Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)

Chapter Eighteen 

Norfolk, The Repertoire and The Culinary Consultancy Company

This new phase of my life was so different from what I had been used to for the last 30 years All of a sudden, I no longer started work at 9am or earlier and finished at 11pm or beyond. No longer was I in a kitchen 7 days a week, morning noon and night. No longer was I ordering and preparing large quantities of food, worrying about how many we had booked each night and what I was going to put on the menu the next day and how I was going to pay the staff at the end of the week. Now I worked predominantly from a bedroom in our house converted to an office. I worked when I wanted to, sort of. It is odd when you’ve been used to working 70 – 100 hours a week to suddenly stop. 

Working with pans and knives suddenly turned into working with computers, paper, pens and words instead of food. Yes, I did still cook but not in any meaningful way as I had in the past. The Repertoire, which was a brilliant idea of Shaun’s was so different and so easy to be enthusiastic about. Food was becoming more interesting to Joe (and Josephine) public, TV chefs were becoming celebrities and superstars, people wanted to know about their food, where it was coming from and how to cook it. There was a place in the world for what Shaun had come up with.

Our marketing line was, “The aim of The Repertoire is quite simple, to provide interesting information on food, wine and all related topics and to keep that flow of information updated as frequently as possible. If you are interested in food, wine or just good living, what you are looking for will appear somewhere within these pages, if not today then maybe tomorrow or at least sometime very soon, so keep logging on to see what is new”.

The Original CC Logo                  and the                                 New Revised Logo

This was all well and good but we needed to monetise it, both Shaun and I needed an income, a steady and regular income, so alongside The Repertoire we also set up The Culinary Consultancy Company too.

Shaun was continually winning plaudits for the look, feel and design of the Repertoire web site which was extremely reassuring and welcome. He also came up with the original logo and then the new one too, I loved the new one, well done Shaun. Gordon, the wine man would, through his contacts, try and get us some consultancy which, to be fair he did, eventually. He supplied a group of wine bars in London, mostly in the City and its immediate fringes, Davey’s Wine Bars. Their premises were also mainly basements or arches, the kitchens tiny, the food served, dire, the staff largely untrained and/or inexperienced. Each place had dishes on their menus that were either the same or very close to the other wine bars in the group (each place had pretty much the same menu, nothing wrong with that, look at McDonalds!) but there were items on the menu they didn’t all have a chance of producing well nor were there any SOP’s in place so they were all doing the same dish differently. They all had Poached Salmon on the menu and the instruction was to poach the fish whole but I don’t recall any of the kitchens having stove space or even a pan big enough to be able to do this. There was one chef that used to cut the head and tail of the salmon and cook the whole fish in the microwave, or at least as much of the fish as he could actually get into the microwave that is, most just bought portions in and cooked them as they needed them! The job was to revamp the menus putting on dishes they could easily cope with and produce, with their limited equipment, dishes that would appeal to their client base.

It was my first consultancy job and the Culinary Consultancy Company had its first client. I did my best, in fact I worked for them for quite a while but in the end, I always felt like I was flogging a dead horse. Mind you it was fairly lucrative for both Shaun and I while it lasted. 

I went on to do consultancy for a lot of diverse types of businesses, often so far removed from what I had previously been used to and some of them extremely challenging too

There was a lot happening around then, I also did some work with Louise Ayland on the “Art of Game” tour around various places demonstrating game recipes. One visit was to Baxters of Speyside where George McIvor was their development Chef another to Durham Framwellgate College, the one I went to all those years ago, to do a game demonstration. I had some hecklers that day! David Chambers, Paul Goodfellow, Kevin Burlison and a few others did their very best to put me off my stride, and to be fair they made a pretty good job of it too, cheers guys! 

It was probably late 1999 that I fell out with Gordon of the wine company which in essence meant I had to fall out with Shaun too. Thankfully I am now back in touch with Shaun and hopefully we are friends again.

I was the one doing the consultancy but because Gordon got me the work he wanted a large percentage of the income as commission and to share with Shaun. While I was okay sharing with Shaun I think Gordon was taking an equal cut too and that I was not okay with.

Prior to moving to Norfolk I had done some small jobs for Geoffrey Harrison, his son Gareth was working with me at the Boathouse in Southampton at the time. Geoff’s a great guy and was passionate about food and especially the food served in his units. I then subsequently did a lot more work for him as the years went on. From the FSA (Financial Services Authority) offices in Canary Warf to various private Schools around the South of England, to Honda’s new headquarters in Slough to Ericsons in Sussex as well as helping to try and win contracts here there and everywhere. I loved working for them and also worked with some great chefs, one of which I came across recently in Newcastle. Not only did I work for Geoffrey but I also considered him a friend and he often took me shooting with him, I even took him a couple of times too! 

 I’m not sure if it was 2000 or 2001 that I first demonstrated at Skills for Chefs, at the University of Sheffield each year, something I did, I think 3 times in total, it was a highlight of my year 3 years running. The Skills for Chefs Conference was and still is masterminded by David McKown, a great event that’s still going strong, indeed getting stronger each year and well worth a visit by any aspiring chefs. 

I enjoyed writing, still do, but I hated it at school. Compositions, I was never good at them, I could never think of anything to write about, I’m glad that changed. I contacted the Norfolk Magazine, if you recall I had already been invited by them to write a piece on fish for one of their issues shortly after my third book had been published. I proposed writing a monthly page for their magazine and they jumped at it! So all of a sudden I started writing in earnest, I went on to write a 1500 word article every month for them for the next 3 ½ years.

A consultancy job I got, I think, more as a result of writing in the Magazine than for any other reason, was an hotel on the North Norfolk Coast. This was, and I’m sure still is, an incredibly busy place. 60 rooms and somewhere in the region of 95% occupancy year-round, day in day out. Older clientele during the week and families at the week-ends. The brief was simply to improve the food offering.

The chef, Martin, had been there a good few years and had started working there as a kitchen porter and worked his way up. I don’t think he had had much formal training but he had a huge heart, commitment and loyalty, given those three traits you can do anything! All I had to do was to try and show him new things and to get the rest of the brigade on the same wave length. 

The brigade had numbers but very little in the way of skills. The restaurant was more of a challenge than the kitchen though. The reality was that one can change the menus and the quality of the food fairly easily compared to the issues I faced with the restaurant staff, or should I say the Head Waiter! 60 rooms, all 2’s, therefore 60 tables of 2. Everyone, I was told, wanted a view of the harbour which the hotel overlooked. It was in a cracking location. Everyone, so they told me, also wanted to eat at 7pm, yes everyone. The bar was always empty, not a sole in there, until after dinner.

Day one, I very nearly went home and never came back. 7.10pm, the head waiter came to the pass, one of the smallest I had ever worked on by the way, it was basically a hole in the wall about 1 meter wide. He said checks on chef and handed over 60 pieces of paper in one pile. Yep, orders for all 120 people sitting on 60 tables all presented at the hot plate at the same time. By 9.30pm just a little over 2 hours later we were all in the pub round the corner job done, head waiter too. There was one chef that came as a casual, Paul Thurston, became sous chef, he and I worked together on quite a few occasions over the years and still remain friends. 

In all I was there one or two days a week for a little over a year, changing the menu every day, teaching them new dishes, new practices, introducing new ways of working and putting spec sheets in place, stream lining ordering and simplifying what I could to fit with how they wanted to do things.  While I had slowed the rate of order taking down a bit it never really improved and never would until the head waiter left. I wanted them to use the bar more, get people in for pre dinner drinks and take their order before they went to the table but all that was too much work for the HW with whom I never did see eye to eye with.

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