Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)

Chapter Fifteen 

Return to England, to Flitwick then Wentworth

It felt like I had been away a lifetime, I was so out of touch with the rest of the world and had no idea how to get back into it. I continued to dream about a small hotel of my own and I did make a few forays to look at places but where was the money to come from? Realistically I needed a job, one that paid well to get us settled back in the UK and put me in the mainstream again.

A position became available at Flitwick Manor in Bedfordshire, not a place I had ever been but I knew of it and funnily enough the chef there was Duncan Poyser who worked for me at 116. He was leaving and I was contacted to see if I could take over as not only the chef but also as the GM. Not only that but there was also a position for Jane on reception and it came with a house, in fact a 3-bedroom bungalow just across the road from the hotel.

Owned by an Indian family, Mr Jamal and his son. I met with them, the hotel was small and had lovely gardens, this was the first foray into hotels by Mr Jamal who also owned one or more nursing homes. I do not know how much they knew of hotels but it didn’t seem to be much, I hope they knew more about nursing homes but I doubted it.

Anyway, it was a job, for both of us, in an environment I knew about, it was getting me back into the country and into my comfort zone. Peter Chandlers Paris House was very near so there was other good places in the locality which always helps.

Within a few days I was fending off wine suppliers that either wanted paying or to pick up their wine, or both, I even had them showing up at the hotel, refusing to leave without their money or their wine. Mr Jamal was a difficult man and was not that nice to the staff, although I’m certain he thought everyone loved him, it was obvious that as a business it was in trouble. His staff were a good crew, mostly young and not that knowledgeable but all hard working and wanting to do well, my inherited sous chef Peter was a very good cook so that helped immensely. Once again, I set about developing the garden into growing herbs and veg.

Mr Jamal liked to come into the office and go through the waste paper bins, he would check every used envelope for unfranked stamps so he could re-use them. He insisted we always thoroughly check all envelopes in case they contained cash, why they would defeated me, but! He came to me one day brandishing an envelope he claimed to have taken from a bin in the office, and pulled out of it a £5 note, which he swore was left in it and thrown away. Of course he had, I really was that cabbage looking! 

We had Brian Clough staying a couple of nights, a lovely man, really genuinely nice. The morning he was leaving he heard Mr. Jamal tearing into one of the staff, can’t remember why, but he, in front of the staff, tore into Mr Jamal for treating people like he did, he didn’t hold back either. Well done and thank you Mr Clough! 

While we were there the Dunlop Cup was held over at Woburn and we had a number of the top golfers staying with us, Seve Ballesteros along with his family, Ian Woosnham and Nick Faldo were some, all great guys but none of them seemed to like the host! Still, it was a stepping stone, a way of getting back into the main stream again, I was never going to stay, not with those owners. It turned out a few years later we had notification from HRMC that our NI contributions had not been paid during our time at Flitwick, it seemed that dear Mr. Jamal was deducting them from our wages but inadvertently forgetting to pay it to the revenue! He got his just desserts though as I understand he went bust as a result! It could not have happened to a better person.

While I was at Flitwick I was contacted by a head hunter, can’t recall his name but he had been asked to get in touch with me for a job over in Surrey, the job, Head Chef at Wentworth Golf Club, why me, no idea! Wentworth was undergoing changes, it had just been bought out, a new CEO had come in, a new club house was being built, money was being spent, they wanted someone to head up a brand-new kitchen and club house facilities, was I that person?

I knew nothing about golf, I mean absolutely nothing about golf! I had never played, never had any desire to play, I don’t think I even knew anyone that played at the time. If I was going to walk around outside in the country, I would be carrying a gun with a dog by my side, not a golf club with a bag on wheels. I did have a few goes at the game while I was there, silly not to really but I never really got on with it at all.

The Club House at Wentworth

The kitchens at the time were in a portacabin, as too was most of the club house, offices, everything just about.  the original club house was being demolished pretty much and rebuilt. So, I went along to have a look. I met with Willie Bauer the then CEO, previously GM at the Savoy. Willie could charm the birds out of the trees, he was absolutely charming, a persona that I am sure many many people have fallen for over the years and I was no exception. Now if I ever meet anyone quite so charming it puts me on my guard and I view them with suspicion so thanks for that Mr Bauer. 

It wasn’t the best paid job around but it did come with a car, a Volvo 740 estate Wentworth Edition, a very nice car, When we sold Restaurant 74 it was a new 740 estate car we bought (which I subsequently wrote off in Ireland!). So, to a free replacement was a real bonus. We found a house in Camberwell which wasn’t too far away and Jane got the job as Head Housekeeper at Pennyhill Park, again not far away. Both of our jobs were difficult and we both had difficult managers to deal with.

From my side Dear Mr Bauer was probably the worst person I ever had the misfortune to work for, I ended up hating him in exactly the same amount as he hated me, and he did. To a degree I suppose I made him but at the same time he was an absolute arse! 

Almost from day one we didn’t get on. Life of course in a busy place like Wentworth was always going to be difficult while working in a portacabin, but I was prepared to put up with it if it meant I could get a hand in the design of the new kitchen. Thankfully we were not in the portacabin for too long but sadly, a hand in the design was not to be, so much so that the new building was locked down so tight no one got near it, plans were not shared and advice not sought, in any department. They took on a very trendy kitchen designer but to my mind he designed a kitchen more for its looks than its practicability. It worked but it could have been so much better, it was a difficult place to be. My office, which I had to fight to get as they were not going to put one in was at one end and a bit round the corner so difficult to see what was going on. 

I do remember going to a meeting with others re the crockery for the restaurant and banqueting. Mr Bauer had brought in Tiffany’s of New Yok to supply the crockery, yep he did, why? No idea, imagine how much a plate was going to cost! There were quite a few of us in this meeting and this fine bone china was being passed around and someone (not Bauer) asked my thoughts on it. Given that the proposed main course plate I was given to look at was only 25/6cm, not the 30-32cm that was all the rage in the late early to late 90’s I was less than impressed. I said I thought the plate was too small and that a larger plate would be more preferable but Mr Bauer would not listen, I pressed my point telling him what I thought. After the meeting was over, he called me up to his office, he told me in no uncertain terms NEVER to disagree with him in public again, EVER.

Once again, I was lucky to have some great people with me, Colin Brown came over from Adare to join me as my sous, (he tried to get me into golf, especially as he was quite good at it), I took on Philip Golding as a junior sous. Gareth Harrison joined me, he went on to work for me another two times after this, I then ended up working for him and his family but more of that later. Other good guys were, Jonny Baron and Tony Frost to name but a few. 

It was difficult work at times, I did 3 major competitions in my time there, 2 world match plays and a PGA. The first one I did was something else, it had been a long time since I had catered for so many and for so long! 6 days of big numbers and hard long days, I remember counting up my hours that first competition, 124 hours in that one week! The first full day of the first competition I’d presided over, with crowds everywhere and players and press, it was mental. Thankfully I only had to contend with what was going on in the club house and not what was going on in the village. Each lunchtime we had hot and cold buffets going out everywhere, one was to the players dining room. The ex-head chef, Norman, had been asked to come back and help out as not only were we short handed but I don’t think any of the kitchen staff had ever catered for a competition like this. 

I tasked him with looking after the buffet for the players, set it up and to be there for service, I popped down just as the first of the players were coming in. they were a tad early as set up was not quite complete, the chaffing dishes were just being lit and there was no food in them just yet. Norman was just lighting the burners, he knocked one over, easily done, and some of the gel went onto the table cloth – on fire! He quickly grabbed a napkin and tried to put it out but as much as he tried, he was making it worse spreading the lit gel everywhere, very soon almost all the table was on fire. There we were with the likes of Ernie Els, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Watson, Nick Faldo etc, milling around and the place going up in flames! It was a scary few minutes, thankfully we got the tablecloths off and outside before the building burned down! 

Willies’ office was a floor up and at the opposite end of the building from my office in the kitchen but we didn’t need a telephone to talk to each other as I screamed at him and him at me it was easy to hear each other, and we did that quite a lot, I very rarely got called up to the office as shouting at each other down the phone seemed to be all we did!

I wasn’t the only one not to get on with him but I was probably more vocal and obvious about it than others. I recall on a number of occasions when the ballroom was set up for a banquet, say around 200 people, it would be set up the day before if possible, but if that happened you could almost guarantee that Bauer would come along and make then dismantle it and set it up differently. I think just to confirm himself as the arse I (and almost everyone else) thought he was.

One day he called me up to his office, his lunch had just gone up to him. He said, “where’s this spinach from? Same place as normal” says I, “its rubbish, you need to buy better. I can’t, it’s already the best around, there’s nothing wrong with it!” Again a few days later same conversation. Despite my protestations and actually showing him the spinach when it came in he still insisted it was rubbish. Anton Edlemann called me up while this was going on and we were chatting away, him asking how I was getting on with Wille. How do you think? I knew the two of you would never get on together he said, he then asked if he had complained about the spinach yet! Seriously Anton, how do you know about that?” “I knew you would, he did the same with me” “Okay so how did you get around it?” “Easy, when you think it’s perfectly cooked and seasoned, cook it again, when it’s knackered don’t stop, keep on cooking it, when it gets to the point when you wouldn’t eat it serve it to him he’ll love it” I did and he did”.

I can’t recall how many times I got into trouble for refusing members food requests. Not the done thing! We would often get orders in like 4 well done burgers, in a hurry, we have a tee off time in 5 minutes. Silly me, I used to refuse! 

I’ll never forget the day we had a table of 4 women in that were about to go out onto the course. They each wanted a different sandwich, no problem, but they each only wanted a ¼ of a sandwich and only wanted to pay for one sandwich between them, not 4 sandwiches! So, we were expected to make one sandwich, with four different fillings, on 4 different plates, each one with garnish, all for the price of 1. I’m sure there are a lot of chefs out there that have had similar experiences! 

Then there was Kevin, I have to tell you about Kevin, good lad, a Scouser but don’t hold that against him. He was on the sauce, after service one lunchtime he came over to me and said, chef do you mind if I go off? I think I need to go to hospital. He pulled his apron to the side revealing blood soaked trousers. Go! Go! Apparently, he had caught himself with a boning knife. On the way to the hospital though he would pop home and get cleaned up first, then on the way he stopped off to buy a can of something as he was thirsty. He eventually made it though and got in the queue. It was a long queue and he’d been there a while when he decided to go to the front and ask if he could be seen soon as his shoe had now filled up with blood! As I understand it, he was then blue lighted to the nearest major hospital, he had severed a major artery in his groin and was minutes away from bleeding to death. 

It must have been just prior to the Ryder Cup, the year Bernard Gallacher was the captain, he was due to hold a post Cup Dinner at the club. We met and he told me the sort of thing he was looking for and to make the arrangements, sadly I can’t recall what it was he actually asked for or the menu I ended up putting forward to him. I submitted the menu to him and he came back with the go ahead. The following day Mr Bauer came to me and told me to change the menu, putting Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding on the menu as the main course instead. I naturally said no as that was not what Bernard wanted or asked for, he said that didn’t matter I should change the menu anyway as Willie knew best! I did as I was told but I know Bernard was not happy about it but Willie got his way.

I had a call one day from David Chambers, he told me he had heard I was leaving, he knew the date I was leaving, who was replacing me, when he had been hired and his start date. It was all news to me as he knew it would be. Thank you, David, for the heads up, time to get organised. A few days later we had a consultant EHO inspector come in, I knew him and for an EHO he was a decent guy. He went through the whole of the kitchen and all our procedures. He said he had been asked to write a report for Mr Bauer, he apologised for doing so and said he had not found anything untoward but had to come up with something, I thanked him and told him not to worry he had to do what he had to do.

In the meantime, I made some calls. The following week after the EHO visit I was told I was being sacked for breaches of Health and Safety law. All they had me on was for re-using pre-printed food containers to store food in, these were large mayonnaise buckets which I had kept and re-used for storage, for things like coleslaw and potato salad, that we had made using the mayonnaise from the said buckets. This was against the law I know but why? I never understood that one. No problem, I was ready for it and had all my ducks in a row. I have spoken before about having the right friends around you when trouble comes knocking, well this time I called a solicitor friend who passed me onto a barrister friend of his who would act for me. All he did was write to Wentworth’s/Bauers solicitors and request certain pages from his diary. The first for the date he had interviewed my replacement (which had taken place when I was off for a few days) and the other for the date this new chef was due to start. That was all we needed to show constructive dismissal. It never made it to court as they settled before it got there. I understand that this had happened many times to Mr Bauer in the past, and no doubt it happened to him again!

I learnt later that apparently Mr. Bauer took me on as a project, it was intention , from the start, to break me, he was going to do all he could to break me so I was told. Well Willie, you never did, but you know what? I reckon I came close to breaking you!

Wentworth was an interesting part of my life, a revelation in many ways, not the type of job I would ever take again but I did have some good times there.

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