Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)

Chapter Thirteen

Back to the Real World and My Second Book 

Poultry & Game had just been published and the Caterer carried a review of the book written by Anthony Worrel Thompson, he slated it, the only person that did mind you but he certainly didn’t like it, or rather me, I suspect. It was okay though as I was no fan of his either. I still do not understand why so many people were anti towards us, I do not recall particularly upsetting anyone but most of the bad feeling against us seemed to be for little things. When I first laid out the menu I decided to write the prices out in words instead of figures, so I would write Nineteen Pounds for instance instead of £19.00 and we were castigated for it, but why? I was only wanting to do something different. I have already mentioned the colour scheme, a pale apricot is what I saw it as, clean and fresh, bright and airy, yet all I got back was ridicule for the “Knicker Pink” décor! The food was good, as good (if not better) than a lot of high-profile places. See the photos in the book, exactly as the dishes were on the menu, dishes I was extremely proud of and of course opening as we did in the September much of the menu featured game almost through till we eventually closed.

I really enjoyed writing this book, more so than the first one, I suppose it was because I had more time. Martin Brigdale did all the photography for the book and every one of the photos were superb, he really was a very good photographer indeed. All of them were taken in his studio on Baker St., and all of the food that was photographed we ended up eating either for lunch or dinner each day. It is remarkably hard working doing the food for photographs, especially for someone as good as Martin. A day’s photography lasted between 10 & 12 hours and the best we ever managed was 6 photo’s in the one day, on the majority of days we only managed 5.

All the plates were either sourced by his wife/partner, Andrea Lampton who was the stylist or they were from Martins own stock of plates, he had a vast amount.

        Air Dried Wild Duck with Pickled Vegetables                                        Pithivier of Chicken Livers

My back and the sciatica remained bad and it kept me away from work on many occasions, something I feel ashamed of now as well as feeling sorry for the likes of David Spice who had to run the restaurant in my absence but I just couldn’t walk! Despite all our efforts the end came for 116 in the March I think it was, there was no way we could carry on, the lovely man Mr Meades had done for us, there was no way back. Pino, my partner bought my share out for £1, which I never actually got, but more about that later. This left me free to get on and find a job and not worry about the financial loss too much.

                        Poached Breast of Chicken                                                         Consommé Poached Duck

The house we had bought in Tooting was of course heavily mortgaged so I had to find a job but there was no way I (or Jane) wanted to remain in London so the house was going to be a problem for us. I have to admit I hated that house. You know when you get on a bus or train and the nutter gets on too! They then sit next to you even though every other seat is empty. Well, we had the nutter living next door to us, the smell, the noises, the general filth, just everything about her (she was a single woman with an enormous dog), none of these things helped me warm to the house! 

I was registered with various agencies looking for a position and one of them eventually came up with an intriguing opportunity, in Eire. Adare Manor in Co. Limerick were looking for a Head Chef. I knew nothing about it but it sounded and looked like a decent opportunity. It’s a huge manor house in a massive estate of many thousands of acres with the River Maige running alongside it, and situated on the edge of the beautiful village of Adare in the west of Ireland. It had already benefited from having a pretty large sum of money spent on it with plans to spend an awful lot more too. Owned by an American couple, the Kane’s from New Jersey, their idea was to turn the park land around it into a world class golf course. This has since happened, they had made a start while we were there but it was never finished by them. 

Before I could take a job anywhere though the restaurant still had to be wound up. Rightly or wrongly, I used the same solicitor as Pino, for ease more than anything, I just wanted the whole mess over and done with as soon as was possible, I wanted nothing more to do with it. The solicitor persuaded me that I should sell my share to Pino and he would take care of everything. As far as I was concerned, he could afford it, I couldn’t, the losses stood at about £475k, at the time Pinot, or at least his family, owned L’Escargot in London as well as his Italian restaurant in Highgate and his newest Parco’s Restaurant and Brasserie in the Aldgate Barrs Centre on Whitechapel High St. it took a long time, he reneged on the £1.00 and then tried to pass all the debt onto me as he buggered off back to Italy! Following that his father, never have I met anyone that looked or acted like a Godfather, Marlon Brando’s character could easily have been modelled on Pinot’s father, offered me a job! He wanted me to become the Head Chef at L’Escargot! No way would I do that, given what had happened, but I put a proposal to him anyway to see what he would say and do. It was designed to get some re-dress for myself but, as I expected, he rejected it immediately so we went our separate ways. 

I don’t exactly remember when it was but Pino wanted me to go over to their restaurant in Milan and do a couple of nights there partly to promote 116 (not sure how it was going to help). I did, I had never been to Milan so why not. it was a busy place and the brigade was great and good to work with and we put on a good menu, but they all had a weird habit. All the pans were on a shelf around the kitchen, every time someone picked up a pan they slammed it down again immediately, then picked it up again and carried on to use it.  I could not understand why they were doing this, until I picked a pan up for myself, I too immediately slammed it back down again, the only difference being was that I looked at what I hoped I had just killed! Under every pan there was a cockroach, if you slammed the pan back down again quickly you managed to squash it, if not it ran off so you could have another go next time! 

I have never been one for the limelight, sure I’ve done a few stints on TV, probably more on radio, I have a face that’s more suited to radio anyway, but nothing major. TV chefs really came along quite some time after me. Sure, there are one or two out there that are older or about the same age as me, Brian Turner, Rick Stein, Raymond Blanc, etc. but the age of the celebrity chef really started in full swing in the early to mid-90’s. Before that back in the day there was the galloping gourmet, Keith Floyd, Anton Mosimann, but I think most of it started and was certainly popularised around the time of the original series of Master Chef which first aired in 1990 the year I moved to Ireland. Then followed by Ready Steady Cook, that must have been in the mid 90’s, 94 I think with Fern Britton as the host, this really propelled chefs to centre stage. I can’t help but think however that had my books been published in 97 instead of 87 everything may have turned out slightly differently. 

Back to that job in Eire. It was around April/May 1990, I needed to get away, from the press, guide books, London, the spotlight, everything really as we were still being mentioned as having been one of the first victims of the recession. No one remembered that it was Jonathan Meades who put us in that position. It could be argued of course that we would have failed anyway and that JM just hastened our demise, of course it could but it wasn’t just him that had it in for us, as I say I do not know why, except possibly, dare I say, we were too good for the competition! The job in Eire was going to allow me to do that, escape, at least for a while. It felt like I was running away, I guess I was. If only I had stayed and possibly brazened it out then TV may then have beckoned. 

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