So, I’ve bitten the bullet and decided to become a chef. How was I going to achieve this this dream? It looked like I may have to back the Careers Advice Centre (CAC) and see what they had to offer. My parents put it around their friends that I was wanting to cook for a living and asked them to have a look out for me. I booked an appointment at the CAC but wasn’t really looking forward to it and eventually didn’t go.
I decided to see if any of the teachers could offer some advice. I drew a blank with most of them, but then that certain geography teacher said he would try and find a few things out, if that’s what I wanted to do. After a few days, he came up with a list of options that ranged from a full-time college course to an apprenticeship and even joining one of the armed forces. None of these appealed at all.
It’s now the beginning of May 1971 and we are all 16 years old. The school is now wanting us to leave so they can free up teachers time. The six or seven of us that are still left are simply reading the local papers in search of a job. Then someone, I cannot remember who suggests I might want to have a look at hospital catering as an option. It was the one thing that I had not even thought of. My parents looked into it and somehow managed to get me an interview. I was a bit concerned about having an interview and my father went with me. I think him going with me may have been one of the reasons I got the job. A trainee cook, due to start in August. Their advice was that I should find a temporary job in a kitchen somewhere, doing anything that was needed. To ‘… gain experience of kitchen life …’ they said.
After the interview, we met up with my mum and she thought it would be a nice idea to go and have some tea or coffee to celebrate. Now I thought we would be going to one of the cafés in Leeds Market, but no mum said we should ‘do it in style’ or words to that effect. The best place in those days was a department store called Schofields. They had an a ’la carte restaurant and a café and we went to the cafe. It was whilst we were there, that someone noticed a small sign advertising a kitchen porter job. We found out who to ask, and I was interviewed the same day. I’ll never know whether it was because I looked the part, or the fact that I was going into the catering industry, but I got that job too.
The actual job title was “Cake Boy” and for the morning entailed me pushing and pulling a huge wooden trolley full of wooden trays (no plastic in those days) of cakes from the bakery on the top floor to both restaurant and café. In the afternoon, I worked washing up on a huge dishwasher. It had a conveyer system which was a continual loop. The trays of crockery were loaded as the conveyer belt moved along. They went in the machine at one end and came out the other. The image is the closest I could get to the one I used, but you need to imagine the conveyor coming right across the front. The trick was to make sure that you unloaded the clean crockery before the tray got to the place where they would be loaded up again. It didn’t always go to plan and sometimes a double wash would happen.
I was there for ten weeks, before my ‘real’ job started, but I was on the first step of a long catering ladder, and on my way up.
To be continued …
I have been wanting to write some kind of auto-biography some some time now. But I had largely been put off by reading an old work colleague’s attempt. Believe it or not he started the thing the phrase:
“I was born at an early age …”
This was a miss-quote of a quite well known Groucho Marx statement. To be honest, I don’t remember much of my early childhood, and there are not too many people left to ask these days. So I decided that the ‘then’ would be my work start and the ‘now’ would be basically be the start of my current part-time job.
In order to clarify a few points that may or may not crop up in this tale, I need to go back to school. It’s 1966 and I in the 2nd term of my 5th year at Harehills County Secondary school. It was just after Christmas and we were having our obligatory “Careers Advice” meeting. This took place after school an involved my form teacher, some very old bespectacled gentleman from the Careers office and my parents. Oh, and I was there too. My only role was to say what job I wanted to do when I left at the ripe old age of 16. That’s all I did. I said I wanted to be a draughtsman. It was my best subject and the one I enjoyed to most. After stating this, I was totally ignored for the rest of the meeting whilst the other three parties discussed why this was not going to happen. To this day, the only clue I have is that I was not expected to get 2 grade 1’s and at least 2 grade 2’s (these were the CSE or Certificate of Secondary Education. If I had gone to a Grammar School, it would have been the GCE or General Certificate of Education which was the old ‘O’ level.) That was the one and only official Careers Advice I was ever had. In those days, kids who only obtained a CSE normally did not go onto University, and after nearly 12 years in a classroom, the idea of more education certainly did not appeal.
What was to become of me? What else interested me?
The inspiration came from a rather unexpected source. We had a geography teacher, whom most of the class detested. He never seemed very good at his subject and was the most arrogant person I ever knew. But he had a habit of asking kids if there was anything worrying or bothering them. He asked me and I hadn’t realised that I was worrying about my job/career prospects. His advice was to look at interests and hobbies outside of school and consider if there was any opportunity there. I told him my three hobbies and he replied that plastic model kit building would get me nowhere and that at the time, there would be very few opportunities for a male knitter. But cooking, if I was good at it could ‘…take me places…’.
So that was it. I was going to be a cook/chef. Now all I had to do was find a way of getting to that status.
To be continued …
I used to be a cook. From 1971 to 1986 I was a cook at the Leeds General Infirmary. In fact from 1983 to 1986, I was the Head Cook in the staff kitchen. All this is a little bit of background information for what I want to have a chat about. That chat is about pastry. Specifically short crust pastry. Now, when you watch these famous TV chefs preparing pastry (and I’ll not mention any names here) they will always tell you that it has to be done by hand .. No mixer/processor allowed!!! .. They will tell you that your pastry will be tough/dry/chewy and any other descriptive term for ‘bad’ pastry they can think of. They will tell you that you have to make it by had, if you want the best pastry. I want to tell you that’s a load of rubbish. When you are making enough pastry to cover pies that are going to feed 300+ people, making it by hand is a non-starter. Can you imagine trying to ‘rub-in’ 20lb of lard/margarine into 40lb of flour by hand!. You have to use a machine. If it works for large volumes, then it has to work for smaller volumes too. So here is my recipe for short crust pastry in a food-processor:
- weigh 8oz flour into your food processor with a pinch of salt
- dice up 2oz of cold butter and 2oz of cold lard into 1/4 inch dice
- chill butter and lard in freezer for 15 minutes
- add butter and lard to flour and process until looks like breadcrumbs
- add 3floz of very cold water and use the pulse function until the pastry starts to come together
- tip out onto a lightly floured worktop and gently kneed for a few seconds until all mixed
- wrap in cling-film and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes
- use as required
They key to this is the speed of the processing and the coldness of the fat. I takes less than 2 minutes to go from fat and flour to pastry, which means that the fat is still cold. I can assure you that it does work.
March is going to be an expensive month I think. Firstly, there’s Mothers Day and then there’s K***s birthday. This is one of those significant birthdays too. The big ‘six-zero’. Looks like I may need to move some cash from my savings account, but it should not be a problem really. We are going away for a couple of days on the weekend before the big day which will be nice. We’ve been to the hotel before a few years ago and it was a nice place. Good food, good scenery and it will be relaxing break for both of us. R*** is away for the weekend, so there are no worries about getting back for him. Just got to hope the weather is better than present. It has got a lot warmer overnight which has led to the snow staring to melt into slush. Much fun!
Now, here’s a poser. Which is the correct way? Front or back? Is there a right or wrong way? I have no real preference at all but I know how K*** feels about it. For her it has to be Front. There can be no argument and it can lead to a lot of tutting if I put it the wrong way around. I’ve been in houses that drop down the front and houses that drop down the back. I’ve also been in places that have different preferences in different rooms. I’ve also been in houses where the loo-roll is sat on the cistern behind, which is an odd if not difficult location. So this is not a poll, just wondering that’s all.
Well it was my intention to start this thing on Monday 16th, but I have a photo and it’s given me something to say, so why wait?
The photo is the beginnings of my lunch for Monday. Basically it’s pasta with some bits of beef, mushroom, onion, carrot and mixed salad leaves. There is a boiled egg to add later, with some kind of dressing, mayonnaise or maybe even oil and balsamic.
There is a point to this. Mrs H and I tend to watch these cooking programs that seem to be on every channel at the moment. It kind of annoys me a little when the presenter (quite often not a chef/cook) tells the viewer that they ‘should not buy’ the pre-packed food from the supermarket. Then they go on to explain how much cheaper and more beneficial it is to ‘make it yourself!’
Here is the reality! From start to finish, the whole dish took just over 30 minutes to cook and assemble. It would take me just over 10 minutes to call in at the supermarket (at the top of the street where I work) buy the dish and get back to the office to eat it. As for the cost, in the supermarket, it would be around £2.00 – £2.50 for something like this. Of course it is a great deal cheaper to make it myself! Of course it is, but only if the ingredients I used are to hand. To purchase the ingredients separately would amount to a lot more than the £2.50 it would cost ready made. Aha, you exclaim ….. you have all the ingredients now to make another salad for the next day and the next day and the next day ……. and then what’s left goes in the ‘hot composter’ because it has gone out of date. See my point?
Have you noticed, that one of the current trends in so called food journalism, is the ‘rustic look’. It’s that type of food presentation, where the food looks like it has just been dropped on a random plate, usually made out of galvanised tin. Quite often, there are bits of leaves or ground pepper something scattered around that plate. The plate is then presented on an old table and on some occasions is accompanied by a used spoon. It’s the ‘Jamie Oliver’ school of cooking. No finesse, no style, just slap it on a plate/piece of wood/slate and get down your neck. Do you like it? Do you think it is appealing? Does it give you a sense that ‘it’s the food that matters – not its looks’? I (as you may have gathered) don’t like it. When I trained as a chef, some forty years ago, I was told, that your first impression came from the smell of the food, then its look and finally, the taste. The smell and the look entice you and that both prepare you for the next stage, the taste. Well this ‘rustic’ style does nothing for me. So stop it with the battered plates and even more battered old furniture and stick to presenting food in a more attractive manner.
Here endeth my food rant.
Anyone watch the last episode of Law & Order UK (28/07/2013). Is this where old Casualty actors go when they leave. First we had Ruth Winters playing Kate Barker then Paterson Joseph turns up as Wes Layton. Now this week were treated to Connie Beauchamp (ahhhh) and also Josh Griffin. All we need now is Nick Jordan to turn up as a prosecutor and it will be all sorted.