It was the 1st April 1998. I turned up for my first ever shift for work at the Park Guest house at 10am sharp. I got the early bus over and loitered in the town until it was time to go in. I turned up fifteen minutes early to look good, rang the door bell and was greeted by Catherine Afrin. We had met a couple of weeks previous as it was herself and Roddy that interviewed me. My first interview for a job, primped in my white shirt and tie with my national record of achievements under arm which quite honestly was probably deemed useless in my new situation and with no C.V in hand for the reasons that I had absolutely nothing of interest to put down, no “I’m hard working, trustworthy, enthusiastic, I like to read” crap because to be honest, I probably wasn’t any of those, I was fifteen and that was probably the only truth that I could run with.
In the lead up to this I was in my seventh month of college. For some reason the thought that I should get a job came to mind (damn growing up), so after talking with Mike Smith he heard that there was a position for a commis chef at the Park Guest House, so I phoned up and was asked to come along for an interview which if I’m honest was one of the only times I felt comfortable and relaxed, not stressing, sweating, and the usual bimbling that happens at interviews.
The interview was fine, they came across OK, but I don’t know if I did. I got a tour of the kitchen, was bamboozled a little with my little brain trying to take it all in and tried some homemade shortbread, said our thank yous and departed, just before the tie I was wearing cut all circulation.
A few days had past and I hadn’t heard any thing. But I got wind from Mike, that Joan ‘tuilcean’ Morrison who was a waitress there had heard that I would be getting a phone call and yes it came to fruition, I had got the job, which takes us back to the first of April 1998.
Dressed in clothing that went out with the Ark I was in my white chefs jacket, blue chequered trousers, white apron and nervous. My first job was to shell crab claws, which I thought was never going to end and when the end was nigh more came my way. That is all I remember of that day, which for me, came to an end after that and made my way home. The following days were fine, I prepped in the day and eventually went onto a service. It was a lot to take in, the check ons, the hustle the bustle, the heat, it was mind overload, I stayed up in the dish and pretended I wasn’t there, I hated it, I just couldn’t get my hand around it and as the evenings went on, my thoughts were that this was not to be the career for me.
In fourth year in the castle as part of work experience we were asked to choose where we would like to go for “work experience” and were given a list of places. I can’t recall being given any actual direction of what might have been best but what we though we might have liked. My first choice was Woolworth’s and the Caberfeidh Hotel and it was to be the Caberfeidh for choice. I’m not sure why I chose Woolworth’s, perhaps it was the enjoyment of shopping there but at the end of the day it was supposed to be work experience, not a set in stone career move, but at the same time I believe we should have been questioned, enthused, and directed more with the little skills that we had achieved to date.
I turned up at 10am Monday norming at reception of the Caber. I met James Mackenzie, now of Digby Chick. He set out the plan for the next few days, to do a little prep and come in for a dinner service. He seemed enthused, energised, keen and genuine. Now this was a time when I wouldn’t say boo to a goose and this sounded like a plan, unfortunately that day James was called away to one of the other hotels and was replaced with another chef. All of a sudden I was left with this feeling of, even more lack of enthusiasm. Even by my little standards I knew that I wasn’t going to be given a task to make the likes of a chocolate cake and nor did I want, I just did what I was asked to do and kept my mouth shut. I didn’t ask any questions and just waited for my time to finish up and go home. This leaded to more confusion to what what I wanted to do when I left school and what a career actually meant. When I was nearing the end of fourth year in the Castle I had to make up my mind on what I wanted to do. Realistically I felt there was no point on staying on until fifth year so I bit the bullet and followed my heart in what I really wanted to do, which was catering and become a chef.
Another prep day eventually led to the beginning of another busy service, bearing in mind that this was still my first week and I wanted to quit. It was soon into service and and it was not long before Mary, one of the cooks came to the pot wash, grabbed me by the arm and said to me that I wasn’t going to learn anything there and pulled me into the service. That day was really the beginning for me. I took as much information as I could take in, I worked harder to improve my knife skills, was pushed to work faster on my prep, got better at service time, and at the same time learning about new dishes, flavour combinations and techniques and I loved it, my first job in a restaurant and part of an overall team of people that eventually moved on over the years who I got to know and feel privileged to be have been a part of.
The reason for writing this blog was after watching Gordon Ramsay on a clip from Facebook. He was giving a tour of his restaurant and kitchen as he is celebrating twenty one years since opening. My wife and I have recently dined there and got a tour of the recently upgraded, almost two million pound completely open kitchen so wherever you are standing, you can see every section compared to the old stainless steel equipment etc. I remember when he had just opened his restaurant on Royal Hospital road as they were filming a documentary called The Boiling Point and this caught my attention. This was the time when I began to follow not just Gordon’s work but also Heston Blumenthal amongst others. It was a time where I would take notes be inspired and imagine myself one day applying myself to one of them one day. I don’t know what drew me in the likes of Gordon’s works, I think it was the severe discipline he applied in his work, well before the Hell’s Kitchen etc, where he applied his all to his restaurant and gained his stars. Or the works that Heston was creating which also caught my eye around the same time, but that path was not meant for me.
I had other commitments, and in time, this is where it would lead me to and I am content with my lot, for now, because I do strive for more and do better than yesterday and these are my beliefs in doing what I do, that things don’t just come to us by sitting on our back sides, that we can push our selves not just as individuals, not just as a couple but also as part of a team as long as we remember that enthusiasm is limitless and that what ever walks through door, we stand a better chance if we stick together.