There are physical challenges and then there are mental challenges. Sometimes there are mental challenges that leave you feeling physically drained. Sometimes there are physical challenges that leave you feeling totally mental. But in order to achieve greatness; absolute, legendary, supreme greatness, challenges in life must be met. And prior to standing aloft that summit of triumph with flag in hand, upon that pinnacle of achievement, upon that mountain of grace, we must first plummet into the depths of hell. To sacrifice all, to push boundaries, to sweat tears and blood, to rake our backs, bruise our knees and chafe our wrists, to drown and keelhaul our very own souls. Only then can we resurface to claim the prize, the glory, forever more and after, and then some more. Olympians know this. Usain Bolt knows this. And now the Food Urchin knows this. For last week he gave his all. With every last breath and seething sinew, he pushed himself to the ultimate limit and smashed through that ticker tape and to tremulous, thundering applause; he leapt on that podium to receive his gold. Yes, the Food Urchin has now catered his very first wedding and on several occasions, he very nearly came a cropper. Even stepping down from that three-tiered platform was fraught with danger. One illusive splodge of wet, mashed potato on the floor, one mistimed step and whoosh, he would have gone arse-over-tit and smashed his teeth to smithereens on stainless steel, were it not for the invisible hands that held him up along the way. This is how events of the day unfolded.
Way back in some distant time and place, two young and very lovely girls approached the Food Urchin with a proposition. Not that kind of proposition mind, however titillating that might have been. No, these ladies only had eyes for each other and they wanted to cement their relationship with a declaration of love, a civil ceremony and they wanted to know if the Food Urchin would be up for catering for their small wedding of 20 odd guests. “Sure,” came the reply, because the Food Urchin is pretty muddyfunking cool at cooking and shizz but as the date loomed and the numbers increased to 50, the utterances soon turned to “Shiiiiiiit!” Luckily, the meal wasn’t to be too complicated and with planning and dry runs and plenty of prep, morale and confidence was running high. Plus the Food Urchin had assembled a crack team to nail the job on the head. Namely his wife, parents, cousin and cousin’s girlfriend, with the latter pairing having lots of experience in wedding catering and who were arriving later in the day.
So far, so good and so after rocking up to the venue on a sunny, warm morning with loaded cars and vans, the Food Urchin immediately sets to the task of cranking out a couple of bacon rolls, for he knew his team couldn’t go to work on empty stomachs. Now at home, any ordinary citizen would simply switch on the gas hob and whack a frying pan on to get those sheets of streaky crisped up but in a professional kitchen, it seems that things are slightly different. Due to (open fingers) health and safety (close fingers), it seems that no appliances, including scary, behemoth cookers will become operational until a myriad of flicks and switches have been twisted and turned. Cue a frustrating 10 minutes of twisting and turning, peering and listening for gas, tentative padding of hot plates with fingers and gnarling sense of desperation as our tummies begin to growl. Eventually, the Food Urchin, somewhat embarrassed, pops his head into the venue’s management office to ask for help and a bored, belligerent staff member swans in and turns a switch on the wall that was always there, staring at the Food Urchin in the face. The Food Urchin utters his very first swear word of the day but then gets on with the business of breakfast.
Appetites sated, the Food Urchin and team begin to unpack and get organised. Pot and pans are distributed, contents of cool bags emptied into fridges, the dry ingredients larder is sorted and a host of knives and other utensils clatter on steel surfaces. Immediately it becomes apparent that some tools are missing, such as a wooden rolling pin but the improvisational Food Urchin doesn’t sweat it, there are bottles of water in the fridge, who needs a rolling pin when you’ve got a heavy, round, hard water bottle that will do the job? HA! No sweat. A radio gets switched on and heads bow down as ingredients get sorted, chopped and scraped and the air in the kitchen is calm and industrious. Until it becomes apparent for the second time that the Food Urchin hasn’t brought as much yeast as he thought for making bread and suddenly the air is punctuated with the second shrill swear word of the day. Trying to take these minor setbacks in his stride, the Food Urchin decides to crank out the remainder of the dessert (a trio of chocolate brownies, key lime pie and homemade ice cream with raspberry coulis, no less) and to smash into dicing some cucumber for the prawn cocktail. The kitchen starts to warm up, as do the ovens and then some sort of time displacement happens.
Blinking up, through a beaded brow, the Food Urchin frowns at the clock at the wall. “Surely it hasn’t taken me an hour to chop some fracking cucumbers?” the Food Urchin thinks to himself. And then the wedding organiser enters and announces gleefully that according to her schedule, the guests should be ready to sit down in a couple of hours. At that precise moment, a dolly zoom brings the Food Urchin’s pristine bald head and horrified face into focus. A raised eyebrow and wandering eyes scan all over the kitchen, conducting several thousand calculations in a second and then boom, the Food Urchin is gone, screaming “DON’TWORRRYI’LLBEBACKINAMINUTE!!!!!!” as he races out the door.
Now, tearing down country roads in his battered Megane, the Food Urchin is on the lookout for a shop, any sort of shop that might sell bread. Pain de campagne, French stick, Mighty White, any sort of frigging bread but all that rushes by are trees and fields and the occasional quaint, picturesque, sodding cottage. Then suddenly, it appears. A bloody farm shop! Executing a right hand brake turn at 70 miles an hour, the Food Urchin screeches into the car park and leaps out through the window, without opening the door. Running in like a man possessed, he then jumps and bursts through the multicoloured fly curtain and practically lands on the deli counter.
“DO YOU SELL BREAD?” he yells at a nervous woman standing behind the counter. She fearfully clutches her apron up to her chin and simply nods yes.
“THEN GIVE ME ALL OF YOUR BREAD!!!!” he says, pointing and bellowing at the top of his voice. Shaking, she manages to scoop up several crusty bloomers and a rather good looking, rustic boule into carrier bags. The Food Urchin thrusts a crisp note forward before spying some delicious, homemade pork pies.
“AND I WILL HAVE ALL OF THOSE PORK PIES TOO!”
And then the Food Urchin is gone, tyres squealing off the forecourt, leaving a squall of dust.
As he bounds back into the kitchen, the Food Urchin’s parents look noticeably relieved and though the clock is ticking, the Food Urchin now starts to feel invigorated, that nothing is standing in his way. It is now time to prep the canapés and make some crostini so the Food Urchin opens the door to the oven to check temperature and promptly burns his forehead. No matter, adrenaline is starting to kick in now and with a vivid red stripe across his spam, the Food Urchin relays orders to the team, masterfully, purposefully and by this point, somewhat sweatily. Huge stock pots and saucepans are placed upon the hob and industrial strength food bags from IKEA are emptied. Bags containing luxurious soup, beautiful beef, braised in beer, sublime mushroom stroganoff and exquisite sauces. And mashed potato too, creamed, fluffy and light, though they remain inside the bags. The idea is to heat the mash through in a water bath, sous vide style and then cut the corners of the bags to pipe onto warm plates; an ingenious idea. The Food Urchin lights all the rings on the gas hob, echoing the words “FLAME ON!” with each deft click of the butane lighter, winking at his team with every squeeze. The atmosphere is still busy but smiles abound the place and everyone is cool and relaxed. The Food Urchin’s cousin arrives with his girlfriend and asks is there anything he can do.
“Chop some parsley if you like, show us your skills,” the Food Urchin grins, nonchalantly.
Guests then begin to arrive in the courtyard, full of joy and laughter having just seen the happy couple exchange vows of matrimony. Canapés are passed out and chilled glasses and bottles chink in the gorgeous sunshine. The tipping point of service edges into view and slowly but surely, guests enter the main banqueting suite. The starters are plated up, Food Urchin and the gang are ready to go.
But then the Food Urchin notices something in the corner of his eye. The DIY sous vide mash, sitting in its water bath of gently simmering water doesn’t look quite right. Well not the mash itself, but the water. The water looks, well, the water looks a little bit cloudy.
“OHHHHMYFACKINGGAWD!! THE FACKING BAGS ARE STARTING TO SPLIT!!!!!!!!!”
And then, pandemonium.
The pot is seized from the stove, with steaming hot water sloshing everywhere and is placed into a cavernous sink. The Food Urchin dips his hands in to retrieve the scalding hot potato and immediately screams, holding pink, stubby hands into the air. The Food Urchin’s Dad then dips his hands in to retrieve the scalding hot potato and immediately screams, holding pink and familiar stubby hands into the air. A colander is thrust upon the pair from out of nowhere and amid a blur of arms, elbows and feet, as if by some magic touch; the mash is saved. Albeit with some thorough whisking and a hefty dose of salt.
Collectively, the team sighs a breath of relief and the starters begin to filter out of the door but by this point the Food Urchin is starting to feel the pressure, cracking the eggshell of his fragile demeanour, revealing the demon within.
“RIGHT LET’S GET THE FACKING MAIN PLATES OUT OF THE OVEN. YOU SORT THE FACKING SOUP. YOU GRAB THE FACKING EMPTY PLATES. DAD, GET OVER HERE, YOU’RE ON MEAT, I AM SORTING THE MASH AND THE FACKING STROGANOFF! GODDIT?”
The Food Urchin’s loved ones simply stare back at him and then get on with their work, sadly ruing inside that the inevitable has happened. Their husband/son/cousin has turned into a twat. Or worse still, he is beginning to turn into Gordon Ramsay.
Thankfully, a smooth momentum begins to take hold again and as empty bowls and plates come back, the mains start to go out with efficiency and speed. The Food Urchin, eager to keep the tempo up and to perhaps make amends for his earlier briskness, barks surreal words of encouragement, whilst mindlessly piling mash into presentation rings.
“THAT’S IT GUYS. NOW WE’VE GOT IT GOING. KEEP TURNING THOSE PLATES. THIS IS GOOD, THIS IS GOOD!”
The others just glance at each other, as if to say ‘no, it really has happened’ but the Food Urchin just keeps ploughing on. And on and on and on.
“THERE WE GO, NOW WE’RE MOTORING. THAT’S IT……..NOW…….NOW WE……NOW….OH NO NOW WE’RE GONNA RUN OUT OF FACKING MASH!!! OHFERFACKSAKE!! YOU CAAANT! YOUFACKINGCAAANT!!!”
Now the Food Urchin is making a speedy decent into total meltdown, yelling at an empty stock pot, calling it no amount of obscene words. To the sound of a heartbeat, the kitchen starts to fade into black and out again. Back and forth, back and forth. Time slows down and so do all words and sounds, morphing, as if someone is dragging a thumb on a record. Then suddenly, all goes pitch black, as if someone just switched off a light. And it remains dark for some time.
Then slowly, like a new dawn, light begins soak back through, peeping in from the edges. A tap-tapping sound resonates in the Food Urchin's ears and as he opens his eyes, he looks down and can see that he is holding a chef’s knife, chopping against a plain wooden board and nothing else. A hand appears on his shoulder and whispers into his ear, “You can stop now Dan, we’re all done, everyone loved the food. Even the ones who had crushed new potatoes instead of mash! Come on, the buffet is out now and the evening guests are here. Why don’t you stop, go outside and take a breath of fresh air.”
The Food Urchin looks up and he sees his wife’s beautiful face smiling back at him. She rubs a damp, dirty tea towel over his face and pinches his nose before ushering him out into the courtyard. But before he has a chance to walk through the door and grab a cold, well deserved beer, she stops him and takes his hand, still smiling sweetly.
“But listen to me Dan, if you ever call me that word again, we’re getting a divorce, OK?”