Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)


Chapter Five
 

The Carlton Tower Hotel

All good things eventually come to an end and when the number of chefs in the kitchens of the Dorchester fell from around 150 when I arrived down to around 40 I knew it was time to go as it was getting silly. I also needed to progress up the ladder too and I had heard that Bernard Gaume was looking for a Sous Chef at the Carlton Tower so I applied and got the job!

Not that long prior to going to the Carlton Tower Mosimann set up his Club 9, a group of nine London Chefs. Other than himself the line-up was impressive, Peter Kromberg from the Intercontinental, Michel Bourdin from the Connaught, Bernard Gaume of the Carlton Tower, Uwe Zander of the Sheraton Skyline Heathrow (I think it was) John Huber from Slough College (a great pastry cook) Guy Mouilleron of Ma Cuisine, Rémy Fougère of the Royal Lancaster, I think Richard Shepherd of the Capital was one of the 9 too for a while, and of course Anton Mosimann. 

I am actually convinced to this day that the only reason I got the Sous Chef job at the Carlton Tower was because Bernard wanted to get one over on Anton. 

What a contrast it was between the two places and the two chefs. Unfortunately, I found it really difficult to get on with Bernard while I was there but since I left I got on much better with him and indeed came to appreciate him far more than I did when I was there. He was an extremely good chef and cook (no, they are not necessarily the same!) and everything he seemed to do was effortless for him, or so it seemed. He held a Michelin Star when I was there, and it was the first starred restaurant I had ever worked in as Mosimann had not achieved that by the time I left the Dorch.

I remember Bernard would stand for hours in the corner of the kitchen with boxes of artichokes or bags of mussels, just prepping them all by himself. At the end of each month when it was stocktake day he would be in early going through the big fridge, throwing food into the bins, it didn’t matter what it was he just threw it away, it could be sea bass, fillets, grouse, foie gras, he just seemed to know exactly how much stock too much he was carrying and threw it out, and every month without fail he came with around 0.5 of a % point below the figure he was required to get. It was awesome! I’ve seen him (more than once) push the CdP (Chef de Partie) of the sauce off his stove (a cocky Japanese boy whose name I forget) when he got in the shit (technical term for not being able to cope), which was quite often. Bernard would just take over the section getting it back in line and churning out the dishes by himself as though he did it every day while we all just watched on from the side lines, effortlessly and again awesome. 

In case I never see Bernard again I must say here for the record that I think Bernard was probably the best cook I ever worked for, I only wish I had realised it at the time. 

The Carlton Tower is where I met and worked with John King, he was senior sous at the time and went on to be a legend, a really great guy and chef he became one of this country’s most respected chefs. Working with him was a great honour someone else I did not fully appreciate until after I had left. John wasn’t the only one either there were some great guys at the Carlton Tower then, Robert Mey, Graham Dunton and Duncan Campbell in the Pastry, Robin Stewart, Nigel Boschetti, Alan Lockyear, and many more, their names forgotten over the years (so sorry). Graham, Robin and Nigel I am still in touch with today, sadly I lost touch with Alan and really wish I hadn’t.

The social life at the CT was not like that of the Dorch though, we never seemed to go down the pub after work, no out of work socialising at all that I remember. On my birthday, must have been 1978 or possibly 79 we had an Arab customer of the hotel who wanted a couple of chefs to cook dinner for a group of them at his house, they were arriving back in the UK that night, all the food was in, and some had been prepared, I think we were to finish it off and send it. While I didn’t really want to do this, it being my birthday, I needed the money.

The house, one of those big ones on Eaton Square, was massive, located on the end of the row it had a dual aspect and was at least 4 stories and a basement. When we arrived early in the afternoon the housekeeper/caretaker showed us around the whole building, bedrooms and everything. Talk about opulent luxury! It was amazing the wealth oozed out of every room, flowing down the corridors and the stairs, through every room in the house including the kitchen in the basement. The dining room was situated on the corner of the house on the ground floor, high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows and drapes. In the centre was a large horseshoe shaped glass table that was fully laid up around one side only, for about 12 people possibly even more, so you can guess how big the room was. The whole table was covered in gold encrusted cut glass, gold cutlery, gold chargers, eye poppingly ostentatious in the extreme.

We, there were two of us, went downstairs to the kitchen to get the meal ready for about 30 or so I think it was. The kitchen was enormous and stark white, tiled as it was, floor to ceiling and end to end in pristine white tiles. The family and its entourage arrived, there was a stack of trays of cans of soft drinks, mainly coke and 7UP over to one side of the kitchen, when I say stack I mean it was at least 6 ft high (2 meters in new money), children kept coming in and helping themselves to a can, one even took a can, opened it and took a drink then just threw the can away onto the floor, a lackey immediately grabbed it and threw it away! 

All the food went up to the dining room in the containers it was cooked in, the rice was still in the pans it was on the stove in, we had roasted whole baby lambs, (pauillac), 3 of them I think it was, these went up to the table in the roasting trays straight from the oven. When all the food had left the kitchen we had a peek around the door, the table had all of the garish gold removed and was instead bare apart from the food, the men were in first, when they had finished the women and children went in to eat, all, men, women, children, ate straight off the table, no plates, no cutlery, they would rip off a handful of lamb, take a bite then throw the rest over their shoulders onto the floor. It was a sight I had not seen before, and I was quite shocked by to be honest. At the end someone came down to pay us for our work, he had a bundle of notes in colours I had never seen before, he peeled off a few and gave us each £50. That was a lot of money back then, especially for just a few hours work, mind you it was my birthday! It only happened the once!

Duncan Campbell in the pastry was fantastic at sugar work, he once made a cheeseboard that held at least three different cheeses, one of them blue along with celery, Jacobs Cream Crackers and grapes, all out of blown and pulled sugar, it was amazing in its detail and so life-like, so perfect in every way. He put it away safe, hidden from prying eyes and straying fingers, while he had a day off, came back and someone had broken it, jealousy on someone’s part, I think!

It must have been towards the end of my time at the Dorch or just soon after I started at the CT that I got the DIY bug. The house we had bought as I was leaving the Park Tower had belonged to an old couple, Mr & Mrs Crump, and was naturally dated, so without further ado and no experience to draw from Jane and I started to (hopefully) improve the house. One of the projects was to build wardrobes in our bedroom, they took a while and Jane did get fed up of climbing into bed to find hammers, nails and screw drivers in there with her too! She also swears that the house would fall down before that wardrobe ever did! It was a bit over engineered and built to withstand an earthquake!

I continued with my fat carvings and buffet work while at the Carlton Tower and even took a team down to both Torquay and Bournemouth Culinary competitions one year.

 

From the Carlton Tower Staff Newsletter April 1979

Probably about 2 months into the job at the CT I was starting to get it into my head that I could do most things better than anyone else around me, the cockiness of youth, wait till my son reads this! 

The food we were serving in the restaurant was excellent don’t get me wrong, Bernard Gaume was, as I have already said an exceptionally good chef from whom I learnt a lot. However, I started developing my own ideas, my own thoughts on how some dishes could be improved, started looking around me more at what was happening in the world of food, dishes I would like to try. I bought more books, mainly those of French Chefs such as the Troisgros brothers and Roger Vergé. There were very few books out by British Cooks at the time and it was France that hogged the limelight where food was concerned. Food was becoming exciting for me, it was no longer just a job it was becoming an obsession, it was taking up so much of my waking time, it was all I could think about.

I was discovering new ingredients. Valimex also delivered to Bernard and was bringing in some fantastic produce the like of which I had never seen. As the months went on I felt it was about time for me to strike out on my own.

  I think it was while I was at the CT that I decided it would be a good idea to take my City & Guilds 152, there was a 2-year part time course held at Westminster College which meant attending one day a week for 2 years, so I enrolled for that. As it turned out, two of the guys from the Dorchester had also enrolled, Anton Edlemann and Keir Keeble. We three attended every week and towards the end of the 1st year the three of us were asked if we would be prepared to take part in that years practical exam for the benefit of a group of examiners so they could be tested. We would not gain any qualification from it as it was not the full exam and it was meant just to test the examiners. We agreed, why not? Might as well see how we do! 

On the day there must have been about 15 or 20 examiners, the three of us each had our own section and 3 or 4 dishes to produce, the only dishes which I actually remember were Oeuf Poché Frou Frou and Sole Véronique a la Escoffier. We were told to start and immediately every one of the examiners descended upon Kier, all huddled around his table, clip boards and pens in hand. Equally as quickly Keir cut himself! Not badly, he didn’t need to go to hospital, he just needed a plaster, nor was it his fault but rather that of the 15 or so people crowding in on him without warning, enough to spook anyone! Any way the rest of the session went fine and we all produced our dishes on time.

The examiners then all went into a huddle after it was over to compare notes and talk through their decisions and results awarded, we argued that as we were doing this on our own time and without benefit, we should therefore be allowed in to hear the comments. 

All of the examiners failed Keir out of hand because he had cut himself! We couldn’t believe it! It then transpired they all also failed each one of us because, the instruction in the last line of Escoffier’s recipe was to “put a cover on the dish and serve immediately”. None of us had done this, there again we had no idea going in what dishes we were to cook, nor did we have a copy of Escoffier to hand to check the recipe. To my mind if you cover a glazed butter sauce with a cloche before serving there will not be much of the glaze left once it gets to the table and the cloche is lifted! But hey, I’m not Escoffier and it was his invention after all, I would probably get upset if someone changed one of mine and told me I was wrong to have done it how I did. We three never returned to the college for our 2nd year as a result and therefore never got the qualification!                                                              

The Day Paul Bocuse came to visit, yep that’s me far left

There as a recruitment agency that seemed to be getting lots of people really good jobs, indeed all the good jobs to be had were through this company – Profile their name and Jacques Schneider the man running it! I got in touch with him and eventually he put me forward for my first Head Chefs job. This was at the Beverly Hotel in Beverley, just outside Hull and a great job it looked like it was going to be. I was offered the job and was excited about my first opportunity as Head Chef even though I was still only 26. Within a few days of going to see the place the caterer came out and in it there was a feature on a new hotel in the process of being created in an old manor house and they were recruiting staff. As soon as I saw the article I knew that was where I should be, even meant to be, not Beverley but Ashford in Kent!

Straight away I was on the phone to Jacques, the conversation went something like this. I want that job, please get me an interview asap. No Ian, you’ve just accepted the job up north! No, I’ve changed my mind, I am not going to take that one now I want this one, please get me an interview. No, you won’t get it Ian, they are looking for someone experienced, you do not fit the brief. Jacques, I don’t care whether I fit the brief or not I want that job, either you call them and get me an interview, or I get it myself – up to you!

He got me the interview arranged for a few days later, I went down, met Matthew Bates the owner’s son and the one that was to be in overall charge of the operation and John Croft the young (even younger than me!) general manager. I got the job, no messing about, I had the job before I left the interview. Sometimes it pays to be forceful!

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