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Obey the chef

An angry French chef tells Richard Renouf what he should write about. And it has very little to do with baking…

OCCASIONALLY I’ve been asked to cover a particular topic in my monthly article, and I’m happy to oblige, not least because it means I don’t have to come up with a fresh topic myself. This month, however, is a little different – I have been told, in no uncertain terms, by an angry French chef what I must write about.

Monsieur le Chef has been the model of kindness and gentleness all week, in spite of my incompetence. I’m here on holiday in the West Country, and have chosen to spend the time honing my baking skills and trying not to think about work.

I’ve been shown and then have made fougasse, focaccia and tin loaves on day one and today, fresh from the oven, have come croissants, cinnamon knots, pains au chocolat, pains aux raisins, Danish pastries and doughnuts (although I admit the doughnuts and much of the other bakes have all been eaten). The photos have been sent home and a queue is already forming for my return.

On top of all that, elevenses and lunch have been provided every day, with various treats to go with our coffees and the most amazing meals for a relaxed afternoon lunch when all the baking is in the oven. Today a whole brie was oven-baked in brioche, served with pesto-roasted carrots and boiled potatoes, and washed down with French wine. It’s a great way to ‘celebrate’ a successful day of learning and to wait for the goodies to cool so we can take them away.

Of course, Monsieur le Chef has been demanding. The course has 12 delegates, so there have been plenty of slip-ups. He has pointed out our mistakes and taken over at times, but only in a passionate desire to ensure we leave the course knowing how things should be done, so we don’t embarrass him when we bake for others and tell them where we learned our skills.

And he has been passionate about his brand – anyone who dared to wear an apron back to front or cover a proving bowl with an upside-down cloth was reminded his brand name was to be on show, not to be hidden.

But the mood of Monsieur le Chef changed in a split second when we were chatting over lunch. I let slip about my need to have to write an article once I was back at the hotel and one of the delegates asked me why I was working on my holiday, and what the article would be about.

‘Something about furniture or flooring,’ I said. Monsieur le Chef, who’d been talking to those in the neighbouring group pivoted on his heels, pointed straight at me, and said ‘Tell them about this!’ His arm swung down so his finger was pointing at the floor.

Specifically, at a gap where the linoleum flooring had been butted together without any weld and had shrunk back leaving a gap of about 5mm. There were five joins, all trapping flour and soiling, and the perimeter had gaps and other signs of very shoddy workmanship. Monsieur le Chef had no shortage of Anglo-Saxon words to describe his feelings about the floorlaying.

Each day the kitchen trains 12. Although some (like me) come for multiday courses the set up allows for people to attend on single days even on longer courses, so typically 50 people a week visit this kitchen. And they come from all over the world. The flooring is affecting his brand and the brand of the company who did it.

They don’t seem to care and they don’t seem to realise how much he cares. They probably never will because he won’t go back to them and will advise others not to.

The slight extra cost of welding the seams was a saving not worth making, and the knowledge to do a first-class job can easily be learned as our industry has training available from experts in various training centres around the UK.

I went to learn about baking but came away having learned much more.
Richard Renouf is an independent flooring consultant

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