Its not the first time we have taken an enthusiastic youngster dazzled both by the blinding flash of some pristine new whites and the possibility of a first foot on the upward ladder towards guaranteed TV Chefdom.
In fact this is our third apprentice.
The first had great potential. Unsocial hours borne with fortitude for six long months in a repeating cycle of late nights,booze,fags and coffee until his constantly changing parade of nubile girlfriends(most wearing hot pants) was replaced by a steady girl who a) didn't like him working nights and b) was threatened by the squad of attractive females working here, quickly putting a block on his kitchen career.
He's now working at Tesco,what a waste.To be fair he puts on a mean display at the fresh fish counter.
The second was not suited at all to kitchen life.
It was left to me to impart basic training.
Having an all consuming passion to be a Chef,his enthusiasm could not be faulted.
He showed the required evidence of prior interest having studied Food Technology GCSE at school and being in possession of a Basic Food Hygiene Certificate.
Alarm bells rang on the first day however,when in conversation I asked him if he cooked at home and if so what he liked to cook.
'Not really' came the reply 'my Mum is a very good cook' Hmm.
One of the first jobs I gave him was to cut some bread,showing him first of all which knife he should use.A serrated one.Knife in hand and loaf on the correct colour coded chopping board(white)he set to work.
HE PLACED THE KNIFE ON THE LOAF AND PRESSED DOWN WITH HIS NOT INSIGNIFICANT FORCE,SQUASHING THE LOAF BEYOND RECOGNITION, THEN TEASING THE COMPACTED WEDGE OF BREAD BACK TO SOME SEMBLANCE OF ITS ORIGINAL SHAPE.
He looked pleased with himself.
Clearly the first time he had been allowed to cut himself a slice of bread.
Not wanting to burst his bubble of glory just yet,I tactfully went back to basics,explaining why the knife was serrated and how it was to be used with a SAWING action to prevent all the life from being knocked out of the bread.
Over the next few days it became apparent that he had difficulty remembering anything,the pad I gave him to make recipe notes was not of any great assistance. I glanced at it a couple of times and was surprised to see basic instructions and observations.For example, notations such as "loads of cheese" when I happened to make a cheese sandwich.For myself.
The biggest worry was the absence and total lack of awareness of basic hygiene standards.
During service I would use him as an assistant asking him to fetch things from the fridge,sometimes letting him help plate up cold starters and puddings.
I had to watch him like a hawk.Every other sentence I uttered became 'wash your hands.'
Pass the salmon
Wash your hands
pass the bread
pass the ham
wash your hands
fetch the eggs
wash your hands
wash your hands
I sounded like a broken record.Worryingly, I was even beginning to work to the rhythm of the chant which went around in my head even when I wasn't saying it.You know like an irritating tune that you just cant throw off?
He had no understanding whatsoever (despite repeated instruction) of the dangers of cross contamination.
His work station looked like the PG Tips chimps had dropped in for an impromptu cookery masterclass then tap danced on the results..
I explained the philosophy behind 'clean as you go' and the importance of wiping down ones work space,keeping the chopping board clean and washing with hot soapy water twixt each task, lest any conflicting ingredient contaminate the next.Never mind the overspill of flavours, we could ill afford to pick off the diners with a tasty but suicidial Salmonella sandwich.
I decided I could teach him how to plate up a cheeseboard and do simple puddings which would give him a purpose during service rather than just standing around watching us.
By the end of the second week he still couldn't remember every constituent of the cheeseboard.Every board he prepared had some ingredient missing which I would patiently draw his attention to.
On the Saturday night BG came in as usual to do potwash.
Another cheeseboard was produced incomplete.I was running out of patience so decided a different approach was in order.I would put the onus back on him to tell me what was missing, a process of elimination would force him to come up with the answer,rather than relying on me to address every problem.He needed to start working on his own initiative.
Self:theres something missing
Self:what is it?
Apprentice 2:emm i just dont know.
At this point BG,without even turning around casually produced the correct answer.
'its the celery'
I hadnt even been aware that he was listening.
The next Cheeseboard order came on and predictably the finished article was again lacking in substance somewhat.
Self:theres something missing
Self:what is it?
Apprentice 2:ermmmmmm im not sure
I wasn't going to give up this time.
Self:OK have you eaten a cheeseboard before?
Self:well how did you eat it?
Apprentice 2:ermm well I just don't know..
The cheeseboard had no bloody biscuits on it,if there's one fundamental requirement necessary on a cheeseboard other than cheese its the bloody biscuits.
Or at least a bit of bread.
By the end of the first two weeks I was a physical wreck.If there's anything harder than working a 14 hour day, its working a 14 hour day and giving a running commentary to someone else of every aspect of that day in minute detail..I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
After service, over a couple of
Apprentice 2 was a liability.
We agreed that on Monday morning Chef would have an appraising chat with him to see how he thought he was getting on.
On the morning in question Apprentice 2 arrived punctually as always(I did say I couldn't fault his enthusiasm).
Chef asked him to wash the four types of salad leaves we use every day for garnishes.When he returned to check on his progress he had washed only one type(watercress).
He had been given this task every day for 2 weeks and he still couldn't manage to remember which varieties were needed.Nor could he identify the leaves.He didn't even know which leaf he had washed.
Chef sat him down for an urgent chat.
Apprentice 2 had no idea that he was not coming up to satisfactory standard.Chef advised him diplomatically that we need to see a bit more attention to detail and concentration on the task in hand.
He drew his attention to the hygiene concerns mentioning that he'd noted that he had been awarded a Food Hygeine Cert therefore should be well aware of these significant issues.Apprentice 2 replied 'yes but that was over a year ago now I cant remember much about it now..'
He began to beal.
Chef was mortified.
He calmed him down and told him there was no reason to get upset we just needed to see some concentrated effort to improve.
Shortly afterwards Chef nipped upstairs to get his chequebook to pay the butcher.A couple of minutes later he reappeared in the bar where I was putting away the brewery delivery.
Chef:Apprentice 2 has disappeared
Chef:Its true he's done a runner..
We both ran to the kitchen.It was true he was gone,knife discarded on chopping board in mid chop of the parsley.
We looked under the benches and in the cupboards.He had in fact done a bunk.
Bloody hell, said Chef, I haven't even locked him in the freezer yet..
Ever the optimist Chef's glass was half full, 'well I suppose that solves our problem-he was never going to be any good was he?..'
Which brings us to Apprentice 3.
After a summer of relaxation following his premature enforced departure from the formal world of academia , BG has decided he fancies trying his hand at cheffing..
I wonder if it will be third time lucky,or a case of....
Watch this space.