Being asked to do a trial for position of ‘Head Chef‘ for a high profile client in Tuscany was never going to be easy as they had chosen to have a tasting dinner with 10 Asian ‘amuse’ courses.
During my years of experience I had learned that if you see something you like to cook with somewhere, buy it as you never know if you will get it in the next place where you need it.
Japan had just had the devastating tsunami and here I was in London after being given last minute flights to Tuscany, running around all the Japanese stores trying to buy provisions to take with me. The stores were all low on goods due to the crisis, but I bought what I could and anything that could be frozen I froze.
The following day I flew to Florence and was beside myself on arrival to find my suitcase full of goodies did not turn up on the carousel. The Italian man at luggage claim tried to appease me by saying it would be sent to my hotel, but he didn’t seem to understand I wasn’t staying in a hotel. I was to travel on to somewhere unknown, to perform the daunting task of pleasing these owners whom I knew nothing about and never met, so that I might get to work for them as their private chef on their new superyacht based in the Mediterranean.
Thankfully my suitcase turned up that evening. In the morning I walked to the local markets wishing I had learnt Italian as well as French as the Italians here were mostly the older generation and did not speak English so after an entertaining session of charades at every stall I managed to get tuna, lobster, wagyu beef, scallops, prawns and all the other ingredients I knew I was not going to find in the local shop in the hills of Tuscany.
The stallholders so excited at the money I had spent helped me into an eager taxi who wasn’t so eager once we got on our way and I told him where I wanted to go. He said he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian and neither did he know where I wanted to go……GREAT!!!!
I called one of my sons in England on the journey and said….hey ive got an awesome idea for a T.V. programme……kind of like “the great amazing race” but for chefs….
It was a fair while after my arrival at the winery that the penny dropped, and I realised that the lovely humble people who had met me on arrival dressed in jeans and wellington boots were in fact THE owners of the boat I was trialling for. The daughter was so excited to let me cook in her brand new house that literally had the brand new aga stove still wrapped in plastic…. There was not even a dishcloth in sight…
They told me to ask the farm manager for anything I needed and so all day this lovely German lady ran tirelessly from the big house to “my house” providing everything possible to finally get a 10 course dinner on the table for 4 people.
Half way through the day I needed some red wine for my jus for the beef dish and the manager came totting across the cobbled yard with a beautiful crystal wine glass full of red wine. In her broken English she told me she had put extra so I could try their latest wine which she seemed very proud of.
I said …”oh no I never drink when I’m working”, but then I thought about how stressed I was and how my day was panning out and I thought you know what “today I do”!!! I took a sip and then another sip and by the time the principal walked in I saluted him with the wine and said “buenissimo” which I knew was Spanish but with my frayed nerves it was all I could think of at the time!!!
The rest of my afternoon was definitely more relaxing!!!
To my disbelief they wanted me to serve the dinner right there in that kitchen at the small oval table, with silver cutlery and gold plates literally plonked on the table and not a waitress or stewardess in sight.
I was beyond stressing by then and when “mum” arrived minutes before dinner and announced it was the Principal-s birthday. Instead of falling apart I decided to do something of a last minute special.
Dinner went swimmingly, course after course, they chatted and laughed and cleaned every plate. When it came to desert I broke out into song and sung Happy Birthday in English to the Russian Principal.
The daughter jumped up and said “we love you, we love your food, we love you, you have the job”…..
I was dumbstruck……speechless…….did I really want this job?…….did I want to work for people who took me to an Italian country to do a 10 course Asian dinner with 12 hours notice, who expected me to find my way to the middle of nowhere with a strange man I never met driving a car he didn’t know where he was going. To work with little or no equipment to produce Michelin star food?
I flew back to England and joined them on their boat a week later. I loved the family, things never changed in fact they got more unbelievable by the day, minute to minute changes, second to second changes, but I loved it, I felt alive!
Would I do it all again????? Of course I would!!!!!!