Fine Living | Diary of a Somebody

Jacob Kenedy

The star chef battles with illness – and with the oven repair man

Jacob Kenedy

December 07 2011
Jacob Kenedy

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

It’s Tuesday, and I’m feeling miserable. I came down with something that felt like Ebola last night and didn’t sleep a wink. I am feeling sorry for myself, which I am very good at. I cannot handle food today – in any sense of the word; I cannot physically handle food at the restaurant (for fear of contaminating it if my affliction is contagious), nor can I handle eating it, nor even the thought of it.

What is more, I won’t be able to make up for yesterday’s missed gym session, and – woe is me - won’t be able to get out of work today. I have a very very important lunch meeting with someone who is only in the country for a day, about a potentially very exciting development for Gelupo (here, dear diary, I’m afraid I can give no more detail, for fear of compromising our prospects).

I decide to work from home in the morning so at least the dog can make me feel better as I type up the menus Alberto and I agreed on last night. There are a lot of them – four pages of restaurant menus and eight for the private dining room. I’m not in the best state to be thinking about food but, despite my condition, the work is almost making me hungry. It takes a couple of hours in all.

I head into work for 11am, attack the little pieces of paper that have been left on my desk for me, and have a meeting with my PA, Nathaniel, about maintenance (he organises all the small-to-medium jobs around the restaurant). We always have a running list of at least 20 items – locks to be fixed, bits of flooring that need repair, mirrors we want to install behind the bar, an oven that was supposedly fixed this morning but still apparently doesn’t work. We run a tight ship. I tell him to grab the oven repair people by the balls and get them back in today – it’s our busiest time of year, and I can’t afford to have one of only two service ovens out of order. I give a little love to Alec (GM, Gelupo) – he has been battling all morning to reconcile his invoices for last month (we close the accounts in a day or so) and from the look on his face it was a battle not easily won. I need him in a good state for our lunch meeting.

I am worried about lunch, for two reasons. First, and of greatest concern, I have shed about two kilograms in the past 12 hours and yet am on my way to Arbutus, a brilliant place, when just the thought of food makes me turn to jelly and I can’t even retain the smallest sip of water. Secondly, the meeting I am headed for is about an exciting prospect, but one for which I am a little ill-prepared – I am neither certain of my position (what I want), nor have I much idea about what my guest is after. He is slightly more in the “business” end of the food business than I, who am much more interested in the food itself than its commercial properties, and we each need to find out what the other is about. Fortunately he is a truly lovely guy – I’ve gotten to know him over the past three years at Bocca di Lupo as a regular customer, and his enthusiasm and humanity make for a pleasant business lunch. With some surprise, I also manage to eat my food (a rather yummy, and homely, dish of lamb kofte with chickpeas, followed by one of the more elaborate and glamorous renditions of a bouillabaisse I have yet to encounter) and then – miracle of miracles – keep it in. I am saved by the fact that my all-time-favourite, île flottante, is not on the menu today as Anthony Demetre’s is irresistible and would likely have been the straw to break my camel’s back.

I return to the office with the colour returning to my cheeks, and settle down to the afternoon’s work. I write next week’s rota for the kitchen, which is a particularly tricky one. I have 23 kitchen staff (out of a total of 50-odd staff at Bocca di Lupo, plus another 12 at Gelupo), and need to bear in mind their other commitments (four of the chefs are at the same time attending culinary college, one of the kitchen porters is simultaneously learning English and teaching capoeira, and all of them are entitled to a life outside work), as well as making sure that I have a strong, well-balanced and harmonious team on each shift. It is silly season now – Christmas spirit and all – and the main restaurant is packed out every shift, as is the private dining room. Next week we have 12 private functions – each of them large (for us, that is – the room has capacity for 30 comfortably), or complicated, or both. The rota takes a couple of hours.

I end my work day with a flavour meeting with Simon (kitchen and wholesale manager at Gelupo), planning some exotic ices that we will make later this week. We already supply the best Vietnamese in London (Viet Grill & Cay Tre) with some Viet-inspired gelati (Vietnamese coffee, coconut, Thai basil-white chocolate chip; coriander-milk chocolate chip) that are delicious and going down a storm – and they want more. We discuss the jackfruit, mung bean, durian (my stomach is turning again at the thought of this one), lychee and soursop flavours they’re after. It should be easy to get the goods, as we’re spitting distance from Chinatown, so we draft recipes for each one to try out on Thursday. The second point of discussion is Mexican flavours for another client we’re courting, which is just as fun – from mole poblano to cilantro sorbet and margarita granita we have dozens of ideas. We decide to develop six of them ahead of a client meeting next week.

It’s 5pm, and I think I’m done, ready to go home (much earlier than normal, yet today I feel I deserve it), but I get waylaid on my way out. The engineer who came to repair the oven for the second time today says he can’t do it as he’s been sent the wrong spare parts (again). I spend about half an hour in urgent discussion with him (service is about to start, and I need the oven for roast game birds and sea bream baked in salt). I am convinced that if he dismounts the thermocouple from X and realigns it with Y, and moves the pilot, it will work until the right part gets delivered. He’s not convinced. He wants to go home. I manage to convince him. He tries. It works. We both smile. Relief.

5:30pm, and I think I’m done, ready to go home. I get sidetracked by a chef who gently points out that he asked for Tuesday and Wednesday off on next week’s rota for a family engagement, and I gave him Monday and Tuesday off. He’s right. I’m an idiot. I fix it – 15 minutes to shuffle the kitchen round, rebalance the teams, reprint. 5:50pm and I think I’m done, ready to go home. I am arrested by a kitchen porter, who is busy trying to clean the wheelbarrow-load of Jerusalem artichokes delivered today by Clive (my mum’s partner) from his green-fingered brother’s garden. I tell him to soak them in water and go buy a better brush. He has reminded me that my mum is in bed with laryngitis and much sicker than even I thought I was, so I call her. I then take a quick look at the new cheese boards at Gelupo, which look marvellous, and give a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke soup at Bocca, and…

It’s 7:30pm, and I actually leave – I almost never make it out of here so promptly. I come home to my partner and our dog. I pour one a glass of wine, the other a can of pedigree chum. I heat up the soup I made yesterday from the larger porcini along with chestnuts and bacon. We settle down in front of the TV and waste a couple of hours, then early to bed. Just as I’m drifting off, I wake up with a start and try to type a text (without waking Victor, who’s trying to sleep beside me) to Alberto (who’s still at work) to leave a note to tomorrow’s chef – I managed to get hold of some fresh anchovies, some wigeon and some teal (all of which are like gold dust to me) which are coming in on Wednesday morning and need to go on the menu. Fortunately, for once work drifts from my mind as quickly as it barged its way in and I, in turn, am allowed to quickly return to my rest.