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Jim Fisher in flames!The kitchen can some times be a dark place! Inanimate objects can come alive and unimaginable things can go wrong. Disaster can strike at any time making any chef or enthusiastic cook go weak at the knees . . . enough to make a strong man use the F word or need a stiff drink to steady the nerves.

Below is one of those kitchen nightmares! Many thanks to Chef Jim Fisher who runs cooking holidays in France who contributed this one.

Jim Fisher is an English chef who runs relaxed friendly hands-on cooking courses in the Dordogne region of south west France. Contact him via: or Tel: 0033 (0)553 302405

Kitchen Nightmares of Jim Fisher:

About ten years ago, before we left the UK to set up our cooking holiday venture, we ran a company called Wine'n'Dine which specialised in providing dinner parties in clients' homes.

We would liaise with the host regarding menus, food preferences, wine, etc and turn up on the day with the wherewithal to cook the meal, serve it to the guests and clean up after ourselves. I would often be asked to present a demo of one of the dishes.

Well, on this particular evening, we turned up at a very beautiful barn conversion and set up in the kitchen. The barn itself was very old with cruck-framed trusses and wood panel interior. The kitchen, though, was brand new and hand made in oak.

Because this building was deep in the countryside with no access to mains gas the owners, our hosts, had put in a halogen hob. Now, at the time, I'd only ever cooked with gas, and, apart from the odd encounter with an Aga and some ancient electric ring-type cookers, had no idea what to expect.

So, there I was about to demo the pan-frying of a duck breast. With the host and her twelve eager guests arrayed in front of me and with my wife, Lucy, and Julia, our wine expert, looking on I placed the dry frying pan on to what I thought was a medium heat.

As I allowed the pan to heat up I glibly explained that professional chefs "oil the food, not the pan" and that domestic cooks should only put oil in an already hot pan so as to limit the fug of acrid smoke that would normally be the result.

Proclaiming the pan to be "hot, but not too hot" I splashed in some olive oil only to see the whole lot go up in a huge fireball that immediately engulfed the hand made oak cooker hood. It then continued up to the oak beamed ceiling across which it spread in the direction of the designer Shirley Conran linen curtains.

Whipping the pan off the heat merely served to redirect the flames into the central light fitting which exploded in a shower of tiny glass shards.

As I stood there, waiting for Lucy to dowse the flames with a damp tea towel I had time to observe the reaction of our host and guests. In seconds, a civilised group of interested and amused diners had turned feral and were scrambling over themselves for the door the path of which, unfortunately for them, lay directly through the conflagration.

Well, when the flames had finally died down and the smoke cleared the damage wasn't as bad as I had feared, but it wasn't until a week later, when the bill dropped through the letterbox, that I learnt just how expensive a bespoke oak cooker hood actually was!

Jim Fisher is an English chef who runs relaxed friendly hands-on cooking courses in the Dordogne region of south west France. Contact him via: or Tel: 0033 (0)553 302405

. . . there are more to come!

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Published 09 October 2007

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