Sometimes, the chef comes out of his kitchen, generally when last orders for main courses have been completed, to say “Hello” to his customers. A custom I like, because it bespeaks confidence on his part. Sometimes his tour of the restaurant is cursory, his simple comment being “Everything alright?” “Yes”, we generally say, “Wonderful”. On other occasions he stops with ‘regulars’ who tell him what a good fellow he is. The best chefs talk to ALL the customers, and listen to any comments including bullshit (or genuine) praise, and criticisms.
All too often customers are so besotted at the mere fact that the man who has cooked the meal for which they are paying fifty Pounds a head has deigned to come out of his den to hold court with them, so all they can mutter is how great it was. When they get home, of course, the wife says: “HUH! And you said how tough the steak was and what crap the sauce was!”
Mind you, there’s one restaurant not far from where I’m writing this where, IF the chef stops by your table he’ll chin-wag for ages – a case of where he talks as well as he cooks.
A few weeks ago, staying at a 3-star tourist hotel in Scotland, we enjoyed our dinner main course of Braised Beef in Red Wine and when the chef did his rounds we told him so. He then described the six hours it had taken from trimming and cutting the meat to bringing it slow-cooked out of the oven. The next morning, outside the hotel I encountered a large van with a famous catering firm’s name on the side. The delivery man told me his firm provided ALL the food served in the hotel, including the braised steak.
I don’t mind ready-cooked meals. And you find them all over the place, especially when travelling. I remember one day when I looked at the dish before me. It was baked macaroni, known to Greeks and Cypriots as Macaronia Pasticcio. The sauce was fluffy, the pasta properly cooked and the minced meat very tasty. Now this is a dish I often avoid. At its best it’s wonderful. But in the hands of fifty per cent of the taverna cooks it’s a heavy, dry, indigestion-creating disaster.
Where was I? I was 10,000 metres in the air, sky or whatever. Up there, on a Cyprus Airways Airbus 320 bound for Stansted. By the side of my tray was a little bottle of Island Vines red (I had at least two) I was content.
I am not a snob about flying or eating airlines’ food. 95% of my air journeys have been in economy class (I figure the back of the aeroplane with the peasant like me in it, with luck, lands at the same time as the front), and of the other times, up-front with the alcoholics, eating roast New Zealand lamb washed down by Chateau Margaux at midnight wasn’t worth paying six times the economy class fare.
I have maybe pushed a tray away untouched three times in several thousand flights (Sudan Airways springs to mind), and the grub at the back has nearly always been OK. I once flew to Stockholm from London in the front row of Economy. I got a cold lunch. The chap in front, back row of Business Class, got a hot meal. “My word”, I said to Mary, “that smells good”. “Yes”, came a voice from the seat in front, “But it’s not worth a hundred and fifty Pounds”.