I have the chef bug. I loved my week at Carousel at the beginning of 2015. Carousel is a restaurant which has a continuous change of the best chefs from all over the world taking residence for a couple of weeks at a time in London’s West End, Marylebone.
When she planted the idea and suggested I do a short stint there, Melissa Hemsley had to endure my backwards and forward eagerness and reluctance. I am not a chef, I kept saying, I don’t know if I can do it! Being a chef is so different from being a home cook! Plus I was in acute distress at the idea of people coming to eat my food and judge it. What if I just muck everything up? What if something happens and everything I have built will fall apart?
Nights of fear and apprehension plagued my sleep.
Feel the fear! Said Melissa. And do it! Do it anyway!
Ok, I said, biting the bullet. I’ll do it.
Being a chef, (only for a week) was one of the most tiring times of my life, even though I had a couple of chefs helping and a KP and my assistant Jenny Brown (and thanks to Rosie Birkett for 2 nights help too). It was exhausting and laborious. It is work for strong, robust people with stamina and strength of youth and vigour.
At home, I would make things in small batches, at Carousel, I learnt how to make army batches in massive pots and pans that weighed ten fold of densities I am used to. I watched Rebecca crack 50 eggs, she doesn’t mess around, she makes things in mammoth sizes as well as multitask the constantly ignited flaming stove.
Will, watched me prep and cook. Everyday, he learned what I did and prepped for me before I arrived. By the end, it got less tiring when we learned from each other and we worked in unison.
I had the most amazing experience and I could do it all over again at the drop of a hat. It was thrilling to develop everyday, learn new tricks, be more efficient, become faster, laugh more, serve and feed.
Having a great team behind me meant that I could be a little more inventive, trying new things and play with ingredients and flavour. It meant that I could have the time to develop the broth – to make it deeper, enhancing and building the layers of taste. It was a taste I was able to chase, the tastes of childhood and memories of my mother as a young girl and my grandmother as a young woman – those flavours had to be present in every element of a dish. And it was the fear that I could never reach, made me strive harder and harder.
I cooked for a crowd, I couldn’t and didn’t really want to meet them before, in angst of failure. But every night, almost every group came to talk to me and thanked me. They were so happy with the food and I was delighted as I could put a pin to that bag full of anxiety and let that deflate a bit for the night and let my confidence grow. It was electrifying to see happy faces, it felt like being on a whirlwind fair ground ride.
It was a real pleasure to cook for those who come regularly to my supper club, new and old faces I treasure; my food loving friends and followers on Instagram as well as my food heroes, Yotam Ottolenghi, Gizzi Erskine, Allan Jenkins – Editor of The Observer Food Monthly and so many other widely known editorials. Melissa Hemsley, the beautiful soul that she is, came along twice.
There are some people that you’re supposed to meet. Without them, how would your life have churned out? Would things still be quite “ready salted” or would it be tangy in another way? Its so hard to know the directions one would have gone if it wasn’t for a person. It could be a lover, a friend, a relative, a stranger, a colleague…
I’ve met so many wonderful people in my journey with food who have helped me do so many things that I love. Their offerings of support, no matter how large or small have made big impact in my life. Because of Melissa, I did Carousel, I had the most incredible experience, met and worked with wonderful chefs, learnt a great deal and kissed the fear of failure in the face.