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Stories & Scripts

Source: Adults

Author: Barry Gee

Title: Not Another Cookery Book.

We had many different chefs when I was growing up but the one I remember best was Daniel. He was young and had a daughter the same age as me called Suzanne. I thought it was a beautiful name and wished that it was my own. Daniel was married to Sylvie and they lived in a cottage in the grounds. Sylvie helped in the kitchen and served the food at meal-times. I was about three years old and Suzanne was my best friend. I wished that I could go and live with her in the cottage.

It was a tiny house with a thatched roof and a garden all the way around which was always filled with flowers. The rooms were very small but that just made it seem cosy. There was an open fireplace and sometimes Daniel would burn some logs even when it was not cold. Then we would sit around the fire and look at it. Daniel saw things in the flames and told us. Sometimes I saw what he could see but most of the time I saw something else. We would sit for an hour or more looking for things in the flames and, now and then, Daniel would stir the fire with a stick and we would see completely different pictures. I was always sad when I had to go home to the great big house with enormous rooms and central heating.

Of course, there was a fireplace in the main room and, on special occasions, a fire would be lit but nobody looked at it. They would all sit talking to each other and remark on its size and warmth but never say how beautiful it was. Usually it was just me and the dogs who looked at the fire.

Daniel was not the best chef we ever had but I liked him more than the others because he used to talk to me even when he was very busy. He would place a chair next to the counter where he was making food and then lift me up onto it so that I could see what he was doing. He would explain as he went along. I was not allowed to touch his knives but he showed me what to do when I was old enough to do it. I liked it best when he was chopping something. Daniel made me move away a bit because 'it could be a little dangerous'. That's why I liked it.

I spent hours in the kitchen every day and I was never bored. Daniel was always happy and knew lots of different songs. He taught me some of them and we used to sing them together. He let me lick the spoon when he made a cake. He cooked the food just the way I liked it and never served things that he knew I didn't like. But I enjoyed most things, some more than others.

I was still only three years old when Daniel left us and took Suzanne with him. I had never, ever been so sad.

Most of the chefs who came and worked for us would not allow me in the kitchen. They said it was no place for a child and they wouldn't be responsible if anything happened. I would stand at the door and watch them frying and roasting meat and boiling vegetables and I wished I could be closer. Sometimes I was not even allowed to stand at the door.

Other chefs allowed me into the the kitchen provided 'I did not get in the way'. Marcelin, who arrived when I was about seven years old, was different. He encouraged me to go into the kitchen and watch what he was doing. He let me help with the cooking. I learned how to stir a pudding and get air into the mixture which would make it light. It made my arm ache but I loved doing it.

One day he gave me a pot of carrots and a knife and told me to cut them into big pieces. He showed me how to hold the knife and where I should slice, warned me to be 'careful' and then left me to get on with it. It took me an hour and he probably could have done it in a few minutes but when I was finished he said, 'well done' and praised me for having done a 'good job'. Then he put them in a huge frying pan with onions and other vegetables and placed it on the stove. He called it a mirrepoix.

When Marcelin made bread, which was almost every day, he would give me a big chunk of dough and I would knead it until it felt like my arms were falling off. He made a game out of it. He encouraged me to imagine it was something I didn't like and then pound it and squeeze it until it became soft and compliant. I squeezed and I pounded and it felt good. I loved the smell of bread dough.

When he wasn't busy cooking we would sit down at a table and Marcelin would open one of his cookery books at random and tell me about the recipe that was on that page. Sometimes there was a picture. I liked those best. Marcelin made suggestions about how, in his opinion, the recipe could be improved by, for example, using leeks instead of onions. Every day we would look at one of his many cookery books. We took turns at opening one at no place in particular. I usually opened one towards the end of the book because there was more chance of getting a recipe for a stunning dessert with whipped cream, nuts and flakes of chocolate. Marcelin always chose the centre of the books and we read about game birds and venison or baked sea bass. In one of his books there were 350 recipes for cooking potatoes. If I liked one in particular he would make it for me. I chose 'pommes Anna' because I knew somebody called Anna. They were delicious.

Then Marcelin left.

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