Chefs in fiction
& fact

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The chef on Coronation Street who is fully rigged in chef’s whites – actually those ridiculous chef’s ‘blacks’ – sweeps Tracy Barlow into his chip fat embrace and subjects her to a rough wooing, which is necessarily short lived.

For, as he helpfully points out, whilst tossing her aside like a sack of nutty slack “sorry darlin’, but I’ve got to get down to the fishmongers.” Now if he’d said the fish market we’d have the very model of a very modern chef, but a fishmonger’s queue in full chefs mufti? Unlikely.

On returning from his bout of wet fishmongering he snatches the menu from that Ken Barlow’s hands and says with no little authority and some flourish, “Ignore that, I’m gonna make you my special double cooked chips.”

That would be chips mate. You blanch them at a 120º, let them cool, turn the oil up to 180º and fry till golden. There. Chips. Maybe you meant to say ‘triple cooked chips’ as patented by Heston Blumenthal?

Nope, as far as chefs on TV soaps go I’ll take Shuggie McPhee from Crossroads every time – despite the outrageous stereotyping. He only ever seemed to work the breakfast shift, entirely so that he could demonstrate his famous ‘porridge spurtle technique’ to the bemused Brummie kitchen staff. And due to a thing called Hogmanay (more Brummie bemusement) he was always - hilariously - drunk on duty on New Year’s Day.

In the real world we have the inevitable Jumping the Shark entry. The ill-fated Ben Spalding at John Salt restaurant marriage. Chicken on a Brick anyone? Chicken liver mousse and crispy chicken skin slathered onto a caramel-glazed house brick. And yes, customers were actively encouraged to lick the brick. More bizarre than any of the above

In the same real world, I take myself off to Glenurquhart Lodge Hotel (as was), where my father worked all those years ago and am initially pleasantly surprised.

After a frankly indifferent dinner, I find myself in the lounge adjacent to the bar beside a wall of books, presumably left by residents, and one in particular catches my eye. Cook Now, Dine Later. My dad had this very volume when he was head chef here, is it too fanciful to hope that this is his copy?

You know that beat where your heart skips? Well here it is… I open the book’s cover – it’s a first edition – and there on the flyleaf to my astonishment, is my father’s signature and the legend Isle of Man, 1969.

I take it down and start reading and am brought up short by the thought that my Atticus Finch would entertain such ill-considered tosh! I console myself with the thought that this is why he left it.

In fiction, of course, it would have to be Mervyn Peake’s fabulous (and beautifully named) Abiatha Swelter who addresses his staff in a brutally poetic style: “Now tell me this my stenching cherubs...my belching angels...my ghastly little ineffectual fillets...what a pleasant lot of little joints you are, but so underdone.”

Here is Peake describing the gargantuan Swelter about to collapse dead drunk in his kitchen:

‘Swelter made one feeble effort to heave himself away from the pillar but, incapable of mustering the strength he sank back and then the chef began to gradually curl in upon himself, as though folding himself up for death.

The kitchen had become as silent as a hot tomb. At last, through the silence, a weak gurgling sound began to percolate but whether (to speak) none could tell for the chef, like a galleon, lurched in his anchorage.

The great ship’s canvas sagged and crumpled and then suddenly enormousness foundered and sank. There was a sound of something spreading as an area of seven flagstones became hidden from view beneath a catalyptic mass of wine-drenched blubber’.

Abiatha Swelter, a chef for the ages. kilderock@deviant art

On returning from his bout of wet fishmongering he snatches the menu from that Ken Barlow

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