One can't make a souffle without cracking heads

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
THIS HAS been a grim week for those of us in the catering trade. We spend our lives quite literally slogging our guts out so that our customers may eat and drink well in agreeable surroundings, and how are we rewarded? By a vile "fly on the wall" camera intruding into our kitchens, resulting in a "documentary" (I use the word lightly!) suggesting that we sometimes neglect to don our kid-gloves (coochy-coochy-coo!) before addressing our staff.

Perhaps you caught the "documentary" on commercial television on Thursday last. If so, you will have been unable to avoid seeing the cameras smuggled into my Arnold Park Country House Hotel near Bath. At one point, I was pictured giving an under-chef an encouraging slap over the head with a fire-extinguisher. I was also seen urging a waiter on to greater heights by taking an electric food-mixer to his little finger.

Minor knockabout incidents in the life of any restaurant worth its salt, but not so to the lily-white producers of this ludicrous documentary. To them, the sight of a very junior waiter losing just one little finger is a cause for ample swooning and cries of "big bully!" The film also snooped as I reprimanded a salad chef for his failure to arrange two lettuce leaves with the correct symmetry. Perhaps, as they claimed, he was "traumatised" (dread word!) by my forcible dipping of his head into a bucket of discarded pig's trotters. But just imagine how much more traumatised our customer would have been were he to have witnessed an unsymmetrical lettuce leaf upon his plate!

Might I correct a few misapprehensions concerning my role in the hotel and catering trade? Back in 1986 when I purchased the Arnold Country House Hotel and Restaurant (formerly the Old Waste Treatment and Disposal Works, Keynsham), I was determined to transform it into a five-star centre for excellence in the luxury accommodation and dining market. To this end, I hired the brilliant but temperamental chef, Gary Pierre Daft, who in turn hired the late Kevin Timid as his Deputy and as his sous chefs, the late Jimmy Slopp and his brother, Johnny Slopp, who sadly passed away in November last year after a Gruyere and Roquefort Souffle failed to rise in time.

Gary Pierre Daft is widely acknowledged as a culinary genius. His Supreme of Turbot garnished with Glazed Chestnuts and Shallots sauteed in Dry Muscat Wine and Topped with a Coulis of Brie de Meaux, Truffle Vinaigrette and Paprika wrapped in a Parcel of Lobster Shell lined with Foie Gras, Red Mullet and Essence of Wild Mushroom Mousse and Served on a Coulis of Lightly Warmed Hamster has been favourably compared to middle-period Cezanne, and at least one restaurant critic has salivated so much over Gary's Langoustine and Wild Rabbit Sorbet that an extra family-sized spittoon has been sent for.

But such genius is not vouchsafed to ordinary mortals, so it is only to be expected that Gary has his fair share of "little ways". He always insists that an electric chair be installed at the far right end of his kitchen, but for disciplinary purposes only. So dedicated is Gary to his cooking, and so sensitive is his character, that he sometimes takes issue with his clientele, once flambeeing an elderly customer after hearing him mumble that his tomato soup was a mite watery.

As the owner of the Arnold Park Country House Hotel and Restaurant, I see it as my job to safeguard Gary Pierre Daft from the various impertinences of customers and staff alike. "You must surely realise," I explained to one customer who was noisily nursing a broken knee-cap after asking for a little ketchup with his seafood vol-au-vents, "that Gary is very, very sensitive: his mother rarely hugged him and, flying in the face of all Gary's hopes and wishes, his father always insisted upon wearing a moustache." But the customer kept moaning like a baby, and so, worried lest he disturb the other guests, I marched him swiftly to the deep freeze and locked him inside. As an experiment, it proved wholly successful: Gary now serves him, frappe, on a warm chocolate coulis.

I suppose it is absurd to expect the loathsome newshounds of Carlton TV to understand anything about haute cuisine. At the Arnold Park, our surviving guests pay generous testament to our position at the top of the luxury hotel tree. And if they fail to, then that is their look- out: as I say, our Gary can prove most awfully sensitive.

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