The Restaurant, and work

19 December, 2009

Well, this series has finally dragged itself to a conclusion, and The Winkers won.

Ludicrous as it seems for RB and his partners to have chosen a team that doesn’t include a cook, I have to say I think it was the right decision between the two couples they’d left themselves with. Chris was a good cook, but I’ve already made my feelings about Nathan clear i.e. lazy, rude, careless. I think it would be madness to embark upon a business venture with him. The Winkers, on the other hand, are at least keen and inventive and they don’t give up (what a save with the cocktail, after the disaster with the souffle!), and they undoubtedly have spark and some charm.

If the restaurant doesn’t work out then I’ve no doubt that it would be possible to convert it into something the Winkers *can* actually run–another cocktail bar, for instance. Perhaps RB and his partners wouldn’t mind expanding into that market? I dunno.

I formed the impression, increasingly, that the Winkers simply wanted to go into any kind of business with RB, to gain his financial backing and the benefit of his experience–understandable–and that RB and his partners were more focussed on finding good business partners of *any* sort than potential restauranteurs. I suppose they already have plenty of restaurants between them. Understandable again, although a little unfortunate that the exercise took place on television within the context of a restaurant-running competition.

I still think, though, that Rebecca and Steve were the best qualified to win the competition according to its stated terms i.e. the couple best suited to provide satisfying food in a pleasant environment. Having said that, the standard this year seemed woefully low. I say that knowing and readily acknowledging that I have trouble boiling an egg, but I’m not holding myself up as a person qualified to run a restaurant.

Speaking of restaurants, work was pretty exhausting last night: 6.5 hours (6pm to 12.30am) of frantic service without a break. Others had been in much longer than me and they hadn’t had a break either. That’s simply the way it works there. Yes, it’s illegal, but those are the terms and I’m pretty sure they stand on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis.

I’m lucky in that if I get fed up I can afford to leave, but it’s bit of an eye opener about the conditions in which some people spend their working lives. Having said that, everybody was cheerful and friendly, and worked happily as a team. I’m still enjoying it. I’m a little daunted at the prospect of just how much busier it’s likely to get in the rest of the week, though, as the holiday comes to a head.


Compassion in World Farming — Short film about veal

17 December, 2009

Compassion in World Farming is the only charity I’m a member of. They’re in no way one of the nutty animal charities, and they’re not campaigning to stop people from eating meat. They’re simply attempting to improve conditions for farmed animals.

Here‘s a link to a short film they put up today about veal available in London, and the confusion that sometimes surrounds its origins.

I found it quite disturbing, because although I do eat meat I always ask in a restaurant whether it’s free-range before ordering it. To be honest, I don’t normally bother to order meat when I eat out because, around here, so little of it *is* actually free-range. If I feel there’s a possibilty that it might be, though, then I’ll ask. It’s very disturbing to see that even in the Connaught Hotel it’s possible to be given the wrong answer 😦


16 December, 2009


I’ve just eaten as delicious a steak as I’ve *ever* eaten.

I bought a lovely, thick rump steak from the Westmoreland Farm Shop yesterday, and cooked it this evening. Two minutes on each side. A baked potato and a little salad. Heaven!

Piglet got the trimmings…

BBC Young Chef of the Year

14 December, 2009

This was really good!

5 young chefs, aged between 16 and 25, culled from great restaurants across the country, were competing to become the BBC Young Chef of the Year. The standard of cooking was as good as any I’ve seen in any of the cookery programmes, including Professional Masterchef, and I was amazed by what some of them came up with in the first round when they were given just 30 minutes to produce a steak with bearnaise sauce, salmon with hollandaise sauce, a perfectly boiled egg and a lemon souffle. None of the contestants in Professional Masterchef did anything *like* as well.

Foodies–go and seek it out. You can find it on the BBC website, here. It only lasts an hour, but it’s a very enjoyable and hungry-making hour.

The Restaurant — Descends into total farce

11 December, 2009

For goodness sake!

I was genuinely annoyed by this programme this evening. Is it *really* supposed to be about choosing a team of people who can run a restaurant, or is it actually about presenting people with ridiculous tasks that even experienced restauranteurs wouldn’t be able to perform, just to make dramatic television and give idiots an opportunity to laugh at people who are doing their best to turn their lives around?

George–I know you’re not watching any more, so hang onto your seat. The two blokes who don’t even pretend to cook are now in the final, and the only team that consistently pleased customers–both with their food and their service–is now out.

And why were Steve and Rebecca kicked out this evening? Because the pressure of having to bake and present a cake in the shape of an aeroplane the week before last–at about 5 hours’ notice: WTF???–and of having to do a cookery presentation in front of an audience of about 100 guests this week proved too much for them. It ground them down. Yes–running a restaurant is a stressful job, but would any ordinary chef be expected to do either of those things at all, let alone with the notice that these people were given? Never in a million years!

What an absolute farce. Seeing the utter wreck that this evening’s ludicrous and completely irrelevant task reduced Steve to, I was absolutely disgusted with Raymond Blanc. He redeemed himself just a little bit, I thought, by going out after Steve and Rebecca had already been reduced to a laughing stock and persuading Steve to have a go. When they did have a go it seemed to me that they actually did better than the other teams. They were cooking, after all, and not simply blagging!

It shouldn’t have been necessary, though. I don’t know what RB and his partners thought they were testing with these trials, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the ability to cook appetising food and present it in a happy-making way to diners. Try nipping into the nice little bistro round the corner late tomorrow morning and telling the chef that you want a sophisticated cake in the shape of an aeroplane taking off for 12 people tomorrow night and he/she is likely to laugh in your face. Ask at a specialist bakery and give them a fortnight’s notice and you might get a bit further. And is that chef likely to agree to do a cookery demonstration at virtually a moment’s notice at a food fair, for a hundred members of the public? I don’t think so.

This really was ridiculous, and–IMO–bordering on cruel. Truly nasty television, and basically farcical. I’ll watch the final next week simply out of curiosity, now that I’ve watched the first 5 (or however many it was) episodes, but I don’t think I’ll be tuning in next time, if anyone’s daft enough to make a 4th series.


Work tonight…

6 December, 2009

…was a little more stressful.

I was back on the pass i.e. taking food out, clearing tables etc. I like taking the food out, as it gives me a chance to stand around in the kitchen periodically, surrounded by all those lovely smells, but it got a bit stressful this evening because the plates were so extremely hot.

For some reason there was a shortage of tea towels, so I had to try to manage two plates with one towel. That wouldn’t have sounded daunting had I not actually tried to do it in a busy restaurant, but now that I’ve tried it I realise that there’s a significant risk that at some stage I’ll accidentally spill a plate of food onto somebody’s shoulder as I attempt to lower the other plate to the table. Um… 😦

At one stage I picked up two plates that were so hot that I could feel my fingers burning. (They’re now blistered, so I really do mean burning.) I’ve learned to press on through a fairly significant degree of pain–I am a woman, after all, and periods do have their uses–but there comes a point where when my fingers are burning instinct kicks in and I simply have to let go. I therefore had to stop half way to the table and rest the plates on another table to give my fingers a break. Unfortunately, that table was occupied. The occupants said they didn’t mind, but I can’t remember a waitress ever plonking two plates down at my own table en route to another, and I’m sure so they must have thought it was fairly odd.

The main problem is that if I have a significant overlap of tea towel onto the plate to protect myself then there’s a good chance that the tea towel is going to end up resting in somebody’s meal. Ugh. The secondary problem is that the chef–understandably–gets a bit grumpy if we don’t pick up the plates as soon as he says to take them, so there isn’t really time to try to adjust one’s grip.

The others don’t seem to have a problem with it, so perhaps I’ll learn how to do it with experience. In the meantime, though, I’ve been scouring catering websites in search of some kind of mini oven-glove. If anybody happens to know whether such a thing exists–the kind of thing that’s small enough not to look clunky, but large enough to protect my fingers–then please do let me know. I’ve not found anything yet.

There was a bit of a drama late in the evening when the chef realised that two birthday cakes hadn’t been sent out to their respective tables earlier in the evening. I happened to be in the vault (where that sort of thing is managed) polishing cutlery, so I witnessed the transformation of the chef from a stressed, slightly grumpy but still (to me, anyway) okay and actually mildly sexy sort of bloke into a raging monster, chucking cakes around and yelling at the poor woman in charge of the vault! Bizarrely–and it really was bizarre–he instructed me to follow out the waiter assigned to deliver one of the cakes and sing Happy Birthday to the unlucky recipient. Well, I think that’s what he meant… He called me by name, pointed to the male waiter carrying the cake, told me to follow him and said, “Sing!” By the grace of God, it happened that there was a female singer (not nearly as good as last night’s male cabaret–I was relieved that I didn’t have her job!) singing Happy Birthday for somebody else as we arrived, and so I didn’t have to do it. I was ready to do it, though, had it been required. Good grief…

I was quite relieved when 11pm (11.25pm, in fact) came round and I was told I could go. Poor wee Piglet became hysterical when I got home, and ran around the house for almost an hour tossing her camera case in the air and snarling, significantly pissing off the cat. I’d made bread rolls before I went out, and I’ve just baked them. They’e cooling in the kitchen as I write. I was going to make moulles mariniere for supper but I’d rather just sit back with some bread and hummous. I don’t like to think of the poor mussels sitting in the fridge and pondering their fate overnight, though, so I’ll prolly go and cook them when I’ve written this.

The good news is that I’m going to try to make some butter tomorrow. Hugh FW swears, in the book I bought y/day, that it’s only a matter of shaking some double cream around in a jam jar. I love butter and can’t resist the idea of giving it a go. Fingers crossed, please, y’all…

Work last night…

5 December, 2009

…was a real giggle 🙂 It was particularly busy because there was a singer–a cabaret sort of bloke–due in at about 10pm, and so lots of people had booked in order to see him.

I was mainly helping the woman in charge of dealing with drinks orders, but I was drafted in to carry some food out a couple of times as it was a very busy night.

The best moment was when I was asked to carry out a plate of vegetarian crab to a busy table. I stood around smiling and calling, “Vegetarian crab?” for a minute or so with no success, until all of a sudden a penny dropped in somebody’s mind and a woman across the table began to giggle and told me it was her vegetarian kebab. LOL! Oops…

Some time after that I was dispatched to the local supermarket to buy £40’s worth of Mateus Rose (I didn’t know it was still going! But clearly there’s been a run on it, since I got the last 9 bottles) in a hurry, as one of the tables had consumed the entire supply. As the boss handed over the dosh he fixed me with a glare and said, “Make sure you come back.” Bearing in mind that he hasn’t paid me anything yet it was a bit of a toss-up *g*

At another point I was told to take a bottle of red wine to one of the tables. I did, and expertly (ha!) poured some for them, and then I carried the bottle back to the vault. I was almost there before I realised that I should have left it on the table. Oops again *g*

I’m not a cabaret sort of person, but I have to say that the singer was really excellent! I didn’t expect to enjoy it, but within about 30 minutes he had people up and bopping around the tables. By the time I left the place was a frenzy of happy middle-aged diners gyrating in the aisles!

I only had 8 hours this week–I’m working there again tonight–so it doesn’t look as though I’m going to make a lot of money doing this job. If things carry on as they’re going, though, I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it *g*