A far cry from five star treatment

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

Hotel employee’s stay at a five-star hotel is a far cry from the pampered treatment that a guest would expect to receive. Given the nature of my work, I have travelled around the world and put up at the hotels I was working at. While I have enjoyed most of my travel experiences, I have often been amazed by the envious looks from those who imagine me being pampered at a five-star hotel. These people never imagine the lack of privacy I have to put up with, when everything I do as a senior manager is scrutinised by the entire staff of the hotel.

When you’re single, tongues will start wagging if the chambermaid picks up on any lingering scents of perfume or if a solitary strand of hair longer than yours, is found on the pillow. Or it may even be a private letter that the staff found or read. You can also count on your private affairs being circulated as gossip, until the details are distorted beyond recognition. Nobody ever truly fathoms the degree of access that hotel staff have to me, and how I’m often at their mercy. Staying near hotel guests can tax my patience too.

Did I ever tell you about the time when I was working on Bintan island, Indonesia? I was at a new resort hotel that was opening over the weekend. The room next to mine was occupied by a young couple who was celebrating their first anniversary in style. Being next to them meant having to put up with the young man playing football in the room, with his wife cheering his every move, especially when he scored a goal. What was particularly annoying was that the connecting door between our rooms was being used as a goal area. After a while, the din from the ball slamming into the door got on my nerves.

I decided to go for a walk, hoping the game would be over by the time I returned. As I stepped out of the room, I saw some hotel guests in the corridor, drawn to the couple’s bedroom door by the commotion inside. I was returning from dinner when I spotted a chap trying to open his room door. He was shouting and kicking it as if it would magically open if he got angry enough and kicked with enough vigour. “Excuse me sir, as this is an inanimate object, it may not react to your frustrations,” I volunteered. “I, on the other hand, may be of some assistance to you if I may offer it.” “Who the heck are you?” he retorted. “I am the executive chef of the hotel, sir,” I said. “If you are the chef, why are you not wearing your uniform?” he asked indignantly. “Contrary to popular belief, chefs do in fact get some time off,” I replied calmly, trying not to get annoyed with him. He took a second and then announced in frustration, with one last kick of defiance at the door: “I can’t get this blooming door open.” “Sir, I’m not a technical person nor do I possess any psychic powers. But I can tell you why the door will not open.” “Okay then clever clogs, why don’t you fill me in with your worldly vision and tell me why it won’t open?” “Because this is my room, sir.” He stared at me for a second and looked at the number on the door, then the key card packet. “Stopped off on the wrong floor, have we?” I said politely. “Goodness, this hotel is absolutely hopeless! No proper signage or anything!” he shouted as he stormed off.

I shrugged it off and entered my room, hoping that it would be the last bit of excitement for the evening. I decided to take a shower and turn in early as I was expecting a challenging day ahead. As I switched off the light and closed my eyes, I heard people outside my room and could hear someone with a key, trying to unlock the door. The porter, using his master key, managed to open the door and calmly walked into my room, turned on the lights and started to detail the amenities in the room.

“Your bathroom is over here, sir,” he started out. “The remote for the television is here and please take note that it will not work anywhere else other than in this hotel.” As he kept on going, I sat up in bed, crossed my arms, anticipating their surprise when they would finally notice my presence. I felt as if I was in a bizarre training video that was going terribly wrong. It seemed like a great scene from Fawlty Towers or something straight from a new reality TV show.

The Japanese guest turned around and when he saw me, the look of shock and horror on his face was side-splitting. When the porter turned around and turned pale as he saw me in bed, I started howling with laughter. The whole scene turned more hilarious, as I watched them retreat – the porter apologizing profusely and the Japanese guest making rapid bows in courtesy and bewilderment. As they left my room and I tried again to settle in, the phone rang. “Hello, is that Chin ah?” came a male voice. “No, I’m sorry you have the wrong room,” I calmly responded. “How about Mrs Chin then?” “No, there’s no Mrs Chin either,” I retorted, as my humorous mood evaporated. “Ah, ok, How about Chin’s girlfriends from you know where?” “No, she’s not here either. No Ms Chin or Master Chin – any more guesses?” I blurted out impatiently. “Uhh, what about his maid, then?”

That was when I lost it completely. “Let me put it in the simplest terms – I can 100% confirm that there is no Mr Chin here nor a Mrs Chin, nor any of Chin’s concubines, relatives, friends, enemies, descendants. Nor even anyone with a name that resembles the Chin clan. The only person in this room right here and right now is me and my name is Michael ‘blue in the face’ Saxon!” My heart was pounding and I was on the verge of hyperventilating when he responded with: “Oh, you are Ang Moh ah?” My fist was clenched so tightly that my knuckles were turning blue. But I gently placed the handset back to its resting place and went into my mediation mode. Just as I managed to calm myself down, the phone rang again. “Look, there is no blooming Chin here, OK? If you call again, I will smash the phone against the wall and you will not be able to disturb me with your ‘Is Chin there ah?’ nonsense, do you understand?!” I yelled down the phone, unable to contain my fury. “Is that you, Mr Saxon?” asked the startled housekeeper. “Would you like me to call a doctor, sir?” “A straightjacket might be needed if I cannot get any peace in this forsaken place which is supposedly a five-star hotel. Anyway, what the heck do you want now?” “I just wanted to know what time you would like the roll-away bed you ordered, to be delivered.”

“It must be a full moon here tonight – it would seem that the moon’s gravitational pull has drawn all the liquid away from your brains, causing it to dry out so go take a shower. Hopefully, that will restore your senses.” “So, you don’t want it then?” “You know that I live here by myself, you twit! What the heck would I want with a roll-away bed?

“However, the way my night is going, I am expecting Mr Chin to knock on my door any second now so please keep that bed on stand-by,” I muttered, drifting off to sleep as I replaced the receiver. Just as I settled into dreamland, the phone rang with the front office assistant enquiring: “What time does breakfast start, chef?” As tears welled up in my eyes, I could only muster: “Check the room compendium! (the comprehensive list detailing the hotel’s operations)” As I replaced the receiver, I heard, to my chagrin, the front office assistant saying: “Oh, I wish I had thought of that.”

Unfortunately, staff often assume that senior managers who stay at the hotel don’t ever sleep so they think nothing of calling at ungodly hours. The unlimited access they have to us is taken for granted.

So the next time you hear a hotel employee say that he’s staying at a five-star hotel, banish the idea that he will be pampered as a guest. The total lack of privacy, freedom and even cooking facilities totally outweighs the comforts of a complimentary room in a five-star hotel. Now I live in my own house, I can honestly tell you that my wife Beatrice and I are, for once, enjoying the cleaning, cooking, ironing and gardening…at least for now!

Chef Kasdi’s Sweet Potato and Prawn Spaghetti

Chef Kasdi’s Sweet Potato and Prawn Spaghetti

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of Spaghetti

Stock:

  • 800 g Whole prawns
  • 2 liter Chicken or beef stock
  • 300 g Yellow/orange Japanese sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in to chunks
  • 3 tbsp Dried shrimps, soaked in warm water then ground
  • 5 tbsp Chili powder
  • 5 tbsp Tomato puree
  • 150 g Shallots, peeled and ground
  • 5 cloves Garlic, peeled and ground
  • 5 tbsp Thai Fish Sauce
  • 1 packet/100gm Fish Balls
  • 1 pc/80gm Fish cake
  • 3 pcs Sponge Bean curd, cut to small size

Garnish:

  • Hard Boiled Egg
  • Julienne Red Chili
  • Green Onion
  • Chili Oil – optional
  • Lime – optional

Method:

  1. Boil the spaghetti to al dante in salted water, then drain, rinse it in cold water to stop carry over cooking.
  2. To make the sauce: Clean the prawns, then blanch them in hot chicken/beef stock for about 10 minutes, then drain. Keep the stock and set aside. Peel the prawns, keep the shells, put the shells back in to the stock, simmer them for another 10 minutes. Then strain, let the stock cool and discard the shells.
  3. Peel and wash the sweet potato, boil them until cooked and then puree them until they become a smooth paste.
  4. Pre heat a pot with oil, sauté the ground shallots and garlic till fragrant and then add the ground dried shrimps.
  5. Once the paste is slightly brown add the tomato puree and dried chili powder, if you like your stock more spicy you can add a little more chili powder. Sauté until fragrant and the tomato puree changes color, pour over the stock and sweet potato puree, let it boil, then add in the fish balls, fish cake and sponge bean curd. Then add in the Thai Fish sauce and adjust the seasoning to taste.

Assembly:

Place the cooked spaghetti in a bowl, pour over the sauce, then arrange the peeled prawns and hard boiled egg. Sprinkle with red chili and green onions. If you choose to you can add some squeezed lime juice and drizzle some chili oil over the top for some extra kick.

Happy Cooking!

Babysitting brutish blokes

There is nothing worse for an expatriate than having to deal with misbehaving tourists from his home country…

Did I ever tell you about the time when I was working in Penang? It was during the Asian economic crisis and the resorts were doing better than ever due to the devaluation of the ringgit against major currencies, which made it cheaper for foreigners to travel to Malaysia. Tourists from Britain who would normally only travel to nearby Spain, could now afford to travel much further, thanks to the strength of the pound. Unfortunately, some of them had not travelled abroad much and would behave atrociously while on vacation.

I will never forget the day when a couple of Yorkshire blokes showed up for a four-day stay. I was very busy in the kitchen when the general manager called me to meet him by the pool. When I arrived, there were two burly fellows sitting in the pool on bar stools. “They’re a bunch of your lot, Saxon. So I have nominated you to take care of them during their stay,” said my boss. I could not believe my rotten luck! Having to babysit these clowns was going to be a pain in the neck, to say the least. As I pondered how I was going to manoeuvre myself into a United Nations position of peacekeeping, one of the tattooed twits shouted out: “Nice knockers, darling!” to one of the passing beauties that caught his attention. I slowly closed my eyes, took a deep breath and took the challenge head on. “Excuse me sir, let me introduce myself as Michael Saxon, the executive chef here,” I started out. “And to my dismay, I have been nominated as your part-time chaperone”. “For your first lesson on cross-cultural relations, I would like to bring to your attention the slight indiscretion that you have just committed. The use of the words ‘knockers’, ‘jugs’, ‘watermelons’, ‘papayas’ or any other word to describe any part of a lady’s anatomy in public, is frowned upon and continuing to utter such insults may just land you in jail. Therefore, unless you desire a couple of nights of free accommodation at the local police station, I would advise you to refrain from shouting obscenities at passers-by.” As I waited for their reaction, I noticed that both had blank looks, which made me worry that this was going to be even harder than I had thought. “So what you are trying to say is that we should just drink our beer and keep our comments to ourselves – is that right, Cookie?” I hesitated for a second before responding. “You’ve got it, big guy. I can see that you are very tuned in and can take subtle hints. By the way, my name is Mike.” As I was walking away, he retorted: “Sure thing, Cookie.” I heaved a long sigh. These guys just had to turn up when the hotel was at its busiest.

That night, I saw the two Neanderthals leaving the premises. I was secretly hoping that they had decided to check out earlier but no such luck. “Going out for dinner, gentlemen?” I enquired. “Firstly, we did not want to tackle the slop that you call dinner. Secondly, you will probably scold us anyway but we are going out to see if we can find some nice, ripe watermelons.” “Be careful where you eat,” I shouted out after them. “It may be a little cheaper, but always remember: you get what you pay for!”

The next morning, they did not show up as early so I thought that they either had too much to drink or had been up late. When they finally showed up, they were looking pale and were heading sluggishly towards the restaurant. “Top of the morning to you two fine gentlemen. What can I do for you this morning?” I greeted them. “Drop dead – that would be a start,” snorted one guy. “We have terrible food poisoning after eating at a street hawker stall. Do you have any Lomotil?” “Actually, I don’t. What I do have is a little more of my slop. Fried slop, to be precise. Like I said, you get what you pay for and now, unfortunately, you’re still paying for it.”

After I gave them some Imodium to calm their stomachs, they wandered down to the beach to sleep off their upset tummies. After a couple of hours, I noticed that they were getting a little red around the edges. I went over to tell them to rub on some sunblock but realised that it was too late. I visualised them undressing and how they were going to have another large tattoo, white in colour and in the shape of the singlets they were wearing.

At least they were smart enough to take off their sunglasses before lying down. Walking around the resort looking like raccoons with red sunburn marks and white circles around their eyes would have been a dead giveaway. With well-chosen dinner shirts and gallons of after-sun balm, they would still be able to hide the fact they had never seen the sun before. In any case, I decided I would discreetly announce that they were actually Australians from the Gold Coast, where getting lobster red sunburns was the weekend norm.

They meandered over for some lunch and ordered a couple of portions of (surprise, surprise!) fish and chips. Laurel motioned me over to their table, passed me his bread roll and, as if to tell me that it was not fresh, declared: “Feed this to the birds.” Hardy, on taking a sip of the complimentary glass of red wine I had given them, asked: “Is this your blood?”

These guys really were too much! They deserved the few sleepless nights of stinging and itching that were coming to them once their bad sunburn kicked in. So here they were, little-travelled Brits on the holiday of a lifetime, sun-burnt, diarrhea-ridden and with a permanent hangover they could talk about for years with their mates down at their local pub. Their ultimate act of stupidity was yet to come that evening. After over estimating their alcohol tolerance, they were on their way back to the hotel after visiting a nightclub to sneak a peak at (and, I’ll bet, offend) the local talent. On hearing toads croaking in the deep storm drains at the roadside, they wandered over to find out who the noisy culprits were. Upon doing so, they had walked too close to the edge and fell in headfirst while clutching on to each other’s shoulders.

The following morning, they looked like they had been in a terrible fight or a major car accident – they could have passed off as extras from a Stephen King horror movie. Both had deep, stitched up gashes on their faces and one had a broken nose. “As this is your last night, gentlemen, and you have obviously had the time of your life, I will buy you dinner,” I announced. “The local talent gave you some problems last night, did they?” I couldn’t resist asking. “Blooming storm drains – it should be illegal to have them. They are death traps!” muttered one of them. “What are we having for dinner tonight, Cookie?” asked the other. “How about frog’s legs?” I offered, with a smirk. The following morning as I helped them place their luggage in the trunk of the airport limousine, I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for them. I signaled for them to roll down the window and I engaged in some parting conversation which ended with, “Come back soon”. My sympathy for them, however, was short-lived. As they were pulling away, one of the louts held his hand out of the window and stuck out his middle finger. An expression of “affection” from yet another satisfied customer, who for once, I hoped would not be returning soon.

Lasting impressions on our children

I read in a magazine that even picking up kids late from school on a regular basis can have a negative and long lasting impression on children and should be avoided when ever possible. As I was reading this article I could not help but think that the writer was overreacting somewhat and thought to myself how Alycia, my 9 year old, was so happy to see me when I showed up late, not a frown or angry look in sight. A few days later when I picked her up, I decided to have a slow drive home and get involved with some idle banter on the subject and at the same time get her opinion.

As I asked her how her day had gone and when I received the customary “ok”, I moved on to the main gig, “you know sweetheart” I started out, “when I arrive to pick you up from school you always look so happy so I guess you don’t mind so much that I am late do you?” I ventured. “That’s not exactly true dad to be honest, I am so happy to see you due to the fact that I don’t have to sit there anymore and be embarrassed being, yet again, the last one to be picked up from school”.

I turned on the indicator and pulled over, “What do you mean” I enquired. “The worst part of all” she continued, “is that as there is no parking and as I have no idea what time you and mummy are going to pick me up, I can’t even hide in the Library so that no one sees me, I have to sit by the drop off and pick up area in full view of the whole school and wait for the daily comments to start”.

I was shell shocked to think that as a loving father, I could be so busy with my daily schedule and routine that I could have become so clueless.

Later that night I went back to the magazine to have a closer look, they explained that even a minor public scolding, forcing children to wear clothing which would ensure that they were made fun of all day at school, using pet names in front of their friends, showing baby photos of them to their friends, holding their hands in public, announcing their weaknesses in front of others and even a public hug may humiliate them and set them off down a slope of terrible memories when they became older.

I have lots of middle age friends and we all seem to carry some kind of scared baggage about our childhood and we all seem to harbor some kind of memories which indicate that we may have been hurt in one way or another.

I have now come to the conclusion that as parents, we are the main obstacles that get in the way of where our children want to go which will usually end up with some kind of confrontation and if we are not careful this will allow ill feelings to develop. Alycia, is as yet unable to see why I don’t allow her to have a sleep over at her friend’s house; the trivial fact that her friend has 2 brothers aged 14 and 16 does not mean anything and in her mind is information that should not be involved in the decision process. I can only live and hope that one day when she is old enough to understand what may have happened if I would have allowed her to go, will enable her to appreciate my decision and for its importance.

Everyone knows my thought process on verbal, physical or mental abuse and that I believe it is an absolute disgrace and tragedy to say the very least, but the question here is, are we doing enough to make our children really understand and believe that we love them.

Are we giving them memories that we would hope keeps their soul warm at night and memories that will ensure they grow up with enough love to share with their own children too.

I have to believe that there must be nothing worse than enabling your children to carry around bad memories forever that could have been avoided with a little more care and thought.

To ensure that Alycia has long lasting, loving and fond memories, I am going to pledge that I pick her up from school on time more often than not, whisper in her ear that she is my angel before she goes to sleep at night and every day give her a big hug, look at her right in the eyes and tell her that I love her….if I do this long enough, hopefully she will forgive me for the mistakes that I have already made.

Yellow Lentil and Vegetable Stew ‘Dalcha’

Yellow Lentil and Vegetable Stew 'Dalcha'

Method:

  • 2 nos Carrots
  • 1 head Cauliflower
  • 1 no Eggplant
  • 3 nos Medium size potatoes
  • 100 gm French beans
  • 2 cup Yellow lentils (soaked in water overnight)
  • 5 tbsp Madras Curry Powder
  • 3 cup Coconut milk or low fat cream
  • 1 no Cinnamon stick
  • 3pcs Curry leaves, fresh or dry
  • 3 nos Star anise
  • 3 nos Cardamom pods
  • 3 tbsp Tamarind juice
  • 5 nos Shallots
  • 3 Cloves of garlic
  • 30 gm Ginger
  • Oil
  • Seasoning to taste

Method:

  1. Drain the lentils, place them in a heavy pot then add 6 cups of water.
  2. Let them simmer until the lentils are soft.
  3. Grind the onions, garlic, madras curry powder and ginger in to a smooth paste, add a bit of water.
  4. Cut all the vegetables to your desired size and shape, but preferably in mouth sized chunks.
  5. Pre heat a heavy bottomed pot, add the oil, the cinnamon stick, the curry leaves, star anise and the cardamom pods.
  6. Sauté for 10 seconds, then add the ground paste and sauté until fragrant.
  7. Add the coconut milk and 100 ml water, let it boil and then add the potatoes and carrots.
  8. Let it simmer for about 3 minutes, then add in the rest of vegetables, cooked lentils and the rest of the liquid.
  9. Add the tamarind juice and let it simmer until all the vegetables are cooked.
  10. Correct seasoning.
  11. Serve with any kind of bread, rice or even on its own for a chunky and wholesome meal.

Tips:

The lentils have to have enough water for them to cook properly as they will absorb it during the cooking process, the lentils and water content may vary so if the lentils are still a little hard, add a little more water and keep cooking before you add the vegetables. If the lentils are still hard when you add the vegetables, the vegetables will be overcooked before the lentils are ready. This wonderful dish presented by Chef Kasdi can be a wonderful meal in itself and any vegetables in the recipe can be switched with your favorites so that you can call the dish your own. Chef likes to present his lentils with simple steamed rice or hot crispy breads.

Happy Cooking!

Fouled by a mechanical glitch

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

We were getting ready for a large function and the air-conditioning in the hotel broke down and was deemed beyond repair. We had to fly in a new motor from Germany and this was going to take at least a week. Meanwhile, the lack of air-conditioning was dramatically affecting everyone involved with the running of the hotel, not to mention the customers who had to endure a hot, sweltering environmental.

A tropical climate is not the coolest of places and when you are running around in a hotel that receives little or no breeze from outside, deodorant becomes the order of the day. Without air-conditioning, even the passing by of a person who has been working hard can be very off-putting, especially if you are entering a fine dining restaurant for a five-course dinner. The strong smell of garlic coming from the kitchen is one thing, but it’s another issue when it’s coming from your waiter’s underarms. We had called in all the experts to try to find a stopgap measure until the new motor arrived and they had promised to at lest make it manageable, or should I say, bearable for our customers.

That night, there was to be a dinner for 600 people in our ballroom. It was about noon when I went to check on the table set-up. As I walked into the room, it felt as if I had walked into a brick-walled sauna – the sweltering heat smacked me right across the face and left me gasping for air. “What happened to the air-con?” I shouted. “What air-con, boss? retorted my banquet captain. “Open all the corridor and pre-function doors to get some air flowing through!” I yelled. It was the only thing I could think of to lessen the searing heat in the room. As I turned around to call the air-con contractor on my mobile phone, he walked on shaking what looked like an old-fashioned rattle in swirling motions. “What are you doing with that thing?” I enquired. “I am taking the temperature to see if the air-con is working. This is a high tech piece of equipment that gives an exact reading so you can make en educated calculation of the temperature in the room.” I looked at him dumbfounded, yet throbbing with anticipation of what the reading was going to tell us. “And what does this top-notch piece of NASA ingenuity tell you?” I asked him with a slight air of sarcasm. “The air-con does not seem to be working,” he said as straight-faced as a BBC late news announcer. “You don’t have to be Einstein to deduce that!” I blurted out. “What I need to know is what are you going to do to fix it!” “The air-con is actually working,” he started out. “It’s just not working very well and what makes things worse is that you have left the doors open and the cold air is escaping.” I was stunned to hear what he was saying. I tried to come to grips with his logic but found myself gobsmacked at the thought that all our hopes for the success of this special event rested on “Bob the Builder” here.

As I was mulling over what he was saying, my banquet manager came to complain about the hot and very sweaty working environment. His body odour was overpowering, almost as if he’d been sprayed by an angry skunk. I called the concierge and asked them to issue a key for a room as soon as humanely possible. While I was listening to Stinky go on about the working conditions, I felt my legs buckling from the strain and was about to pass out when the key finally arrived. “Listen George,” I said gingerly. “Why don’t you take this key, go up to the room and have a bit of a ‘tub up’?” “Tub up, sir?” George asked, looking a bit bewildered. “You know, a bath, old chap. You have been working very hard – I can tell and unfortunately, so can everyone else. A cold shower will make you feel better and may even calm you down a tad.” So off he went. By this time, I was starting to get hot and bothered myself as I went back to check on Mr Fix-it. “Now, where were we… The doors are open? Well let’s close them and see what happens. By the way, how are we going to keep the ballroom cool tonight when we have to leave the pre-function doors open to let in 600 people for dinner?”

The contractor was too busy shaking his rattle to hear me. He continued shaking the rattle as though he was trying to make the room cooler by waving a magic wand as quickly as possible to create the effect of a fan.

“You can shake, rattle and roll as much as you want there, big fella – it’s not going to make any difference. The fact is that it’s as hot as a bonfire in here,” I protested. “I shall give you a red hot tip – it is going to be so hot in here that soon we will be able to create ricotta cheese from our underarms and we will all develop a nasty case of prickly heat or nappy rash. It’s been a while since I had nappy rash, but i can feel a very nasty case coming on, coupled with a horrid itch between my toes.” “I shall try and fix it now, sir,” assured Mr Fix-it. “By the way, close the door on the way out, won’t you? We don’t want the cold air to escape, do we?” I responded sarcastically. “Don’t worry,” he started out again. “When the ballroom starts to fill with people, the system is built with such smart technology that it will automatically adjust the temperature and the room will become cooler as it fills up.” I was flabbergasted with his latest effort to demonstrate his inadequacies as an air-con specialist. His last remark was too ridiculous to believe. “Is that so?” I asked, trying not to lose my cool further. “May I enquire how it is going to do that? Is there a temperature laser ray that shoots across the room counting legs? How would the system know that there are more people entering the room and how does it increase the air-conditioning on its own to reduce the soaring temperature?” I barked at the man. “I watched Star Trek for years and Scottie never once mentioned an intelligent air-con device that would kick in by itself!”

Mr Fix-it looked at me with such disdain when he turned the air-con valve manually that I thought if he had the chance, he would want to “fix” me with the wrench. As there was no reply from him, I finished off the conversation by announcing: “I suggest that you stay on so that when the manure hits the fan tonight, I shall announce that you are responsible for this current situation and you can explain to the guests what is to be done about it.” “I shall look into it immediately” said Mr Fix-it and then went running off.

I stood on a banquet chair and reached for the air-con vent on the side of the wall. Nothing was coming out of the vent. The little hair I had left wasn’t even stirred. Since working at this particular establishment, I had noticed that more hairs were showing up every morning in the shower floor trap. I stood there feeling demoralized as I sensed a bad case of galloping foot rot developing. Stinky had disappeared to freshen up, leaving me to hold the collapsing fort. My hopeless air-con technician was not giving me any hope of pulling off a decent dinner. Suddenly, my wife, Beatrice, breezed into the room. “It’s all going well then,” she proclaimed. “The only thing that you can do is buy some stand fans and place them all round the room. It’s actually quite pleasant with the oscillating heads. With all the open door, it may even create a pleasant breeze, like at the seaside.”

As she started to walk away, she stopped for a moment and turned around. “By the way, tonight’s dinner is for doctors, isn’t it? I read in a medical magazine that air-conditioning is actually bad for you so they may even appreciate the natural air.”

We were reduced to using fans to cool off our guests that night. So much for the technological breakthroughs in room temperature control achieved over the centuries. Sometimes, it would seem that we have become so technologically dependent that we sometimes overlook simple solutions to cope with seemingly insurmountable situations.

Grilled Feta Cheese and Smoked Salmon sandwich

Grilled Feta Cheese and Smoked Salmon sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 1 French loaf or any kind of healthy bread that you prefer
  • 300 g Smoked salmon, pre sliced
  • 1 head Romaine lettuce, which use in Caesar’s salad
  • 200 g Feta cheese or any soft cheese, quick grilled in a not stick pan using ahigh heat
  • Pickled white onions;
  • 2 nos White onion, slice
  • 3 tbsp Cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • Honey Mustard Spread;
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp Horseradish
  • 1 tsp Honey
  • 2 tbsp Mayonnaise or cream fraiche
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Method:

Pickled white onions:

Slice onions thinly, place in a bowl, mix with the vinegar and sugar, cover and let it marinade in a chiller for 1hour.

Honey Mustard Spread:

Mix all the ingredient until it is emulsified to a smooth texture.

Assembly:

Cut the French loaf in half, then toast in an oven for 1 minute, then spread the honey mustard on both sides, arrange the romaine lettuce, smoked salmon, feta cheese and pickle white onions evenly.

Notes:

Today I would like to get people interacting about sandwiches if I may please as there are creative sandwiches and then there are the normal sandwiches. You can make sandwiches out of just about everything that you can dream of and that which you would love to place between two pieces of dough. Chef Kasdi has used Honey mustard as his signature flavoring sauce (to coin a phrase, if you like), but you can use anything. Different flavored butters, variants of mayonnaise, dressings or even sauces such as black pepper. You can use hundreds of different breads, rolled, folded or even pockets toasted or just warmed. There are thousands of composed salads or dozens of different types of plain lettuce to choose from. When making sandwiches the ideas are only limited to your imagination and can be presented, especially to children, as simple, cheap, exciting and most importantly healthy alternatives to fried, canned or frozen foods.

Happy cooking!

Once Upon a Durian Date

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

Did I ever tell you about the time when I had my first encounter with “The King of Fruits”? It was one I shall never forget as it was my very first romantic date with my dear wife Beatrice. I had only been in Malaysia for a short while and had not yet tasted any of the local fruit, as they were not yet in season.

After negotiating a date over a period of months, the big day finally came where I hoped to steal my first kiss. I closed my eyes and tried to think how great it was going to be; the many times I had dreamt of it had built up the expectation to dizzying heights. We walked along a beach in Penang, had a drink in a small restaurant along the way and then decided to go and have some fresh “fruit”. The journey around the winding hills in Teluk Bahang, looking for the elusive fruit while sitting in the back seat of a taxi was to say the least, harrowing. The driver – let’s call him Schumacher for the sake of an argument – was a very friendly chap who just had to have what he considered a most interesting conversation with his customers, while driving at speeds any of his fellow Formula One drivers would have been proud of.

“You know”, he started out, “the last time I came up here, I turned the car turtle,” he proudly boasted. Turning around to face us and at the same time pushing his foot down with lead shoes to reach breakneck speed while maneuvering 100 feet drop corners, he calmly announced, “with a little bit of luck, we can avoid the same occurrence this time around”.

With little confidence, I broke a meek smile to try and cover up the feeling that I was going to die or at least vomit at any time, totally humiliating myself in front of my dream date, who was looking a little peeked herself. “Why don’t you try to slow down a little there, big guy, the apples and pears won’t go rotten, you know.”

“What apples and pears? What are you talking about?” he announced, puzzled by my comment about the upcoming fruit expedition. “This ain’t London you know ..,”he finished off with a strange word I had not yet heard, which sounded something like “boh dough”.

“What does that mean?” I asked Beatrice. “I did not hear what he said as the air-conditioning is too loud,” she said in a politically correct manner. As I was sweating like an overweight Sumo wrestler sitting in a hotter-than-hell sauna, I enquired, “What air-conditioning?” and slowly received the message as she rolled her eyes at me. What with going around in circles combined with the feeling of sheer fright, I was almost going to loose my breakfast when I heard those golden words, “We are here.” As we stopped and pulled over at the roadside, I was totally oblivious to where “here” actually was. There was a small wooden hut constructed at the side of the road and a chap was sleeping on a wooden rickety table made from tree branches and surrounded by four chairs. “Wow, business must be great here, and the fruit so superb and fresh, everybody is lining up to grab some of it,” I quipped with a smile. “Shush,” said Beatrice giving me a nudge, “Don’t be so rude.”

The proud owner of the orchard woke up as Schumi gave him a shock by blowing his horn. “Hey, Datuk, I have a couple of customers for you,” he proudly announced. “That will be 20 ringgit,” my friendly chauffeur said calmly. “Twenty ringgit?” I said in a high-pitched voice. “You must be nuts!” I said in a shocked manner. “Anyway, where do you think you are going?” I asked rather sheepishly, “Do you see any taxi stands around here, how the heck are we going to get back?” Mr Schumacher happily negotiated to wait without extra charge, which I thought, was very polite and kind of him, until he announced that he was hungry and the sharing of our fruit might just clinch the deal.

“Datuk” had already gone walking through the jungle with his hands behind his back, looking down in the long grass while kicking, trying to find something. Surely the apples or pears or whatever would be rotten if they were lying on the moist ground, I thought. Not wanting to offend, I kept quiet and amused myself by looking at Beatrice and her lovely full lips and wondered what it was going to be like when I kissed them. “Got one,” shouted the orchard owner. He sounded so happy with himself and with his big find of goodness-knows-how-long-ago-rotten fruit. As he emerged from the jungle and was making the short trek up to the hut, I saw in his hands the strangest looking – what I supposed was fruit – that I have ever seen. What the heck was that? A large green funky-looking thing with spikes! My first reaction was to ask how we were going to peel this sucker. “What do u have there Datuk?” I asked, bemused. “The last time I saw something like that was in the Alien movie.” I hesitated for a second, “no, sorry, I think it was Predator.” Schumi gave me a look that said “Don’t be funny, you might find yourself walking home.” Well, that would be safer…and cheaper, I muttered to myself.

The fruit was placed on the table with a thud. This was the first time I witness a fruit that, if dropped, would damage the table before it received even a single blemish. I crossed my arms and looked at this thing with a puzzled look on my face that alarmed Beatrice. “Have you never tried this before?” she asked. “Tried it? I have never even seen anything like it before, never mind tried it. What the heck is it?” My new sweetheart explained to me that this strange looking fruit was in fact a durian and it was a delicacy of Malaysia and somewhat of an acquired taste.

Datuk bent down, reached under the table emerged with a large, menacing knife. “I’m sorry,” I announced quickly. “I did not mean anything if I offended you.” “Bodoh!” Schumi muttered under his breadth, as they started to pry open the skin with the tip of the blade.

All of a sudden, there was an offensive odour surrounding the table. I smelt under my armpits to see if the smell was coming from me and then looked underneath my shoes to see if I had stepped in something. After deducing that the wonderful smell of fresh picked roses was in fact not my fault at all, I realized that the offending odour was in fact coming from the fruit. A thin, blue-like haze was rising from the split skin. “It’s rotten!” I shouted, “We will have to find another one, maybe one that is still on the tree and in better condition.” Beatrice went to explain that, in fact, that was how the fruit was supposed to smell and that the best ones would be those that had fallen from the tree by themselves, ensuring that they were totally ripe. “You mean durian actually smells like that”? I asked in shock. “Yes,” was the one word answer Beatrice offered me. “And it’s not rotten?” “No,” she countered. “And we are going to pay good money for it and then eat it?” “Yes, that’s right. Will you please be quiet?” She pleaded.

As the durian was laid on the table, everyone was unfortunately polite to offer the guest, yours truly, the first piece. So I took the smallest piece available and placed it in my mouth. My stomach, which by now was in a state of shock, dropped a subtle hint that is was less than impressed with the nourishment that I was offering, by churning and tying in a solid gut-wrenching knot. I had never in my entire life tasted anything that smelt so bad and tasted so terrible with an unimaginable sickly and slimy texture. As it slithered down my throat leaving a horrendous after-taste, I managed to bear a thin-tooth smile, and throw out a single word: “Yummy.”

In a matter of minutes, the durian was finished, and I was offered another. “Oh, no thank you, I could not eat a single delectable piece more,” I announced. “I am totally full; stuffed, actually,” and then I held my breath and prayed that they would not purchase a second nightmare. “Fruit”. I will give them both fruit,” I complained to myself.

As we settled back in the car, I was dreading contending with Schumi, the winding road and the added disadvantage of having this lump of smelly, heavy and burp-promoting substance that was simmering around in my tummy like a volcano. “Schumi,” I declared, “take us to a chemist as soon as you can. By the way,” I pleaded, “do you have a plastic bag by any chance?” On reaching town, I bought some Listerine to gargle with, which made me feel much more comfortable. With the smell and the bad taste in my mouth diminished, I diverted my attention back to concentrating on getting my first sneaky kiss.

As we sat on the now moon-lit beach where the date had first started, I edged closed and put my arm around her shoulders. I looked into her eyes and they had “kiss me” written all over them, so I did. As our lips locked together, she still had the durian smell on her breath that was rather off putting. As I was about to drop a hint by offering her my new bottle of Listerine, I burped, sending my own version of deep-down-in-the-stomach, after-dinner aroma into my date’s face.

Well, there you have it, my first kiss had been and gone, not very memorable, I am afraid, and that was that. Luckily, Beatrice forgave me, we are still living happily ever after and have both become durian connoisseurs. I have fallen in love with durian over the years and constantly get looks of amazement as people see a Mat Salleh sitting down and digging into a good durian where and whenever I can. There are many species of durian and they are supposed to be an aphrodisiac. The only problem is after eating it and getting the necessary effect, nobody wants to come near you anyway, so the whole idea is rather redundant. Bombaceae Durio Zibethinus, commonly known as durian, has unfortunately, quite a few calories. However, it has lots of protein, minerals, beta-carotene, vitamins B1, B2 & C, calcium and iron and better still, has no cholesterol. Thai durians have larger flesh, but with little taste and the Malaysian version has less flesh, but a much better taste. Congratulations, Malaysia, on producing a great version of thus funky looking thorny and stinky fruit!

Moonshine on a moonless night

This musing was first published in Flavours magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

Did I ever tell you about the time when I was working in Kuala Lumpur and went for my very first visit to Sabah to introduce myself to my in-laws? On announcing the master plan to visit the wife’s family’s village, Beatrice jumped out of her chair. “We can organise a Christmas party for all the people in my village.” “Hang on a minute – How many people are there in your village?” I was almost scared to hear the answer. I mean to say, feeding two or three thousand people had to cost a bundle and on my salary at that time, I will tell you, it was a most daunting thought. “Oh, there are lots” – was not the answer that I was looking for, believe me. “How many is ‘lots’?” I whispered out to her. “About 52,” she replied enthusiastically. “How many?!?” I asked in a shocked manner, expecting 5,200. “52,” repeated Beatrice. Well, I thought this was going to be the cheapest Christmas party I could ever have hoped for. “Although we are short of money at this moment in time, I do believe that we can we can offer to hold a party for the entire population of your village. I will even throw in a couple of cases of Carlsberg for good measure,” I announced, trying to conceal my relief.

Beatrice booked and organised the trip as she always does and off we went. Arriving in Papar, we were greeted with the biggest and heaviest tropical downpour that you could ever imagine, which stirred all the toads back to life and unfortunately, all the mosquitoes too. Being eaten alive is not the most pleasant of experiences and not being able to sleep due to the loud croaking coming from the paddy fields did not help either.

The day of the party was a monumental affair to say the least. People came from miles around carrying potluck food items to place on the table for everyone to enjoy. We worked all day to get everything ready and the time had come to enjoy ourselves. On discovering we had no ice, I offered to get it, so off we drove. The first thought I had was how dark it was getting.

It was a moonless night, there was no lights to illuminate the road and the only way to go was to drive slowly down the narrow path so we did not end up in the hitch. Suddenly, we saw something in the middle of the road and slowed down. I thought it was a water buffalo having a nap before continuing on its journey.

As we approached, we found that it was not a buffalo. Instead, it was one of the villagers lying down motionless. He was not moving an inch and I was worried for the poor guy. “Is he dead?” I asked, petrified. “No,” was her monosyllabic reply. “Then what’s wrong with him?” “Tuak,” Beatrice answered. “Tuak? What is that – a tropical disease or something?” I wondered out loud. “No. It’s tropical liquor made from palm or coconut and he has had too much of it.” “Too much of it? He looks like he has had all of it. It’s a wonder that there is any coconut left, by the looks of him!”

I later nicknamed tuak “Gut Rot” once I had tasted this delicate beverage. I will give you another red-hot tip. You do not want to drink this stuff while smoking – you may end up being blown up to kingdom come! As I stared at the drunken villager, out of the blue came the cavalry in the form of two of his mates. They picked him up and carried him off, having a good laugh as they went. “How strong is that stuff?” I asked Beatrice. “It’s quite strong, but alright if you are used to it. Old man Bob is used to it – he’s been drinking it all his life.” If old man Bob was used to it, what would happen if someone was not used to it and drank it for the first time? We would be rushing him to the intensive care unit to have his stomach pumped… Or maybe even replaced! “What is this stuff made from?” I asked Beatrice. “Tuak can be made from the sap of palm trees or coconut trees but it’s usually made from coconut tree sap. There are others as well, you know.” “Oh yes, well, why don’t you give me a heads up so that I can make sure I avoid the stuff at all costs?” “Well,”

Beatrice started out, there is bahar which is also made from the sap of the palm tree, but is made with a different recipe. And then there is tapai which is made from rice.” Different recipe? Maybe there is a recipe book I could buy and place it on the drinks list in the Farquhar Bar menu in our hotel lobby. I could not help but to ask her the golden question: “Do you like a tipple of this refined alcoholic beverage once in a while?” Beatrice pulled her glasses down to the end of her nose and stared at me over the top of them.

Her impression simply implied the articulate response she was expressing. “Idiot” – would have been the best way to explain her thoughts, but as usual, her manners were way too polite to voice it. When we got back from the shop, it was time to get the party started. I decided to take a quick shower before going down to the dinner table.

I emerged about fifteen minutes later and everyone was sitting around chit chatting and looking at me with looks of anticipation on their faces. “What is going on?” I asked Beatrice. “They are waiting for you to eat first before they start.” I could not believe how polite they were and announced that they should all eat and enjoy themselves.

I dipped my hand into a large bucket of ice and grabbed a bottle of beer. As I turned around to speak to Beatrice, I could not believe the sight before me. There in front of me, was old man Bob! Instead of being hung over for four days like I would have been after having my stomach pumped, he looked as if he had never touched a drop. “Here in Sabah,” he started out, “we like to consume this local beverage called tuak. Have you ever tried it?” “Before I answer that question, let me ask you one – do you have an identical twin?” Beatrice came from nowhere and retorted: “Don’t listen to him Bob – he’s a twit!” I tried to defend myself while looking around for help. “To answer your question Bob, not lately, no,” I mustered. “Well, let’s have a shot together. Come, let’s share a glass.” He poured two glasses, walked towards me and handed me the one that was the most full.

Very polite people, I thought… too polite. “Why don’t you have the full glass and I will have the short glass?” We swapped the glasses and I took my first sip. Now I have to tell you something that I shouldn’t but I can’t help it. I have never tasted anything so vile in my entire life. As it passed down my throat and into my stomach, it dissolved every body part in its path like an ice cube in a microwave. “That’s not so bad,” I declared, while wincing badly. As Bob turned around to smile at Beatrice, I quickly poured the balanced of the tuak into the paddy field next to me and pretended as if I had finished it.

I could have sworn that I saw the paddy wilt the instant the tuak touched the water surrounding it. I probably contaminated the whole eco-system of Sabah with that one thoughtless and selfish act. “Wow, look at you,” said Bob. “You have finished it all, but don’t worry, there is plenty more where that came from, I will go and get you a top-up”, “he better not or I will throw up,” I whispered to Beatrice. “Just another drop to make them happy and then you can return to your beer,” she pleaded. “After another drop, I am going to return to my bed. Hopefully, not to a hospital bed!” “Don’t be such a baby!” Beatrice snapped.

This was going to be a long night, I thought to myself. And a much longer day tomorrow, if I kept on drinking this drain cleaner. “Maybe we can place a few bottles in the boot of our car, just in case,” I suggested. “Whatever for?” asked Beatrice. “Just in case we run out of petrol, we can pour it in the tank and keep the car running for a few kilometres until we reach another gas station. “Of course, we would have to keep it in a non-corrosive metal container. You know – the one that does not corrode if it comes in contact with metal-eating acid.” I pointed out that the foul-tasting stuff had indeed been delivered to the village in a screw-top petrol can, which I thought was only appropriate since tuak was also a highly-flammable liquid.

Beatrice rolled her eyes at my latest observation. Bob returned with another couple of glasses and I gingerly sipped on the cloudy substance until it was all but finished, trying to cause as little damage to my insides as possible along the way.

 As I was talking to old man Bob, his eyes glazed over and he started to fall backwards. I had downed two glasses of this rocket fuel myself which resulted in me not being as alert as I should have been and thus, was not able to catch him. Bob just fell backwards right into the paddy field thereby squashing the toads. That was the end of my first, and hopefully my last encounter, with East Malaysia’s version of toddy. Although I am sure that these home-grown Malaysian beverages create an enjoyable pastime, I have to say that they are little bit out of my league in strength and I will stick to the conventional beer or red wine.

Thai Style Blackened Cod Fillet

Thai Style Blackened Cod Fillet

Ingredients:

  • Cod Fish: one nice fillet
  • 30ml Olive oil for searing

Cod Seasoning:

  • 1 pinch Paprika
  • 1 pinch Onion and garlic powder
  • 1 Pinch Cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch Assorted dried herbs
  • 1 pinch Fine salt and cracked black pepper

Sauce:

  • 4 Tsp Soy sauce
  • 4 Tsp Oyster sauce
  • 1 Tsp Fish sauce (available by the bottle at all Asian food stores)
  • 2 Tsp Loosely packed brown sugar
  • 4-6 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tsp Lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper or dried crushed chilli
  • 3nos Kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 stick Crushed lemon grass (or sliced very finely)
  • 3pc Ginger flowers, chopped
  • Coriander leaves

Method to make sauce:

  1. Chop all dried ingredients together in a food processor.
  2. Add the liquids and mix well.
  3. Correct seasoning.

Presentation:

  1. Pre heat a skillet until it is smoking hot with the olive oil.
  2. Place the already seasoned cod fillet, skin down first into the smoking oil.
  3. Sear for about 2 minutes or until the bottom is almost black but not burned.
  4. Turn the cod over and continue cooking for about another 2 minutes or until fillet is finished.
  5. If the cod is too thick, finish off under a salamander or in an oven.
  6. Drizzle sauce around seared and sealed cod fillet.

Notes:

It is important to note that fish should always be seared skin down first for presentation purposes, this will protect the skin and make sure it looks great. Turning the fish over more than once is not preferred as this will spoil the color of the skin and may even tear it making it look unsightly. The searing process has to be done in a hotter that heck skillet to ensure that all the juices from the fish are trapped inside ensuring that the fish is still full of its natural moisture when served. Care has to be taken to ensure that the skin of the cod does not stick to the hot pan during the searing process. Chef Bob has served his beautiful cod fillet with his sweet Thai style chilli sauce, julienne of Chinese chives, some thin slices of red onions for color contrast and has sat it on a small piece of crushed lemon grass. Thanks to Mazeta Walters for her usual great job in taking a lovely photo!

Happy cooking!

Spiced Pineapple Pajeri

Spiced Pineapple Pajeri 

Ingredients:

  • 1 Fresh pineapple (Canned may be used if chosen)
  • 200 ml Coconut milk
  • ½ tsp Mustard seeds
  • 3 pcs Star anise
  • 1 tbsp Dried shrimp, (optional, soaked in water then drained)
  • 1 no Large white onion
  • 3 clove Garlic
  • 1 tbsp Ginger, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Madras Curry Powder, diluted with water
  • 1 tbsp Brown sugar or palm sugar
  • 60 ml Low cholesterol oil
  • Water
  • Seasoning to taste

Method:

  1. Peel the pineapple and slice in to ½ inch thick pieces.
  2. Grind the onion, garlic, ginger and dried shrimps.
  3. Heat a thick bottomed pan and sauté the ground ingredients until fragrant.
  4. Then add the curry powder, star anise and mustard seeds, sauté until fragrant.
  5. Add about 100ml water; add in the coconut milk and brown sugar.
  6. After the sugar has dissolved add in the pineapple slices.
  7. Let them simmer until the sauce thickens.
  8. Adjust the seasoning before serving.

Notes:

If you prefer a tangy kick to the sauce, apple cider vinegar can be added before the reducing process. If coconut milk is not desired due to cholesterol issues, you can change it with low fat cream instead. Chef Kasdi has garnished his pineapples with some tiny birds eye chilies and a few small strips of sweet red chilies for color contrast.

Curmudgeonly Customers

Please enjoy my latest musing which was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

All hoteliers have to deal with difficult, demanding guests, but can the whole stressful ordeal have a happy ending?

One of the most difficult components of our wonderful industry is the challenging guest, otherwise known as “difficult”, “fussy” – or if you would like to be politically correct, the guest who has “high expectations”. Let’s face it, we can call them whatever we like (at the back of the house) but some of them are simply put, a pain in the neck.

One day, I was strolling through the lobby and spotted one of those aforementioned guests with “high expectations”. This one seemed to have a problem, evident from the fact that he had opened his suitcase in the middle of the lobby and stripped down to his boxers, all the while making enough noise to gain as much attention as possible.

I quickened my steps so that he wouldn’t notice me, breathing a sigh of relief when I reached the back door to my kingdom and stepped into the white-tiled domain of the kitchen – a welcome comfort zone.

I couldn’t help giggling to myself as I thought of the poor duty manager having to deal with this guy, mentally congratulating myself on never having to deal with clowns like that. Then I made myself a nice cup of hot coffee and sat down in my office.

Word of the difficult customer spread around the hotel in no time, as did stories of his check-in – the hotel was running at 100% occupancy, and he had shown up at 10am wanting his room now, as he was tired and had just arrived after a long-haul flight. The front office had explained to him that the hotel was full and that check-in time was in fact 2pm, but he had protested that the travel agent had assured him that checking in at 10am would not be a problem. The front office reassured him that they had not been notified of that, and would give him the first available room, but this didn’t prove satisfactory, thus prompting the Chippendale show of protest in the lobby. After explaining to him that they couldn’t just kick any guest out of their room (and that stripping off was not going to get him a room earlier), they offered him a nice complimentary lunch with a couple of glasses of wine. Of course, he was already dressed and drinking before the offer was even fully enunciated.

Later that evening, I was going up to the hotel’s sky lounge to meet a friend and have a couple of drinks before turning in for the night; I stepped into the elevator for the short vertical ride to the top floor. As the door was closing, I heard a voice outside shouting for me to wait, so I pressed the “open door” button – only to find that nutcase guest squeezing into the lift with me!

What were the chances of the only nutter in the hotel deciding to get into the very same lift as me?! Quite good, apparently.

As soon as he got into the lift, he started ranting.

“Well at least there is one gentleman in this hotel! Can you believe what a rotten place this is?” he frothed.

I was very relieved that I had changed into my street clothes prior to getting into the lift.

“Oh it’s not that bad – it actually grows on you if you give it a chance,” I replied.

“I checked in today at 10am and there was no room for me to sleep after flying for 14 hours! I had to strip down to my knickers to get some attention … well, at least I got a free lunch,” he moaned.

Made confident by his (now) more mellow tone, I made a monumental mistake and took a gamble.

“How was lunch then?” I asked. Before I could even properly finish the question, he spat out the answer.

“Terrible! Shocking actually. I had scrambled eggs – thanks to the jet lag I felt like it was breakfast time. The most basic meal of all, and they screwed up! I think the chef here must be an idiot – have you met him?” he said.

I swallowed deeply and answered with a trace of brave defiance in my voice: “Never met the chap, no. Have you?”

“No – but I would like to!” was his response.

Just as he said that, the elevator came to a screeching stop with a jerk and a sound of grinding metal.

“Of course! Why not?! They just keep heaping it on – this has got to be the most Mickey Mouse hotel that I have ever seen,” he groaned.

I was just wondering how it could possibly get any worse when there was a popping sound, and the lights went out. At least now I did not have to look at his face, I thought, but I wished that I could escape his voice as well.

“I must say, I’m quite nervous – I do hope the lift does not fall,” I ventured.

I could hear the guest from hell suck in his breath; then he came up with his master plan.

“All we have to do is use the emergency phone to call the chef, ask him to make some more of his special recipe scrambles eggs and throw them in the bottom of the shaft. Then, when the lift falls it will hit the rubber-like eggs and bounce a bit, and the lift will settle very nicely at the bottom of the shaft”.

Not wanting to aggravate the situation further, I intended to keep my opinions to myself and let sleeping dogs lie; however, this guy was starting to rattle my cage a little, so I snapped: “Come on, give the poor guy a chance – I am sure he is trying his hardest to make everyone happy”.

“Trying his hardest?! Trying his hardest?! He is indeed very trying, I will give him that! Anyway, what are you – his boyfriend?”

I was starting to think about climbing out of the small square hole in the roof by this time – anything to escape from the idle banter with this twit. Instead, I decided to use my mobile phone to light up the lift a bit so I could search for the emergency speaker button. My “roommate” then decided to push the alarm button incessantly, obviously thinking that if he kept it up every few seconds, it might somehow make the elevator move again.

I took over, pushed the speaker button – and disguised my voice so that the security officer would not realize it was me, and blow my desperately-needed cover.

“Is there anyone there?” I asked, in a strange, foreign-sounding voice.

“Yes, this is the security department here. Please stay calm and we will get you out as soon as possible. The fire department is also on the way,” a voice replied.

Right then, I thought I was going to get away with it … right up to the moment that the speaker suddenly came back on and the voice added “By the way, is that you, chef?”

I hesitated for a second and heard some fool shouting in the background, “Hey! Can someone tell the general manager that the executive chef is stuck in the lift!”

The atmosphere in the lift was suddenly thick with tension, and I miserably wondered what the heck I had done to deserve such a lousy experience.

“You miserable toad! Here I am, blowing off steam to some guy who I thought was a long-distance traveler, somebody who would understand my frustrations – and it turns out that you’re a snake in the grass!” he ranted.

“Now I have to eat outside the hotel to avoid the chefs from stomping on my steak before cooking it, or worse!” he added.

I slid down the wall of the lift and sat on the floor.

“Hey, I saw you today giving the staff hell in the lobby. Do you think that they wake up in the morning with the intention of upsetting you foremost on their minds?” I retorted.

“If there is one thing that you learn in this business, it is the most people – however hard on the outside – are in fact, fragile. Behaving as you did today was wrong; those people work very hard for a living, just like everyone else, so who are you to treat them like dirt and destroy their confidence?” I added.

The elevator was very quiet all of a sudden and I half expected a kick in the guts, but none came. While I was hoping that I had given him a little food for thought, I regretted being so harsh at such a stressful time. It was to the great relief of both of us that the lights came back on 30 minutes later, and the lift started moving again.

As soon as the lift doors opened, he walked straight out of the lift, without a backward glance.

He checked out the next day. Apparently, after checking out, he returned to the front desk and told the staff: “Tell the chef – what he said about people being fragile – I think he is right.” Then he left.

Since that day, that fellow refuses to stay in any hotel other than the one I am working in, whenever he is in town. For me, turning an unruly, demanding guest into a loyal customer is one of the best challenges of all.