December 09 2011
Yesterday was a good day, and today I am paying for it. It only cost me a hangover, but it is one that I find hard to shake. I fall out of bed late, wish I wasn’t working (my brain certainly isn’t), and rush in to work.
I arrive late – only by 10 minutes, but enough to fluster me. I really hate being late for anybody. When I make it through the door of Bocca di Lupo, my first meeting of the day is already here. It’s Franco from Natoora – one of our three main fruit and veg suppliers – and he has brought a box of goodies to try. That box is my salvation. We start by tasting two varieties of artichoke – Sardinian spiny ones, which are an absolute bugger to prepare as they lacerate you even as you look at them, and Tema, which are really good this year. We eat them raw, both are delicious, so I decide to start ordering the Tema and save my chefs’ skins. Next we have some tiny baby chard, which Franco suggests we slice thinly and dress with oil and Parmesan. I do. It is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted – that’s got to go on the menu too. I feel the minerals enter my bloodstream, and so begin to evolve from the troll I woke up as, into the man I prefer to be.
Jerusalem artichokes, chicories and a multitude of radicchios all work their magic, as do a couple of cured meats – coppa (cured pork neck, which will be on the menu in January), and lardo (cured back fat), which I sprinkle with grated walnuts. That particular combination (one of my favourites from my Bocca book) proves a revelation to Franco. We finish with a Tarocco orange from Mount Etna. It weighs half a kilo, and is a thing of joy. It’s early in the season so it hasn’t yet developed its signature blush, but by God it’s good. The mother of all oranges, cure for the mother of all hangovers. That was the best breakfast I ever had.
We finish at 11.30am, just in time for my next meeting, with our builder, to finalise the design of a new waiters’ and bussing station we are installing over the Christmas break. The old one served us well but is suffering after three years of high-intensity battering. I have exactly half an hour for the meeting and he turns up exactly half an hour late. It has to be postponed.
Next I have two hours with Alec, Gelupo’s GM, to talk about anything he wants to. He wants to talk about Christmas, so we do, and refine our plans for upcoming wine tastings, and review Christmas hamper sales. They are going well, the hampers look beautiful and feedback is that the contents are brilliant and the value great. We have scored! It might be the season’s must-have. Next we make plans for Valentine’s offerings, followed by Easter. At this rate, we’ll soon be planning Christmas 2012. I never enjoy planning so far ahead, as it spoils the surprise that each season has to bring, but it is an unfortunate necessity. We finish with an overview of our website, and webshop in particular. Two things to focus on: many visitors still don’t realise that we offer gelato for home delivery, which is a failing on our part – we do, UK-wide, and it is the main reason for the site’s existence; we also make a plan to reduce delivery charges – we already make a loss on the delivery, but think we’ve found a way to cut costs both to the customer and to ourselves. Hopefully everyone will win, without compromising on the service.
I retire to the office. I have been sent a photo of some prawns that look amazing. You know those cooked Atlantic prawns you get shell-on, that come as pints in pubs? Apparently on each of the boats that go out, they have a couple of Japanese guys who sort through them as they’re caught, and set aside the very best ones to freeze raw and send to Japan as the sweet prawns they use for sushi. My supplier has managed to get hold of some. The picture is beautiful. I print it off to put up in the kitchen. I also order the lot. Today is a good day for ingredients.
I spend the rest of my time before my last appointment of the day doing office stuff – keeping up with emails and so on. I’m much slower than normal; my hangover has returned. I manage to find time to sign a new consignment of Bocca cookbooks.
At 5pm I have a meeting with Simon and Nina at Gelupo, to work on new gelato flavours. We have to wear silly hats for our food safety procedures in the gelato kitchen, and I put mine on at a silly angle. Someone takes a silly photo of me. I am sure it will come back to haunt me. We spend two hours playing with gelato – I focus on unusual flavours today: tonka bean (a spice with a hypnotically meditative flavour), mole poblano, date and coffee. Yum.
I leave at 7pm at the request of Victor, who’s already home. My journey back is grim – windy, rainy, dark and depressing. When I finally make it to the porch, with Christmas lights shining out of the kitchen window and a waft of warm air as the door opens, I feel a relief usually reserved for the pub at the end of a long country walk. The dog is especially fluffy today – he just had a bath, and has a love affair with the hair dryer. I give him a cuddle. Victor suggests we eat out. Hooray! We decide to go to the Canton Arms because (a) it is just fantastic and (b) it is practically next door. The dog howls as he always does when we set the alarm. We are at the Canton for a long while – the staff are so lovely, the food is great (today especially the terrine, the warm smoked herrings with lentils and chopped egg, the grilled plaice, and the treacle sponge) and the drinks equally so (we always have a white Rioja, Vetiver, which costs just over £20 and tastes like £50). The bottle is empty. Victor has a glass of chilled red to help him through, and then an Armagnac. I mull a pint of ale. At last, the hair of the dog that is the answer to my hangover.
All evening we have managed to avoid talking about work too much, and so are in good spirits. We go home and listen to silly music on YouTube, and try to learn the words to The 12 Days of Christmas. No matter how hard we try, we can’t get beyond “five gold rings”, but we do manage to sing very loudly in the end. Our neighbours don’t complain. They must be deaf. At 11pm, we head to bed and continuing chatting for an hour or so more. I’m not quite sure what time I fall asleep. For some reason, I have quite hectic dreams involving fluffy pet dogs, chases across fields and garden fences, and disturbing rearrangements of human anatomy. I probably need help…