. No time to look around. If you do everyone is calm, black caps down, all eyes glued to their board in front, eyes that look around only to check a pot of sauce or glance at the clock. 6:10 the chef calls through the kitchen; "Be ready for 6:30 lads" the kitchen murmurs back "Oui chef" eyes down, reheating purees, ready for the clash of service the heat starts to prick through chefs jackets, some one runs to the fridge, and crashes into the cool calm interiour, then crashes back out. The kitchen starts to spur into movement, the calm replaced by momentum and energy, building in preperation for the oncoming storm.

Out in the corridor the waitresses titter and laugh, throwing loging looks at the busy chefs. The Maitre 'D' calls to the chef "86 for dinner chef," and the chef replies calmly; "I know, you ready?" the Maitre 'D' smiles his reply, the same sickening sweet smile he offers to a customer with a complaint, he bustles off to check on his staff. The kitchen is not still, calm but not still, CDP's recheck there mise en place and start to smile, everything is done, everything is ready "for battle". Water bottles are filled, an apprentice makes cups of coffee. The chefs like Warriors checking there armour before the blood curdling screams and arrows fill the air, they check over stations, and taste the soup. Meenwhile the pots and pans are grabbed and stacked upon each other, squeezy bottles are filled, and the purees tasted and checked. Ready for battle, the kitchen picks up pace. The apprentices clean down stations, tidy away boards and stand nervous. Waiting for the first call of check on! Last minute things are grabbed from the walk in. Last chance to be ready. CDP's call out in anger, to wondering aprentices, get me pans, get me sauce. The pace quickens. Time for quick glances at the clock and you know its going to be fine: 6:25. Your ready! Checking again your station, you feel relaxed, just about time to share a thought with your oppasite CDP and smile at the chef. Everyone can feel it coming but everybody is ready.

Its going to be a good day, the calm means its going to be a good day the battle will run smoothly, you come out of the ring feeling like a gladitor praised by crowds of onlookers admirng the spilled blood on his hands. If only everyday could be like this, you think quietly. The Chef calls "CHECK ON; 3 covers; 3 bouche, 2 melon 1 salmon; 1 lamb, 1 lobster, 1 beef medium:" the reply of six eger chefs; "OUI" all in unison, all together, ready for battle. Let it begin.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Chefs dont have time to blog

Originally uploaded by charrbinks
So Ive been thinking about my career for some time, and well the honest truth is that Cheffing is not a glamorous career, it is not a sunny day at the beach, it is fun; but not full of happy moments, it is not a way to get famous or score hot chicks. Cheffing is about honest hard work. Most people dont seem to realise it, (it has taken me some time too). Comments like "Wow your like a master chef," or "I want to be a magazine chef" seem to be a joke to me. TV glamorizes us and shows those peachy moments when you get to cook for one person, or three or four. Cheffing isn't like that ts about serving high quality grub to 50/60/70/120 people at a time and not even breaking a sweat. This is a career about hard work, sweat and blood. I know it, Ive been in the industry for 10 years now, and for some reason I've been spending a bit too much time in la la land and not really thinking about what I'm doing. I do feel like Im finally getting a grip on my life, and the good food helps, maybe this is more a lif lesson than a career lesson, hard work will get you far. Not big ideas and little movement, but small steps forward, improving things everyday. So now its head down, and knives to the grindstone.

Thinking about it, it is still not the right job for me. But then it wont be, not until I own my own little restaurant where the art on the walls and the music playing will be just as good as the food on the plate. Where diners will nosh down and enjoy there meal while being entertained by beautiful waitresses and be able to see the chefs sweat over there meals. Where am I know then? I hear you ask... well I'm finally in a place where the chefs aren't treated like chickens, over used, over abused and under paid. I'm at the place where I get to cook great food, with and inspirational chef, where the cooks care and the clients do to. To learn how to stick it out through the fire and sweat and to prove to myself that this is the life I want and the life I've chosen.

And then here's my foodie blog, (I used to be a foodie now I'm just a chef,) and its not full of home truths, or cooking tips. Its just another egotistical enterprise but at least I think its great and meaningful and maybe I will get a chance to write about a few recipes or the insperation for a plate. But it wont be beautifully photod or perfectly laid out, just more food on a plate that tastes great and keeps me and the team I work with inspired.

I have spent a lot of time looking through other food blogs and I know realize that there are so few real cheffing blogs. If you read The Times Top 50 food blogs or type food blog into google, you dont get real foodie stories, just blogs from mom's and housewives trying to fill there free hours by blogging about the food they made there kids for tea. Not that they are all shit, just most of them, you an see on the side bar Ive started to make a collection of my faveourite food blogs and Ive found only a few that are run by real chefs who are bloggin about cooking and this crazy life we live. Real chefs dont have the time or the energy to sit down and write a blog about the evenings service, or the steak they mucked up. They live and breathe food, they dont really want to write about it afterwards. Oh, well Im just a little bit more crazy than my collegues, I write about it and it rocks. I hope you can enjoy it as much as I do!!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Out of the frying pan...

... and into the fire.

Day One; "Here's a case of guinefowl, can you take them down to the crown?" the head chef asks, My mind races; Oh shit, whats the crown? Ive never prepped a guinefowl in my life, am I going to be out on my ear right now, why am I putting myself through this stress? what am I doing here?
"Just demo one for me," I reply, confidence is the key, I remind myself. He sighs and gives me the look that all chefs have with new members of staff, I read his mind "your not going to be one of those," he thinks "all talk and no skills." I grin back reassuringly at him, (I can do this, I remind myself, confidence, confidence and more confidence.) He takes the fowl and deftly takes the meat off the bone, then he looks at me and hands me the knife. Im grinning with delight, Ive done this before, my nerves start to subside, he watches me do half of one, my skills are solid, he turns his back satisfied and leaves me to get on with the rest. First test down, phew. How long will I last? ....whats next on there list?

Just so you know, Ive started to work in the kitchen of a two rosette hotel, theire working on there third rosette and also maybe a michelin star. Ive been thrown in a hot frying pan, I'm on the hot station, prepping the meat and fish, It is known as the hardest station in the kitchen; lots of mise en place, technical knowledge and a hot and fast service. Although Ive breezed through many restaurants, Ive never really cooked meat or fish. In France its left to the sous chefs and chefs and the most experienced chef de partie.
My mind raced for the first few days.... Why did they put me on the meat and fish? Is it a test? Do they know Its my weakest station? - Stop being paranoid I keep telling myself, the kitchen Is the worst place to be empathetic and paranoid, chefs are pretty much just a bunch of classy louts, f'ing and blinding worse than the pirates, armed with pans and knives they make great food and care about it. Thats what I do, I make great food and care about it. Im one of them... NO Im better!! I can do this.

Day three and Im already, running my service for the evening. Well, it wasn't my best, I know but I survived, No pans came flying back from the pass, and the chef actually smiled at me and asked me how it was going near the end of service. It was great, Sea Bass with a great fennel risotto. Lamb served in Five different ways (belly, shoulder, best end kidney and tongue) And it all came flying off my station, pretty much perfect. When my sweaty balls had started to dry during the clean down I actually broke into smile, and by the time I was sat down for a fag when it was all done, my mind was relaxed and I just sat and contemplated the service dish by dish. Learning and drilling it all into my mind, It can only get better from now on. Soon i wont have to think of each step, I will become automated and then I will be in a sleep walk taking my time to get perfection. I Just have to keep my head down and keep steady. I remind myself of what Anthony Bourdain said in his book;

"the kitchen is the last true meritocracy. Here, you are what you do. Simple ability determines whether you are an asset or a liability; a culinarian or a ham and egger. Respect is a direct reflection of sharpnes of knives, of the efficiency of movement, of tidiness, punctuality and, especially, of the ability to perform under pressure. In the heat of the kitchen, cars, girls, lifestyles and personal idiosyncracies become irrelevant. Those are nothing but fodder for politically incorrect banter that fills the verbal void left behind the instructions, orders, demands and requests of the resident tyrant. The Chef"

I am the culinarian, not a ham or egg in sight, no burgers or pancakes, no noodles or pre-prepped sauces. I am the Gastro kid, this is what I want to do so, head down and COOK mutha fucka!!

So the end of the week is here; In this kitchen the chefs are drama queens, the rest of the staff in the hotel are in awe of them; they work the most hours, they party the hardest and have the hardest jobs. The gardener comes up to me, while I'm taking a quick fag break in the after noon;
"how you getting along?" he asks in his sussex accent,
"Fine I reply," giving him a big grin
"Its not too hard for you then?" he quizzes,
"Nothing that I cant handle," I say
"You must be hard as nails, then." He says and wheels his barrow off up the hill.

Hard as nails I think, that's not how I feel now at the end of my first week. My head is spinning from tiredness and lack of food, my back aches, my legs are burning from spending 60 hours on my feet, my hands are cut to shreds, Ive got burns up my arms, and I cant smell anything cos of stove grease. I cant taste anything but fennel risotto and salt, and even if I could walk in a straight line I wouldn't be able to make it off my boney arse. It seems as though Ive put my body through a week of hell, but I made it and I'm happy to say, It was fun. Now for some reason Ive got four days off, the new restaurant is opening next weekend there is a big banquet booked. Ive got a few little things I want to do include getting this blog up and looking cool so I can update it from the island and keep you all informed of my movements.

Friday, 8 May 2009

About Me

I am GASTRO KID, I am here to conquer your pallet, I am here to take you to the next level of extra sensory taste sensations, blasting from across the universe to mix food and hip in a crazy blend that will get on your knees begging for more.

I came
I cooked
I conquered
I will return every day (or when I can make it,) with new stories of kitchen life from the dark side of cooking.

open your mouth and repeat after me.....

I want MORE!!!