There is a fly in my soup…

Being a chef or cook is a job of choice like any other trade. The only down side is how unsociable it is and how it was for me, especially in the early days. There are some that have come in as kitchen porters to earn either a few extra quid while studying for there aimed career, or those who just tapped on the door, didn’t know what they wanted to do, washed a few pots, peeled a few veg, done some basic prep, and went onto do bigger and better things, like heading off to train under some of the top chefs.

I took my wife to one of my favourite restaurants in Glasgow, The Ubiquitous Chip. I have dined there many times over the years and was looking forward for us to have this treat. We sat down, I was kind of excited to take Kirsty here so wanted to show off. I ordered us both two dry martinis to start, the ones with the olives on the bottom of the glass, you know the kind. The cocktails came and, kaboom, pure raw, terribleness. OK, so not the best choice of cocktail, but we have learned from that and have gone on to try cocktails from here, there and everywhere and have come to our own conclusions of, not just what make a place worthy of entering, if they make cocktails, it is an added bonus, the wine list, for me, just as important. If we are on holiday, we do the research, what’s what, where to go and where to eat. We can do all the research, putting pen to paper, working out how long it takes to get to a and b, the occasional disagreement and then we pop into a little place that is just more than OK. These are hidden gems off the beaten track, little treasures that are stumbled upon, places that offer you a meal that can be memorable in many ways.

What I want to focus on for now is how we make complaints in specific areas and how such complaints should be dealt with. The first point of contact with a establishment is usually through the telephone. When you dial a premises the phone should ring no more than three rings. Unless your in a queue which can be a good sign, if it’s busy and people want to make a reservation, they will understand, or those that misinterpreted as badly staffed. So the phone rings and is answered in just half a ring, catching you out, you were not ready and your phone voice that you use, well you were just not ready. So three rings gives you the correct amount of time to conduct yourself and allow the caller also to brace themselves. The voice should be clear and to the point, it should have the sound of enthusiasm of that particular person in where they work, and should read as “Good morning, the extreme establishment, how may I help you?” I personally wouldn’t give a name as by the end of the call I would probably have forgotten and would have to ask nearing the end of the call. If it is a booking through email etc then it’s usually generic of quality and you have you confirmation. It’s when the phone rings continually with no answer, it’s not the best first impression, you try later and get the same sing out, it’s at that point to me that alarm bells begin to ring, giving the impression of being badly staffed.

So, you have the reservation for whatever time, you turn up and you meet the host, if there is one. Many a time I have seen people which have walked through and managed to sit at a table of six even though there are two in the party. At this point you wonder what is going through their minds as you wouldn’t do that if you walked into somebody’s house, so why do they think it’s acceptable to do it in somebody’s restaurant? Moving on, you are sat at the table, a member of waiting staff come to you, promptly, I would like to think. Though I believe they should actually be there leading you to the table, if menus are not in hand it’s not a big deal, as long as they have been made comfortable at their table, asked if they would like something to drink to start off, water if required. Tap or still? OK let’s go, if it’s bottled, still or sparkling it’s on the bill. If it’s tap from where we are, some of the finest water in Scotland, the question is should people get charged? If it’s a table of two plus, glasses, jug, ice or even an added twist of lemon or diced cucumber, the serving of said water and the washing of said crockery, OK, it’s not major works, but, if you multiply that within the day it can soon mound up, and with paying water rates, why should one pay to give it away to the next, unless it can be hidden in other areas of the bill, can that be deemed acceptable?. If the waiting staff are on the ball then they should have both the drinks menu and the dinner menu with them as there guests are getting settled. We don’t want to be rushed and we don’t want to be sitting there for to long with our menus closed, though it is nice to take in our surroundings.

So we are sat down we have our menus, our drinks are on route and into conversation, chef intuition kicks in and those that follow food and take a glance at the crockery on the table, the cutlery and anything that catch an eye. It matters not who the customer is at the end of the day, everyone should be treated with the same respect and deserve the same polite all round service that is being sold from whichever establishment they walk into, this is a time that is sacred to many people. The time of day where nourishment is on order, whether it’s from a little cafe, bistro, service station or all out restaurant and want a decent meal, so this time is critical. We don’t know where they have come from or what they are going through, so it is our chief duty to make them feel special for this brief moment.

So our drinks are on the table, we are settled, cocktail menu was dispatched and executed and analysing has began, depending on conversation, though menu choices are at the fore front, we are usually ready to order. Now this is where it takes a turn. Usually you think you know what you want but your torn by choices and then decision made, but when the waiting staff come over it goes from knowing, to am I making the correct choice and its that almost awkward few seconds or so where when you make the choice. Your not actually sure if you made the right decision and change your mind at the last second. I have to say this happens to me when myself and my wife are out for be it a basic lunch, simple dinner or somewhere special.

Over the years I have witnessed all kinds of complaints coming back to the kitchen. Things like a specific dish going out and after a short time coming back in as they were not keen on it, not that there was anything wrong with the dish, more the fact that it was just not for them, so obviously a try before you buy situation. Another one was a simple smoked mackerel dish, they claimed they couldn’t eat it as it looked like a TV dinner. Not in the sense of a microwave meal but how it looked like a dish prepared by a chef on the television? I think the best ones I’ve heard are the customers that come in and say they are in a rush, yes, drop everything, forget everyone else, these people are in a rush, nobody else matters. At the end of the day, you are paying for a meal and have the right to complain but I would rather if it was brought up at the time, so it can be resolved and not put on some website. If you order a steak and it’s not to your desired cooking degree, just ask for it to be cooked a bit more. I think this is the biggest upset for most people and believe that everyone has there own version of what a medium steak is or any other cooking degree for that matter. What I would urge and recommend the hard core frazzled is to try and see if you could take the cooking degree down a level each time you order steak just to see how you might be pleasantly surprised. If you think that you have come down a bit far just explain the situation to the waiting staff and have it re-fired a bit more.

As these blogs are about honesty, I must tell about the time that I singed the soup. This is the technical name I like to use that is just before the point of burning, but not burnt, definitely not burnt, singed. To protect the people involved I shall not name, all I can say is that it was for a funeral party close to home. It was just coming up to the time to serve which meant one final taste for quality assurance, the soup which I speak about was a broth of Scotch, good and hearty, you know the kind where the spoon can stand up in. A soup that was started hours before by roasting some lamb bones for a good depth of flavour, making the stock with the bones but also simmering the meat also in the stock, plenty depth of flavour, the mixed bag of broth mixture and the usual vegetable culprits, all put together lovingly, to my horror it had singed. In the next few moments I applied myself to the situation as any self respected chef would do, without drawing to much attention to the situation, more stock to dilute, glug of wine, yes that would sort it out, more salt, more than a whiff of pepper, yes I think that’s it, no one will notice and serve.

Ladling the now doctored soup, I felt secretly proud of the way I overcame this obstacle, a stern reminder of how a chef deals with any situation that they find themselves in, resolving problems with minimum fuss. As I ladled away, I was spooked by the waitress with a spoon in her hand, which had now been applied to my pan.

“Who made the soup?!” she quipped.
“I did…” I snapped back.
“It’s burnt!” she bit back.
With the defence barriers now up, I blasted back,
“There’s bugger all wrong with the soup!!”

Now at this point as the bowls were going out the door they were starting to come back in the other door like a conveyor belt system, it was horrendous. I had to wait for everyone to leave before I could get away I fear of being lunched, the only positive was that I had gents from the party who actually enjoyed it.

Over the years I have seen many bloopers and conundrums which I like to believe has helped me in the way I approach the way I work today. In my years of cooking I like to think that I have been accommodating wherever I have been, that I have tried my best at whatever I am tasked with, at times going over and above in what I try to do. I know that through the years being in a kitchen has been a roller coaster, at times riding high with adrenaline, at the lowest point finding the energy to move forward and be enthused, to the point of almost burn out, but these are much happier times, and that is what I am focusing on and that is what is going to help me move forward in everything I do.

 Listen to the wind, it speaks. Listen to the silence, it talks. Listen to your heart it knows.
Native American Proverb

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