Maybe that's enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind: no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom...is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go." (Anthony Bourdain)
And suddenly there was not one but two Scandinavian themed food programmes in the same week. The Restaurant Man featured the opening of The Salt Bar, a Swedish themed establishment in the “cobbled quarter” (which looked significantly less romantic than it sounds) of Macclesfield. Restaurant Man himself Russell Norman rather shot himself in the foot when he declared in his introduction that there is little interest in Scandinavian food in the UK. But Hugh said the exact opposite on Sunday! Noma has been voted the best restaurant in the world at least once. Masterchef finalists were sent to work there one year. And - for that matter - has Russell never been in the jam-packed cafe in IKEA? Clearly not, since (speaking of jam) he also failed to spot restaurateur Debbie’s big fat typo on her menu in her spelling of lingonberry, which meant that Russell referred to it as ligonberry jam for the remainder of the programme. But I suppose that Russell doesn’t really strike me as the sort of person that needs cheap Billy bookcases and uplighters on an eternal Tower-of-Pisa-like lean in his lounge. He’s quite posh.
Actually, to call Debbie a restaurateur is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s certainly what she is aspiring to be, but her experience to date seems to have consisted entirely of two weeks’ bar work a very long time ago, which makes you wonder what on earth led her to believe she could set up and run a restaurant. It’s one thing liking good food, it’s another cooking it, and yet another cooking it for and serving it to 50 people a night, night after night after night. Especially when you haven’t actually written down a business plan or done any sums. It’s lucky that Debbie had a retirement nest egg to invest because no bank would have ever loaned her the money based on how few financial calculations she has done. “Show me some projected overheads or staffing costs.” Debbie’s lower lip instantly wobbles and tears loom in her mascara. Bless her, she means well.
Staffing costs? She was planning on running the whole place herself, with just one chef cooking in the kitchen, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Russell politely suggests that this may be illegal. Oh, he’s charming, that Russell. I dread to think how Gordon “Kitchen Nightmare” Ramsay might have made the same point.
But like all the people Russell is working with in this series, Debbie knows her food, and can cook well herself. This is some relief, but to have so little idea about what is involved in a restaurant service takes some doing. Has she never been to a café before? (You mean people need cutlery? I should take their menus away once they’ve ordered?) If nice ladies like Debbie don’t get to eat out, then who in Macclesfield does? It is, as Russell points out, when disembarking from the train, a town of boarded up restaurants.
Debbie hasn’t done any market research either. It appears, when allowed to trial some of her signature dishes in another cafe, that people in Macclesfield don’t much care for salad. But the ladies at the local golf club are pleasantly surprised by beetroot on Ryvita.
Time ticks by, and the floor is still a pile of splintered wooden planks tossed randomly around. Debbie has also not realised that she might need a storage area for food and wine once she is up and running. Russell suggests she reduce the number of toilets from two to one in order to rectify this, but Debbie refuses to let the ladies share a toilet with the gents. It says a lot about the blokes in Macclesfield when Debbie says that men are, as an entire species, disgusting when drunk. She clearly also isn’t expecting people in the Salt Bar to skimp on the booze. Let’s hope she is planning on charging Scandinavian prices.
Time is ticking, yes, but as on every other week of this series, there’s still enough of it left for a nice exotic trip. Last week, our gastropub gamers were taken up to shoot venison in Scotland. This week, Debbie got to serve up her vegetarian meatballs (a contradiction in terms, surely?) in a restaurant in Stockholm.
My husband and I got engaged in Stockholm. He proposed to me at twilight on the harbourside, with dozens of hot air balloons flying overhead. It is a beautiful, waterlined city that I shall always remember fondly, despite its unexpected humid July heat and monster mosquitoes on its archipelago. Debbie appears rejuvenated from her visit and miraculously pulls the rabbit out of the hat, or the gravadlax out of the cold-cure, and the restaurant opens on time, to very decent reviews on Trip Advisor. I love Scandinavian food and I wish her well. But she was astonishingly naive, at least if you believe everything you see on the telly. Thank goodness for Russell’s calm but forceful assistance, a rational and reasoned approach embodied perhaps in the silver tape measure he presents as a gift as he leaves.