Archives for posts with tag: catering

Cooking –  (it should be) a daily task for everyone whatever the time of the day.

Is Britain being lazy when it comes to cook a meal from scratch?

It is certain that buying ready-meals is the quick option when it is time to eat something either for lunch, tea or diner!

Look at our supermarket: fridges and freezers all over the shop. It is becoming rare to see a full counter run by a butcher or fishmonger. Is Waitrose the only to provide this service?

There are more and more street food markets too with a real attraction for burgers (venison, bison, kangaroo meat). Thankfully, vegans and vegetarians can also find their paradise. But still, it is about food cooked by others and not made at home in the fully equipped kitchen.

Suddenly The GBBO appeared and almost everyone has stopped their activities to focus on that tv programme where people…cook!

The GBBO banner

In the past, Masterchef then Hell’s Kitchen had the same effect. It seems that Brits are attracted by shows where people are around a kitchen and are totally into the full “oui chef” spirit!

When celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Brian Turner or Jean Christophe Novelli started to be the new heroes of our Nation, everyone wanted to be crafting dishes the same way – it looked so stylish and cool. But, this is not how it works in real life, especially if you are running a professional kitchen and dishing out food for 70 guests! Somehow a lot of people see something glamorous about it?! The stainless steel worktop, the immaculate white jacket, professionnal ustensils…etc

A kitchen is buzzing – people shout and even swear because things have to be ready in a certain time – being synchronized is essential too. It can be “hot” to work in a real restaurant’s kitchen and tiring too because all staff have to start hours before the actual service in order to prepare everything needed for the service. The pastry chef will have to be on duty until the last guests have ordered a dessert. And imagine, sometimes it is just being there on standby until he/she discovers that no one wants a sweet!

Of course, this spare time has also been used to prepare more ice creams, biscuits, meringues or various bits to present the lovely plate at the end of your meal. In other words, working as a chef, sous-chef, chef de partie or pastry chef can be stressful and draining. A working day is not a 9 to 5 but more of a 7am to 11pm… and this is normal… in this industry.

What does make The Great British Bake Off so attractive then? Once all done, people will talk about it and eventually buy the book but might not even cook a thing of it.  Being a foodie seems to be the kind of person to be these days. It is as if, liking food is a new social status. But who doesn’t like food? This would mean than we all are foodies?! But, claiming it loudly is making a point of having a certain class and style – could this be classified as “connoisseur” like a barista has a passion for coffee?

Individuals can have a full respect towards a head chef. Cooking/baking is an art and a passion.

There is a similar infatuation for the coffee industry. This can be described when latte art is executed many times a day for hundreds of customers with the same exactitude. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Coffee can be good to drink because of the work completed by the coffee roasters. It is even more important when it is about speciality coffee. Green coffee beans are carefully selected; the way they are roasted is crucial to get all tastes and flavours right. Making coffee is more complex that people think (ratio and extraction are part of the equation).

Quality is important for everything: the beans, the roast, the pressure of the espresso machine, the grinder and the water. Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Christopher H. Hendon have collaborated on a book titled “water for coffee“, in order to explain “the chemistry of water and the effect it has on coffee“. It is real science!

Listening to a local radio station this morning, some towns and villages  go the extra mile and organise their version of The GBBO. It all happens on a smaller scale but the excitement is palpable. Baking is trending.

Showing people cooking on national television has had a real impact on the audience. In theory, people in the UK like to travel the world to discover good food, new aromas and tasty dishes. Meanwhile, all ingredients are available widely. What is lacking? A bit of inspiration, experiment and….time maybe?

There is definitely a certain legacy – it started a few months back with Mary Berry.

In the late 90’s, food on television was about Ready Steady Cook, Can’t Cook Won’t Cook and often back to back between two TV channels. It was real hit. Then after a while people get bored of it.

It is obvious that The GBBO is a winner from start to finish, maybe because it is not about the look but the real talent of the person as well as the inspiration about baking.

GBBO is back

Working in a restaurant and/or hotel: guests rarely see the behind the scene activities.

A few years ago being part of a food and beverage team in a hotel was something interesting, exciting and tiring – all at the same time.

A hotel with:

  • 54 bedrooms,
  • 2 function rooms (2 x 20 seats),
  • a terrace (40 seats),
  • a restaurant (70 seats),

was a vibrant experience.

Working various shifts: breakfast, lunch, dinner as well as preparing function spaces for either dinner parties or conferences…an attention to details job!

So what is actually happening before, during and after the service in the life of a hotel? Nothing stops – it is go go go at 100% as soon as you step in to start your daily work. There is no time for a break by the coffee machine or to read the paper between two meals.

Let’s take an example of how an evening dinner is prepared, served and cleaned.

The team doing evenings usually starts around 4pm. Helping the morning staff (who usually does breakfast & lunch) to wrap-up the last guests, polish the cutlery and clean the entire restaurant (floor, tables, collect glasses).

It has to look perfect for the next arrivals of guests who booked a table.

By 6pm the restaurant is ready for the 7pm service – room service trays have been collected, the lounge and function rooms are also ready for some parties. The barman is in charge of re-stocking the bar in order to be able to serve up to 160 people for the night. That means lemon slices, lime, ice cubes, clean glasses, coffee, cups, saucers, spoons, the eventual double cream for Irish Coffee, cucumbers for Hendrick’s Gin…and the list goes on.

It is a social job but very anti-social hours.

The staff has about 20 minutes for a quick food break mainly made of jacket potatoes or pasta with cheese, ham or baked beans – rarely anything from the actual restaurant menu…it would be too expensive to have lamb, pork or bream to feed everyone. Everything is on a budget – it is all about financial planning to make as much money as possible and limit waste. The remaining time is dedicated to a briefing concerning the “catch of the day” the novelties and/or special dish.

Guests start then to come in for their dinner and expect to be perfect from the service and food knowledge point of view to the quality of the dish they order.

By 11pm the kitchen has served all main courses. However, the restaurant is still buzzing. Some clients want a dessert, a coffee and an after drink.

By midnight, it is all done. But the staff who started in the afternoon is still there, serving their sections/stations which could count up to 40 guests.

The cleaning of the place can last until 1.30am to 2.00am – as at 6am it all starts again for breakfast. tables have to be ready with all the crockery.

It is a real team work with a lot of effort, concentration and passion. If the personnel is not committed it can’t work. But when all orders are coming in the kitchen, it is important that the waiter/waitress takes the right meal to the right table: it is almost like a ballet – it needs to be synchronized. But, the positive energy is so high that sometimes a simple look is enough and it all works – no need to talk.

It is a live situation with no room for mistake. Everyone can see what you are doing in the restaurant and your body language can show exactly the state of play. It is similar of being on a stage. People are looking at you permanently.

When it all stops, a few hours are needed to unwind and bedtime can be around 3.30am. Unfortunately, there is also the issue when a member of staff is off sick. The well managed rota is not applicable. At that particular moment everyone can be required to work different hours: doing breakfast / dinner – or lunch/dinner with 5 hours rest to make sure the service goes well for the image of the business. But what about the wellbeing of the person. Working long hours can be stressful, tiring and the biological ends up slightly jetlagged. Eating breakfast when it is time for lunch or having an equivalent lunch meal at 3am is certainly not that good.

Despite of having stopped working in a hotel, eating even just a sandwich for lunch is rare – the metabolism seems to have changed so much that my body doesn’ feel the need of food intake.

What is pleasant about such job? It is the fact that working can be a social experience as you are actually working with people who are out for a great meal.

The main reward: the tips given by your guests and having met some interesting characters whilst on duty.  But this doesn’t happen without any efforts. But when counting what is in your back pocket at the end of the service, it could actually double your monthly salary. That extra income (tax free) can be used for various purchase or just be put aside for a sipp. It is important to think for the future and to have sufficient cash when it is retirement time.

Overall, catering is another and different world. It gives you confidence, food and drink knowledge, but it is usually only a short slice of your life because it is so demanding – unless you are running your own business and employing a dedicated and passionate team to deal with the daily adrenaline.