We've all shouted at the telly I could do better than that;. We've all begrudged the daily trudge to the same office job. At some stage you've got to live your dream - and Lennie Nash does just that. Well he has a go anyway. A tabloid journalist and secret foodie, Lennie jacks in the day job to follow his dream of being a chef. He soon realises it's a younger man's game, of long hours, blisters and bags of pheasants that won't pluck themselves. Down and out in Padstow and London isn't a Masterchef path to cheffing glory, it's the story of someone who has a dream and tries to give it a go. The wannabe cook is likeable, a little rough round the edges, with a journalist's drinking habits and cynical view of the world, but his passion for food keeps him going. There are brushes with celebrity, but Down and Out is about the other end of the kitchen and some of the real characters who don't get a TV series of their own - although maybe they should! A great read for armchair foodies, chefs and trapped Lennie Nashes everywhere. --@bailed
Down and Out in Padstow and London should be required reading for anyone who has ever dreamed of leaving the monotony of the 9 to 5 rat race to open their own restaurant. Alex Watts' book recounts his journey of giving up a well-paid secure lifestyle in his early forties to start again as a commis-chef in search of the ultimate dream, a restaurant by the sea. You may know his alter-ego Lennie Nash. I thought that perhaps the book should be required reading for all chefs just starting out in college too. In retrospect, at that stage of life those students probably need more encouragement than a big gulp of common sense so carefully administered by Alex. The story engaged me because I share Alex's dream of my own restaurant, mine a bistro and not by the sea. Anyone who has considered giving it all up knows how to feign interest when friends say that the idea is crazy, pretends to listen when loved ones explain the costs to social life and perhaps health and ignore naysayers who don't have enough imagination to see the potential new life as a chef patron. But I can't dismiss Alex. His life cannot be ignored. Alex takes the reader with him from bistros in London, to hotels in Padstow, to a certain Michelin Temple in Berkshire, very briefly into the machine of the Ramsay Empire and to a James Bond film (yes truly). He describes the rituals, the humiliation and the trials as he finally crosses his own Rubicon into the fiery furnaces. I felt like I was there with him and I know all the people that he met. His tales are stark, honest, vulnerable and told with a no nonsense matter of fact dose of here's how it was. I imagine that his food tastes honest like his words do. When I finished the book I was both uplifted by the ending of Alex's own walking off into the glorious sunset and disappointed and empty too. It wasn't the book. It was me. I knew, unlike the family and friends well-meaning advice I could not silence Alex. But here is the beauty of his book, it never once told me not to, it didn't speak down to me and call me an idiot for having the dream in the first place. In fact, the more I dwelled on Alex's transition from life to dream life the more I was inspired. Alex's journalistic objectivity explains reality yet doesn't discourage or disparage the readers' own ideals. Alex carefully leaves the reader in a position of eyes wide open and should the reader's dream fail, could rightly say I told you so;. I just don't think he would. Instead he'd nod sagely and tell you to get up of the mat and try again. And also to raise a glass to Keith Floyd. --@breilbistro
The book begins with Lennie Nash's decision to give up his job as a journalist, aged 40, and a fateful meeting with Rick Stein, when the cheffing door is opened. There follow stints in the kitchens at Padstow, a failed audition for Masterchef, work as a commis chef under a crazed ex-football hooligan, 16-hour shifts as a kitchen slave in a gastropub, and the rigours of the Fat Duck. Unable to keep up with the younger chefs around him, he gives up the dream and returns to office life, only to find the itch starting again.
The book is aimed at the umpteen armchair chefs and foodies who would love to learn the trade first-hand from the professionals, braving the stress, 16-hour days, and low pay of kitchen life, but are far too sensible to do so...
"Reading 'Down and Out in Padstow and London' is a serious test for any food writer. Not only has Alex Watts done what all of us say we would like to do, tested his mettle in a professional kitchen, he also writes about his experiences so well that you spend as much time being jealous of his writing skills as you do of his experiences. It's an annoyingly enjoyable read."
- Simon Majumdar, author of two food/travel memoirs, Eat My Globe and Eating For Britain.
"Cracking read...It's great - seek it out. Raw, honest, funny, great stories..." @eatlikeagirl
"A must read for anyone interested in food/cooking/restaurants." @jteramsden
"Funny, engaging, interesting, lively." @oliverthring
"Great book - a one-sitting read! Love the Chelsea-Barca scene! " @MarkLewis32
"A rattling good read." @chrispople
"Sensational account of a chef’s life, couldn't put it down. Get it from Amazon now!" @Fishermansarms
"Really enjoyed it. Such refreshing food writing. Looking forward to your sequel..." @Jen_foodmag
"You will not be able to put it down - great read." @MTomkinsonChef
"Great, great stuff." @VictoriaHaschka
"A must read for wannabe chefs!" @londoneating
"The whole book is a real eye-opener into the differences between the TV image and the reality of the kitchen, particularly where celebrity chefs are concerned. It's sharp, easy to read and almost impossible to put down..."
- Nicola Hine, The Maidenhead Advertiser