A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Slaving over a hot stove!

Last night, I really wished I was already on my holiday! Getting back into the kitchen after a seven-year break was quite exciting but last night I realised why I had hung up my apron!

Friday night we served 50 and it had been a walk in the park. Last night was like a sprint around the park. The first customers arrived at around 5.45pm. Kevin and I never looked up till 10.15pm.

At the last count Adam reckoned that we’d served around 120 people. And he emphasized that he’d sold 16 Mojitos even though his main barmaid had gone home poorly. He was left with two new members of staff who’d never worked behind a bar prior to Tuesday’s training session.

Apart from Kevin and me, we had one of our old kitchen porters, Lydia, sixteen years of loyal service, and helping her was 16-year old Joe.
Helping us with the cold tapas we had 18-year old Emma, who until this week worked in a pub that served plastic food.
In the background two 17-year old catering students, Phil and Ryan who, despite two years at college had to be shown how to sharpen knives, cube potatoes evenly or even clean mussels.

One hundred and twenty people! As the night wore on and wore us down, I kept mental notes of how to improve our speed, coordination and preparation. Kevin did the same.
After we served the last table, I wandered around the restaurant talking to customers, half of whom regularly visited our other restaurants.
Instant feedback!
Every one of them had really enjoyed the whole experience. A few, especially our older regulars confessed that they had never been to a tapas bar and had been confused as to what to order. That gave me the idea of compiling a menu for tapas-virgins giving them a pleasurable introduction to this great eating experience.

As I sipped a well-earned Mojito, Kevin and I dissected and laughed at our evening mishaps. We decided to get even better prepared next Saturday. We have a whole week to test our systems and train our young brigade.
Today, Karen and I have to stick a few coat hangers around the restaurant, survey the scene and then, this evening, attend our first dance lesson ever!

I never had time to take photos of the restaurant in full swing yet. I'm worried I might drop my camera in the stockpot!

Friday, January 27, 2006

The calm before the storm...

I took this photo on Wednesday afternoon.
We opened the doors at 5pm without advertising although we had posters in our other restaurants hinting that Casa del Mar would open its doors in 2006!

We refused bookings because we needed to get all the staff used to the new style of service. I was in the kitchen with our young head-chef, plucked from one of the other restaurants. He has been with us for 7 years, from the age of 16! So, to run your own kitchen by the age of 23, is truly AMAZING! He was rearing to go and so was I.

We had invited a few friends, relatives and the guys who carried out the work.
I warned them all that we didn't want compliments. All we wanted was constructive criticism!
They and the handful of customers who had heard of our "secret" opening night were absolutely delighted with the whole thing!
The decor! I made sure that everyone got to know how many hours each mosaic took me!
The food, a bit foreign to our English chef, pleased everyone.
Cordero en salsa, Favada, Calamares, Albondigas, Paella, Pollo al Ajillo, Gambas Pil Pil... and a few other specialities like Algerian Merguez sausages, Hummus, Tzatziki... just to make it a truly Mediterranean restaurant...
So, our first night was a success in the fact that the kitchen coped very well with the unusual service. 15 different tapas to one table alone!

Tonight, Friday, we served around 50 diners one of whom, a Spanish visitor was quite amazed at finding a corner of Spain tucked away by the North Sea.
Everything went like clockwork and we are gearing ourselves to a very busy Saturday. We only take bookings for parties of eight or over. We have around 30 reservations already and I have a feeling we will hit a century by the end of the night.

When I offered our young chef the job, I said that I'd working with him in the kitchen for the first three months until he got the hand of it... Last week I was thinking about cutting it down to three weeks... But after just three days, he has definitely proved that he is able to cope very well... I am really glad because I have a two-week Spanish holiday booked at the end of February.

I thank you all for your best wishes on the opening of Casa! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 22, 2006


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Well, here we are! All the mosaics are finished! Thank Heavens! I was getting a bit sick of the pressure. Many evenings I worked till very late but I am very happy with most.

Tomorrow, we will finish cleaning and then the soft furnishing will come out! I have bought lots of things to go on the walls. So the electric screwdriver will get some hammer!
I will be working full time in the kitchen until the chefs are confident enough.
The young head-chef and I will begin experimenting and trying our food on a few selected guinea pigs.
Tuesday, finishing touches and more tastings.
Wednesday evening, Casa del Mar will finally open to the public. No advertising as we want to ease ourselves into our first week slowly so all the staff get a good grounding.
Adam will use some staff from the other two restaurants as trainers for the new recruits.
And that's it!
I told him that he can use my service for 3 weeks before I go on holiday and then I'm out!
But I will remain in the background. Blogging my heart out...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Cat's Whiskers...

This was my first blog posting ever! I think it is appropriate for this week's Illustration Friday "Cat" theme.

One of our younger patrons shyly confessed that she had named her pale-blue-eyed cream cat after me. What a great surprise!
I asked if he was house trained. Her dad, an old acquaintance of ours, said: "He is but he's out most nights!" Now, there's another surprise! I wondered if his whiskers matched mine. I asked why the young lady had taken such an unusual step. A shrug of the shoulders was the answer. Maybe, the exclusivity factor was the motive.

In Algeria most cats go by the name of Minouche for a female and Minou for a male. Not that original, you'll agree but in a country where the word Whiskas could be mistaken for a double shot of Scottish nectar, one cannot expect much in terms of welfare for our feline friends! One thing though, don't you ever stand on your doorstep shouting for your cat... A horde, (can you say that?) of Minouches or Minous will barge past you, heading for your kitchen and your unfortunate cat's dinner! That may be last night's leftovers, but don't you fret, Algerian cats are not allowed to be fussy.
Karen, are you listening? Our 13-year-old Henry, the spit of television feline celebrity Arthur, is regularly treated to roast turkey or poached chicken, fresh salmon or even Scottish smoked salmon by that soft-hearted wife of mine! I once caught her feeding him the last tin of John West tuna. I had earlier earmarked it for my supper. "Spit it out, now!" "Meaow..."

I can't say I am cross to have a cat named after me but this may lead to awkward situations. Just imagine this innocent young lady admonishing her cat within earshot of neighbours and passers-by!
"Now, Cream, if you don't finish your dinner, you're not getting anything else!" "Cream, I told you to use the litter tray, you dirty thing!"

Andrea has just pointed out another post that shows the photo of my feline namesake! Le chat me ressemble

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I like the sound of breaking glass...

Two weeks ago I nearly broke this mirror trying to adjust the tiles around it!
I am a tiny bit superstitious... Like I always put on my right shoe before my left...

I had to sit down after the shock of nearly ending up with seven years of bad luck. I made myself a cuppa and then carried on...
All the mirrors are now finished...Thank God! I was starting to hate tiles...
A bit of varnishing, a lot of cleaning and we'll be ready to open next wednesday... Photos will be coming by Monday, once the place has been cleaned up.
Fingers crossed...
Who's Superstitious, like? Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Pardonnez mon Italien....

You may know that I am very busy at the moment getting our Tapas Bar finished for opening hopefully around the 25th January. So, I haven't had time to write anything. However, I have cheated and this is the very second posting I made on my blog back in August. I never got a comment but, as it is still topical, I am sure it will stir up a little discussion.

There is a rumour going about in Italy that only genuine Italian restaurants ought to be called Italian restaurants...
I agree, because anyone who tells us that we run Italian restaurants will get a earful. We run Mediterranean restaurants!
"Neither of my restaurants has ever pretended to call itself Italian!"
Yes, we serve pastas and pizzas in one but so what?

When I was a kid back in Algeria, my mother cooked some of the best pasta dishes I have ever tasted. Did she say we were having Italian food for lunch? No, sir! For her, it was just food.

Just try any pub, restaurant or greasy spoon caff anywhere in Britain or even the world for that matter, you will invariably find a couple of pasta dishes on the menu. Are they all trying to be Italian? No, sir!

I think there is more to this Italian idea than meets the eye. Their main aim is to try and encourage restaurants to buy genuine Italian produce before they can call themselves Italian. That way they are bound to increase their exports of Parma ham, Parmesan and Mozzarella...

I am certain that our Gordon Ramsay won't mind changing his name to Giordano Ramsio just because he happens to have crab ravioli on his menu.

I have to admit that this is a tremendously cunning plan and I congratulate the Italians for coming up with it first, before the Chinese, French, Indians, Thai, Greeks, Spaniards, etc...

However, the fact remains that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with making Lasagna using British pasta, a stir-fry using Spanish onions or a Balti using French cauliflower.Anyone who says they can taste the difference is either an expert or an expert fibber!

Come on, let's be honest! Who is then that knicked noodles from the Chinese and called them Spaghetti? Do you know??? Moi, je le sais! Et vous?

I hope that the Spanish won't be upset that I am opening a Tapas Bar and calling it Casa del Mar...

Monday, January 09, 2006


This is one I did on Painter a couple of months ago! My submission to this week's Illustration Friday...a few days late!

Anyone for Grilled Cajun Swordfish Steak with tomato and basil salsa?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A pig's ear!

After I dropped out of Naval Architecture, I decided to find work in a bid to save enough money to get back to computing.
Most of my student friends held part-time jobs in local restaurants. They all bragged about the money, the free meals but most of all the abundance of female customers desperately ready and willing to throw themselves at hot-blooded Mediterranean gigolos.
Being a guy who liked to dabble with food, I decided to give it a go.
After a washing-up stint at an Italian Pizzeria in Newcastle I landed a job closer to home working for an Englishman, who by virtue of his Italian wife thought it essential to change his name from Ralph to Raffaele! He constantly played Mario Lanza in his pseudo Italian Village Trattoria to reinforce his Latin filigree!
His self-proclaimed photographic memory helped him remember a handful of Italian words. He was aware that, as I had worked with a few Amalfi expats, I too had picked up enough of the Roman lingo to sound like a Sardinian according to a fellow Italian waiter.
Often, in front of his influential friends, local councillors and factory chiefs, he addressed me in pidgin Italian urging me to decipher and understand his pathetic babble! Keeping a straight face, I usually carried out his commands very loosely, pouring him a glass of red wine instead of white knowing full well that he could not refuse it for fear of being rumbled by his admiring free-loaders.

To his credit, he was a generous guy if a little forgetful. On Christmas Eve afternoon he presented every single member of the staff with a 12lb. turkey...frozen so solid that it only thawed in time for a June barbecue...

I will always remember the centre piece of the famous buffets Ralphie laid on New Year's Eve and other illustrious occasions such as the Mayor’s Ball.
Tables were laden with all kinds of foods, from turkey to salmon, lobster to roast beef...
The Centre Piece was a succulent suckling pig!
The pet suckling pig!
Ralphie loved him so much that no one was ever allowed to take a bite off him.
The reason was only obvious to those of us insiders who knew that immediately after the buffet tables were cleared, Piggy quietly slipped back into hibernation in a chest freezer at the back of the cellar.
Piggy lay there in silence and darkness till the next banquet when he was once again thawed back to glamorous stardom.
In his frozen, brittle state, Piggy was sadly prone to losing various parts of his body when inadvertently knocked. He often emerged from arctic rest with a missing ear.
Whenever faced with such an unfortunate accident, unfazed Ralphie donned his make-up artist’s hat, got the superglue out and calmly carried out a face-saving graft many a Harley Street plastic surgeon would give his right arm for!

Thankfully I didn't last very long in that job!

It was a case of ear today, gone tomorrow!

Jobs you wish you never had???

Thursday, January 05, 2006


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Caroline asked me to post the collages I commented about in her "Self Portrait" post.

One day after getting a bit cheesed off with packs and packs of photos hidden in dark drawers, I decided to make a collage.
It proved so easy to do that Karen decided to make another 3 or 4.

We have them hanging in the living room and the bathroom.

Every now and then, a glimpse brings memories flooding back.

A pair scissors, a picture frame, a tube of glue and imagination!
Piece of cake!


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Sea There?

Tales of the sea. A very rough interpretation of a Millet painting.
The sea has always a dear place in my heart. The Mediterranean Sea but also the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.
The Med where I grew up, the Atlantic and Indian Oceans where I sailed during my holidays from Naval Architecture School.

Nowadays, the North Sea.

In the Summer of 91 on the hottest Saturday of the year, I suggested a quick dip to my young chefs. After all, we had had a very busy evening cooking for over 60 people. Those were the days when I slaved over a hot stove. The kids were game for a laugh!

We sneaked out of the back door and across the road onto the beach as the clock hit 11pm.
Puzzled onlookers must have thought we were ghosts of past sailors as we ran towards the sea in our chefs whites.

No skinny dipping. Just a quick paddle in a North Sea that never warms up beyond 20 degrees even at the height of the hottest summer.

Our allocated half pint of lager at the end of the shift provided enough Dutch courage for us to remain at least five minutes in the icy waters. Our frozen fun was thankfully cut short by a hungry seagull who attacked one of the youngsters probably mistaking him for a juicy cod!
We still laugh at that episode when we meet up.

Karen caught me as I ran up the stairs to my office for a quick change of clothes. She shook her head in desperation.

"You act like a six-year-old! I can't believe you're a businessman!"

I quickly mentioned something about motivational team bonding! I don't think she was convinced.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Mosaic Finished...

The finished product with different camera settings. (Click on photo to enlarge) I am quite pleased!
The colours in the bottom one are pretty true.

It took me around 25 hours from start to grouting. It needs to be polished a few times to get rid of all traces of plaster. There were times when I wondered why I had decided to mosaic the bar. But as Mastermind goes, "I've started so I'll finish!"

The next job is to put mosaic round a few mirrors. Masochism!

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