Half Scottish, Half Japanese. Tempura Mars bar?

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I began writing this blog in October 2010 as a new father documenting food in his family. Before I knew it, I was in the final of MasterChef 2012. Now cooking is no longer just a hobby.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Knife through butter

I have now worked at Medlar on three occasions. I did a back-to-back, double shift the first time, where we did around 20 covers for lunch and 40-something for dinner. After receiving some positive reviews, the restaurant has been fully booked in the evenings.

My second experience was dinner service last Friday, when we did over 60 covers. Dinner service starts at 5.30pm with staff supper, in the kitchen for the brigade, in the dining room for the front of house staff. The first bookings are at 7pm, so you have just over an hour to finalise your mise-en-place. Once the checks start printing in the corner by the pass, the evening flies by. It pays to be organised and to know where everything is in your fridges. Hence the expression: mise-en-place.

There can be a dozen checks on the pass, each at different stages. At one stage, I was asked to count up the number of wood pigeons on order: fourteen, all at different stages of cooking. The oven was full and Andrew, the sauce chef, was operating at full throttle. It was amazing to witness. The grill burns on his forearms are testimony to the fact that he operates in the hottest, most dangerous part of the kitchen.

If things go wrong during service, bottlenecks occur. A cod was dropped on the floor - start again: the 3 second rule only applies only in domestic kitchens! We ran out of bearnaise sauce, mid-service, so I found myself making a fresh batch at about 10pm. Andrew was giving me quantities and instructions, while carving wood pigeon breasts and rack of lamb: melt 250 grams of butter and trickle it into 90 grams of egg yolks. I was terrified of splitting it and having to start again. I am allergic to eggs, so I have never made bearnaise or a hollandaise sauce. Feeling somewhat inadequate, I resolved to spend Sunday evening revising Delia's chapter on eggs, as it's clearly a weakness for me.

Once the last checks went out after 10.30pm, we started cleaning down the stoves. If television manages to portray any glamour in professional cooking, it is because they leave out details such as thick black rubber gloves, scouring pads, hot cast iron stoves and water that turns black almost immediately with burnt-on food and sauce. Meanwhile the pastry chef was still sending out desserts. The pastry chef has the short straw; if the restaurant bakes their own bread, he is often first to start and last to finish.

My third and latest experience at Medlar was lunch shift on Wednesday. Joe gave the larder chef the morning off and charged me with three cold starters. Salad of tongue (delicious, but not that popular), thinly sliced pork belly and tartare of sea trout. Unfortunately, none of these can compete with the crab raviolo, which accounts for around half of starter orders, so out of around 20 covers, there were only two orders for sea trout. Despite this, I found it much more difficult than I expected. Although I'd reorganised my fridges and prepped all of my mise-en-place, it's fair to say that I didn't know where everything was, which put us under pressure when I was responsible for some of the cold garnishes on the hot dishes.

Before, during and after service, there were enormous amounts of prep to do, aggravated by the fact that the suppliers were late to deliver. One of my first jobs was to break down the most enormous block of butter into smaller portions. That is my largest knife in the photo (about 20 cm or twice the size of a normal supermarket pack of butter). I have cut myself several times at home, but never cutting butter. I felt like I had committed the classic rookie error - cutting myself in the kitchen. Joe teased me as I went to find a plaster: "man down". I managed to pick up two further nicks that day, one removing the rind from a side of pork belly. I don't know how I picked up the other one, but I noticed while I was squeezing a lemon.

Back home, there is also lots of prep to do as Hector is starting to enjoy solid food and we are offering him new tastes. We started with pureed fruit, but he has quite quickly learnt to chew with his toothless gums and loves soft fruit such as ripe pears and orange segments. It may even encourage us to breakfast healthily, as he enjoys porridge, strawberries and blueberries. On the vegetable front, he has tried potato, sweet potato, carrots, peas, butternut squash and broccoli. Like me when I was young, he harvests the florets, omits the stalk and drops it onto the table in disdain. Now he is moving onto protein such as chicken and mushroom risotto and barbecued snapper. It seems to be agreeing with him, if this smile is anything to go by.

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