WHAT SIMPLE EVENT CAN SPARK OFF a lifetime love affair? I was a junior scout, eight or nine years old, about to join the rest of the troop for a day’s tramp from camp. Before we left I passed the kitchen area where a Mother Help was preparing something in a large pot. The pot was full of raw meat and roughly chopped vegetables, topped with cold water. (Not the nicest sight with the bloodcoloured water and pieces of fat floating on top.) I asked what she was making, was told it was tonight’s tea, and wondered to myself what I could eat when we got back so I didn’t have to partake of that mess. About five hours later, hungry and nearing camp, I caught a wonderful aroma totally ruling the airwaves and was intrigued to find out what it was. Entering the kitchen area as I had that morning, I asked Mother Help what the wonderful smell was. She pointed to the large pot, now positioned over the fire. I approached with incredulity and looked in. She saw disbelief on my face and said, “Truly.” I remember stirring it and witnessing the amazing metamorphosis, “How did you do that?” Right then and there, my love affair with preparing food began.
One of the constants of life is if you bring 100 grams of butter to the boil, add 100 grams of flour and a litre of liquid, you end up with this amazing base sauce. It is a given, a constant, and never ceases to amaze me even after forty years. I am still learning, still loving the cooking business. It is, was, and I believe always will be a huge part of my life. I remember the sixteen to eighteen-hour days, twelve to fourteen was the norm. I remember working seven days a week for a year once. I remember smelling like a kitchen. (It takes about three months for the smell to totally leave your skin.) The heat, the sweat running down my forehead and into my eyes. The noise, the stress, the burns, the cuts, the chaos, the yelling etc. How could I miss this mess? This battlefield, this breaker of marriages, this breaker of men, the “short stories” (I’ll explain this later), the whole lot? For the rewards it gives instantly, daily, constantly.
I feel blessed to work in a profession that provides instant job satisfaction. You produce a sauce, a salad, or a pizza and, in minutes, you have your answer. You have transformed raw ingredients into something that will give you and someone else instant pleasure. It’s that simple; it’s not rocket science. My profession gives me adrenalin, a buzz, a daily rush—no matter how many customers stormed our battlements. Can we succeed by giving you our best food? Our best service? Will we survive to do it again tomorrow? Will we win or will there be total carnage that leaves us demolished, unsatisfied, depressed, and silent? I won’t let that happen today, but it will happen. Welcome to my world. I want to share with you over forty years of this magic and madness – laughter and sadness, successes and failures, the good times, the bad times. In these great days of people eating out more and being more discerning about food, drink, and service the majority of people still don’t understand what goes on behind the scenes. Part of the reason for this book is to spread an understanding of the magic and madness of the hospitality business. This book spans forty-four years, through nine countries, including thirty-two years of marriage to Stephanie (nee Smith, Timaru, New Zealand)—my wife, my soul mate, my lover, business partner, right hand, my front of house, my stabilizing influence, my drinking mate, my confidant, and my best friend. To family and friends, she is Sue.
Sue has had to put up with a lot over the years in this soul destroying business. We work, sleep, and play together; for a lot of couples, that is impossible. We are blessed to have survived and look forward to the next thirty-two years together. It hasn’t been all roses but it has been one hell of an interesting life. In this book there are a lot of missing names and we kick ourselves for not keeping a diary, but we have these memories. Exact dates and names aren’t important, just the memories. I must apologise to those that find bad language offensive as there are some expletives sprinkled throughout, but this is my world and if you want to experience it then there must be a little pain.