Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All hail the chef

It’s a hard life, but yesterday I had to do a tasting in preparation for a conference. The chef was a Swede, the nationality, not the vegetable. He was about nine feet tall without his hat, and twelve with it.

I’ve never done a tasting before, I thought we’d be given samples of all the food; we’d pop it in our mouths, say ‘yum’ and move on. Not a bit of it; it was all about the performance. Our Chef wanted us to understand firstly where he was coming from (two Michelin stars at the age of 23 before he had a heart attack as a result of the pressure) and where his food came from.

I don’t mean where geographically, although he told us this too – he only gets his sun blushed tomatoes from Sicily (‘if they’re the only place that does good ones, what are you gonna do?’) for example. He wanted us to know where it came from spiritually and philosophically. He was, he said, trying to redefine conference catering – well, we’ve all got to have a hobby, I suppose.

Not only was he trying; he had achieved it. He told us so. It was delicious, and there was no denying his talent. Or confidence. Or arrogance. Depending which way you look at it.

What’s more, we were lapping it up. We may have suggested under our breaths that the chicken pie needed some greenery, but we weren’t going to tell him because he was the maestro and not to be questioned. We even called him ‘Chef’ rather than use his name out of sheer reverence to his limitless capabilities.

I managed not to refer to him directly as chef; I couldn’t bring myself to do it. When he described the food’s philosophy, the temptation was to tell him to calm down – it’s just cooking a bit of lunch. I didn’t of course, but I wasn’t quite as compliant as the others.

Effectively we were playing a game of master and servant, he would tell us how marvellous he and his food was, we would tell him how right he was then call him Chef. Maybe we’ve watched too many restaurant programmes and as a result of seeing Ramsay and Marco Pierre White in action we’ve now all got a channel for our latent sadomasochism. We might as well have called him Mistress. We probably needed a safe word, like “McNuggets” or something.


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