Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Dig for Victory

Dig for Victory Campaign WW1 and WW2
So this post is all about chefs and growing, or more like chefs that grow. More and more chefs are growing their own food, some using methods such as the Urban Cultivator (available via CCS)and some people using outdoor growing methods, almost like an old school allotment. Chefs aren't just stopping at growing their own herbs, vegetables, fruits, some people are going as far to getting their own animals, something not new at all, Raymond Blanc's 'Le manoir aux quat saisons' has had its kitchen garden for years, as have many other places around the UK but what is interesting is how this is becoming more popular and not just chefs and restaurants but people at home, general public are going back to the days of growing their own
. By the end of this post we should have a better understanding of why people are doing this and is it actually worth it? So just what are the good points:

  1. Becoming self sufficient
  2. Cheaper 
  3. Enables grower complete control
  4. Reducing a business' Carbon footprint
  5. Fresher Produce
Urban Cultivator 
Them points are just ones off the top of my head, and i must note at this point i haven't spoken to anybody involved in doing any of these things, so this is entirely my view from the outside of the circle however as I try and get more involved and learn more myself I'm sure another post will come. Chefs are not just people who cook your food, chefs are interested in where it comes from, how it gets to the kitchen, how the animal lives, and most importantly they know what they want! So growing it themselves means they can decide just how long they let a carrot grow, or just how big they let the lettuce grow for instance, this gives the chef a lot more control. Chefs doing this can now see for themselves the flavour differences in letting it grow longer or harvesting earlier. Chefs are in general control freaks in my opinion and this is just another thing for us to grab by both horns!
Another point to look at is  the cost, and I'm not going to go deep into costing here, and as i say this is how i see it from an onlookers point of view, there is without a doubt at least a small initial capital investment. That investment could either be, buying a plot of land, buying polly tunnels, heaters, equipment, an urban cultivator and so on, but after that it looks obvious to me that you will save money on buying produce in a restaurant. 
Produce grown by a chef, for his or her restaurant is more than likely going to be close to the restaurant, meaning less transportation costs, less movement, less hands touching it, less packaging, less costs, more efficient. This means fresher produce, we all know the quicker the produce gets to the kitchen from the field the better the flavour, the higher the nutrients. Meaning in the end run, the customer which this is all about, gets a better product, a better meal, a better experience!
All in all, doing this is looking like a no brainer, if you can do it, DO IT. What else is involved in this though, it can't be that easy, or literally every body would be doing it... right ?
There is only one down point to this as far as i can see. Growing produce takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and a hell of a lot of knowledge, it is not just putting seeds in soil and reaping the benefits.
Ken Holland is a mastermind at growing produce for some of the top restaurants in the UK, to put it bluntly Ken knows his shit. He is also someone who puts almost his entire day into growing these things, his produce is unquestionably amazing, talking to Ken is like a whirlwind, he's trying new techniques or growing different varieties of vegetables, seeing what happens when you do X or Y to a vegetable or a herb, its always interesting to chat to him, and to see and taste the results. 
So the question for me is, can a chef who is working 60-70 hours a week really grow their own produce as well as cook in the restaurant? It seems so, plenty of people are doing it, and i think its absolutely amazing to see, and something that i hope consumers notice and understand as well.
Personally for me, I have never tried growing anything, but it is something i would love to try and do, something that takes a lot of patience and a lot of knowledge, but as with cooking the results are amazing and I'm almost certain the sense of satisfaction would be incredible!

Kitchen Garden at Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons 

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.

Next up - Ticket Restaurants


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Sunday, 26 April 2015

Chefs | Spring | Seasons

Spring is an amazing time of year isn't it, gardens and hedgerows coming to life again after a dormant winter time. Days get longer, nights get lighter, people all in all just seem, well, happier. What I aim to look at in this post is why do chefs get so excited over spring? I certainly do and i can't be the only person, but first of all we need to look at spring, what is spring, how does spring happen!
As the earth moves around the sun we are given our 4 different seasons, however on the first day of spring the sun shines directly half and half, so in winter we are tilted away, and in summer towards the sun, first day of spring is exactly half daylight, half nighttime all at once. I hope that makes sense. Also it is no coincidence that daylight saving in the UK starts around the same time as spring, this is thought to have been introduced as a way to provide more working hours in daylight for farmers, although there are plenty of other theories on that, I've chosen that one, mainly because it works with what I'm trying to say. Spring as with the rest of the seasons travels from south to north. You will notice daffodils in the south before the north, it travels across the country at 1/3 of a mile an hour!
So now we know what spring is, spring for chefs means an abundance of new crops, herbs, salads. When i think of spring, i think of Asparagus, peas, strawberries, the many different types of lettuce, dandelion, new season jersey royals, the list is endless it really is. I think the reasons chefs get excited by this is that, traditionally veg would be stored for winter. Products would be pickled, fruits would be dried, vegetables would be fermented, depending on the part of the world your in things would be almost frozen beneath the snow. To be fair there is still people, there is still restaurants that stand by this and continue to follow these regimes, this meaning they entirely follow the seasons. Its fantastic to know that still happens, but why doesn't it happen everywhere, why doesn't every restaurant or every family follow these rules of nature, in my own opinion it is down to the media, supermarkets and the consumer themselves ? Look You can certainly see from their prospective why they get so excited for spring, they're bored of using stored beetroots, fermented vegetables, pickled berries, people are starting to run out of the spring/summer harvest they're seeing nature create these wonderful colours again, amazing flavours and they harvest them in spring and summer, but they won't use all of their bounty all in them months, as we noted earlier they will store there harvest and make sure it can last the winter months when fresh food can be hard to come by!
Supermarkets have strawberries available all year round, they have little gem lettuce all year round, if i want a tomato in January, i pop along to my local store and i can have them, yes they've travelled half way around the world but who cares, its a tomato in January.. right ? Almera in spain for instance is one of the driest parts of spain, yet at anyone time they could be grown 1.5 million watermelons in their vast sea of greenhouses (covering 450,000 square Kilometres) mainly harvested by cheap workers, all for our love in the UK and the rest of Europe (Almera supplies almost half of Europe's fruit and veg) Heres a few facts on Almera and their greenhouses, you can come to your own conclusion on if its a good thing or a bad thing, admittedly I don't mind a little exotic fruit on my balcony in the early months of spring, and without them i probably couldn't have that melon I've just eaten. Awkward

  • Land around Almeria is so covered with white tents it has lowered the average temperature of the area (due to the white reflecting the suns heat)
  • Greenhouses are staffed with illegal immigrants from Africa earning £30 per day
  • Fifty years ago the land here was so barron it was used to film movies to depict the american desert scenes 
  • Over 100,000 immigrants work here for such a low wage, one reason why your supermarket trolly price is getting lower with more fresh fruit 
  • In the first quarter of 2012 food exports from Almeria, including lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelons and peppers, were valued at €1.4billion. (imagine if even 1/4 of that was in the British economy
  • Seasonal Produce ... Right?
Where your supermarket Fruit probably comes from
It seems like i have gone off track a little there but i haven't, trust me. If we all followed  the seasons things like that wouldn't exist on the scale they do. Supermarkets are making peoples perceptions of the seasons distorted, the asparagus season is only meant to last for 6 - 8 weeks isn't it ? Traditionally from the 1st of may to the end of June yet M&S were selling British Asparagus at the start of march almost this year. Consumers then believe that its in and in seasons, so when they dine out, they expect the chef to be following the seasons and therefore he should be using asparagus? The same with strawberries. Currently at House of Tides we are using Gariguette strawberries, this is an early
Gariguette Strawberry, Dandelion
fruiting variety of strawberry from France, renowned for
its sweet and aromatic juicy flavour, we pair this with dandelion and burdock, but annoyingly i can buy British strawberries from again 'The Supermarket'! The British strawberry season is traditionally again, May 1st but they won't reach their peak until late June possibly early July for the likes of the Elsanta variety which from what I gather is Britons most favoured variety. Yet again because these places are selling these things, as chefs we are expected to do the same, even though they aren't 'really' in season. I know that growing techniques have got better over the years, I know climate change plays a part but as chefs we should trust mother nature and most of us do. Admittedly id say only a small number of places such as Favekin take it to the next level and 100% let mother nature do most of the thinking for them!
Spring is exciting because of the new colours and flavours. Spring brings with it fruits that we crave, colours that excite the pallet more than that of the dull winter veg, and yes sure foreign farms have a place in our ecosystem in the UK but, surly if we respected spring a bit more, that excitement, that pleasure from eating the first strawberry would be so much better when it was ACTUALLY ready!
I'm not saying don't eat spanish fruit, don't eat french veg, I'm saying don't expect the british stuff, until its ready, stop thinking because its in the supermarket its the best produce or its readily available to everyone!
With the welcoming of spring comes a race among many chefs to be the first to have X or the first to have Y of the latest seasonal produce from the local area (hopefully) on their menu. Restaurant and hospitality has boomed massively recently, but this boom far outweighs the amount of locally grown fruit and veg this more than often ends in a battle to get the produce when it becomes available(my supplier offered me St Georges mushrooms 2 weeks ago, but he only had 2KG, and its not St George's day yet...) It really is human nature (chefs nature) to want the first of everything, the new gadget, the new toy, the new meat, but the first bite of the berry isn't always the sweetest.
A lot of ingredients aren't actually worth having first, the quality is not aways there and the price can be demandingly high (supply and demand hey, who'd of thought it ?) Morels started their season this year at a whopping £80per KG from a supplier, they are now down to £38 and the consistency is more prominent now. Social media can have a huge effect on diners, and chefs alike, wild garlic is always all over social media up and down the country as soon as the first leafs are seen someone is taking a snap, uploading it to Facebook or twitter, something i fell for and headed to Jesmond Dene looking for my very own wild garlic (too early in the season) and wasted an hour and a half searching for what seemingly hadn't 'sprung' just yet. Because of these reasons, because diners are so much more aware of what things are on their plate, the expectations of the chef are raised to incorporate these sometimes impossible things into their menus. When it does come to getting the first of the produce, it isn't always down to the who spends the most with a certain supplier or who puts in the first request, other things can be taken into a account to receive these prized menu items. 
  • What kind of a personal reputation the chef has with his supplier
Thats a huge one, chefs are now more and more interested in the growing of food and understanding the labour of love that goes into it, so a lot of what produce comes through your kitchen door is down to, your relationship with your suppliers. The more you work with someone , the more you get to know them, the more you understand their work and their respect for their job, the more access you have to better and more bountiful produce. At the end of the day its a two way street, if someone likes you genuinely and appreciates what you do with their product and you show their product the respect it deserves that they have worked so hard to produce and vice versa, your always in with a shot of the best produce available!

Maybes sometimes its better just to let spring... spring, let the produce take its course and use the stuff at its peak, stop rushing spring, theres a song by the supremes 'You can't hurry love' well it seems the same can be said for spring. Stop fucking around, get outside, meet your suppliers, stop using spanish produce and enjoy the great British spring time!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it,

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Why Would You Become a Chef The Pros and Cons Part 2

Okay, welcome back, in the last post we looked at the pros, the good points as it were of being or becoming a chef. This post is about the opposite, the negatives and the cons of being or becoming a chef. I have to be careful in this one, because i don't want it to seem as though I am whinging, I'm not, I'm just looking at how i feel, what i hear other people say and how the media portrays the job.
All chefs working in restaurants or hotels are aware of the struggle to find good, capable chefs, for every good chef there is at least ten cowboys. By cowboys i mean people who can talk the talk but they can't follow that through with good solid cooking, never mind the rest that comes with the job. I feel personally this is down to the fact people think it is possible to become a good cook overnight, not just students, many people i know think like that 'its only cooking' or 'who can't follow a recipe' now you give 5 people the same recipe, and see the 5 different outcomes, no ones will ever be the same exactly, and thats the beauty of cooking, and just why becoming a chef isn't all that easy.
A massive down point to being a chef is the hugely unsociable hours, this applies to all hospitality staff to be honest, and its something i feel the public should be massively aware of while they are dining out, don't get me wrong, we all have chosen this job and we know what it entails so it isn't their fault, but spare a thought for the guys working so hard to give you an incredible time when dining out!
Another problem with being a chef is the possibility of ruining, friendships, marriages, relationships, this is simply a hazard of the trade that can't be changed, I know plenty of people in the trade that do have them things, and I've also seen and heard of people losing these things, I guess it all comes down to the type of person you are as a chef, if your lazy outside of work, then its probably your fault and not that of your friends/partner. That being said, there are much harder jobs out there for being unsociable.
Aylin, a self-confessed terrible cook leaves her burger
 van at the side of the road in Wales and spends three weeks with
Aiden Byrne at his restaurant, Manchester House
Image courtesy of C4
The media has created so many TV programmes based on cookery, that it makes people want to do this job, but it also clouds peoples judgement as to what its really about. As i write this I'm currently watching Burger bar to Gourmet star, which is actually doing the right thing, its showing the public how mentally and physically straining this job can be (on week one the guy hurts his back and week 2 she hurts her feet), and just how rewarding it can be if you keep your head down. Watching Aiden Byrne offer the girl he has taught only for 4 weeks a job in his Gastro pub 'The Church Green' is incredible and a reward she could have only dreamt about before starting from the bottom for the TV show. Truly inspirational, and shows what our industry is all about. Hard work!
People often put the salary of a chef into a negative reason to become a chef. I think this is wrong, no one i have ever ever met started this job for the money, they were never under the impression they were going to make millions. They had all fallen in love with cooking, and they all knew what they were signing up to. For the few who do make it to the big time, we have to take our hats off to them because they have worked so damn hard to be in that position. When Gordon Ramsay was working at Harvey's or busting his balls 22 hours a day did he ever think he'd be flying around in private jets, with a condo on Malibu Beach and house in the hills in LA. I doubt it. Was that what he was working for when he missed the birth of his children. I doubt it. I imagine he was working to earn 3 stars michelin.
I'm not writing this to dispel the myths or say that there are no negatives to being a chef, I'm writing it to put it into perspective. 90% of us knew what we were getting into and we wanted it.
I guess its all down to personality and the individual. Yes a lot of chefs burn the candle at both ends and yes sometimes they will burn out, on the other side there are chefs who are entirely dedicated to their craft, not wasting time on the 'work hard, play harder' culture, and then there are those who are not only working to make a living they are working to make a life. We could list negatives for hours:

  1. Poor hours
  2. Poor Friendships
  3. Becoming unsociable 
  4. Poor working conditions 
  5. Bad diets
  6. Poor pay
They are just the obvious ones. Personally I chose not to look at that side, and think that its all about how much you let the job control you or how much you control yourself. It is possible to enjoy a near normal life as a chef if you want to, and you put the effort in. Maybes if people realised this we would have a lot more good chefs out their looking for jobs instead of cow boys. Which leads me on to my next point.
As chefs we need to start from the bottom, we should be in colleges, helping prepare these students for the real world, taking them on work experience, so they can see that once they leave the shiny college kitchens, what the real world is like, what the bollockings are like, how we respect the produce, how we clean the kitchen, how important it is to be open as a person and not a closed book in the kitchens. If we don't do this, the media will always be in control, either making it look super glamorous, or giving it a bad name, its neither of them things, its the same as every other job in the world, the more you put in, the more you get out. With two added bonuses, you can do this job anywhere in the world and, you have the chance to make memories for people you will never ever meet, that they will carry with them forever. Which i think is something that counteracts all negativity about the job.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it,

Next Up - Chefs or Growers or 2 of a kind

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Why Would You Become a Chef, Pros & Cons

Food is very much like art and fashion, it is entirely up to the creator to decide if it tastes good, in art, the artist decides if it looks good, the same can be said for fashion, for instance the painting 'Scream' by Edward Munch sold only a couple of years ago for staggering price of $119.922,500, so surly the person who bought it and hangs it on their wall, must like the look of it, personally, I wouldn't have it on my wall, I don't think its pretty. The same again can be said for some of the stuff on the catwalk at London Fashion week. Would i wear some of that stuff? Absolutely not, other people would crawl over hot stones to be the first 'on trend'... even if that means looking ridiculously out of place for a short while. It may seam that I have gone a little off point there, but, i haven't trust me.
I'm not sure I have ever met anyone who said from a very early age they wanted to be a chef, that being said I have never heard of anyone wanting to be a Mortgage broker either. So what is it that makes people want to cook when as we are all so aware there are so many down points to being a chef, something i will look into in more detail in the next post.
For me it is getting back to where i started. Cooking and being a chef is all about creativity and letting go of anything that holds you back in the outside world as soon as you pass the kitchen door. The kitchen is a place where ideas hit you in the back of the head with a slotted spoon when you least expect it. Its a maze of decisions which need answers, and need answers quickly, there is no where to hide unlike some other careers.
Chefs complain a lot, I should know, I'm without a doubt partial to a moan once in a while, the usual ones i hear are:

  1. My feet are hurting. 
  2. I'm tired.
  3. I've missed my friends 21st.
  4. These hours are ridiculous.
  5. Imagine having a 9-5 job FML that would be cool.
  6. I only got 6 hours sleep last night.
They are just six examples, and what you have to ask yourself is, why the hell do these boys (and girls) in kitchens turn up to work every single morning, break their backs serving guests they will never meet, and I think the answer is clear. They have the cooking bug. Now it goes without saying that all careers and all jobs have their good points, and bad points, but have you ever heard a chef say ' I hate my job' ? I highly doubt you have because most the chefs that i have ever met are addicted to their jobs, they love it with all their heart, I guess just like a real life relationship they have arguments, but they can never leave it, you can't, once you start cooking, once you start realising there is no rules and no boundaries, there is no way out from cooking.
Cooking has in recent years become 'Cool and Hip' there is now an influx of people actively wanting to become chefs, and thats great for the industry, colleges are full of students learning how to become a cook, so why then is it difficult to find chefs in a restaurant, and by chefs i mean good, solid cooks? Is the answer that their is too many bad points to being a chef? I don't think it can be because as I have already explained in this post, there is one fundamental thing keeping chefs doing the long hours, and keeping them at the stove, or with suppliers, or in the garden growing their own produce. Its the love, its the addiction. Chefs constantly speak about the 'buzz' of service or the adrenaline fuelled 17 hour shifts. I think the problem is young cooks, cooks from colleges aren't giving it enough time in the real world kitchens of good restaurants to fall in love, or to become addicted. They want instantaneous results, they want to become over night rock star chefs, MPW is the chef of my generation who made cooking cool (maybes just before my generation' and shit did he make it look cool, but maybes, just maybes if the young cooks of Great Britain sat and read his book, and realised he was by no means an over night rock star chef, maybes just then they would give it time to fall in love. Cooking is exactly like a relationship, some people have love at first sight and some need a little bit more of a push.
A Quote from MPW on the late 80's
The rewards from being a good cook or chef are immense. Who else goes to work at gets the chance to make 70-100 people happy that day? Does a barber get that much satisfaction from a guy in the mirror going 'Yeah thats sweet' when he's holding the mirror behind your head asking if its okay for you? I doubt it, but as chefs we have an opportunity, it doesn't matter if its making someones 18th birthday special, or helping an old couple celebrate their Diamond wedding anniversary, we get the chance to decide for ourselves if something has enough salt, if it needs more acidity, if the Carrot puree is smooth enough. Does the tender at the bank get to decide for him or herself if they have given you the right amount of change? No mathematical  facts do that, being a chef, being a cook isn't about cold hard facts (okay certain aspects are), its about interpretation, which is why you can't please everyone, again another down side to being a chef. I think what this post is getting at is that the main upside to being a chef is job satisfaction, having your own mind, and learning new things everyday, as a banker there is only so many times you can learn the £400-£300 is £100 right? but as a chef every piece of beef cooks differently, every trufle grows differently, and its how you interpret the ingredients, how much you put in to your job is just how much satisfaction you can get. I for one absolutely love my job, and i love to whinge about the shit hours too. Would think about changing my career, absolutely not!
Being a chef or a cook whatever you want to label it these days, is about much more than cooking, its about organisation, skill, man management, love, and respect. Never think all we do is 'cook'
If your a young cook or chef out there reading this, just getting involved in cooking. Stick by it, you'll fall in love and you will never, ever look back.
A Quote from Sat Bains that I read a few years ago, and loved!

Strategy will always compensate for talent, the talent will never compensate for strategy - Marco Pierre White 

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed,
Next up the Cons to becoming a chef


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Sunday, 5 April 2015

Village boy | Big city

Okay so by this point if you've been following, you'll know a bit about me, and how I've found myself as the Head Chef at House of Tides on Newcastle Quayside, a restaurant owned by Kenny & Abbie Atkinson, Kenny is someone who i had followed before working for him after seeing him on Great British Menu, Kenny has previously held 1 Michelin star, twice, first on the scilly isles and a second time at Seaham Hall.  I joined House of Tides from day one. Fuck me was it hard, I've heard people say moving house is stressful (you'd think id know I've done it enough times, but i was only young) I can definitely say, being part of a team opening a restaurant is harder. Even for me, so god knows how Kenny felt. theres not much point going into detail about the opening, or the weeks leading up to it apart from it took; A lot of organising, A lot of late night, A lot of early morning and A lot of coffee
Kenny's GBM Winning dish
Mackerel, Goosberries and Mustard
House of tides has now been open 14-15 months at the time I'm writing this, the dust has settled and we have a great team, if however your reading this and think you'd like to work with us, drop me an email, the link is at the bottom of this blog, we are always on the look out for talented driven individuals with a passion for hospitality.
Now i promised in the last post i wouldn't turn this into the 'Danny Parker Blog' but since the restaurant has opened a lot has happened, moving jobs and house was hard enough, but i put more pressure on myself and entered 'MasterChef the Professionals' which if all goes well with the blog, ill do a post about in the future.
There was a lot of hype about the restaurant when it opened which was brilliant, and we received a lot of welcome feedback both positives and negatives were taken on board, after all without the guests there is no restaurant. Our aims are simple at House of Tides and that is to give you, the guests, the best experience possible. We're all in this industry because we enjoy pleasing people, so feedback, especially in the early days was priceless. The Secret Diner, of Newcastles Journal Newspaper reviewed us not long after opening and then again almost a year later to the day Both reviews are linked there if you would like some extra reading.
Myself and Laura in our past job together
Everyday as a chef, a waitress, a sommelier is all about improving day in day out, never letting standards drop and always smiling (not so much for the chefs maybes as far as the smiling goes) 
Im going to speak a lot about my work at House of Tides in the future on here so if your interested keep looking back. 
Laura (restaurant manager) and myself 
One thing I've learnt whilst being a chef is that you have to enjoy it, when I first started working at House of Tides there would be nights with 4 hours sleep, days when you wouldn't sit down for 16 hours, times when you'd forget to  eat, but you'd had that much coffee you didn't realise,  and nobody can say thats enjoyable, if they do, well, good luck to them. No, for me the enjoyable part was building a team, being a part of it from day one, it was sourcing the best produce, setting ground rules with suppliers, making guests happy. Part of building that team was when Laura Stevenson (House of Tides restaurant manager) on board, I have worked alongside Laura for a lot of years now and she is fantastically talented, I've put an old photo of us on here from our Wynyard Hall days and also the most recent with our 3AA Rosette award, note the complete lack of beard in the older one. Id be lost without it now haha! So 15 months on, my outlook is still the same, I enjoy what i get out of my job, I enjoy making guests nights spent with us memorable, I enjoy having an amazing  team of chefs around me, I enjoy having a great boss, and I enjoy cooking. Not everyone can say that about their jobs!
Along with being awarded 3 AA Rosettes from the AA in 2015 (less than one year after opening) we were also awarded 2 awards from The Secret Diner, Best Newcomer and also Best Fine Dining, and seeing the fantastic competition we were against in both categories we were all very humbled to hear that news.

House of Tides Interior 


Chocolate & Raspberries

Venison, Cabbage, Blackberries


Chocolate, Peanut, Banana

Thanks for reading,
Next up Pros V Cons of being a chef


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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Village Boy | Big Hotel

Village Boy | Big Hotel

Wynyard Hall Hotel County Durham
So it seems sensible to start this post by saying it is ludicrous to think i could mention all the things that happened while i was at Wynyard Hall Hotel in a small blog post it really isn't possible. So I'm going to keep it to the basics.. or at least try. 
When i started at Wynyard Hall, I was a wide eyed young boy in most senses especially as far as cooking in a professional kitchen is concerned, i was eager and nervous to impress.
Not long after i started, maybes 6 weeks, a new head chef was introduced, his name was Alan O'kane  (he is now the executive chef at Foxhills Resort)I had never heard of him. He had learnt his trade working at the Capital Hotel, the Savoy in London, and of course i can't forget working with Terry Laybourne at 21 Queen Street (the only place in newcastle ever to have a michelin star) and i remember thinking to myself 'Here comes jonny big balls' and me and Alan had a lot of ups and downs to begin with, especially after i dissed one of his dishes, looking back 5 years ago now who the fuck was i to diss one of his dishes i could barley even make? Alan has played a huge part in my life, not only on cooking terms but he's the guy who made me quit smoking, and for that, I can never repay him. Me and alan are good friends now and someone i can call up anytime of day and ask for advice or help. The main things I learnt in the kitchens here was;

  1. You need a thick skin
  2. Respect for ingredients is paramount
  3. Seasonal cooking
  4. Organisation 
  5. Perfecting Techniques 
  6. Man Management 
  7. How to speak to people
Now although i haven't mentioned a lot about cooking, I did learn a HUGE amount here, working with some great chefs, Liam Duffy who had previously worked with Aiden Byrne showed me a lot on pastry (Liam now owns and runs his own restaurant in wakefield called 'IRIS') me and Liam definitely had our ups and downs but for the most it was good and as i say i learnt a lot from him.
Ashley Bennet, who I believe is now Head Chef at Rogan and Co taught me a lot about organisation, and honing in on certain skills, which i hated at the time, but now I admire what i was taught, this is also the first time i encountered a chef having his own spoon, and yeah i learnt that one the hard way. He also taught me how to say the word 'cunt' properly in a southern accent. Thanks Ash.
Also i can't forget the brilliant Gareth Rayner now Head Chef @ Middleton Lodge, Gareth showed me the being calm, cool and collected under pressure is a massive, massive player when you trying to cook good food and your in the shit. He is a brilliant chef and a very good friend. He also has his own cloths... that you don't touch, EVER
Carrot, Crab, Quinoa 
Pineapple, Molasses, Coconut

As I'm writing this it seems obvious now looking back that Wynyard Hall was like a secondary school for me after leaving the Talbot. It was bigger, it had more people, all of this would help me learn and to be quite frank, the place intimidated me and made me respect it, and its guests a lot more.
I progressed through the kitchen here eventually leaving as 'Sous Chef' in 2013. There was days when  I hated the thought of going in, and days when i was excited to be the first one in and turn a terrine out, cut into it and see what it looked like inside. Food was becoming exciting, and as i mentioned the previous post, this is where i fell in love with food, and cooking. I don't have a bullshit story that my nana used to pick fresh tomatoes or we grew fresh peas in the garden, we didn't. I fell in love with the books Alan had, he had hundreds and this is also where my compulsory buying of cookbooks started. Alan thought of me like a mini him i think, maybes cos we looked the same (or he thought we did) 
I think what I'm getting at in this post is that although it didn't feel like i was learning a lot, mainly because i was having so much fun, i learnt a tremendouse amount.  

Alan O'kane Signiture dish - Stone Bass, Cauliflower, Curry
I think one of the biggest turning points for me was being apart of the team at Wynyard Hall when the hotel achieved 4AA Red stars and 3 AA Rosettes. We had been working towards this and it was huge achievement within only 18 months of Alan taking over. I wanted to work even harder and I wanted to get some of my ideas on the menu, even if it was just parts of it, and i did, and i was over the moon. I remember almost shunning a social life for a good 18 months to 2 years, hardly seeing any of my friends for any occasion, I also look back now and remember the time that came to an end and i found myself out 3-4 times a week getting absolutely smashed! (good times)
Me, Alan, Callum cooking at the NEHA 2012
While working here the then General Manager Adam Dyke encouraged me to enter the North East Hotelier awards, I did, and i won the chance to cook my starter at the awards, 'Lobster, Watermelon, Feta Cheese, Olives' little did i know at the time how instrumental that would be in that this is where i met Kenny Atkinson formally of Rockliffe Hall and my now boss and chef patron @  House of tides.
I have kept anecdotes and a lot of what happened, to myself while writing this, I feel some isn't ready for the internet just yet and as i say I really could go on for days, threatening Callum with a pastry knife cos' he forgot to order my butternut squash is a personal favourite (me and Callum are by the way very good friends... now)

  1. I loved working here
  2. I learnt so much about food
  3. I learnt respect
I also managed to come Runner Up in North East Chef of the Year 2013 which was a brilliant achievement and something i am still very happy about.

I think this is character building. or bullying I'm not sure
Eventually though my time would have to come to an end, and it got to the point where i wasn't progressing as much as i wanted to, i wasn't enjoying my job as much as i wanted to and i guess i kind of wanted to spread my wings, i think this happens with a lot of people after 3-4 years working within the same place. Some people lift off and do it and some people stick through and end up enjoying it again. I guess there is no right or wrong, just what ever feels best for you.
I Left Wynyard Hall Hotel in December 2013 deciding that maybes i would take a break for a little bit. Turns out money doesn't grow on trees, and after an emotional good bye I had a new job lined up which would be in Newcastle. 
I also realise i am in danger of turning this into the 'All about Danny Blog' and that will stop in the next post. Promise.
Village boy heading for the big city
Me and Gareth on my last day 

    Next up is House of Tides, Newcastle and much, much more.
Thanks for reading.


Sunday, 29 March 2015

This Is Not A Food Blog

                                                          My First Ever Blog Post 

Competing in MasterChef
 the Professionals 2014
So, since this is my first ever blog post I wanted to tell you all a little bit about me, my job and what I would like to showcase on this blog. I am currently Head Chef at Kenny Atkinson @ House of Tides on Newcastle's scenic Quayside, I was finalist in BBC's MasterChef the Professionals 2014 and I've done a few other things along the way, but we'll find out more about that as the blog progresses and hopefully grows.
Everyone seems to be a blogger these days, and with good reason, impartial advice given to the public by real life consumers is a massive beneficiary for businesses on one side. On the flip side, especially true, for the hospitality industry regarding restaurants, a bad review from a well known blogger can be a disaster. Although in my opinion anyone who has the balls to write a poor review on a restaurant without contacting the restaurant, or mentioning it when dining should not be tolerated. That being said this is by no means a 'Food Blog'

This Blog intends to;
  1. Give people a real insight into a real working kitchen.
  2. Show followers how chefs follow the seasons and how mother nature is above all else the kitchens official rule book.
  3. Inform people on just how much work has gone into that plate of food you so quickly devour. 
  4. Let followers see past the kitchen door and see both the positives and the negatives of being a chef.
  5. Share recipes and see dishes from first idea or sketch to final creation on the plate.
  6. Give you an insight into how chefs (me) enjoy their R&R and down time. Which believe isn't all that much.
  7. Follow me around in whatever food related things I get up to.

So with that out of the way, a little about me  and I should start off by saying any views or opinions in this blog and all posts to follow are my own, not that of the company I work for, or anyone I am associated with, they are entirely my own.

I started my career in cooking i guess you could say at The Talbot in Bishopton aged 14, I was still at Ian Ramsey C of E School and I was just washing pots. I was dead set on following in my dads footsteps (who was in the Coldstream guards for 25 years) and joining the army. Then something happened and I fell in love with kitchens, not with cooking, I learnt that wouldn't happen till later on, this, this was a lust for cooking and a love for the kitchen. The love was the passion, the excitement of service, the rushing, the no nonsense approach, you could be whoever you wanted as soon as you past the kitchen door, i guess you could call it escapism, but at 14 i have no idea what i was escaping from. This job gave me an amazing work ethic and without the bosses and manager I had there, god knows which path I would have ended up on, probably a path leading straight to Basra. I learnt here that catering, hospitality, restaurants, hotels all have three common goals.
  1. Pleasing guests.
  2. Making sure guests want to return.
  3. Making money
That is the bottom line in my opinion.

The Talbot in Bishopton
I messed around a lot in this job, I didn't take it too seriously after all i was only 14 when i started, and what 14 year old takes much serious, that being said i was probably this way until about 16-17
While I was here I learnt basic fish, meat and veg prep, nothing too fancy at all. I was studying at Darlington Technology College between 16-19 working 5 days a week and studying there one day a week with one day to spare, its probably at that point i should have realised another thing this industry was all about. Long. Unsociable. Demanding hours but i didn't care, I was really enjoying it.
Not a lot of chefs start careers in high end michelin restaurants from what I've heard, and if your a young chef reading this and you are in a high end restaurant  'fucking embrace it' I wish i was fortunate enough to start in such a high end place. However, being a big sponge i did learn a hell of a lot at The Talbot and as I've said without
that place I probably wouldn't have ended up cooking.
I spent 6 years here, leaving when I was twenty years old and running the kitchen in the Head chefs absence (then David Patterson formally of The Tontine), mainly for the part at that age I was afraid of change and very happy with the money i was earning, I lived in the village, had no travel costs, no rent to pay it was easy. From here it though would be hard, bumpy road from the beginning at my new job, that i was buzzing about at Wynyard Hall country House Hotel starting right at the very bottom almost of a huge kitchen within a massive country house hotel, set in the most luxurious of grounds. I was SHITTING it. Little village boy, meets big hotel.