I'm uncommonly disgusted and angry tonight.Probably due to a combination of unrelated but intrinsically linked incidents which culminated into one big time meltdown today.
I'm not normally tired.I don't need much sleep,I can manage on 5 hours per night with no ill effects.Having twins who were never in synch(still aren't)but woke alternately every two hours for the first two years of their lives was the perfect training ground to cope with my current status.
Once you get into a profession like this its all about the routine.Every good Chef has a routine which must be adhered to at all costs.Having a routine and being organised helps to keep the pressure from boiling over,if the routine is broken, devastation and chaos will undoubtedly follow.The routine is the constant which guards the fort from invasion from the enemy,the stuff you have no control over.The diners.
The routine means that even when you're tired you can function because you know what to do without really thinking.
This last couple of weeks I've been off the treadmill due to the snow,the usual 16-18hour days have dwindled due to the shortage of customers. I've been lucky to have worked a 9 hour day never mind the usual.The routine has been unexpectedly broken so getting back into the usual flow feels a bit odd,in that I'm a teensy bit uncharacteristically tired.
So today, an incident which would normally have only effected a momentarily raised eyebrow, a heavy sigh and a despairing shake of the head had us both fizzing.
Over the years we've both seen quite a lot of unsavoury practices in hotels and restaurants that would put you off dining out for life.Lots of them a result of pressurised situations.
Want to hear a few?
About 15 years ago I was offered a job in a 5 star country house hotel.I was a duty manager.Some of the practices I saw there were cringeworthy.There was a swanky cocktail bar where diners were taken to peruse menus and have a quiet drink or cocktail pre dinner.There was a pianist in the corner,thats the type of place it was.Every table had a silver plated nibbles receptacle containing peanuts,olives and cocktail onions.The diners would enjoy their nibbles then swan off to the restaurant for their meal.The nibbles would be left out on the tables till the end of the night.This was a place where the bar didn't close until the last guest went to bed,often 3 or 4am.Last thing at night the receptacles were collected in and the remaining contents scooped out and returned to large containers in the still room ready for recycling the next night.By the end of the night they looked sweaty and obviously you will know about men and peanuts..God knows how many times the bloody things were in and out of those containers.If you stayed there for a week chances are you hand your hands in the same peanuts every night.
In the same establishment old fashioned afternoon tea was served in the cocktail bar,one of the those posh treats that people bring their maiden aunts out for on Mothers Day.Served on a three tier stand.Dinky cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off,home made cream cakes, scones and preserves served with FRESH CREAM.All the stock was brought up from the kitchen on a trolley and stored in the still room at the side of the bar until required.The cream was in a sealed container and was portioned into individual ramekins as needed.The first day I was there I noticed the cream was being served the way you prepare a soufflé for the oven.You know when you flatten the surface with a palette knife then run your finger around the rim of the ramekin to help the soufflé look tidy as it rises.I strolled into the still room to see who was responsible for this unusual presentation style.The perpetrator was a chap who had originally began training as a chef then had decided Front of House was his forte.He was a barman.I watched him slowly run his index finger around the rim of the ramekin,then stick his finger (practically down to the knuckle) into his mouth lasciviously licking to remove any excess cream, prior to moving directly on to the preparation of the next unfortunate ramekin....Nooooooooo.Obviously I stopped him,but he'd being performing this procedure every afternoon for 6 months...
Then there was the place I worked where the Chef was filthy,an alcoholic and smelled of death permanently,his Sous Chef was a nice enough lad but sweated profusely, probably due to the increased workload he endured as a result of the Head Chefs permanent dysfunctional hangover.When he was under pressure there were always unfettered beads of sweat running down his forehead following the outline of his nose and slowly plinking, slow motion into the dish he was preparing.It was hypnotising.I never ate anything there in the two years I worked there.
The diners never needed any additional salt on their meals either...
On another occasion at a very good hotel as I was waiting at the pass to take some meals, something in my peripheral vision caught my eye.I saw the Chef de Partie who was doing starters drop a cooked Quail on the floor,glance furtively sideways, then pick it up,dust if off with his oven cloth,then go ahead and compile the finished dish.The Head Chef clocked this at the same time that I did.It was a Saturday night,the kitchen were up the wall, checks were piling on and tempers were frazzled.The proverbial wire was about to snap.Cooking another dish would have meant discarding the rest of the starters(which were ready to go) and the main courses which had already been put on to cook to coincide with the starters being finished.This restaurant had 2 rosettes.The Head Chef knew Id seen it.It was face off at the pass.He held my gaze steadily and through gritted teeth,lips unmoving in a straight, thin white line hissed 'if you don't take it they'll have to wait another 20 minutes and the whole of the rest of the night will be a total f**k up and it'll be your fault and YOU'RE THE ONE WHO WILL TAKE THE FLACK'
I took the quail to the customer.The only defence I have is I would rather have eaten the quail than the cream with optional extras...
So,when we opened our own business we made a promise to each other that we would never compromise or send any food which didn't meet our required standard or more importantly that we wouldn't eat ourselves.
Over the years we've stuck to this despite the problems it can cause with delays etc if anything goes wrong.
As I've mentioned before I'm a bit Howard Hughes about hygiene anyway,probably because of all the stuff I've seen in the past.
Anyway,today a couple came in for lunch and ordered the only dish which we always have on the menu.Its a Cotes de Boeuf.A beef rib served with chips,watercress and Bearnaise sauce.Quite a standard really but its one of our most popular dishes.
When the waitress took their order they said they wanted to inspect the raw piece of beef first to "see if it was marbled to their satisfaction."
'WTF is going on' said chef...Begrudgingly he cut the single rib from the joint and sent it out into the dining room on a silver platter for the diners to inspect.
At this point my Howard Hughes tendencies kicked in..'what if they decide they don't want it and send it back after THEY'VE BREATHED on it????'
A couple of minutes later waitress returned with the affirmative nod to go ahead and cook.It met their meticulous standard.
We both trundled around for a while muttering in unison about the audacity of it all.
When the beef was ready to be served we vented our frustrations by standing in front of it and repeatedly giving it the 'V' sign until the waitress collected it.It was a lovely bit of beef and didn't deserve this, but it made us feel better.
When the dishes were cleared the exacting couple were surprisingly complimentary about their meal.It was proclaimed delicious..'Much better than the last one we had here which was GREEN..'
When this information filtered back to the kitchen we were livid.
'That's the last bleeping time I'm sending raw bloody meat out there to be inspected..what the heck do they think they we're doing..this isn't one of those places where there's half dead lobsters swimming around in a bleeping tank slowly eating themselves from inside, waiting for some unfortunate diner to save them from a fate worse than the slow death they're currently suffering...' said Chef..
(Not sure what the relevance of that was...)
Sometimes you have to draw the line.Availing raw ingredients for inspection by ones diners prior to it being cooked isn't really a feasible option.At the end of the day we are a pub,not a bloody zoo.
There's only one question Id like to ask. If you'd been served a piece of GREEN meat would you really want to return to that establishment for a second helping??
I'm so bloody disgusted I might actually move to Tunbridge Wells.