Meeting a hero – kids I hope you get to meet one of yours.
The stars aligned, after two years of trying, the wonderful Mrs R Sehji, responsible for food technology at Westlake Boys, arranged for top chef Peter Gordon to visit the school. Now I am not normally the gushy fangirl type, particularly in the personality chef world, but I was beside myself at the announcement. Not all were so impressed however and my spontaneous bursts of, OMG Peter Gordon is coming; I love his food, have you heard about Peter Gordon’s visit? drew blanks. My excitement continued with demanding questions as I handed my captors their lunch; are you looking forward to hearing what Peter Gordon has to say? Have you got his latest book? All this with my general jumping up and down on the spot with fast hand clapping was met, mostly with bewilderment and always with a suspicion that I needed more sleep.
By chance, I was privy to the confirmation of his visit and was asked casually if canteen would make morning tea for him, ‘yep no problem’ was my nonchalant reply with an ‘easy’, thrown over my shoulder as I left the building and ran fist pumping back to the kitchen. My breathless announcement to the girls that I would be making morning tea for the great Peter Gordon was met with isn’t he the Kiwi Chef and a silent thought of yeah whatever I just want to clean down and go home.
oh yes I remember I cracked my tooth on that buckwheat.
Undeterred I continued ‘you know, some of the salads I make are his, you remember the eggplant one right, with roasted buckwheat that you tasted?’ again a lukewarm response, oh yes I remember I cracked my tooth on that buckwheat. Sigh, anyway I was excited.
I drove straight home and visited the local bookstore and asked for Peter Gordon’s latest cookbook, the lady behind the counter looked up smiled and said you already have that one, I argued the point so she looked it up (I have an account) yep she confirmed, in fact, you bought two copies. I left and she thought that girl needs more sleep and I wondered if I could ever go back there again. Ok, after pouring over hundreds of ideas, I decided to keep it simple and put up what I would be serving in the canteen for the staff using whatever looked good in the veggie shop that week. After all, he was visiting a school and there ain’t no stars here love.
I calmed down and carried on, as I am always being advised in various formats, with my week churning out pasta bakes and butter chicken by the kilo. A quick confirmation by me of numbers at the beginning of the next week was met with a
‘Oh sorry I have gone to outside caterers’
………………………Nooooooooooooo, but you asked me first, was my inside response, a calm, but squeaky, ‘oh’ came out. It then went like this.
‘Actually, they have not got back to me.’
Me ‘ gasp, please let me do it, pleeeeeeeeeeas, let me do it please, I can do it, I won’t let you down, I love Peter Gordon, I have his books, please can I do it, I am qualified, please……please.’
She was overwhelmed
‘Please…….please…..It would make me so happy’
She looked into my eyes
‘I won’t let you down’
smaller this time fading….’please?’
‘OK, it’s for 15 at 11oclock, after all, they have not got back to me.’ She left and I realised I had for the first time truly begged for something and probably just bullied my way into this gig.
Let me explain…This man is my hero, he goes about his trade with a gentle strength, a real desire to share a different way to play with flavors, he cuts the trail that we can follow. He advocates healthy eating, incorporating more grains, vegetables, less protein based foods and swerving dairy and gluten, in short, he has made salads sexy. He had me with his book Salads, the new main course, look it up published early 2000 I think, and his new book Savour brings a new modern vibe, nothing fancy, just awesome flavour combos which make me think, why didn’t I think of that, the ingredients were right there. He has experimented with food from around the globe and throws them into one big salad bowl, enough from me, go buy the book.
So the day arrives, the butternut squashes were big, plump and cheap so I made
Membrillo and stilton quiche – thank you M. Ottolenghi, another genius
Pumpkin, spinach and cranberry filo
Red onion scone – tastes better than it sounds
Home baking; some lovely cumin crackers and pumpkin humus, with local cheeses, cured fruit and nuts.
I vied with chicken tenders and burgers for space in the oven, made normal service chaotic with my stress, mess and doubts, sweated, burnt and swore through six hours of work but made it.
I opted for a grazing table and crossed my fingers. Then the fire alarm went off. Seriously. Boys.
Canteen got on with serving the boys the normal burgers, chicken chill rolls, hot dogs, pasta bake, chicken, homemade cookies, muffins, wraps, sushi….and while we were getting ready for the lunch service we saw through the window in food tech block the great man or was it? There was much speculation on our part as there were lots of tall men in chef’s jackets. It did not matter as I had brought my book in and had been told that I could get it signed at 1 pm. I was happy as I washed the dishes, then horror I saw him walking away from the building, disappearing. He is going, oh no he is going I panicked and rushed out of the kitchen, wet hands, red face dirty cloth in hand, and calling you cannot go, you haven’t signed my book yet, I caught up with the little group and thumping Chef Gordon on the back I puffed don’t go, my book, my book. All turned. Silence. Err we are just going to the library for the book signing. Peter looked scared and started walking to the library I slumped back to the dishes.
The time came, We met I gushed he was great, generous, humble, did I mention great, I got my book signed. Happy, happy happy. Oh and the morning tea.
YOU ARE LOVELY CHEFxx