written by: Nick Gerrard
When I was a kid I was into lots of things; football, cricket, Bruce lee, listening to old sixties 45s; and other things which came and went, waxing and waning with my attention span. Like any normal little kid, I think.
But, two things I stayed into and were the most important things in my life, football and food. The football I got from my granddad; almost as soon as I could walk I was kicking a ball and my greatest thrill was going to the stadium every two weeks and supporting our team. Every spare minute I had I was outside kicking a ball; in summer we were into cricket too but football was our first love.
My love of food came from my Nan and my mum who both worked in the trade and both had a love for good food. I never thought of it as being that special when I was a kid, it was kind of normal to like good food, why would you like shit food? It was only later on that I realised how much I loved food, the cooking, the buying and the eating of it.
My Nan worked at a posh café in one of the old Victorian arcades in the centre of Brum. She wore the classic waitress gear and we could only go in and visit if we wore our Sunday best. This didn’t happen very often but once in a while my mum got dolled up and we got scrubbed and we went for tea. The counter was filled with fresh cream cakes, my favourite were the chocolate éclairs with golden fresh cream and proper chocolate. And I had milk shake or even an Ice cream soda which was like a taste of heaven. My mum usually had scones with butter and cream and jam and a frothy coffee that I loved the sound it made by the white skirted black tied man behind the counter, hidden in a cloud of steam and swooshing noises.
As I said we didn’t go there often but my Nan bought loads of broken or unsold cakes home with her which we thought was the height of luxury.
Then my Nan moved to the Chamber of Commerce offices which had a huge kitchen and restaurant and only cooked lunches. I would go there a couple of times a week to meet my Nan at the end of her shift and when in entered those kitchens it was a world of wonder for me. The smells, the shouting, the characters. There were a bunch of cooks and chefs from all over the world, all with their tall hats and fat bellies. And they would grab me, swing me round, pinch my checks and get me to eat.
‘Hey Nick taste this duck!’
‘Nick, sit down try the dessert!’ The food was good, English and fancy French, and I tasted it all and loved it all. But my favourite thing there was the just baked fresh rolls right from the oven.
At home we had good food too. My Nan was a great cook. She baked a lot; cakes and fresh bread, which we always tasted hot with yellow butter or fresh beef dripping. Her food wasn’t fancy but she and my granddad went down to the rag market every few days to buy the best lamb chops, the freshest apples, the most succulent fish they could get. They always went near the end of the day when the butchers auctioned off stuff that was left over.
My granddad loved to get a bargain. He also loved to eat. A roast of any kind was his favourite but lamb chops he adored. Nothing was better for him than picking up the bones and nibbling away until they were stripped bare; and after he wiped the grease into his hands and spread it over his face. When I tried to do this my mum thumped the back of my head! But he got away with it.
‘When no one’s looking do it! It’s great for your skin.’ We loved our burgers and hot-dogs at the football too, and on Saturday morning before the game we went down to the butcher to get fresh friend pork scratching, to eat later in front of the TV. My granddad ate some weird stuff too; one of his favourites was a fruit cake in between two slices cut from a newly baked crusty cottage loaf with lashing of butter.
‘Nothing better in this world!’
And he had a passion for scrumping fruit and veg. Whenever we visited the countryside he always took off with me in tow to highjack some farmer’s field; didn’t matter what. Could be apples could be sprouts.
‘Nothing tastes quite so good as stolen food!’
My mum was into her food too and worked as a waitress. Sometimes when she couldn’t get a babysitter she took us along to some big hotel where we sat in the ladies toilets or staff room, while the women stripped and swore and laughed their heads off. For a young boy just discovering the delights of the female this was like being allowed into a forbidden kingdom. They thought I was too small to be bothered with bare boobs and stockinged legs. I wasn’t. And we got fed there too…the waitresses bought roast beef and potatoes and we dipped into terrines of gravy and then ate wedding cake and ice cream.
After school I worked in my Uncle’s café with my Nan for while, where I learnt a lot, apple crumbles, fish and chips, pasties; all great British food. Then I got a job in a hotel and got French trained. After working in loads of restaurants in the UK my dream came true and I moved to Paris. I still live there and work in a cool restaurant making French and modern British dishes. And I love the French’s appreciation of food and adore sitting outside a French café watching the world go by with a coffee and a croque-monsieur or a slice of cheese cake or flan. But still when I can get hold of a fruitcake sometimes I create the sandwich again, eaten with relish and nostalgia!
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