It all starts, as do so many lunatic ideas, with lunch. Because I had so much free time on my hands as a journalist I’d started a book club for local ex-pats and we met in my favourite local restaurant, La Grange de Labahou, in Anduze, Gateway to the Cevennes mountains.
We were discussing Toast – The Story of a Boy’s Hunger by Nigel Slater, and a right disappointing read it was too. And, interesting though the book club is, and good though lunch is (foie gras maison – well please, it was on the menu, what could I do? – fricassée de pintade au cidre, poire au vin) the best portion of the event came when I chatted with Isabelle about my upcoming inscription at Vatel, the big hotel and restaurant school in Nimes to further my dream of becoming a professional Chef.
Which, I told her, was going to cost a fortune – five grand a year and how am I supposed to earn a living at the same time? Well, erm, I added, I was wondering would it be possible to come here and work as a plongeur? Isabelle, who runs the front of house while her husband Franck cooks, laughs. I say I’m serious, I’d love to work as a washer-up in their kitchen if they’d have me, I very firmly believe in starting at the bottom and, come the glorious day when I get to run the People’s Kitchens at the palace formerly known as Buckingham, I don’t want to be ordering some former toff to scrape dirty saucepans if I’m not able and prepared to do the same myself. It turns out that they don’t actually need a washer-up, they already have one and he only comes in on Saturdays when they’re really busy, she says – the rest of the time Franck and Greg, his sous chef, wash up as they go along. But, suggests Franck, come along for a day a week and work here anyway, to see how you like it. Get a feel for the business and see if you like it before splashing out on the Vatel course.
Some short discussions later and it’s arranged: I’m to be given a foundation course in doing things in the kitchen Franck’s way in return for teaching them some basic English. Neat! So, says Franck, see you next Thursday, wear sensible, enclosed shoes, trousers that don’t matter (this doesn’t narrow down my wardrobe much) and I can borrow one of his sous chef Greg’s chef’s coats. Cool. What could possibly go wrong?