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The Catering World And Me By H.V. Coombs

Murder On The GreenToday on the book tour for ‘Murder On The Green’, the latest book by H.V. Coombs, we talk about working in the catering world.

I drifted into catering late in life by accident. I was looking after my two children at home, bored and so, when a free day in the week became available, I decided to do a cookery course which was something I’d always been interested in.

Only one was running at a suitable time, a Thursday, and that was NVQ Cookery 2 at Aylesbury, a large town up the road. I thought, well, I could learn like the professionals. I called them up, it was cheap and they said not working in catering didn’t matter. So, aged 40, I found myself back at college with a bunch of 16 year olds. That was oddly intimidating, but the kids were really welcoming, despite the fact that I was as old as their dads. A fortnight later I found myself working weekends at a Loch Fyne restaurant.

To say it was a shock to the system was a wild understatement. I had, mistakenly, thought that I was a good cook. That Friday night I watched as the head chef, Paul B, singlehandedly cooked about two hundred main dishes in three hours, pretty much faultlessly, helped by a sous chef and someone else doing vegetables. I realized then that I wasn’t a good cook and never had been. I realized then that I actually knew sod all.

Watching a well-drilled kitchen brigade in full operating mode on a Saturday night is an awesome sight. After working together a while you develop an almost psychic bond with your fellow chefs. There is also a tremendous sense of camaraderie forged by the hours, the stress and the relentless time pressures.

The downside of it is that in this febrile, hot-house environment, hatreds flourish and resentments, seething resentments of someone grow and multiply. Weird behavior is, or can be, the norm. Drugs and alcohol abuse are commonplace. It’s also, sadly, an environment in which bullies thrive. Part of it due to a macho culture, part of it due to tradition, ‘twas ever thus type thing, and part of it I think like Stockholm Syndrome, working in a kitchen you lose sense of reality, the outside world is a kind of vague, unreal place. You often work six day weeks, arrive at ten a.m and leave after eleven pm and your day off is often spent getting hammered in a pub.

That makes it a good place to set a crime novel, everyone from the kp to the restaurant manager is capable of killing just about anyone.

‘A Taste of Death’ and its follow up, ‘Murder on The Green’, are partly set in this odd, twilight world and in the equally strange world of a village in the Chilterns, but that’s another story.

Hopefully as well as enjoying the plot and characters, the reader will get some idea of the potential drama going on backstage and realise that when you think, ‘that soup’s been a while coming,’ absolute mayhem, if not actual violence, could well be going on behind those swing doors leading to the kitchen.

You can buy Murder on the Green from Amazon

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