'The best day of all to work': Chef lifts lid on Christmas Day in a restaurant kitchen
Working in a restaurant on Christmas Day might sound like the worst gig ever.
People might imagine that you miss your wife, you miss your kids, you get stuck in a kitchen with a load of sweaty men and women who are shouting over the top of the clanging of pans and then you get customers who expect to be treated like royalty.
On Christmas Day, you might think that guests not only watch listen to a speech by the Queen, some of them also think they are her.
But let me let you into a secret. Christmas Day is the best day of all to go to work. It’s brilliant.
We’ll be doing Christmas dinner here at the Mytton and Mermaid in Shrewsbury this year and as well as our guests having a great time, we’ll also have a great time.
We’ll all get to spend time with our families on Christmas Eve and early on Christmas morning. Then it’ll be noses to the grindstone before heading home to have a few drinks, swap a few presents and switch off in front of a great movie. Christmas is ace.
When we come in, the tradition is the same. We start the day with a staff breakfast: a bacon sandwich with tomato sauce on one side and brown sauce on the other. It’s a breakfast of champions.
After that, it’s time to get cracking. There’s an enormous amount of preparation to do as we make our sauces, prepare our vegetables, make sure the meat is delicious and carefully create a range of delicious desserts.
The morale is always great on Christmas Day. To be honest, I’ve always found the morale good in the kitchens that I’ve worked in. Chefs are a rock’n’roll bunch, they have a laugh, share a load of banter and just get on with it.
But on Christmas it’s even better. They say it’s the season of goodwill and it is even when you’re working and the rest of the country is sitting down to roast turkey and all the trimmings.
It’s not just the fact that people are happy to be around their mates on Christmas Day that makes it a breeze – it’s also the menu.
When people come into the Mytton on a regular week day or weekend, we have no idea what they’re going to eat. We’ve got a main menu, a daily specials menu, a children’s menu, a brunch menu, a group dining menu, a breakfast menu, an afternoon tea menu, a vegan menu, a Sunday lunch menu and a fish and fizz menu. All of those feature multiple choices so in a venue as big as ours, you can only start to guess at the amount of elements that we have to cook in any given day. It might be eggs Benedict on an English muffin with oak-smoked salmon and hollandaise, gypsy toast with Wenlock Edge pancetta, eggy bread and maple syrup or something from our specials, like venison with burnt cabbage and salsify chips.
We might be cooking something classic like a pan roasted chicken with chorizo dauphinoise, seasonal vegetables, ceps, wild mushroom glace and La Triestina Montano cheese or something oriental like a Vietnamese Bahn Mi Chicken salad with rice noodles, carrot pickle, beansprouts, Hoi-An pesto, scallions and peanuts. So if you look at just a single dish like that, you’ve got to prepare the chicken, the noodles, the pickle, the beansprouts, the pesto and the scallions. Thankfully, the nuts take care of themselves.
But at Christmas, everyone has pre-ordered. There are no surprises, no customers asking for this or that or the other. Everyone knows what they want before they come so we can have everything lined up and good to go.
So while you might think that because it’s Christmas, we’ll have even more work to do to satisfy a full dining room, in fact, the opposite is true. Though there are plenty of guests, we have a little less to do because we know what they’ll be eating.
The atmosphere in the dining room is contagious. Everyone is there for a good time. It’s a fun day and people can expect a few fireworks from us. I tell you something, if you were to ask me for a tip on what to do on Christmas Day I’d say this: Book lunch at a decent restaurant. It’s the only way.
If you stay at home, someone gets isolated because they’re stuck peeling the spuds, preparing the sprouts, stuffing the turkey or doing the washing up. As hard as people try to share the work and be inclusive, someone’s always left behind.
Not all of my Christmases have been spent in the kitchen. I guess if I were remembering the best Christmas dining experience of my life, I’d say it was spent in Thailand on the Khoa San Road. I ate pad Thai noodles and drank a cold Chang beer. It was delicious.
When it’s all over, we have a celebratory drink. As long as the guests are fed and happy, we can afford to switch off. Don’t ask me whether I’ll be drinking wine, sherry or port – it’ll probably be all three.
And there’s still time to spend with the family after the madness has finished. All of our guys have people they love, people to go back to. So there’s always something to look forward to at the end of the day. Rather than Christmas Evening being an anti-climax, it’s the time when the after-party gets started.
Christmas is coming. And I can’t wait.
By Chris Burt, Executive Chef at the Mytton and Mermaid, Shrewsbury