Well that was quite a week, one that was meant to be a return to some sort of normality, but thanks to the cold and snow was anything but. Doesn’t Jack Frost know I’ve got a business to run? The persistent icy weather has really changed the nature of how we are living, hasn’t it? It reminds me of being in Cuba weirdly enough. You see people walking everywhere, and the shops are haphazardly stocked (depending on whether the delivery lorry has made it on time). I quite like it really. There is also more contact between people I think. Neighbours are helping each other out, or throwing snowballs at each other. People are chatting about how they are coping. Our lives are so well provisioned most of the time that I think it’s good to be reminded not to take that for granted. And if the irritation of missed deliveries or slipping on the ice starts to make me pine for a return to the usual winter blandness, I try to think of how my kids will look back on this cold snap. I wouldnt be surprised if it imprints on their memory in a similar way to the long hot summers of the mid-70s imprinted on mine.
Whilst the description slick is still some way away, I am starting to get the rhythms of short-order cooking. As Magic said, it is important for me to become comfortable with this process. The most important thing is to prepare properly, setting out all the breakfast ingredients close to the griddle, and then starting each ingredient off on its journey towards hotness. It is essentially a simple thing to do, but like any skill it isn’t too easy to master. One of the things I have thought about a lot recently is appreciating the talents of other people, whether lauded by society or held in little esteem. Life is hugely improved when people make an effort to do whatever it is they do well, whether that is customer service via a call centre helpline, driving a cab, arranging flowers or running a city council. That effort is oil on society’s gears. Compare that to the irritating grit of those detestable bankers, handing out bonuses after all they have done. Wow, this post has gone drastically off-piste into Tunbridge Wellsian rant-mode.
The week brought visits from friends and well-wishers, the very satisfying return of lots of customers, and an astonishing booking from France, giving me the conundrum of cooking breakfast for thirty one students and staff in my fifteen seater cafe, two mornings on the trot. If anyone fancies helping out, let me know. A word of warning though: although on the first day, the first students will sit down at a relatively civilised 7.30 am, on the second day, they sit down at 6.30 am, which means a 5 am alarm for yours truly.
This week has also brought home the need to take the plunge on certain decisions, most of which involve spending lots of money. Whereas six weeks ago I was all gung ho with the idea of changing this and buying that and moving this, I am now much more circumspect, and aware of the need to be governed by the balance sheet. So a nice new laptop, the very one on which I’m tapping out this blog, will require the cooking of about several hundred of my delicious big breakfasts to pay for it. I need the laptop, but six weeks ago I was of a mind to buy a MacBook. Now, I’d much rather buy a really good toaster and dishwasher, because that will make each hour in the cafe easier. The customers will benefit from those items, but their meals wouldn’t arrive any quicker if I had a Mac instead of an Acer.
The very physical and direct nature of catering is good for financial discipline. The raw ingredients are there on your shelves and in your fridges. You’ve paid for them, and if you don’t cook them and sell them, you have to throw them away. You don’t want to, but there’s no choice, unless you want to risk poisoning your customers. It’s all very immediate. This is so different from selling books, which is what I used to do. In bookselling the risk regarding the raw ingredient, the book, is usually with the publisher, and a well-organised bookseller will return unsold stock for a full refund! Similarly in bookselling, the reaction to your recommended read has to come after your customer has left your premises, found time to read the book and then hopefully return to your shop to pass comment. It’s a contemplative, drawn-out process, and can be immensely satisfying one, as you may get to truly share the experience of reading a book, the very same book with the same words and/or pictures, and the same ideas and artistry. In the cafe, it’s all in your face, or rather theirs, as you get to see, and hopefully hear, their reaction as they eat and pay. And on their plates, or better still not on their plates, if you see what I mean. Each meal is different, especially if the cook uses ‘real’ ingredients, even with a straightforward dish like a cooked breakfast. Each customer visit is unique, an opportunity to enchant them or send them away vowing never to darken your door again. If they don’t like a book they may well blame the author; if they don’t like your food, there is nowhere to hide. It’s quite a ride.