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'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!