Everyone has a few icons in their life, people that they either aspire to be like, have attributes they’d like to replicate or just have personalities that they admire. On September 14th one of my personal icons passed away & went to the big kitchen in the sky.
In a biographical documentary broadcast on the day he died, before the knowledge of his death had become public, he referred to most of today’s celebrity chefs as celebrity c*nts who had placed their own celebrity status before their culinary accreditations. Up until his death, he courted controversy, but in my mind, he was never more than a loveable rogue.
‘My life and other great escapes’ was the sub-title of one of Keith Floyd’s first ‘cookbooks’, which although it contained a few recipes, wasn’t a cookbook as such, but more an autobiography of his life up until that particular moment in time.
It was given to me as a birthday present over 20 years ago, when I had already spent 3 years in the restaurant industry and realised that I’d been suckered for life. Keith Floyd was not only one of the first TV celebrity chefs back in the 80’s, but he was also someone that I believed I could identify with, a kind of anti-hero who proved that restaurants weren’t all about French menu terminology, starched white table cloths & which cutlery to use for each dish.
I do not expect to come anywhere near Floyd in his lifetime achievements, but there are certain parallels that I could draw from his early life. Least of all a love of wine and fine food and his first stab into the restaurant business, running three establishments, Floyd’s, Floyd’s Bistro & Floyd’s Chop House in tandem.
They all went bust. So fingers crossed the comparisons stop there.
What other line of work is there, apart from the restaurant industry, that it is not only acceptable to have a few glasses of wine whilst still on duty, chatting to customers, but almost expected? Floyd had this off to a fine art. He never actually bought his customers a drink (unless they were bailiffs), but would come out of the kitchen at the end of service & help himself to wine off of tables that his customers had already paid for.
Believe me, I’ve tried this old Floyd trick a few times and unless you know your customers personally, it doesn’t go down very well, particularly in the ‘current economic climate’.
In his books, Floyd also told how the restaurant industry was a great academy for liars. ‘I hope you enjoyed your meal’ & ‘See you soon I hope’ leads you easily into ‘Yes, fine thanks, business has never been better’, ‘I sent that cheque two days ago, give me a call if you haven’t got it by next week’ and ‘We’ll clear that overdraft by Christmas, you should see the bookings that we have’. It’s quite amazing how similar phrases just slip off your tongue.
It is said that if Keith Floyd nurtured any ambition to make money, he would have found himself a proper job. Maybe he did when he broke into television and wrote his numerous cook books. Maybe I need to look at a secondary source of income myself?
Another parallel I can draw with Floyd is that he was an Englishman that fell in love with Ireland. He lived here during most of the 90’s and although based in County Cork I occasionally saw him sipping wine in the ‘old’ Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.
As a chef, Floyd had a philosophy that I have followed and often quoted, ‘Always use the freshest ingredients possible and never overcomplicate your dishes’. I try to avoid anything that comes in pre-prepared & dislike more than anything the use of unnecessary, irrelevant garnishes.
As a man, Floyd, although being fairly flamboyant by nature himself, hated bullshit & the egotistic chefs that have followed him into what now appears to be endless television opportunities to raise their status far above what their culinary abilities should allow.
I’d like to close by quoting Floyd, quoting Camus, highlighting that he would never be placed in any pigeon hole as such, anything was possible at any time, particularly after a few glasses of wine!
“Do not walk in front of me, I will not follow;
Do not walk behind me, I will not lead;
Walk beside me and be my friend.”
Keith Floyd. R.I.P.