The Secret diary of a London private chef
I sit on the warm mahogany toilet seat with my head between by knees and count to ten as a bead of sweat runs down the bridge of my nose and falls in slow motion before detonating on the heated terracotta tiles beneath my damp be-clogged feet. I must stand up. Take control. Ice-cold filtered water cascades into the solid granite Tarn basin and I submerge my face and the panic subsides and my resolve is hardened. It was the gelatine you see. The evil, stupid, temperamental gelatine.
That morning. Early:
My troubles seem so far away. I love Borough Market. This is work as play. I am shopping for food at my favourite place in the world, with other people’s money. My mind races with ideas, ingredients, flavours and textures. My client wants grouse. Of course she does. It is September in Holland Park and the evenings are drawing in. The children are back to school, the gaudy Puglian villa has been shuttered up for the Winter, and her thoughts have turned to indoor tennis, charity boards and entertaining.
I stroke the downy feathers of a hung pheasant and ask Jake, the butcher where and whence they were shot. The grouse are beautiful: speckled and plump. I pack eight into my rucksack and meander through the madding crowds. I feel a sense of superiority and self-importance. I am not like the tourists and the daters and the myriad other bewildered visitors. I am a professional! A Chef! I am here to work! In a karmic flash my rucksack begins to bleed and children point as I blush and stumble down an alleyway to fix. I am immediately stricken with humility and bathos.
I arrive. Georgian pillars bestride the coal-black door. I will pop out later and steal some bay leaves from the pristine trees atop the steps. The house keeper lets me in; She is Filipino and the very arc-angel incarnate. My box of food is hoisted shoulder-ward and she trots down the stairs, her five foot frame bearing the weight that had buckled me, not two minutes previously. I am agog at the kitchen. It glows like burnished silver under moonlight. If a kitchen can be gorgeous, then that is what this must surely be.
The Hostess descends. She is fifty and stunning. An aura of control, spirit and class exudes from every pampered pore. She kisses my cheeks and I am heady. I break eye contact and show her the grouse. She is pleased.
My waitress arrives. She is twenty-two, a trainee surgeon and smarter than I could ever hope to be. She sees me only as old. Such is the decade between your twenties and thirties. Strangely, The Husband chooses this moment to appear. He was going to be a surgeon once. Oh yes. But some chaps in the City made him an offer that he could simply not refuse. He is less interested in my grouse and me. My surgeon/waitress polishes cutlery and bats him away with a charm and tact bequeathed to only the most beautiful and talented.
A terrine of Poulet de Bresse, foie gras and morels looks wonderful on the plate. A final shine with some truffle oil, a pinch of sea salt and away. I am pleased. The mostarda that I sourced specifically for this dish will, I know cut through the richness of the foie gras and offset beautifully the earthiness of the mushrooms. I cook the grouse well. Maybe a touch too pink? Too late. Confidence, Luke. The bones come back clean. I up end my rhubarb jelly moulds and take my poppy seed and honey parfait from the freezer. The jelly collapses. I adjourn to the downstairs wet room.
Think. I heat the jellies in a pan and add some mulled wine spices that I find in a drawer. The Surgeon finds me some shot glasses and thus a new dessert is born. I am summoned to the dining room. The contrast between hot, sharp, spicy rhubarb and cold sweet parfait is the highlight of the meal. They are in raptures and I sidle out sheepishly. Such is the life of a private chef. You make your mistakes, you splash filtered water over your face and you keep calm and carry on. I wouldn’t have it any other way.