Whistling Up Red Cabbage Come Condom! 1981
By May 1981, l had been at college training to be a professional chef for 9 months, l was fast approaching the end of my first year. I had a reputation! However it wasn’t for say ‘Best Chef of the Class’ or even ‘Inspirational Chef of the Year’, or even ‘Delightfully Creative Chef’, no alas it was none of those … it was however in a class of its own ‘Catastrophic Comical Chef Who Rather Annoyingly Whistles When He Bloody Well Shouldn’t!”
I was pretty pleased with the reputation as it was different and quirky and slightly rebellious, l was a bit of a joker and a prankster, l liked to laugh and whilst it wasn’t that l didn’t take my teachings and or my learnings seriously, l was more of the opinion that l wanted to enjoy myself as well as learn my craft. Most of my class also agreed with that philosophy of having fun afterall these were supposed to be the best ‘days of our lives’, so best make the most of them whilst we could.
Whilst the following tale was funny, my Chef as in Chef Swalloe didn’t see it that way, anymore than he saw me being locked into the walk in freezer funny, or blowing up the deep fat fryers hillarious [which admittedly even l didn’t laugh], or even when l pretended l had an ox tongue, or even flicking fish eyes around the class even remotely jovial, and as for the whole custard carrot fiasco well that is another story all by itself, in fact they all are.
But Comical Chef was fact, and sadly so too was the part that read ‘Catastrophic’, l was in short a walking clumsy disaster – l could all these years on hold up my hand and say “Aye well you see that was my Asperger’s’, but l didn’t know that back then so pointless even mentioning it really!
You may recall that my main Chef was ex military so everything had to be pristine in so far as chef kitchen whites, planning, strategy, methodolgy, terminology, the right equipment, the right place for everything and the kitchens, well the kitchens had to be almost religious experiences for all concerned. a ritual almost of stepping in and making sure you looked the part before you started to pray, no l mean cook.
Nothing was allowed to be out of its right place and that also comprised of noise, there was never displacement of noise allowed. There were the correct noises in the kicthen and irregular noises were NOT part of the regime nor routine, so most assuredly .. the likes of being happy, laughing, singing, humming, foot tapping, finger drumming and most definitely no ‘bloody whistling!’
But you see, even now, as in today when l do cook, l like to do a bit of a dance, hum, foot thump and whistle and so l do, but back then in 1981 in Chef Swalloe’s kitchen, that was a big Boo Boo and met with a stern reprimand of “Proper Chefs don’t whistle sonny, they cook masterpieces, got it?”
“Yes Chef, sorry Chef, no whistling, got it!” Irrelevant to how good the kitchen acoustics were for rebounding whistles off the walls, it simply wasn’t allowed. It mattered not that the songs l used to whistle were thoroughly enjoyed by the fellow chefs, it simply was not a chef’s job to whistle! It was incredibly hard for me due to the previous month, l had actually won a whistling competition in the college – he had attended l saw him and he had been clapping wildly with approval!
Yes l could whistle like this too and yes l used dance in my chef whites in a very similiar fashion and make silly faces too!
Chef Swalloe and l were not enemies of the crown or anything, but he was always watching me very intently, and was always waiting to catch me out on something. but he watched all of us like the eagle eyed hawk he was and l guess it was his military discipline that forbade anyone to actually thoroughly enjoy cooking or cheffing.
The fateful “Condom Cabbage Day’ came about as a result of me trying to whistle the tune below, and it mattered not if l silently whistled, made chirping sounds or even whistled through my teeth under my breath – Swalloe wasn’t swallowing any of it!
When training l used some very, very sharp knives known as Sebatiers, they are expensive, l know as mine were, and lethal in both the right and wrong hands, but more importantly – sharp as a razor blade! You did not most assuredly want to dilly dally with these things as they would lop bits off you without you even being aware they had done so. I kept mine sharp and polished and have l said sharp yet? I lovingly steeled them every morning, grinning to the others like a maniac and talking to myself in spooky gibberish, not giblets, just gibbersish! I did that so no one ever touched my blades! Trust me when handling fondly a knife of lethal destruction smiling insanely and talking to your blade does absolute wonders for its saftey!
At the time of the dreadful event, l was finely and fastly shredding red cabbage for coleslaw, whistling so silently under my breath, that even a mosquito would have had difficulty hearing and was totally engrossed and was getting faster and faster as was the way we had been trained … see video below, not as fast as that dude, but fast all the same!
When Swalloe, muppet that he was, yelled in my right ear “CHEF No Whistling!!” He at the time said he believed it would teach me a lesson, and it did, it taught me how to remove the end of my fingertip! I did the removal so fast that it was 20 seconds before the chef opposite, a lovely Spanish girl screamed “Rory!! Your cabbage is bleeding!!”
I was like one of those toddlers at a play group who when running, falls over and upon getting up, doesn’t actually cry if no one saw him fall, but yelps and hollers if someone did. It took me that time, and for the record l was still fast shredding to realise that there was a very strange pain indeed in my my left hand! I looked down and realised that Margarita was right, my cabbage was bleeding real red cabbage juice!?
I stopped shredding, pulled my knife up at the same time that Margarita fainted and fell hard onto the marble floor, with Swalloe suddenly running over to her and demanding to know what was going on. I was still quite oblivious, the nurse later said l was probably in shock! So l just looked at him, and yelled “Why did you yell into my ear, you could have deafened me?” Whilst at the same time gesticulating wildly with my left hand and wondering why all these tiny spots of red cabbage juice were splattering on his brilliantly white starched tunic?? “How very bizarre chef, l never knew cabbage bled in this way, did you?”
At that last statement, Margarita who had just pulled herself together, fainted once more into the arms of Peter another chef who was staring at me in horror, and he wasn’t the only one for Swalloe was looking at my left hand as it waved violently up and down in front of him, further covering him with more red cabbage juice. “Stop moving your bloody hand chef and get down to the nurses office, it appears you have chopped off the tip to one of your fingers!”
Admittedly l was remarkably impressed with how firmly he stated that fact, because l genuinely didn’t know that l had caused myself such an injury, and it was then that l looked at my left hand and saw this bloody stump and screamed!! Chef Swalloe grabbed me and wrapped my hand into a kitchen towel and instructed Peter to take me down to the infirmary to see the nurse, whilst he attended to Margarita who kept on fainting and muttering in Spanish!
Upon arrival at the office, the nurse quickly said, “Oh do calm down Mr Matier, you have only cut off a little bit, who knows it might even grow back? Do you have the end?”
Peter like a fumbling groom on the day of his wedding said “Oh yes l have it here someone, it’s just um, here, or is it there?” He answered bringing all sorts of things out of his pockets. “Yes here we go nurse, l wrapped it into some tissue.” And promptly awarded it to her like some golden ring the end of my finger which in truth wasn’t a lot, perhaps a quarter of an inch.
“Super, well it’s a simple matter of stick on and glue and cover Rory! Would you like a choice of colour?” With that she produced a handful of vibrantly coloured condoms and l picked an orange one. She then placed a bright blue bandaid onto my finger and another cross the top and then seductively rolled the orange condom over my superglued and throbbing finger, smiling and saying “Bet that’s a first for you today, eh Rory?”
After ten minutes and two cups of sugary tea l was back in the kitchen and thankfully not having to continue to shred cabbage, but sat at the end of the kitchen reading up about the Rules of Swalloe, who happened to walk over to me and said “Got any tunes chef, for us all to listen to, or have you lost your palate for that?” With a huge smile on his face before walking off chuckling!
I never whistled again in the kitchens – lesson learned l feel.