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”

Industry news

As Chefs Tales is a community blog and is quickly becoming a public source of information for everyone to share, it has been suggested that we offer Industry news that is available and for which people may be interested in.

We have decided that we will offer this service to ensure that interesting information and posts are  continously uploaded for your reading pleasure.

There will be the first industry news posting uploaded shortly and we do hope that it is of some interest to our readers.

Please let us know of your thoughts and or your opinions.

Warm regards,

Mike.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

A father and daughter's inseparable love

Working at the E&O reminds me of why I joined the industry in the first place. It’s a luxury hotel with glamour, romance and intrigue, but most of all it has what many other hotels are unable to offer and that is the fact that this year it is going to be 124 years old. The walls of this hotel are steeped in history and many repeat visitors have private tales to share about their loved ones and their personal and fond memories.

I had only been here for a few months when one day, as I was walking through the lobby on the way back to my office, I saw a young lady standing under the grand dome holding a small shiny vase. She looked a little perturbed, so I slowly made my way in her direction to ask her if she needed any assistance. She introduced herself as Caroline and informed me that her father used to serve with the armed forces here many, many years ago and he used to always come to the E&O to eat and to go ballroom dancing. She went on to inform me that the E&O was one of his most favourite places in the whole world. She held on to the vase tightly and went on to say that her beloved father had recently passed away and he had requested that his ashes be spread in the grounds of the hotel. As she requested permission I realized that her father’s ashes were in the vase she was holding so tightly, I was taken aback by the request she was making and could not help but to be awe inspired by the way Caroline was holding herself together during such an emotional moment.

I told her that it would be an honour for us if she spread her father’s ashes in our garden and off she went to spread them amongst the flowers and plants close to the wall. After she had finished I watched her slowly walk through the front door on the way out, wiping away a few tears whilst holding on to the empty vase and I could not help but tear up with the thought of what was going through her mind.

About three weeks later, I saw her sitting on the wall having a glass of wine talking to herself, so I went over to enquire if she was alright. Caroline informed me that she would come over here at least twice a month to have a glass of wine, sit in the very same spot where she had spread the ashes and talk to her father. I left her alone so she could enjoy her very private moment with her dad and she did this every couple of weeks for over two years until it was time for her and her family to move onto their next posting.

Two years ago as I was arriving at the hotel and shaking the hands of my staff, there was an elderly chap standing under the same copper dome, leaning rather gingerly on a walking stick. After wishing the chap a very good morning, he introduced himself as Mr. Johnson and told me that he was having a visit down memory lane as he also served here over 5o years ago as a young soldier and was loving the historical moment he was having after just arriving on a 14 hour flight.

He informed that he had many, many wonderful memories of his evenings and dances at the hotel and as his bottom lip started to tremble whilst re-living his history, he managed to compose himself and went on to explain that there used to be an old lift somewhere that he used to sneak up to see his old girlfriend in. When I informed him that the same original lift was still here and most importantly still in working order, he was extremely surprised to say the very least. When I asked him if he would like to go for a ride, his legs wobbled a little, making it apparent that the walking stick had enabled him to stay on his feet.

We entered the lift for a short 3 floor ride to the top and back down again to the bottom. The entire ride took no more that 2-3 minutes, but was sufficient time to have this wonderful gentleman in tears. He started off out of the lift and across the lobby before turning around to face me for a second and as he turned around he told me that he would now go to his grave a happy man and this was a day he would surely never forget. I stood there speechless after hearing what he had just said to me and instantly tried to grapple with the importance a ride in a lift could have possibly meant to him.

There is something I know for certain and that is that after I leave the E&O Hotel, I will never be able to work in another hotel like this for as long as I live. Hotels are either 124 years old or their not, it’s that simple and that special, you can’t buy heritage. This is why I hold on to the position as the General Manager here as long as I can and pray that the owners will keep me here until I am unable to carry on due to old age.

Oh and before I forget, did I tell you that Caroline called me last week, she informed me that the whole family is coming here to visit us this festive period for a couple of weeks. She told me that she wants to sit on the wall, have a glass of wine and wish her father a Merry Christmas.

Just another day in paradise

Wacky and Wondrous fun at the poolside

 

Depending on which hotel you work at, the pool can be either an incredibly boring place or the centre of all the action. Usually, the poolside scene at city hotels is not that exciting, but a poolside at a beach resort fronting the sea normally keeps the staff busy-especially if the hotel has a sunken bar for people to get intoxicated at while ogling sun worshippers, as mine did.

            I was walking past our sunken bar to the pool kitchen area to check on things when I saw my idle chef leaning on the counter, checking out the poolside talent, unaware of my presence.

            “Busy, are we?!” I asked.

            “Just making sure all our valued customers are well taken care of, chef,” smirked the startled chef. I stood on the edge of the pool area, shaking my head in disappointment and glanced out at the clear turquoise sea, the powdery white sands and the tourists running around, burning to a lobster-like shade. I wondered how many were going to ruin their holidays with third-degree burns.

            “You know, you have the best job in the hotel,” I said, “Here you are, cooking a few burgers and hotdogs, while watching all the action and working on your tan at the same time!”

            I was about to continue when a rather large chap sitting in the water at the sunken bar chipped in first.

            “Hey there chef, great dinner last night! What with the braised cabbage and all. Breakfast was great too, although I ate too many baked beans,” he said rather unsteadily. He seemed to have consumed a few drinks too many as well.

            “I topped all that off with six ice-cold beers and now my friends and I are having a wind breaking competition,” he continued loudly.

            Before I could continue my conversation with the chef, the wannabe entertainer lifted his bottom and broke wind, sending noxious bubbles floating to the top of the water.

              “There goes the ozone layer!” he announced, eliciting howls of laughter from his equally obtuse friends.

            I could not help myself. “I am so glad to see we have finally managed to attract the exclusive market segment we have been working so hard over the years to reach! It is about time we upgraded our client base, and we now have wonderful customers like yourselves enjoying the million-dollar facilities,” I said, as sarcastically as I could manage.

            The guy stared at me, trying to fathom what the heck I was talking about, at the same time announcing the arrival of another torpedo with “Here comes another, chef!”

            Wonderful start to my day. In addition to the bubble-blower, there were screaming kids running around, couples throwing each other in the water, two fat men competing to see who could make the biggest belly flop jumping into the pool screaming “Yeeha!” and an elderly man pushing the oldest, most rusty-looking bicycle I have ever seen, hung with coconuts.

“Now that is what I call an old bike,” I said to the coconut vendor. 

            This antique bike has been with my family for generations, and it is one of our most prized heirlooms,” he replied proudly. Announcing that he would sing a beautiful song to advertise his wares, he coughed slightly to clear his throat and closed his eyes for a second, as if to pluck up courage.         

Everyone crowded around, eager for some entertainment. “Coconut water, good for your daughter, coconut … baby coconut. Coconut water good for your daughter, coconut, I am selling coconut,” went his song.

            “Well then,” I said, clapping and attempting to give him some support, “If that does not help you sell your stuff nothing will …”

            The guests who had gathered just wandered off shaking their heads and giggling among themselves.

            As I was getting ready to depart the scene, a rather burnt-looking fellow came towards me looking disturbed. “Hi chef, my red flag has been flying in the garden for ten minutes-what is the point of having a red flag system if nobody offers me service when I raise it?!” he said irritably.

            “How can I help you, sir?” I answered wearily.

            “Gin and tonic, young man … and please be quick,” he replied.

            As I turned around to look for a waiter, another obviously happy chappy came over. “Chef, this pool is a circus! There are kids running every where, drunken bums blowing large smelly bubbles into the water in which I submerge my face, a fella selling coconuts and a guy complaining about his red flag, when the only red flag I see is that I cannot seem to get any peace around here!” he raged.

            I was about to try and show some obviously much-needed compassion when I heard a “cling cling” sound. As I turned around, wondering what else could possibly happen, I saw one of our service staff on the new ice-cream delivery bicycle, frantically ringing the small bell on the handlebars.

            This bicycle was designed to help distribute ice-cream to sweltering guests on the hotel grounds. As he came towards me, I realized that he was looking a tad unsteady on his new mode of transportation. He was veering to the left, looking like he was going to fall off, and the front wheel was wobbling back and forth. The area surrounding the pool was concrete and this guy was well in his way to engaging in a nice bruising affair.

            Luckily for him, he held it together long enough to stay on well past the concrete, far enough in fact to make it right to the edge of the pool and… right into the pool itself.

            As he and the soon-to-be-soaking-wet ice-cream went headfirst into the busy pool, he flapped his arms frantically, shouting “I can’t swim!”

            Looking at him, I calmly said, “Stand up.”

            He immediately calmed down and stood up, realizing that he had fallen into the shallow end. I looked at the red flag chap, who was looking on in horror. “He has not taken his test yet,” was the only comment I could muster.

            A huge monitor lizard chose that moment to come running through the garden and grab some leftover food off a plate. It plunged into the pool to cool off, climbed out the other side and disappeared into some bushes.

            “Now that is not something you see every day, chef!” shouted the impatient drinker, adding “Gin and tonic, please!” to any waiter within earshot.

            Unwilling to be outdone, Mr. I Want Some Peace and Quiet chipped in with, “It’s not just a circus, it’s a zoo as well!” 

            I steadied myself, glanced at my chef and whispered, “I have changed my mind, this job is not easy-and it’s all yours!”

            As I turned around for a speedy retreat, I saw five people in full scuba gear coming to attend beginner scuba diving classes….you guessed it, in the swimming pool!

            As I was leaving, I heard someone shout, “You have got to be kidding!” as he spotted the pending arrival of the team, who were going to give the bubble-blowers a run for their money. “Chef!” screamed another, “You better make that gin and tonic a double!”

            Another day in paradise, I mumbled under my breath.

Note:

This is new material that is not in “Chef’s Tales” the book and was first published in Flavours Magazine.