I had foie gras stuffed into a sausage last night. At Bocca di Lupo in Soho. I’d love to tell you all about it but you know already. It must be the most reviewed restaurant of the last couple of years. Just go there, it was fantastico, if initially more than a little clamoroso….

See. What I’ve done there is find an online translator tool and typed in fantastic (could probably have done that one by myself….) and loudClamoroso means riotous which is actually much better than loud so I have been intellectually  outdone by the power of t’internet on several levels there.

I think that my point is that it is very easy to look clever/qualified/funny online. You can even buy dissertations.

Not mine you can’t. Although why anyone would want to plagiarise ‘Roddy Doyle and the ethics of male feminism’ is beyond me. How desperate was I to get laid at University? The Ethics of Male Feminism….. yup, sure, and what Doyle of course fails to deliver is a solid de-construction of post feminist male doctrine… now grab yer coat treacle and hop on the fun bus.

Everyone cheats and steals and fabricates and the walls come tumbling down. Except they don’t. Because the world tolerates creative manipulation of the facts. And thank God. On my CV right now (I have it open on screen)- are seven small lies, three quite big ones and one whopper that probably makes my CV an illegal document. But if I hadn’t done them I wouldn’t be making a living out of food. Shuddup. That’s a GOOD thing.

So I found myself in Antibes with no cooking experience, no money and no idea. But I did have an illicit CV and the gift of the gab. And to cut a long story short I talked my way onto the largest single sloop luxury yacht in the Mediterranean. As the Head Chef! I look back now and wonder in disbelief at my youthful temerity. And after a week the Captain said, unfortunately we are going to have to let you go when we get to Malta because you are clearly not a Chef.

You didn’t see that coming did you…..I have to say, at the time, I did.  But Skip liked me personally and I got him a bit drunk and agreed with his bonkers socialist conspiracy-theory nonsense and he gave me another chance. He also told me that the guests loved my food- my cooking was great. But I was supposed to be a Chef and that’s not just about cooking. I couldn’t get my head round the cleaning…? Stock rotation….? Staff food…..? Budgets…..? Accounts….? Sharing a miniscule cabin with a repugnant kiwi called Mal….? It was a learning curve. Apart from seven days off, I worked non stop from six in the morning until midnight every single day for seven months. And then in bed, I read Larousse Gastronomique until the small hours to ensure that I could knock up a decent brioche the next day, like an old pro.

It was by far the hardest I have ever worked, the furthest I have ever been out of my comfort zone. I wept quite a bit and despised it and myself at various times along the way. But it changed my life for ever and on my last day on board, the Captain asked me to come back the following Summer and in that instant I was vindicated, my lies didn’t matter because I had walked the talk. I sat on an Easy Jet flight from Nice to London and started laughing and genuinely punched the air as the most total and utter feeling of pride and achievement flowed through my veins. Never to return, as I could not readjust to polite society and was a homeless crack addict for ten years. This is my story..

See that’s a lie! I wasn’t homeless or a crack addict- but I bet I could get away with it and knock out a book about my time on the street…. Street Chef, 12 ways with rat and bin juice.

So, don’t believe everything you read, and always, always make ‘chefs’ cook for you before you give them a job….

The Secret diary of a London private chef

10pm:

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.

7pm:

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.

8pm:

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.

8.30pm:

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.

10.03pm:

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.

It’s barely perceptible. It crosses my face in a flutter of wings and is gone before you knew it was there.

I might be alone, I might be with people. But I know it when it comes because it warms me up, gives me a tingle of optimism, hope and joy. It is a smile. Only a smile. But an involuntary one, a REAL one. I don’t do pointless smiles. I am default, de-mob, grumpy. My face is set in a Neanderthal frown and I rarely expose my teeth because they are gappy and it’s a hangover from self-conscious puberty time. But I have this tiny, enigmatic (I think-it isn’t really) smile that I can’t predict or control that means more than the rictus grins of multitudinous others.

And it mainly happens when I put something nice in my mouth.

There are other times when it happens. Like when I am on a bus after a good meeting and I look around and hear the voices of my city. I think about  a bit of new business, a piece of paid writing and I see the river and smile. Almost inwardly, but my body feels like bursting because I am exactly where I want to be, the right age, the right place, it is all just right for those few seconds. Not for long mind, the walls of optimism come crashing down sharpish, but those lovely moments are mine to keep.

Or when I hear the right song. The one that is missing from my head at that particular moment, the one that makes me remember something that I wish I hadn’t forgotten. Then I smile.

But mainly it is when I put something in my mouth.

And when somebody that you love buys you dinner at the best restaurant in London on the eve of your birthday, you end up smiling more than you ordinarily would. Which is what happened on Wednesday when I was taken by SV to The Ledbury in Notting Hill.

I did the smile a bit earlier though- in The Lonsdale where I was just waiting. I had an hour to kill before our meeting time so I went to the smartest place I could think of, near to The Ledbury. A tall beautiful woman ushered me in to the dark empty space and I just sat at the bar, like an American man. It was empty and there was loud music that I didn’t know. It was nice. And I ordered the perfect drink for me, at that time, in that place- A whisky sour. If I’d ordered something fruity, long or even with loads of crushed ice I would have looked like a dick. Alone in that bar. So I drank my delicious whisky sour and half way down did a smile.

And she arrived, so beautiful I smiled again and then we went to The Ledbury.

And ironically the first thing I had to do was a massive fake smile because the nice French waitress smashed a wine glass all over my place setting and lap. God bless her, she was utterly mortified. She couldn’t have looked more appalled if I had caught her doing unspeakable things to a myopic donkey in front of my nephew in a convent. So I had to do the DON’T WORRY SMILE followed by ‘its fine!  It was probably my fault actually-Shall WE leave?  Are YOU ok? I really couldn’t give a tinkers cuss about such things but, being all English had to KNOW that she knew that.

But that was the last fake one. From then on in, only genuine. You probably want to see pictures now, don’t you, of all the lovely food and listen to  how  ”the apple counter balanced the foie with a tart acidity that one thought could only come from the genus Granny Smith”. But I haven’t taken a photograph for 25 years and there are myriad better food blogs than mine, where you can read about the food at The Ledbury. Here is how the food at The Ledbury made me FEEL. You don’t need to see pictures, they can never truly represent what is on the plate anyway*.

A plate of raw scallops, cut thinly and placed in a circle. Green oil and white ice crystals. It was essentially the best sushi roll ever. So simple- raw fish, seaweed oil and frozen hoerseradish- the seaweed and horseradish, northern European versions of nori and wasabi. And when I made that connection, seconds in, I laughed a litte and it made absolute sense.

Then the most beautiful and delicious of all sea creatures, the mackerel. Charred black skin, cold cucumber, a little raw flesh and shiso- more Asian influence, more deftness of touch and superlative control. I wanted more of this so badly I nearly cried as I dragged my finger across the remaining meagre juices.

Plump foie gras, crispy seared on both sides, melting voluptuous mess within. And the first little glimpse of actual genius. Something new, something wonderful. Christmas pudding puree. OF FUCKING COURSE. Its sweet fruit and spices. Of course it matches foie gras like a glove. But that thought had never popped into my head. Staggering. Beautiful. A new combination making my mind swim.

Then another sense. Smell. Truffle, shaved and pureed. I smelt it coming from behind my head. And it turns you on. Doesn’t it? It smells like animalistic sex on a forest floor and you know that’s what you want. But you eat your moist skate wing and cauliflower and banish such thoughts from your mind and. Smile.

Some post coital Pyrenean milk fed lamb for the Gentleman? Why thank you, don’t mind if I do. Can it be the softest, most intensively flavoured lamb that I have ever tasted please? With sticky reduced braising liquor that is the essence of every lamb that has ever gambolled. Nutty artichokes and crisp skin? Wonderful and I smile again.

Pudding was rubbish.

Cheese was good.

The wine tasting menu was perfect .

The company was breathtaking.

And just writing about the whole thing, this entirely hedonistic experience makes me happy. But I’m not smiling. One day in years to come, I will be driving and I will remember that food, how it felt in my mouth and there and then a smile will break across my face and only I will know the real reason why.

*if you really do want to see pictures of the food then check www.thehappinessprojectlondon.wordpress.com next week.

Quite a week this. I am a lucky boy.

I say boy. I am thirty four on Thursday and I now spend longer shaving my ear lobes than I do funking up my hair. Such is my life. My shopping lists now invariably consist of Gaviscon and Marks and Spencer’s pants and I have to get up twice in the night to pee.

But, my flying monkeys, I’ve still got it. I can still turn my attention to a session, still rock the party.

No one says ‘rock the party’ do they?

Well I did and I will again Baby. At The Ship in Wandsworth last Saturday with my friends, and then tomorrow I am being taken to The Ledbury by my very beautiful, very out of my league, very much younger than me looking girlfriend.

So, The Ship. The Ship has always been part of the fabric of my London since I moved back here as an adult twelve years ago. I have three distinct Ship epochs. Number one, back in the day, it was a place to spend bank holiday weekends by the river before heading off to Embargos, Crazy Larry’s, Infernos or The Grand. It was more about the location then than about anything else. And that was just fine for me and my sex pest pals. Load up on Lager at The Ship And fill your boots with paralytic totty in the Clapham Grand. Wizard. HELLOOOOO DR GLITZ!

Number two was the mid noughties when we used to book the private room every year without fail for a big all day Christmas Lunch. This was when technically we were more mature. The Ship then was bog standard in terms of food- perfectly functional Christmas Dinner, loads of average wine and indifferent service. One year I wrapped up a raw chicken as a secret Santa present. It was funnier in theory than in execution. Another year my friend Nick met his now wife Tori by swimming across the floor of the bar and doing a Lion impression in her face. It was love at first sight. Those days were characterized by burning out by 8pm with tears, tantrums, puking and not having sex. Good times.

And NOW! It is the third coming of The Ship. I hadn’t been for a couple of years because my ex-girlfriend got custody by dint of living next door, but now I’m back and this time The Ship is becoming something of a phenomena. I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes because I don’t know the history or inner workings, but I suspect that Oisin Rogers, The Boss, has his sticky finger prints all over its current success. Quicker than most, they have realised the power of social media and particularly Twitter to push their product. And they do it superlatively- at once accessible, informative and professional but with an underlying sense of mischief. They have also realised the importance of the food blogging community and without patronising or sucking up have won almost unanimous favour. This is quite a trick to pull.

My birthday started with an exploratory tweet to @shipwandsworth with the date and the number of people. And then everything just happened- Emma, Oisin and Phil between them were proactive and patient, barely raising an eyebrow with menu requests and fluctuating numbers. The night itself was wonderful. I was hammered. I don’t remember anything after my main course so as usual this is a terrible restaurant review. BUT! The Foie Gras and pistachio terrine was exceptional- smooth foie, contrasting crusty pistachios and tart cherries with a perfectly toasted slice of brioche. Special. Other people raved about the scallops and rosti and my, they looked pearly from where I was slumped.

I had to order the calves liver (I can’t not order calves liver) and it was dense, pink, meaty and flavourful- with wonderful bubble and squeak and gravy. I think I had something with chocolate after that. But by this stage I was being passed shot after shot of tequila with Tabasco. I’m sure it was just swell. And BY THE WAY, £20 a head for three courses! For dinner! Best value in London, friends.

So there you have it, over a decade of being ‘Shipped’, and I love it now more than I ever did. Go there eaters and drinkers of London. I’ll be in the corner, rosy of nose and ruddy of cheek- possibly being held up by Oisin and Dave A and the rest of the merry gang.

Deep breath. Ready?

My name is Luke Mackay and I am thirty three years old. And yesterday I bought my first ever tool. And my second. Should you be kind enough to be interested, my purchased tools of choice were a hammer and a screwdriver (Phillips).

That is at first glance, by most definitions of manliness a pretty shameful admission. I don’t have a tool kit/belt/box or anything tool related. I have never dreamt of owning a power tool and wouldn’t have the first clue what to use it on if I did.

I just spent £250 getting my bike fixed. I did not attempt to fix it myself.

I didn’t learn to drive until my late twenties and could no more fix a car than I could remove a spleen.

I have never put up a shelf, re-wired a room, plastered a wall or stripped an engine.

And I know, I KNOW, that women find this incredibly unattractive- You want Diet Coke guy, stripped to the waist, brandishing his tool willy nilly and building houses and wot not. But do you know what. You can all whistle for it.

Because do you know the last time a girlfriend of mine cooked me an amazing meal? It was never. Do you know the last time a woman ironed my shirt? Never. Darned my socks? Sewed on a button? Arranged some flowers? Never, never, never. When women start caring about historically ‘feminine stuff’. then I’ll start giving a monkeys that I don’t know how to grout a carburettor or whatever it is you do.

I am a manly man, make no mistake- I have a hairy chest and a strong rugby pedigree, I can pick you up, throw you around and defend your honour with my mighty fists of steel, should the occasion arise. But all that practical crap bores the bejesus out of me. I get no satisfaction from it, consider it a total waste of my time and energy and would much rather throw money at the problem and get it done properly. There is nothing more pathetic than a man who refuses to accept that a task is beyond him. I can do all this stuff, anyone can- you just watch the video on you tube or read a book and do it. But it BORES me and I hate it.

I have started writing a book and to do this I need an office, or at the very least a desk. So I bought one on eBay and yesterday it arrived in a very heavy, very flat, very un-desk shaped box. There were three pages of diagrammatic instructions and a little table of things, in picture form that you would need to assemble said desk. The things were as follows: One man, one hammer, one screwdriver, four square metres and forty minutes.

It took this one man four and a half hours not including finding a hardware shop and buying tools. I hated every single minute of it. The instructions were shit, the bits of wood were heavy and unwieldy and I ended up sweating, bleeding, shouting and swearing and now, to show for my labours have only a crappy broken desk and an immoveable splinter.

You should have heard the disappointment in my new girlfriend’s (We’ll call her SV) voice…. ‘Oh don’t tell me that’ she said as if I had punched her nephew and slapped her Mum. And that my friends has prompted this post. That barely disguised dissappointment.

YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL LADIES! You can either have my Grandfather who could whittle you a boiler out of one piece of oak but who had the emotional intelligence of Goebbels or you can have me and my kind who will tell you that we love you, be great Dads, knock up a dinner party for your friends. But who, in return will pay a Polish bloke to plaster the nursery. I don’t expect all the feminine crap- I want a strong women with a great career, who earns their own money and can change a plug. I couldn’t give a fig if you can’t cook, knit or crochet. But lets make a deal. I’ll iron my own shirts and say you look beautiful if you don’t treat me with contempt when I don’t want to spend my Sunday afternoon with a chisel in my hand and splinters up my bum.