STARS AND GRIPES
One thing about cooking is that even the glitterati need to eat and over the course of a cooking career one will get to cook for many well known individuals and you may even get to meet them for a chat. We also risk their wrath or bad publicity if they are not happy, in a bad mood or not given a freebie or discount for them gracing your establishment. I had one big shot just getting up and leaving not expecting a bill at all. The celebrity dining folk can be funny fishes. In these social media times one disparaging tweet could seriously damage your business. I was reminded of all this while being recently asked to cook for a rather well known singer gigging here, alas my chef clogs are long hanging up though I never actually wore clogs.
My first high profile customer was not really known at all when I served Stephen Hendry his carvery lunch in my local hotel in the mid eighties as he was a shy eighteen year old back then. He was giving a snooker exhibition there that night but later went on to become world champion three years later. A year on in Howth Lodge hotel I had Hollywood legend Jean Simmons eat a bowl of mussels I cooked. After that I was no longer star struck by the dozens of jetsetters who rocked up in all my jobs.
I was more intrigued by the international diners of note than our Irish ones like Liam Neeson, U2 or Mary McAleese, who were all very nice but they are all really just one of our own. It is when you have the likes of Bill Clinton, Paul Newman, Paul McCartney and several Kings and Queens to cater for that you know there is a sprinkling of bigger stardust in the room.
There was a distinct giddiness all around when Bill was shaking everyone’s hand. It is fascinating to see how it affects the other staff and diners when there is a big name present. It had another type of effect on me as a secret service agent stood over my shoulder in the kitchen. For the Sultan of Brunei some assistant had to sample his lunch first before he was allowed have the sea bass I cooked him. Also by being seated next to someone famous it is not easy to take your eyes off them.
The golden rule is not to have employees or customers approaching people when they are trying to eat their dinner. If you can get your timing right so that you are leaving around the same time then it is possible to get an autograph or selfie in passing. You might even bump into them in the loo or at a reception and then they can be fair game. Some like to be recognized anyway but others don’t so you just never know how the reaction will be.
When I do meet them I prefer to talk about anything but what they actually do. It could be the weather, the place we are in or even something about myself or indeed the food they just ate. It’s a more interesting conversation as they do not have to go on about their movie, album or TV show and they can be quite animated on a subject that is just mundane and their public mask drops and they are just like you and me.
Some interactions can be out of the blue. I had to literally catch Neil Jordan from falling down the stairs after he missed a step and crashed into me. I first met the King of Sweden on another stairs too as he headed out of the hotel for a dawn duckshoot.
A waitress had to hold the attention of the baby of Daniel Day Lewis in my kitchen while he ate his lunch in peace. I was also invited in for a cuppa with Maeve Binchy after I returned her phone charger she left behind in the hotel. I had to do a second take as I looked up from dressing a plate to see Garrett Fitzgerald standing there in front of me to thank me for his lunch. All very surreal moments.
I had to make a fresh hamburger for double Oscar winning actor Jack Lemmon sitting on his own every afternoon while he acted in a west end play. He was sixty four years old and looking just like another unassuming tourist. I did not even see the show and only ever asked him what he had been to see that morning in London and he was delighted to just go on about it. I suppose his autograph might be worth something now but I think it would have ruined the vibe if I had asked for it. He certainly was no grumpy old man like in his movie. So here’s to a precious commodity our anonymity!