The hills are alive with po-lite queueing … ♪ ♫

Image: Paul Wright

Image: Paul Wright

The B & B’s, tea shops, pubs and railway station around Llanberis and Bangor must have done a roaring trade in packed lunches and snacks for hikers as they set off up the The Llanberis path to summit Snowdon the other day. And for the Visitor’s Centre, Hafod Eryri at the end of the line, their supplies would probably have been sent ahead on the train a day or two before.

It must have been a caterer’s nightmare trying to plan for the influx with their stocktaker what to order in as they watched the weather change and the promise of fine, sunny weather was forecast for the bank holiday. The good people of Llanberis knew that they would be inundated with folk taking advantage of the season to get a snap of themselves at the top of the mountain. The problem for so many, however was not that their packed lunch didn’t come up to scratch, but that they would probably have had to eat it while they stood in the queue to reach the top. And then they would have had only for a few seconds in which to adjust the speed and set the f-stop before pushing the shutter and then moving off the summit to let the next lot through. Those with camera phones were definitely at an advantage.

With crowds like that, it was probably one of the motivating factors for building the Visitor’s Centre a mere 50 metres away from the summit, so that the toilets were handy.

A different challenge faced the stocktakers of new tea shop owners in Cookham, Berkshire though. After some spiteful business rival posted cockroaches through their door they had to get the fumigators in before they could safely open for business. It took a couple of days before they were busy serving their loyal supporters again, but apparently the police are investigating. It seems the roaches are a rare variety and suppliers of the exotic Madagascan hissing roaches are helping police with their enquiries as to who might have purchased them. I’m pretty sure that Jon Rutter’s team will add ‘roach repellent’ to the list of items as they plan for all eventualities their clients might face.

Image: Ed Melendres

Image: Ed Melendres

There is an old recipe that guarantees a roach-free environment – and any commis chef can handle this: finely dice some onion, mix with margarine to form a paste, add a small amount of sugar and boric acid (available from the chemist or supermarket). Spoon about a teaspoonful into jar lids or cup cake holders and place behind appliances, under shelves and other warm and dark places that roaches love to hide away in – after a few days, no more roaches! Discard the lids after about two weeks. A caterer I knew was suddenly inundated with roaches. They used this method (the official pest killers were busy that day) and within a very short time the roaches vanished and there have been no infestations for over two years. Then one was seen lurking … out came the lids with the paste carefully placed in the centre, and since then, nothing! Not sure what ‘elf-and-safety’ would say, but in the days when the old wives were telling tales, no one wore high vis jackets, hard hats nor carried clipboards.

They’d have been pleased that their old ways still worked – cheap too!

No short-cuts!

In some circles the phrases “time savers” or “kitchen assistant” are regarded as dirty words. And when any suggestion of using an electrical or mechanical appliance is proposed – shock and horror! Surely modern catering kitchens have an array of gadgets and devices that can help the staff produce what needs to be served to the customers? However, there is still a school of purists who would kick against “modernisation” in the culinary field.

Granted, some of the more delicate and refined dishes do need special and individual attention that no machine can replicate. Like making pastry. Pop behind the scenes of any large pie maker and there are machines that mix, blend, add, roll out and do whatever they have to do to produce the pastry for the millions of pies they send off to the supermarkets in pretty boxes. And how much easier is it to pick up a roll of ready-made from the supermarket freezer to make your own “homemade” pie for the weekend? That’s fine for the home-cook, but any true pastry chef would be horrified!

Image: Karen Barefoot

Image: Karen Barefoot

Forget the pastry – what about preparing other ingredients? The poor contestants on Masterchef have to peel and cut and julienne and shred and mix everything from scratch, by hand. But in the real world, one wonders how many kitchens have the mixers, the choppers, the dicers for all this to be done mechanically? Or do the celebrity chefs only use mixers and processors on their TV shows because a producer is shouting in the background about getting a move on?

Doyens of the industry like the Roux family will no doubt espouse the need to do things from scratch in order to achieve the ultimate goal of culinary nirvana with the same logic that should be applied to the use of a calculator – you have to understand how the process works before you can use the short cut!

Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers are constantly engaged in finding ways to keep their customers up to date with what’s happening in the industry and in each client’s premises in order to ensure they run cost-effectively. Meetings take place all over the UK on a regular basis. Owners, investors, publicans, chefs, restrauteurs, planners, stocktakers – all the main players in the running of any business to keep people fed and watered! The meetings vary according to the type of establishment, but the common factor is the planning aspect. Planning to show profit in the best way possible without sacrificing quality of produce nor customer satisfaction and to ensure the efficient operation of the venture.

One thing a stocktaker could suggest to streamline an operation would be the new do-it-all-in-one gadget to save time that Anne Shooter recently tested. But I suspect that it wasn’t designed for the Roux or Blumenthal style kitchens.

In the same way as the humble “pasty crimper” wasn’t designed for use in the serious kitchens (it is probably also a dirty word with the Cornish Pasty Association). And you can bet your life that the winning pasty at the Brittany Food Festival in Lorient wasn’t a gadget-crimp one either!

The Trevithick Bakery from Cornwall who produced the ‘revelation of the festival‘ probably don’t even know that a pie-crimping gadget exists. But a Cornish bakery has taught the French a thing or two – vive la pasty!

What did you expect?

Looks can be deceptive. Or, to put it another way, you don’t always get what you expect. Remember those cartoons of people whose shadows revealed an alter ego? Like the old man walking with a cane but his shadow showed him as the swashbuckling Zorro, or the seemingly happy couple walking arm-in-arm but the shadows revealing the wife about to bash him over the head with a saucepan?

Guests at the launch of a new pizzeria in Manchester were a bit miffed when they found out that the produce they were raving about was (like the shadow on the wall) not what they were expecting. Restaurateur Gary Newborough added some shop-bought pizza to his tasters “to be a bit different and as a way to get people talking.” Well, it worked! To be fair, the guests had to be told about the ruse which also leads one to conclude that perhaps shop-bought pizzas are such usual fare to so many people that they can’t tell the difference anyway.

Image: Alex Ling

Image: Alex Ling 

The same can be said of anyone watching the neatly dressed person slipping into the office at the local with a tablet or laptop. A salesman? An inspector? Jon Rutter’s team of stocktakers are really unobtrusive, but by looking at them you wouldn’t think that they play a key role in the running of a business that keeps them profitable and ahead of the competition. The stocktaker’s shadow would be a giant with formulae and +£ signs coming out of the computer with well-stocked shelves surrounding him!

Passengers on the way to Manchester did not expect to see a hot pizza delivery made at Newport Station while the train stopped for 50 seconds, either! Hats off to Pizza Hut who rose to the challenge laid down by Lucie Matheson as she got a bit peckish on her journey. Two other pizza places she called didn’t want to take her order. Sorry for you! The positive publicity for the Newport franchise shop can’t be bad for Michelle Escott. The shadow on their wall must be Superman delivering piping hot pizzas … while for those who didn’t take up the challenge, it is probably some bloke with his hands in his pockets kicking a tin can around.

Those folk who watched the recent Marmite advertisement will, as they say in the ads copy, either “hate it or love it” but they certainly won’t forget it. Which is probably exactly what their advertising agency was aiming for – doesn’t the saying go something like “there is no such thing as bad publicity?” Oscar Wilde declared that “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” And there are some people who have watched the Marmite advert whose shadows reveal them all firmly holding the wrong end of the stick. The majority of people have their shadows showing them laughing hilariously.

Image: Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

Image: Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

For a while now, when Spurs player Gareth Bale runs next to a wall his shadow reveals him in a Real Madrid jumper and a large bag with a “£7m tax free” tag on it following him!

What DID you expect?

Pink? White? Magnolia? … drama on a wall

I can’t recall ever seeing a programme with Marco Pierre White pacing around a kitchen with a thermometer or a scale that measures in microns. He strikes me as the more flamboyant ‘chuck it in and taste’ type of chef as opposed to Heston Blumenthal who appears to be much more deliberate and calculating in his methods. Yet both hold Michelin Stars.

Marco hit the headlines with notoriety of a different kind recently when someone complained about the colour of his restaurant. One wonders whether it was the same people that complained about the Minerva Inn in Plymouth that have approached the local council in Lavenham about the Angel Hotel. Someone has even likened the colour to a “pink blancmange” – could this be the ultimate insult to Marco? He probably hasn’t even made one of those since the 70’s!

He possibly didn’t even think about consulting his stocktaker about the colour either. Things like that are normally not in their brief. Something Jon Rutter and his team of stocktakers could consider adding to their spreadsheets – “Item 263: Building: outside colour! (Check the shade with Dulux!)”

Suffolk pinkPoor Marco probably just bought the most handy thing he could find at the local merchant – it said “Suffolk Pink” on the label so he took it. Bad mistake, Marco. I can imagine his horror if I told him that I had bought a bottle of oil at the local grocer because it merely had the words “olive oil” on the label and therefore assumed it was the right oil and from the right region. Rutters will back me up on this, if the customer wants to maintain a certain standard then the provenance and quality of their produce must be assured.

Superior chefs like Heston and Marco will go to great pains to point out the main things to observe in great cooking – temperature, seasoning and things like the ageing of meat and so on. Heston will also wax lyrical on molecular gastronomy while Marco will go on about drama on the plate not in the kitchen.

And most chefs are the same in their passion for satisfying the customers. Not all have Michelin stars, but in the competitive business of trying to woo and then retain customers, attention to detail and quality products rule the day. The chef in the local pub will be at pains to turn out the best sausage, mash and gravy that he can. Or the most unctious Guinness pie.

The tearoom in the village will do their very best to make sure that their cream teas are the best for miles around. They won’t skimp on doing their homework on what’s popular or where better produce can be purchased. They will be at pains to ensure that their serviettes are properly laundered and folded. Because the business is in hospitality – the practice of being hospitable. And if you serve rubbish that relationship between the guest and the host breaks down. And no one in the business wants that.

What a shame some of the villagers in Lavenham weren’t as charitable with the same thoughts. But if Marco had been taken down to the paint shop that sold “Dulux Suffolk Pink” before he put paint to roller, he could have been excused for looking bewildered. The colour swatch looks, well … a bit like a shade of magnolia rather than pink. Maybe he DID see the colour and thought, no, THAT can’t be right. Who makes these colours up, anyway?