Andy Richardson: Chef keeps his cool? It’s a sign of the times
My friend’s name is Chris. And his name is the most important part of this story.
Chris works as a chef at a reasonably posh country-house hotel, knocking out beautiful seasonal food for discerning guests. When celebs visit the area, they invariably book a room – so Chris has selfies with everyone from Nick Knowles to Raymond Blanc. He’s the West Midlands equivalent of Piers Morgan. If a star’s in town, he gets a selfie and ends up on Twitter with a famous arm around his shoulders and a 15,000 megawatt smile.
Right, let’s begin the sub-plot.
Chris works such long hours that he frequently kips over at the reasonably posh country-house hotel. When you put in the odd 18-hour shift, finding a bed for a quick snooze seems a reasonable ask – rather than schlepping it out on rural roads at silly o’clock.
And to make his late-night/early morning rests a little more comfortable, he’s taken to decking out one of the rooms with a few personal knick-knacks.
So along with a knock-out collection of cookery books and a stuffed hedgehog with a bow and arrow through it’s nose – don’t worry, there isn’t a stuffed hedgehog with a bow-and-arrow through it’s nose, I made that bit up to make him sound W.I.L.D. – he also has a selection of vinyl. There are seven inches from Chic, Buzzcocks, assorted 2 Tone bands and albums by The Doors, The Libertines, The Smiths and The Rolling Stones. The less said about his Paul Hardcastle seven-inch the better.
And so, my lovelies, we have set the scene. We have a chef who is simultaneously charming and discreet. We have frequent visits by celebrities. And we have a vinyl collection in a spare room. What could possibly go wrong?
Now, let us begin.
It was a regular Wednesday in Spring. Chef was cooking for a dining room full of guests as well as a household name who was tucked away anonymously in the corner, enjoying a quiet lunch with friends. The star had previously been to number one on the British music charts with four singles and one album, become the pride of London’s West End and been watched by 20-odd million people on TV. A few heads turned as he tucked into his food but, by and large, people let him get on with his business without interruption. God bless the art of discretion.
Chef wowed and dazzled, knocking up a six-course taster menu at lunchtime that showed off considerable skill. And then, as lunch drew to a close, he realised he’d got something special in his spare room: a vinyl copy of a million-selling single that went to number one in five countries by the star sitting in his restaurant. And Chef had a pen tucked behind his ear. An autograph beckoned. #WinningAtLife.
And yet. And yet.
Fetching the record and asking the singer to sign it would have blown Chef’s cool. It would have mangled some unwritten and unspoken law about how to interact with someone famous. So Chef – and remember, his name is Chris – had to find a way of getting the record signed without looking foolish.
He had a plan. When his general manager arrived in the kitchen, he beckoned her. “Would you mind taking this over to Table Four and asking him to sign it, please?”
His general manager laughed, said a few words that can’t be repeated in a family newspaper and carried on ferrying plates, counting beans and making sure the hotel remained reasonably posh with a tone not lowered by Chef’s fanboy antics.
So he called a waitress over and asked her the same thing. She’d also laughed at his request and instead she continued mixing Pimm’s and doing the other things that staff at reasonably posh hotels do.
Finally, he found someone who agreed.
He handed her a pen, gave her the vinyl and pointed her in the direction of Table Four.
She approached the pop star. “Would you mind signing this record?” she said, demurely.
The pop star agreed. He was happy after a spectacular lunch and keen to oblige.
“Of course, what’s your name?”
“Oh,” stumbled the waitress. “It’s not for me, you don’t have to put my name on it.” Her blood pressure soared as she thought of Chris.
“That’s fine,” said the genial pop star. “Who’s it for? I’ll happily dedicate it?”
The waitress started to sweat.
“My daughter,” she lied.
“And what’s her name?”
“Natasha. . .”
So now Chris has a record signed by a household name that bears the dedication: ‘To Natasha, with love’. But at least he kept his cool. He’s sworn me to secrecy and told me not to tell anyone. So, my 90,000 friends, let’s all keep it a secret, shall we?