Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)


Chapter Twenty Six

The Building Works Commence

Despite losing the guy that was going to help fund the refurbishment works we cracked on regardless! It had to happen! there was no stopping, onwards and upwards!

We arranged a builder to come and refurbish our biggest and best room, or at least the one that would be our best once completed. It was the room above the restaurant, with dual aspect views across the garden. As you entered the room you went into a short corridor, in front was the bathroom and to the left the bedroom. The idea was to block off the corridor just beyond the bedroom door. The space gained would then become part of the bathroom, the shower in fact. The new entrance to the bathroom would be a new doorway in the corner of the bedroom where there currently stood a wash basin.

The Room Before Refurbishing

The floor had to be strengthened as we had already chosen the bed we wanted, a new, but strong and sturdy, 4-poster from Revival Beds in Notts. We had even been down to see it and paid a deposit. The strengthening of the floor involved taking all the floor up, emptying the void below the floor boards. These voids in old houses are normally filled with clinker, ash etc from the fireplaces, which acts as insulation and a noise dampener, albeit not very efficiently. The void was about 12 inches/30cm deep, a lot of clinker. Then each floor joist was braced, herring bone style, across the full length and width of the room. Modern insulation then filled the gaps and was topped off with new floor boards. There was a big old, probably 1920’s, marble effect fireplace and its surround in the room which we had already carefully removed with the thought that we could utilise it elsewhere eventually (we never did though). Many months prior Jane had chosen the fabric for the curtains and for the pelmet around the bed and the bedspread, well two fabrics actually as one was to trim the other. We also knew who was going to make them too, someone we had met at an auction in Dumfries the previous year. The original bathroom was appalling, so much so it even had shagpile carpet on the floor! There was also a boxed in lead water tank in the roof right above the bath which had to be removed. Not only had we already chosen the fabric for the curtains but we also knew the tiles for the bathroom and the bathroom suite! In fact we had already bought 4 suites! With the new jacuzzi bath and the walk-in monsoon shower and the room fully tiled – with underfloor heating, the bathroom was stunning.

The New Bedroom                                                                                          The New Bathroom

While it cost in excess of £30,000 to get this room ready, we did, at last, have a nice room to let. We also made some changes in the smallest of the three cottages, Ministers Pool so that we could let that as a suite as well as a self-catering cottage. This gave us two rooms we could earn some money from and very quickly, the big room or Grouse, as we had renamed all the rooms was almost always the first room to sell. Indeed we renamed all the rooms, all named after whiskies such as Jura, Balvenie, McAllan they were now all named after game birds. Grouse being the largest then, Pheasant, Partridge, Mallard, Ptarmigan and Snipe. The smallest room we had, a single, was always designated to become the bathroom to Mallard but it never happened despite us not using the room at all.

Ministers Pool

There was a local food initiative had started up in Dumfries & Galloway, Savour the Flavours, this had been set up by a local hotelier and a few producers to try to coordinate and enhance and advertise food products, production and outlets such as restaurants, and put on Farmers Markets. It was having some success and had gained some traction and funding with local government. They invited a group of chefs along and suggested we set up a Dumfries & Galloway Chefs Association which I was very happy to be involved with, while we didn’t achieve much at least we got it going. I was voted in as its Chair at the beginning but to be honest time was a real issue, not only for me but for the other chefs too so it never really came to much although Savour the Flavours went on the great things

Around the same time I also joined the board of the newly created DMO (Destination Management Organisation) these were very much all the rage back then, regions all over the country had DMO’s trying to co-ordinate their tourism strategies especially in Scotland as the local tourist boards had disappeared and tourism in Scotland at least, had been taken over by Visit Scotland, their brief was to bring tourists into Scotland as a country but with little emphasis on specific areas, these local areas quickly became the responsibility of local DMO’s made up of local businesses, and funded predominantly by local council and membership. A group I was glad I joined as I met a whole new group of people, all involved in tourism, all in the same region, and made some good contacts and good friends too, not least Fred & Maggie! Fred and I remained as directors of what became known as Destination Dumfries and Galloway for some years until it became obvious that we were not as independent or autonomous as we had hoped we could be. At the same time, I was also involved with ADGAP (association of Dumfries and Galloway Accommodation Providers), a catchy name don’t you think!  Another group but this time solely concerned with accommodation providers, although not that many were hoteliers, lots of B&B’s Guest Houses, Caravan Parks and Self-Catering properties but not that many hoteliers as I say. Again, I became a director of this group too, we were independent, especially as we were not getting government funding of any sort but it also meant that there was very little money to go towards anything meaningful sadly, but we did our bit promoting the area and the businesses in it.

As you recall I mentioned that it wasn’t until 2010 that we really started to feel the effects of the recession the banks had caused but feel it we did. I was still looking for finance as the bank had refused us but we needed to refurbish the hotel or not move forward at all. I’d found someone when things went bad with David. Michelin had visited and said “until you get your rooms up to the level one would expect for Michelin Starred food then you will never get one”, so much for it all being about the food! This is how came across Russell. He was involved with a business angels’ operation as well as offering financial advice. We met and we got on really well together. He got me in front of the angels but sadly nothing came of that, except having Russell as a confidant and a friend.

I had a call from the bank one day saying that two of their managers from head office were coming down to see me, I did not like the sound of that, given that the banks at the time were calling in loans left, right and centre to minimise their debts I was naturally dubious, so I called Russell and he offered to come up and sit in on the meeting. These two suited “gentlemen” duly arrived and immediately started on me saying that they couldn’t see how we are ever going to be profitable, they didn’t understand how we were still in business, and were convinced we wouldn’t be for much longer. 

The conversation was taking the path I had feared it would, they were basically issuing an ultimatum, then Russell chipped in. He said “sorry but we have not been properly introduced, Ian is a good friend of mine, and I have been in your position, I’ve walked in your shoes and had these conversations (then rattled off some of his CV, especially the parts where he had been a bank manager of some standing) and I know what you are trying to do here and I advise you to stop right now”. “Has Mr McAndrew ever reneged on his loan? NO! has his account always been in credit? YES! Then what makes you think he may breach his loan conditions? You have no reasons to doubt that this is a good business and a good operator, therefore you have no basis and no right to even consider calling the loan in, have you?”

They then said they were not there to call in the loan but to tell me they were putting me into what they called “special measures”, then left soon afterwards with their tails between their legs. As Russell explained later, they would have called the loan in had he not been there but putting me into special measures was the next best thing as far as they were concerned, it meant that they would put our account under close scrutiny for the rest of the term of the loan as it was very unusual for business to come out of that “special” category! Thanks to Russell we did manage to get some loans from elsewhere which saw us through.

In 2010 I started offering our Chef for a Day course. I only took one person per day (normally) but it was mostly good fun, but of course there’s always one isn’t there! The “pupil” would arrive around 9.30am ready for 10am. They would then sit with the team and we would write the menu for that day. did I mention I changed the menu every day? Once written and the list of jobs drawn up I would then work one on one with the pupil during mis en place time, normally starting by making the bread for that evening. Around 2pm I would get them to make a dish for their lunch, nothing too dramatic, often a risotto with a piece of fish. They would then have their lunch, with a nice glass of wine, and retire for the afternoon returning again for 6pm to do the evening service with us. If they were then staying the night they would head off to the restaurant at about 8.30 for dinner having first seen most of the dishes go out over the course of the evening. I charged £150 per person and it sold really well boosting our takings nicely, especially if I was also getting a night’s accommodation and dinner out of them too.

We had a wide variety of people come for Chef for a Day, as already mentioned I used to only take one person at a time, as it was one on one, more was too difficult and the kitchen a tad too small for more. Mostly it would be people buying it as a present for a family member, a partner or a friend, often it was given as a retirement present too. There was one time my Chef for a Day was a gynaecologist, nothing to strange with that, he was retiring from the local hospital and the staff had bought this as a leaving present. I am glad that I’m not a woman and that he was not there to operate on me as he couldn’t hold a knife! He had no idea not only of how to hold one but also had no idea of how to use one either! Okay he would be more used to a scalpel but even so!

Then there was this married couple who insisted they came as a couple, never again! I was showing them how to make something, they were working alongside me copying what I was doing. I said, right now we season it, “No” “what?” say’s I she said “no we don’t use salt in our house”. “That may be so but you’re in my house now and we use salt here, now season it”! She did.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of policemen, NHS staff, retirees, celebrities, even a father & son, some really lovely people and ones that became good customers & friends, I eventually hired someone as a chef who had come to me on  Chef for a Day, but I will never forget that married couple!

One morning in July 2011 a couple of police officers turned up asking for Jane. They had brought the shocking news that her mum had been found dead in her bedroom at home. It must have been really quick as it seems she was in the process of getting up one morning and never made it.  A real shock as we understood she was in good health. 

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