Wednesday, 18 November 2009


So it's seems that since starting at the restaurant I'm destined to begin every post by apologising for how long it's been since the last hint of blog activity...So yep apols. Will try harder!

Planning on get new recipes up soon, but in the meantime thought I'd write a bit of an update on my life as a chef at Nahm.....

So it's been a little over 3 months since i started there. The time has flown by, even though my first week there seems an age ago.

Guess that's due to the number of hours you clock up. It's a far cry from my old office life of desks, meetings and presentations...just the same kitchen, with, give or take, the same
handful of chefs, runners and kitchen porters every week.

The hours

The basic regime at Nahm works like this: you do 5 or 6 days, at least two of which are doubles (start 10am work til close), the rest are late starts 2pm. You have to be in the kitchen ready to go this time, not strolling through the doors with a latte in one hand.

In terms of hours it's not the worst kitchen I've been to (think Maze...which from what i could tell was 7.30am - 12.30am at least 5 days a week, with no hint of staff food or breaks) but it's by no means the easiest either.

On a good day we get 15 mins to grab some food, but it's not uncommon to have days when if you dont eat standing up, you pretty much don't eat. I can think fair few occasions when I've not really eaten, or sometimes gone to the loo, for 12 hours or so!

I should probably point out that this is not so much company policy; it's just because you're so busy (& often stressed) you don't have the time or inclination to go from doing one urgent thing to the next (thinking to yourself if i don't do X in the next 2mins, I'm screwed, then ok now if i don't do Y in next 30secs chef is gonna start shouting for it etc etc).... which is the way it goes in busy kitchens all over.

Weekends come and go with much less relevance than in my old life. More than once I've only remembered it was a Friday or sat night when I'm cycling home in the wee hours - as i have to dodge an especially large number of hammered people pouring out of Soho (fighting, puking, hailing cabs and so on).

The contrast between me cycling home along Piccadilly at 1am (sweaty, knackered, smelling of fish sauce, prawns or something) and the swanky crowd in their glad-rags mincing outside Nobu or Mahiki, is fairly amusing too; they'd probably call the police if i stopped to ask the time!

The hours, staying on your feet all day etc doesn't bother me really, you expect that and get used to it. The only time i get demoralised is if i don't think I've had a great service. If you feel like you've done a good job the whole thing makes more sense.

Conversely when you've worked bloody hard all day and not eaten but end up annoyed at yourself because of some silly mistake during service or because you didn't chop shallots fast enough, that's when i find it most draining.


There are 4 'sections' at Nahm - 'Soups', 'Hots' (curries and stir-fries), 'Larder' (salads, relishes, starters etc) & pastry (desserts). 2/3 of my time thus far has been on the 'Soup' section, with the rest on 'Larder' (aka 'Colds').

'Soups' has been good for me; it's a one man show, you run it yourself - manage your own orders, do all your own prep / 'mes en plas'. You're responsible for cooking dishes from start to finish, plating up and getting it up on time. Then finally you clean down and make sure you're good for the next day and have a prep-list of what ya need to do ready for you or whoever is on there tomorrow to crack on with the following day.

Oh and there's also the small complication of the soup section also doing room service for the hotel (Nahm restaurant is in a 5 star hotel, called the Halkin). So at any time you gotta be prepared to knock out a sirloin steak & Caesar salad for room yadda yadda, salmon and clams for table blah blah in the bar....etc etc.

Finally it's also the soup guy's job to knock up staff food, from whatever is available, for about 30, to be ready for staff canteen at 5.30 each day. Needless to say being put on soups was a plenty challenging start to my first full time job as a professional chef.

Being 'in the shit' (pardon my french)

Being in the shit (ITS hereafter) is basically being 'in trouble' / 'up against it' / 'swamped' etc.

On soups it might happen like this: you've got a busy service looming in the eve with some nice big tables coming in early, you're trying to knock up some decent food for staff while getting stitched up by constant room service orders every 20mins..... you start to get behind, but every time you get back to your all-important prep the bloody ticket machine chugs out another order for a club sandwich or cauliflower soup. So before you know it service has started and you're still trying to finish prep which you're going to need any moment now....e.g your praying you don't get an order for mussel soup because you haven't had time to shell that tray of mussels you just steamed off...and what's that order chef is now shouting out? "duck curry, blah blah....4 mussel soup" Doh! So you start to frantically shell clams, when you should be working on the table that's going out in 3 minutes, another order comes in, then another, and because you were rushing you didn't hear table XYZ being called away and you realise with only minutes to go that you need 2 more soups get the idea!

You are now well and truly ITS.
You can feel like a rabbit in headlights, about to be squashed. Sometime you get a merciful lull in orders which can give you breathing space to get back on track but, if not, it can then get to the point someone from another section has to drop what their doing to come help dig you out. Not much fun. Happened to me fair few times in my first few weeks and even experienced chefs find themselves thoroughly ITS from time to time, but it's rare and they handle it pretty well.

N.B From what i can tell being 'in the shit' is generally such a thoroughly unpleasant experience that the fear of being back in it is probably the number one source of motivation for chef's all over.... you just close my eyes and imagine yourself well and truly ITS in a few hours time - trust me, is enough to make anyone work faster!

So you learn the hard try an push and be more organised to get yourself ahead of the game. So if the sods-law run of room service orders arrives while your trying to get ready for service, then, yes, you swear at the machine a bit but you've got the time to knock the orders& get pretty much back on track for when the opening salvo of restaurant orders arrives.

When i started i was ITS quite a lot, i know I've come a fair way since then. But am still far from being immune to it, and as soon as i get comfortable i get thrown on to new & different section on busy night and the learning the hard way cycle starts all over...

Quick 'Scudding' update

Before i finish i should provide one update though: in my previous diary post i mentioned 'scudding'. This is basically sneaking bird's eye chillies in to fellow chef (waiter, runner or whoever)'s food or drink and watching them unknowingly consume - a proud Nahm tradition. I previously mentioned the fact that no one had scudded me yet...

Well that didn't last long, in fact i foolishly mentioned it to David Thompson when he asked how things were, i said "good, i cant believe i haven't been scudded yet" or something equally foolish.

Needless to say David sent the word out and i got a multiple scudding that day - in my double espresso (saw that one coming, but David kindly encouraged me to down it anyway, interesting flavour sensation it was), rubbed around the rim of my water bottle, in the water with my tasting spoons etc etc!

So never fear, i haven't missed out on this important rite of passage, and i now have integrity when i share the love and scud others (in fact i get so much childish amusement from it that i think i might give a few family members the treatment over the Xmas period!).

Scudding: these little beauties, hidden in your food & drink.

Will write more soon, some recipes coming too.



chumbles said...

Fascinating; don't worry about the lack of recipes, appreciated though they are. For us mere mortals working standard 'long' hours, we can only marvel (and with a certain amount schadenfreude) enjoy your experiences vicariously - keep it up!

Michelle Peters said...

Seconding Chumbles :-) Good on you boy!

David Hall said...

Soz Andy but it sounds like my idea of hell! But you follow your path and it sounds like it was the right one for you, good on ya.

Merry Christmas Andy, all the best for 2010