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Book review: Down and Out in Padstow and London - Alex Watts

Book review: Down and Out in Padstow and London - Alex Watts

Nicola Hine

Book review: Down and Out in Padstow and London - Alex Watts

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen – or so the saying goes.

But how many people can actually say they've leapt out of the frying pan and into the fire in pursuit of the career they've always dreamed of?

Lennie Nash did when he ditched the relative comfort of the world of newspaper journalism in a bid to become a professional chef.

And while the results were pretty disastrous, the risk has brought success in the form of Down and Out in Padstow and London – the written account of his experiences.

An honest and enjoyable read, it begins when Lennie – better known as Burnham-based journalist Alex Watts – engineers a chat with TV chef Rick Stein and secures himself work experience in one of the restaurateur's Cornwall kitchens.

He's long dreamed of owning a seaside fish restaurant of his own and makes the decision to 'kick off the slippers and feel alive again'.

The need takes him from one restaurant to another, ranging from the most basic of establishments to the Michelin-starred kitchens of cooking royalty.

It brings about a failed audition for Masterchef, which sees Lennie make sushi in a bid to impress Greg 'the egg' Wallace and John 'the toad' Torode.

It also introduces a whole host of questionable characters ranging from a racist homophobe to a stroppy 19-year-old who locks him in a walk-in chiller.

Lennie's laugh-out-loud anecdotes include dressing in bin liners to pluck pheasants with a helpmate who does puppet shows with the dead birds' heads, and turning up to a placement at Heston's most famous restaurant armed with two knives in a Tesco bag.

In fact, arguably the highlight of the book is his time at The Fat Duck in Bray, which he describes as 'a three-star Michelin restaurant famous for concoctions like snail porridge, bacon and egg ice cream and a food poisoning outbreak that struck down 500 diners'.

From peeling grapefruits to prising open oysters – both equally painful but for different reasons – Lennie's jobs at 'the gastronomic equivalent of the centre of the universe' are a brilliant insight into Blumenthal's lair, although the real secrets remain closely guarded.

The whole book is a real eye-opener into the differences between the TV image and the reality of the kitchen, particularly where celebrity chefs are concerned.

It's sharp, easy to read and almost impossible to put down, whether you're genuinely tempted to follow in Lennie's footsteps or you'd rather stick to watching Masterchef on the sofa.

Personally I think I'll stick to my desk for now – but I look forward to a sequel.

Alex Watts is a travelling journalist and sometimes chef currently eating and writing his way around SE Asia.

Down and Out in Padstow and London is available on Amazon.

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