Date : 1977
I was a fresh faced apprentice straight out of Hotel
School. A seventeen year old away from home for the
fist time, in a strange land, with a strange language
. . . that I did not speak. My college Chef had organised
a two year apprenticeship for me and sent me away
to his homeland. He had made sure my first year was
in a small spa hotel in a small village, so I could
become gently acclimatised and learn the culture,
the food and the language.
was three months into my apprenticeship and had picked
up some basic language, enough to get me by. The kitchen
was run by a colossus of a man, Herr Otto, who I always
fondly remember for his huge hands and stubby fingers
which always seem to get waved at me for doing something
wrong! His hand and wiggling finger always reminded
me of a cows udder, it was that big, that chubby and
those fingers that stubby.
rest of the brigade were made up of, a German Sous
Chef, a German Saucier, a French Entremetier, an Indian
Patisserie Chef, a Fraulein dietician and a splattering
of German lehrlings (apprentices). An eclectic, international
bunch if ever there was one. They taught me a lot
. . . about food and about life
nightmares were two a penny to me back then. I seemingly
was always in the wrong and screwing up. Like fetching
my chef a loaf of bread instead of a chopping board
. . . well he did always talk to me half in German
and half in English and the German for board is brett!
kitchen nightmare is not of the usual sort. But as
a seventeen year old away from home in a foreign land,
longing for some company, it was a kitchen nightmare
for me. I had been trying to chat up and ask out a
young waitress, whose name long escapes me. During
services, I chatted and flirted and seemed to be doing
well. The clincher I thought would be to buy her something
nice. So one day, during the four hour break we got
in the middle of our split shift, I went out shopping.
bought her a nice little ornament as I knew she was
into glass cats of all things. With it nicely gift
wrapped I started evening service with it safely tucked
away, ready for the right moment if it presented itself.
To my surprise towards the end of service she came
to chat to me, the signals were right and the timing
seemed right. I retrieved the package and was in mid
sentence, when I realised I didn't know the German
for 'present'. Thinking quickly I substituted the
English word . . . in my head I was saying "I
have a present for you".
habe eine gift for dir."
turned and almost ran back to the restaurant. How
very strange! Meanwhile my fellow German trainees
were in side-splitting laughter, just what I needed
when I had been spurned and humiliated.
was I supposed to know that the Germans also used
the word GIFT and that it means POISON!
never did get that date and I still have that cat!
TRY THIS AT HOME!
Same country, same time, same kitchen . . . it was
discovered that a light sprinkling of chilli powder
on the hotplate (we had the typical gas stoves
with solid tops) would not only light up like
sparklers when sprinkled, but also caused invisible
fumes that got into the lungs and made you cough like
an old coal miner.
A common trick when things were quiet and we got bored.
As these things do, it started to get too frequent
and out of hand, with sprinklings becoming heavier
and heavier . . . just how much could be used?
We found out when an over the top dose was used and
the coughing got REALLY uncomfortable and caused eyes
to burn. No problem, we would just whack up the extractor
unit and clear the air before Herr Otto, the Head
Chef, and the team arrived and caught us.
What was not realised was that the extraction unit
was connected throughout the Hotel. End result? Total
evacuation . . . guests coughing, spluttering and
lots of burning eyes. Oh, and a bunch of innocent,
angelic trainee chefs, asking "What's happening?"
. . there are more to come!