Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)


Chapter Three
 

Eastbourne

While Jane and I were in Eastbourne we were going out together as boyfriend and girlfriend. Me at the Cavendish and Jane at the Imperial across the road each of us with live in accommodation at our respective hotels. It was while at the Cavendish that I really got my main chances I guess but it still took a few years for it to sink in. 

 

Jane and me while we lived and worked in Eastbourne

I was larder chef and in those days the chef was a big name on the competition circuit and was a judge at Olympia. So it was here that I started doing fat carvings, not that I knew anything about them but at least I had a crack at them. As larder chef I also got to do all the butchery. Once a week the meat would be delivered, when I say meat, I really mean carcasses, and what seemed like lots of them. These days everything comes in pre-prepared and portioned, there are very few chefs out there that would have the first idea of how to bone a leg of veal or split a whole pig or break down a whole lamb. Mind you neither did I when I started but I did by the time I finished there. I also used to save up all the lamb kidney fat, render it down and set it then I used it to carve sculptures from it for adorning buffets. It was heavy work and not really anyone to teach me either, trial and error, the best way to learn. 

The butchery took place in isolation in the basement with the kitchen one floor up. As I say the meat would arrive once a week and I, along with the delivery driver, would have to carry it all in and store it in the walk-in fridge. I then, over a few days, would take it all apart. We would also cure meats, and brine others such as tongues ready for cooking for buffets, things no chef would ever get the opportunity to see or do these days.

In one doorway there were a couple of hooks high up, one in each of the door posts, these were for hanging the whole pigs and whole lambs from in order to split them. There were hooks in the ceiling too and I would hang a whole leg of beef or veal and break it down from there, carefully seam boning the meat away from the bone, that is removing each individual cut without cutting the meat at all just separating each muscle from the next down the natural connective lines. Pieces like the silverside would be brined, the shin of veal cut for Osso Bucco, the rump cut into steaks, topsides trimmed for roasting, cutting escalope’s, carefully removing the marrow from the bones before chopping them up for roasting to make the jus, the marrow salted to remove the blood and the marrow used in dishes, and all by myself most of the time, in fact I do not ever remember having any assistance down there but someone else must have helped out at some point I just don’t remember. Often Jane, if she was off, would come and join me and just watch, at least I had some company!

Having said all that though Eastbourne was pretty much a playground for me, yes I learned a lot but I was after all only 19/20 when I was there and still had a lot of growing up to do but the Cavendish was a great place to work and Eastbourne a great place to live too, it may have had a reputation as a retirement home for ever but I promise you it had a very vibrant night scene back in my day. The staff house round the back of the hotel even had a full-sized snooker table for the staff and I was never off it, morning noon & night, that is when I wasn’t in the pub or the night club, or at work of course! But many nights were taken up with work, then the pub, then down the night club and then playing snooker for the rest of the night before going to work straight from the table, no sleep!

The guys in the kitchen were a young group on the whole and we all got on well and while getting on well used to mess about quite a lot too, or what we used to call fannying around. 

One of the guys had a car, a Morris or Austin 1100 I think it was, and we used to get around in it. One night it was just the two of us in the car, him driving, me in the passenger seat. We had a puncture and we were out in the countryside somewhere, it was evening/night as it was dark. My memory may not be the best, but I will remember that incident for the rest of my days. The car careered off to the left and we smashed into a bus stop sign, how bad could that be you ask? 

This bus stop was a concrete and stone composite post with four metal strengthening rods that ran its length but terminating about 6 inches or so above ground, they were designed like this so that if anything hitting it (like us in a car at what must have been at least 40 miles per hour) would cause it to snap off just above ground level, which it duly did. Trouble was as we hit it and it snapped it then fell forward directly on top of the car, down the car’s length. Now a Morris 1100 was not a big or long car, indeed it was about the same length as the post that now smashed into the roof. All of this happened in super slow motion as far as I was concerned. I clearly recall slipping down into the passengers’ foot well while grabbing hold of my companion and dragging him down with me. At the same time I remember the windscreen breaking into millions of tiny pieces and counting them as each piece hit me. 

The car ended up spinning on its roof in the middle of the road in the dark, the roof was level with the top of the driver’s seat so if I had not pulled him into the footwell he could easily have been killed. We both managed to climb out of the passenger’s door window, thankfully this was before seatbelts become mandatory otherwise it may have been goodnight guys!

I remember the only Christmas I spent there, we put together a buffet the Christmas Day Dinner as most places do. I had made some Smoked Salmon Mousse and set it in two bowls which I had turned out onto a platter surrounded with leaf garnish and each mousse topped with a tomato rose as you did back then. Irene Handle was staying and she came down to the buffet with her friend and clutching a small toy dog in her arms, she took one look at the buffet and burst out laughing, looking at me she said between giggles oh look! a pair of titties!

It could not have been long after that we decided to move on and we both got jobs in a small country house hotel in a place called Weston under Penyard not far from Ross on Wye in Herefordshire.

 

Ross on Wye

Jane and I were married in 1974 and at the time we were working in a small hotel on the edge of Ross on Wye, a nice enough place that I think is a conference centre now but in those days how different things were, I remember the chefs used to have lit cigarettes on the shelf above where they worked. We used to get a kitchen drink allowance every week in the form of a barrel of rough scrumpy and by God it was strong, and rough, couple that with the fags and not a lot of good food went out that’s for sure. 

That is about all I have to say about that as a job.

The sous chef was German, Gerd, married to Janice, a girl from Leeds and they had 2 young children, one a very young baby, must have been less than a year old. We got on great together and it was his fault we ended up moving to Germany, he and Janice moved over there and before he went he said why not come over too, we will help you get settled.

Jane and me with Gerd & Janice

 

I think I spent more time tinkering about on cars and with the chef, sous chef and others and building a go-cart than we did actually working but as I say Jane and I were married while we both worked there, her in reception and me in the kitchen. It was here that I bought my first car, cost me £100, a fortune back then, a yellow Triumph Herald, I loved that car but it had its problems! It needed a new exhaust so rather than taking it to a garage (I was broke) I would fit it myself, it took days! While tightening up the nuts that held the exhaust onto the manifold, I sheared off one of the bolts! This resulted in having to remove the manifold and take it to a garage to get the old bolt drilled out and a new fitted, then I just couldn’t get the engine to run, at least a day later I figured out that I had the plugs fitted wrongly, would have been far cheaper in the end to have gone to a garage after all.

Just before we married, I passed my driving test in Monmouth, truth is I had been driving around in my car for a couple of months (illegally) prior to taking the test so I’d had plenty of practice. I recall the day of my test, I went out with Jane in the car for a bit of practice before the test, realised I was in danger of being late and hurried back to the hotel, the driving instructor was sitting in his car in the car park waiting for me. I pulled up next to him, jumped into his car (a Ford Escort) and off we went to Monmouth to the test centre, thankfully I passed no problem!

For our honeymoon we drove up to and around Scotland in the Herald, again not without problems. We’d had a flat tyre and had taken in to a garage in Dumfries to get it repaired and re-fitted, driving over the hills to Ayr (in snow I might add) the wheel almost fell off as the garage had not put it back on right, also while it was snowing the windscreen wipers decided to stop working too! An eventful honeymoon for a couple with no money!

As I say Jane and I were married in the March and by May we were ensconced in Hamburg, yep we took Gerd up on his offer and off we went. What a leap of faith that was, looking back on it now we must have either been very brave or extremely fool hardy, a trait of my life to date, I still don’t know which it was but what I do know is that it was an enormous adventure that certainly set me on the right track food wise. For both Jane and I it made us what we are today, an experience if given the chance again I know we would both leap at. When we moved over to Germany I gave the herald to Janes dad, he had it for years. 

 

Deutschland

We quickly got jobs, both of us at the Hotel Intercontinental auf der Alster in Hamburg and moved into the vornhiem ( staff house) before moving out to find our own digs a month or so later. We loved it and had a great time there. Again, I was in the kitchen of course but Jane this time was just a lowly chambermaid as she could not speak the language, not that I could be at least all the boys in the kitchen spoke at least some English whereas in housekeeping it was pretty much either German or Turkish. All either of us could say in German when we moved over as Ja und nine, then count to 10, and that was it.

In the kitchen we had chefs from all over the world, England, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and of course everyone spoke English or at least one form of it or another. 

My Identity Papers from Germany

 

The Head Chef at the Intercontinental, Peter Heinz, was a lovely man who put me straight into the larder with Herr Babinek. A young Chef de Partie but very very good and so well organised, typical German.

Left to right, Peter Heinz Head Chef, Herr Babinek, me, sadly I do not remember his name, I think he was Tunisian

 

So it was here on the banks of the Alster that food became such an integral part of my life and it has been every day since, thank you Herr Babinek it was definitely all down to you. It was here that being a chef was a job like others that worked down the mines or in an office or a shop the only difference was I worked in a kitchen. It was the Intercontinental and Herr Babinek in particular that showed me food could be so much more than I had ever imagined. It spiked my interest in a way that nothing had ever done before. 

While at the intercontinental we made friends with two Aussies that had just come over and started at the Interconti about the same time as us. Russell and Lorraine from Melbourne, we are all about the same age, spoke no German and were wet behind the ears, they too were newly married and also moved into the vornhiem. Lorraine worked in housekeeping with Jane while Russell and I were both in the kitchen, him on the sauce me in the larder. We became good friends and still are to this day almost 50 years later.

All in all we were there for just on 2 years we both learned so much, not that much as far as the language was concerned and we’ve both forgotten pretty much all we did learn of the language as we have never really had much chance to use it once we came back, but the food! That was so different to anything I had previously encountered.

The language barrier did not exist in the kitchen as we had chefs from all over the world, England, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and of course everyone spoke English or at least some. For Jane however it was mainly Turkish girls in housekeeping so very few spoke any English at all. She did really well for herself though as she very soon moved to a new job at the Vierjahrezeiten as assistant housekeeper, a fabulous 5 star world class hotel, easily the equivalent of the Ritz or the Savoy.

Intercontinental kitchen brigade 1975

 

The buffets we used to do were fantastic and Herr Babinek was top class. It was totally thanks to him that I became a larder chef for so many years and my love of buffet work, centre pieces and terrines was born there in Hamburg. The Chef, Peter Heinz was relatively young but okay and fairly new at the job I believe. We had a butcher who had his own room, constantly pissed, he kept a crate of beer in the ceiling, used to lift a ceiling tile and lift out a bottle whenever he needed on which seemed to be constant. How he never managed to hurt himself I don’t know. He had an electric bandsaw which he used most days, but I never saw him cut himself no matter how much he drank.

It was also the first time I came across fresh foie gras. We had a chef come from Turkey, doing a promotion for the Intercontinental Hotel in Istanbul, I think. He brought loads of it over and made terrines, he also taught me about Turkish Coffee – by God it was strong!

As I alluded to earlier, after about 6 months we moved out of the staff house into a flat we rented with a lovely German family. He was east German and had escaped some years after the wall went up, a really nice couple and a great little flat – our first home together. We still saw a bit of Gerd and Janice and he was always trying to get me to take a better paid job but I would not relent I was happy where I was. We did however buy a car though, a red beetle, sorry an OLD red beetle. HH WC56 was its registration plate I seem to remember. 

That’s Jane hanging out of the window of the flat we had at the top of a house in Arhorne Allee on the outskirts of Hamburg and parked out front, the red VW Beetle we had.

 

We still remained friends with Gerd and Janice and I recall a trip to the seaside, I think it was Timmendorfer Strand on the Baltic sea out past Lubeck. We all went there in our Beetle, me driving, played on the beach and in the sea all day until diving for a ball I wrenched my back, I was in agony. It might have been okay but I had to drive that old beetle all the way back to Hamburg, and it was along way, and anything but comfortable. By the time I got home I could not move. Our flat was at the top of the house and how I got up there I have no idea but I remember spending the night on the floor then the next morning not being able to get upright again. I then had to start going to see a back specialist for treatment, he used to lay me on a bed, strap my feet to it then tilt it so I was suspended by the ankle almost upside down. This along with heat treatment went on for a long time, when we returned to the UK it still continued and to this day, 50 years later I still suffer with my back and during the course of this biography I am sure I will touch on other times my back has let me down.

We came over to England in that old beetle for a holiday, it must have been cold as I remember the heating did not work! When we got over here Jane’s dad had a look to see if he could fix it! He did, using a bent coat hanger, as you do, trouble was it was either on or off, no in between. On the return journey I remember driving down an autobahn with the driver’s door ajar and my feet hanging out it was so hot!

Just before we finally returned back to England for good, we sold the beetle and bought a VW camper van, I had seen it advertised in the local paper over there and it was a right-hand drive – perfect to take back to the UK with us. I loved that car, it was painted cream and red, we made curtains for it and put in a carpet, it was fantastic. I used to love driving it around London too and, as it had no bonnet and you sat directly over the wheels, you could get it into the smallest and tightest of places. 

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