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4.4 out of 5 stars39
4.4 out of 5 stars
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2011
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2013
This book takes a fascinating and very honest look at the world of the professional chef, as seen through the eyes of the author. It tells of the difficulties of starting a new career in mid- life, as well as revealing the truth of those celebrity chef owned restaurants. All in all, a very entertaining and informative read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2013
Having eaten at the Fat Duck the author's experience working for the seldom seen Heston B was an eye opener.
There are many interesting facts to be found in this book and for that reason alone it is worth sticking with to the end. It is also an amusing read written with first hand knowledge and wit.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 30 December 2011
I've been following 'Lennie Nash's' blog for some time and found his stories and experiences a great read and I've willed him on as he's tried to make it as a chef. As many a keen amateur cook I've harboured ambitions about living the dream and becoming a chef, but Alex/Lennie actually went out and tried it. His experience should serve as an amusing warning to all of us amateur gourmets and dinner party hosts as he details the back breaking work and the characters that exist in the restaurant world from the local pub all the way up to the giddy heights of michelin stars.

It's candid, amusing and difficult to put down once you've started. A great read and should be a set text if you're considering a change of career, or god forbid, applying to masterchef.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 October 2014
Easy read giving a surprising insight into the world of the professional chef and exposing the harsh realities involved. Some great lines too.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2014
This was entertaining and easy to read, but two things began to grate on me after a while. Firstly, the copy-editing is patchy in places, which is especially jarring given the author's history as a journalist. Secondly, if the author doesn't like a job, he'll just stop turning up, like a sulky teenager. I thought that was something people generally grew out of long before their 40s, but he does it at least four times over the course of the book.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2012
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.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2012
First things first, I bloody loved this book. I was two-timing it with a P G Wodehouse novel for a time and 'Down and out...' won me over and made me finish it off first. An addictive mistress indeed, I dare say I'll sneak back greedily for second helpings.
Down to business, the book centres on a forty(ish) year old hack, fed up with Fleet Street, hell bent on ditching the day job and making a living from cooking. Starting with a blagged stint in Padstow at Rick Stein's place and taking in the odd bistro, gastro-pub, hell-hole and Heston Blumenthal's three-starred Fat Duck.
Watts provides us with a fascinating view of the other side of the kitchen door, of the frequently insane environments from whence our dinners came. More than this, Watts is a protagonist so engaging that we truly take this journey with him, we feel his ups and downs as if our own, we celebrate his successes and mourn his failures.
We are dragged through the 18-hour days, the learning curve so steep it's near vertical, the nutters, and the mind numbing nonsense with a deft and class that makes the read exhilarating, exciting and exhausting.
This book is worth reading just because it's a damn good story, if you've ever held a flame for life in a 'real' kitchen, hankered for your own restaurant or even flirted with applying for Masterchef, it's required reading.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2015
In what appears to be an early mid-life crisis, London journalist Alex Watts chucks in his writing job to try his hand at learning to be a chef. Like many, he believes his passion for food and the ability to knock up a reasonable curry for friends make him a potential Gordon Ramsay. His adventures in cooking inspire an entertaining memoir and a cautionary tale for those who dream of fame and fortune running a restaurant or working in a professional kitchen. From prepping food at ordinary pubs and restaurants... to an unpaid gig at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck... to a brief stint in a London soup kitchen... to working on a film set... Watts explores the many ways of breaking into 'cheffing', without taking any formal training. An interesting and eye-opening peek at what goes on behind those swinging kitchen doors, the book has many laugh out loud moments and describes a host of eccentric characters encountered on the writer's culinary journey. I will not soon forget his description of preparing 'grapefruit pearls' for one of Blumenthal's signature dishes. A quick and enjoyable read for would-be chefs and foodies.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2013
An effortless, hugely entertaining, fluid and fluent writing style makes this book a treat to read. I've just bought Down And Out in South East Asia, Alex's new book, and have followed his blog via rss feed at

There's no mistaking the Fat Duck or Rick Stein's Padstow gaff but I guess Porbeagle Isle is Burgh Island, Bigbury-on-Sea in Devon and in that case the pub on it is the Pilchard Inn. I only mention this because I spent 6 months in the kitchens at neighbouring Thurlestone Hotel as a kid and, too, used Burgh Island as an escape.

And on that brief but unforgettable experience, this book highlights all the reasons why I decided not to make a career back-of-house.
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