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

Monday, September 24, 2007

Acting the fool...

I am off to Spain for a couple of weeks so I shall leave you with this video taken on a mobile phone at a party in August.

It was a great do with live music. "Carwash" took me back to the late Seventies when I danced for hours on end at Sunderland's discos.

My moves have not changed much... They've only slowed down a little.

I have also placed my favourite songs in the sidebar. Click on a song and you will see the title and singer. I have varied tastes in music as you can see.

A song has only to stir something inside for me to like it. It does not matter at all if I do not understand the lyrics...

Hasta Luego, amigos...

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

A burning ambition...

Toffee baskets cannot stand the heat. The strands of caramel are so thin that by the end of a busy service those that have not been served will have begun melting.
So, every evening, before service I made a new batch. Luckily, the caramel itself can last a long time if it is kept covered and free from moisture.

As the syrup has to initially be heated up to 170° to turn into caramel, the handle of my faithful pan had got a little looser with the years.

The early Nineties. Thursday, 6.30pm. Service started at 7.30pm. So I was preparing my usual batch of baskets for the evening.

All of a sudden I felt a volcano erupt and rivers of molten lava spread over my left hand.
I screamed with pain but had the sense to plunge my hand into a container full of cold water. When I took it out, some of my fingers were already covered in blisters. An agonising fire raged inside my fingers. The handle had come off the pan and toppled all over my hand.

Karen immediately took me to the local hospital. I held my throbbing hand out of the car as she sped through the streets. A doctor gave me a shot of morphine. The pain subsided a little. He bandaged my hand and I returned to work. Being right-handed I managed to serve 50 or so diners with the help of my two young commis-chefs.
After a restless night, I got up to agonising pain, the effect of the morphine having waned. The blisters now looked like over-inflated pink balloons. Back at the hospital the doctor insisted that I had to go to the burns unit at another hospital in a neighbouring town. There, the consultant announced he would keep me in for two days.

"Who the f… is going to do the cooking?"

Two days later, Saturday evening, 8pm I was sitting with a friend of mine and my young son at a restaurant some twenty miles away, wondering how my two commis-chefs were coping with a full house.

Karen came home well after midnight. I waited up for her.

"They did sixty-two customers! And not a single complaint!"

I felt both elated and disappointed at the news.
Disappointed that I was no longer indispensable to the operation.
But I was secretly happy. Happy that I was no longer tied to the stove.

My accident marked a defining moment in my life.
The moment when I realised that I was free to get out of the kitchen and plan for the future...

Nowadays, I look at my slightly scarred hand and thank my lucky stars I hung my apron up a long time ago.
Photo: "Mauna Loa." Online Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

What a basket to make...

A couple of years after opening my first restaurant, twenty-two years ago, I decided to introduce a few new desserts.

While scouring cookery books and magazines I came across Toffee Baskets in the Australian Women's Weekly

I tried to make some but the caramel kept turning into fudge. I researched the subject and discovered that success depended on many factors.

-The pan had to be totally free from grease.
-The quantities of sugar, water and vinegar had to be accurate to nearest hundredth of a unit.
-The syrup had to be simmered until every single grain of sugar had melted.
-Then and only then could the syrup be boiled until it reached the right temperature.
The test was, if a tiny quantity of syrup was dropped into cold water, it would immediately solidify and become a ball...

Worse than brain surgery...

After a few pounds of wasted sugar, I got the hang of making these intricate baskets using the back of a ladle.

I served two baskets per person, one filled with lemon sorbet and fresh fruit and the other on top to form a nest.
Twenty years on and it is still one of our most popular desserts.

My next post will be “How this toffee basket may have changed my life…”

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Still dreaming...

Saturday night my friend Didier and I were invited to a party celebrating (!) the last night in business of a local restaurant. The departing owner decided to call on a few friends to help him use up the remaining stock of food and wine. So a few of us were treated to a sumptious late supper of lobster, mussels and risotto all washed down with a selection of wines.
I got home well past one o'clock. Karen is away in Scotland visiting friends.

Sunday, I worked at our main restaurant as we were a bit short-staffed. (Summer holidays.)
The convection oven packed up fifteen minutes before service. After a few attempts to fix, the chef and and I decided to use the main oven for everything. Despite a few mishaps, the lunch service went ok and we ended up serving 72 people.

Just after two o'clock I went over to our tapas bar, borrowed a bottle of Spanish Rose and headed to Didier's restaurant for a chill-out. He had just finished his service and was chatting to a few customer friends who had just arrived back from France with a bootful of wines.
We tried a couple of glasses of Blanquette de Limoux, a delightful sparkling wine with a slice or two of cheese.

An hour-long siesta helped restore me for yet another evening with friends, at our tapas bar. A guitarist plays there every Sunday night. A few tapas, a couple of drinks and a Spanish sing-song. A welcome early night brought an end to another busy weekend.

It has not been easy to stay away from Blogland and so, during this Blogging Silence, I have been reading most of your blogs and even accepted a Blog Prize.

I am still alive and dreaming...

The photo is from a local August folklore festival.

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