Meringue madness with Pastry Chef Nick

Alfie Bloomfield’s Cooks & Kids story

When chefs work hard in the kitchen, they play hard too. That’s what I found out during my time at The Bildeston Crown, an eclectic restaurant and hotel in the Suffolk countryside. I got to work there as part of Cooks & Kids, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

As my sister and I arrived for our first day, we were met by tantalizing smells, sizzling pans and Pastry Chef Nick. He’s a great guy, and spent the morning teaching us how to whisk the perfect meringue and make heavenly panna cotta. He also taught us that work doesn’t have to be boring. At one point when he’d left the kitchen, a couple of chefs seized the opportunity to tie his apron strings to a sieve of icing sugar. When he came back and put it on, sugar rained down all over his trousers. Luckily he found it as funny as the rest of us.

Jokes make up a big part of life in the kitchen at The Bildeston Crown, and there are other traditions too. Every morning as you set up, Hayley comes down and says “Morning boys”. She’s one of the owners and likes to get involved. It adds to the strong family feeling, as does another morning ritual where you shake hands with the other chefs when you first see them. With that out of the way the banter begins, and any insult given is always reciprocated. It’s hilarious!

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I’ve heard it said before that ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’. Now that I’ve worked in one, I can see why. There was a wedding to cater for on my third day and, with 130 people to feed, stress levels were higher than usual. I had helped Stu pane croquettes in advance – always handling eggs in one hand while keeping the other hand dry for the flour and breadcrumbs – but there was still a lot to do.

As the hours ticked by, I started to feel more and more confident that I work well under pressure. You have to in that environment. Seeing Stu and Chef work practically on top of each other as they plate up food is proof enough. At no point do they get in each other’s way, despite their tasks beings fast-paced and intricate. I wanted to show that I could work that way too, but it didn’t help that I dropped a stack of plates. Thankfully we had spares and the wedding meal was successful.

I don’t know if I could have picked a better first job than cooking up a storm at The Bidleston Crown. Titch said it best when he compared the team to a family who’s committed to helping each other do well and have fun. It makes it a real pleasure to be there. And I’ve learned a lot about fine dining too: ladies are served before men, meals are explained on arrival, and dishes are served on the customer’s right side.

This isn’t the end for me and The Bildeston Crown family. Thanks to Cooks & Kids I’ve found something I can be passionate about, so I’m going to continue my work there while I finish my A-Levels. Then, one day in the future, maybe I’ll make crispy croquettes with asparagus garnish at my own restaurant. Watch this space.

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