Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)


Chapter Four
 

Back to the UK and our 1st Foray into London and my time at the Dorchester

So back we came after 2 years in Hamburg, the logical place was London and Herr Heinz got me an introduction to the Park Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge for a job as a friend of his was Head Chef there. Our first priority however was somewhere to live before we got a job! Janes maternal grandmother lived in Wimbledon and she offered to put us up until we found somewhere for ourselves. Thankfully it was only for a couple of weeks as there was no way either of us could have stayed in her front room much longer!  We found a flat in Muswell Hill, not far from Bounds Green tube station which was grand as the Piccadilly line stopped on Knightsbridge only yards away from the Park Tower.


Both Jane and I managed to get a job at the Park Tower Hotel on Knightsbridge (thank you Herr Heinz), Jane as room service telephonist and me once again as larder chef. In a large kitchen it is broken down into sections or parties, these are normally, Sauce, Larder, Veg, Pastry, in bigger kitchen it would be broken down even more, there would be Roast, Fish, Soup, Banqueting, go into even bigger kitchens and you will also get the butcher and the fishmonger, the person in charge of each section is a Chef de Partie, below them comes the 1st Commis, then the 2nd Commis, then normally apprentices. In my case, as Larder Chef or Chef Garde Manger as it is known in French, meant that I was responsible for all cold food that did not come under the Pastry. All buffets, salads, cold starters, sandwiches, canapes, butchery, fishmongery, it is a big section. 


The Head Chef at the time who’s name I again cannot remember left soon after we joined (not our fault I must stress) and David Miller, previously pastry chef, took over but sadly I think he was a wee bit out of his depth as Head Chef but I thoroughly enjoyed working there. Freddie Losell (I’m sure this is not the right spelling) was the exec chef of the Park Tower and their sister hotel out at Heathrow, clever man but again I may touch on him again later. It was while at the Park Tower that I made 3 good friends, Peter Tibbetts, probably the friend I have had for the longest and while we are not in touch that often these days he has been there for me a lot over the years – thank you Peter (and of course Eileen). The other, another bloody German, was Anton Edelmann, he was Chef Saucier and started there shortly after me and we are exactly the same age, well almost he is older than me by about 5 days I think it is and I will never let him forget it either.


The 3rd was Alan Collier a really good and passionate pastry chef, he now lectures in pastry at Brockenhurst college and other than being friends on facebook as we all are with everyone in the world it seems I have not seen him for about 40 years I guess, time flies!


We both enjoyed our days at the Park Tower, I as Larder Chef and Jane as room service telephonist, this meant she took all the room service orders from the guests and passed them to the waiters to get the trollies ready and take to the rooms. A thankless job both for her and the waiters, I think. The hotel catered for a large Arab clientele, and they asked for some extremely unusual things. One day a woman rang down asking for raw chickens to be sent up as she wanted to cook the chickens herself in the room. I remember walking into work one day across the front of the hotel and a half-eaten lamb cutlet fell at my feet. Someone had taken a bite and thrown it out of the window many floors up. 


It was while I was at The Park Tower that I started fat carving and made quite a number of models. Fat carving, something that is not widely practiced now but can still be seen on the competition circuit, is the making of models to adorn buffets as centre pieces, normally made using a fat of some sort, normally a pastry margarine which has butter like qualities but which is obviously cheaper but also does not go as soft as butter therefore stands/holds better. My biggest and probably best was an angel another was an eagle which I entered into a number of competitions, best I ever got though was Bronze which I was disappointed about. I continued to make models all of which adorned the various buffets we did back then and I loved making them.
 

 

Two different versions of the same thing 

The one on the left was actually made from rendered lamb kidney fat that I set in a 20lt oil drum before carving it hence the different coloured layers.  The one on the right was made over a base frame using pastry margarine.
 

While at the Park Tower we decided to buy our first house, a 3-bedroom terrace house with a large back garden and a small front garden in Forest Gate not far from Upton Park. It was a major undertaking for us at the time but we were confident we could just about afford it. It was a lot further to travel but the pull of owning our own home was too great for us not to go for it.                                                                     
 

More fat carvings from my days at the Park Tower

Anton Edelman then moved on to the Dorchester and hadn’t been working there more than a couple of weeks when he called me up and said come over, I’ll get you an interview, we have a new head chef taking over soon a guy called Mosimann and we are desperate for chefs.
 

The Dorchester

So off I toddled. I was interviewed by the great Eugene Kaufler the most important chef I had ever come in contact with at the time, along with the Head Chef elect, this was Anton Mosimann, sitting in at the back of the office just listening. I applied as 1st commis Tournant because I had spent so much time in the larder that I wanted to get out into the kitchen. It really was the most bizarre interview because Herr Kaufler insisted on interviewing me in German, I think he must have thought I was German why? I don’t know! I mean let’s be honest here, how Germanic does the name Ian McAndrew sound to you?


Any way it mattered not, I got the job, start in a few weeks. At the time I was earning £80.00 per week and was sweating on our first mortgage application coming through for our first house, one we could barely afford to pay for and it was touch and go as to whether or not I would get the mortgage offer as my salary was so low, even combined with Jane’s it was still in doubt and I had just accepted a job at the Dorchester for £55.00 a week – was I mad? Continue reading and this madness thing is a bit of a recurring theme, not sure if it is madness, naivety or just plain dumb, possibly all three.


As it was, the mortgage offer came through before I left the Park Tower, and we also managed to move before I started at the Dorchester.


I remember it as though it was yesterday that first day, it was not only my first day but also Mr Mosimann’s first day as Executive Chef too. Herr Kaufler had finished on the Friday and here we were, both two new boys together the following Monday morning. Mosimann had of course been there for some time as Executive Chef in waiting but still it was his first proper day in charge.


I’m sitting there in his office all nervous and dressed ready to start work, with my roll of knives on my lap, we had a bit of a chat then he said “Ian, I know you want to be in the hot kitchen but I would like you to be Chef Garde Manger (chef de partie in the larder). John Tyson is in there, also as CdP (Chef de Partie) on the other shift, and he will keep you right but I really think you should go in the larder”. 


I, however, was not for changing my mind. I was starting work in one of the most famous hotels in the world and I wanted to be a 1st commis tournant, a lower position by far but I wanted to be in the hot kitchen and nothing was going to stop me now. “Sorry Mr Mosimann but I really want to be in the hot kitchen as I’ve already done many years in the larder and I need to expand my experience”. “No honestly Ian I think you should try the larder”, and that was that, I was to be Chef Garde-Manger at the Dorchester and what a job that was in every aspect!
 

In total there were around 150 white hats in the kitchen when I started there, that’s a lot of chefs in anyone’s book and I doubt if there are many kitchens out there of that sort of size these days, not on land anyway. There were 32 chefs in the larder alone! I’d never been in a kitchen with that many before, never mind being in charge of so many, it was mind blowing. We had 2 butchers and an apprentice butcher, 2 fishmongers, 6 in the hors d’oeurves. A cheese man, a sandwich man, there were I think 5 first commis, I don’t remember how many commis and apprentices altogether, oh and let’s not forget the KP, and I was only 23 (mind you Mr Mosimann was only 28 but I didn’t know that at the time.


There are so many stories I could tell about my time there, there are also some that are probably better off not being told too but here are a few.


During my 2 years there I also worked with some great chefs and some that would become big names in the industry, a few I am still in contact with (although not as many as I would have liked). John Hornsby, John Webber, Phil Britten, Alan Hill, (who does not seem to want to know me now as I think I was probably too hard on him back then). Brian Clivaz, Peter Holliday, Anton Edelman, Ian Baines, Peter Tibbetts, Alan Vickops, Paul Harrison, Andy Eastick, Darel Turney, Ian Greenfield, Graham Dunton, David Nicholls, Tony Marshall, lots and lots and sorry if I’ve not mentioned you all. 


We all did some serious hours there mind you, used to be in at the crack of dawn most days and not out until close to midnight many times. Literally months would go by without ever seeing daylight and on the occasions when we did get out before closing time everyone used to pile down to the Audley and drink, then drink some more. It didn’t seem to matter though as we all enjoyed it there; I can honestly say it was probably the best place to work – ever. Mosimann was a gentle man and a gentleman in all respects and I only ever saw him lose his temper once, even then it was in a mild-mannered way. He did make us work though and it got harder and harder every month. By the time I left that 150 chefs had dwindled to just 40 and we were doing more and more work every day. He would do a walk round the kitchen every morning saying good morning to everyone and shaking their hand, he used to come to me and say, now then Ian, I want you to do such and such and this as well, every day. The next day he would give me more things I should do every day, and each time he did this (almost every single day) he would say “it’ll only take 2 minutes”. All those 2 minutes added up to a lot of minutes in the end!
Mind you it was not just working with great people it was cooking for the rich and famous and of course royalty too. I have personally served Prince Charles (now of course King Charles 3rd , Farah Fawcett Majors, Cary Grant, Johnny Mathis, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor to name but a few when I have worked on buffets. Big names like these were commonplace back then. I recall one day I had come out of work, out the back door of course, but walked round across the front of the hotel as I was going to go up Park Lane, only to literally bump into Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor coming out of the front door right in front of me.


Peter Tibbetts who if you recall I met while at the Park Tower while Anton, and I were there and Peter then also came over to the Dorchester after me. He spent some time in the larder with me too. He was always a happy soul; it was difficult to really upset Peter and he had an almost happy go lucky approach to life and work. While working his head would be down concentrating on what he was doing and he’d normally be singing away to himself.  Mosimann was not keen on people singing in the kitchen, no extraneous noises allowed at all, he did not like the distraction, I too am exactly the same, must have picked it up there! We had just had a special delivery from Valimex, a specialist supplier bringing incredible ingredients in direct from the Rungis market in Paris. This day he had delivered fresh lobes of foie gras and some fresh black truffles. Personally, I had never encountered either of these ingredients in their fresh state before, indeed not many of us had. The box, with its lid off was at the far end of the larder table, this table would have been about 15-18 foot long I guess, Peter walked up to it, picked up a truffle – God only knows how much that one truffle cost but it was quite large, but my guess at the value back then would be about £750 per kg. He casually walked up the room sniffing it, got to the other end of the table and gently tossed it back into the box (about 12-15 foot away), just as it left his hand and was serenely sailing through the air, Mr Mosimann came in the door nearest the box and he just stood there watching this expensive truffles progress through the air, thankfully it landed in the box perfectly without damaging either it or any of the box’s contents. They both stood there a second ,Anton at one end and Peter at the other, looking at each other and everyone else in the room were in stunned silence. Anton nodded his head a couple of times and issued his customary few tuts and walked off. I’m not sure if Anton ever spoke to Peter again!


Often after work if the pubs were still open many of the kitchen brigade used to gather in the downstairs bird cage bar of the Audley pub just up the street from the back of the Dorchester. One night, and it may well have been my leaving do, Darel Turney, a commis with me in the larder at the time, got rather drunk, he obviously wasn’t the only one either, I know I did. The bar was decorated with stuffed pigeons in branches around the place and Darel grabbed one, plucked it with his teeth, yes it was a real stuffed pigeon. The inside of it was a bundle of tightly bound straw with four bits of wire protruding from it, one for each wing, one for the head and one for the tail. I woke up the next morning at home with this thing sticking out of the top of the laundry basket in the corner of the bedroom and remember the cat going mental when she saw it! I really don’t remember much more about the night except that I spent an absolute fortune! Certainly every penny I had gotten in my final wage packet that day. 


I was also lucky enough to be taken to the Basel Culinary Olympics with Mosimann, along with Charlie Chase, and Roy Raiman, where we not only won Gold Medals each but also the Team Gold too, an experience I would never have been able to have had anywhere else, I’m sure. Mr Mosimann was big on the European competition circuit and often took a team to one of the major ones, always coming back with a hat full of Golds, nothing else would do. 
 

What a few days they were! We flew out to Basel then the following day worked over 24 hours straight. I can’t remember how many dishes we did although reading the article which was published in the Caterer about a week after the event, it says it was 36 which I can believe, and everyone of course had to be exact.


We set off from the Dorchester at about 7am having arrived around 4am to get things ready, flew from Gatwick. Mosimann had arranged for us to work and stay at a friend’s hotel about 10 miles outside Basel, he was treated like a God everywhere he went by everyone he met, it was amazing. It felt like we took over the hotel and its life for two days, something they were happy for us to do.


Mr Mossiman was worried though and we could all see it, he had been told that so far no Golds had been awarded, this had never happened before! We all concentrated harder and worked longer to ensure all was as it should be – perfect in every way. The following morning Mr Mosimann had arranged a baker’s van to transport us and the exhibits to the competition hall in Basel. Three of us were in the back of the van making sure nothing moved around, it was bloody freezing cold too!


Later that day when the results were announced it was Golds all the way, individual and team Golds, it was bloody fantastic, as if it was ever in doubt!


My parents came down to see us while I was working at the Dorchester and I took them around the kitchens, it was a Sunday afternoon, around 4pm and very quiet, we had no functions on that night so the kitchen was almost deserted compared to any other day. My Dad had always been sceptical of my choice of career, remember the comment re taking up knitting? He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the size of the kitchen, felt the heat (which by the way at that time on a Sunday afternoon was quite cool). His opinion changed dramatically at that point and he could only sing my praises after that.


As I have already alluded to it was hard work, we catered for big numbers on a continually diminishing brigade as Mosimann honed it down and presumably keep his boss happy by reducing the number of chefs on the payroll. Eventually I was made up to senior Chef Garde Manger and the food we produced became more precise and involved more work than it did when I first arrived. I recall one day when we had buffets going out into what seemed to be almost every room in the hotel, all for different numbers but all over the hotel, it was a logistical nightmare for me trying to get them all dressed and into the right rooms at the right time. I had rushed off to check each room was ready before trundling the food upstairs and round the corridors just to find one of the rooms was totally bare, nothing in it at all. I had a buffet all ready for it, arranged on mirrors and with fat carvings to adorn it but not tables to put it on! So, I popped off to ask Mr Mosimann what to do about it. He looked at me as if I was stupid but would come with me to see for himself. He stood in the room, looked around and in his typical manner his head started nodding and he tutted a few times and said that’s okay just put it all on the floor and get on with the other rooms! We did and I heard nothing more about it.


As preparations for that big day of buffets we had a whole shark delivered and I remember Pinot (3rd from the right on the bottom row of the group photo with the beard) a Japanese chef we had working there at the time, straddling the shark on the bench, scraping off the scales and getting it ready to poach, which we did in the bain-marie. 


I only ever fell out with Mosimann once, being the hot-headed youngster that I was. He had introduced a new menu item; it was a lobster cocktail and obviously sold for a lot of money. I can’t recall why but I carved a swan out of a block of margarine about the same size as 250g block of butter, Mosimann saw it, liked it, and told me to put one on the serving platter with every Lobster Cocktail sold! We sold a lot! It got that we were selling so many and the returned swans had often had chunks missing from them as people tried using them to butter their bread or just cut into them to see what/how they had been made that I was carving them to order many nights. It got too much and I had words then stormed out. Went out to the back door, had a fag then came back in and continued to carve them. Mosimann just said well-done Ian as I churned another one out.


Then there was one Saturday morning, Mr. Mosimann never came in on a Saturday, this guy walked passed me in the kitchen dressed in civvies, he said good morning Ian, I did a double take, it was Mosimann, I had never seen him without his hat on and he had a bald crown, I just didn’t recognise him!


He was probably the nicest man I have ever met, so polite, so genuine, never got rattled or upset, clever and not in any way big headed. No matter how long since he has seen you he will still remember your name, Jane always remarks that she saw him many years after she last saw him and he knew immediately who she was.


The sous chefs there had been there for years, I think more than one had been there since the place was built. Nobby, Ray, Mr Brian and Mr Maurice were the main Sous during the day along with John Callas and eventually John Hornsby, with Joe on in the evenings/nights. Ray, and probably Nobby too, used to have a bit of a drinks party on a Saturday morning in the chef’s office, port and brandy, not the best of things to get you going on a busy day but hey it seemed to be a tradition so why buck the trend. I often got annoyed when the numbers of the various functions changed and no one told us, it was a regular occurrence. One Saturday the numbers on that night’s function were up and down like a yoyo but other than the first change no one notified us of any other movements in the numbers as they happened. By now though I had learned to keep checking the numbers throughout the day so as not to be caught out. This particular function had started at around 150 but had steadily crept up, I always made sure that I had covered, as a minimum, up to 10 or 15% extra for the unexpected, this could take into account a rise in numbers, someone dropping a few or some going “missing”, yes that often happened. The main course was the infamous “Supreme de Volaille aux Mangue” a breast of chicken, these used to come in as chicken crowns – the chicken minus the legs – and we had to take off the breasts (unlike today when everything comes in pre prepared) skin them, butterfly them then bat them out, fill with chopped mango, roll and seal, then pané them in a desiccated coconut and breadcrumb mixture (flour, egg wash and breadcrumb). It’s a long job, as I say the numbers crept up and by the time I was heading off home the numbers had risen to over 200. Now that’s a lot of extra chickens and mangos needed to find 50 more but I had my ways. Thankfully on this occasion I only had to cover the main course and not the starters, it must have been a hot starter so not my problem. Any way to make a point I purposely went to find Nobby before I left to tell him I was done for the day and heading off home. He was fine with that but just as I was leaving the kitchen, he called to me asking if I had everything ready for the function that night. Yes Nobby of course I have, the 150 chickens are already in the fridge. WHAT? Its’ not 150 it went up it’s over 200 now! Sorry Nobby no one told me! I did! No you bloody didn’t, you never bloody well do! Well get more done then – no way pal I’m out of here! The next day he played merry hell with me, it wasn’t for some time after running around trying to get another 50 or so portions ready that he found out I had actually already done them. Taught him a lesson though it was a good few weeks before he once again forgot to keep me informed of numbers going up, he still forgot again in the end of course, a leopard never changes his spots! I guess he was a bit like me now not being able to remember names!


In the busiest week I remember we made over 2,500 “Supreme de Volaille aux Mangue”, that’s 1250 chickens coming in on the bone and boxes and boxes of mangoes. The starter on these functions that normally paired with the chicken dish was “Rosette de Saumon Fumé aux Mouse de Tuite Dorchester”, we must have made 2,500 of these too that week. Small individual glass bowls lined with a slice of smoked salmon (this came in on the side and had to be trimmed then cut by hand, that is to say it came as a whole side of salmon that had been smoked which then had to be trimmed and sliced before using), filled with a smoked trout mousse, the trout came in as individual trout so had to be skinned and boned, then made into a mousse which was then pipped into the bowls lined with the smoked salmon, once the mousse was set the whole was then turned out of the bowls and each one decorated on top with a slice of boiled egg, a fork of tomato, a little floret of parsley and a slice of black olive and all individually plated. Both dishes were serious work and the logistics of getting them all done was something else, that was the week from hell!


1977, the year of the Queens jubilee and the Dorchester would hold a party on a boat on the Thames. As Larder chef the food was down to my team and of course I was one of the chefs on board that night. We moored under the bows of the Royal Yacht and had riverboat load of extremely rich people on board that night and what a night it was. It was great fun and hard work but I’m glad I had the opportunity to be there.


I spent 2 years working there and without the Dorchester I know there is no way I would have achieved what I did in my career and that is thanks to Anton Mosimann, thank you sir from the bottom of my heart, it has been a pleasure and an honour. A big thank you also to Anton Edelmann, as if it wasn’t for him none of this would have happened.


While I was working myself into the ground at the Dorch Jane was doing quite well for herself too. She had managed to get a job at the Capital Hotel in Basil Street. A great little hotel in Basil Street just off Sloane Street and almost behind Harrods. She started while Brian Turner was Head Chef there. She worked as Assistant Head Housekeeper to a woman she’s held in extremely high esteem since, Joan McNally, they stayed in contact for a long time too.

 

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