Thursday, 14 June 2012

Memories of the Kitchen

I recently was tidying up and came across an Mensa Magazine from 1985, edited by Ken Webb. Ken was a both a personal friend, and at one time an "accredited journalist". Older Islanders may remember him presenting the sports news on Channel Television's local news programme. We worked together for a number of years on "Thinks!", the name he gave to the Channel Island Mensa magazine, with himself as editor, and myself as assistant editor.

Here's a piece he wrote about his memories of working in hotel kitchens as a young man, and it is interesting that I use almost exactly the method he suggests for boiling eggs - I place the egg in cold water and bring to the boil, rather than placing it in boiling water. The difference is that I used a very clever colour small half-sphere of Perspex, placed to boil with the eggs. It starts off red, and gradually turns yellow, from the outside in, and is graded for different consistencies of boiled egg. I use it along with a circular device which you press on to push in a circle of tiny blades, and which opens the top of the egg perfectly every single time.

I've added one other piece from the page. The magazine was printed as an A5 booklet, and if the text didn't quite fill a page, rather like Reader's Digest used to, Ken would add some small quirky detail to fit it exactly - I've left one of those there too after the kitchen memories.

By Ken Webb

I was born in an hotel (owned by my great Aunt who died last year aged 103!) and spent the first thirty years of my life in various family hotels.

Naturally I was trained to be an hotelier. Being the son of the boss, training was NOT easy. My father believed that, unless you could do every job in the hotel as well as did the staff you employed, you had no right to call yourself an hotelier: "If the chef throws a tantrum at August Bank Holiday week-end and walks out, you step into the kitchen and the only comment from the guests should be that the food is better than ever."

The staff, naturally, made it hard going for me, knowing as they did, that should I complain to my father I would receive scant sympathy. Training was old-fashioned, thorough, practical and merciless. One example will suffice. The head chef, a small, bad-tempered but brilliant Italian, placed a metal spoon into a pan of boiling fat, took it out, and placed it straight on the back of my hand - I bear the scar to this day!

"You have been burned by boiling fat", said the Mussolini of the Kitchen, "Now you will take good care, that you will never be burned by boiling fat again." How right he was - but what a way to learn!

That is how things were in the "good old days". Nowadays the parents of the kitchen apprentice would rush off to the Police, have the chef arrested and taken to Court and charge with causing grievous bodily harm, or some such nonsense.

When you have undergone training as vigorous as existed pre-war, you do not forget readily all you have been taught and, despite having left the Hotel business thirty years ago, I venture to pen a few little tips- dredged from the innermost depths of my memory which may (or may not!) prove to be of some use.

1. To get that egg yoke just right and to avoid cracking the shell and losing egg white, just place the egg in cold water, bring to the boil, and allow to simmer for three minutes. If eggs are kept in a refrigerator it is better to take them out half an hour before you need to use them in order that they may gradually reach the temperature of the room. (In the boiling of eggs the shell sometimes cracks. This is due to the violent change in temperature causing the air inside the egg to expand too rapidly.)

2. To avoid tears when peeling onions, bite on a large crust of dry bread and breath through your mouth.

3. To make sure you get the best out of your herbs, do not chop them on a board as the board will absorb the juices. Use the bottom of an upturned dinner plate or, better still, snip them finely with a pair of scissors into a glass. What is not used will keep fresh if the glass is placed into a refrigerator.

4. If you wish your mashed potatoes to be really light, never mix with cold milk. Hot milk beaten into hot potatoes with a dash of baking powder or Bicarbonate of soda will ensure success. Incidentally, a piping bag will do wonders for your presentation.

5. To preserve your favourite frying pan in pristine condition (ALL chefs have a favourite frying pan, especially for omelettes), NEVER wash it in water. Wipe it - while still hot  with kitchen tissues. If necessary a small sprinkling of salt on the tissues will remove any stubborn crusting on the pan's surface. Finally a wipe with a fresh tissue on which you have placed a few drops of oil. Ideally, store your favourite pan in a brown paper bag. This will prevent rust as the paper absorbs the moisture and steam found in a kitchen.

6. To ensure your buttered (scrambled) eggs are done to perfection, use a porringer or improvise a form of double cooker. It is most difficult to judge the texture of the eggs if they are being cooked on a direct heat. A pan of water with an upturned dish placed in it will do for a double cooker and has the advantage of your being able to see how the water is boiling. Use for all egg bound mixtures and delicate sauces.


The Russians  as always  are advancing further claims of the longevity enjoyed by those who have the great good fortune to live under the benevolence of the Communist State.

The latest example is of a man who it is claimed, has attained the age of 110. When asked to what he attributed his long life, he  said it was due entirely to the fact that he had never touched drink, tobacco or women. When is he going to start living?

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