Total Hits for the month of August 2010

We would like to thank all our readers and friends from the bottom of our hearts for breaking another monthly hits target on Chef’s Tales the blog.

Due to the growing strong support, we managed to get a total of 19, 693 for the month of August and the hits seem to be growing stronger by the day.

I guess we will have to increase the new posts to keep it even more interesting for our viewers 🙂

Again, sincere thanks.

Warm regards,

Mike, chef Kasdi, chef Bob and Philip

Purchasing a fridge

When purchasing a fridge, most of the models have good points and bad points and whilst looking for the perfect fridge for your home or business may be fun (although somewhat confusing), there is one point that I would like to raise and one of which may be of value and help.

One must always try not to buy a model with a built in ice machine for simple reasons that may not appear at first to be obvious.

Fridges with built in ice machine need a sensor inside the freezer box or container that tells you when the container is full.

If the chosen fridge does not have this feature and the fridge does not know that the ice container is full, it will continue to produce ice.

When the ice is not able to drop out of the production section of the freezer and in to the storage container the whole system gets backed up, the ice gets frozen in one large lump and blocks the whole system.

The much needed built in sensor tells the machine that the container is full and automatically turns off the production of cubes until the level of ice subsides and again automatically restarting the process on its own.

One must check the senor weekly to ensure servicing is not required.

Mum’s Gone to Tenerife

Today I would like to introduce a guest author to Chefs Tales with the continuation of my theory that we should be a community type blog that shares information and stories of food, family and life in general to anyone whom may enjoy it. 

I would like to thank Trish, the author and founder of Mum’s Gone To…blog for this lovely article from a hotel guest perspective.

Hope you enjoy it!

I’m surprising myself with my ability to find a second post’s worth of chit chat from our lovely lazy holiday and have to dedicate it to that wonderful pastime of people-watching, my favourite holiday activity.

On the whole, this being a smart gaff, the people are very civilised, quiet and stylish and I just love admiring other women’s clothes, bags, children etc. However, around the poolside I’m reminded of a phrase of my husband’s Scottish Auntie Jenny, who used to say, “Aye, the sights you see when you’ve nae got a gun!” That thought passes through my mind when at a nearby sunbed a middle-aged Spanish woman proceeds to merrily pluck away at stray hairs on her thighs with a pair of tweezers. My husband is fearful the plucking might go higher so he turns his bed round a little to focus on some younger totty to his left.

My favourite couple are the two very stylish gay chaps who look fabulous at breakfast and then come down to the pool in their bathrobes, sashaying along as if they are on the Milan catwalk, before disrobing with a swish of their shoulders, to reveal fetching speedos and well-maintained bodies. Wish I could say the same for “strangely-dyed-ginger-haired man” who walks round the pool in a tiny pair of lime green lycra pants which sport a handy zip at the front!

Whilst I’m not averse to snaffling away an apple or two from the breakfast buffet to keep us going during the day, one French family just take it a step too far. The wife is dripping in jewellery, tottering on astonishingly high heels and nearly wearing a teeny top from which her silicone chest makes a determined effort to escape. I reckon she must have spent a fortune on Botox and lip-plumping too. Her husband, with no perception that this really isn’t the done thing, proceeds to butter five baguettes and fill them all with an assortment of meats. He wraps them all up in the hotel’s linen napkins and trophy wife stashes them, with great aplomb, in her white leather statement handbag. My poor husband, who has hoofed it already to Netto and back for a packet of ham and a couple of rolls, can only look on with amazement at the sheer audacity of the whole operation.

Even worse, a carbon copy of Roman Abramovich is strutting around the hotel with an entourage of thick-necked heavies and his young family who are there for his every need. He sits at breakfast with a large glass of lager and his daughter (?) has to fetch and carry for him and even puts his sweater over his shoulders when he’s a bit cold. I’m not awfully good at watching people surreptitiously, (Hubby says I could never be a spy) so I gawp as Roman slurps his lager and plunges his croissant into a mug of cappuccino before shovelling it into his mouth.

Pass me the rifle, Aunty Jenny

Trish can be found @  http://www.mumsgoneto.blogspot.com/

Loneliness… the curse of humans

When I started working in the Four Seasons Hotel, Yorkville in Toronto things could not have been any better. Everyone seemed happy, the customers were mostly wealthy and strutted around the hotel as if they never had a care in the world. The staff were extremely content and the hotel was full of opulence, romance and charm, life really was great, what can I say I was young.

The whole aura of the hotel seemed to ooze the feeling that life was for the living, it was to be enjoyed, indulged and it was to be shared. On one particular day I remember watching an older very senior chef work, Fred always seemed so happy, he would giggle at any given comment passed by a wondering soul drifting through the kitchen, he was everyone’s confidant, friend and was always willing to chip in and help others when he was able.

The hotel used to give cans of drinks to the hot perspiring chefs to help offset the heat in the kitchen keeping them hydrated. Minutes later picking up my can of soda thereby taking a big gulp would give me the shock of my life; it was full of whiskey from the cooking alcohol cabinet. I swallowed the rather large gulp wincing and glancing around to see if anyone was looking, then I very slowly placed the can down obviously knowing that it was not mine and went about my business whistling as if butter would not melt in my mouth.

I then watched from a distance to see whom the culprit was and was astonished to see Fred waltz over to claim his soda, taking a few big mouthfuls, finishing the whole contents of the can, squeezing it between his tightly grasped hand and throwing the empty can into the kitchen waste bin. I was gob smacked to say the least, no wonder he always looked so happy I thought.

A few weeks later I saw him slip and fall in the kitchen laughing out loud as others helped him to his feet. The next day Fred did not show up to work and thinking he had a cold or some other minor ailment we all left him alone to recover in peace. When he did not show up the next day alarms bells sounded, the Executive Chef went to visit him only to find him dead and alone in his apartment.

A couple of days after that the boss went to his funeral returning to work only to announce that he had gone to Fred’s funeral and noting that just he and the vicar alone had lowered Fred into his grave, there was not a single other friend or family member there to say goodbye to a person that seemed to have the world at his feet.

On hearing this, my young, innocent and naïve heart warming thought process to life in general was instantly destroyed. I was struggling to comprehend how such a popular person, who was loved, respected and admired at work, would live such a lonely private existence.

Years later I would fall in love and would be the envy of most men I knew. I dedicated my life and soul to my new partner and someone slowly but surely over the 3 years of dating would lose contact with my friends as I became deeper and deeper involved. Then came the big day and we were married with the subsequent travelling around the world together and ending up in Hong Kong where we were extremely happy…that is for about 9 months and then it was over and my make believe life came crashing down. My trophy wife was gone, so were my friends and the only stick I had to lean on was my career. I worked 16 hours a day to take my mind off my downfall only to return to my small, soulless, very quiet and lonely hotel room. I had managed to single handedly place myself in the unthinkable position of having had so many friends over the years and had somehow lost them all, the worst possible nightmare had come true, I had become Fred.

Loneliness can happen to anyone and we are all five minutes away from being in the position of talking to ourselves if we do not manage situations well.

In the hotel business I have met many and I mean many rich and famous people whom love to sit down and talk to you due to the fact that it is after hours and because they have no one else. They have fame, fortune, they have people chasing them for autographs, business deals, money or even just association, but very sadly not for love or friendship. When all the dust has cleared and the hangers on, cronies and groupies have gone home to their families and loved ones, they are truly alone and lonely.

There are billions of people on our planet and the incomprehensible reality that some people are torn apart by loneliness is astonishing. I was lucky as I eventually rebounded to meet my soul mate, I have 3 beautiful girls whom I truly believe love me and I know that I unconditionally love them in return.

Most of us hope and pray that when we do eventually pass on, we do so surrounded by our soul mate, our children and our grand children whilst lying in our warm bed.

Unfortunately there are many people that we all know and see every day whom are not so fortunate. They have suffered through terrible circumstances and for whatever reason have not rebounded and are living a life of desperate silence without friends or family.

Let’s make a pact together today that if we know someone who appears to be lonely, that we give them a call or even knock on their door to say hello. We can invite them for a coffee, drop off a baked cake to their home, shake their hand or simply make them feel special by remembering their name.

We CAN help to improve someone’s life and if we are able to do it for just one person we will feel good about ourselves whilst assisting another lonely soul to have a better quality of life.

Together, we can make a difference, I know it.

Family Leave

Dear Readers,

After over a year of working night & day, I have finally found a break in the action and decided to grab some much needed time with my girls.

I will be taking my soul mate Beatrice and our 2 lovely daughters Alycia and Jessica to the UK for 2 weeks.

There may or may not be any posts during this time depending on me being able to get online in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales 🙂 so let me apologize for any inconvenience caused.

In the meantime I hope to see you all again real soon.

Warm regards,

Mike and the Chef’s Tales team.

Sex in the Bahamas

This musing is true and one that I may or may not share with my grand kids, I have not decided yet, maybe you can help me to come to a suitable conclusion:

The Bahamas really was paradise when I moved there from Canada in the winter of 86, I remember boarding the Air Canada plane in Toronto when it was -30 and then stepping off the same plane about 2 ½ hours later into glorious warm sunshine. I was relocating there for a 2 year contract as Sous Chef, a management position I had never held before and a position which came with the benefit of complimentary staff housing.

They say there are two great days every week when working in the Bahamas, one is pay day which needs no further explanation and the other is your day off. The most popular pastime during your single day off every week was lazing around the beach, wearing mirror shades girl watching and drinking Becks beer by the bucket due to the immense boredom. Everyone at that time seemed to be having sex in the Bahamas and to be honest, being 26 years old, sitting on the beach and watching the endless parade of topless girls walking back and forth all day was starting to take its toll on me, my hormones were going crazy and I decided that I needed to find a girlfriend of my own.

There was one girl in particular who I had taken a fancy to and who was a croupier at the hotel casino, I decided to ask Susan out and after she agreed we went out for a night on the town. After having my first night dancing and drinking with her, I went back to my room and entered my bed alone and tipsy.

After I had taken care of my later than midnight munchies, I fell asleep with a half eaten bag of potato chips on the floor next to the bed side table. I was woken up with the sound of the paper bag rustling around, I moved across my bed to turn on the side table lamp and when the switch was clicked on I looked down and saw nothing. Thinking the last glass of tequila had taken its toll, I turned over and went back to sleep again only to within seconds of me settling heard the rustling of the bag again.

Feeling rather annoyed, I turned around again, switched on the table side lamp only to see the same blank space on the floor next to the bag of chips. I realized that, the sound of me moving in bed to switch on the light alerted whatever it was to hide and wait for me to turn off the light again before moving in again on my snacks.

Feeling like Sherlock Holmes, I turned off the light, stayed completely still with my hand on the switch and waited for the paper bag to move. On hearing the bag move, I immediately switched on the light and to my horror I saw the biggest, fattest, most well fed and ugliest rat I had ever seen looking up at me with my sour cream & onion chips all over its whiskers and paws.

This bloody stinking rat, no thief I should call it, swaggered ever so slowly with a waddle and its hips swinging back and forth before it disappeared behind the fridge. I walked slowly to look behind the fridge only to see a very large hole in the wall.

The next day I got the engineering to come and put a large wooden plank over the hole and believing that it was all sorted out went to sleep only to find out he had other entrances all mapped out around the apartment.

This went on for weeks, it would come in and I would follow it, find its entrance and plug the hole until I finally got fed up and went to see Rentokil.

They gave me a very large sticky glue tray, which I placed near its latest entrance and went to sleep, the next morning when I checked the tray I saw there was a very large rat arse shape stencil in the middle of the tray where the glue and the rat were supposed to be. There were glue foot prints all over the kitchen where it had obviously been looking around for something else to eat during the night.

On explaining to my Rentokil specialist what had happened, they told me that they had never seen a rat big enough to release itself from a glue tray so they decided to go for broke and gave me a very large tray of poison.

The problem was I had become very attatched to my rat friend and did not want to kill the thing, but I had realized that I could not go on like this and laid the tray of food next to its current entrance. I could not help but think what a disaster and passion killer it would be if I managed to get Susan to enter my room only for the both of us to find the rat waiting for its normal and regular potato chip supper.

The next morning when I woke up the tray was empty, as I looked at the empty tray I felt quite sad and remorse for killing my regular visitor.

A couple of days later I was in the canteen having lunch with a few of my colleagues and Susan was sitting there alone. I went to sit down next to her with two spoons and offered to share the large slice of American cheese cake and 2 huge scoops of vanilla ice cream that I had pinched from the pastry kitchen minutes earlier.

She looked very sad and I asked her what had happened, she told me that “Henry” had passed away and that she was heartbroken. I felt very sorry for her and told her that I was sorry for her loss, I enquired if Henry was her brother, father or another member of her family and she announced, “No it’s my pet rat, I live in the staff housing and I found it dead at my bed side when I woke up this morning”

Make an omelet like a professional chef

Making an omelet looks harder than what it actually is and like everything else, with enough practice, along with enough trial and error you will be making professional chef like omelets in no time. Confidence and faith in being able to do something will arrive automatically, when you do it often enough. It’s like riding a bike and only negative thoughts you may have & ones that shout out “I can’t do it” will stop you.

All you need is a simple, small and shallow non stick frying pan, a wooden spoon and the ingredients and away you go.

Let’s talk about the omelet pan first shall we;

If the cooking surface is too large the eggs will be spread too thin and cook too quickly, if the surface is too small the eggs will be spread too thick and take forever to cook. The ideal size with regards to the cooking surface of the pan should be approximately 6-8 inches in width. It should be non stick, rather sturdy and easy to wipe clean with a kitchen cloth after the omelet is finished.

The wooden spoon should have a smallish head which would be about 3 inches in length, it does not really matter if it is flat or with a dimple inside, but it should be round in shape to move inside the pan easily. A square shaped wooden spoon will make it difficult to collect the eggs as you stir the eggs in a round shaped pan, leaving eggs here and there to then over cook.

Now let’s talk about the ingredients;

All you need is 2 eggs (some people like to use 3, but with the ongoing cholesterol issue 2 will suffice. Also if you make the mixture too much, then you go back to the pan and cooking surface being the incorrect size for the amount of mixture you are cooking), salt & pepper and a small touch of milk (cream if you would like to be decadent).

Now to making the actual omelet;

Place the omelet pan on your stove; add a little clarified butter or low cholesterol oil in the pan. We should not use fresh butter as the butter may burn and discolour the finished omelet surface and spoil the presentation.

When the clarified butter is hot and almost starting to smoke, you add the eggs, immediately stirring vigorously and not allowing the eggs to stand still for a second.

When the eggs are almost cooked and there is a little wet egg left, you should then stop and take the pan off the stove.

You then take this opportunity to use your spoon and move around the liquid egg that is left, thereby filling any holes left behind from the stirring wooden spoon. The entire surface of the pan should be covered now with moist eggs.

You then use the wooden spoon to roll the eggs as you would roll a swiss roll cake after baking. Whilst holding the spoon in your hand, you start from one end and slowly roll the eggs tightly moving in to the middle of the omelet and then to the far end.

When the eggs are rolled and resemble an omelet you then turn the pan upside down tipping the omelet on to a clean warm plate. You can then use a clean towel to cup the omelet in your hands and shape the omelet for presentation purposes.

Notes:

If you would like to have something a little different and special (showing your loved ones you have a couple of tricks up your sleeves) you could add another single egg white to the two egg mixture. You then need to whip the mixture vigorously to trap as much air as possible. Making the omelet in the way I have shown you, after the finished omelet is on the plate you can place it under a hot grill for a second and watch it rise like a soufflé.

The air you have trapped inside during the whipping process will now expand and rise taking the egg mixture with it. Although omelet purists will tell you that this method is not actually an omelet, the nice colour from the grill, the almost double in size omelet will definitely impress the people for whom you are cooking.

The only problem is, is that as it is kind of like a soufflé in its cooking process these kind of omelets need to be served straight away as if they are not they will sink rather quickly.

Happy Cooking!

Making a homemade non stick pan

In the hotel industry many of the old style hotels would never purchase non stick pans, one reason was in the “old days” they did not exist and another was that for heavy usage they would never last long. They would get scratched, dented, burnt, broken, smashed and even stolen, so to avoid this they would make their own non stick variety that would be hardened, sturdy and last forever.

I have done this many times personally and this is how they do it:

When I was conducting my training there was no such thing as non stick pans and they would use cast iron, very heavy and durable pans which needed to be “seasoned” for them to be able to be non stick.

On receiving a new, straight from the supplier, cast iron frying pan or sautéing pan, we used to first place it on a solid top stove, empty with absolutely nothing inside and get it so hot that it would be smoking.

We would then place enough course sea salt in the smoking hot pan to cover its entire cooking surface until it was about 2cm thick. We would leave the hot pot on the stove with the salt and slowly burn and cook the pot with the salt inside. The salt will very slowly “cook” by smoking, burning and turning the salt very slowly to a dark brown colour.

We would then discard the salt in a bin, get a piece of cloth (a towel cloth like an old bath towel or face cloth) dip it in oil and wipe or rub the pot until the hot metal would absorb the oil making the pan shiny.

When the pan is smoking hot, we would them wipe the pan clean with another piece of kitchen towel and then proceed with the whole process all over again from the beginning.

After doing this 2 or 3 times the metal will have absorbed the oil making the metal very shiny, “seasoned” and have a homemade non stick effect. When you have done this you need to try out the pan by making an omelet, if the eggs stick, you have to start all over again until the pan cooks an omelet without the eggs sticking.

The act of “seasoning” the pan may take a few days, a week on more than a week, but it is definitely a loving care process.

It is VERY important to know that this kind of pan, once seasoned can never be washed in water; they are just wiped clean with a dry kitchen cloth or paper towel. Water and this type of non stick pan are worst enemies, washing the pan with soapy water will ensure that you have to start the whole process again from the very beginning.

Once any metal which includes a barbecue grill, pots and pans or skillets absorb enough oil and become seasoned, nothing will ever stick to them again if you take care of them.

Even when you are using a barbecuing grill, you must rub the grill irons with an oily cloth enough times to ensure the metal has absorbed it. The metal will look moist and shiny and no food will stick to this metal. If the bars are hot, very dry and dull, anything you add to this grill will immediately stick and when you pull away the food half of it will still be stuck to the grill bars and then burn.

Metal which is used for cooking needs to be seasoned with oil and this takes patience, time, tender loving care and lots of effort, but once you get the pan the way you want it, protect it with your life as you will be the envy of the chef community.

Happy Pan Seasoning!!

The Chilling “Lovely Bones”

I would like to share my latest “Musing” with you today if I may and I must warn you in advance that it has nothing to do with food or cooking.

Here is what I know and this is an undeniable part of real life that we unfortunately cannot hide from and for which we have to learn to deal with every day of our lives.

A young man will go through many stages in his life, all of which will be pivotal in creating the person he is going to portray to his wife, children and to the people around him later on in his life. Many young adult men, whether we like it or not have volatile hormones and a terrible testosterone abundance which drives them crazy. This burden ensures that they have sex on their minds every minute, gives them an erection for no apparent reason, it ensures that they look at every girl with reasons that are not exactly the most pure and the constant media, music scene, fashion and movie industry all contribute to ensure that all they want to do is have sex.

I want to talk open here whilst speaking candidly and say that many of these young consenting adults (I say many and of course I do not mean all), will tell their girl friends at the heat of the moment, anything they think the girl needs to hear to ensure they take their clothes off. Of course we all understand that the girl should say no and encourage the boy friend to wait until they get married, but if we think this is always going to happen then we are living in a fish bowl or in Disney Land.

They go though this stage of unknowing lack of respect for women due to ignorance, immaturity, lack of knowledge, uncontrollable urges and the primal need to mate.

I remember living through my twenties and enjoying every second of my bachelor life, although I would like to feel that I showed respect to all my girlfriends I have to admit here and now to the whole world that, as a normal young adult male, I never thought I wanted to marry all of them.

After my soul mate and I were married, Beatrice came to me, asked me to sit down and told me we were having a baby. I was very happy, at 39 years of age, yes 39; I had finally managed to start a family after meeting the woman of my dreams. There I was 9 months later inside the operating theatre after finding out our angel was a primary breach, watching the doctor slice open my best friend’s tummy and pulling out this miracle of life by both of her feet with their fingers, I remember crazily comparing it to the way you would pull a couple of beers out of a crate.

An hour later, after holding my daughter in my arms I finally travelled the full circle & for the first time the penny dropped, my eyes welled up and my mind opened wide to the concept that all the girls I had dated before were actually someone else’s daughter. The realization of placing myself in their father’s shoes would haunt me for years to come and only by treating my wife and daughter with total respect and with the love and kindness they deserve would I make amends for my personal perceived past mistakes enabling me to move on with my life.

Then, when I felt that life was progressing in the right direction and that I was coming to peace with my memories and finally starting to learn what a real man was, I read in a magazine or a newspaper about this new movie coming out named “Lovely Bones” and as the movie is not out yet I went and bought the book to have a read.

I have seen a lot of scary movies when I was young, “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, “A Nightmare of Elm Street” and the rest, but I can tell you now that as a loving father who would put his life on the line for his daughters, these stories pale in comparison to the chilling “Lovely Bones”.

Here’s the thing, whilst most of the other “horror” stories are scary, they appear to be not real and when you walk out of the cinema whilst scary inside you never think for a second that Freddie is waiting for you round the corner. “Lovely Bones” is very different as this is real life, the actual story line happens every day and the extremely scary part is that if you let your guard down for a second, Freddie might actually take your daughter away from you.

Beatrice and I have two lovely daughters, but if I may I would like to open my heart and my very private life to you just for a fleecing second. We had a family tragedy; 5 years ago we were having a son, after naming him Bradley and talking to him every day whilst he was growing in Beatrice’s tummy, he passed away at birth when he was almost full term.

Bradley had but just 3 weeks to go before the big day and we went for our normal routine final check-up only to receive this dreadful nightmare news that I would not wish on my worst enemies.

We took our eldest daughter out of school for a while so that we could get through this terrible loss together and when she went back to school they asked her to draw a picture to show what she had done during her holiday. The teacher called me to go to her class after she had gone home and she showed me the picture that she had drawn.

The picture was a picture of her holding her mummy’s and daddy’s hand in a cemetery and the words at the top announced, “This is a picture of me, mummy and daddy saying goodbye to my brother” I took the picture from the teacher, said thank you and instantly walked back to my car with the intention of driving back to work, but instead I sat in the car and cried for an hour.

I had a whole bunch of mixed emotions of anger, guilt and the terrible thought that my young daughter had to learn the hard lesson of loss so early in her very young life.

We struggled through unimaginable grief for about 2 years before the pain begun to subside, whilst the pain will never go away and we will carry the grief forever, only by supporting each other did we manage to get through it together. The biggest issue I had personally was the thought that as a father I should have done more to help my son, the guilt was something that I struggled with heavily; constantly going to his grave to aplogise begging for his forgiveness and although I still have the same thoughts, whilst still horrible are now at least manageable.

I am only telling you this to place on record that I do understand loss and that I am in a way regrettably somewhat qualified to try to understand what it must be like to lose your child in such a fashion.

So, after going through what I went through as a daddy, when I tried to place myself in the father’s shoes and I tried to imagine the pain and the unimaginable feeling of guilt, I was unable to come even close to what a parent must feel after living through such a terrible nightmare and to have some monster take away their angel.

Lovely bones forces us to rethink our conventional thought process that the next door neighbor is someone with whom we can trust, the “leaving the house keys with them whilst we go on holiday in case there is a problem”, or telling the children that if you are not home in time and the house is locked “go and stay with uncle next door and wait for us to come home”.

I have lived next to my neighbor for 3 years now and whilst he is lovely, “Lovely Bones” forces me to ask myself, how well do I actually know this man, as he is now 60, what did he do for the first 57 years of his life and I have come to the realisation that the fact is I don’t know anything about him at all.

Trust me, I do understand that we cannot wrap or daughters in cotton wool, we cannot be over protective so they feel suffocated, learn to hate their child hood and grow up hating us as parents, but reading “Lovely Bones” has definitely changed my perspective & thought process somewhat and ensured that I will make an even bigger effort to keep an extra eye on my two princesses.

When I sit by their beds at night and look at my girls sleeping, it’s extremely hard to imagine any person in their right mind who would even think about hurting them never mind doing so, but the fact is that there are people out there who would do exactly that.

We cannot teach our children to be scared of everyone, we can not teach them that they cannot trust anyone and we cannot teach our daughters that all men are only out for one thing, I know that I really do; but somehow we have to ensure they know that real monsters do exist and we unfortunately do not always know who they are.

Easy steps to cutting a mango

Cutting a mango correctly could not be easier if you have the right tools and the basic knowledge to do so.

The first step is to cut a mango as you would normally cut it, if you make a mess of it please do not worry, all you want is the stone from inside as this is the secret to cutting a perfect mango.

After you have eaten the broken mango wash all the left over bits and pieces of fruit off the stone until it’s clean and lay it on your cutting board.

Then you get need to get another whole mango and lay that next to the cleaned stone.

Both the stone and the mango will lay on the board in a similar fashion, the stone will look like a elongated, funny kind of flying saucer shape.

Then you must peel the skin off the whole mango with a small pairing knife, we use smaller knives as they are easier to control whilst holding them and much better for any intricate work that needs to be done.

Lay the peeled mango next to the mango stone and take a good look at them both.

You now know what the stone inside the whole peeled mango looks like and which way the stone will be laying inside the whole fruit.

The stone will be lying inside the fruit exactly as it is lying on the cutting board, flat on its side.

Here is the secret, by using a thin bladed and sharp knife, by holding the fruit with your left hand ever so gently, you insert the edge of the knife into the right had side of the mango.

You feel around for the stone with your knife and when you feel the stone, you turn your hand to ensure the knife is laying down flat on the stone and cut across the top of the stone cutting the top half of the mango off.

You then turn around the mango and do exactly the same to cut off the top half of the fruit.

In other words you are using the knife to follow the exact shape of the stone thereby cutting around the stone.

You will then end up with two rather large pieces that you can slice and serve, however there will still be more bits and pieces left on the stone that you need to cut off any way you can.

The smaller pieces you have would normally be cut for fruit salad and the larger ones sliced and served with ice cream or another accompaniment of your choice.

Notes:

When holding a peeled mango, if you squeeze it too hard, the fruit will crush or at least end up with large indents or finger prints all over it. Mango is a very delicate fruit that needs to be handled with lightly touched care. You need to ensure that the cutting board you are using is very clean and fresh without onion, garlic or fish smells (for example) as Mango is also a very delicately tasting fruit as well and will absorb left over smells on the board. There is nothing worse than biting into a wonderful piece of fresh fruit only to find out that it tastes like garlic.

Happy Cutting!

Simple points to cooking vegetables

When cooking vegetables most people would believe it to be the most simple of tasks, but if done correctly, you can retain all the vitamins, minerals and the wonderful natural colours. Let’s take a simple vegetable such as long beans and go through the steps taking into consideration that most vegetables can be cooked the same way.

Start off by placing a large pot on the stove, ¾ full of water and seasoned with rock salt.

Bring the pot to a steady boil before adding the vegetables, the vegetables should roll over in the water as the water boils.

Get a bowl ready filled with ice, do not add the water until the last minute as the water will melt the ice rather quickly.

After cooking for 5 minutes, every 1 minute or so after that, fish a single bean out of the pot and bite into it, when they are almost cooked and there is a slight “bite” left they are ready.

Fill the bowl of ice with cold water on top and plunge the “fished” out and almost cooked green beans right into the ice cold water.

When they are plunged into the ice cold water the green colour will jump out at you.

The ice cold water instantly stops the cooking process and they can be left there for hours and will be safe, thereby not cooking any further.

You leave the cooking water still in the pot and simmering gently on the stove.

You then get a sauté pan, add some whole butter, shallots, garlic or whatever herbs, spices and so on that you wish to add.

When all the ingredients are sautéed nicely together, you plunge the beans back into the simmering water for just long enough to heat them up.

You then fish them out again and add them right into the sautéed garlic and herbs, toss them around for a second and they are done!

Notes:

We should never put a lid on green vegetables when you are cooking them as the entire natural colour will disappear and they will turn brown.

We should never over cook vegetables as if we do that all the vitamins and minerals are transferred into the cooking water, to get the natural benefits from the vegetables we have to drink all the cooking water.

If we are cooking lots of vegetables we should cook them in batches, if there are too many vegetables put into the boiling water it will take too long for the water to come back to a boil and the vegetables with loose their colour. The quicker the vegetables come back to a boil the better. It should actually only take a few seconds after adding the vegetables for the water to come back to a boil, if this is not the case you have added too many.

Every different type of vegetable takes a different amount of time to cook so they have to be cooked separately. If we cook them together, you have to wait for the vegetables that take longer to cook to cook properly and this will ensure that the vegetables that take less time to cook are over cooked.

Happy Cooking!

PR Playoffs

The Musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book.

Public relations is a never-ending game in the hotel industry, and can result in both magic and mayhem.

Public relations is one aspect of the hospitality industry that always gets my admiration. It never stops, the wheels spinning 24 hours, a thousand miles an hour, continuously picking up speed – it never ceases to amaze.

For example, look at the way menus are written to ensure that the food sounds great (regardless of what it tastes like). Imagine “Chef Mike’s line-caught fresh river rainbow trout.” What a romantic picture customers paint when they imagine that the chef rose at the crack of dawn just to catch their lunch … and then personally cooked it for them. Even if, at the back of their minds, they know that he simply defrosted it when he came to work at nine, it does not seem to matter – because this is the theatre, and it’s show time.

Then there are media interviews, when management may announce that the hotel is fully booked for the next two months to create the illusion that their hotel is the place to be and to be seen – even if they are only running at 30% occupancy. Or getting people to line up outside a nightclub, so that it looks like the place is so crowded you can’t possibly get in, when it’s actually empty.

The competition for media coverage is always quite fierce among hotels, and can lead to some crazy situations. I once saw a chef walking into the lobby of his newly-opened hotel with a baby elephant borrowed from the local zoo. Unfortunately, the nervous elephant let go of its breakfast, creating a small, steaming pile right on the newly-laid Persian carpet. The chef lost his job. This little anecdote just goes to show that many people are willing to go to great lengths to get ahead of their competitors.

The challenge of public relations is an enjoyable aspect of the business. Never was the competitive pressure as great as when I was in Hong Kong, about 17 years ago. Every chef’s goal was to get the best story possible in the newspapers so that the competition would have to call to congratulate them – and in turn, plot their own story to beat that stunt. One day, the hotel’s F&B director came barreling into my office as though he had scored the winning goal in the World Cup final. “I’ve got it, chef!” he cried excitedly. “What mental illness would that be?” I replied. “Come here – I have to show you something,” was his only response. Up to the rooftop we went. As we stepped onto the roof, pigeons flew into our faces. “Sorry about that chef, they must be scared,” said the F&B director. “Not as scared as me, I can assure you – I am petrified of heights,” was my reply. “Don’t be such a baby – look.”

As I turned to see what he was pointing at, I noticed that there was no barrier around the roof edge – just a sheer drop. Pipes ran along the floor, just waiting to trip people up and plummet them over the edge. In the middle of the roof was a large air vent, vibrating strongly and blowing out hot air. On top of the air vent was a small flat structure. The chief engineer was standing next to it and smiling.

“Is this great or what?” he enquired. “Absolutely. What the heck is it?!” I replied. The F&B fellow looked at me with a big smile on his face and shouted, “It’s your lunch table! “We are going to set a pristine fine dining setting right up there and you are going to have a five-course western set lunch right now!” I was speechless. “Chef, you are going to be famous,” he said. “For what, being an idiot?” was my only reply.

Nobody seemed to be listening to me as they ran around setting up the table; all too quickly, I was climbing a ladder to reach the dining summit. It was very windy, and as I was climbing, my apron blew up – I knew how women must feel when their skirts get caught by a gust of wind.

“This is madness!” I cried. “Sit down, hold up your glass of wine, offer a toast and smile,” was the only reply I got. The platform was shaking. “Hurry up and take the flipping picture, will you!” I said. The photographer, camera in his hand, gave me a thumbs up. He started his countdown – “One, two …wait a minute there is something wrong here.” “Give me a break! This is a circus, will someone get me down?” I cried. Again, the countdown began – “One, two …oh I know what it is, my battery is dead.” “You are going to be dead in a minute,” I threatened. “I have to go to my office and get another,” he announced. As he disappeared through those doors – beyond which lay safety and a warm cup of coffee – I felt the urge to visit the loo, and proclaimed as much. “Don’t move chef, we have to get the photo taken so we can get it into the newspapers tomorrow,” said the F&B director.

As I sat there thinking that this was the end of the world, I took a second to look beyond my shattered nerves and peer over the top of the hotel roof. Suddenly, I felt calm, overwhelmed with the beauty of the city skyline, the surrounding wooded hills and low mountains. I slowly sipped my Cabernet Sauvignon, and sat there in awe. As I was lost in the moment, the camera flashed.

“Chef, your face said it all – we have a great shot and a great story. You can get down now,” said the photographer. “It’s all right. I think I might just sit here for a while and finish my wine,” I said.

Everyone else went downstairs. It was a gloriously sunny day, and I felt terribly lucky to be enjoying it, pondering the greatness of Mother Nature.

The next day, I picked up the newspapers at breakfast and there was the story and picture captioned “Chef Saxon has lunch at his private open-air lunch table with a panoramic view to launch the opening of the city’s newest hotel.” The phone would soon be ringing off the hook I thought, with my colleagues vowing to come up with something even better. I was talking to the PR Manager and wallowing in my glory when she asked, “Did you know the hotel was robbed last night?” “Really?!” I responded, astounded. “Yes – they ran through the lobby, grabbed a guest’s suitcase and disappeared into the night,” she said. “The guest filed a police report and I have been getting calls all morning.” As she finished the sentence, her phone rang again; it was a journalist from the South China Morning Post who wanted to know about the robbery and what had happened. As I left her office I could hear her in full swing. “What robbery? Oh no darling, you should not believe everything you hear. We had a film crew in the hotel filming an upcoming Cantonese crime movie!” In the same breath, she added, “By the way, did you know that Sean Connery is staying with us?”

Service Shenanigans

I Arrived in Hong Kong to work in my first five-star hotel in Asia in 1988, and was totally blown away, not only by the quality of the staff and services offered. Nonetheless, I thought that the quality of service could only improve as the industry developed and competition for supremacy in service quality standards intensified.

            However, in spite of the huge, ever-growing demand for well-trained, experienced professionals to fuel the light speed development of hotels worldwide, I could not have been more wrong.

            A lasting solution to the dwindling standards of service is needed; unless we do something now, we risk losing forever the valuable “old” standards. Hospitality is at the core of our industry, and that is what we should keep in mind when we open our doors to weary international travelers who trust their welfare to us during their stay, A clean, safe, friendly, professionally-run home-away-from-home environment – those are the minimum requirements for any international hotel, and what sets one business apart.

            I would like to share an experience that I encountered when visiting a five-star hotel; I don’t mean to criticize – goodness knows, we all have problems – but I do think that it is time we addressed this important issue. It’s a funny story about a serious problem.

            After calling the hotel ahead of time to organize my stay, I walked into the lobby after 10pm; I was tired and just wanted to shower and rest. On arriving at the desk, I offered my name and was surprised with the response – “Welcome home, Mr Saxon, we have been expecting you! What a pleasure it is to see you returning – your usual room is ready and your favourite fruits are awaiting your arrival. We have taken the liberty of placing some imported beer in the mini bar for you,” said the guy at the front desk, whose name tag proclaimed him as “Raymond”.

            Now, this was the first time I would be staying in this hotel, so I thought this was rather peculiar – but then, I thought that maybe as I was a hotelier myself, they were taking special care of me.

            “Let me escort you upstairs right away,” said Raymond, and as he marched on ahead, he signalled the bellboy to carry my large and rather heavy suitcase. I tried to convince them that I was able to carry my own case, but Raymond said, “Carry your own bag?! Absolutely not, we insist on transporting your luggage to your suite for you!”

            The rather petite bellboy came running over; he wasn’t much bigger than my suitcase and I hoped that he wouldn’t get a double hernia trying to help me.

            Something else occurred to me at this point and I enquired, “Excuse me, did you say ‘suite’?”

            “It would be criminal to place a gentleman like your self anywhere other than in one of our finest suites,” he replied. At this point, I was very impressed with what was happening and a glimmer of hope was beginning to illuminate my slightly bleak outlook for the short-term industry service standards – this was to be very short-lived, however.

            As we entered the elevator, Raymond whispered rather bashfully, “Your usual masseuse will be here in half an hour, Mr Saxon. We had problems locating Ms Fifi this time, as she changed establishments and failed to inform us,”

            At that moment, I knew for sure that there was something seriously amiss.

            “I think that you have me confused with somebody else – I never organised a massage from Fifi, or anyone else for that matter, and I have never stayed in your hotel before. And to be honest, I only booked a standard room,” I said.

            I was becoming slightly irritated that he was not listening to me at all. As we exited the elevator on the top floor and sat down at the executive lounge express check-in, I thought I would give revealing my true identity another go.

            “I believe that I am being confused with one of your regular and more important guests. This lounge is exquisite, but any second now, you’re going to realise I don’t actually belong here! I specifically booked a room on the lower floor, as I am scared of heights, you see,” I said.

            The executive lounge manager looked at his reservation screen and said, “Your PA booked the top floor, sir, with a double bed, for your entire two-week stay”. I was only staying for three days, and as my factual input we being ignored yet again. I silently leaned back on the soft leather sofa and wondered what was going to happen next.

            I was whisked away to a very large two-bedroom suite with a king-sized bed. There was Champagne in an ice bucket with two gleaming crystal flutes, a large tower of imported fresh fruits and a very large plasma television.

            “Will there be anything else you require, Mr Saxon?” offered the very polite chap on his way out.

            “Yes, just one thing – I noticed that there is a welcome letter by the huge pile of fruits,” I said.

            “Yes sir, we always make our VIP guests as welcome as possible – guest recognition is our forte,” he replied

            “Yes, one thing though …” I rejoined, “Who is Mr Jones?”

            “Excuse me, sir?”

            “Mr Jones – the name on the card is Mr Jones.”

            The poor chap glanced at the card and swallowed deeply, saying, “Let me check on that, sir, and I will get back to you in a second.”

            Being a hotelier myself, I sat down in an armchair, careful not to mess up the room setting, and watched the news.

            Five minutes later, the duty manager arrived in the room to apologise on bended knees for checking me into the wrong room; my name had somehow been listed in the booking system as the managing director of a huge public listed trading company.

            “Let me escort you to your room, Mr Saxon,” said the manager. As we were leaving, my luggage arrived. The bell staff placed it on the suite floor at my feet and then left.

            “Will you require some assistance with your luggage, sir?”

             I was astounded, and could not help saying, “You mean that you are not going to insist that you carry it for me?”

            The manager went outside and squealed down the corridor to get the bell staff to come back. I was escorted to my “standard” room; however, I was very nicely upgraded to the executive floor, to a room which nonetheless had no fruit, not to mention a lack of Champagne on ice, and just a normal “old-fashioned” box television set.

            “I guess that Fifi will not be coming then?” I enquired with a grin.

            During the couple of days I stayed there, when entering the executive floor, the security asked me every question possible, CIA-style, to confirm my identity; on a different occasion, I walked past a staff member busy texting on their mobile phone, who didn’t even glance up once.

            Overall, the hotel was fine and I enjoyed my stay, but I must say that I noticed a disconcerting slow trend in the industry. The days when you used to see the general manager hanging around the lobby for a couple of hours a day, talking to guests and enquiring about their comfort, is slowly disappearing as the industry becomes more focused on the bottom line. It is my belief that as we eventually come full circle, we will remember why we all entered the industry in the first place, and that without our valued customers, there would be no bottom line at all.

The Importance of people Skills

When I was a teenager and walked through the back door of the hotel for the first time, I received a very big wake up call and understood extremely quickly that that you learned something every day or you were punished.

A good kick in the back side, pastry cream rubbed all over my face, name calling, intimidation, a hit on the elbow with a hot sauced ladle maybe, a bath in a huge pot of dirty water or even threats of “Saxon, you will never make a chef as long as you have a hole in your arse!” would be the standing order of the day.

How I ever stayed in this business is beyond me, I used to think to myself that it did not deserve me, but what could a teenager do, I just wanted, no dreamed of being a chef.

I have witnessed it all, but I am still here, still plodding on and still ensuring every day that all those idiots are proved wrong.

I am lucky enough to have been taught by my mother & father the difference between right and wrong, so I do not and will not ever make the same mistakes as others and in doing so betray my colleagues trust with humiliation tactics.

Today I walk around the pot washing area, not as a toe rag as I was treat 30 years ago but as  General Manager of one of the best hotels in Asia. In doing so I shake the hands of the people whom wash the pots knowing that If they are not taken care of and they resign and leave their posts I may have to wash the pots myself and I know how hard that is being as I have “been there and done that”

So here we are, its 2010 and we have finally arrived in a modern working environment where people skills have become our most important and prized asset, without such motivational skills, you cannot be any where near as successful as you had earlier dreamt.

It is quite amazing really that there are still people out there whom believe others can be beaten into submission, intimidated & threatened thereby being forced to learn only to then turn around and demand to be thanked for the privilege to have studied under them. 

The plain truth is that we must ensure our junior colleagues want to work for, or even better work with us due to respect and not fear, only then will they deliver their total worth, contribute their entire mind heart & soul and in doing so ensure that as a manager, you look far better than what you actually are.

We must understand that we are only as good as the people around us and with a happy, healthy team built on foundations of mutual respect, physical & mental support and yes a little bit of emotion who knows what may happen.

Although there are still some lunatics out there that still practice the ways of the big stick, they are in fact the remnants of a dieing breed, their days are numbered and the clock is ticking slowly but ever so surely to the big day when we can say goodbye to the intimidation culture.

Ladies and gentleman, right here and right now I put my hand on my heart and solemnly swear that for me, this time can’t come soon enough.