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Wednesday, 20 October 2010


This time of year brings a slight and welcome respite in the intensity of kitchen life.For a rural pub it's definitely the quietest time of year.
For the successful chef there is never a quiet time.Keeping one step ahead of the game is the key to running a viable business and more importantly,making a profit.Once Autumn comes there's a plethora of alternative tasks which readily fill the void.

(Some of this weeks produce:Crab apple jelly-costs next to nothing.Ideal with chicken livers,gamey dishes and sausages.)

Jam and chutney making,pickling and bottling begins in earnest because believe me when you hit the busy time again you will be so glad you have some prep and standby accompaniments to fall back on.
Similarly,suppliers too are trying to maximize their profit,keeping waste to a minimum, hence you are more likely to be palmed off with sub standard stock at this time of year than at any other time.
Keeping your suppliers on their toes is a sport which Chef enjoys and sees as a challenge.
Fortunately,we happen to be our butchers biggest account so we always get the the pick of the stock.No problems there.Similarly,its also in the interests of our vegetable supplier to keep us sweet.Hence we are regularly the recipients of 'freebies' which Chef inventively converts into cash.He loves a bargain or more to the point something which has cost him nothing other than a bit of effort that he can then knock out for a fiver.It gives him a warm glow.

The baker provides more of a contest.Initially, we baked all our own bread,but before long this became unmanageable.We couldn't keep up with demand as the business grew.Something had to give,we had to source a decent bread supplier to provide for the sandwich menu.
In keeping with using local suppliers we identified a master baker from a nearby village who agreed to deliver fresh bread to us daily.
Lately though,we've been having a few problems.
Obviously the bakery hasn't been as busy.I've suspected on a few occasions that we've been given yesterdays bread.
Chef was not best pleased.He's told Rodney(the baker) in no uncertain terms 'I don't care where you take the old bread but don't bring any of it here-BECAUSE I DON'T BLOODY WANT IT. GEDDIT?'
He leaves a similarly worded reminder on the answer phone order to this effect each night.
The saga has been ongoing for a couple of weeks.
Rodney is living on borrowed time.

Chef hates Friday mornings.Not least because of the inevitable increased workload necessary to get through the required amount of prep for the weekend menu.
In addition Friday is usual bread delivery drivers day off.
Friday's Baker-boy loves Chef.
Unfortunately the feeling isn't reciprocated.
This morning as we met outside, Baker-boy knocked me aside(barely giving me a second glance) and almost trampled me underfoot in his desperation to push past and get to Chef,whom he affectionately refers to as 'Boss Man'.
He'd spied him through the steam at the kitchen window:

'There he is.. there's Boss Man..look at him, working away..'

He could barely contain his delight,rushing to the kitchen door with the ungainly plastic trays held aloft and becoming tangled in the black plastic fly screen blind in his haste.
Disappointingly it wasn't Chef whom he'd glimpsed,it was The Apprentice.
Baker boy had yet to encounter The Apprentice.

Determination being one of his finer attributes,Baker boy loitered with intent on the off chance of exchanging a few well chosen pleasantries with Boss Man.It makes his day.
Apprentice endeavoured to take the tray but Baker-boy's vice like grip retained possession of the prize,he wasn't giving up that easily.

'I need to see Boss Man.Where is he?I want to show him I've brought him fresh bread.See..(pointing out the condensation visible on the cellophane packs)..Its still warm..'
Satisfied smile.

Apprentice glanced furtively as Baker-boy followed behind me through the prep area and around to the stoves where Chef had been working.

Self:'Oh he's not here.That's weird,I wonder where he's gone'

Unrequited love.
Deflated,Baker-boy wandered off empty handed,his chance of glory and finding favour with Boss Man wasted.His despondent look left me feeling a bit sorry for him.

I wondered where Chef had gone.
Walking over to the cooked meats fridge(having separate fridges for raw and cooked meats will earn you Brownie points with Environmental Health)I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye under the adjacent stainless steel bench.
Chef had impressively compressed his not insignificant frame Houdini style,into a large brown cardboard box (formerly containing our new Potato Rumbler),stacked neatly on the shelf below.
Apprentice was in on the plan.They were creased up.

I pretended not to be amused...

PS:Sorry about the stray piece of carrot on the floor.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Apprentice

We have a new employee in the kitchen.
An apprentice.
Its not the first time we have taken an enthusiastic youngster dazzled both by the blinding flash of some pristine new whites and the possibility of a first foot on the upward ladder towards guaranteed TV Chefdom.

In fact this is our third apprentice.

The first had great potential. Unsocial hours borne with fortitude for six long months in a repeating cycle of late nights,booze,fags and coffee until his constantly changing parade of nubile girlfriends(most wearing hot pants) was replaced by a steady girl who a) didn't like him working nights and b) was threatened by the squad of attractive females working here, quickly putting a block on his kitchen career.
He's now working at Tesco,what a waste.To be fair he puts on a mean display at the fresh fish counter.

The second was not suited at all to kitchen life.
It was left to me to impart basic training.
Having an all consuming passion to be a Chef,his enthusiasm could not be faulted.
He showed the required evidence of prior interest having studied Food Technology GCSE at school and being in possession of a Basic Food Hygiene Certificate.
Alarm bells rang on the first day however,when in conversation I asked him if he cooked at home and if so what he liked to cook.

'Not really' came the reply 'my Mum is a very good cook' Hmm.

One of the first jobs I gave him was to cut some bread,showing him first of all which knife he should use.A serrated one.Knife in hand and loaf on the correct colour coded chopping board(white)he set to work.


He looked pleased with himself.

Clearly the first time he had been allowed to cut himself a slice of bread.
Not wanting to burst his bubble of glory just yet,I tactfully went back to basics,explaining why the knife was serrated and how it was to be used with a SAWING action to prevent all the life from being knocked out of the bread.
I demonstrated.
Over the next few days it became apparent that he had difficulty remembering anything,the pad I gave him to make recipe notes was not of any great assistance. I glanced at it a couple of times and was surprised to see basic instructions and observations.For example, notations such as "loads of cheese" when I happened to make a cheese sandwich.For myself.

The biggest worry was the absence and total lack of awareness of basic hygiene standards.
During service I would use him as an assistant asking him to fetch things from the fridge,sometimes letting him help plate up cold starters and puddings.
I had to watch him like a hawk.Every other sentence I uttered became 'wash your hands.'

Pass the salmon
Wash your hands
pass the bread
pass the ham
wash your hands
fetch the eggs
wash your hands
wash your hands

I sounded like a broken record.Worryingly, I was even beginning to work to the rhythm of the chant which went around in my head even when I wasn't saying it.You know like an irritating tune that you just cant throw off?

He had no understanding whatsoever (despite repeated instruction) of the dangers of cross contamination.
His work station looked like the PG Tips chimps had dropped in for an impromptu cookery masterclass then tap danced on the results..

I explained the philosophy behind 'clean as you go' and the importance of wiping down ones work space,keeping the chopping board clean and washing with hot soapy water twixt each task, lest any conflicting ingredient contaminate the next.Never mind the overspill of flavours, we could ill afford to pick off the diners with a tasty but suicidial Salmonella sandwich.

I decided I could teach him how to plate up a cheeseboard and do simple puddings which would give him a purpose during service rather than just standing around watching us.

By the end of the second week he still couldn't remember every constituent of the cheeseboard.Every board he prepared had some ingredient missing which I would patiently draw his attention to.
On the Saturday night BG came in as usual to do potwash.
Another cheeseboard was produced incomplete.I was running out of patience so decided a different approach was in order.I would put the onus back on him to tell me what was missing, a process of elimination would force him to come up with the answer,rather than relying on me to address every problem.He needed to start working on his own initiative.

Self:theres something missing
Apprentice 2:emmm
Self:what is it?
Apprentice 2:emm i just dont know.

At this point BG,without even turning around casually produced the correct answer.

'its the celery'

I hadnt even been aware that he was listening.

The next Cheeseboard order came on and predictably the finished article was again lacking in substance somewhat.

Self:theres something missing
Apprentice 2:ermmmm
Self:what is it?
Apprentice 2:ermmmmmm im not sure

I wasn't going to give up this time.

Self:OK have you eaten a cheeseboard before?
Apprentice 2:yes
Self:well how did you eat it?
Apprentice 2:ermm well I just don't know..

The cheeseboard had no bloody biscuits on it,if there's one fundamental requirement necessary on a cheeseboard other than cheese its the bloody biscuits.
Or at least a bit of bread.

By the end of the first two weeks I was a physical wreck.If there's anything harder than working a 14 hour day, its working a 14 hour day and giving a running commentary to someone else of every aspect of that day in minute detail..I was emotionally and physically exhausted.

After service, over a couple of bottles glasses of medicinal wine Chef and I discussed the events of the night.
Apprentice 2 was a liability.
We agreed that on Monday morning Chef would have an appraising chat with him to see how he thought he was getting on.

On the morning in question Apprentice 2 arrived punctually as always(I did say I couldn't fault his enthusiasm).
Chef asked him to wash the four types of salad leaves we use every day for garnishes.When he returned to check on his progress he had washed only one type(watercress).
He had been given this task every day for 2 weeks and he still couldn't manage to remember which varieties were needed.Nor could he identify the leaves.He didn't even know which leaf he had washed.

Chef sat him down for an urgent chat.
Apprentice 2 had no idea that he was not coming up to satisfactory standard.Chef advised him diplomatically that we need to see a bit more attention to detail and concentration on the task in hand.
He drew his attention to the hygiene concerns mentioning that he'd noted that he had been awarded a Food Hygeine Cert therefore should be well aware of these significant issues.Apprentice 2 replied 'yes but that was over a year ago now I cant remember much about it now..'

He began to beal.

Chef was mortified.
He calmed him down and told him there was no reason to get upset we just needed to see some concentrated effort to improve.

Shortly afterwards Chef nipped upstairs to get his chequebook to pay the butcher.A couple of minutes later he reappeared in the bar where I was putting away the brewery delivery.

Chef:Guess what?
Self:What now?
Chef:Apprentice 2 has disappeared
Chef:Its true he's done a runner..
Self:You're joking

We both ran to the kitchen.It was true he was gone,knife discarded on chopping board in mid chop of the parsley.
We looked under the benches and in the cupboards.He had in fact done a bunk.
Bloody hell, said Chef, I haven't even locked him in the freezer yet..

Ever the optimist Chef's glass was half full, 'well I suppose that solves our problem-he was never going to be any good was he?..'

Which brings us to Apprentice 3.
After a summer of relaxation following his premature enforced departure from the formal world of academia , BG has decided he fancies trying his hand at cheffing..

I wonder if it will be third time lucky,or a case of....

Watch this space.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Schadenfreude (Part 2)

It never ceases to amaze me the volume and diversity of items which vanish on a regular basis from the pub.
Despite initial surprise we have now accepted that the regular 'lifting' of items by the public is an occupational hazard of running a pub.
Shopping for everyday items such as condiment receptors,at one time based on the suitability of said item for it's designated purpose, is now based principally on the criteria 'how easily can this be concealed about ones person or in a handbag.'
For example,having a large garden,miniature salt/pepper mills were purchased in our first year as handy for staff to carry outside for Al Fresco diners.By the end of the first summer there were none left.
Recently on the same afternoon a tub of hand cream and an Oil reed diffuser were surreptitiously appropriated from the ladies loo.Hopefully the 'lady' in question will have an exceedingly oily but pleasantly fragranced handbag by now.

On the other side of the coin the public are also exceptionally careless with their own belongings.Everything from coats,jumpers,umbrellas,gloves and even on one occasion a pair of shoes(I wonder how inebriated one has to be to exit minus these) have been left behind.
I now have so many spectacles, I'm beginning to think alcohol must possess sight restorative properties.Periodically, I pay our local charity shops a visit to unburden the ever increasing cache of lost property.
Chef says I have a season ticket for Oxfam.

Some things are just too good to part with though, I'm currently 'looking after' a couple of pairs of unclaimed sunglasses.Ray Ban and Oakley's.
There's also a delightful Paul and Shark jacket,a Barbour and a lovely John Partridge ladies waxed jacket(would you believe in my size?)

Whilst the regular offloading of customers unclaimed personal effects now elicits no remorse,there is a certain item of lost property which neither myself nor any of the staff can bring themselves to discard.

This is it:

Its been pinned to our check board in the bar for at least six months as witnessed by the myriad of pin holes in the card from repeated removal and replacement.

This is the wording:

'I BEAR-LY know how to apologise,but hope you will not be too GRIZZLY or GRUFF with me,and will instead enjoy the bright colours of these Midget Gems and forget that I ever vomited on any of your clothes nor left you one dancer down in Perdu.'

If ever I'd ever been the auspicious recipient of such an apology I should have treasured it,to quote another Northerner this is 'right up my street'.

Have you ever 'lifted' anything from your local?

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Bay Horse Hurworth

You realise just how sad your life is when the chance of an unexpected day off can result in hand clapping air punching and juvenile euphoria.Having been granted just that yesterday (due to new electricity supply being laid under the road outside the pub) we took the opportunity for an unscheduled MIDWEEK kitchen escape.

Our destination-The Bay Horse, Hurworth on Tees nr Darlington.
The pub was refurbished by new owners recently and has had some good reviews and a Bib Gourmand in the latest Michelin Guide.

We were seated at a large table in one of the bay windows at the front of the pub.We ordered drinks at the bar; a glass of fizz for me,Chef requested a bottle of Pernod,our friends asked for some wine.Noticing the barman's blank look,slightly agape mouth and the accompanying stunned silence I put him out of his misery with a raised eyebrow and a knowing 'he means Peroni..'
Well he was forty last week, doesn't bode well does it?

Despite booking a table we weren't offered a wine menu at any stage.When our friends asked for wine at the bar they were offered 'red or white'.In this day and age I'm amazed that varietal options weren't presented as a matter of course.Other than this absolute clonker of a missed opportunity the service was pleasant.Hopefully it was a one off,maybe Chef's Pernod request blew the barman's concentration.

Whilst we browsed the menu a welcome basket of home made bread arrived,two varieties,onion and fig and walnut.It smelt delicious.Chef commenced the obligatory: 'ooh look how crusty it is, oh its still warm, mm-mm'.
He makes a meal of this routine due to my Coeliac's not allowing me to participate of the treat.I pretend not to notice but he always performs obligingly.
I reciprocate with the expected:Ha ha.
Its well rehearsed.

To start Chef chose:
'French Black Pudding with Onion Confit, Mushroom Ketchup, Apricot Chutney & Devilled Sauce'
The black pudding was soft,unctuous and tasty.Chef's only complaint was he would have preferred more of the main event and less of the peripheral bits and pieces.It was a challenge to effect myself a small sample.I succeeded of course.

I chose 'Ham hock terrine with Woodland egg,pineapple pickle and home made HP sauce'.
The terrine interestingly contained pine nuts,I haven't come across this before,it wasn't unpleasant but I don't think it added anything to the flavour,in fact on the first mouthful I thought I'd encountered a foreign object.

Both were very prettily presented,decorated as they were with the latest gastronomic accessory for the fashion conscious Chef, micro herbs.For some reason the presentation of my dish evoked memories of the Twin Towers, not good.

For the main event Chef chose 'Normandy braised pork with suet dumpling'

Served in a Le Crueset pot ,this was quite a substantial portion the decision to serve in these pots leaves one with no choice but to be heavy handed.The pot sizes available(we've been down this route and ended up sending them back,neither size is really suitable) dictates either a very small portion, an over generous helping or a half empty pot. They'd erred on the side of caution,the large pot was packed to the rafters.Chef couldn't fault this dish.
Vegetable accompaniments had to be ordered separately at additional cost,buttered new potatoes for Chef.The potatoes had a GREEN TINGE.Chef wasn't deterred,they tasted fine.Optimistically pointing out you'd need to eat a hefty portion to suffer any ill effects.
I fancied a steak,Char Grilled 8oz Fillet Steak, Hand Cut Chips & Salad
with Poivre Sauce (£2.00 supplement)Bringing the total price to £25.

Presented with watercress salad,red onions and peppers atop the steak,sauce in copper pan and chips in a little metal bucket.

This is a bad picture, the steak was tasy but it was nowhere near the medium rare I had ordered.More medium/well done.The salad was heavily laden with French dressing which I felt unnecessary when served with the sauce.Being a woman of simple taste,I would have served this with a simple bunch of unadorned peppery watercress,but that's only personal preference of course.The chips were a high point,the flavour of a chip cooked in animal fat is unmistakeably good.

Puddings:For me a Chocolate Mousse with dark chocolate glaze,blackberry purée and peanut butter ice cream.

I ordered this because of the peanut butter ice cream,it tasted exactly of that.The mousse was more of a ganache very rich and buttery.Individually the components were good but together for me a bridge too far.The dish needed something creamy rather than sweet to balance the richness of the mousse.More towering presentation,methinks the Chef may have height issues.

Chef chose a berry trifle with fruit sorbet.

Served in a miniature kilner jar.The spoon you can see sticking out of the jar is a teaspoon. I'm not embracing the idea of a trifle in one of these, two spoonfuls is simply just not enough.
We sometimes use these jars to serve pickles with Charcuterie,people often lift them.Hopefully diners might follow suit at the Bay Horse.

I couldn't help but spot some anomalies on the menu which irked me somewhat:

'Woodland egg'
This caused a heated debate.If there's anything I'm ever not sure of Chef unfailingly knows what it is.Woodland egg had him.Possible suggestions were:
1.An egg from a woodland bird-but if this were the case why not name the bird?

2.A description of a method of serving which we hadn't come across before-unlikely.

An internet search solved the mystery-Sainsbury's Woodland Eggs.Eggs from laying hens enjoying the shelter and protection trees provide and allow them to display the characteristics of their jungle fowl ancestors.
It was in fact a hen egg.
Whatever next.

'Home made HP sauce'
HP sauce is a brand. By its very nature the phrase 'home made HP sauce' is a complete non starter.
Like homemade Heinz tomato ketchup or homemade Hellmans Mayonnaise.

'Hand cut chips'
These chips were fresh,not frozen,and cooked in dripping.They were good,but 'hand cut' they w'aint,they were obviously cut on a chipper.This phrase has become so over used people have forgotten what it actually means,its now synonymous with any freshly cooked chip regardless of method of cutting process.

'Provincial Potatoes'
Initially I thought this was another item on the lines of the 'country ham' ilk.However after much discussion Chef came to the conclusion that the definition had been lost from kitchen to printer.The item in question was in fact 'Provencal potatoes'
Note to Chef:never let your menu be given out before proof reading it first.

I know I'm getting a bit manic but I just wish more Chefs would employ the Ronseal school of menu writing technique.It would save so much time and confusion.Maybe I shall start a campaign to do just that.

Being in the business its very easy to dissect other peoples menus and find fault,overall the meal at the Bay Horse was very good,in fact the best pub meal we've had for some time,we will definitely go again.

The Bay Horse
45 The Green
Co Durham
Dl2 2AA

PS Have you noticed that there's a disturbing trend for Michelin to favour venues which serve a considerable proportion of their menu in numerous small receptacles such as copper pans,buckets,jars etc rather than an actual plate.Its the quality of the food which really matters.Isn't it?


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