It wasn’t the price of the amazing food, the perfect silver service or even the super cars lining up as we approached dinner service. The moment I realised that I was working in a three Michelin-starred kitchen was when I was on the end of a mighty dressing down from one of the sous chefs.
It was around 10am and the whole of The Waterside Inn kitchen was in the middle of prep. I had been given a bowl of boiled potatoes and told to scrape the skin off using a paring knife.
Pretty simple, right?
I ploughed ahead, putting myself on the larder next to a CDP called Simone. Fabrice Uhryn, the head chef, would occasionally shout out instructions over the tannoy, first in French then in English. Things were going well and I felt excited to have blended in with such illustrious company.
Then Alex one of the sous chefs came over to see how I was getting on.
“What are you doing?!” he said, grabbing the bowl and going through the ten or so skinless potatoes I’d done.
“I said scrape! What are you doing!?” he repeated, now shouting.
Having been given a job and settled down with it, I had relaxed. Big mistake. By scrape, Alex had meant literally the careful removal of skin from the potatoes, keeping the shape completely intact. Having used a paring knife to prep a whole lot of vegetables during the ten-odd stages I’d done up to that point, I figured trimming the potato down a touch wouldn’t have mattered.
“These are useless now! Look at the shape of these! Why didn’t you ask if you weren’t sure? Dudley, come here and do the potatoes. Now!”
My misshapen potatoes met the bin, I said goodbye to the paring knife and a commis called Dudley took the reins. Alex didn’t talk to me again for the rest of my stage. A day and a half.
Absolute perfection is required at a 3 star. And while Alex went to some lengths to ignore me for the best part of 36 hours, I am thrilled to have experienced, with no filter, just exactly how perfect it needs to be.
I was pretty shaken by my run-in with Alex. And for the rest of my time at The Waterside Inn, I was beyond cautious.
When asked to wash and peel 30 carrots, I counted out 30 carrots double time, three times, just to be sure.
When asked to dip the pak choi into the tempura mix and then into the deep fat fryer, I got so close to make sure every side was coated that I almost got a splash of white-hot oil on my cheek.
When I wanted to try a seagull egg, having never done so, I asked four different chefs if it was ok as I got closer and closer to it.
When I was asked to top and tail the rhubarb, I made sure to keep the finished one shown to me on pastry and measure it against every single one I chopped.
Alex had taught me, in 60 seconds of rage, to never lose my concentration. You can’t drop the ball at three stars.