|View out my window the first morning.|
My days at the Lodge, when guests were present, typically lasted 16 hours. A full-English breakfast was served at 8am, a picnic lunch to be driven to that day’s shoot location had to leave with Butler 2 and a Gurkha by 11am, then lunch for the Lady of the Manor was served whenever she decided to ask for it (as she was far too delicate to accompany the shooters, or guns as they are referred to), tea sandwiches and cakes had to be ready upon the guns arrival back at the Lodge around 5pm, canapés were served at 8:15pm and then a black tie dinner shortly thereafter. It never stopped.
Chef and I had been graciously granted rooms in the Lodge itself (the rest of the staff had small cottages near the main house) so at 7 am, the morning after I arrived I stumbled downstairs to the kitchen (passing underneath a stuffed tiger’s head on the wall– fangs gleaming in the spotlights). Despite the fact that they finished after us, the Butlers always beat us in, and never let us forget it! They were already busy heating china cups, pressing coffee, heating milk, polishing silver toast stands. Every morning, in my workspace, they left large silver platters on which we placed fresh berries, yoghurt, warm croissants.
Then there was the whole leg of Jamon Iberico (cured from the acorn-finished black-footed pigs in Spain), hoof and all, in its fancy stand with its special slicing knife, that required precision carving each morning. It had been a gift from one of Sir’s guests and the Butlers decided it must be prominently featured on the breakfast table. I sliced paper –thin slices of this very expensive ham, desperately trying to emulate the technique I had seen on Anthony Bourdain’s show when he visited a Jamon specialty shop in Barcelona.
“It’s just a gesture,” the twins would always say.
Chef and I buttoned up our chef’s jackets and tied on our aprons, our armour for the endless hours ahead. Initial tasks complete, we’d boil the kettle and sneak up the stairs to the garden and out the back gate to have a morning cigarette and coffee. This was our only escape from the heat of the kitchen and what would come to be the oppressiveness of the other staff. More often than not it was raining so we’d seek shelter under the wide branches of the oak tree, next to the industrial garbage bins and port-a-potty for the builders, among the roaming pheasants, cows, and the region’s famous black-muzzled sheep, and smoke. It was here too that we could occasionally get a faint cell phone signal, to make contact with the real world. The scenery remained gorgeous, regardless of the weather, but the isolation, even on that very first morning, was shocking. There was nowhere to go and no way to get out if we wanted to.
I had never worked in this kind of environment before. The cooking jobs I had taken in the past were mostly cooking for a special event or preparing an evening meal for a family or stocking a fridge with meals to be pulled out at the clients’ leisure. Never had I been an on-call chef, subject to the every whim of a client, nor asked to do mundane tasks like boil and egg or make a cheese sandwich. I didn’t mind, but part of me kept thinking that surely these people, in spite of their wealth, could do this on their own – would in fact, prefer to do some things for themselves. I was wrong. I also was not accustomed to having to make common meals special. How does one tart up a scrambled egg? How does one garnish a single cookie on a plate? Everything had to be beautiful all the time.
Chef had been doing this work, mostly on private yachts, for seven years, and I was comforted that she knew what she was doing. She had assembled endless fruit platters and sandwich trays, cooked breakfast for people other than friends and family, and knew the standards that were expected by these kinds of clients. I would have been adrift without her! I think our skills complemented one another perfectly. What one of us hesitated about, the other was confident in. We spent hours talking about food, family, friends, and what had brought us to this weird place at the end of the world. It was one of the most genuinely pleasurable working experiences I’ve had with someone – she was generous, creative, and always patient.
Tomorrow I’ll get to the grouse, I promise….
Streaky Smoked Bacon
Herb Roasted Tomatoes
Fruit & Yoghurt
Toast & Selection of Cereals
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Assortment of Quiches
Spinach Salad with Strawberries & Goat Cheese
Antipasta Pasta Salad
Platter of Cold Cuts
Rhubarb & Pear Tart
Selection of Savory Tea Sandwiches
Olive Oil Rosemary Cake
Rosemary Skewered Mussels with Aioli
Parmesan Crackers topped with Red Onion Marmalade
Insalata di Mare
Peppered Venison Steak
Toasted Almond Potato Croquettes
White Chocolate Tarts with Raspberries