Where it all Started. Anthony Bourdain, a tribute.

I’ve been working in professional kitchens for nearly twenty years. Even earlier than that I taught myself how to cook at home just to feed myself around aged twelve. My mother would most of the time go to work in the evening or sometimes just fuck off out on the piss at the drop of a hat. The desire to cook for myself was born out of necessity but soon transformed into enjoyment. What started as the reheating of findus crispy pancakes and potato waffles soon developed into cooking a basic Penne Arrabbiata, developing the recipe, teaching myself to cut the onions, chilli and garlic, transitioning from tinned tomatoes to skinning and de-seeding my own. Most boys my age were happy to spend their evenings when parents weren’t around watching TV and spanking one out into a sock, I spent mine reading recipes, learning the fundamentals of cooking, discovering my calling in life, eating well, fending for myself, sitting down to a freshly prepared meal all done by my own hands.

Then I would spank one off into a sock.

Aged fourteen my Dad gave me my first copy of Kitchen Confidential. I had never heard of Anthony Bourdain before but he insisted that if I wanted to be a chef then I should read it. I was dubious so he offered to read me a passage that he had found particularly amusing. It just happened to be the part where Tony describes the newlywed bride being bent over a 55 gallon barrel and being banged senseless by the chef in full view of his kitchen brigade as her new husband and family enjoy their wedding meal in the room next door. I love this passage, especially the end where he says that that was the point he knew he wanted to be a chef, however hearing it for the first time, read aloud to me in full graphic detail by my Dad when I was a teenager? Awkward as fuck. That was nearly twenty years ago and whenever I think of that blushing bride being rear ended over a barrel, I think of my Dad and he will never know (until I publish this)

Putting my Fathers brief foray into Adult literature aside and the mental scars I still carry of his porno Jackanory at the kitchen table, Kitchen Confidential really changed my outlook on the restaurant industry. Where as some may have been rightly scared off by the horror stories of long hours, excessive drinking, drugs, smoking on the line, stealing and general kitchen piracy. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It was without a doubt where I believed my future was. As a definite misfit and outsider Tony made it feel acceptable to be this way, in fact, we were celebrated for being backwards miscreants and scarred, damaged, hardcore kick ass fucking pirates with a penchant for booze, drugs and nicotine.

To learn today of the passing of the great man, the incredible writer whom AA Gill once described as Elizabeth David written by Quentin Tarantino was something extremely hard to take. As the news broke and I found myself welling up in the kitchen mid Friday lunch service the younger cooks couldn’t understand what the hell was up with me. How can I explain? How can I tell them that this man, this person, is the solitary reason that I am here, doing what I am doing today. I became a chef because of him. Whilst working at a restaurant I met my wife, the most incredible person in the world who has given me my two beautiful (if not a bit smelly and sometimes twattish) young boys. How we met is a story for another day, suffice to say I did what cooks do, finished service, went to the restaurant bar with the crew and she was there. My world. The rest is history.

How else can I explain to people that don’t understand the influence that this man had on my life? He was one of us, not the worlds greatest chef by his own admission but my god could he work the line, run the pass and command his troops like a badass motherfucker. He is the reason I stack twenty dry tea towels above my station every service. He is the reason I am meticulous about my ‘meez’ and how my section is an extension of me. Messy station=Messy mind. He is the reason I call all Spanish line cooks ‘Papi Chulo’. He is the reason I drink Caipirinhas like they are going out of fashion. He is the reason I never order fish on a Monday and always have a steak in the reach in fridge that’s ‘Saved for well done’. He is the reason I will always have a special understanding with the bar staff, you give me drinks, I give you food, simple. He is the reason I still spin plates into the window with ‘a little english’ on them knowing one day one will fall onto the floor and I will end up looking like a total cunt. He is the reason that I will try any food in any situation any time, any place. He is, to me a defining character in my life. He is my idol, my hero, my influence. He is the reason I want to travel, to experience the food, culture and people of every single country on this beautiful planet.

A planet that is now missing one beautiful person.

Antony Bourdain

1956-2018

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One Man and His Nate Dog. Part 1-Wayland’s Yard.

In Sweden they are called Latte Pappas, fathers not too dissimilar to myself, however who take their allocated three months paternity leave or simply remain stay at home dads. We seem to have things arse about face in this country with very few new fathers taking their allocated two weeks. We have the option, since the changes to the law in 2014 to share the parental leave allocation with our partners, how many of us do that? I would guess not too many. Let’s be honest there is no chance of me becoming a stay at home dad, don’t get me wrong as much as I’d love to there are bills to pay, kids need feeding and shoes etc. That’s not just me, both my wife and I both have to work full time just to pay for shit. That said, I’m starting to take full advantage of a Tuesday off (that’s right a Tuesday off, bet you’re well fucking jealous) and I have a plan, take the youngest boy Nathaniel out, get coffee, get food, try new places then write about it. Unfortunately the eldest boy is at school so for now it’s just the two of us. Welcome to One Man and his Nate dog.

The only criteria we have for where we are going to eat is that it needs to have dairy free options because the boy has a pretty nasty allergy to the old cow protein. Not an ideal situation when he has a reaction, his breathing struggles, his eyes swell up like a motherfucker and for days later his arse is like a baboon’s. Not really what I want on my watch, I can’t really imagine explaining to my wife when she comes home from work why our son looks like the Elephant Man with a red raw anus.

In the end I chose Waylands Yard. They definitely look like they tick the dairy free box and in a town with more Costas than Anthony from Blue reading a Spanish holiday brochure…somewhere I could get a damn fine cup of coffee.

The first thing that struck me about Waylands were the amount of customers in there working, it seems like the setup is conducive to that, raised seating in the front window, laptops everywhere plenty of seating for people on their own who need to work. Now with me having the world’s biggest pushchair I had to head out the back. Honestly though it’s worth every penny this buggy of ours, it goes off road with ease, curbs are no issue, turns on a sixpence and goes up and down steps easier than Thora Hird on a Stannah stairlift. Trouble with having all of the tech is that it’s the size of a tank and I was glad that the back area had a decent space to park the fucker. For a Tuesday lunchtime the place was busy, nice buzzy atmosphere, songs from the ‘Drive’ soundtrack on in the background. a few groups of friends, some guys behind me engrossed in some sort of meeting. They were wearing suits so I assume it was an important one, I briefly hear the words ‘International Development’ and my mind goes straight to the film ‘In the Loop’ where the minister can’t stop saying diarrhoea in an interview to which Malcolm Tucker shouts “You should be talking about food parcels not fucking arse spraying mayhem”

We had the veggie fry up with extra sweet potato hash balls, Nate got well into chowing down on some smashed avo and a thick crusty slab of Ma Bakers white bread toasted and served with dairy free butter. We basically keep vegan spread in the house now at all times to avoid any cross contamination fuck ups so I’ve become accustomed to it and it’s really not that bad. The sweet potato balls were pretty good too but the winner for me were the house beans, smokey and slightly spicy which Nate didn’t enjoy too much being a one year old but anyway, bollocks to him there’s two of us sharing this meal. To be honest by this point he was just grabbing at whatever toast and egg he could get his hands on off the plate, food disappearing down his gullet like a pelican swallowing a whole fish. That boy can really eat let me tell you. All in all, really tasty food, super friendly helpful staff and great coffee.

So week one of OMAHND (pronounced oh Mand) all went according to plan, the boy wonder was good as gold, his dad was also well behaved even after a couple of banging double espressos which have been known to cause him to do rIdiculous things in the past (see turkey face) Now I’m on the lookout for more dads who have their kids in the week, there have to be some more out there? To be fair I was the only buggy geezer that I saw whilst walking through town. Buggy geezer..did I just say that?Not too sure that will that catch on, it’s a bit wanky, ‘Latte Pappa’ just seems so much more sophisticated and continental.

Those Swedes really do know what they’re doing.

My Top 5 Food Places of 2017

5

Roadside,  Roy-Boissy, France

This is a strange one to put on the list, an outside catering company feeding a group of hungry cyclists in the pissing rain in a small Village in northern France. However this ended up becoming one of the finest meals I had all year. Imagine if you will for a moment, a guy, who loves his food, 230 miles into his four-day cycle to Paris, undercarriage hurting like someone had put a firecracker down his pants, shoulder hurting after a collision with some wanky geezer in a white van, freezing cold and wet as an otter’s pocket. Honestly at that point I would have fellated my own father in law for a skanky cheese roll (not a euphemism). What I was confronted with however, was a plethora of French delicacies. From Pork Rillettes to Mackerel Pate, cheeses to Charcuterie. The piece de resistance though was the Braised Beef Provencal. Shin of beef, slowly cooked with red wine, Provencal vegetables and tomatoes, truly an incredible effort. As I tucked in to my second slice of Tarte aux Pommes I attemted to engage in conversation with the chef. My shitty GCSE french didnt get me far but I could definetely hold down a brief chat in classic French Kitchen terminology, an actual subject that I’m not horrendous at. I’m sure he knew that I was praising his efforts and not asking him the way to the nearest swimming pool or where my Uncle had left his pencil.

4

131, Cheltenham

I wish I could have done a top ten places to eat for this year. Unfortunately the two apes that we now own proclude us from going out for dinner on a whim. Also being full time at the burning coalface of the catering industry narrows the window of opportunity even further. Basically these days to get a babysitter and a saturday night off together take months of planning and a slice of good fortune and your stars aligning all at once. Even further you are one lucky fucker if a grandparent will take them both overnight so booking a hotel is possible as well.

I’d heard about 131 from a few people saying it was decent so we managed to get a table for a Saturday night. Now I would say that the big, brash, balls out places fall into two groups – Those that are all fur coat and no knickers, eye watering prices, fabulous decor, atmospheric and great for people watching, but with shite food. Or those that strike the balance between the two – 131 is definetly all of those things, but the food stands up to the price. Classic Steak tartare followed by a simple Pan Fried Turbot with some spinach and a hollandaise so rich it had the potential to really fuck up my arteries. So very very good though. Monkeytoot (codename) had some scallops, nicely done followed by a lobster, also good. Easier than it looks to balls up a lobster, we have had some absolute shockers in the past. Not great when you pay big money for a lobster for it to come out cunted or slathered in crap sauce or both. Did we have desserts? by this point quite a fair few Negronis and bottles of red had been consumed so I cant really remember. The Toot assures me that we did and they were excellent. By this point, with no need to go home and spare the babysitter, we would have loved to continued my way down the cocktail list however, as most parents will know, once you get to a certain level of perfect fulfilment, you’re exhausted and therefore sleep is the only option. Back to the hotel and in bed asleep by 11:30. Thats fucking growing up for you.

3

Hub – St Ives

Once in a while that perfect moment of food nirvana comes along. That moment where your eating trousers are fully on and you feel like fullness is just a state of mind. I can eat forever I think as I hammer through a Pit burger (beef patty topped with smoked brisket) there are nachos on the table, a bit of mac and cheese that has a newly improved recipe the waitress tells me. I had been here before and had the mac which was great then but this one was off the fucking chain. Monkeytoot had a chilli dog, a proper pork frank topped with chilli con carne and chilli cheese but it was too much for her to eat so I gladly finished that as well. Suddenly I’m surrounded by 4/5 dishes (did I mention the burnt ends and beans as well?) and I’m uncontrollably smashing them all into my face whilst swigging craft beer like a hipster Henry VII.

2

Boullion Chartier – Paris

Two chefs, Sat outside Gard du Nord station, just finished a 300 mile bike ride sipping on €16 Kronenbourgs. One says the immortal words “Find us somewhere fucking great and old school to eat”

Fine I think, we only have two and a half hours before our train departs we have to work quickly. Luckily I have Chartier in mind already. Just a short cab ride down to theatre land and we are there. Straight away my heart sinks as there is a queue snaking out into the street which would get you a great score on your old Nokia 3310. “Fuck it we won’t have time” I think.

Now I may have mentioned before that my French is a little hazy but when a Maitre D comes out shouting Table pour deux? Table pour deux? I know what he means. Table for two me old mate, we are fucking in here!

As we are led to our table I realise that this place is all we had hoped for and more. It’s busy, I mean mega busy. Bustling with customers everywhere, waiters in traditional white aprons literally running from one place to another. They sit us on the end of another two on the same table. They write down what we order on the paper table cloth. It’s old school, it’s exquisite. Fois gras with prunes to start, with bread, shit tonnes of bread. To follow I take a blanquette de veau. This is an old French classic, slowly braised veal in a white sauce traditionally served with white rice. It’s a dish that’s whiter than a Donald Trump political rally. Unlike the tango faced wank gibbon however, it’s amazing.

Not long to go until we have to leave so we work quickly again, ordering our second bottle of red, some cheese and a couple of calvados. Cheese is Pont Leveque, Blue D’Auvergne and Reblochon. We stagger out, hoping to catch our train but not caring too much if we do, two chefs, pissed and laughing their tits off. The food was far from amazing but the atmosphere was incredible, service top quality, one of the oldest brasseries in Paris, probably hasn’t changed its menu in decades and who the fuck would want it to.

1

The Old Rectifying House – Worcester

Honestly I get fuck all time. The Toot and I rarely get time to eat out together. Hence the reason I’m a pretty shit food blogger. I really should take more effort to go out and eat, write about it, post it online and wait for the seven likes I’m about to get. To be honest, like I said before getting time to go out having two kids and a full time chef job is nearly impossible. So when you get some time, few and far between as it might be, you need it to be right, so we all have our go to places.

The Old Rec is ours. We have been going here for over a decade. In the pre-kids years we would come here on a Sunday, sit in the bar, eat sharing platters and drink red wine until we staggered home pissed as fuck hoping Monday wouldn’t arrive. Over the years it has improved year on year and now with Owner Matt Denwood and chef Simon Rallings it is at its absolute peak with the perfect balance of top quality food, amazing service both restaurant and bar. We came here 4/5 times in 2017. Probably twice as much as any other restaurant. I’ve had some exceptionally good dishes here in the past twelve months, slowly braised lamb shank with lime pesto, turbot with chicken livers and wild mushrooms. Meat platters, fish platters, haggis pakoras and most enjoyably some courgette fritters from the vegan menu. I could go on, maybe I’m a little biased, I mean we had our engagement party here and we’ve been married nearly eleven years. That’s how long we’ve been coming back. The atmosphere is great, the food is great, the decor is great. It makes the best Negroni in town. My suggestion? Go there. Drink many cocktails, eat well, make that your resolution for 2018.

Also don’t get knocked off your bike by a Van because it fucking stings.

Happy New Year

Cliche Guevara.

Can’t Read My, Can’t Read My, No You Can’t Read My…..Turkey Face

I wasn’t going to start this blog just to become some shouty mad fucker. I wasn’t going to go on long cliched rants about food crimes and wanky restaurants overcharging and getting away with it. I’m a man of the world, been around a long time in kitchens, probably too long judging by my fragile mental state, odious language and propensity to offend. Someone once described my writing as eloquent, that’s total bollocks, you know it, they knew it and I fucking know it. What I’m saying here is I’m not perfect, far from it. A chef with less than half of the talent of his most revered idols, working hard, trying his best, writing about things he’s seen. Fuck me though I’ve seen some things! As a young chef I once worked for a guy who liked to take a pork fillet, coat it in raw sage and onion stuffing mix, chuck it into the fryer, then slice it, realise it was still as raw as a pro cyclists butthole and finish cooking the fuck out of it under the salamander until it was dry as the proverbial nun’s and covered in burnt stuffing crust. No worries though, lashings of hot Maggi powdered gravy will cover that up, let’s call it ‘rustic’. Wonderful I’ll have two thanks.

I’m not totally innocent in this oh no. Where I like to think that other than the occasional chef’s blag and a few innocent mistakes in cooking techniques or menu ideas, I have a pretty clear conscience when it comes to food crimes. However when it comes to general kitchen fuckery then I have a slight track record it must be said. I once had a little kitchen wrestle with a chef that worked for me, now I’m not a slight man, I do carry a bit of timber and had a couple of stone advantage. So I succeeded in placing the chef in question, firmly on his backside underneath a hand wash basin. Now I must say at this point that this is not unusual behaviour for chefs to have a little pre service wrestle to relieve any nerves or tension before a busy shift. It usually happens in that little downtime between 5-6pm. Whilst the rest of the human race are getting glad ragged up and pre drinking, there is a high percentage chance your chef for the evening is well set up, organised, clear of debris in mind and section and is pensively pacing up and down the kitchen waiting for the first ticket. Jacked up on caffeine, nerves jangling, looking for a little scrap. I’m no different. On this occasion however, as I turned away in victory like Russell Crowe in Gladiator after my triumphant battle I took it too far. I fancied a little full stop on the victory, a final fuck you to my defeated opponent. As I turned, probably a full fifteen metres away, I thought “im going to nail him with a bit of turkey skin here”

Don’t ask me why I thought of this at that particular second, it just felt like the most obvious and grown up life choice that I could make at that time. It was Christmas, hence the turkey, which was resting in a warm place, I had taken the skin off the turkey breast to make it easier to slice, it was a large piece of skin probably 50/50 fat to skin ratio, soft and glistening at me, ready to launch. My intention was never to hit or to hurt, the skin was flaccid and lukewarm, no danger of injury not that I had done the risk assessment for projectile poultry obviously. My only intention was to to briefly frighten the sous chef (oh yeah, sous chef, this is another grown adult with kids and a mortgage) that was still sat on his backside under a sink, getting a wet arse.

I knew as soon as it left my hand. It was that slow motion feeling you get, that just this once all of the planets had aligned for me, as it travelled towards him, spinning through the air, shining like the brightest soggy star, I knew it was only going to land in one place and it did. Right in the fucking face. It made the most beautiful satisfying slapping noise,a wet greasy slap like fat balls on a fat arse as it smacked him in the kisser. Then just for a fraction of a second, just as the roars of laughter started around the kitchen as chefs fell about themselves in disbelief at what they had just witnessed, it hung there. Skin covering his entire face. There was nothing the poor guy could do as he sat there motionless from shock looking like a festive Hannibal Lecter. I helped him up, handed him some blue roll and we both smashed out a great service.

Yeah so I’m going off on a tangent here. What I am saying is that on this blog, I’m not going to make a point of being critical of anyone. This blog is about therapy, parenting and general inane ramblings. There are chefs out there a million times better than I am. There are chefs that are a million times worse. Here I am, safely ensconced in the middle. What fucks me off though is seeing shitty videos of awful food prepared badly that not even the most drunk hungriest fucker in the world wants to eat, usually with over a million views, hundreds of thousands of likes and a plethora of those fucking open mouthed amazed face emojis. We can all do better. There are incredible chefs out there on blogs, on YouTube, in restaurants. Let’s give these people some credit. A local restaurant I know just got into the Michelin guide. My favourite local place that in the rare event of a babysitter we will always go and I’m over the moon for them. Hard work, dedication, a fantastic product and wonderful attention to detail. Fucking amazing. All my mates still work in the industry, even old turkey face. Putting together great stuff on a daily basis. They all deserve a fuck load of praise and respect. If 8 million people will view a video of someone turning chips into re-fried, greasy spicy chips then there is some extra love to share for these guys.

I however definitely won’t be getting millions of hits, I wouldn’t mind a few more than the record set at one hundred reads in one day. There is somewhere in the middle for me again! You might hate some of the recipes I’ve put together, you might like the look of some of the others. You might hate my writing, think I’m a cunt and think I only swear so much because I can’t think of anything more intelligent to say. You’re probably right. All I ask is that you read it and tell me straight. I’m a big boy, I can take it. At this stage though, I’m still not here to dish it out.

These days though I’m still going strong, still taking a quadruple espresso before a Saturday night, still pacing nervously. Knees aren’t up to the fighting any more, I’m a bit older, a bit slower. I’m being called old by up and coming chefs, I daren’t instigate a wrestle. I’ve got zero chance.

Holy shit…I’m turkey face.

Sri Lankan Pumpkin Curry with Poppy Seed Roti

People are asking if I’m a vegan now. Truth is I made two recipes back to back that just happened to be vegan friendly. I honestly just cooked what I fancied at the time but for now I might just play this one out and see how it goes.

So yes, I’m a vegan now, I haven’t consumed animal products in a fortnight. I also haven’t drank alcohol, taken drugs or masturbated in that time either.

Here is my Sri Lankan Pumpkin curry with poppy seed Roti.

You can also use squash or sweet potatoes in this recipe, I have gone for Pumpkin because you know, Haloween and all that. Also the leftover seeds can be roasted in a little oil and sea salt for about 30 mins on 150 then scattered over the top of the dish for extra flavour and texture. I have made my own spice blend to layer the flavours, a little aniseed from the fennel and star anise, warmth from the Cumin and heat from the chilli. Put together they are pretty banging! Using the ground rice and coconut acts as a thickening agent for the sauce and gives it a great consistency coating the pumpkin and making it extra rich and creamy. The Roti are a flatbread that are real easy to make in a pan. I’ve thrown a few spices and poppy seeds in for good measure, also they are an awesome edible cutlery for scooping out bits of pumpkin because forks are overrated!

Ingredients

For the curry powder

3 tsp Cumin seeds

2tsp Coriander seeds

1 tsp Fennel seeds

1 tsp Mustard seeds

1 tsp Black peppercorns

1 tsp Chilli powder

For the sauce

75g white rice/75g dried coconut both toasted in the oven for 15 minutes and ground fine in a blender.

2 Medium onions- Sliced

3 Cloves garlic – Chopped

1 Kilo Pumkin – Diced 1 inch cubes

1 Red chilli – Finely chopped

2 Tins Coconut Milk

1 Cinnamon Stick

3 Star Anise

50g Fresh coriander

10g Salt

Olive or vegetable oil

For the Roti

100g self raising flour

200g wholemeal flour

5g Salt

10g cumin seeds

10g poppy seeds

1tsp olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, knead the dough until smooth. Roll out into equal sized balls (about 6). Roll each ball with a rolling pin into 1/2 cm flat rounds. Rub each one with olive oil and then fry, one by one in a skillet or griddle pan for 1 minute either side until crisp. Set aside until later.

Toast the seeds and peppercorns in a dry pan to release the flavours. Smash them up in a pestle and mortar. Add the chilli powder and set aside.

Fry the onions, garlic and chilli in a little oil until soft and starting to brown, add the diced Pumpkin and season with salt.

Add the spice mix and continue to cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes. This is a key stage, you want those spices to properly infuse with your pumpkin for the maximum of flavour. Add the water and cover, cook for a further 5 minutes until the Pumpkin starts to soften.

Add the coconut milk, star anise and cinnamon, simmer for a further 5 minutes before adding the rice and dried coconut blend. The sauce should thicken immediately, summer for a few minutes, check the pumpkin is cooked, check the seasoning and remove from the heat.

Throw some roughly chopped fresh coriander the mix and serve immediately onto some steamed basmati rice. Top with a few thin slices of fresh chilli if you need that extra heat kick.

There you have it. Get your bread in there and enjoy!

A Man With no Plan Getting Hit by a Van

So we made it, as we made the turn and finally came face to face with the Eiffel Tower, the sight of bemused tourists wondering where this group of cyclists in their red and white spotted jerseys just came from was amazing to see. They of course had no idea who the fuck we were, or where the hell we had just appeared from but they still cheered, clapped, whooped and hollered, for a fraction of a second, I felt like a rock star.

Four days earlier of course, I had little idea who these people I was cycling with were either. Apart from a small number I had met briefly the night before and of course my friend and part time partner in pain Steve, this group were complete strangers to me. I had no clue as to the names, stories or connections to the hospital that these people had. I had no idea the struggle and pain that we shared, or that some of these guys in the red and white were actually hospital staff, the same people I have been praising and thanking every day for over a year since Dexter’s operation. The people I have been saying constantly that I owe everything to. I had written beforehand about the struggles we faced when going through the boy’s illness and how impossible I found it to talk to anyone about it.

Everybody cares, no one understands.

Suddenly I am surrounded by people who actually do understand, you don’t even need to explain how you are feeling to people, they have been there. When you suddenly realise that finding catharsis and being able to share your pain and experiences with some of the bravest and most incredible people that I will ever have the pleasure of meeting, whilst on bikes, is worth a million times more than any therapy session. It’s like visiting Dr Frasier Crane, but with a sore arse and chafing.

As well as the therapy and let’s not forget the £115,000 raised for Birmingham Children’s hospital (waits for applause to die down) the ride itself was incredible. France is great and the food…fuck me sideways the food! I have never looked forward to a lunch stop so much. When your fifty miles in, your legs hurt and your gooch feels like it will spontaneously combust at any moment, it’s pissing down with rain and it’s blowing a fucking gale, to stop and eat like a king makes it all worth it. Honestly I’m not joking, Pate Mackerel, Boeuf Provençal, Chatcuterie, Baguettes, all finished off with freshly made Tarte aux Pommes. Even better still, stopping off at a cafe for a coffee and a shot of Calvados for the shoulder pain I was experiencing after an altercation with a van driver and his shitty vehicle. He thought my shoulder was in the way of his wing mirror and that driving into me was the best idea, I thought otherwise. I did rip the fucker clean off though! It reminded me of the special stage on Street Fighter II where you have to beat the shit out of the car before the time runs out, remember that one? No? Just me? Ok then, but that was definitely how it happened.

At the end of it all I feel enriched as a person to have shared this time with some incredible people. On day one, I spoke to a guy I’d never met before. Two days later and he’s talking to me about something that even I, in all of my foul mouthed glory, couldn’t repeat on here. Seriously, I’m talking about first thing in the morning as well, in the breakfast queue at 7:30am. Think about that for a second. Using violent sexual imagery with a guy he barely knows before he’s had time to put jam on his croissant (not a euphemism). That’s how quickly a bond developed between everybody, from the hilarious (me skidding on the gravel car park whilst listening to Slipknot) to the downright disgusting pre breakfast discussions….if you are reading this, you know who you are! Most importantly though, the seriousness of talking, listening and learning through the experiences of others. There is a guy that I was riding alongside that will never know that I cried as he told me his reason for riding for the charity. Honestly, I had my sunglasses on riding away and no-one could tell that I was blubbering like a fool underneath. That man also had plenty of adversity whilst riding, couple of crashes, some nasty injuries but he stayed strong and kept on pedalling. Just like myself he was offered countless chances to quit and get in the support vehicle.

Not a fucking chance.

Day one. Saddle soreness and a chippy I wasn’t expecting.

Day one. Straight out of London 7am, relatively easy for ten miles until we get to country lanes. Easy I think, i’ve done this loads. What I didn’t bank on was my Garmin acting like a twat and sending me the wrong way. Twice. Both times up large fuck off hills. So there I was right at the back with my new crown as King of the unnecessary mountains. The rest of the trip was pretty steady, gorging on jelly babies and peanut bars. The only bollock in the noodles today was getting taken out by ‘chippy chris’ and his ridiculous driving down a narrow country lane. He sped up at me, I couldn’t unclip in time to jump up onto the bank and he hit me with his wing mirror straight into my shoulder.    Now the wanker needs a new wing mirror, but I might need a new shoulder. Probably not though, just some red wine and a couple of painkillers will do. Also the prick tried to blame me saying ‘it’s two way traffic mate’. I called him a cunt. Seriously though what kind of habitual masturbator cant wait for thirty seconds to allow cyclists pass who have raised over £100,000 for a children’s hospital? Chippy fucking Chris that’s who.

So tomorrow we embark again, 78 miles this time. My arse and gooch feel like Ray Winstone has beaten them with a pool ball inside a sock. My shoulder feels like someone is jabbing it with a red hot poker. They said I need to see the doctor to check if I can continue. I won’t stop though. I’m doing this for Dexter. He’s been through worse. Much much worse.

Antichrist on a Bike

So it finally begins, nine months of preparation ready for a 300 mile bike ride this week all boils down to this, I should be in tip-top peak condition. In fact my preparation is in the shitter. Six weeks of opening a new restaurant has killed all of my training. 70 hour weeks in a hot kitchen doesn’t leave much time for anything else let alone getting out on the bike but anyway I’m here, I have my chamois cream (arse butter) my legs have been trained by running around like a mad fucker and slut dropping into the reach in fridges a hundred times a day. Endurance muscle fibres are twitching and I’ve lost weight through sweat stress and toil. Actually I’m thinking about releasing a Xmas fitness DVD with my complex training regime on. Easy steps for everyone to follow. Run to the fridge, forget why you are there, run back to the line, remember again, repeat forever. Squat into meat fridge, power up with handfuls of raw meat. Spin 180 degrees, slam some steaks on the grill, chuck some Sea bass fillets into a screaming hot pan skin side down. Back another 180 and emulsify the fuck out of some hollandaise. You get the picture, the weight just falls off (if you don’t eat too much hollandaise). I must specify at this point that you don’t actually run to the fridge, running in the kitchen is not a wise thing to do. What you need to do is a fast walk, a sort of power shuffle, to the untrained eye it could look like a bit of a camp mince, but I assure you it’s not, it’s a very professional way of traveling from A-B at pace but without running. Or it could be a mince. I’m no expert. The only issue I can foresee with the kitchen mince technique is the dreaded buttock rub, long-term this will result in a chefs arse which is crippling to the point of agony (more chamois cream required). While we are on the subject, preparation is key to avoiding the anal inferno. Plenty of talc, quality good fitting underwear and an attention to detail when wiping ones balloon knot. Failure to address any of these key issues will leave you in excruciating pain for an entire service and may require you to sit into a washing up bowl of iced water after work (not the one from the kitchen that would be disgusting, my advice would be to have one just for these occasions and keep it stored away from anything to avoid cross contamination, use a labelling or colour coding system to keep your washing up bowls separate and really have a belt and braces approach to washing up bowl health and safety. Or just follow my advice and that bowl can stay in the attic or shed and never needs to be used)

Where The fuck was I?

Oh yeah bike ride. So you probably know by now why i feel the need to punish my legs over the next few days, I’ve written before about the pain and the suffering we have been through as a family. The thing is we are not alone, there are many parents on this ride who have been through similar or even worse shit with their children in the recent past, they are amazing people who together have raised over 50 grand for Birmingham children’s hospital. It’s an incredible effort by everyone involved. It’s a great honour to be part of such a wonderful group of people. I’m not too sure how I will fare over the coming days, I’m not a total train wreck fitness wise however there are some on this trip who manage to get out and kick the shit out of a hundred miles every week. Unfortunately Chef life gets in the way of that but I wouldnt say that i’m  horrendous on the bike. I will probably settle in somewhere in the middle, going along nicely until I get distracted by a wonderful Fromagerie and have to stop for a nice slice of reblochon and a bit of pain de campagne. Also wine, the French know how to do that too. Fuck me I’ve just realised that this could just turn into a tour de gastronomique masquerading as a charity bike ride. I will be the only one there to come back having put weight on, sneaking pate de fois gras into the pocket on my cycling jersey and a baguette across the handlebars. This is how I envisage a chef, in Northern France, on a bike. The reality is a stark contrast, just a sweaty beardy fucker, toiling away like mad, swearing and cursing the decisions he’s made to get him to this point, complaining about his arse hurting and feeling relief and euphoria once it’s all over.

Just like the kitchen.

From Nought to Distraught and Back Again

 

 

Its like the calm before the storm, but with a storm you have a weather warning, you know the storm is coming. At this particular moment I’m working at home in the kitchen, blissfully ignorant to the dark clouds on the horizon. Everything is nice and calm, just doing a little bit of Fusilli pesto rosso and shaved Parmigiano for the Ape, I’ve got the kitchen radio on, enjoying a beautiful spring evening. The Ape is ok, nice and quiet watching some random cartoon in the lounge. The little one is upstairs with Mum, again nice and quiet. Mum just shouted down for me to make a bottle for him, no worries I think, I’ll be up in a minute. Pasta is plated, I go in to get him for his dinner and turn off the TV. Then, all of a sudden shit gets real, turns out he quite likes watching Pocoyo and for him to suddenly not be watching it is the worst thing to ever happen to him… EVER. The whining starts around level 2 (lets call it the “dad I’m not overly happy here you might want to consider that taking me away from my televisual feast was an ill considered choice”) slowly building, like a ten minute Prog Rock opus (you know like the self indulgent album track they play live and you think it’s a good time to go to the bar) As I try to console/persuade that the world hasn’t ended I get the shout from upstairs, “Have you done that bottle yet?” SHIT, forgot the bottle, now little one is crying. No scratch that, screaming. There is some bloke on the radio shouting at a Tottenham fan for some reasons I can’t make out, why the fuck have I got the radio on so loud? Am I going deaf? (actually I am but more on that later) Suddenly I am all too aware of the noises around me, I can hear everything. One crying, one screaming, a pair of twats on the radio talking about a shit football team and where to get the best trade prices on quick setting cement, oh yeah and the call of “Where’s the bottle?” One million noises coursing through my brain at light speed, the best response I can come up with is “IM BRINGING THE FUCKING BOTTLE” I start to make the bottle, Ape meanwhile quickly works up through levels 5/6 and 7 finally plateauing at level 8 which I believe to be face down on the ground and real tears. Is that right? Do I have my meltdown scale calibrated correctly? If I’m wrong, please let me know.  I mean the boy has been through open heart surgery within the last twelve months and he survived that without any tears, how can you not deal with this? I go back to the Ape, crouch down beside him, I’m about to do my toddler whispering magic (bullshit it doesn’t exist) when the realisation hits me almost as quickly as the smell. He’s caked his pants.

 

Right this is now a fucking disaster area, I wish I could call for backup, maybe a S.W.A.T team made up of local parents that could break down my door, secure the area, neutralize the enemy and take me away in handcuffs to be sentenced to life for being such Cunty parent. Crime scene investigators could come in after, cordon off the house and only enter the premises wearing full Hazmat suits and respirators. But I can’t, its just me, a swelling cacophony of noise and a pair of shitted pants. The clean up operation isn’t something I should go into too much detail about, if you have kids then this isn’t anything new, people are experiencing moments like this everyday and twice at weekends. I will try if I can to bring this back to food if I can, please try to ignore the smell of shit from the last paragraph. In the same way that parents will understand my chain of events and how I dealt with a terrible situation, my chef friends will understand how this is identical to one of THOSE services. Literally in my case, in the shit. Chefs call it in the weeds, or check blind. That moment when you genuinely believe that there is no way out, that you can’t carry on, that you will be stuck here in this purgatory for eternity being buggered by the devil himself for the rest of your days. As is always the case, no matter how hard it is, no matter how ferocious the buggering, you always deal with it, clean down your section (or living room in my case) move on and then hit the alcohol hard, telling yourself that there will be no drinking tomorrow so tonight a pint of wine is ok.

 

So the dust settles on the unnecessary storm. I pick up the debris, take stock of my surroundings. Pasta Fusilli is fucked, its cold and congealed, no trouble there, quick chefs re-spin in a pan, extra pesto, little bit of water and its good to go again. Fresh parmesan shavings (he really doesn’t realise how lucky he is) and place the final product down in front of him. He picks an apple out of the fruit bowl, takes a bite and doesn’t break eye contact as he chews it in front of me. Staring at me wide eyed, savouring every morsel like it’s a once in a lifetime exotic treat, every slow mastication is a Fuck you to the dish that I have provided him with. I may as well have not bothered. This time though I will not go quietly into the night, I will wait it out, I’ve got plenty of patience and a fuck-load of phone battery; 90% so that gets me at least an hour.

 

I’ve been here 25 minutes; perseverance prevailed, he’s eaten half of it, and the entire apple. It was a big damn apple too, shit… was it a cooking apple? Hard to tell now there are just seeds left, I’m sure I will know tomorrow if his shit smells like Bramley apple pie. We’ll call today a draw, Ape doesn’t care, he’s not keeping score.

 

 

Slow Roasted Shoulder of Lamb

IMG_3326A little favourite of mine, good for Easter Sunday but a nice thing to have any time with a good amount of red wine on the go! A couple different accompaniments written below. Hope you enjoy!

For the Marinade

Rosemary- Half bunch

Garlic – 4 cloves finely chopped

Lemons – 2 zested

Tinned Anchovies- 25g finely chopped

Olive oil

For Roasting

Shoulder of lamb, preferably bone in. 2 kilos should feed four hungry people and a couple of kids!

Carrots/Onions/Celery- roughly chopped

Red Wine – 250ml

Stock beef or lamb -1 litre

Salt

Pepper

 

Method 

Place the lamb skin side up on a chopping board

Combine the garlic, anchovies, lemon zest and olive oil.

With a small knife make small holes in the skin roughly 2cm deep and spaced evenly across the Lamb.

Push sprigs of rosemary into the holes and rub the marinade into the meat, making sure it covers the whole area.

Leave in the fridge for around 2 hours, you can leave overnight if you want to prep the day before.

 

Pre heat the oven to 200c

Place the lamb in a deep roasting tray sat on top of the roughly cut vegetables, season with salt and pepper.

Roast for 35 minutes until golden brown then remove from the oven and add the red wine and stock, cover with tin foil and return to the oven at 160c for 3hrs45mins until the meat is tender and able to pull away from the bone with a fork.

 

You can go either way from here its up to you. Classic roasties, gravy and some buttered carrots and spring greens is one option. If its decent weather then maybe some minted new potatoes and a really clean fresh salad with Feta, cucumber, summer peas, freshly sliced mint, a squeeze of lemon and some good olive oil. It doesn’t matter, which ever way you choose its going to be decent! Once you have the meat and the wine, you’re already sorted!

 

 

 

My Meltdown Brings all the Boys to the Yard.

One year ago.

I’m struggling, I can’t focus on anything, I can’t do my job, I’m drinking too much. I need time off. Time to deal with news that won’t sink in. How am I supposed to deal with this? I’ve been pushing bad shit down for years and coping ok, why so different now?

It’s the ape, he’s not well, I mentioned this before, a heart condition that requires major surgery to fix and I can’t come to terms with the news. You see as modern Dads we are supposed to be emotionally stable, fun, mess around kind of fuckers. No one takes us too seriously, I refer you primarily to Peppa pig’s dad or Daddy pig as he is more commonly known. He’s depicted as a harmless bumbling fuckwit, not a bad Father but it’s very clear from the outset that mummy pig keeps the pig family’s shit together whilst Daddy pig is about as much use as a blancmange butt plug. Let’s have this right, he’s made out to be a fat, lazy, stupid waste of crackling who you wouldn’t leave in charge of a goldfish let alone a young family. Is this how dads are supposed to be perceived? Holy shit I’m totally fucked! What the hell am I supposed to do now? I’m struggling.

Nine months ago

Phone rings, we have a window, we are going into surgery tomorrow. Five months earlier than we were scheduled. It couldn’t come at a better or a worse time, better because he’s not in a good way, he’s tired, sleeping all the time, having problems getting out of bed, he needs help and he needs it now. Worse because it’s time to go to surgery for real and my arsehole just fell out. Having it sprung on us unsuspectedly is probably for the best, I can’t imagine having to wait and wait, to have to count down the days until a really shitty time. Like having only 10 sleeps left till Christmas but Santa has just joined Isis. Now it’s go time, zero hour.! I’ve never really talked about this but handing the ape over to the doctors was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve watched Mrs Browns boys. We have to walk away from him as the anaesthetic kicks in and his eyes roll back like a drunken uncle at a shit family gathering, the door closes, and they take him away.

Jesus H Fuck I’m struggling, it feels like hours have gone by. I look at my watch. Ten minutes. Time is dragging like a donkey’s dick in the sand. I’ve never known anything slow time so painfully like this (did I mention that I’ve seen Mrs Browns Boys?) I can’t find anything to fill the time or distract me from fearing the worst, he’s in great hands, capable hands, professionals who have done this a hundred times. Tell my twat brain that then!! I’m the kind of dickhead who needs to supervise a chef cling film rolling a confit lamb shoulder ready to be chilled and portioned ready for service, can’t leave it to them, what if they get it wrong?? (You need to get the cling really tight, then twist it…. no not like that twist it the opposite way fucknugget! Once you perfect the art of making it perfectly cylindrical you will have the monopoly on big dick and oversized dildo jokes, YOU WILL BE KING FOR A DAY MY YOUNG FRIEND!)
So if I can’t delegate that simple horseshit, how can I leave the life of my son in the hands of people I can’t control. And there in lies the problem, control. I’m out of it and it’s spinning me out. Hours upon hours go by, finally someone comes out. We can see him now.

As we walk into the ICU, the first thing that strikes me is how damn big it is, biggest in Europe they tell me although I’m not really listening. I see his bed but I can’t see him through all the doctors and nurses. I count roughly twenty around his area. Then one nurse moves away and I catch a glimpse of a lock of the boy’s curly hair, that’s all I can see, for now, but it’s enough. I lose my shit spectacularly. Every stress, every moment of anguish over the past few hours, days and weeks come hurtling out at the sight of one small bit of his hair. I cry until I can’t cry anymore, I’m with him, he’s ok. He has a sticker on his chest saying ‘chest open’ that’s freaking me out but I don’t care. He’s got a long way to go, but we’ve got him back. I cry a bit more.

Last Week

The boy’s scars have healed now. Nine months later and the doctors are really happy with his progress. His mental scars will take longer, he was old enough to know that something was wrong and old enough to notice other sick children. It took him a while to be able to interact with other kids after he went back to school but he’s ok now. He’s beautiful, he’s a shitbag, he’s normal.

There is a lot to be said for Men with stress/depression/anxiety regardless of where those feelings are coming from. Speaking to the nurses a few days later they tell me it’s always the dads who break down. It’s not uncommon, it’s not just me, it’s not just you if you’re reading this thinking you must be some kind of lesser bloke for showing emotion then you’re not I assure you. I wont lie, it’s fucked me right up, I’m not the same guy anymore, I’m trying but always feel like I’m failing. There are parents out there going through much much worse situations with their kids and I have no idea how they are coping. The truth is, they probably aren’t. There are probably thousands of Dads out there being stoic on the outside with stomach churning stress on the inside. It’s good therapy to talk, but that involves talking, sometimes it’s not that easy to do, I can talk hours and hours of shit to people. I can Talk total bollocks about nothing and make awful jokes all day long (you may have noticed) but can I really open up about the shit that’s killing me inside? Until now no, and I’m still not going balls out full disclosure. I used cooking as a stress relief. That helped, but then I got high on my own supply and I got really fat. So I decided going on a charity bike ride with other dads who have had similar problems would be a good idea and it was. Training for it is a very good stress relief. I’ve got a red raw gooch 24/7 now but I can take a sore arse for peace of mind (cycling is a lot like prison in that respect) So if you are a parent going through the shit I’m trying to help, I’m no expert, I don’t have all the answers, I can talk some crap and that’s about it, but if you can take any solace from my terrible prose then I’ve done my job ok. One last thing though, please don’t ever feel like you don’t matter, in my time at the hospital I saw a lot of poorly kids being looked after by incredible dads, all dads are important. Even Daddy pig.

The names have been changed to protect the guilty

There are four of us now. I find it almost impossible to remember a time when there were just two. I find myself asking the question “what the fuck did I do with my time back then?” The short answer is, I cooked, a lot. Mostly professionally, spending fourteen hours of my day working the pans, creating, sweating. Rocking up to work angry and commando looking for a tear up and a decent service. It was a much simpler time, a time when my only worry was the guilt I felt after throwing an undercooked and rubbery blade of beef at my Sous chef (and best friend) then flouncing off into the distance burning with rage and frustration, channeling my inner Malcom Tucker. So the four of us, myself (cliche) Mum (let’s call her toot) Child one (let’s call him the Ape) and child two (vomit monster). My cooking career now revolves around these goons.

These days I still cook, although in a more peaceful home environment. Don’t get me wrong, I can still throw a ridiculous strop when the family dinner doesn’t go as planned. I am my own head and sous chef rolled into one, roundly bollocking myself with an inner monologue that maybe I should speak to someone about. Maybe in fact I did speak to someone, maybe they told me to write about it and I don’t remember, maybe I’m just subconsciously ranting into iPhone notes and there is nobody here to stop me? But anyway I digress…

It started with the news at the hospital. Life was put into a real perspective as the doctors words rattled around my brain. I’d never heard of an AVSD, turns out it’s a heart condition and the Ape has it. Suddenly there was a new kind of stress that I’d never even come close to. Real stress, signed off work stress. A rubbery blade of beef rightly seemed like a pathetic waste of energy at this point. -You should have seen it though! It bounced off a fucking table like Flubber and I waved it in his face like a flaccid fatty dildo screaming blue murder (I think it was Christmas Eve)- After coming to terms with the news cooking seemed like a logical way to relax. Providing sustenance for two children, a wife and my own thirst for Instagram likes. The idea that cooking can provide a sense of inner peace and serenity, a stress relief, a feeling of euphoria. Even in the hell environment of a professional kitchen, when it just clicks and you feel in total control, when you cook instinctively without thought, your moves as graceful as a ballerina with no pants on, and as not forgetting the tongs showboating, twirling around your finger like a horny cowboy, not forgetting to spin 180 and slut drop to your lower oven to grab that duck confit. The same goes for at home, every day four covers, all having something different all at once. CHECK ON DICKHEAD… I WANT SAUSAGES NOT FISH FINGERS NO PEAS, GRAVY ON THE SIDE! ON THE FLY NOW DADDY! The other one is easy, just milk for now until i start a vegetable and fruit puree operation with military organisation. As for myself and the toot, we have our weekly meals planned out on a list that we inevitably change and then spend  hours discussing what we are going to have instead until one of us gives in or dies (recipes to follow!)

So this blog is a jack of all, master of fuck all sideways look at parenting, cooking and living through the pain and suffering of a child’s operation (something I’m still yet to talk about properly so watch out for that particular house of cards come crashing down). Food was, is and always will be my safe place, a place where i can feel in control in a world where everything else seems to be spiralling. I will probably throw in some recipes, a couple of mini rants, maybe even be able to offer some advice to parents going through similar shit.
Although if you are taking advice from me and my well documented anger management issues with undercooked braising cuts then you must be desperate!