Old Ship Hotel

An apprentice chef in 1956

By Robin Tulley

 
Photo:The Old Ship Hotel photographed in 1957

The Old Ship Hotel photographed in 1957

Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

My first day at work

With both trepidation and expectation, I pushed my way through the polished brass and plate glass revolving doors of one of the town’s premier seafront hotels, The Old Ship, and into its opulent and grandiose interior. Inside I was confronted by a uniformed top hatted gentleman with a booming voice who questioned my presence in the hotel foyer. I noted from the badge on his lapel that he was the Head Porter. I advised him that I was reporting for my first day at work as an apprentice chef at the hotel. At that he informed me, in no uncertain terms that, “under no circumstances were staff permitted to use the hotel’s main entrance”. So I made my way as directed to find the uninviting staff entrance to the rear of the hotel.

The bottom of the pecking order

As I entered through the sea weathered and rusty iron door, an elderly clerk, without saying a word, pointed a finger in the direction of the time keeping clock and the racks of accompanying cards. I was very impressed that one bearing my name was already in place. After I nervously clocked in I was taken, via dimly lit passageways, into the bowels of the hotel to a door marked ‘Monsieur Gaston Monniere-Maitre Chef de Cuisine’. I had previously met him, and the General Manager, when they had considered my application to be indentured to the hotel for a period of five years. I had been left under no illusion that I would be at the bottom of the pecking order, but had satisfied their concerns that I had the drive, stamina and commitment to succeed in this regard.

A scene of frenetic activity

Monsieur Monnier was a kindly, elderly, rotund and ruddy faced man of Swiss origin, wearing a pristine white jacket, checked trousers and a crisply starched hat that appeared at least two feet high and befitted his hierarchal position. With a heavy accent he welcomed me and showed me where to change into my uniform. Then we made our way back through the passageways until the air was increasingly filled with a cacophony of sound that grew louder the nearer we approached the brightly lit kitchen. On entering the swing doors, I was confronted with a scene of frenetic activity. The kitchen resonated with raised voices that issued both commands and curses in equal measure.

An alien environment?

To me, and probably any other outsider, this was a scenario of menace and unmitigated bedlam. But I was quick to learn that what I was experiencing was in fact a finely orchestrated performance of pure theatre. Everyone in the kitchen was a player, contributing elements that would finally evolve into hundreds of meals produced day in and out to satisfy the discerning palates of the hotel’s diners. The atmosphere was electric and exciting, the heat intense and unrelenting and the ensuing aromas of cooking food confused the senses. Was this how I really imagined a professional kitchen would be, and could I actually work in such an alien environment? I was soon to find out.

This page was added on 08/04/2012.

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