Well it's all happening on the job front. Three trials completed last week, and three job offers in hand. Now if only Chefette can figure out which one to take. Decisions, decisions.
First trial was on Tuesday, at one of the smaller restaurants in the gastronomic empire of a well-known British designer and restauranteur. It's got a fabulous riverside location, with a sunny terrace, and a modern European menu. The kitchen was light and well equipped, with a good layout and a calm atmosphere (possibly due to the fact that, on the day in question, only about 10 tables came in for lunch). The head chef was a vivaciously flamboyant chap with a plummy accent and a somewhat eccentric manner. Very enthusiastic, if slightly hard to understand. The sous chef, in contrast, was a more gentle, soft-spoken type. He had told me not to bother bringing my own knives for the trial day, which turned out to be a misfortune indeed. I spent my day on a variety of unglamourous prep jobs with only a blunt serated tool for company. (Try preparing a crate full of globe artichokes with a dull knife and see how long it takes you!) But the vibe in the kitchen was professional and calm -- no loud, annoying characters mouthing off at everyone.
My second trial was on Wednesday, at a large, bustling restaurant in Borough Market. Their emphasis was on unfussy, well executed British traditional dishes, which they turned out at breakneck speed (during the lunchtime service when I was there, they served 130 covers). The head chef was a hyperactive, jovial and boisterous man, who led his large kitchen brigade with a loud mixture of cajolery, praise, teasing, swearing and even towel-whipping. His love of produce and good British ingredients was effusive, as he passed me the first of the season's greengage plums to sample (succulent yellow-fleshed beauties that were both sweet and refreshingly acidic). And he proudly showed me the quality of the strip loin of beef going into his newly repaired mincer. He told me frankly that any new hires were on a probationary period for four weeks, and at the end of that time, to be hired permanently, they must get the nod not only from him, but from his other chefs. The kitchen had been buzzing with activity from the early hours of the morning (they do a breakfast service as well as lunch and dinner), and the vibe during service was an adrenaline-fuelled frenzy. I've no doubt I could learn loads, but I'd be starting as the lowliest of lowly peons among a staff of thousands, and there would be months of real hard graft before I could graduate from commis to chef de partie. It would definitely be a case of suffering for my art.
The third restaurant was the complete opposite of the second. A very small, local Italian bistro with a neighbourhood feel. The chef-patronne is a lovely Irish lady in her late 40s, with a relaxed attitude and a twinkle in her eye. For the past six years, one of her mates has helped her out in the kitchen, and the two of them together come across as fun and sensible in equal measure. No rigid kitchen hierarchy here! They both pitch in with everything from desserts to starters to mains. I worked a quiet Friday evening service with the patronne, during which time we chatted away amicably as we worked. I messed up one hot starter, but instead of dishing out a verbal bollocking she very kindly showed me how I should have done it, and let me get on with the rest of the dishes. At the end of the evening, she poured us out a couple of glasses of wine. A very relaxing and civilised cap on the evening. Despite my minor mess-up, she told me that she liked the say I worked, and that I was sure to get faster with practice. The only downside is that it would only be 3 shifts a week, but at least I would be doing some real cooking and not just cleaning muscles, dicing onions, and picking herbs all day! If I took that one, I'd need to find another part-time job to get some more experience.
Now, I must dash. I've told all three chefs that I'd call them on Monday with my answer. Not sure yet what that will be. I've got some soul-searching to do.