Sunday, 23 June 2013

Career confusion, my first experiences

My first few experiences weren't as rich as I'd hoped they would have been. 

To be honest they put me off blogging for quite some time, mainly because I wanted to write about this and couldn't if I wanted to pursue my career as a Commis Chef.

I'm not going to mention names as I don't think its fair to slander the chances that were given to me, however I would like to highlight them as a warning to other hopefuls.

My first experience which was invariably the worst shouldn't have been at all. I was working for a charity that promotes the local market as a place to sell fresh produce, its a great idea, we prepare fresh food for the public and promote the fact that it was created with market stall bought produce.

Turning up for the day I met with the organizers and whilst we waited for the chef to arrive we began setting up the metal and canvas stall and hauling the equipment out of the shared storage. The first thing I noticed was that the canvas was quite dirty even in comparison to the other stalls on the market and I was a little concerned of how we would appear to the public, I shouldn't have even worried as the chef turned up with dirty equipment and when I offered to help clean them he told me "not to bother" with half of what he had brought even though I could see grease and grime visibly on most of them.

Next I took all the equipment to be cleaned into the shared area that we had for storage to find that the washing area was covered with even more grease than the equipment, the floor was actually black and sticky with grease and grime, I only managed to clear a small area to safely wash the equipment. When I returned to the stall the chef and volunteer where both handling raw ingredients without having bothered washing there hands 
even though both had handled the dirty canvas. I realized at this moment that I wouldn't be able to eat the food we would be preparing and based on that I wouldn't be able serve it.

I decided that I would try talking to the manager and tell him my concerns. He didn't seem concerned and even told me that the storage area had passed inspection, I told him the standards weren't high enough for the public and he simply shrugged saying that it had passed and "that was that."
 I handed him my apron over at this point and even told one of the stall holders who I'd been chatting to about market stalls in general not to eat the food as it wasn't fit for consumption, I felt that it was the least I could do. I didn't go back.

The second experience wasn't as bad, I was referred to a central London restaurant for an observation shift during a busy period on Saturday evening.

Some thing to note is all the porters working there wanted to be chefs, the chefs had been there for years, nothing had changed. I'm not trying to say that you can't go from porter to chef however I will say that in the current market there isn't much movement and if you go in as a porter right now you may end up staying a porter for a very long time. 
In my opinion it would be better to look at other options for experience.

I saw food dropped three times and placed either back into a pan or onto a plate, for just a second I thought I was watching a scene from the film "Waiting" and was expecting someone to shout "5 second rule!" and you would more than likely be pressured to do the same, I never would. 

Finally the menu looked great, the price wasn't cheep yet more than 80% of the raw ingredients were as cheep as you could get, oven chips, cheep mayo, fake BĂ©arnaise sauce. I wouldn't eat there after being in the kitchen.

I'm looking into alternatives for the future, however I will say that I've despaired a little bit for the London food scene, with no job movement and poor ingredients being a majority even in the heart of the city I would say that the conventional entry to becoming a chef is in danger of producing either lots of porters or chefs who ignore food safety.

Let me know what your own experiences have been like in London, please mention when you originally began your career and what you've experienced so far. No naming or shaming though, I'll have to remove posts who attack old employers via naming.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Guest blog: Kris's Gluten Free Cordon Bleu

Hopefully I will have a whole host of guest blogs on here at some point or another, today its my Fiance's turn to show us what she is made of.

Kris: One of my favorite dishes is Cordon Bleu but due to Chris having a Gluten Intolerance I can't use bread crumbs or flour, also we are trying to keep the carbs on the lower side so I added a bacon wrap to the recipe to give it a crunchy coating, I used smoked bacon to add flavor to the dish and I used a cream cheese and chive stuffing for the chicken.

Serves 2

  • 2 Whole chicken breast fillets
  • 100 Grams full fat cream cheese (Philadelphia will work)
  • 1 Table spoon chopped chives (fresh preferably)
  • 2 Bulbs, finely chopped garlic
  • 4 pieces of smoked bacon (any veriaty/cut)
  • Olive oil for brushing
To Cook:
  1. Pre heat oven to 180C.
  2. Make a pocket in the middle of each chicken breast.
  3. Mix the chives, garlic and cream cheese and spoon into each breast fillet.
  4. Wrap each chicken breast with 2 slices of bacon and then brush with a little olive oil.
  5. Place into a baking tray or dish and cook for 20-30 mins depending on the oven.
  6. Serve and enjoy.

Chris: I really enjoyed this, I suggested to Chris to combine with a basic garden salad with some grated carrot and radish and spice it up plus a very basic dressing. the ingredients are below.

Spicy Sweet Garden Salad

  • 1/2 Cucumber sliced into medallions
  • 3 Whole tomatoes chopped into slices
  • A bag of mixed leaf salad including rocket (we got ours from the farmers market)
  • 1 Small Carrot grated
  • 2-3 Radishes grated and 1 for garnish chopped
  • 2-3 Table spoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 Tea spoon of salt
  • 1/2 Tea spoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 Juice of lemon

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Weekend in Little Venice Part 2 The Waterway Restaurant Review

I've been passing a certain restaurant on my running route along the canal way from Queens Park to Little Venice and because there are no signage visible from the water way I've not known what the restaurant was called.

I've really wanted to try this particular place out as its not in the heart of Little Venice but just outside and it has a nice view of Sakura (cherry blossoms) and a big old church next to a school which is quite nice for that particular waterway as just up the road are council flats, a motor way and a factory!

The Venue:
The Waterway
54 Formosa Street
London, W9 2JU
Tel: 020 7266 3557

Reviewers: My self and my fiance Kristine both passionate about food, Kris has owned her own catering company in the Philippines and I'm a chef in training.

Allergy notes: The menus had no allergy information however the waiters were happy to change certain things and the menu does mention that. 
Environment: The Waterside is a small to medium sized restaurant which sits right next to the canal side and allows you to watch passing boats or the petals fall off all the local cherry blossom treas, the location is very nice and as its just outside of Little Venice it feels a bit hidden which gives you that off the beaten track feeling just a little bit.

The crowd that was dining were mainly local middle class Londoners who were all chatty but polite and subdued.

We didn't spend much time inside the Restaurant but it seemed cozy and clean inside the main building and I'd guess it would make an excellent meet up spot for friends and locals alike.

The outside has two main areas, the raised, decked canopy area for dining outdoors and a sunken picnic spot which would be nice for a quick snack.

The decor outside is a little off as the childish deck chairs look like they were taken from a park and the metal tables in the canopy area have seen better days, its also a little cramped which can take away from the mood.

Finally I didn't check but my Fiance attests that the toilets were nice and clean. (female)

My score 8/10 
Kris's score 9/10

The Service: We were treated well and it was at a very busy time that we were eating, we were shown our table, brought menus and even the food was delivered very quickly.

When your dining out doors they waiters ask that you give your card to start a tab or to pay cash there and then which I thought was a little odd and did put me at odds a little although you can easily walk off from outside, I would have expected a bit more trust.

I unfortunately was sitting near one of the patio heaters and I felt like I was dining in heat which was a bit too much south of comfortable even Kris who sat opposite me felt it and the heater was behind me.

The cutlery was clean and all matching set which was nice the condiments were a little fast food for me, typical ketchup and mayo in small ceramic pots and mine had some extra sweet chili on the side, the salt and pepper shakers were a little beat up as well!

My score 7/10 
Kris's score 7/10

The Food: For me the food was the most disappointing part of dining at the Waterside, the menu looks great, the food sounds like classy pub food with some twists.

The reality wasn't so good, we both ordered grilled jerk chicken which sounded fantastic, a sweet fruity coleslaw to compliment the spicy chicken. What we got was flavorless barbecue chicken and a coleslaw which had a whole lot of carrots a pinch of sliced apple and a few raisins with hardly any sauce. The chicken was also cooked with rosemary (which I like with pork and chicken) however the herbs were burnt beyond having any flavor and and pretty sure I had two thighs, I prefer thighs but to pay £14.50 and get the cheaper cut of chicken didn't seem right. The worst part of our meal was the chips, they were clearly oven chips, they weren't even the best oven chips I'd even had. 

I'm pretty sure they saved a lot of money cooking thighs, bulking the coleslaw with carrots and buying oven chips but I wasn't happy. 

The Iced Tea cheered me and up and made me think that their cocktails might be something they excel at, it was mild, sweet and fresh at the same time.

In hindsight the next time I dine out and write a review I'll make sure to order a different meal than the other reviewers and maybe ask for the speciality first, so I apologize for that, I did however notice the Waterside Burger looked very good and was very popular.

It looked hand made, it looked juicy and it had a toasted sesame bun to go with it.
I talked to a couple who had the burger and although they were very friendly and polite they gave a very vague review which isn't really worth mentioning they said it was OK basically. Our waiter informed me that it was the most popular dish there, it still came with the oven chips though!

Based on the food, we didn't order any desert I wasn't going to pay any more money for the cheapest of ingredients.

Overall they save a lot on ingredients in the meals and if you do eat there and enjoy burgers go for that and or buy an ice tea or something mixed, we will go back again for drinks but probably not food.

My score 5/10 
Kris's score 7/10

Final verdict: 
My score 6.5

Kris's score 7

I wanted to give it more, I really did, its a nice location but they should focus on their food more, mainly the ingredients.
We will try the Summerhouse which is a floating restaurant owned by the same group just a bit further up the canal, some time soon and run a comparison.

Weekend in Little Venice Part 1 The Unexpected Boat Show

I'd decided this weekend to go and check out the The Waterway which is a small restaurant just on the way to Little Venice from where me and Kris live in Queens Park.

Once we got there I was told that there were no tables outside available under the canopy area, which I think is the nicest area to look at and its where I wanted to eat so although the really friendly waiter tried to sell me on the idea of a canopy less picnic style table or a small table just inside the front door, I was not swayed in the least. It had been raining so I didn't want to be soaked and the table inside just looked dark even though it was next to a window, so I asked if I could book a canopy table for an hours times and come back, which they did so I was very happy and decided that we would walk to the main canal junction in Little Venice and grab a coffee at the Waterside Cafe but to my great surprise I hadn't even realized the Little Venice Boat Show was happening!

The last time I'd come here I'd been living in Stratford so it was nice to be able to come and go so easily. The cafe was far too busy as there were more that 5 times the normal amount of Little Venice visitors so we took a walk down the stalls towards some of the larger chain coffee shops.

We did pass a very nice chocolate specialist store called Chocololo where the chef had a large selection of special chocolate treats, as we were just going for a coffee and really hungry as we were waiting on a table we decided to get something, Kristine convinced me that the chocolate strawberries were the way to go and I didn't really put up a fight, go on then! We grabbed a tub of white and dark chocolate strawberries and headed to the local Starbucks.

Unfortunately we only had time to glance at some of the other stalls as by the time we had our coffees we had to walk back or avoid missing out on our table.

I've written a review of the meal we had at The Waterway Restaurant as a separate blog so please go and check it out, much more information about the restaurant also.

We did return to the festival to grab some new herbs for our ever developing garden and we both agreed that we had an awesome day out even though the we didn't know if it was rain or sunshine.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Chris and Kris's Hash Browns

I've always liked hash browns I think of them as the chips of the breakfast world, I don't know if you agree with that but its how I like my starch in the morning, however, I don't really like most of the store bought ones and the recipes that I found online looked a bit plain and didn't seem to agree on how to cook them so I figured I'd make my own the way that I wanted to.

I was horribly injured during this fry up and had to hand over the cooking and preparing over to Kris only 5 minutes in and since this is a new recipe then shes just as responsible as I am, hence her name on the title!

I found the ideas here quite easy and fun, I didn't want to use eggs, I already had eggs in my breakfast, I wanted to use the starch from the potato, I wanted to grate first and cook later so I decided to part steam and part fry the mix. Its important to steam as it keeps a lot of the starch which would wash away with boiling, I also wanted them a bit lighter and sweeter so I added some carrots to the mix.

"Viola hash browns the way that I want them!"
Please try this out and let me know what you think.

Serves 2

Main ingredients:

  •  2 small to medium size floury potatoes
  •  2 small to medium carrots
  •  1/2 small to medium onion
  •  15-20 grams of unsalted butter
  •  1 tea spoon of sage
  •  1 tea spoon of rosemary
  •  1/2 tea spoon of sea salt
  •  1/2 tea spoon of black pepper.

To cook:

1. Clean and peel the potatoes and carrots.

2. In a clear microwavable bowl add the butter and herbs and put into the microwave on defrost for 30 seconds or until the butter melts, if you have Pyrex you could place it on a hob or into a pan with a little water. 

3. Peel the onion and cut into quarters.

4. Grate the potatoes, carrots and onion straight into a collider if your going to steam above a pan or into the container for the steamer if you have one.

5. Steam for 8-10 mins then place the grated mix into the bowl with the melted butter and add the salt and pepper.

6. Stir the mix with a spoon and roll into balls with your hands (see picture)

7. Place the balls onto a clean surface such as a cutting board and pat down with whatever instrument you think will do the job, we use a silicon spatula, you can pat them back into any shape that you want at this stage.

8. In a large pan pop whatever cooking oil you wish and fry until golden brown on each side.

9. Serve with what ever else you fancy, ideas could include bacon and eggs as we did, Wiltshire ham and eggs, you get the idea!

10. Enjoy.

Allergy advice:
Gluten free, Nut free.

Diet types:
Paleo friendly if you like potato.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Cottage Pie Ala Chris

I love to cook cottage pie, I've always liked the reaction to people eating it and going back for more. Traditionally an old left over recipe if done right can be a great winter or cold spring dish, since the weathers been so off and on.

Just to let everyone know the design for these cook ups is going to change, I'll do a quick intro to the food with pictures and how I cooked it, then I will list either the recipe or a revised recipe underneath with a guide for allergies etc underneath.

I wanted some way to use the butter and potatoes that me and Kris had bought from the local farmers market the last weekend and viola add some mince and herbs and you have a Cottage Pie.

I was quite busy the day that I cooked this and ultimately had to wait until our shared kitchen was free to get started so I was cooking late. I'd asked Kris to pick me up some mince beef, a good choice for mince is to go for the lean if its not grass fed, I'm poor so I went for lean, you don't need to go for extra lean otherwise you'll lose too much of the vitamins that are in the fat plus there is some omega 3 in there along with the omega 6 just not as much as grass fed.

She bought me 750 gram pack, I should have known it was too much but I chucked it all in as I was cooking in a rush (never a good idea) so I fried the lot with some onion and it barely fit in my large pan.

The potatoes took a lot of peeling either my batch was a bit wrong or organic potatoes from the farm had a bit of rot to dig out of each one.

I finally mashed up the potato with the butter using a broken potato masher, yay.

However I had to use the oven downstairs as someone had stolen the racks out of ours! I blame this on the potato not quite crisping the way I liked it even though I baked the whole thing for 30 minutes and finished with the grill for 15.
You can add some peas to the mix if you like but I like my pie on the sweater side and omit them.

Main ingredients:
  • 1 kg of floury potatoes for mashing. Or any kind of potato if your not fussy.
  • 500 grams (not 750 ) of lean beef steak mince or whole grass fed steak mince.
  • 300 grams carrots
  • 1 Large onion.
  • 2 Stock cubes dissolved in a small amount of boiling water.
  • 1 Tin of chopped tomatoes.

For mince:

  • 1/2 tea spoon of sea salt.
  • 1/2 black pepper.
  • 2 Tea spoon of Thyme.
  • 1 Tea spoon of Basil.

For mash:

  • 1/2 tea spoon of sea salt.
  • 1/2 black pepper.
  • 22 grams of butter if organic like mine or 32 if non organic (unsalted)
  • 2 Tea spoons of Parsley.
  • 1 Tea spoon of Sage.

To cook:

1. Clean and skin the potatoes, they need roughly chopping and then placing into either a steamer for 30 mins or 20/30 mins of boiling time, bring to boil and then simmer for the 20 mins or more.

2. Do the same for the carrots and cut into small medallions and half medallions for the larger pieces, again steam or boil for around 15 mins and put aside.

3. Pre heat the oven to 180C or gas mark 4.

4. Fry up the mince with the onion in a large pan adding the salt and pepper to taste, once fried add the Thyme and Basil and put to one side.

5. Get a small jug or bowl and dissolve 2 stock cubes or packs into a very small amount of boiling water, stir until dissolved, I like Kallo cubes as they tend to be lower in sugar and carbohydrates than even the new stock pots that are out.

6. Next get your baking dish, Medium to large sized and add the tomatoes,carrots, mince and stock to the dish, make sure to stir and mix everything thoroughly.

7. Mash the potatoes once cooked and add in the butter, salt, pepper, Parsley and Sage.

8. Spoon on the potato and use a fork to even it out, don't push hard or it will be lost in the mince! Alternatively if you have a piping bag you can take your time and make a real work of art.

9. Pop the dish into the oven and leave to bake for 30 mins, switch to the grill and finish for another 20 mins or until the potato turns golden brown.

10. Enjoy.

Allergy advice:
Gluten free, Nut free.

Diet types:
Paleo friendly if you like potato.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Queens Park farmers market on a warm day.

Farmers market in the sun, Salusbury Road Primary School

Ok so I've been meaning to go to the local farmers market much more regularly but 
when its grey and rainy and I'm broke its hard to find the motivation, but no more. 

The worm has turned and the weather can only get better and I'm making it a mid year resolution to visit the farmers market once a week if 

Our particular farmers market in Queens Park is "Fantastic", it was voted the best farmers market just last year. I can see why, it has such a good selection of different vendors representing so many local farms that its hard not to find something interesting each 
time that you go.

I'm looking forward to using more of the exotic and organic ingredients that I found. On 
this particular trip I settled for picking up a few basics to ease myself back in, I found a 
great dairy vendor who sells 1ltr milk for £1 which is non homogenized, which is quite 
hard to find in the shops, the guy who sells non pasturised milk wasn't there. You can 
only buy non pasturised milk at a market as its against the law to sell it in stores. We 
also picked up some butter from the same vendor, some potatoes, apples and
conference pairs from the main grocer.

Milk, cheese, potatoes, apples and conference pairs.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the shear amount of vendors at this venue and I'll be taking more notes and making some price comparisons on my blogs, plus some recipes that call for very fresh natural ingredients. I'll also be getting to know the vendors much better as everyone I spoke to was friendly and helpful.

I would highly recommend getting down to your local farmers market on a beautiful day and just enjoy the atmosphere. Buy some things as well and help your local farmers 
keep doing what they are doing.

I hope you all enjoyed your weekends as much as I did.