Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Lots of moons ago when I was helping to run the pub in Pangbourne by mistake, I took over the catering side of the business as the previous so-called 'chef' turned out to be a raving psychopath with a penchant for spinning yarns* and was fired after the local police took an interest in him.
At first the food side of things was very slow, as the so-called 'chef' had totally ruined the reputation for food that had been built up my the previous managers, and I had plenty of time to make the majority of the menu from scratch and could honestly call it 'Home Made'; a fact that I was rather proud of.
As well as cooking the tradition pub grub such as All Day Breakfasts, burgers, fish 'n' chips and sarnies etc, everyday I'd do a fresh soup and a couple of specials, usually dishes such as Cottage Pie, Sausage Casserole, or Beef Stew with Dumplings, and a veggie alternative of Pasta Bake or Winter Vegetable Stew, but the favourite meal among the regulars, especially the local builders' was my own recipe Chilli Con Carne.
On Mondays I'd ask the regulars what they'd like most and what day would it be best to cook it for them, and after a few weeks, Thursday turned into Chilli day, and I'd have to cook up at least a dozen large portions to keep the lads happy.
I decided to teach the Then-partner-in-crime my recipe just in case I couldn't be there for some reason, and it wasn't long before his chilli was very nearly as good as mine.
Normally I'd make the meals the night before and so one Wednesday found me in the kitchen busy chopping, peeling and stirring, even though I was technically off duty due to a rather heavy cold which had left me with a head full of cotton wool and no sense of taste or smell.
I'd finished browning the mince and had just added the chopped onions, garlic, fresh chilli peppers and capsicums, when the landlord from a pub round the corner called and asked if we could lend him some line cleaner, and The-then-partner-in-crime said 'of course we could' and then asked if I could pop round the corner to drop it off to them as he was busy behind the bar.
So, I turned the heat down to a slow simmer and dashed off to deliver the line cleaner.
When I got there, the manager insisted I stay and have a drink on him for helping him out, and to be polite I agreed and quickly phoned the TPIC, to ask him to please give the chilli a stir and turn the heat down a tad more.
I finished off my wine and thanking the manager trotted off back home to tend to my chilli.
I added the tomatoes and some red wine and tasted it before adding seasonings of mixed herbs, chilli powder, and a few other bits and bobs which will remain secret.
As I was so bunged up I found I couldn't taste a thing, and decided to play it safe and not add too much chilli powder and salt, just in case.
I finished it off by adding a dash of my favourite chilli sauce and a dash more red wine before giving it a good stir and leaving it to simmer before asking the TPIC to keep an eye on it while I went for a lie down and a dose of cold remedy.
I must have been more tired than I thought as I woke up the next morning instead of after an hour as I'd planned.
First thing I thought of was that I hadn't finished the chilli so I bumbled downstairs to see if the kitchen was still there and hadn't been burnt along with my chilli, and to my relief, everything was fine. The TPIC proudly told me that he'd left the chilli to simmer for a while longer before taking it off the heat to cool down before popping it into the fridge for the night.
Thanking him, I took the pan back out and put it onto the hob to heat through slowly before the lunch crowd came in.
Now, what the TPIC hadn't told me, was that he'd tasted the chilli earlier the previous evening, before I'd gone to deliver the line-cleaner, and finding it rather bland, had, as soon as I'd gone to bed and fallen fast aspleep, taken it upon himself to add the seasoning in the belief that I hadn't finished making it. Why he didn't taste it before he did so, I have no idea, but season it he did.
So, the chilli had been seasoned twice.
Anyone who's tasted my chilli will know that although I make it spicy, I don't make it over hot as then people can add extra chilli sauce or Tabasco if they desire.
One of the customers liked extra Tabasco and chilli sauce and as usual when he came in I placed the bottles next to the plate.
About six of the regualar chaps were sat down, I'd served them their meals, the Tabasco addict had doused his chilli with extra sauce and was about to take a mouthful when a group of eight smartly dressed ladies came in asking if we were serving lunch still.
I was about to say that yes, we were, and would they like to take a seat by the garden window, when the chaps tasted their food.
The noise that five of the builders made after taking a mouthful of extremely hot chilli con carne when expecting it to be the usual, spicy, but not on a par with molten lava, was incredibly loud and didn't just startle me, but also the ladies, the rest of the customers, a couple of people walking past and the chaps working in the office next door.
The builders coughed, spluttered, spat the chilli out and clamoured for water between gasps for breath as the twice seasoned chilli burned the inside of their mouths and parts of their throats.
The ladies fled, never to be see again, the noise of the builders swearing and hacking still following as they ran.
I tasted the chilli and wished I hadn't. The TPIC also tasted the chilli and wished he hadn't. I asked him if he'd added anything to it while I was apsleep, and the penny dropped. Thanks to him seasoning it so much, I now had a very large pot of inedible chilli which was going to leave me out of pocket, and possibly with a loss of regular custom too. I was not a haypy bunny at all!
The TPIC and I were trying to placate and reassure the chaps that they weren't going to die and could have their money back for the ruined food, when I noticed the Tabaso addict still sitting at the table being very, very quiet.
I went over and asked if he was alright and to my amazement he said that yes, everyhing was fabulous, and if the other blokes didn't want their over seasoned meals, he'd be very happy to finish them off, and that if there was any left in the kitchen, he'd be very willing to buy the lot so that he could stock it in his freezer!
The man must have had no taste buds and a cast iron stomach, bless him!
Luckily the chaps saw the funny side of the situation and decided to to go for the Winter Stew that day instead.
I never let the TPIC anywhere near my Chilli again though, and made sure I hept the seasonings hidden away, just to be on the safe side.

*Full on porkie-pies about anything and everything.