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The restaurant saga


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[quote user="Loiseau"]Wonderful, Dave! I have to admit that my heart was in my mouth - fearing a Fawlty-Towers-style débâcle as C started to hit the white wine and the pastis. though. [/quote]

I think like in all good books there have already been a few clues as to what is yet to come [:)]

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Things progressed steadily for the rest of May. Since the camp site

was not yet open to tourists and the weather still was not great (and

much of the seating is outside) we only opened at weekends. This had

been in our original business plan, just ticking over at weekends

until better weather and customer numbers arrived, so from Friday

evening until Sunday lunchtime we were open with about half the menu


Something else that progressed through May was C's drinking. Whilst I

was ok with the staff having the odd glass of wine etc free of

charge, C was starting to make a serious dent in the pastis bottles.

It was here that I made a stand, and also made completely the wrong

choice. I made it clear that he was not to help himself at the bar

and I bought him a bottle of Brand X pastis, telling him that once

that was gone, he was to pay for his own. Its painfully obvious to me

now that is was just giving him the green light to drink on the job.

On the other hand, despite his obvious drinking, he still turned out

the goods – his cooking never suffered and whilst he would become a

bit loud-mouthed as the evening wore on, it was nothing malicious and

he was still pretty tolerable. The problem was I had no alternative

as we were getting busier and busier and soon found ourselves working

very hard indeed for each service. I had doubts about whether A and

myself could do everything without him.

Since it was still weekends only at this point, he naturally wanted

to go home during the week, however he did not own a car, and his

girlfriend used the one car they had on a daily basis for her work,

so he was reliant on lifts with me or A. 45 minutes each way soon

became another strain we could do without, so I spoke to him about

wheels. I have a couple of old scooters in various states of

disrepair, and would have happily given him use of one once I got one

working, however he was not keen on going so far on a 50cc buzz-box.

I can appreciate why.

He was happy to buy a car if one could be found cheap enough so I

started scouting around and got lucky pretty quickly. A lady I know

had sadly lost her husband to a heart attack early in the year and

now had a surplus car. It was a crummy old Renault 11, tatty, petrol

engine, auto gearbox.....a very undesirable and unsellable car. She

just wanted rid and agreed to sell it for €250. C was ok with this,

so I acted as a middle-man for the paperwork. I took the car round to

the resto one morning, and C confessed to never having driven an auto

box. I am not normally scared by other peoples driving, but

Jesus....the ensuing 15 minute “lesson” must have knocked years

of my lifespan. Despite everything I said, it was one foot for the

gas and one foot for the brake, and since the left foot is accustomed

to pressing a clutch right down, C trying to slow the car for a

corner would end up screeching to a halt each time instead. After

lurching to a stop back at the resto, he handed over the cash. The

cars CT was over 6 months old and obviously he would have to insure

it...I had told him all this several times over the last few days.

“yeah, yeah, no problem, I will get it done”. I don't know if he

ever did, but as far as I and the previous owner were concerned, it

was now his car so his responsibility.

I had hoped that driving for himself would curb his alcohol intake,

but was sadly mistaken. In a perverse kind of way, I secretly hoped

he would get stopped for drink driving and maybe have some sense

shocked into him, but it never happened. Drink driving is so endemic

in this and the surrounding villages that nobody is even remotely

concerned about it.

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And the band played on....and on and on and on...ononononononnnnnnnn

We had a portable CD player on a counter and a load of music to

provide a little atmosphere. When I emigrated to France, I couldn't

be harrissed to bring all the CD's I had amassed, so I ripped them all

to my laptop before I left and gave the discs away in Scotland. This

left us at the mercy of A's musical taste, which luckily is not too

bad. Blues, rock and some jazz....just right. However many of her

CD's were getting on a bit and the player would often skip or get

“stuck in the groove” repeating the same second of sound over and

over a over and over and over and over until somebody gave it a

thump. (remember when cd's first came out? We were promised that they

were almost indestructible!) However at busy periods often none of

the staff would even notice it was playing up.

Things came to a head when it suddenly penetrated that the cd player

had been making a b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b

noise for the past few minutes unchecked. The customers were looking

a tad irked

The next day I dusted off an old desktop PC, a hifi amp and some

speakers, set it up and transferred all my music onto it. I could

then set it to random shuffle play for the evening and the problems

would be solved.

Halfway through the service that evening, I had to stop it and

re-think some of the included music. The mp3's I have built up over

the years total a massive amount and range from classic to country, rock, blues, jazz,

electronica and even some hip-hop. Shuffle play had been like a game

of Russian Roulette and the locals did not appreciate Snoop Dog

rapping about “b1tch ni&&ers”.

With the music files sanitised for public broadcast, we finally had a

reliable juke box.

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Into June and things were busy – often busier than we had

anticipated. With the villages yearly influx of tourists we were

serving a lot more than anticipated, however the weather continued to

make things unpredictable. Some days we would see as many as 60 to 70

people for the evening service, then a bout of rain for a few days

would drop temperatures and we would be lucky to see 20 for the

evening. We were now open every day, from 10am till late.

We also had competition of sorts. The village hotel which had lain

dormant for well over a year had re opened again under another new

management team. My worries were soon calmed when I realised that we

were catering to very different markets. Whilst I was doing

plentiful, basic food, the hotel had a highly trained chef in the

kitchen doing the kind of thing you see on Masterchef....3 little

bites of meat, a couple of baby potatoes and a W-shaped trickle of

“jus” across the plate. Lots of sauce, but no substance. Whilst

everyone agreed that the food tasted exquisite, it was expensive and

portions were tiny. The folk running the place are a really nice

couple and I really hope things will work out for them, but I have

serious doubts for the long term. That sort of food is too posh for

the locals, and whilst the summer would bring plenty tourists to

sample their menu, the off season here is very long and we are pretty

isolated so the chances of people travelling to eat there from

further afield are slim. As winter has drawn in here, every time I

have passed, they have been very quiet indeed with at best a handful

of diners. Often they close early due to no custom.

Their opening did however present a direct problem for me. Their

kitchen assistant struck up a friendship with C and they became

drinking buddies. More and more often, C was turning up either drunk

or at least part-way there, and he was becoming lax in some things

like food preparation. Large amounts of the morning before lunch

service and mid afternoon before the evening service are always

dedicated to cleaning, chopping and preparing ingredients, and C was

not pulling his weight. He was also beginning to make

mistakes....meat under or over cooked, the odd pizza that

disintegrated in the oven.....little things on their own, but

becoming more regular with each day that passed. I had talked to him

as many times and things would improve for a day or two then slip

again. I was giving serious thoughts to letting him go. However,

finding a replacement mid-season would be hard. Rumours spread fast

in a small place like this, and it was now common knowledge that our

chef was drunk. Us having the occasional vocal disagreement in the

kitchen and being overheard by the customers did not help either.

A's and my relationship with C deteriorated rapidly over the

following weeks. There as no apparent pattern to his drinking. The

afternoons after the lunch service and once prep was done for the

evening were his own time. He would occasionally head back to the

house for a nap, but more often than not spent it in the hotel bar. I

spoke to the owner and she told me some days he would have a beer or

two, and the evening service would go well, other days he would hit

the pastis hard and the evening would be a mess.

I sat down with him and made my point very clear – he was to clean

up or he would be out. He apologised for his behaviour and it all

came out.....he admitted to a serious drink problem and had been

attending Alcoholics Anonymous style support meetings, which he had

given up on a few months earlier. His partner made the trip up to the

village when she had free time and would often stay the night with

him. He told me she knew little about his drinking. He promised to

sort himself out. He did and for a while the old dynamic between us

all was back. This lasted perhaps a week.

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The live music events were a complete and utter failure.

It had always been the plan for us to host live music on one night a

week, and not to offer the normal menu, but a single dish, which we

would try to match to the music theme. We had an irish group in and

served stew and potatos, spicy chilli for the cajun night etc etc...

This would give us a little bit of a rest in the kitchen, and I hoped

would be popular with locals and tourists alike. I was wrong. The

only group that attracted any real interest were a cheezy pop covers

bad that did 80`s school disco style music that people could sing

along to. Any attempt and blues, rock etc was met with polite

applause and little else. Numbers were never great for any of the

events and we probably struggled to break even on these nights.

Unfortunately, I had announced the program at the start of the season

and booked the bands so we could not change things.

The worst of the lot were the Occitan group. Occitan is the local

music style, kindof like folk, with accordions and fiddles etc.

Pleasant enough to listen to for 5 minutes or so, but a whole

evening.....I soon discovered that occitan music consists of about 5

different chords repeated over and over and over and over with very

minor variations. The group were technically good players but were an

unpleasant bunch – very up themselves. It was a busy, hot,

weltering night and we were running about like mad in the kitchen.

Something about their music just went right through me and at several

points through the evening I had very clear visions of me using the

biggest kitchen knife to inflict all manner of injuries on the


It was a blessed relief when they stopped.

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I am really enjoying this Dave.

I know what you mean about music, I have been really dissapointed by any live music that I hear in these parts, most of the time it can at best be described as noise, groups that love to imitate a style whether it be blues, rock, folk, disco whatever, they just seem to think that if you dress in an (in)appropriate way and just make loads of noise with instruments and sing some foreign songs with words which you dont understand and completley pi55pronounce then all will be well, amazingly most of the fans seem to lap it up. The resultant sound is like letting a load of 7 year olds loose unsupervised in a music room at school.

There is thankfully another type of music fan in these parts and I am gratefull to have a few as friends, these are usually the people that learned English through the love of whatever their particular type of music is, in order to understand the words and the emotion of the music in the intense way that only the young  can do. They usually then travel abroad to indulge their passion and this life experience sets them apart completely from the rest of the populace.

This very small pocket of Picardie has a whole load of British, Irish, Scottish, Australian, South African, and Newfoundlanders that visit the war cemeteries where their forebears are buried, this results in the very few commercially aware bar, restaurant and chambre d'hote owners taking at least a passing  interest in their cultures, although to be fair 90% of the chanbre d'hotes are owned by the British.

all of the French gerants seem to think that the tourists love to hear bagpipes being played (cornemuse) and indeed they do have their place at some of the commemoration ceromonies, unfortunately something about them seems to appeal to the more extreme French musicians that would otherwise just be dressing up as punk rockers, hippies or whatever and making noise, perhaps its the appeal of wearing a skirt I am not sure but they are rather special people in the French sense and have formed a local bagpipe troupe which is wheeled out at practically any occasion, my pet theory is that they demand protection money not to play at events!

I once had to endure this torture during a typical Picard sit down meal which endured about 7 hours, they played continously, I would happily have stabbed all of them to death after 30 minutes. Never again!

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Did I say it wasnt?

Are you going to pick me up for not mentioning the Welsh?

My use of the countries is in relation to the regiments of the millions of dead buried here, I mentioned the principal ones from which there are many tourists and often seperate memorials, there are many others including Chinese and Indian to name but a couple.

In any case this is drifting away from a very enjoyable restaurant saga.

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I think Davy's point was that the Scottish, like the Welsh, are British. So they don't need to be mentioned separately.

On the other hand, if you'd said "English" instead of British, the Welsh would have felt slighted. Rightly so, as the Welsh are in their origins more British than most English people are.

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For a while now, C had been on about adding a wider range of pizzas

to the menu. We already had 12, and he wanted 9 more. He had drawn

them up with ingredients etc, and was very keen. I was pretty set

against it though. Personally I reckoned it would be too many. Too

large a choice and lets face it – not a massive variation between

many of them. Besides, It had always been our policy to modify those

on the menu to peoples tastes – substituting X for Y, or adding

extra Z if they wished, and we would jiggle the price accordingly.

C's behaviour did little to endear me to the idea either. However,

one on the list caught my eye. A foie gras pizza. A crème base, with

a few other ingredients and the foie gras with caramelised onions. I

was certain that the locals would probably go for it, they are mad

for foie gras here, and a local chap produces some very nice

stuff. The price would be significantly higher than the other pizzas,

but I asked a few folk and they reckoned the idea was good.

I got C to do the onions for a trial run and I sent the ice cream girl over to the

local butcher to get a block of the stuff.

Man, that pizza was a disappointment! Personally I reckon he should

not have put the foie on at the start, but should have cooked the

pizza as normal, then added the foie gras at the last minute however

he was adamant it should go on from the start. As a result, most of

it melted away to nothing, leaving the base with a slight taste and

there were tiny flecks left which were lost amongst the other


It was not until A week later when I got the weekly bill from the

butchers that I realised she had picked up a block of the extra high

quality stuff, which cost €40!

She was redeeming herself with the crepe sales though. We were doing

well over 100 a day at this point and this rose to not far off 200 a

day by the heights of July and August. Flour, milk, eggs, a little

vanilla sugar, and a touch of butter.....the unit cost price for them

is a few centimes, and they sell for between €1.80 and €2.40

depending on toppings....its almost a licence to print money!

The toppings we offered were sugar, jam, skoosh cream and Nutella, with the nutella being by far the most popular. One day I was in the cash and carry and spotted a display of giant plastic pots of the stuff - I thought they were promotional props and would be empty, but no, they were real 5kg tubs, shaped just like the traditional jars. Price per kilo actually worked out a tad higher than the normal sized jars (usual supermarket rip-off there then!) but the convenience of the big pots made them worth it. We were going through loads of the glass jars and storage and disposal was a hassle so these were perfect, plus the waitresses kids loved them as once cleaned out and a slot cut in the lid they make excellent (if a tad large!) piggy banks.


And no, thats not me,  lifted that pic from Google images.

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And then C's girlfriend went to Morocco on holiday at the end of


His response was a massive bender in the hotel bar that afternoon.

The evening was heavily booked and at 6pm with him having done no

prep, I called the hotel and asked where our chef was. He turned up

at 7pm so wrecked his speech was slurred and he was swaying. He kept

just mumbling “let me do my job” and pushing everyone out his

way. He set about making the pizza dough straight away (unknown to

me, there was none left from earlier. It really needs to be mixed and

left to sit for a while before use) as there were several takeaway

pizzas reserved in the next 10 minutes or so. I didn't know what to


We had 70-odd people booked, including a couple of big tables with

12+ each, so plenty of orders would be coming in at once. As things

started happening , I was behind the bar serving aperitifs, and

running back to the kitchen when I had free seconds to help A with

the first orders that were coming in from the tables whilst C

concentrated on the takaway pizzas.

It was one of those evenings where everything conspires against

you...lots and lots of people were ordering pizzas (He may have been

a drunken bum, but his pizzas were still very good and had a decent

rep in the village) and lots of people were ordering meat dishes and

little in the way of salads, which are quick and easy to serve up.

The few salads that were ordered were typically the more complicated

ones, hot chevre cheese on slices of toast, which need heated under a

grill before being added to the salads, lots of the “special”

salad which has a large mix of gesiers, and other charcuterie in

it.....basically all the slow, fiddly stuff.

C was in no state to cope with the grill as well as his pizza ovens,

so I manned the grill and the chip fryers whilst A did the few salads

and plate prep. We were falling behind with the orders coming in

thick and fast and it was then I noticed this fecking idiot was STILL

drinking – he had a glass of pastis up on a shelf and was swigging

from it as he worked.

Harsh words were exchanged.

The second large table arrived so I was back out front serving up the

drinks when A called me back into the kichen. C was shovelling the

pizzas straight from the oven into the bin! The dough was not right

and they were just tearing and falling to bits in the ovens. The

problem is, the bases of the ovens are made from bricks, and once you

spill ingredients which get burnt onto the bricks, further pizzas

have a much higher risk of snagging on these lumps and tearing, so

the oven needs to be scraped out with a metal spatula, then a handful

of flour thrown in to soak into any fat and then be swept out again.

My attention was on the chip fryers at this point so I never realised

that C did not clean out the ovens before putting another batch of

pizzas in. A few minutes later the result was the same and he

shovelled them straight into the bin again.

I am a calm chap normally, it takes a lot to really rile me, but this

was enough and I went all Gordon Ramsey on C. Later that night A said

I turned an incandescent shade of red during this outburst and one of

the waitresses came running in to see what the commotion was –

customers who were already irate at the length of their wait were now

developing an interest into what was now a public spectacle. Whilst

everyone was seated outside, the front of the main room was wide open

on this hot evening and the kitchen is open-plan in the internal area

of the restaurant. We were very visible and very, very audible to

most of the diners.

I told C to fuck right off out and leave, but he refused to go. He is

a big chap and given the amount of booze he had consumed, he had

become belligerent too. Not wanting things to get physical, I did not

want to remove him. However, he did have the grace to concede defeat

with the pizzas, well, he stomped away from the ovens, snatched the

spatula out of my hand and started tending to orders on the griddle

and hotplate. I took over the pizzas and concentrated on those for

the seated diners. Those still waiting for takeaway had been witness

to everything, and were happy enough to leave when I wrote them out a

voucher for free pizzas on a future date.

The waitresses did me proud and handled things well, offering free

drinks to those who had been kept waiting, then they started bringing

plates back.....the meat was tough as boots, massively overcooked. C

was making a chuff of the grill orders too....

I went over to look and saw a plate piled high with burnt and ruined

steaks, lamb chops and gammon.

Seemingly I went purple this time.

By chance I was still holding a large knife I had been chopping

mushrooms with, and I screamed a string of obscenities at him,

culminating in English with GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS KITCHEN.

You know in films when a stranger walks into the saloon and the

needle scrapes off the gramophone with a ripping noise and everyone

looks up at who just walked in the door?....well it was like that. My

outburst had even coincided nicely with a lull in the music. I looked

out the front to see about seventy pairs of eyes looking back at me

in silence for a few seconds before the bubble of muttering and

speculations started. C took the hint this time and sauntered out,

pausing only to snatch a bottle of pastis off the wall-mounted optics

and a carafe of water, he strolled out past the diners and wandered

off into the park across the road.

I am not sure how long I stood there for, I suppose I was in a kind

of shock. I was certainly trembling hard – a mixture of anger and

adrenalin, and also relief that things had not become violent after

all. Things were being said outside but I didn't catch the jist of it

until one of the marie maintenance chaps came inside. He told me to

take my time as everyone still waiting was happy to wait until we

were ready. Everyone was fully aware of what had just happened. A

couple of tables of other locals I knew vaguely also came in and said

they would leave rather than wait to relieve some pressure on us, and

would return another day, which they did and I was very grateful for.

A and myself retreated out the back door for a couple of minutes

reflection. A smoked a whole cigarette in about 2 breaths and I drank

a beer without it even touching the sides on the way down, then we

burst out in nervous laughter. Back in the kitchen, everywhere C had

been was a bloody mess. We shoved the detritus to the side and set

about serving up the remaining orders.

With me doing the pizzas and manning the grill, and A doing salads

the chips, and helping on the grill when she could, we finished off

the main service. We all pitched in as usual for the deserts and

coffees and it was with a very deep breath of relief that I closed

the doors. I chose to leave the mess as it was and we would all go

home. I would come in early the next day to clean up – I could not

face it right then.

As we left, one of the waitresses told me tips had been unusually

high this evening – the customers must have enjoyed the show.

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[quote user="dave21478"] Seemingly I went purple this time. By chance I was still holding a large knife I had been chopping mushrooms with, and I screamed a string of obscenities at him, culminating in English with GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS KITCHEN.     – the customers must have enjoyed the show.[/quote]

I can't think of anything scarier than a purple scotsman with a knife telling someone to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS KITCHEN -  unless he was wearing a kilt at the time  -  were you Dave?[:D]

PS if ever you need to know what the asterisks are, just hit quote and then you get to read the original text[8-|]

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[quote user="just john "]

[quote user="dave21478"] Seemingly I went purple this time. By chance I was still holding a large knife I had been chopping mushrooms with, and I screamed a string of obscenities at him, culminating in English with GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS KITCHEN.     – the customers must have enjoyed the show.[/quote]

I can't think of anything scarier than a purple scotsman with a knife telling someone to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS KITCHEN -  unless he was wearing a kilt at the time  -  were you Dave?[:D]

PS if ever you need to know what the asterisks are, just hit quote and then you get to read the original text[8-|]


Well fuck me I never know that[6]!!

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[quote user="pitway"][quote user="just john "]

[quote user="dave21478"] Seemingly I went purple this time. By chance I was still holding a large knife I had been chopping mushrooms with, and I screamed a string of obscenities at him, culminating in English with GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS KITCHEN.     – the customers must have enjoyed the show.[/quote]

I can't think of anything scarier than a purple scotsman with a knife telling someone to GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS KITCHEN -  unless he was wearing a kilt at the time  -  were you Dave?[:D]

PS if ever you need to know what the asterisks are, just hit quote and then you get to read the original text[8-|]


Well fuck me I never know that[6]!!


fuck me... neither did I

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Very amusing saga. Showed it to my wife who used to run pubs and restaurants. She thought it was how it is. However, she also stated that most chefs also drink to excess - so you may not have any more luck with the next.

She also claims that many are a little precious and will storm off at the slightest provocation - meaning that the manager then has to step in to produce the food.


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