After two cookery classes this year I have been itching to get into a kitchen during a real service to get that insight as to what it’s like. My chance came by way of Chef Chris Jagger, Head Chef at Prested Hall. If you have read earlier posts, you will know that Chris is the chef I had my first cookery lesson with at Braxted Park. We got on quite well and I had jokingly mentioned spending a shift in his kitchen some time. He said to just let him know if I wanted to and he’d sort something out. So Just over two weeks ago, I got in touch with Chris to see if it would be possible. This was the Tuesday. By Thursday I got the answer, “How about this Saturday?”. That’s two days away, two, I am visibly excited and nervous all a the same time. No time to think, I just say yes. Probably a good thing so I don’t think about it too much.
Saturday arrives and I really don’t know what to do with myself. I try to appear calm on the exterior as I pay a visit to my Mum, waiting for the evening to arrive. I set off and arrive half an hour early. I’ve said this before, when I’m excited I do arrive early, very early. I sit in the Library of Prested Hall having some very good coffee. In fact, remarkably good coffee. I keep shifting in my chair, that continual trying to look calm thing that clearly isn’t working now.
I am finally led to the kitchen. Chris greets me, introduces me to the chefs and hands me a chef’s jacket. Okay, this is real now, I’m going to be in chef’s whites. The kitchen isn’t huge, there’s just the three chefs and the heat I remember from Corrigan’s is there, I’m already wondering how people work in this heat every day, every shift. Chris explains what’s going on tonight, buffet for 100 people, table of 26 people, table for 4 and everything to be served at 8pm. We go thought the dishes, showing me everything that’s ready, what still needs to be done.
So to my first job, washing and chopping veg. First a cabbage type of veg which the names escapes me, some chef I’d make huh? Can’t even remember the name of a veg. Well my excuse is as I’m doing this Chris is telling me about all the veg they grow on the grounds. It’s a lengthy list and quite a few things in there I’ve never heard of. Both of us are surprised when one fo the Chefs tells us they grow cheeses as well. We mis-heard, he said chillies. It was a joke that kept us going through the night though. I chop up some red chard next, quite impressed with myself and my now growing confidence. “At least I know how to handle a knife” I think to myself.
Chris decides to take me for an impromptu tour. We walk out to the main reception tot he two rooms being used for the sit down meals. I am take note that the guests milling around watch us. Is this what it’s like being a chef, you enter a room in your whites and people stop their conversations? Okay I only spotted one group stop and watch us. My head goes up, my shoulders back and I walk confidently with Chris. After all, they don’t know who I am.
Back to the kitchen, service is getting close and we start getting plates ready for the starters. I’m on the prawn & crab cocktails. Plating up with some micro leaves, dressing and a shelled prawn on top. Even with me there we all seem to move around each other, The guys just manage to work round me and I slowly begin to feel like I belong (only just). Okay, maybe I just feel like I’m not in the way too much.
Starters are leaving the pass and something strange happens. Chris has gone to do something and one of the waiting staff ask “Can this go chef?” I look round for one fo the guys to answer and suddenly realise they’re asking me. “Yes, they can go” is all I can blurt out after a quick glance at the plates. Well they were the ones I plated up so I should know they’re ready. Inside I’m completely buzzing, “Chef”, they called me, Simon, Credit Controller from Essex “Chef”. I don’ think Chris told everyone who or what I was.
I’m left close to the pass, just really adding finishing touches to dishes. It feels good, I help where I can, no real cooking as such but an extra pair of hands which seemed to come in hand plating up 30 dishes in one go. With the mains, I help with the duck, it looks good and as we trim it to look nice, I sneak a taste of the left overs. Oh how I love pan-fried duck breast.
The night goes so quickly, deserts are done and out like a blur and here is my main contribution fo the night. Those crème brulée would only have been crèmes if it wasn’t for me. There’s me, cook’s torch in hand making what I think is one of the most wonderful things. I’m pretty nervous and as I see the brulées going well I almost feel jealous of the people about to put their spoons through the top. I said beautiful, I do love that moment as you crack the top open.
I then get handed some chocolate sauce and asked to make pretty patterns on the plates for another desert. Yeah thanks Chris, “you do know I’m not artistic” I exclaim but Chris won’t let me get out of it. Six plates later, we have something that resembles a decent pattern and by the end I look like a pro. Well, in comparison to how I looked about ten minutes ago.
It’s all over so soon. Kitchen is cleared down and I have a last chat with Chris where he points out that I’ve seen the best parts of working in a kitchen. I wasn’t there early to do breakfast, this is after all a hotel. I didn’t have to do all the prepping, I don’t have to stick around t o sort out the ordering. We look at the schedule for next week and got through how much work that entails. I didn’t go there expecting it to be easy and at the same time I knew I wouldn’t get the full kitchen experience.
Two things have come out of my evening in the kitchen. The first thing is my cooking mojo is certainly back with a bang, I’ve been cooking a lot more and trying new things again, reading cookbooks a lot more for ideas. The second thing is more fo a problem, I want to do it again, but next time I want to do more, I want to see if I really do have what it takes to survive a full day. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that I look good in a chef’s jacket.
Special thanks go to Chris Jagger and his team at Prested Hall.
For enquiries, contact Prested Hall, Feering, Colchester, CO5 9EE, Tel: 01376 573300 Web: www.prested.co.uk