‘Guinea pigs, a parrot and, oh, a snake would be ideal.’ This represented a first for me in terms of requests for a private tasting menu.
I should have known the protein requirements would be a bit outré given that my business partner and I had done an ‘exotic beasts’ menu for this extravagant modern Tudor of a client before. On that occasion it consisted of zebra, llama and crocodile.
I’m not particularly sure why, but this latest wish list felt like stepping over the line. It was the idea of the parrot that floored me.
A snake would probably work panko-crumbed then deep-fried. The rodent could be braised, but what goes well with parrot? What if it’s the chatty sort and starts pleading and bartering when it sees me approaching with a cleaver? Are they discourteous, aggressive even?
I don’t like to say no to a client but this time I did. Pet shops are for children of divorcing parents, definitely not for produce.
Guinea pigs, a parrot and, oh, a snake would be ideal.’ This represented a first for me in terms of requests for a private tasting menu
When I say that I don’t like to say no to a client, it’s because forking out into quadruple digits to acquire the luxury of a private chef for the evening is a unique experience for most.
Pushing the gravy boat out for bespoke menus should always be encouraged for such an occasion and I want to offer a night that is not easily forgotten. But requests can get outlandish. Sometimes even weirder than parrot. Often, it’s a night impossible to forget – for those on both sides of the kitchen door.
Being a caterer represents a diverse challenge – it’s one of the great perks of the job. From cheery weddings to sombre funerals, vibrant Diwali parties to lavish bar mitzvahs, Sunday roasts at your nan’s cottage to cocaine-fuelled steak nights at your CEO’s penthouse, it’s a job that is neither repetitive nor short on surprises.
But of all the occasions, it’s the hen and stag parties that rarely fail to amuse. Plating up delicate canapes while a b*****k-naked, cardboard-faced bloke smugly struts his way around a room of giggling women can make me question how I got to this point professionally.
There’s something profound between the chef and the male stripper at a hen do; as I lock eyes with the only other bloke in the room, I can’t help but wonder how different life choices might have landed us in each other’s work garb:
Greg-the-stallion in my chef whites and me in crotchless leather biker shorts. It’s best not to dwell. We both have a hard job to attend to.
Stags, on the other hand, are all about a blackout night with the boys. I once got a call from a best man to cater a culinary extravaganza for his dear friend’s sendoff to married life.
THE CHEESECAKE, IT TRANSPIRED, HAD BEEN LACED WITH MAGIC MUSHROOMS
He had rented a grand estate on the outskirts of Sussex for a party of 20 stags. The menu was not for the faint-hearted: seven complicatedly flavoured courses, rich and heavy food to match its consumers.
By the fifth course, most of the guests had nose-dived into a paralytic level of p***ed. After finishing service, I spotted the best man stumble from the room only to re-enter with a large white box.
Having plopped it down as the table centrepiece, he proceeded to slap the lid open to reveal a cheesecake. It transpired that the murky, off-white looking creation was laced with magic mushrooms. I couldn’t help but snort with laughter.
The thought of devouring seven courses including sea-bass ceviche; a rich goat’s-cheese mousse; belly of both pork and salmon; an intensely dark chocolate brownie cake with whipped mascarpone; all to be topped with a helping of drug-encrusted Philadelphia seemed senselessly plucky. At this moment I saluted the boys and swiftly fled to my cottage round the corner.
When I returned in the morning to serve a recovery breakfast, the dining room was, unsurprisingly, a scene of devastation.
Fag butts were strewn on the carpet, wine-stained linens hung over lampshades, but perhaps more uniquely, I spotted the remains of a cheesecake, which appeared to have been fiercely clawed at. As though wild animals had attacked it.
I should have known the protein requirements would be a bit outré given that my business partner and I had done an ‘exotic beasts’ menu for this extravagant modern Tudor of a client before. On that occasion it consisted of zebra, llama and crocodile
I peered around the corner and spotted the party animals in question cowering in the corner – some of them clearly still on their cosmic journey through the creamy, digestive-crumbed portal.
It was an odd breakfast – I felt as though I was showing toddlers how to eat for the first time. They don’t teach you that at culinary school – no useful tips on chasing hallucinating clients while gripping a pan of sausages. Last night they had been Chelsea’s high-chested stags. This morning they were fragile fawns who needed guidance on what to do with their eggs.
I find that high-flying City men tend to be the least interested in the actual food. They are the kind of customer who, when dining out, care far more about the attention of the staff than the dishes being served. It’s my pleasure regardless to grill for them when summoned to their art deco penthouses.
My personal desire to cook something unforgettable remains unsullied.
Cooking privately is a vastly different occupation from the grind of commercial kitchens. Chefs and people skills don’t traditionally go hand in hand. We are usually trained at least one floor below diners for good reason.
However, there’s little to hide behind when cooking in someone’s home – a balance of chef and showman is needed. If someone in a commercial restaurant strolled up to me, mid-service, for a chat, I’d tell them that now is not the time – or some more explicit version of that sentiment.
Yet if a client approaches me, mid-flambé, to tell me in drunken detail how they would have been a chef if they hadn’t decided to become a business tycoon then I must be all rapt attention.
But as for the need to add ‘parrot-slayer’ to my CV, I stand by the call to let the little squawker be. Recently, the very same client asked for another dinner: three courses, consisting of seared scallops, filet mignon and a tiramisu.
It felt hugely anticlimactic, a surprisingly vanilla step down. Just on completing logistics he added, ‘Oh, one more thing – we’d like the tiramisu served on a naked prostitute.’
There it was. I’m proud to say it didn’t take me long to reply: brothels are for the fathers of divorcing parents, definitely not for crockery.
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