Volume 1: Haute Cuisine
It’s your lucky day. You’ve just been awarded the prestigious position of ‘kitchen assistant’ at one of the UK’s most exclusive gastro-pubs, let’s call it KD Butherspoon. You suspect the competition was fierce, yet your exceptional skills and guile paved your way through the rigorous application process of a 20-minute interview. You’ve been blessed with a zero-hour contract with the possibility of up to 50 hours a week. And at £7.80 an hour… well, I’ll let you do the maths. You’re living your dream. You have more bloody money than bloody sense.
As you walk in for your induction, the tension is palpable. With the weight of the whole KD Butherspoon corporation on your shoulders, you are the chosen one. You’re the man to prise the torch from the cold, dead hands of the ‘old guard’ and carry it towards a more enlightened era of gastro-pubbery. You are Captain Potwash.
The first thing that hits you about your new career is the wealth of knowledge you’ll have to acquire if you’re to fill this gaping void adequately. With such a wide range of cuisine available from a fully seasonal menu, every single dish has a specific time requirement in the microwave. Failure to cook the food for the correct amount of time can result in the delivery of sub-standard – and, heaven forbid, even average food. But get it right and you’ll be serving a slap-up meal to rival any of the nation’s most coveted chefs. Slop a frozen chicken korma in for 3:33 (3 minutes thirty-three seconds to those unfamiliar with industry jargon) and you’ll be serving up one of the silkiest and most authentic curries this side of the Indian subcontinent. All this just in time for Thursday night’s revered ‘Curry Club’. Food doesn’t get more exclusive!
Rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest food-handlers in the galaxy makes you realise just how wrong you were about the very fundamentals of cooking. How do you poach an egg? If you’ve been faffing about with pots, pans and boiling water, you need to get a grip. The 21st century poached egg comes pre-poached, wrapped in airtight plastic for optimal freshness. Titillate the egg for the 30 seconds in the microwave until it pops and spits, then place atop a comfy bed of salmon and cold bagel, garnished with fresh rocket. Serve within 1 minute of the order coming in and move on to your next ticket. Smear any food residue on the front of your apron.
Any genuine Captain Potwash follows a precise formula in every strain of the cooking process. A decadent side salad must have four slices of cucumber and four of tomato. Nothing more, nothing less. Authentic nachos must have jalapeños on the guacamole, but by no means on any other part of the plate. Certainly not on the sour cream. You want people to enjoy their food, not feel overwhelmed by too much flavour. Deviation from said formulae will result in a verbal warning barked from a Polish co-worker, the masterchef to whom you are the humble understudy.
With an average of 7 minutes between an order being placed and food being served, any kitchen assistant must juggle the art of food assembly with impeccable haste and urgency. Failure to do so will result in some friendly motivation from a co-worker, who will gently tease you for being a “fucking pedał”, which translates as “faggot” in English. This team dynamic is enough to uphold standards and maintain the kitchen as a well-oiled machine of winners.
And so too, of course, you must clean the kitchen after its closure. This is much like waxing down a much-loved Aston Martin after a weekend of ragging it round the Dordogne. Get your head right into those grease-bins and give them a good, hard scrub. Inside and out. Splatter the grease on your face. Exfoliate with grit. Replenish said bins with fresh bags and wait for the nightly kitchen inspection from your duty manager. Repeat this process twice for your duty manager until the bins are deemed clean enough for more shit to be splattered in them tomorrow.
Cycle home in the early hours with your head held high. You’re on a learning curve.