Postcard From The Edge (of the beach..)


Dudes. I. Am. Dead.

No, cease your gnashing of teeth and wailing of the voices, and hold fast with the rending of clothes and the singing of eulogies. I am not, strictly speaking, actually dead. But it’s getting to the point where I’m wishing I was. Summer in England is upon us. And although British summer equates to approximately three point six days of slightly less grey cloud than the rest of the year, it does not deter us pasty brits from flocking to the beaches to try to desperately give ourselves skin cancer. So if it’s the season of holidays and summer loving in the UK, why am I not a happy little bunny??? Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I shall tell you.

I’m a chef. There, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. And as a general rule of thumb, for those of you who haven’t clicked, the more relaxed and parting you lot are, the busier I am. Currently, including travelling time, to the tune of about eighty or more hours a week, all of them spent in a hot damp environment surrounded by co-workers and pieces of catering equipment that are trying to kill me. And the greatest part of this??? I work in a restaurant … AT THE FRICKING BEACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can see the beach, I can taste the beach, I can hear it and I can smell it, but I cannot sit on it, lie and sunbathe on it, or touch its gritty goodness. I cannot kayak peacefully near it, surf up to it, or scream past it on a jet ski. Instead, I CAN spend thirteen hours a day in a tiny sweat box trying to balance culinary artistry with not becoming a knife-wielding homicidal loony. Anyone who read my short story ‘Overtime’ need look no further for the inspiration!! 😉 So this long-awaited (hopefully!!) blog is about my profession…. the life of a professional chef.

Before you tune out (those of you not already existing in some permanent form of reality-denial), this is not another one of those ‘cheffy’ blogs where I’m going to discuss my rules for a perfect kitchen, or discuss the merits of high-end gastronomy versus homely cooking, nor will I be sharing my recipe for Heart-Attack Tart with you. OK, I might if you ask. But I want to talk about (vent about?) some of the lesser acknowledged but daily occurrences in professional catering – the dangerous and the crazy, the ridiculous and the scandalous. Here, then, are my observations on the  things you never knew, or wanted to know, go on behind those swinging kitchen doors………….

  1. We face death and destruction every day. True. I defy you to think of a profession that involves the combination of so many lethal hazards in such a confined space. We work with knives as sharp as razors every day, some of them deliberately designed to go through bone like butter. There’s electrical equipment in close proximity to water, scalding steam and red-hot metal, things that slice and grate, machinery with fast-moving parts and more attachments than a thousand dollar dildo. Filling out a Risk Assessment in a kitchen is like writing an essay in high school detention entitled ‘Everything I Did With My Life From Birth To Now’. Seriously, when I retire from being a chef, I’m going to juggle chain saws in a broom cupboard at Chernobyl, just for the easy life.
  2. This means that a workplace faux pas for a chef leads to more than a lost email, a badly installed bathroom or a lousy haircut. It means pain, and it means blood. Dear God, THE BLOOD. I’ve seen some sick stuff in my time but some of the injuries I’ve seen have made paramedics go pale. I’ve seen fingers cut down to the bone, hands caught in deli meat slicers, boiling oil poured over pretty much every body part going (including THAT ONE), broken bones from trips and falls … some days it’s like being in the trenches at the Somme. Personally, I once found myself nine minutes away from bleeding out due to tearing my right wrist open in an accident involving a 400lb industrial dough mixing machine. And that was at breakfast.
  3. Despite all that, chefs are extraordinarily resilient. When nuclear fallout claims the Earth, the only thing left living will be cockroaches, and chefs. We develop an almost casual contempt for pain and suffering due to prolonged exposure to it – in fact we’ve been known to stand around comparing scars like battle-hardened veterans, which essentially we are. When I tore my wrist open, my doctor advised a week off work followed by two more weeks of light duties. I was back at work the following day, carrying thirty kilo sacks of potatoes around. When the crowds come a-knockin’, the kitchen better be rockin’. I saw a colleague spill a couple of pints of 180 degree Centigrade oil down the inside of his arm causing third degree burns. He calmly placed a layer of crushed ice between two towels, wrapped it around his arm and tied it in place with butcher’s string. He then finished a further two hours of evening service before driving himself to hospital. NEVER mess with a chef. Word.
  4. Everything in point three is automatically increased tenfold when applied to female chefs. Have you seen Terminator 3?? Female chef. These women exist in a ninety percent male environment amongst fierce competition and gutter humour, where only the strongest survive, and seldom get the recognition they deserve. They are often faster and more accurate than their male counterparts, less prone to diva-ish outbursts and practical joking, and for the most part outstanding cooks. It’s a poor analogy, but try to imagine a middle-aged fat man with back hair issues trying to cut it as an exotic dancer working in a strip club populated by the world’s top ten porn stars. That’s what female chefs do every day. I take my (chef’s) hat off to them. (Also, if I had written anything else at this point the next one I work with would have diced my genitalia and served it on the daily specials as ‘Mysogynistic Old Boar Tartare’).
  5. Being a qualified chef is no guarantee that someone is even a competent chef, let alone a good one. I’ve had the privilege over the last fifteen years of working with some amazing talents, from Michelin-starred chefs to local lads who’ve never been off of the Island where I live. And I’ve also worked some guys who, as chefs, have done for the catering industry what Adolf Hitler did for world peace. It makes me so angry that they see this beautiful profession as some kind of easy option – “Oh no, I flunked high school and can’t tie my own shoelaces – oh well, I’ll be a chef then!!”. If you ever read this post and you are one of those people, know this…. the real chefs are coming for you late one night in big pointy hoods, and no-one will ever see you again.
  6. All the stuff you’re all most phobic of when it comes to behind the scenes kitchen stories – the spitting in your food, peeing in the soup, that sort of thing??? Doesn’t happen. No, really. At least not in most of the kitchens I’ve worked in. Oh sure, I’ve seen the odd thing, but by and large most of us are too professional to let that sort of thing happen, and care too much about the food that is, after all, our reputations and livelihood to let it be tampered with, especially for a harmless guest who might just compliment our work. Nah, chances are that if the food’s been spiked it’s probably destined for a fellow worker who insulted someone at the wrong time 🙂 Besides, we’re normally far too tired to summon up the necessary energy to masturbate into mayonnaise.
  7. Everybody should be made, by law, to carry a small card in their pocket that clearly shows with pretty pictorial evidence exactly what constitutes ‘medium-rare’, ‘medium-well’ etc etc when referring to the cooking of a steak. Because you are all dumb fools who think you know, but clearly don’t. And by the way, under the description for ‘well-done’ there should just be instructions on where to find the nearest McDonald’s, you goddamn heathen.

And finally, before I descend into endless diatribe, one from the heart. PLEASE… leave us feedback. Even the         negative stuff. Don’t be afraid of offending if something is not right – I’ve had Gazpacho soup sent back with the complaint it was cold .. nothing you say can shock me with its stupidity. And if something is right, doubly so please tell us!! Not ‘compliments to the chef!’ either – compliments for what??? Was it the lobster that tickled your taste buds?? Were the potatoes to die for? Or was it just the best goddarn side salad you ever tasted?? We’re stuck in a windowless box cut off from the diners, remember??? Without your feedback, we have no idea how to improve and evolve to suit your tastes, so don’t be afraid to get involved when you eat out.

I’ve had some great ideas over the last few weeks for blogs, but sadly not the time to type them, so thanks for staying with me and popping by once in a while to see if I’ve got round to posting. Hopefully, this goes some way to explaining why the sudden drop-off in publishing frequency occurred, but the season only lasts another few weeks and then I get a small portion of my life back. Until then, contrary to my former statement, because I love what I do I WILL welcome any comments from people who want to chat about food and such, but only on this post. If my next article is about a radioactive puppy with leukaemia, I don’t want you all popping up asking for a good recipe for cookie dough. There have been some great comments from you guys recently and I eagerly await your feedback this time too. And as a parting shot, although I’m not the Big Boss in my current workplace, here for the record are the only two rules I have in my kitchen…..

Remember the 6 P’s – Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Everyone Fights: No-one Quits.

(Legal Disclaimer: No Head Chefs were harmed during the making of this blog. One Sous Chef sustained a small cut on his finger, and cried like a girl about it. Several Commis chefs were bullied and mocked relentlessly, but they deserved it. One Polish kitchen porter was drunk for the entire duration.)

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17 comments on “Postcard From The Edge (of the beach..)

  1. Oh. My. God. Dear God, pardon my taking your name in vein. That was fucking perfectly done …well done if you excuse the steak pun! I’ve been in the service industry and have seen a glimpse of what the chefs go through and was always A. Afraid of them and B. In awe. Afraid because the first restaurant I ever worked at was a pancake house and we actually were forced to call the chefs some long title like “most glorious chef” or some shit like that. And if we didn’t begin and end our requests for what we needed like that, they would A. Ignore us or B. Scream at us. That was my first experience with chefs. I only worked in one high end restaurant but was a bartender so just went into the kitchen to order my own food. And I grew up with the head chef, so, he was very nice to me. Actually he seemed very calm under pressure, which I see from your blog is something that you chefs excel at.

    I worked as a waitress at a truck stop and if we gals wanted more than three shifts a week, we had to agree to do one shift cooking. I respectfully declined. It was one of those cool old school diners where the cooks were right there, cooking behind the counter for all the customers to see. And it was so flipping skinny back there. and so fucking hot! I have always respected chefs and what you all go through.

    I also, NEVER complain because I am afraid of enraging a chef to the point of the food taint thing you were mentioning. Have you ever seen the movie Road Trip? If not, watch it. The image of what that short order cook did is forever burned into my head. That being said, now that you have explained it, i will not be so nervous anymore. Of the chefs. But I still will never send food back. Because of the servers. THEY are the food tainters. I worked with a gay dude don’t know why I felt the need to tell you his sexual leanings) who got annoyed with an old guy that requested Italian dressing on his salad, not ranch which is what said gay dude put on it. I watched my coworker make a new salad, but take the ranch-covered cherry tomatoes, pop them fully into his mouth, suck the ranch off, and put them on the new salad. GROSS. Plus, say what you will in defense of chefs, I as a waitress, dreadeddddd when a customer made me send food back because the chefs I knew would start cussing like sailors and would often take it out on little me: don’t shoot the messenger, I would plead!!!!! But perhaps the frustration stemmed from the fact that they are the ones making the restaurant HAPPEN, and ARE shut up in that windowless hot box with little or no feedback in the form of glowing praise! Plus what little tip-outs we waitresses gave them, was often nothing compared to what WE were banking on a nightly basis. Which I never thought was fair.

    You asshole servers reading this better fucking let your chefs know from now on EXACTLY WHAT the customer complimented and the exact tone they used!!!!! Because compliments DO happen often, but it rarely gets past the tip mongering server.

    And the whole injury thing? The sack of potatoes and the crushed ice bound with butcher string? YOU, my friend, are not only a great chef, but an amazing writer. I laughed my fucking ass off. And sorry if this comment is longer than your blog.

    AND concerning the mandatory steak cards? GREAT idea! By the way, I like mine pink and ever so slightly bloody. Is that medium rare?

    P.S. I have not met a female chef. And don’t think I would like to. 🙂

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  2. Haha I never said I was a great chef, just one with a professional attitude. Unlike Prince I never had a rib removed so don’t blow my own trumpet. Yes, you are a medium-rare steak eater and for the record here are the only two chef jokes I know that I can print here without someone shutting me down 😉

    What’s the difference between ‘medium’ and ‘rare’??
    About two inches.

    What do you get if you throw an epileptic into a lettuce patch??
    Seizure Salad.

    Sorry, I never said they were good jokes. As for the whole kitchen and front of house interaction, that’s never about the job – that’s just down to respect for your colleagues, or lack of it. Shouting at each other angrily achieves nothing. Unless you are French.

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  3. HEHE. Those poor French fuckers. And I just took a guess that you MUST be a great chef if you are so good at observation and detail. Did Prince really remove a rib?? And the first joke, thumbs up. The second one, not so much. But good of you to share. 🙂

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    • Lol the second joke is often a split decision amongst people, whilst the first joke raises a laugh because of its close links to reality. And as for the French,don’t get me started lol si ma chien resemble ta mere je suis rasserait le cue. Having said that it’s good to vent these work-based feelings. And if you want the recipe for Heart Attack Tart (your new nickname?) I’ll give it to you 🙂

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  4. Assassin, dude, I think we might be twins. Love of music, and cooking? After college, I attended a local culinary school with the object of moving to London to live with a University friend. Met my ex-hubby and got married instead. So no London for me. But I cheffed around town for a few years and had a very successful catering business. Then we divorced and I couldn’t cook and be a single mom, too many nights, weekends and holidays with a young child in tow. So I turned my talents elsewhere. ( And she’s now in Penzance.)

    I agree with your list.Though, I am not going to ask about the $1,000 dildo. (Subscribe to your newsletter, yes,… ask, no,)

    I like the idea that cockroaches and chefs will be left over after a nuclear war, but I think you should add twinkies.

    And I won’t regale you with the time I slipped whilst plating 12 servings of fresh fettucine alfredo with smoked trout and broke my foot, or how I worked almost every day for 3 weeks before I went and got an xray and a cast on it. And how my boss refused to pay the Drs bill, or allow me workmen’s comp. so I could prop it up for a week. ( You guys have NHS, and we’re all jealous.) I was out that thousand dollar dildo to pay that medical bill.) Or how because the French manager of a restaurant grabbed our asses, or pinched our boobs or talked “dirty” was ok, because yes while it was sexist, he was French and that’s how they roll, and we were just supposed to suck it up.

    Also, second degree burns hurt much more than third degree. And stitches just don’t work on finger tips. And when chefs fuck up, not only do we badly hurt ourselves, sometimes we can sicken the public. And unfortunately, sometimes someone with low immunity dies if a chef messes up. Food borne illnesses are a bitch.

    And every woman in a man’s environment learns quickly that when she is assertive, she is a bitch. When she is demanding, she is on the rag. So we tend to diffuse the comments or thoughts we know will come by not acting the diva. After having too many of those discussions, we stop acting like our male counterparts. In other words, you guys, and other women, judge us and our actions on our sex, it’s all filtered through a ‘she’s a women’ condescending lens. So we’re not allowed the full panoply of human emotions and reactions because the only reason we get mad is because of our cycle and the only reason we act demanding is for some sort of biological imperative. And I’m admitting other women are harder and more harsh about us than you guys ever thought about being. And by golly, I can cuss with the best of you.

    And, I’ll concur, kitchen retribution doesn’t happen. Those nasty things you see in tv and movies, doesn’t happen in real life, not in the kitchen. Most of the wait staff won’t let it happen either. Sure we fantasize, but we’re entirely too profesional to actually do it. And we know we could be shut down in seconds for less.

    And instead of everybody being required to carry a color coded card of meat done-ness, I’d prefer if everyone had to work at least 3 months of their lives in the service industry. Just so they would have some inkling about how the other half lives. Live on tips or minimum wage, put up with the general public for awhile and you develop a new respect for the people who do that every day, and you tend to be more polite and tip better.

    Assassin, dude, make a few of those color-coded cards, laminate them and give them to your wait staff. They can produce them at the order taking or show them at the complaint stage of the process.Smarter to give them at the ordering point, then later if people complain the waiter can say, but you asked for this, pointing to the picture, and then pointing to the steak cooked exactly the same way. Give them an official sounding name, with a seal(!) and 5 different pictures of doneness. In the US, I’d call it something silly like ” The National Association of Cattlemen and Chefs Official Guide to the Perfect Steak for the Individual”. See, you can have fun with this. ( Make the name long enough and insipid enough) no one could ever remember it, to check it out later.

    And I’d be happy anytime to swap recipes. I’m still a damned talented and creative chef, even if I only cook for family and friends now.

    And the picture? Dear God, that’s briliant! I am so stealing that !

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    • Great comment Dee!! I swear reading/answering comments is more fun than actually writing the blog sometimes, and yet again you’ve made some good points. May I start by saying that the $1000 dildo was merely an analogy, I have never encountered such a device in real life. Although through the catering trade I have met several 1000lb cocks 🙂

      Would a Twinkie survive nuclear fallout??? I must say I have never eaten a Twinkie. My friend and fellow blogger Jody Ruth (see my blogroll) recently wrote a post about his obsession with this most American of snacks and his finally tracking one down .. you should give it a read.

      You’re right too about the all too common misperception of women by both sexes based on society’s stereotypical “woman stuff” parameters. The reason the whole issue made the blog in the first place was that I truly believe (in my own personal experience) that in an environment as fiercely competative and standard-driven as professional catering, female chefs deserve a tip-of-the-hat because they are, for whatever reasons, placed under more pressure and scrutiny than men in an already highly stressful environment, yet deliver to the same standard. Every woman I’ve worked alongside in kitchens from day one has been someone I came to admire as a talented individual in their own right. Except one, but she was French, and had enough dirt under her fingernails to grow her own shallots.

      I was glad you agreed that we don’t mess with people’s food – it’s one of the misconceptions that bothers me most about the trade. My pet hate is waiting staff pinching chips (fries) from the basket – I know you didn’t hand sanitise right before you swines!! In a perfect world I would have a spare rolling-pin with the word Staphylococcus written on it I could beat staff about the head with ….. sigh, bloody health and safety rules 😦 But allow a customer’s food to be tampered with???? I would rather commit hari-kiri with a blunt spatula.

      And finally, I’m making enquiries in patenting the name “The Dee Loralei.Federation of Food Preparation and Culinary Arts Pocket Sized Comprehensive Visual Guide To The Precise Searing Method To Be Used In The Preparation Of Beef Sold As Steak For The Discerning Gastronomist”. If I get stinking rich from the profits of these cards…. I’ll buy you a steak 😉

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    • That she is my friend, that she is. There are times when I envy those who work in those big grimy cities full of pollution, major crime and endless neon lighting. Then, however, I normally slap myself around the face with a wet Halibut until I snap out of it 😉

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  5. all i can say dude , is i have been there with you and feel your pain …cos i saw that wrist get cut open !!!! and it was not pretty !. great writting bro and your steak and ale pie is to die for , believe me folks TO DIE FOR !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    • Ah bless ya man – you were my greatest ever kitchen porter – no-one has ever bested your carrot peeling record. Or dressed as Ronald McDonald for me 😉 Pop round for dinner soon bro, I’ll make you a fat steak and ale.

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  6. I want to piss and moan and tell you to man up, but I am slightly afraid of you know. All of a sudden my little shits from Spanners Close seem like fucking angels on my bus.

    Keep up the good… no, GREAT work.

    Sir.

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  7. Jody you can console yourself – my 8-ball of literary prophesy says that ‘The Stories of The Children of Spanners Close’, your first childrens book, will be a multi-national success. As well as the cause of your first prosecution for libel.
    That said, you know where to find me if you ever need a man who’s good with knives.

    And that’s MR Sir to you.

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  8. I do actually love reading your blogs….even though its just taken me like half hour because my eyes refuse to stop blurring lol…first of all I live in Spanners Close and I rock so dont be dissin as they say lol…secondly to the chef bit…
    When I was a waitress I spent way more time in the kitchen than I did in the restaurant because for me on the most part I enjoyed the way the kitchen ran and nearly everyone got on,,,if they didnt the whole place would fall apart…plus I just loved watching the meals being made from beginning to a beautiful precisely positioned end,,,although I swear you chefs love to set food out on the plate in a way that waitress’s have to balance precisely orrr it flys off the plate and you get to shout at us lol…
    Although one very fat chef who thinks hes the best of the best did try to tell me how to run my restaurant once…and only once cos after I was finished with him im pretty sure he had to change is underwear lol..I threw the kitchen doors open walked up to him and said what the fuck are you doing telling my staff what to do when I have everything under control and everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing etc etc he just stood there lookin down at his shoes said sorry and never tried to tell me or my staff what to do again lol 😀

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    • Blueeeeeeeeeeee!!! Just when I thought you were dead honey!!! Welcome back to the fold, good to hear from you again. Yes! Waiting staff often hang out in the kithen .. its where the best jokes are, the best craziness happens and most importantly – there are no customers in there!! Glad you never shouted at me Blue I bet you’re scary when you’re angry!! And I love your description of the serving process – I can honestly say that no matter how a chef starts off a meal, we all appreciate a beautiful, precisely positioned end lol 🙂

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