From Pot-wash to Manager, with a little help along the way…

Everybody with half a foot on the career ladder will have had a career break, the moment where they got their first job, or that eureka moment where they decided to enter into a particular sector or industry. A recent visit at work from David Terrell, the man who gave me my first chance, inspired this latest blog post!

In 2008, whilst looking for work experience post-GCSEs, I saw an article in Caterer Magazine about a recently renovated hotel in Surrey, close to home. A very tentative email later, and the Head Chef invited me in for a chat. An hour or so after meeting him and I was buying chef shoes to start a job as a part-time pot-wash for the summer. Throughout this summer, and consequently the next year too, I worked just a few shifts a week, a couple midweek, plus Saturday evening and Sunday breakfasts, on the pot-wash but also some basic veg preperation and food stock takes. Of course at the time at the age of 16, I couldn’t drive, so getting to work about 40 mins drive away was an issue I had to resolve. With David’s support and commitment to me, I would catch two trains from home, and then David would pick me up and drive me onto work, and on the few occasions when he was off, the Sous Chef would be sent to get me instead! Likewise on the way home after work, despite it being out of his way, David would drop me off at the station so I could catch the train home. And this would continue every time. It’s this kind of support that didn’t have to be offered but David wanted to help so he did. He also extended this support to my parents, who soon adopted The Pride as their favourite local restaurant! Both summers gave me invaluable experience and a first taste of what the Hospitality/Restaurant industry was like. And of course what this also did was give me some proper work experience to put on the CV when I started applying for university. It’s fantastic now that David and I still keep in touch, and as this post started, it’s a pleasure to be able to now serve David and his wife when they came to visit last week.

David was/is clearly my first mentor, the first person from the industry who I have been able to go to for advice and support. I have been privileged enough in my career so far to have had several mentors and people I can rely on for support. The Oxford School of Hospitality Management, where I studied for 4 years, runs a fabulous mentoring scheme, in which final-year students mentor a first-year student (with experiences of the course, placements, career choices) and get a mentor in the form of a senior leader or manager from the industry. My mentor was Marc Millon, a food, wine and travel writer, who I first met in 2013 on a gastronomy field trip down to Devon. Marc provided me (and still does!) with great advice and insights into the industry, and of course career advice at a crucial time in life. We built up a great rapport together, and I would now consider us as good friends (I hope vice-versa too!). The time at uni has also allowed me to meet some amazing, influential people, and many of the staff and lecturers I still keep in regular contact with on both a formal and casual basis.

The point of this really, is that everybody probably has a mentor in some form, and the benefits are countless. Whether it’s that first Head Chef who gives you work experience and arranges lifts for you to get to work, or that person who can take you out for a glass of wine and some career advice, or whoever, it is important that in any industry, but especially one that can be as tough as hospitality, we all have a mentor/mentors that we can go to. I am lucky that through David and Marc, to name but two, I have a source of advice and support whenever I need it. And one day, I hope to also be able to give back to people with my own experiences and advice.

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Steak and Chips

Now I’m not claiming that any of this is particularly original, or indeed new, but yesterday on a fairly chilly Sunday off I stumbled across a lovely little deli in East London whilst on my walk and decided to treat myself.  So here’s a simple but effective recipe for a homemade steak and chips, with mushrooms.

Ingredients (for 1):

  • Rump steak 170g (cut and size obviously totally to personal preference, but this is what I had)
  • 3-4 potatoes (roasting ideally, but any larger size will do)
  • Handful of button mushrooms
  • Mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary)
  • Mustard seeds
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Rapeseed oil

Method:

  • Take the steak out of the fridge to bring to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper and leave aside.
  • To start with, prepare the potatoes. Wash and peel the skins, then cut the potatoes into rough wedges shapes. Place in salted boiling water and cook for about 15 minutes, until starting to soften.
  • Meanwhile, slice the mushrooms into slices about 5mm thick. Heat some rapeseed oil in a sauté pan on a medium heat, and when hot, add the mushrooms. Add some mustard seeds and cook until the mushrooms start to colour. Leave on a low heat to continue to cook slowly.
  • Drain the potatoes, place on a grill pan, season with the mixed herbs and give a generous dash of rapeseed oil. Place under the grill to colour and finish cooking.
  • Heat a pan or griddle ready to cook the steak. Put oil on the steak and when the pan is hot, start to cook the meat. After three minutes on one side, turn the steak and cook for another 3 minutes. A steak of this size literally only needs 3 minutes either side to get medium-rare, which is how I wanted. Take out the pan and leave on the side to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Pour the remaining juices from the steak pan into the mushrooms, and turn the heat right up, to give the mushrooms a beautiful flavour and caramelisation.
  • When ready to serve, plate as you wish! I did the potatoes (chips) in a stack in the middle of the plate, a couple on the side, with the steak on top and the mushrooms further on top of that.

Tuck in and enjoy! I had mine with a wonderfully named delicious craft lager, ‘Steamy Wonder’, from Mondo Brewing Company in Battersea.

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An Englishman, a Welshman, a Scot, an Irishman, a French and an Italian, all walked into a restaurant…

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And so it’s here again, one of the greatest sporting events in the world, rugby’s Six Nations. Now I know this is a Hospitality blog so this post will look at the six competing nations from the view point of their food and drink.

WALES

As a Welshman myself, obviously I think that the food and drink of Wales (or Bwyd a Diod Cymru) is some of the greatest in the world. Welshmen are very proud of the country they are from, and the food and drink is of particular pride.

Welsh Lamb especially, but Welsh Beef as well, both have the prestigious PGI status, an indication of origin and more importantly quality. As well as contributing over £1bn to the Welsh economy every year, Welsh Lamb is used by chefs from all over London, the UK, and seeing Welsh Lamb on restaurant menus is ubiquitous and now expected! Outside of Welsh meat, Welsh cakes are a classic ‘homely’ dish, and every Welsh family will have their own unique recipe and take on it. My own recipe personally uses a dash of Brains Beer inside the batter…

Wales has a strong history of drinking, coming from the days of miners and working mens clubs, and of course match days down at the local rugby club or nowadays the big international days. Brains Brewery was founded in 1882 in Cardiff and it is now hard not to watch rugby without a pint of the”Toast of the Nation”! Penderyn Distillery near Brecon, has produced Single Malt Whisky since 2007 and can rival any great Scotch! Wales also make wine…

Verdict: Great all-round, with strengths in all areas. A strong contender.

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Welsh Cakes baking

SCOTLAND

Scotland can also boast an incredibly rich story of food and drink, and as half of my family are Scottish, I can vouch for a lot of this!

There are of course some not very complimentary opinions about Scottish food. The apparently ubiquitous deep-fried Mars Bar (I’ve not tried it) is the unfortunate stereotype of Scottish food, and once in Edinburgh I tried the “authentic local” dish of a Haggis Pizza.  Scottish food is great though. We’ve all enjoyed a bowl of hot steaming porridge on a cold day, the simple combination of oatmeal and water working to perfection. Traditionally served with a dash of milk plus either sugar or salt, one particular relative of mine has his with a sprinkling of whisky on the outside.. Of course having just had Burns Night, the Haggis, ‘Neeps and ‘Tatties made its annual appearance in my kitchen, although me being me I had to a do a pretentious version of what is usually a very humble dish.

Scotland is of course known for it’s whisky, which has become one of the world’s most drunk spirits. With varying styles, flavours and characteristics, the world of whisky is as fascinating and diverse as traditional wine regions of France and the world. Personally I enjoy the whiskies of Speyside, which although it’s hard to generalise, generally offer lighter and sweeter whiskies. And from several family holidays to this area, I can confirm that one of the nicest smells in the world is when one can smell a distillery in action…

Verdict: Get’s a lot of bad press but some hidden gems make them possible outsiders

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Haggis, ‘Neeps and ‘Tatties, Burns Night 2016

IRELAND

Ireland in its very nature and location has all the ingredients for world-class produce, ingredients and hence cuisine.

An emphasis on good quality local ingredients is what drives Ireland’s food and drink, with menu/food provenance taking more of an important step in modern culture. Chef and pioneer Darina Allen describes Irish food in the 1980s as; “At every meal you could have potatoes three ways on your plate, and the meat and gravy and that was it” (The Independent). Artisan farmhouse cheeses started in the monastic days but have rejuvenated now and is a distinct part of Irish food culture. Seafood is also hugely significant, with County Donegal and County Down Oysters being used all over the UK by chefs and restaurants, and the smoked salmon rivalling the best from Scotland and elsewhere. Soda bread is of course a staple of the Irish diet and is one of their best known products.

To talk about Ireland’s food and drink without mentioning possibly their most famous export would be foolish. Since 1799, when a ‘dark porter’ beer came to London from Ireland, Guinness has been drunk all over the world, in pubs, restaurants, and homes galore, and it’s distinctive appearance and taste makes this drink renowned and Ireland are proud to have it. It’s connection with rugby is also undisputed.

Verdict: A few big names but ultimately the Championship may be one step too far this year

ENGLAND

With a capital city enriched by people from all over the world, different continents, countries, and regions, England’s food has undoubtedly been improved by all these influences, which is a far cry from the days when “British food” was considered awful and uninspiring.

People are now acutely much more aware of issues surrounding ethical eating, supporting local and regional produce, and using sustainable and quality products. As such, England’s regions are taking more pride in their produce, which is shown in the increasing appelations and protected statuses- Gloucester Old Spot Pork, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Herdwick Lamb, Stilton, Yorkshire forced Rhubarb, and of course the Cornish Pasty are all prime examples of the growing prominence and quality of English food.

Drinks-wise, Real Ales and Artisan Ciders are something distinctly English. Local breweries and cider mills are on the rise and produce some of the best beers in the world. English wineries are also starting to produce some special things. England has approximately 2500 acres of vineyards scattered around the South of the country, producing round about 2.5mn bottles per year. It is commonly known that the chalky soils of Sussex and the South Coast are the same as those of Champagne, and as such the sparkling wines produced by the likes of Nyetimber, rival the classic Champagne cuvees.

Verdict: Great strength in depth, can be inconsistent, but with the right game on, could be strong contenders.

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The beauty of an English Vineyard

FRANCE

Ah, Vive la France! Of course France has traditionally been the home of gastronomy, of food and of drink. Les plaisirs de la vie, n’est-ce pas? To talk in detail about every aspect of French cuisine would be impossible, and probably a whole blog in itself, but for the sake of this I will attempt at least a summary…

A plethora of traditional French dishes adorn the menus of most restaurants. The classics of French cuisine, the rustic dishes of Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, Cassoulet, from the more elegant and refined food of Escoffier, the Roux Dynasty and Raymond Blanc (to name but a few) will always exist in one form or another, and the day when Chefs stop learning these classics will be a sad day. Most Chefs worth their while now have been so-called ‘classically-trained’, which simply translates as “taught how to cook by a Frenchman, in the French way”. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact there is so much right. We all like to enjoy a breakfast too with pastries, croissants and pain au chocolate. French food is and always will remain, classic.

To quote Jancis Robinson, “It would be as impossible to think of France without wine as it is to think of wine without France”. With names such as Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chablis, the richness of France’s wine culture, both historically and presently, is abundantly clear. I wrote a dissertation of French wine culture (which I won’t bore you with), but the general consensus was that for the French, wine is a key part of their identity, and how this evolves will help redefine them in the years and decades going forward. Historically, the country is essentially ‘old-school’ in it’s approach to things, and food and drink is no different from that.

Verdict: A richness of past glories to reflect on, but this is not the year for a comeback

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Vineyard at Chateau de Monbazillac, France

ITALY

Having had different experiences of Italian food and drink, from being on holiday in the Dolomites in 2009 and being unable to find a pizzeria open (!), to today, working in a fine-dining Italian restaurant in Mayfair, it is fair to say my own opinion has changed somewhat over the years.

Italian food is incredibly popular in Britain, and a study from the Guardian in 2013, referred to Britain’s “obsession” with Italian food. They ask the question, “what makes pizza, pasta and overpriced Peroni such a recession-proof restaurant formula?. The answer really, is that on the whole, the food is cheap and easy to make. How many times have we, as busy people, simply whipped up a quick bowl of pasta, or put a pizza in the oven? Yes it’s not going to be totally authentic, and may in fact cause offence to Italian people, but at the end of the day it is Italian food and we all enjoy it. The perception, thankfully for the refined regional cuisines of Italy, is changing, and that is exciting.

Italian wine is in many ways an antithesis to it’s rugby team. Whilst Italian rugby has not many players, with even fewer of them being world class, there are a lot of indigenous grape varieties in Italy, all of which have characteristics that make them useful and interesting. Barolos, Chiantis, Montepulcianos are present on most wine lists now, and the classic Italian cocktails of Negroni, Aperol Spritz and Americano are restaurant staples. Plus the Italians taught us about proper coffee…

Verdict: Always hard to predict but don’t be surprised to see a few feathers ruffled

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The classic Italian Negroni

 THE SIX NATIONS OF FOOD AND DRINK 2016- RESULT:

  1. Wales
  2. Scotland
  3. England
  4. Italy
  5. France
  6. Ireland

(Where to watch the actual rugby: Time Out’s guide to ‘The Best Rugby Pubs in London’)