One minute I’m heading up two pillars of a nine-figure digital business transformation program, the next I’m on a train heading to Manchester to flip egg mix for minimum wage.
What is my life?
By the end of today, I’m hoping to add Master Crapper Extraordinaire to the end of my name; kind of like a PhD in pancakes. And I’m already half way there…
Yesterday was my first shift as a maître-crêpier behind the Minot counter at Manchester Eats Festival in Heaton Park.
I should have been flippin’ out – my Shrove Tuesday hit rate is 1 in 9 at best, I’m physically scarred for life from waitressing and I’m heavily reliant on a calculator even for basic math. But I pushed all the warning signs aside and was actually pretty excited to get my apron on and give awful service with a genuine smile.
Me ‘ead’s battered
Amine was head chef for the day and I was the novice sous-chef, learning the ropes. You’d like to think that little could go wrong when your only real responsibility is slicing bananas but this is me we’re talking about…
The second I arrived I put my bag down underneath the counter and was literally millimeters away from singeing my eyelids off on the crêpe pans. The hissing sound they make as the buttery remnants of the previous pancake sizzle to their crispy death is the only reason I have functioning eyeballs today.
Then, after being there no more than fifteen minutes, I managed to trip the electric supply to our entire row of stalls, so that everybody’s music and cookers went off.. .not once, not twice, but three times. And all I did was put the kettle on. (I’m now barred from using small domestic appliances).
Navigating a small space full of pots, tanks, wires, utensils and bags of ingredients was a challenge and I did have a few trips and spills as I lunged over obstacles to serve the clearly amused customers.
They say you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Well I’ve never been called a dozey cow by a total stranger before, and hearing it in his Algerian French accent only added to the hilarity of it all.
Just Beat It
After a pretty shaky start, I got stuck in and quickly got the hang of the fruit and veg chopping, the cutting board cleaning and taking in the pennies while Amine whipped up some exquisite crêpes.
Seven pints of milk, two litres of water, twenty-seven eggs, flour, sugar and Minot’s secret ingredient, which I’ve sworn to keep secret. He whisked this yolk-tinted gloop in a giant tub and dolloped it onto the centre of the piping hot plates with a ladel. Next, using a T-shaped mini crowbar utensil, he swirled the mix into a perfect full moon of sweetness.
I loved the way the kids would hang both of their tiny little hands on the perspex panel infront of the pans to watch the batter bubble and solidify into a golden brown ready for turning over. Another minute or so bronzing on the plates and it was ready to be folded in half, dribbled in nutella and scattered with sliced strawberries or bananas – which, by the way, I myself had sliced to perfection only moments before.
Lunchtime arrived and it was time for me to have a try. I had Amine and a few customers in hysterics with my first attempt, which went straight in the bin. Two and three weren’t too bad – just not customer worthy, and not particularly pretty, but definitely edible…and I’m okay with that.
I had a galette, which is the French name for a savoury pancake. I filled it with mozzarella, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and basil. It was SO delicious and SO filling, it was enough to keep me going all day.
L’affaire du voile
The England game was on at 3pm, so we had a little bit of a quiet afternoon. I had plenty of time to get to know my co-Crapper.
He’s from Algeria, a place I knew very little about until today – so when he joked that it was positioned next to Afghanistan, I just nodded in agreement.
I learnt the geographical location of his homeland and the political corruption that’s causing so many people to flee to Europe for a better life.
Living in the South of France for a year, I’d come across plenty of immigrés from Algeria and Morocco, and witnessed some of the problèmes they faced with integration and assimilation. I was studying media stoked xenophobia at the time and was there just after the bill was passed to ban the Muslim headscarf from public schools – so it was very much a hot topic. He told me about his experience moving to the UK twenty-five years ago and how it’s affected his family.
He’s Muslim and given my deliberate lack of understanding of religious beleifs bar Buddhism, I picked his brains a little bit on Allah. He showed me videos of his pilgrimage to Mecca, taught me stuff about the daily prayers and how they’re supposed to do all they can to look after their bodies.
I envied his natural ability to switch from English to French avec moi, then pick up the phone and speak Arabic to his brother, put down the phone and speak Italian to the trader next door.
I love how some nations are brought up with multiple tongues. He speaks four languages fluently and doesn’t really seem to think anything of it. It may be grammatically imperfect, but it’s quite magic to be able to converse with millions more people than most and have your brain dive in and out of cultures in the flip of a pancake.
Time crêped up on us and no sooner had I learned to pronounce As-salāmu ʿalaykum, the match was over and people were flocking around the stall for a celebratory sugar fix.
The last few hours flew by and I excelled as Toppings Bae, sprinkling on strawberries and chocolate buttons like a pro.
By seven oclock the fields had cleared and day one was over.
It had all panned out surprisingly okay….seven hours stood sniffing up sugary aromas, looking out onto blue skies and chatting to happy food-loving people. I made two semi-successful crêpes and returned home with all my fingers and thumbs.
And most importantly, I can now officially say I make money by being a tosser.