Careering into cooking: Lucy Bailey asks two caterers how they ended up in the kitchen.
Robert Winter is a large, impressive man with a tendency to jump up and shout at people in French. He is also a chef in the classical mould - a mould almost completely broken in Britain today.
The son of two professional cooks. he first went to work in a restaurant kitchen in Glasgow at the age of fourteen, and soon after secured one of the coveted indentured apprenticeship places at the Dorchester in London. By this (now virtually defunct) system. an apprentice had to serve six months in each of the different ‘corners‘ or departments of a big kitchen. learning the classical French way to deal with vegetables, soups. fish. roasts, sauces, and cold foods. as well as kitchen French — still exclusively spoken in such places. After four years at the Dorchester he progressed to Fortnum and Masons as first commis saucier (second sauce person in a corner of up to seven) where ‘the girls were wonderful‘ and he also picked up something of the art of patisserie. Thence to Grosvenor House for four years as chef r6tisseur, where the Chef . Rene Lebec, was ‘known as God. but looked like the Devil’.
And so on. The Winter CV charts a steady ascent through the system, via several grand, and Grand, hotels to deposit our hero as Executive Chef at the George Hotel where he has presided for the last nine years. There are nineteen people altogether in the kitchen at the George — three of whom are women. Trainees now come from catering college, YTS schemes, or direct from school, usually with a personal recommendation, but the structure and value of the training they receive is entirely up to the Chef.
‘Youngsters are being pushed on a lot faster these days', he says. ‘It‘s a great pity that the basics are being forgotten. Even some of our best
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hotels are having to send senior men back to school on day release.‘ Formal training structures may soon be reintroduced in some places — by the Stakis company in Scotland. for instance — but until then the traditional skills rest with men (yes. almost all men) like Chef Winter. who puts them to good use in the Chambertin restaurant at the George.
‘Scottish food has wonderful potential. and can only get better', he says. ‘particularly now that suppliers do what they‘re told!‘ Chef Winter is not the man to ‘go in for the nouvelle cuisine sort of thing'. and going by the number of businessmen in the Chambertin every lunchtime the application of a classical education to fresh Scottish produce is clearly paying off.
SUCCESS ON A PLATE There‘s a tiny little takeaway up at the west end ofSauchiehall Street celebrating its first birthday this month. In one year ‘Mogie‘s Hoagies New York Style Sandwich Bar‘ has gained a large satisfied clientele and a far-reaching reputation. But none of this comes as any surprise when you meet the owner.
Morag Armit is everything Glaswegians are meant to be — energetic, irrepressible, charming and with a finger firmly on the pulse. She got into the food business almost by accident: after graduating in art and ceramics she went to Florida and
or! partner lth one of her celebrated beagles. Photo Martin Shields.
worked for a while in an Italian restaurant. where she was trained by a forty year-old waitress— ‘in America it‘s a profession. she took pride in doing her job really well. In Britain it‘s completely different.’ She ended up talking her way into various food-related jobs including catering for huge buffets on a 120ft yacht in Los Angeles bay. and managing her own Italian restaurant. Back in Glasgow she has managed the diner in Charlie Parker‘s, worked in Bennets. and been front of house manager at No l Devonshirc Gardens.
All this experience, aided by the fact that her bank manager, having actually lived in Manhattan, knew what a hoagie was, helped to raise the necessary finance when she decided last year to set up her own business in Glasgow, with her ex-motor mechanic brother as a partner.
A hoagie. ofcourse, is a giant overstuffed sandwich — Morag makes hers using brown French sticks — and is part of the alternative, delicatessen type fast food tradition in America. Traditional fillings include hot salt beef, pastrami and swiss cheese, and steak and egg— cooked on a hot griddle while you wait, and, in this case, right in front ofyou. Everything in Mogie’s is freshly prepared every day (which
means getting up at 5.30am six days a ‘
week) including some interesting soups and their range of wonderful,
authentic American breads, mufﬁns and cookies — for example, zucchini bread, pumpkin or date muffins, and the best chocolate brownies in the world. The baking goes down so well, in fact, that Morag has just bought a small commercial bakery so that she can supply other outlets as well.
Morag enjoys the contact with the
public, and is clearly a woman with principles — she is determined to keep close personal control over quality and the value for money aspect, even if she opens more shops in Glasgow. ‘But eventually’, she says, ‘I’d like to sell it all as a franchise and get back to travelling, which is what I really love‘.
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Breakfast 8am—noon Full Menu noon—1 1 pm
Barbizon Gallery, College Lands High Street, Glasgow, 041 553 1990
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THE BASEMENT COURTYARD
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The List 10— 23 March 198973