Unsung heroes

What unsung hero’s are these?
Behind the scenes we battle,
On all your high days and holidays. Sweating and toiling in ever rising heat,
Your pleasure is all we crave,
But, tempers rise and flare,
The cooking clown in the corner relentless, Jollying along the boys below,
We all do it for love and lust,
Smells and flavours abound, Permeating through every corner of our miniature universe, Through the vents and freed to the heavens, Crashing and banging goes unheard,
The normal daily clatter of busy chefs,
Sauces bubble and reduce,
Flavour intensifying as the minutes pass, Using all of our senses we work,
Taste, smell, feel, and look,
All the pieces are ready, We approach the plate as a virgin canvas, Excitement rises as bit by bit as we build,
Will it work?
Will it pass the bosses scrutiny?
The man at the front he says yes,
We look and dissect,
Can we improve?
Of course we can, and do,
Striving for perfection every time,
But if it was easy,
Everyone would do it,
Those who can do, those who can’t, eat out,
Last check goes,
Heats turned off,
And we clean down,
One last fag break to recollect and pool our thoughts, We all still buzz as the adrenalin ebbs away,
Feet ache and mental tension gives way to fatigue, Hats and jackets saturated, We reminisce, And as for tomorrow, Well, we will do it all again.

It is hard trying to convey to people the organised chaos of a team of chef through a busy dinner service, I cant say how things work now the trade are mostly using the water baths, or if indeed this fad is still in vogue. I was trained to use hot pans on a immensly hot solid top stove, being powered by a glass flame, and my own personal judgement on whether the item is cooked to the correct degree, using that most wonderful invention ever, the sense of touch.

The trade has moved on, with out me. I am far too old to forget all the fundamentals of cooking that I have relied on through a thirty year career, just because some bell end from off the telly tells me it is the best way to cook. Whether I chose not to grasp the ins and outs of of the water bath method, or it just did not make any sense to me, I dont know. I have been shown how they work by chefs with far greater talent than I.

So this poem is from the dark ages of cullinary excellence, it was where we would spend up to 80-90 hours a week, we never planned to do anything major on our days off, as they could disappear in seconds, a round of golf on a Monday was the best reward, nobody plays on a Monday. We would come out dirty, stinking of fat, fish and graft, jacket would go crispy as they dried through the salt from our sweat, in would crust around your face as temperatures and activity dropped. You would suffer the scourge of every proffesional cook, chefs arse, the sweat has rolled from the back of your neck, down the valley of the spine, and rubbed in with the movement of you butt cheeks, causing the worst chaffing, at times so bad they would bleed, and every thought from then on was not the end of day beer, but getting you hands on fistfuls of Sudocrem, just placate the beast chewing at your rear.

We did it because we loved it, we didnt do it for the pocket money at the end of the week, we didnt take jobs for a massive pay increase, we only took it because it was the right job, on paper I took £2,500 pay cut for one job, in real terms with tips it was closer to £4,000. It didnt matter, it was the right job for me at the right time, I also ended up working more hours, lost more days off, but given the same option again I would still make the same choice. We do it, or I did it for the love of cooking, I was naturally able to cook, I cooked very well, I even have my crowning glory of a Cullinary Olympic gold medal, with clover, for a fat carving I sent over with the works team. Happy days, but I no longer contain the level of anger and aggression needed to survive in that environment. It’s not about being constantly aggressive or raging, but being able to switch to it in a split second, to quieten a kitchen on the verge of mutiny by showing you have the biggest balls in the room, even if you are only sitting on a pair of fresh peas and a baby carrot. Kitchens are run like formula 1 cars, run on the knife edge of of their limits. A wrong word, a slip of frustration, a missed step in the ballet of working on the solid top, too little pace surrounded by too many people, and you could lose control of the kitchen, which would hamper the goal of your efforts, feeding your public. I have seen a chef lose control of the team, and it ain’t pretty.

One of my fat carvings, for Birmingham Salon Culinaire 1995, Bronze Medle

It’s love of food, cooking, showing off and striving to be the saviour of the kitchen or hotel, its the engine room of every hotel, a dirty room can be recleaned or changed, but a bad dinning experience is the end of the world. Maybe because most people to a degree, can cook, and expect that a proffesional could easily cook meat and two veg, but no head chef has ever written a menu with in easy grips of the team, they write to the very limit of your talents, and sometimes we slip from that pinnacle, not far, but just enough to be noticed. We come out of the kitchen after a good night we are walking on air, we are and dreaming big. If you make just one mistake feeding 70 people, you are ripping yourself apart, the customer may never have noticed, you may even have sneaked it passed the chef, but to you, its unforgivable, and you make yourself pay in the quiet of the night.


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