When I finished my apprenticeship in Toronto in 1988 I moved to Scotland. I'm not sure why. Maybe I thought it would be cool because The Jesus and Mary Chain were from there. Maybe because my family is originally Scottish, I wanted to check it out. I don't really remember, but when I was 21 years old I arrived in Glasgow with no friends, no money and no idea what was going on.
I quickly met some people in a psychedelic punk club called "Helter Skelter" on Sauchiehall St. and slept on their floor for a while until I found a job and a place to live. It only took a week or so before I was living in a bedsit in St Georges Cross and starting at my new position of Chef de Partie at the Central Hotel.
The Central Hotel is a large grandiose hotel built above Central Train Station in the heyday of Victorian train travel. The first day I was taken to the basements where there were changing rooms and a storage area. what I found was an amazing example of what professional kitchens were like in Escoffier's time. Obviously unused for decades, were room after room of giant wood fired ovens big enough to roast a whole cow. Iron chains and weird rotting wooden blocks were strewn about in rooms shin deep in black water. Soot stained stone passages would lead into pitch black areas where no one had been in living memory. I could imagine in the old days dozens of cooks boiling geese in cauldrons, stoking fires, making bread, and butchering pigs by gaslight with no ventilation or refrigeration. It was scary and amazing. I don't know if it's still like that, but it would make a great horror movie setting.
Upstairs were the modern kitchens where me and about 20 other chefs worked. I was assigned to the Carvery, a part of the kitchen which prepared the roasts and hot dishes for the evening buffet. This was a disaster from the start. In Toronto I had spent 2 years working in one of Franco Prevedello's first restaurants making modern Ital-Cal cuisine. Stuffing duck breast with shrimp and ginger, veal medallions with scallops, mako shark carpaccio with wasabi, that kind of stuff. Now I was in charge of cooking 6 kinds of roasts and hams everyday. I had no clue. I had never butchered and prepared large roasts in my life. Everyone spoke Glaswegian, not English, and used strange words like "gammon" and "capsicum". A Sous Chef tried to help me out for the first couple of days, but I was quickly moved to the Entremetier station. This is where things started getting ugly. Every morning the Head Chef would march into the kitchen flanked by his sous'.
" 2 soups and veg bouquetiere for 80 people room C at 2pm"
" 1 soup and veg bouquetiere for 50 people room A at 3pm"
" consume and veg bouquetiere for 175 people Main Ballroom 5pm"
It went on. Plus mise en place for the a la carte dinner service.
I was in charge of 3 apprentices, of which 2 were older than me. Because word had got around that I bombed on the Carvery, I was given no respect. Every time I turned they were in the receiving dock smoking. When I asked them to do something they'd reply " Shut yer geddy, ya fukin' trunk monkey" or something similar. I was always behind. The Sous Chefs yelled at me everyday. I was close to tears, and wondering why I ever came to Glasgow in the first place. Then I was moved to Garde Manger. An older woman ran the place and she told me I needed to make 900 Scotch eggs. I made about 300 before I was called into the Chefs office and fired. It was over... almost.
The day before one of the cooks had ₤50 stolen from his locker. 50 pounds was a serious amount of money in the 80's. A weeks wage for an apprentice. The head dishwasher called a meeting at 5pm in the basement to sort out what had happened. Mutterings and accusations ensued as we were individually called upon to explain where we were and who we thought took the money. I quickly realized several people were pointing the finger at me. I professed my innocence, but it was no use. I was a foreigner, and I had just been fired. It was a kangaroo court and I was going to get beaten. Luckily I had already changed. I slowly backed away while discussing the situation with the other cooks. When I saw my chance I bolted. "donae lit hem gettae wey!" someone shouted. I was running like a madman through the maze of basement hallways with the kitchen team in pursuit. I burst out of the employee entrance into the main reception area, and out the revolving front doors. I had escaped!
I never returned. A month latter I was working in Ullapool in a much smaller and friendlier place.
Recipe for Oat Crusted Scotch Eggs with Lingonberry
Scotch eggs are pretty simple to make. Just hard boil and peel some eggs, wrap in your favourite sausage meat, egg wash, bread and deep fry. I used a 50/50 mixture of panko and steelcut rolled oats as the breading on these ones. A mustard mayonnaise is traditional for dipping, but lingonberry jam is an interesting alternative that I think works great.
P.S. In case someone reads this who was working at the Central Hotel Glasgow in those days,
I didn't take the money.