This has been knocking around for a while but I didn't know how to put it on the blog then . I'm sure most people have seen this but I will post it anyway. . I have a few more and I will post them as soon as .I have them converted. This was great fun and the people were very nice. They invited me back to do another show.
Old bed warmer from the Gresham found in a pub in Dublin by my brother Brendan.
This is an old menu from the Gresham Hotel in Dublin Ireland. This menu is from 1965. All the prices are in shillings and pence. To put these prices into perspective; my weekly wages were around 30 shillings I think; this meant that most items on this menu would cost me more than half my wages every week. They may not seem expensive now but at the time these prices were very high.
At this time the Gresham was the premiere hotel in Dublin. Any celebrities who visited Dublin stayed there from Pat Boone to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton when he was when he was filming ‘The spy who came in from the cold’. In 1961 Princess Grace and Prince Rainier attended a ball there so it was really the place to see and be seen.
We never saw these people of course, hidden as we were in the basement in the kitchen. These famous people were names on order tickets from room service marked ‘VIP ’to us. The exception was the Beatles. When the Beatles were in Dublin in 1963 they stayed at the Gresham. As they could not use any of the public areas they had to come through the kitchen to get to their rooms. It was there that I met John, Paul, Ringo and George as they walked through. I was standing right by the door as they came in. This was a thrilling moment to see these not-yet iconic figures in the flesh. They were young like us, they were full of life and we, and I’m sure they, had no idea what they would become.
The Gresham was the hotel mentioned in James Joyce’s short story ‘The Dead’.
The general manager of the Gresham was a hotel legend in Dublin. His name was Toddy O’Sullivan. He was a distant aristocratic figure to us in our lowly positions. He would appear from time to time, not very often, to talk to the chef. He had his own code word among us. This code word was ' 44' and when it was spoken you knew that he was on his way or very near. So aloof and striking was he that we were more afraid of him than we were of the chef. Someone pointed out to me one day and on many other occasions that the piece of velvet like-material on his overcoat collar was worth more than my wages for one month or more.
His grandson has a restaurant in Kinsale called Toddies Restaurant and one of the bars in the present day Gresham is named after him.
He had an assistant manager called Mr. Bentley. Mr. Bentley had a clipped English accent and a very English manner. He was always dressed in morning clothes and walked with a slight limp. This limp only added to his stature as we were all sure he got it from an injury during the war as a British officer leading a platoon of men into a very dangerous situation. Nothing could be further from the truth of course but such was the charisma of these people that anything less would not have fit the bill. He was a bachelor and spent all his time in the hotel. Mr. Bentley was neither liked nor admired. He was too English, too stiff and too lacking in casual Irish humor. The air around him seemed brittle. Had he been called O’Reilly things may have been different.
Every Christmas day he would come through the kitchen with a page boy behind him. This page boy had a basket with lots of packets of cigarettes. When Mr. Bentley would come across one of us underlings in the kitchen he would reach behind to the page boy’s basket, take one of the packets of cigarettes and hand it to the unfortunate soul and then wish him a happy Christmas in his crisp English accent. This usually left the poor unfortunate worker staring at the cigarettes in his hand with his mouth open, Thankful for the ciggies but confused at this person in a morning suit greeting him.
What Mr. Bentley did not know was that every time he turned a corner in the many-cornered kitchen area, the page boy was ambushed and relieved of some his fags by the more enterprising members of the kitchen staff. Given the established rules of ‘Omerta’ that existed in those days the poor page boy could do nothing but be thankful that he didn't get a kick in his well pressed pants to boot. For days afterwards we would all wish each other happy Christmas in Mr. Bentleys English accent. I can still hear him to this day.
The Chef’s name was Michael McManus and the sous chef was Barney Nielan. They were both characters in their own right and fit each other’s personality so well that they could have been cast for their jobs by the Abbey Theatre. Barney was much taller than ‘Macker’so he would bend his body at the hip to hear what the chef had to say. This had a slightly ‘silent film’ effect when viewed from a distance given the low ceilings.
Mr. MacManus was called Chef to his face but we all called him ‘Macker’ behind his back. He was greatly feared and he was a bit of a tyrant if he did not take to you. I saw him being very cruel to some of the apprentices but they usually deserved it. Like most chefs in those days he was hard but very protective of his staff. He knew we didn’t earn much, the work was hard and the hours long. If we were to be reprimanded it was to be by him and no one else. On many occasions I saw him come to our defense. He was another great influence on my young life. I was lucky because he liked me.
Barney on the other hand did not like me at all and made a point of always asking me to do overtime, when he knew I couldn’t, within earshot of the chef. He just wanted the chef to hear me say no. He was a bit of a weasel really and never looked you straight in the eye. He had a poets tongue for words and phrases and he always affected a slight lisp and faint stammer when he spoke. This was purely for effect as it kept the object of his attention on edge waiting for the next word and the final sentence.
Barney was also excellent with the guest and was not shy about using his velvet tongue to smooth over any problems that occurred in the restaurant.
I remember one day something was served that was definitely not to a guests liking. He complained loudly and vowed to bring his complaints to the highest level. Enter Barney Nielan: He laid his hand on the guests arm and agreed with him completely, this was an outrage and the guest in question would be given satisfaction. Barney comped his meal and said ' furthermore, I am going to fire the young man who had the audacity to serve such an item to any of our guests. It doesn't matter that he has a small family. He will have to go!"
When the guest heard this he immediately withdrew his complaint. He did not want to be responsible for a family going hungry. This was Ireland in the sixties and there was a lot of poverty around.
Barney thanked the guest for his understanding and the matter was forgotten. This is a true story.
One day he started to chat to me and asked me how I was getting along. I was very flattered that he should be taking such an interest me. Or so I thought; he finally wheedled his way to the real and darker purpose of his geniality by asking “tell me Jim, do you smoke?” This was heaven! Now the sous chef who did not like me was going to give me a cigarette. Our past differences buried and forgotten with a new friendship about to start! When I answered that I did indeed smoke and showed him my packet of Sweet Afton he said “can you spare one for me? “He then helped himself to one of my hard earned ciggies. Barney had wrapped me up in his blarney.
Such was Barney Nielan! Nonetheless in many other ways he was a wonderful example to us aspiring youngsters. He was always very poised and clean in his whites; his shoes were always shined as are mine to this day. For all his faults he had a great and cutting wit and could be very entertaining.
He often gave me the evil eye and as I said we did not get along. Nonetheless, I could not help but admire him, albeit secretly.
Both the chef and Barney had a supporting cast of similar wits and characters in the shape of the various department chefs. Most of these were good men with one or two exceptions.
This was a time of working until two in the morning to earn some overtime. I was often stopped by a police squad car while cycling home. The Garda wanted to know what I was doing out so early in the morning on my bike. More often than not they felt sorry for me and let me go. This happened quite a lot during the festive season when all the big businesses around town would have their Christmas parties. Dinner wasn’t served until midnight which meant that we wouldn’t finish until 2 am.
Swanky though The Gresham was, it wasn’t without its Fawlty Tower moments. We had two dumb waiters in the kitchen for room service. These were old wooden, rope operated things. One day we were sending up a tureen of split pea soup for a special party. The dumb waiter decided to stop working half way up to its destination. It wouldn’t go up and it wouldn’t come down and the guests were waiting for the soup. What to do? Someone had the bright idea of putting green food coloring into some chicken soup. This was done and sent on its way. We never found out if the guests noticed or not.
Although the Gresham at the time was very good, it was not up to the standards of truly world class hotels like The Savoy and The Dorchester in London. This was mainly due to the fact that the Unions were so strong and the workplace so protective. This made it difficult for any really internationally experienced chefs or cooks to come to work in the hotel. We did get a German in once. He worked with me in the cold section and he seemed like a very nice man. One day as I was passing by one of the people in charge I was given the signal to approach, this was a crooked index finger waved back and forth. When I approached an arm found itself around my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear: " Show him nothing" the voice said! Such was the attitude in those day. No thought was given to what we could have learned from this man. My guess was that someone had brought him in without consulting the chef. The German fellow left soon after.
The products: fish, meat, vegetables were of the highest quality but more expertise was needed in the preparation. This was very frustrating for young apprentices bent on furthering their knowledge and experience.
After a few years I saw that it was time to go in search of greater knowledge and more experience. Dublin and the Gresham were not the Dublin and Gresham of today and travel in search of knowledge was needed to further the hopes and ambitions of a then young and now middle aged generation. Thus, faraway places beckoned a young man and there began a new and exciting life. Not always easy but never dull, to quote Norman from ‘The Dresser’.
This is a photo taken after a gala in the new Meridien Hotel in Nice on December 6th 1974. The Chef was Maurice Brazier and he is on the right. I had worked with him previously in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire and two years later I worked with him again in Paris and Belgrade in what was then Yugoslavia. He sent me to Brazil and I came back to Paris for about 18 months after that. Leaving Paris was a big mistake.
He was the only one of my chefs to recognize whatever good I had in me and make me use it. Many a time, during the first couple of years together he would have to call me into his office and calm me down. In turn I was able to do the same thing with my own employees later in life. He showed me the way to make people better at their work.
He was good enough to send me on mission to East Berlin, Corsica , Tours and Yugoslavia. I almost made it to India but it fell through at the last minute. I couldn't complain because there was nothing to complain about. I had already been everywhere else.
It is really only when you go to different places that you appreciate the professionalism of a Chef like Monsieur Brazier. No one has ever quite come up to his standard that I have seen. I do , however , have the satisfaction of having learned enough from him to be able to raise shoddy hotels to the level that he would have been proud of.
Maurice Brazier had plenty of polish and charisma. He was the calmest chef I had ever worked with and for. He ran a very organised and professional operation and I learned a lot from him.
He was one of the first chefs I knew who really brought out the best in people. He had a largesse of spirit and a great talent for knowing what the important things were and to ignore the petty. I never heard him raise his voice in the ten years I was with him and he treated everyone with respect. This was how he got the best out of his staff.
This is a general idea of how to cook a fennel bulb. This bulb was small so I left it whole. With a bigger bulb you would trim it down . You then plunge it into salted boiling water for a few minutes and then into an ice cold bath. This will keep everything nice and green and is always a good thing to do with most vegetables. Depending on the size of the bulb, at this point you will halve or quarter it. Then you drain it and cook it slowly on top of the stove in a little olive oil to bring out the flavor and color it a little. Here I added a little onion, carrot and tomato as well as salt , pepper and garlic. Then you add some white wine and some stock and bake it in the oven in a covered pot. It is ready when it is knife or fork tender. This is a very versatile and tasty vegetable that will go with almost anything.