If you want to age a tree you have to look at how many rings there are in the trunk. This increases with each season and is an accurate measure of how long the wood has lived.
If you want to gauge the amount of time a cook has been in a professional kitchen, look at his hands. The more burns and scars he has the longer he has been behind the stove, or how clumsy he’s been.
In “Kitchen Confidential” Anthony Bourdain relates the story of when he was a young chef in his first kitchen. One day, it comes to us all, he got burnt. The sensible thing to do is put your hand under the cold tap. The unsensible thing to do is ask an experienced chef where the burns kit lives. This is probably treated with the same scorn as asking a stock car racer why he hasn’t got an airbag. This may sound a little harsh, but it’s an occupational hazard, cooks get burnt all the time. Unless it is going to send you to A&E then you have to work through the pain.
In some kitchens they have some fairly sane ideas around health and safety. If you spend a lot of time slicing meat, then the guard on the machine needs to be there. If you shuck oysters then a chain mail glove is not a bad idea. Kitchens are slippery, damp, hot and hazardous places, so there does need to be an element of common sense.
Food safety for the most of it, is common sense. If food is not cold enough or hot enough then bugs multiply at a rate faster than students in freshers week. Keeping uncooked meats below cooked meats makes sense as the lower shelf stuff is going to get cooked sometime soon.
Now let us zoom forward slightly in time. In a few short weeks we are going to hit Autumn. This is the time when it gets darker, the clocks go back and leaves drop off the trees. When I was a schoolboy this was a special time of year. During the first term of the year, the horse chestnut tree held wonders for a small child. Something special would drop off the branches, even without the help of a big stick, this was conkers.
So this nut would be pierced all the way through and a string knotted to hold it in place for playground warfare. Some kids would try and bake their conkers in the oven or even use vinegar to try and toughen them. In any case, only one winner would walk away from the duel. No-one got anything more than the occasional bruised knuckle, but… then health and safety kicked in. If you are allowed to play conkers now you need to wear eye protection and sturdy gloves. What happened to letting children just play?
Please, pass me the burns kit and a large glass of brandy!
Ross Boardman is author of “101 Restaurant Secrets” and an award winning restaurateur.