Bitten by a French Rottweiler
A customer once asked me to recommend a good wine for cooking. Her thick French accent instantly transported me back to the Restaurant on the Green.  The scene: being screamed at by a steadfastly grumpy French chef who I'd just really pissed off.  Let me explain… A long, long time ago in a land far, far away….. or put more simply, 15 years ago in England…..I was a duty manager and assistant restaurant manager of the very swanky Jarvis George Hotel in Solihull England.  A fairly expensive 178 room hotel built across from the 1700’s St Alphege church and surrounding the oldest crown bowling green in England.  Pretty picture post card stuff, particularly with a little snow on the roof tops.   During my time there as a young and arrogant lad I learnt a lot form the experienced people around me.  I’m not sure if I ever thanked them adequately…actually I’m pretty sure I didn’t so here goes.  Cheers. St One of my favourite people there was the amazing roasting chef called Claude.  Now to hear Claude pronounce his name you would assume he had just barked at you.  A deep, gravelly spit of a word with a long build up.  This is the way I want you to hear his name in your head each time I type it.  It helps set the tone of the encounter. The day in question was one of those early spring days, crisp and very cold but invigorating.  I was on the lunch shift and ready for a busy afternoon.  Over a hundred covers, as the hotel was full, and two new staff to keep an eye on, but the day started off really well.  Until….. An apprentice chef appeared on the floor looking like a deer on a freeway.  For those of you who have not worked in hospitality, chefs are aggressively territorial about their kitchen.  Conversely, all but the most experienced cookie is absolutely terrified of the customers and therefore the service floor.  The Bambi in the puffy hat had been forced to brave the outer world in search of a bottle of wine.  Claude (did you hear it?) had run out of his own stock and wanted to borrow one from our rack.  Now this is where my naiveté was to get me in trouble.  Being a good Aussie lad who had come straight from running bars and clubs in Oz I went straight for the bottom of the rack.  That’s where the “cooking wine” lived, right?  I even had the audacity to shake my head as Bambi zigzagged his back to safety.  Two minutes later my mood was to be well and truly undone… Claude appeared looking decidedly less timid than Bambi.  He looked a lot more like that Rottweiler mentioned in the title as the two swinging kitchen doors were flung open.  Customers, waiters, cooks and yours truly all jumped.  He stomped across the floor in a direct line for the Maître d’s lectern, his sixty year old French jowls pounding as he fixed his eyes on his prey.  Me.  I wondered what he was so mad about.  I liked Claude and he liked me.  I was the only waiter ever to stay and help between shifts and he was teaching me to cook.  Then I spotted the bottle held like a club in his left paw.  Bang!  The bottle hit the sloped top of my lectern and only defence.   It slid off, hit the plush carpet and laid there, dead.  We stood there staring at each other.  I was desperately trying to use my peripheral vision to make sure he didn’t have one of his cooking knives in his right hand, at the same time trying not to show the 100 plus customers now looking at me that I was scared out of my pants.  Finally he let fly.  Snorting like a bull about to charge, he growled in a long, drawn-out French insult… “You would not put this in your mouth from a glass,”  volume rising slightly “why do you expect these people to put it to theirs from a fork!” He turned, grabbed a bottle from the top of the rack and left. It took me a minute to compose myself – I had never been so embarrassed.  I managed to pull myself together and under the gaze of 100 diners I approached a table who was yet to order.  The room was silent.  “Good afternoon” I said, “Welcome to the George.  Are you ready to order?”  The business man hosting clients passed me his menu, looked at me slyly and said with a slight giggle.  “We will have whatever he’s cooking.”  The restaurant exploded in laughter and I slowly melted into the floor. Jarvis Ten years and 43,000 km later, safely back home, I was able to hear the message. The wine is an ingredient like all the other ingredients, it adds to the dish.  The more it has to offer the more you can expect from your gravy, jus or glaze.   You wouldn’t cook with bad meat or veg so don’t cook with a wine that is not up to the challenge. Oh, the second message of course was, in life try your best not to piss off any 60 year old French Chefs who have 45 years’ experience carving meat if you can avoid it.  My tip of the day, happy cooking.