After passing my exam I carried on working at Les Agassins until the season ended in October, and then went on to become Chef de Cuisine (and plongeur, sous-chef, restaurant manager, sommelier and commis de rang) at Chalet Bertie for the winter season in Morzine. This was the year when there was almost no snow anywhere in the French Alps – apart from Morzine. So, it was a busy season both in the chalet and on the slopes.
I was responsible for everything to do with the kitchen, from menu writing, ordering and shopping to peeling the potatoes and serving the food. And taking the blame, although luckily there wasn’t much of that.
It was a nice step up from Les Agassins. I’d made the move into Personal Service, as we call it, on the advice of Steve and Caroline, two great friends and chefs from my days as a computer technologist at The Times as Dr Keyboard.
I had to do a number of trials and interviews, the first of which was very bizarre; when I got there it turned out there was already a chef in the job and the owner just wanted me to spy on him and work out if he was nicking stuff; the second one was for the job I accepted up in Morzine and was great – good people, unlimited food budget, I get to do what I want; the third trial was in a tiny flat near Chelsea Harbour for six, no seven, no make that 11 people. No we’re 10 now. Anyway, they loved the food and promised to get back in touch and let me know by the weekend. They never did, and nor did the agency which sent me up there – despite me sending them several e-mails. So don’t go looking at Alprecruit if you need a job.
I do recommend Natives. They found me this job and presented me for several which pay decent money – it seems that most people work up in the Alps because they want to go skiing, not because they want to cook. Well, a little skiing now and then will be very welcome, but cooking is what I went for.
After Morzine I worked in St Tropez in the Spring and then again in summer. For me, St Tropex is famous for traffic jams – one gigantic big one which just fills the town from end to end. I cooked for a private French family in their villa overlooking the town; mum, dad and a handful of kids, two other members of staff and a few visitors popping in here and there. Including the lady who’s now nanny to the children of Picasso’s grandson’s children. Which was kinda cool. And Jean-Jacques Goldman, who is World Famous in France. He sings, apparently.
I cooked for an English family up in the hills near Grasse for a few weeks in between St Tropez stints but missed being at home in Avignon. I carried on in the same vein through the autumn and winter, including cooking other people’s Christmas, New Year and other festive meals in three different countries in 20 days.
Then the next Spring came what promised to be a life-changing event and turned out to be just that, albeit in a different way than I’d hoped. I went to Ireland to work for a member of a very famous family – after a week cooking for an even more famous Irish dancer and his lunatic wife – on a trial, with the hope and expectation of it turning into a proper, full-time in-service job. I’d already done a weekend cooking for them after Christmas when they kindly flew not only me but Delphine, too, over to Dublin.
I worked for six weeks until the end of April when, on the 31st, Delphine announced that she was about to go into labour with our first child. I jumped on the next plane, arriving at home at six in the evening on the 31st, just in time to drive her to the clinic in Avignon at 2 am the next morning. Scarlett was born at 2 pm on the 1st. Good job I didn’t wait a day for a flight.
The next month was massive on many levels – new babies, it turns out, are pretty disruptive of your regular schedule. We were packing the house up to move back to Ireland, all three of us, when I found out that the old man’s staff weren’t actually planning on paying me any wages.
I’d got on fine with him but he employed at least one plain and simple evil witch. I managed to work out that because he was going to spend at least six months a year abroad for tax purposes, I’d be paid only for the six months when he was in residence. And that car that came with the job? Nope. Not yours. Oh, and no house either. So no wages, no car, no house and you’re living up a mountain in the middle of nowhere with a wife who speaks little English and a one month old baby. OK?
Erm, no. I had to sue them for the money they already owed me and travel back to Ireland for the hearing to get it. The lesson is, of course, Get It In Writing First, because other people simply don’t care about you and yours.
So, not a great experience. But it did mean we got to go on living in Avignon, and I found a job without much difficulty as a Chef de Partie des Entrées in another restaurant in Avignon, albeit one not up to the level of Les Agassins. No jobs going there, unfortunately.
That autumn we decided to move a hundred kilometres back west to be nearer Delphine’s family and landed in Sommieres, a really beautiful medieval town 45 minutes from the seaside. Finding a job turned out to be less easy this time, mainly I think because of my age and because I knew too much. But I was eventually hired as Second de Cuisine in the restaurant of a chain hotel in nearby Lunel, and that was OK. Apart from the mad chef, obviously. But hey. Goes with the territory.
Then in 2010 my old carpal tunnel syndrome problems flared up really badly and I had to give up cooking all together. I was off sick for six months, completely unable to work, and the government Medecin de Travail, the Employment Doctor, declared me officially Unfit To Work in Restaurant Kitchens Ever Again.
So, after a government-sponsored retraining and conversion process, I ended up teaching English. Now, I teach English and ‘Professional Culture’ to would-be hotel and restaurant managers at the world-class Vatel school in Nimes. It’s a great job and I love talking about the restaurant world to my students, who are studying for Bachelor and Masters Degrees in International Hotel and Business Management.
Delphine and I have a second daughter, Roxanne who’s now 4 – Scarlett’s 6 – and the French life with a papa who still loves cooking suits them very well.
Yes, I still cook. In fact I do all the cooking at home, and much of the washing up still. My favorite dish? One of the first I learned to make at Les Agassins all those years ago: a Trilogie – confit tomatoes, goat cheese and aubergines.
Plus ça change; my life is now, as it was then, all Eat, Sleep, Cook and, of course, School!