Due to the success of Stokey Secret Suppers over the last year, I felt it was time to move into the world of food – full time! So I handed my notice in at my job in the city and I approached Johnnie Mountain (From Great British Menu fame!) who runs The English Pig restaurant in the City of London and told him my secret supper story, my ambitions to run some sort of dining establishment and how I wanted to gain restaurant experience – To my delight he said he would give me some work in his kitchen and teach me all I need to know!
Two days before I started at The English Pig I got some experience in a kitchen at a Disappearing Dining Club event in Shoreditch. This included preparing and cooking food with two great chefs: Fred and Christian. Even after I burnt some plastic bags to a plate warmer and stabbed Christian in the hand I still got thanked my for help at the end of the night! This gave me a great bit of experience in a kitchen before starting with Johnnie.
I turned up at the English Pig with my knives sharpened (too sharp in fact!) and a new pair of chefs clogs ready for action! I was put to work straight away in the kitchen making a chicken liver pate (which was later put on the menu as “Stokey’s Chicken Liver Pate”)
The rest of the day was spent learning the different stations around the kitchen and the main pass where all of the food is plated up and served via the front of house staff. During lunch and dinner service I stood by the side and watched what was happening to get an idea of how it all works. Day one was complete and I felt a little tired with my body not being used to standing up all day!
Johnnie decided that the best way for me to learn was to throw me in at the deep end – so on day two I was promoted from Commis Chef to Head Chef! – I was to run service – gulp! My task was to take all of the orders from the waiters, call them to the chefs in the kitchen and plate all of the food up and get it out via the waiting staff to the customers. This is normally the role of the head chef in the kitchen, so I was very excited but also anxious about this task! Thankfully this all went well and the 25 customers were happily fed that evening.
It must have gone well as Johnnie decided that on day three I should run the pass and run the grill section as well. This involved cooking fish/chips/sausages/gammon/sardines/asparagus/mash as well as running the pass! Johnnie said “This is the fast track course to becoming a head chef!” Too right!
By day four I was starting to get really tired, cheffing is bloody HARD work! My legs were unsure why I was standing up for 12+ hours a day!! That evening we had 40 booked in and we were expecting at least another ten walk ins! So the pace in the kitchen was picking up. Half way through service at about 8.30 (probably the busiest time in any dinner service) I panicked, got stressed, made a few errors, started spilling things and then the errors started to spiral. Johnnie came to the rescue and got me to calm down, I was so eager to impress that I was rushing too much. I took some deep breaths, calmed my self down and got back to it, plating up a table of 9 with 5 different dishes! Smooootttthhhhhhly done!! Back on track!
Saturday was on the horizon! Johnnie has recently run a Groupon deal and the bookings were in the thousands! So he had decided to open on Saturdays to cope with the demand. We had around 80 people booked in for the Saturday dinner service! And I was to run the show again! After a week in the kitchen I was even more tired, but I think my body was starting to get used to the work!
Saturday came and we were ready for action. 50 of the bookings were from 8.00 to 8.30pm. It was a crazy service, from 7.30 till 9.00 we were going flat out! We ended up serving 74 covers! That’s over 200 plates of food! I nearly burnt some sardines, nearly gave the waiters wrong orders, nearly put the wrong food on the wrong plates and I nearly cracked under the pressure, but I held together and thanks to Johnnie and Scooby Steve we managed to pull through and serve all the customers on time with the correct food!
So my first week at the English Pig was a great success, what a great feeling. I can’t thank Johnnie enough for the opportunity! It feels so good when you put in so much hard work (and it was tough work) and achieve something great! Johnnie came over to me after the last main course went out on the busy Saturday and shook my hand and said “You’ve been a great help Tom, you have got us out of the sh*t!”
Now Johnnie wants me to create a new dish each week for the menu! Here we go again!