My visit came on the 31st which meant that elements of the new, monthly-changing menu were being prepared while well-practised courses went out for the last time. Not strictly true... there is a little sensible seasonal repetition and sometimes a dish is just too good to be discontinued. But it did make for a delightful confusion as far as I was concerned as I witnessed a wealth of ideas being brought to life before me.
For the early part of the day commis pastry chef Henry made me warmly welcome and we discussed sour dough starters, flour suppliers and parental wisdom on what to avoid discussing with a prospective partner on a first date. It’s not all about food, you know! Doughs were at various stages of preparation and I eventually tried to shape breakfast rolls. Two at a time. My right hand occasionally succeeded but the left is in detention after completely refusing to co-operate. I filled conical brioche bun tins with slightly more sticky success. I brushed rose petals from Tom Coward’s garden with egg white and sprinkled them with rose sugar to be dried for eventual adornment of afternoon teas. That sugar is powerful stuff. Opening the container releases a pungency sweeter and more heady than a score of English country gardens.
Amuse-bouche: Mistaken Identity
A recurring theme when introduced to a new member of the brigade was being asked where I had worked previously and how long I was now contracted to be at Gravetye.
A few years back, Mrs. Cheoff gifted me a chef’s jacket and checkered apron. At home I usually don them just before friends arrive for a meal and greet them with something like, “We’re very busy… have you booked?” I changed into this for the day at Gravetye and I guess they gave me false credentials. It’s always lovely to have an ego boost but I did correct each misguided individual immediately. I reckon I gave them enough subsequent evidence to confirm that I was just a keen but casual visitor.
Chef appeared in our section just before ten. There was no quick, polite introduction followed by George Blogg's disappearance to do ‘more important things’. Instead, he began to include me in a conversation which flowed through the day. I had brought notes with prompts for questions to ask but these were deliberately discarded as I realised how much was going on around to feed my curiosity. Chef by no means devoted all his time to me but I felt that he would always be available with much more attention than I had expected. And, of course, the whole brigade are given that same attention. Through great time management Chef is constantly questioning and responding to those around him so that they are fully occupied in sustaining a standard and pushing it to further heights.
I was kept busy while lunch service started by collecting and mixing ingredients for an 'Olive Oil & Pistachio Cake', also intended for afternoon teas. Henry needed his book of notes and recipes to work with elsewhere so he quickly transcribed the ingredients for me.