Baubles, bungles and khazis

Toilet sign ogaCncGSolid advice given to children by no-nonsense mothers over the decades, “before you leave home to go anywhere, make sure you go to the toilet first.” Trying to arrive at the origin of this down-to-earth wisdom hasn’t yielded any results. Speculation is that the advice was dished out because any “khazi,” other than the one at home, wasn’t up to much and didn’t bear visiting!

Wetherspoon pubs across the country have received platinum awards for their loos. 96 others scooped the gold award for the “Loo of the year award 2013.” It’s always easy to forget, until it’s time to visit it, that the little room is also part of the pub or restaurant and also needs to be maintained and presented to the same standard as the public areas. Those who achieved their awards have acknowledged the role of their staff. Someone has to keep them up to standard and the landlady can’t do it on her own.

With the Awards Season on us (it seems to get longer each year), there are ten nominees being considered for the Observer Food Monthly, Chef of the Decade award. Nigella changed her image for the photoshoot when she discovered she was the only female nominated. So she dressed up as a boy in tux and bowtie to project an image of maleness as only Nigella can. According to reports, she was the most formally dressed of all the nominees and her spokesman made the point that the outfit “reflected her role as a woman in a man’s world.”

Image Adrian van Leen

Image Adrian van Leen

Jon Rutter and his stocktaker team’s efforts in helping to Beautify the Dip took another step forward with the planters scheduled to arrive yesterday. All part of making the town more attractive – hopefully the inclement weather didn’t disrupt the delivery. Clearly though, the stocktakers who attend to Selfridges managed, before the storm hit, to co-ordinate their orders of ginger and other baking ingredients in time for the Christmas window display of a gingerbread landscape. All part of the glittering display the shop is putting on. They’re even offering to sell you a 6ft polar bear for £1600. I know what my domestic stocktaker would say if I brought that home to put under the tree. Escape route, where are you?

But Shropshire chef, Daniel Baynham had a really lucky escape as his shift ended. A tractor, towing a trailer laden with maize, took the corner too quickly and overturned the load on Chef Daniel’s car, crushing it. Apparently this type of thing has happened before and even with the speed restrictions clearly displayed, the tractor drivers obviously can’t read or they think they’re on Top Gear, because they still regularly zoom round the bend. If Daniel had been in his car the outcome would have been much more serious.

Once his insurance has paid out and he can celebrate his escape from bad tractor drivers with new wheels, I’m sure the chef will find an alternative parking place. What’s on the menu tonight, Chef? Sweetcorn fritters?

Fighting talk!

Every householder is, in reality, an amateur stocktaker. A person who checks to see what they have, what they need and where to get it at the most economical price without leaving any waste. A person who needs to get the most out of every pound and, hopefully, have something left over (profit margin). Perhaps that’s over-simplifying a noble profession that is essential in today’s business world, but it’s all about budgeting and using money wisely – whether in a business or at home.

Image: Adrian van Leen

Image: Adrian van Leen

So the war that has erupted between consumers (home-stocktakers) and suppliers (supermarkets) has probably been simmering for a while now. Tesco has weighed in by accusing each household of wasting £700 quid a year on chucking food out. So they have launched “a campaign” to help curb our profligacy! Meanwhile, WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) have retaliated by turning their ire onto Tesco and telling them it’s all their fault for packaging and presenting products in the way that they do and making it impossible for careful shoppers to buy only what they need.

Both sides have trollied out statistics and reports, with figures, to support their arguments. “… one survey indicates …” “… alarming figures show …” etc etc. Just an observation here – no one has EVER asked my opinion for a survey, nor have they ever approached any of the many people I know. Where do they get their figures? How do they come up with “15 million tons of food is junked” … why not 14.326 million tons? Or “customers chuck away 40% of apples” … why not 42%, or 31%? The numbers just seem to be too neat. It’s probably a very good thing that most pubs have professional stocktakers like Rutters doing their stocktaking. At least they know where they are. Pity the pub that uses a “survey group” to do their stocktaking – Thumb-suck Incorporated!

A fight of a totally different nature could also break out when Sir Alex releases his autobiography. It seems that the rule of “keeping things that go on in the changeroom, in the changeroom” don’t apply to him anymore. There might be some folk mentioned in his book who might like to give him a bit of the old hairdryer treatment themselves. Among lots of other revelations, he apparently goes into great detail about what he really said to this one and that one.

Sorry chaps, you’ll have to delete all those recorded after-match interviews he gave – he didn’t really mean what he told the press at the time. Posh was the underlying reason for Beck’s cut above the eye (Sir A was annoyed with how David changed when the two started walking out together), and the reader will get the low-down of how he froze Rooney out when he played away from home, again. Plus it promises to deliver a whole lot more insight into the workings of the coach’s mind and events in his long career with Man U.

Another fight won in County Durham even with energy suppliers all across the UK announcing price hikes. Victory for Licensee Leo Gillen in his legal battle with Npower over a backdated £38 000 electricity bill.

The energy company could not be reached for comment. They’re probably out there conducting another survey.

Don’t tell the Poles, but we’re off to Rio!

If you thought stocktakers only pop in to the pub occasionally to count the bottles in the back, or analyse the till slips you’d be wrong. While helping owners to devise strategies of how to maintain the balance of stable profits while keeping their customers sweet at the same time is challenging, Rutters are also involved in community affairs. They played a part in the “Beautify the Dip” initiative the other day. Some children from the local school presented their ideas on what they saw as ways to jazz up the area.

I’m sure Jon Rutter and Hertford Junior, together with the Committee will put more thought into their beautification project than was shown by the Pontypridd council who, without community involvement, decided to lay some new paving. All in all, a good idea. The problem was that the new paving was so crazy that pedestrians couldn’t distinguish where the pavement ended and where the kerb was, and 20 shoppers were injured or hospitalised after tripping up.

Another victory for “beautification” seems to have been won in the Yorkshire Dales too. Some wind turbines that haven’t worked for years but have been left to spoil all the photographs of the area have finally been removed, much to the delight of the local residents and those in the tourist industry who can now rightfully boast in their brochures of an “unspoiled landscape.” And the opponents of the wind farm project will no doubt say, “I told you it wouldn’t work!”

The other thing that probably won’t work in the UK is the idea that Nicolas Nauman, head chef at “Eat” in Brooklyn, New York has introduced to the restaurant. Once a month there is a four course meal during which no conversation is permitted. The chef justifies this by suggesting that the enjoyment of the food should not be spoiled with conversation or other noise and will give diners an opportunity to enjoy their food in a way that they might not otherwise have. One wonders how to order – is it a “set menu” so that the whole evening doesn’t dissolve into gestures, pointing, eye-rolling and eventually frustrated arm waving? Clearly, not a venue one for one of Gordon Ramsay’s TV shows.

Image: Marcelo Mokrejs

Image: Marcelo Mokrejs

One would also hope that last night was not one of the restaurant’s “silent meal” evenings with a couple of England fans dining there. In silence. But surreptitiously following the Wembly match on their mobiles held on their laps. It would have been a bit disrupting to the rest of the dining room, and Chef Nick in particular, when England scored against Poland and secured their place in Brazil, with the silence being shattered with screams of, “Yes, yes, yes – Gerrard you beauty!

Wembly erupted! Noise from both lots of fans, fireworks (tsk, tsk), chanting, flags et al. Roy Hodgson must have shed a stone in sweat and by chewing his nails off (he DID say he’d died 1000 deaths) and now England are rated 22/1 to win the World Cup. Hopefully the odds will shorten, but it would be wise to put the tenner on now.

There’s always next year!

Sorry, folks! We missed it! There is absolutely no excuse except that of not paying attention. Sunday July 21st just slipped by and the opportunity to celebrate National Ice Cream Day has been missed. But, there’s always next year to look forward to – to study what your and your friend’s preferences are. Because it appears that the ice cream you like can reveal what type of person you are. Yes, ice cream can betray your personality. It’s a much more civilised method of revealing things than swilling some tea leaves around the bottom of a cup. Tastier too!

Image: Gabriel

Image: Gabriel

What wasn’t missed, though, was Tom Kerridge being crowned the winner of the best restaurant in the 2013 National Restaurant Awards race. The awards recognize the best 100 places to eat out at in the UK. They get 150 industry experts to go and judge and then cast votes. The full list of awards is a who’s who of the culinary world in the UK with some famous names featured and some special awards too. But spare a thought for the bloke who had to cater for that prizegiving event. Was he nominated?

As an aside, and not taking anything away from Tom’s award for his Hand & Flowers pub-restaurant, one wonders what makes a person the “industry expert” that they send out to test the culinary talents of each nominee. Is it a person who is a celebrity in the food world, like Matthew Fort, or is he too recognizable and would send the restaurant into a spin if he walked in? Or someone like Mike Berry, who reported on Tom’s win? Either way, it would be nice to get a phone call someday and be asked, “could you please visit this list of restaurants and have a main and a dessert, fill out a score sheet for us, and we’ll pick up the tab. But we want an honest opinion and we don’t want them to know you’re marking them.” It would be nice …

One of the quirkier trends that has developed is that of presenting a dish that’s not quite what it seems. Heston Blumenthal did this very successfully with his feasts where the guests ate money, tableware and meat disguised as fruit! And recently there have been more of these types of presentations from other chefs designed to fool the diner into thinking they are going to be getting one thing but the reality is totally different.

Baker Louise Caola seems to be following Heston’s lead, and pretty good her creations look too. Her stocktaker would need to be kept in the picture though. It wouldn’t do to have them counting and costing a couple of joints of beef when in fact they’re just decorated cakes. That could throw the whole profit margin out. Another challenge for Jon Rutter and his teams: make sure that what’s in the store is what it really is – it must be a nightmare round at Heston or Louise’s place.

And the character that ice cream reveals? Tom Kerridge might fancy the chocolate-chip-cookie-dough (competitive), while Heston and Louise the chocolate, to go with their dramatic presentations. Stocktakers? Probably the rainbow sherbet – analytic!

“Profit” – isn’t a dirty word

Put any butcher, baker, landlord, or stocktaker against a wall and grill them on the cost of things and they will probably be able to reel off the list of items relevant to their trade and where to get the best value. Put a prime Minister on a radio show and he can’t even tell you the price of a loaf of bread (he bakes his own, you see) but he can plug the flour he uses and the machine too. He just doesn’t know what they cost.

Image: Mike Korn

Image: Mike Korn

But the PM will be able to confidently give you all the low-down on this or that statute, the nuances of a particular bill before Parliament or the intricacies of the trade agreements with another country. And it’s quite interesting how politicians will talk of paying millions of £’s for something as though they were discussing the cost of a packet of crisps, but get very serious expressions on their faces and talk about the generous increase in the NMW of 12p per hour to a hefty £6.30.

If you want to turn your hard-earned cash into a profit, though, just don’t send the PM or Boris off to the shops together. The only one making a huge profit from their custom would be the shop owner.

Songwriters Kandor & Ebb wrote “Money Makes the World go Round” for Cabaret, but few would disagree with the sentiment. Without it, you can’t live at the level you want to. With it, you can! Anyone who is “in business” is probably constantly working on ways to ensure that they have an excess of the stuff by applying Mr Micawber’s recipe for happiness – spending less than you have, instead of more. Jon Rutter’s teams of stocktakers know what it’s like to juggle the options and ensure that their customers work on Mr Micawber’s happiness formula rather than on Dicken’s other character, Pip, who “… began to contract a quantity of debt …

Perhaps this is what lead to Ben Hatch labelling himself as Britain’s stingiest dad, with his cost-cutting measures and frugality. His account of the tricks and ploys he uses makes fascinating reading and will have many raising their eyebrows in disbelief or astonishment. From the way he sneaks his own food snacks into Disneyland Paris (strictement interdite) to shopping almost exclusively at Oxfam, his accounts of cost cutting is ingenious. And it stems back to the example he learned from his mother. One of the lines Ben writes jumps out when he says, “… children don’t need expensive things. They just need love and your time.” He is quick to point out that his family do not lack anything. He just has a different way of approaching spending habits in order to stay in profit.

Sky is also doing things differently. They have launched the new Pub Challenge App in an effort to help landlords with their profitability. It’s designed to search for nearby Sky Sports venues that are showing Premier matches and also to incentivise patrons to spread their custom around so that they qualify for prizes and special deals.

And with the Christmas season fast approaching, be on the lookout for the calendars that are being sold to make profits for various charities and causes. Over the years, though, diverse groups have had to resort to ‘nude shoots’ as a way to get their calendars sold. Remember the Calendar Girls? That was the start. Then there have been the Troopie Wives, the Firemen, the Armed Forces etc. The latest is the Foxy Fillies Naked Posh Girls calendar, from the Jed Forest Hunt. All on horseback or holding shotguns or hanging round 4×4’s.

I wonder if there’ll be a Naked Pub Landlord calendar on the cards soon?