Nice prawn right? Not too shabby for day three.
So here we are, three days into a sixty day marathon. The going has been good. The group is big. Twenty five of us piled into the college on Monday morning. Arms laden with bags of chef whites. Brand new knife wallets. Knives that haven’t seen an onion, much less their first accidental taste of thumb. Though it wouldn’t be long for them to wait. Nervous first day chittering and chattering. Small talk. Cold outside. Traffic was bad. New years. Ya’know, serious stuff. I talked to a few people through my tension. I was just amazed I was here. Physically. In a professional cookery programme. The fact of my physical presence astounded me. It’s not often one is amazed at their own physical presence.
We have been forging ahead with serious pace since we first took up our aprons a few days ago. We started with the usual introductions and safety paraphernalia. A quick class trip to the fire assembly point accross the road and we got started. First order of the day, Soda Bread and Carrot Soup. “Yes Chef!” Knife skills, few knicks on a few people. (“General Rule; knife always beats skin! No contest.”) Nothing serious. Sit for lunch, more nervous chatter. People start to get a little more comfortable though. The introductions helped. We have fifteen recent Bank retirees. Several restaurant people. One Glamper (Glamorous Camping) and a few others cobbled together from the fringes of society.
The next day or so went by quite quickly, friendships were beginning to form as well as slight aggravations. I heard of a few instances of a bowl of carefully weighed out flour or vinegar being pinched. One of the tough lessons of being a Chef. Mise-en-place is everything. Take part of another chef’s mise and he is perfectly within his rights to take a finger as collateral. It’s this kind of story that we start to hear out of Brendan, one of the Academy’s tutors and self-proclaimed token War vet. A stocky man in his forties or fifties (it can be very hard to tell age with Chefs) he has clearly done some serious kitchen time.
He spills some stories about his time at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The kitchen was a block long. There was an entire butchers inside dedicated solely to chicken. The idea of any food prep space that big boggled me, my home kitchen is a glorified broom cupboard. I wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of space. He talks of feeding Mayors and Archbishops, casually throwing in the occasional President of the United States and he has himself a pretty decent dinner party. Complete with a handshake from Bill Clinton. he rounds the whole thing off with a particularly interesting anecdote about ranks of waiters, one hundred and fifty strong, chanting for food so they could clock out like some culinary version of Helms Deep. His own personal ‘Nam. Said with the glint in his eye that seemed to betray a feeling of “It was hell. But it was quite the ride.”
I think I am in every danger of enjoying this.
~ Mark O’Brien