Updated: Oct 16, 2019
I'm sat here writing this and the telly is on. In this day of modern technology where you can get the internet on a watch, store up to 10,000 tunes on your phone and send a text message around the world, the BBC still can't show local news programmes in HD. What do we pay our TV licence for? Apart from subsidising the wages over overrated presenters.
I wasn’t going to start with that, but as the message was emblazoned across the TV, I thought it was as good a place as any to begin my grumpy old git moan.
I am normally a very placid, tolerant and patient bloke but some things really annoy me, most of which are beyond my control but with a little bit of common sense applied by those who make these stupid rules and recommendations, the world could be a better and more harmonious place to live.
Commercialism, the bane of modern society. Take Valentine's day, they say that if you don’t fill your restaurant on February 14th then you are never going to fill it. A time to charge over the top prices for a romantically worded menu that will make up the following days specials for half the price.
Christmas, I have been lucky in the fact that I have had just about more Christmas days off than I have worked, but never the less, if Christmas is a day of celebration with family and close friends, why can't chefs, waiting and bar staff and all other hospitality workers have that time off to celebrate with their families? Reason, it’s a chance to make an obscene profit from lazy people who can't be arsed to cook on Christmas day. I mean let's face it, Christmas dinner is just a glorified Sunday lunch with the addition of maybe a starter (usually smoked salmon) and Christmas pud and crackers. It's not difficult, and to be honest, surely a morning in your own kitchen starting early on the wine is better than a morning in the sitting room or a packed pub with the In Laws.
Christmas in the catering industry usually starts in the last 2 weeks of November. I have always done all my Christmas menus by March of that year and await the panic booking in late October. Organisation; Christmas is every December, it shouldn't come as a surprise.
Christmas functions are probably the easiest things you do all year, a set 3 course dinner with a few veggies and vegans. Basically, a roast dinner to act as blotting paper so the office crew can drink a bit more, before falling over.
In the past I have always taken food samples of every Christmas function that I've cooked, because you know that somebody will get pissed, be sick and claim food poisoning, as soon as you tell them that you have samples of their meal and you can send them off to be analysed, they suddenly realise that maybe it was the drink after all.
Pubs at Christmas annoy me. I have had 2 or 3 local drinking establishments very local to various places of which I have worked, I have inhabited these drinking establishments 5 days a week, nearly every week, over the past 30 odd years, but in December, forget it. Office party types, the December drinkers, not seen in pubs for the other 11 months of the year. These creatures have no pub etiquette whatso ever, they stand at the bar waving their arms about annoyed that they haven't been served straight away, forget what the round was, shout across the pub to Cheryl to see if she wanted ice in her prosecco, have no idea what a whip is, then order a bowl of chips and tell the barman that they are over there, pointing to a mass of people around one small table draped in coats. Luckily, I suppose, by the time I get into the pub if I'm working a late, all the riff raff has gone home if it’s a school night, and I can enjoy a quiet beer with the landlord as he pours out his tortured soul to me.
Being a chef has changed big time in the past 34 years. I remember that very little was date labelled back then, let alone emblazoned with an allergen sticker. If the health inspector came around, they would look in the fridge and ask you when that gravy was made, you told them Sunday, if it was Tuesday then it was ok and you got a clean bill of health as long as the kitchen was clean, oh boy, what a difference now.
Nowadays it’s all temperature control sheets, allergen sheets, cleaning schedules and trying to write menu’s with as many non-allergen items on it as possible.
I understand why, but chefs just want to cook, paperwork is for office types who wear suits and drink skinny soya milk lattes.
A head chef has a pen in his hand longer than he has a knife in a 10- hour shift.
Talking of knives, Chefs use knives! I know that sounds quite an odd thing to say, but let me expand. Over the past 30 odd years I’ve cut myself more than once. Most times it just needs a plaster, sometimes it’s been a hospital visit for a couple of stiches. But I reckon that I have done more damage to my fingers on the sharp edges of greaseproof paper, cling film cutter boxes and staples in my office.
Some companies nowadays, operate a cut glove policy. Let me tell you more, they provide chefs with a cut glove, which is basically a glove which is worn on the opposite hand to which you hold a knife. You then protect this glove with a disposable plastic glove. This is intended to protect you from cutting yourself. Good idea in principle, but in reality, a bloody nightmare and in my view not at all hygienic or practical.
I have tried these gloves, I have big hands, (my dad always said that I should have been a brickie), by the time I have squeezed into a cut glove my hand is now very uncomfortable, restricted in proper movement and sweaty. I then have to squeeze into a protective glove, this invariably splits because they are of poor quality and not quite big enough to fit over the cut glove. When I do get it on without it splitting, I then have to try and hold a vegetable, piece of meat, fish etc, safely and securely so as I can cut it. As I can’t feel my hand properly, I also cannot get a proper feeling of the food I am holding. I cannot cut finely as the glove is bulky and I end up cutting the blue plastic glove which results in me picking out bits of blue plastic from what I’ve just cut.
As these cheap plastic gloves tend to split, when I am preparing meat or fish, the blood, slime, scales and general nastiness associated with raw produce, is now all over my cut glove, as they are non- washable, I have to throw it away and get a fresh one. At over £2 a glove it’s a tad expensive when you think how much a plaster, a bit of soap and hot water costs. I feel that they are a health hazard and slow chefs down in their prep time. There is no way that I could wear one and turn a carrot. The general rule of thumb is that you are supposed to wear one when using scissors, a can opener, cleaning knives and peeling vegetables. I don’t know what the rules are for slicing machines, hand held or electric, probably full body armour, chainmail and a welder's mask.
Now the big one, ALLERGIES. Many years ago, when God was a little boy and I was just starting out in the catering trade, an allergy was something that you studied at university for several years to achieve. Nowadays nearly everybody has one.
I blame society and the way food is produced, let me express my views on this.. Years ago, when we used to have milkmen who delivered milk before 7.00am so as you had fresh milk on your cornflakes, that pint of milk had 2 days shelf life before it went sour, nowadays what have you got? 2 weeks? or more in some cases. My personal view is that maybe it’s all the shit that goes into milk to preserve it that people are allergic to. I appreciate that some people are lactose intolerant, but not many from my generation.
Gluten. In my local Sainsbury’s, the FreeFrom gluten free section used to be opposite the flour section. This always made me smile. Again, I know some people are coeliac and therefore cannot eat gluten, this condition is also hereditary and people can develop symptoms later in their lives.
The problem I have with the gluten thing, especially as a chef, is that I'm sure people think its trendy. Some years ago, some TV health doctor came out and said that gluten makes you fat. It does not. You may feel bloated after eating a large Domino’s pizza, in the same way that I feel bloated after drinking 6 pints of Stella. I'm not allergic to it though.
In a pub I worked in a couple of years back, we used to make our own burgers which contained mustard, which in turn contained gluten. The amount of people who claimed to be allergic to gluten, who wanted a burger without the bun, but could not get their heads around the fact that they could not have the burger at all was staggering. The response was always “But we eat mustard all the time,” well you are not allergic to gluten then, are you! Read the labels, if you don’t want to eat gluten then don’t, but unless you are an actual coeliac then cutting all gluten from your diet is not beneficial to your health.
Do these people with gluten allergies/ intolerances or modern-day trendiness, watch Great British Bake Off and wish that they could eat the goodies being produced, or do they just resign themselves to the fact that they could always use gluten free flour, but know that it will taste shit, or just eat normally in the comfort of their own home?
When I worked in London at a Gentlemen’s club (no, not one of those, but a traditional one) my only dietary requests on big functions were one occasional gluten free, one fish instead of meat and the odd last minute, just as you served the main course vegetarian. The average age of the diners was well over 50.
I spoke with a chef recently who did a function for 700 teachers and students, there were 178 dietary requirements. A chef’s logistical nightmare. He had to employ 4 extra chefs just to look after the dietaries.
Modern day society verses the older generation. Those of us who were brought up in the 70's very rarely developed allergies because we ate mainly fresh fruit and vegetables only available in season from a greengrocer’s or their our garden, not wrapped in plastic and sprayed with God knows what, to help it grow, milk from a milkman, homemade bread from a baker’s, meat from a butcher and fish from a fishmonger. If we did get sick after eating something, our parents didn't think allergy. We were given the same foods over and over and our bodies built up a resistance to them.
I am allergic to penicillin, but I've probably eaten enough blue cheese over the years to have built up an immunity to it.
So, there we have it, not too much of a moan, but just the little things that upset me, just don’t get me started on Halloween, reversing into parking spaces, reality TV ‘celebrities’, Millennials, Christmas tat in shops in September and modern-day pop music.