Saturday, 3 April 2010

FAQs

Sometimes guests come into the kitchen to look around and ask questions. This is great, I'm very very happy with that. But often their questions are...really dull. I'm bored answering them. I've answered them a million times before, on this blog, in interviews, in person. I wonder why they don't research things a little before they come. If you want to ask me questions, make it interesting. Ask me what my favourite colour is (fuschia) or when was the last time I had sex (July 2009 and counting).
But if you want the same ole basic responses here is a guide to Frequently Asked Questions:

Is this your house?
Yes it is. Yes I live here. It's a home restaurant. The clue is in the word 'home'.
How long have you lived here?
I don't know why they ask that. What difference does it make? But, if you insist on knowing, I've lived here for ten years.
Did it look like this when you bought it? Was the Aga here when you moved in? ect ect
No it didn't. I did it up, pretty much single handedly. I'm a single mum and contrary to what the Daily Mail will tell you, single mums* really are superwomen. They can decorate the bedroom, mow the lawn, fix the car, bring up a kid or several, and more or less keep sane without the aid of drugs and drink, simultaneously. The press (and the government) really should be a bit nicer about them. That said, I'm an anarcha-feminist who loves men and I believe two things:
  • All mothers are single mothers (lets face it, mostly it's gonna be mama doing it all.)
  • All mothers are working mothers
There are two types of women: mothers and non-mothers. They are very different creatures. Becoming a mother defines you. There is an old adage that when a couple has a baby, the man says "this changes everything" and it changes very little. The woman says "I'm not going to let this change anything" but it will change absolutely everything whether you like it or not.
Oh and I put the Aga in.
Do you mind having strangers in your home?
No. Not at all. Is that weird? In fact I positively want to share it. How miserable is it to live somewhere beautiful all on your own. No fun at all.
What gave you the idea to start a home restaurant?
I went to Cuba in the year 2000 where I visited a paladar, a home restaurant. The food was awful, the family clearly out to fleece the tourists but the idea was great. I moved into this flat around the same time and, over the years, kept thinking, wouldn't it be great to open this up as a part-time restaurant. But would anybody come? How would I let people know about it? People off the street or what? All very scary.
I started blogging, then tweeting and a method of getting the word out became clearer. I'd also started to cook for a living but was becoming increasingly frustrated with not being able to do 'my food'. Also the restaurants I was working in were not as attractive or characterful and didn't have as good a kitchen as my place. It was a no brainer.
Finally, in the midst of pondering, just as I was gearing up the courage, a friend of mine, Horton Jupiter, announced on his facebook profile that he was doing a restaurant in his living room that night. I jumped at the chance to go, had a brilliant time, returned home, blogged about it, breaking the story in this country, and announced the opening date for The Underground Restaurant.
Is it legal?
I think so. I've been asking for meetings with the government about this (I've had quite a few political guests). Regarding the food: I have public liability insurance. I have a food hygiene certificate (actually many people in restaurants don't have this training, it's not obligatory). I've had my kitchen passed by the local authority. It's basically a dinner party that people contribute to. It's not legal to sell drink or even include it as part of the menu price. You can give drink away for free or people can bring their own.
Do you ever have awful guests?
No. Maybe I've just been lucky but everybody has been perfectly behaved. Some people at the beginning didn't quite get it and acted as if it's a normal restaurant, and were a bit imperious with the front of house staff but, generally, people are great. I heard of another supperclub who had a private party (with some of the 'Come dine with me' staff allegedly) where the guests were really badly behaved, stood on chairs, broke things, vomited and were rude. I don't think they'd dare do that with me.
Who are you? Are you the chef? Did you cook it all?
Very weird when people ask me who I am. In my own house. Yes I am the chef. Yes, mostly I've cooked it all. I've had guest chefs which I enjoy because it can be a bit lonely cooking on your own. However pro chefs are somewhat flustered by a domestic kitchen and others can be baffled by the Aga. Speaking of which...
What is that? I've heard about those things...Is it on all the time? You cook all this on that?
It's an Aga oven. (It's cast iron, has no knobs or controls because it was designed for a blind cook). It's on all the time. Yes I cook only on an Aga. I don't have a conventional oven.
What do you do the rest of the time?
This question always annoys me. I generally have about 30 guests at a time. I'm mostly cooking on my own. I change menus entirely every week. I blog most meals that I do. I write articles for other publications. I'm bringing up a child. I take pictures. Do the math! Do you really think I have time to do a full time job as well? Be an office drone? Besides the fact that I'm basically unemployable (too independent, too idiosyncratic, too rebellious, not diplomatic enough), no I don't do anything else.
Each meal takes at least four days. A day working out the menu, working out the quantities of food for each item, ordering the food, getting it delivered or shopping for it. Two days prep and the actual cooking. The night or day of the dinner. A day clearing up, count more for doing the laundry and ironing the tablecloths and napkins. This doesn't even take into account the 'marketing' of the event, answering emails, handling enquiries, making sure I have staff for the meal, liaising with others if I'm doing a joint venture, having meetings, practising dishes. Exhausted yet?

A question people never ask:
Why are you doing this?
Because I love to cook. Because I love to mother. Because I'm a feeder. Because I love to share. Because I like to be in control. Because I enjoy the potential for chaos. Because I'm lonely. Because I like to stir things up. Because I like causing trouble. Because I find it funny and it makes me laugh. Because I want to change things. Because it's now my job, it's my living. Because it makes me cook things I wouldn't be bothered to try for just me and my daughter. Because I don't have a big family. Because I love community. Because it's fun to come up with an idea and make it happen. Because, although I love words, I like action even better.

*and single dads of course, tips hat.




17 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, Kerstin! Really enjoyable read.

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  2. You missed my favorite, the "rude disbelief" question as I think of it - "So no one actually cooks like this, it's the kind of thing that comes from a restaurant, tell us where did you buy this from?" (Umm, beyond that this is my version of a restaurant, how do they think restaurants produce "this", sorcery?)

    But no, sadly, for the most part people don't read anything more than what they need to to make the reservation, either on the website or in our confirming e-mails - they're often clueless about what they're coming to, who we are, and everything else about the experience.

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  3. Love this! I can't imagine why people would ask questions like that. But then, I know a woman who asks all kinds of inane questions that are none of her business. Great post and keep up the good work

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  4. Loved reading that, especially the last question. You're very honest!

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  5. Why do you have to deride some of your guests?
    All this you can say without being so pejorative.
    They are your guests, they pay and they mean well.

    A. from Florida, USA

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  6. Well that answers that then :]

    'How long have you lived here' - historical perspective? Must be a shock when they find out it's a few thousand years. There's been a restaurant on this site since 100BC.

    Made me laugh when someone asked me at Christmas what I did the rest of the year - not sure that was the response they'd expected.

    @Aninymous - because it's good to say things the way they are? I think that's what they call freedom?

    What's your favourite colour?

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  7. Thanks everybody for your comments. Dan Saltshaker: lol. Sooo true.
    A from Florida: thanks for your Floridian point of view. (Perhaps my English humour slid past you?)
    James: What do you do the rest of the year? LOL
    and oi, I've already answered that!

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  8. Loved your post!
    Funnily the only question of all those i get asked is "why do you do this?" - but they always ask at the very end of the night when I'm exhausted and the prospect of washing up 60 glasses is looming, so I generally can't remember...

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  9. A very enjoyable and at times funny read.I can see how you love words. It's just what I needed after just putting away several sets of Crockery and tea pots after my Underground 'Afternoon Tea' yesterday. I was too tired to complete the clear up last night.

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  10. Lex:That's definitely a part of it. People come in the kitchen after the main course is served and I'm rather tired by then. And bored of the sound of my own voice.
    Love that...WHY are you doing this? As in you must be crazy?
    Bakelady: so glad you're continuing to do teas...excellent...and thanks for the comment.

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  11. I love the last question... you are a very inspiring lady... I see a lot of you in myself... and I want to try and carve out my own niche... you make me feel like it could be possible xxx

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  12. Ah thank you CC and thanks for continuing to give me feedback and encouragement with your comments, it means alot to me.
    I suppose if the underground farmers and craft market has a message, it's that there are so many talented people in this world and we just need a forum to show it. People like you
    x

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  13. You sound brilliant, and must get myself organised enough to make it down for an actual dinner. I have a lot of admiration for someone that just gets on and does something rather than sitting around prevaricating about it all (like me).

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  15. HackneyJack: getting a bit uppity am I?
    Read this: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/01/a-rant-about-women/

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  17. I've been browsing your blog all day. I'm about to have my 1st supper club meal (booked out)and I've been looking for inspiration and advice here. To date,I've been vacillating between "I can do this" and "how dare I think I can do this". Part of my issue is that I'm a home cook with no fancy ass training. Some home restaurants seem so professional with their dinky portions and sculpture like plating up! Your words on this page and the link to Clay Shirky's paper have offered me great comfort. I think I've got to stop being such a woman and get on with it! I admire you and you work, I hope I can achieve a fraction of what you have with your restaurant. A x

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