Adventures in mental health and cheffing

  • Hash for Lunch

    Today I made hash for lunch. I just needed to use up the potatoes and the deli meats left over from Christmas. I hadn’t thought about hash in a long time. Not so a few years back.

    This restaurant seemed all about hash. Best seller at brunch and lunch. The prep was never ending. It was hash prep that resulted in me getting a bollocking for being ill. I was ill. Too ill to be in work. It was acknowledged that I was ill and still I was shouted at for cutting the chorizo too slowly. I defended myself. Of course I was working slowly I felt really ill. I was told not to answer back. Just like a child. I was a woman in my early 30s at the time. In a place of work.

    “Don’t answer back”

    Everyone says that kitchens are better now than they used to be and of course that is the truth. Maybe though the bad old days are not as old as I think.

    The hash was delicious though. I roasted the potatoes with paprika and oregano. I fried the bacon, the salami, the chorizo until it was beautiful and crisp. The eggs were fresh, organic. Blissfully golden yolks. Just a little hot sauce. It was comforting after the cold morning. It took me no time at all to cut the chorizo.

  • Throwback Tuesday Part 2

    This is a piece I wrote back when I was just starting out as a commis chef. Another one from my Old Bell Hotel days. I think I must has written this back in 2014. It is once again exactly as I first wrote it.

    A Day in the Life

    8:45am and I am en route to work, I puff on the first cigarette of the day and go over my prep list in my mind as I walk. Its only a short walk to The Old Bell and soon I’m heading in. I get changed into my whites. In the staff room J informs me the clean laundry has arrived. Hooray! Its been a long time coming. I put on a fresh pinny from a neatly folded stack and grab a couple of snowy white oven cloths. This luxury never lasts long.

    I head into the kitchen where T is busy with breakfast service. The smell of bacon and eggs and the mornings fresh bread fill the air. Time to work. My first job is to start the white onion soup, the onions need to sweat for at least 2 hours. I grab 4kg of sliced onions from the fridge. I’m so glad I had time to slice them last night! I crush 6 cloves of garlic and pick the leaves off a big bunch of fresh thyme. Next I melt 2  blocks of butter and leave the onions garlic and thyme to sweat slowly. With just the occasional stir the soup will take care of its self.  When the onions are ready I’ll add 3 pints of cider and 3 pints each of milk and cream. Then I’ll just need to season it and put it in the blender.

     10Am a cheery cockney ‘good morning’ heralds the arrival of Chef. He strolls into the kitchen and takes a look at what everyone is doing. He pronounces everything ‘noice’ and enquires about coffee. I call a friendly waiter and procure an Americano for chef and a double espresso for me. Morning prep is now in full swing, the soup on the stove I turn my attention to the fig and apple jam that’s next on my list. 24 figs and 4 apples to dice is the first task. Chef is working on preparing the weekends fish and meat he has a side of salmon for me. I make a note to brine and smoke it tomorrow. Over on pastry J is making banana cake. T is working on tomorrows breakfast prep.

    We chat as we work today’s topic is the horse meat scandal. We all agree that whilst there’s nothing wrong with eating horse people have a right to know what they are eating. From this seriousness we descend into what animals we would and wouldn’t eat. J asks would I try Gerbil after a  moments thought I reply that I would. Not much meat on one though!

    12 noon the time for banter is over. Lunch service has begun. The tickets start come in, 2 sandwiches then 3 baguettes. I quickly ready the plates and start to send the food out. Another check, soup and more sandwiches. Looks like the lunch tickets are all for me today. I put the soup on the stove, dress more sandwich plates. So far so good. Another ticket comes on fish and chips, this one is for R. He quickly and efficiently cooks and plates the dish and calls for tartare sauce. I pass it over and another table is taken care of. In what seems like no time at all it is 2pm. Lunch service is over, we begin to clean down and put things away. I hear the printer, looks like one more ticket before I can head out on break. Mozarella fritters and a bowl of chips, simple. I notice we are low on fritters so that’s another thing on the list for tomorrow! I clear down my section and check my sandwich fillings, low on coleslaw and egg mayo. I quickly knock up some more of each for the afternoon. Its now nearly 3pm. Break time!

    No rest for the wicked though. I head home, put the hoover around and put a load of chef whites into the washing machine. A bite to eat and some Netflix takes me up to 5:15 and time to head back into work.

    I arrive back at 5:30. R is going to run T to the train station he asks me do I mind holding the fort and straining his beef sauce. No problem. Still the first order of business is the staff evening meal. I get the pizzas out of the oven and drop some chips into the fryer. Distinctly peckish I grab a plate. J comes into the kitchen. “Grubs up” I tell him. He declines with the excuse that he ate a whole packet of Maryland cookies on his break. I tell him not to worry and that I had 3 packets of Monster Munch on mine. Sorry folks but a lot of chefs eat the most dreadful crap when they’re off duty! I strain the beef sauce and set up my mise en place for dinner service. 6Pm and S from reception strolls in with tonight’s bookings, quite a few tables between 7-7:30 then 1 table at 8:30. Not too bad. As we don’t officially open for dinner until 6:30pm I use this time to look at tomorrows prep list. I scribble down a few jobs to go with the smoked salmon and mozzarella fritters. I make a note to order pomegranate, raddichio and chicken livers. I write horseradish cream on the list and then change my mind its a quick job, just adding horseradish to cream and whipping it, I decide to make it before tonight’s service.

    6:30pm, the staff all fed. I clear away the dishes and set up the pass for service. Spoons in a container of hot water on the pass and each section. A bucket of ladles, spatulas, slotted spoons and tongs next to the stove. R is back and all set up. J does a few jobs on pastry it’ll be a while before he gets any tickets. We’re ready to rock and roll all we need are the tickets. The printer buzzes, here we go again! First table, a soup and a fishcake for me. The fishcake takes 8 minutes in the oven so this goes into a pan to seal first. I put it into the oven and get the garnishes ready. The soup goes on the stove. The oven timer beeps. Lets go! Tomato and anchovy sauce goes on the plate, then spinach, then the fishcake, a quick dribble of aioli and we’re good. The soup goes into a bowl and I crumble some stilton into it. ‘Service!’ I shout, then to R ‘Starters gone on 2.’ More tickets, fishcake, cauliflower and beetroot salad, haddock broth, next table salmon parpadelle and a grilled squid. The fun doesn’t stop. I send the starters in a steady stream. The main courses follow.

    8pm the bulk of our customers fed R and I turn our attention to tomorrows special, devilled chicken livers with sour dough croutons and a fried duck egg. The first task is the devilled sauce, english mustard, Worcester sauce and tobasco. We put an egg in a pan to fry, coat the livers in seasoned flour and seal them in a hot pan, we add the devilled sauce with a generous splash of cream and a good handful of chopped parsley. The egg goes on the plate first, then the saucy livers. A handful of croutons and a scattering of baby salad leaves completes the dish. R calls the restaurant manager we all grab a spoon and dig in. Delicious!

    8:45pm the printer buzzes with the last ticket, 2 chicken liver salads to start. I get a pan on to heat and smash the dishes out. Thinking I’m done for the night I reach for the cling film and get everything wrapped labelled and put away. R makes a start on the main courses for the last table. J strolls over and seeing my clean bench says ‘Beck, you know you’ve got a parpardelle main on this table?’ Aaaaaaargh disaster! I can’t believe I forgot the parpardelle. I quickly grab a pan, crab stock, olive oil, crab meat, spring onions and chives. I shove it on the hottest part of the stove. The printer buzzes, mains away, this needs to go out now! I run to the fridge, the hot smoked slamon goes under the grill. I dunk the pasta in boiling water. At the pass Rob is ready to go. To a bit of stick from my collegues I finish the dish, pasta into the stock, a bit of rocket and we’re good. ‘Why are we waiting?’ R starts to sing. ‘We’re not!’ I reply and bring the dish up to the pass. Phew!

    9pm, soapy water goes down and R starts to scrub the floor. I clean the work surfaces and then turn my attention to cleaning the solid top range. A bucket of ice to cool it down and I start to scrub. I then finalise my prep list and orders for tomorrow. R goes into the office to call in the orders. J works on a couple of desserts.

    9:30pm The call comes from front of house ‘ No more desserts.’ This means one thing HOME TIME!

    9:45pm I walk home, the night air cold and crisp. Orion hangs low in the sky. I’m exhausted but glowing with the satisfaction a good hard days work brings. I love being a chef!

    10:30pm Time for bed it’s a single bed in a small room in a shared house but I’ve never slept so well!

  • The Bex Hutchings Story

    You’re writing your autobiography. What’s your opening sentence?

    Well that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

  • It Was 11 Years Ago

    For you, Joe. Love always.

    Shooting some tiny pool.

    When I woke up but my brother didn’t. On the 5th of March we lost him to an aggressive brain tumour. I haven’t got out of bed this morning. Not yet. The sun is shining in through the window. The cat is basking in it. Laying his sleepy head on my outstretched hand. I’m glad of his company. His warmth. I need all I can get today.

    Joe was born on the 11th of August 1987. A summer baby brother for an autumn baby sister. I was jealous at first. Asked my mother when he was going back. I was most indignant when she told me “he’s your baby brother, he’s with us forever.” In my defense I wasn’t quite two.

    Fast forward a little bit I thought it would be a nice idea to share my ice cream cone with him. I shoved it in his face. Greedy, chubby little Joe started licking at it greedily. It didn’t take us so long to become firm friends.

    My brother was funny, he was quirky. He put up with no nonsense. He did things his way. He was the kindest and altogether the best human being I’ve ever known.

    Today I want to talk about T Shirts.

    He felt well that day. We went on the train to Cardiff. Our shopping list was short. Two T Shirts and the popular children’s game Operation. In the Plain Lazy shop Joe was thrilled with his new Make Tea not War T Shirt. So thrilled he wanted to wear it straight away. He ducked down behind a sale rail and got changed there and then.

    I was always less bold than he. Young as I was then nobody needed to see that. I took my Give Peas a Chance to go.

    We finished shopping and headed off to the pub. We sat down with our drinks. Joe said to me “right you go to the toilet and change and I’ll set up Operation.”

    Pints and Operation. Best day ever.

    I miss you still, brother. I love you always.

  • Bex Basics

    Our Daily Bread

    Is there anything quite like a loaf of fresh bread? Perhaps one that you’ve made yourself entirely by hand! Now I’m not here to get anyone to give up their bread maker, if it works for you that’s awesome. I like to knead by hand. I told you I never did grow out of play doh.

    This is the basic recipe I use. For brown bread use 50/50 strong white flour and wholemeal flour. Then you can add any extras you like. Today I was feeling honey and walnut.

    Basic Bread Dough

    500g Strong White Flour

    1 Sachet of Dried or 20g of fresh Yeast

    15g Salt

    350ml Lukewarm Water

    Ready to go!

    Weigh out all of your dry ingredients into a large bowl. Taking care to keep the salt away from the yeast.

    The salt will kill the yeast.

    Now add in the water and mix together using a wooden spoon to start with.

    Mixing it up.

    Once the dough has started to form bring it together with your hands and tip it out onto a lightly floured surface.

    Hands On

    Knead the dough for around 10 minutes. Use the heel of your hand to stretch the dough away from you and bring it back. Get stuck in and you’ll soon get the hang of it. Alternatively of course feel free to use a dough hook on a food mixer.

    Slightly oil a large bowl and place your dough into it carefully to prove. Cover with a damp tea towel. Let’s see those funky tea towels lovelies! I’ll go first!

    Share your good tea towels folks!

    Leave in a warm place to prove for around 45 minutes. The dough should roughly double in size.

    Growing up big and strong

    Knock the air out of the dough with your hand. Now we can start to shape.

    It takes two!

    I’m making two small rounds today so I started by dividing my dough in half.

    Flatten out the dough and fold in one side.
    Quarter turn and fold again.
    And once again

    Once you have folded in on all sides flip the dough over and shape into a round ball with your hands.

    Getting around.

    Slightly flatten your dough with the palm of your hand and gently reshape it into a round.

    Place on a flat lined baking tray, cover back over with your damp tea towel and leave to prove again for approximately 40 minutes. Proving times really depend on how warm your room is so don’t go far from your loaves.

    While the dough is proving pre heat your oven to 180°c and put a deep oven tray of water in the bottom. The steam will give us a great crust.

    When your loaves are done proving slash the top with a sharp knife and bake for approximately 30 minutes.

    Oven ready!

    When the loaves are done they will sound hollow when you give them a tap. Put on a rack to cool. Or tear into it straight away. Hey, I’m not judging anyone here!

    That fresh bread smell though!
  • It Wasn’t Goodbye

    Describe the last difficult “goodbye” you said.

    Content warning for intimate partner violence.

    It was. “I told you never to contact me again, and I meant it.” That, of course, should have been the end. This was over 10 years ago now. He never did contact me again. He still had his hands around my throat yesterday, though.

    It has taken me a long time to finally be able to put that into words. It was only last year that I was able to shift my phrasing. He ceased to be my ex. He became my abuser.

    Because that’s what he was.

    I spent so many years in a denial of my own making. Almost parroted the gaslighter’s charter to myself day and night. “No, that didn’t happen.” “And if it did it wasn’t that bad.” “And if it was that bad it must have been partly my fault.”

    Actually I flip flopped between that and “Shut up brain. I’m not listening. Lalalala.” The thing is though it did happen. It was that bad. It definitely wasn’t my fault.

    I’m struggling with writing this. There are parts of it that feel almost too horrible for words. But. It is my truth. It is what happened to me. I finally feel like I want to put it out there.

    Maybe there’s a symbolism here. Let it go free to the wind. I guess it can’t hurt me then.

    So here I am. A victim. A survivor. I don’t know? Sometimes, they both seem wrong. All I know is that it is something that is part of me. It is my lived experience. No denial anymore.

    I want to tell my story but I need a little bit more time. I need to break it down into chapters. I will leave this one there for today. When I feel strong enough I will pick this back up. Thank you for reading. So much love

  • Throwback Tuesday

    So despite it once again being a freezing cold, damp and gloomy day my thoughts are turning towards springtime. This morning I have been reading through some of my oldest pieces and I thought it would be nice to share one or two with you. This is a piece I originally wrote back when I was a chef at The Old Bell Hotel in Malmesbury. I think this would have been written around March 2015.

    It is exactly as I wrote it back then.

    Little bit of spring time!

    Spring is Here

    The weatherman seems to finally agree. Spring has well and truly sprung. As a chef the first signs of spring come from the fruit and veg man the most important in my eyes being Jersey Royal potatoes. “Don’t scrub them too hard comes the warning from chef and sous chef alike” No indeed, do not, a quick gentle wash is all these beauties require. They are simply cooked in water, sliced and ready to adorn the Hake dish that is one of the stars of our fabulous spring menu. The hake is simply pan fried and garnished with leeks and samphire. Samphire seems rather on trend at the moment and it’s salty grassy wonderful goodness makes me hope it will be for a long time to come. A pop of red pepper puree through hollandaise adds that extra dimension.

               Asparagus we’ve been getting in for a while, succulent tender, vibrant green shoots. Is there any finer way to eat asparagus than with poached egg? Not in this writers opinion. Even the local hens know it is spring. The eggs are fantastic with their pure snow white shells and the most beautiful vibrant orange yolks. The old faithful hollandaise and some crispy garlic breadcrumbs complete this old favourite.

               Being a good Welsh lady I cannot neglect to mention our wonderful lamb rumps. Cooked to medium rare perfection. The theme of the garnish is garlic. Wild garlic to be exact. Don’t be fooled by the gentle mild looks of these leaves. Boy do they pack a punch. Just breathe in the scent on your hands after picking and chiffonading a whole crate and you’ll see what I mean. Wild garlic is growing everywhere from roadside to golf course so feel free to forage. But I cannot stress this enough! Do not eat anything that you are not 100% sure of! Take a good field guide or an expert with you! Or take the danger away and join us at The Old bell, for lamb rump with wild garlic infused potato gnocchi, artichokes and wild garlic pesto! A poem of a dish!

              Next up is Beetroot , Beetroot from ‘Nam no not Vietnam! Cheltenham. Sorry, couldn’t resist! The king of all the beetroot with its unique shape and fantastic flavour. The Beetroot is a vital component of the Barbary Duck dish. A Barbary Duck breast served with Puy lentils and the wonderful roast beetroot. I’m hard pressed to pick a favourite between this and the lamb

    Even fish and chips is getting in on the act. We’ve sent beer battered whiting on a little spring break and in its place, light, crispy and tasty tempura battered monkfish. Pea puree is having a bit of a rest too, in its place a red onion and red pepper compote which dances across the palette and provides the perfect hit of vibrance to the fantastic monkfish and our crispy golden twice cooked fries!

              Spring is very much the theme on the dessert menu too with a rhubarb and custard tart served with rhubarb ice cream and poached rhubarb the star of the show! Or would that be the lemon parfait… or the black forest Sundae. So many wonderful spring flavours so little time.

              At this time of year we chefs are absolutely privileged to be doing what we do! Long live the sunshine and long live spring produce!

  • Goats Milk Therapy

    No, it’s not the latest overpriced beauty fad, although it is very good for the skin.

    As you all know, my mental health has been particularly shoddy for the past few weeks. It’s not just been the anxiety, depression has tried very hard to dig in its claws too. What’s a great deterrent for the old black dog?

    Well, as it turns out, a young white goat!

    Celia, Crumpet and Cleo

    Three, in fact! Say hello to my new favourite girls. For the past few weeks I have been helping out with the Street Goat Project at Begbrook.

    “Street Goat’s mission is to develop a network of community projects in which local people collectively manage and care for livestock in urban areas, to produce milk, fibre and meat” It’s truly an amazing idea and one that I am fully on board with!

    Caring for these amazing girls has been an absolute tonic to me. Getting out in the fresh air and doing some good old-fashioned hard work. It’s not a cure, of course. I’m never ever going to parrot that nonsense. Right now, though, it is helping me no end.

    Who knew goats were so friendly? Honestly, they are just like big, lovely old dogs. Celia is the boss. Greedy and boisterous but with a soft side too. Cleo is quiet and curious. Crumpet is a friendly, happy girl. Well, until you get her into the milking stand.

    Ready for milking!

    Yes, I’ve been learning to milk too. Turns out I’m pretty decent at it. Celia gave me 650ml on Thursday.

    Should have been a milkmaid!

    I made most of it into cheese earlier. The rest the cat gets for his supper. Lucky Pan!

    I heart cheese!

    Blessed are the cheesemakers! Thanks girls! Thanks Street Goat!

  • Let’s Hear It For the Boy

    No I don’t mean T. Although that boy is an absolute Saint for always standing by my side.

    I have a new man in my life now and he has absolutely stolen my heart. Everybody say hello to Pan.

    Pan came to live with us about six weeks ago. He’s just a big kitten really around 8 months old. He’s full of beans and into everything.

    Cat and his bat.

    This isn’t just cat spam, honest. Though I don’t think anyone would mind if it was. It is well understood that having a pet is great for your mental health.

    Well my mental health is once again pretty shoddy I’m afraid to say. My physical health is not so great either. Just a really bad cold don’t worry. Its been a pretty miserable week, but having Pan by my side has made it so much easier.

    Always by my side.

    Maybe he knows I’m not doing so great because he’s barely left my side all week. I hope you’re focusing more on Pan in this photo. I’ve written before about the ugly side of anxiety but it has nothing on the common cold.

    Having Pan around has just given me a little more purpose. A lot more joy. Some company whilst Ts at work.

    I’ll get through this. I always do. It just takes a little bit of rest. A little bit of therapy. And a little bit of love.

    It does mean they love you when they sit on your chest and put their butt in your face right?

  • Bex Basics

    Simple Spicy Tomato Sauce.

    This is ideal for a super quick midweek pasta. It’s made with fresh tomatoes so its lovely and light with a good bit of warmth from the chilli.


    1 Onion Finely Diced

    5 Big Fresh Vine Tomatoes

    1 Red Chilli (seeds in or out up to you)

    1 Tsp Tomato Puree

    Pinch of Smoked Paprika

    Salt and Pepper to Taste

    Sweat of the onion in plenty of olive oil, add in the paprika and the chilli and season well with salt and pepper.

    When the onions are nice and soft add in the tomato puree and fry for a few minutes.

    Releasing that flavour!

    Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomatoes.

    So fresh and juicy!

    Wizz up in a food processor and add in to the onions.

    Let the machines do the work.

    Bring up to the boil and let it bubble for a few minutes. Serve with your favourite pasta.

    Quick and tasty.

    You can get creative with the basic sauce. Try adding in bacon, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, red peppers, a little lemon zest or any herbs you like.

    Have fun and enjoy!

  • Bex Basics

    And a happy new year!

    Happy new year lovelies I hope everyone had an excellent holiday time, whatever they were doing.

    I’m really excited to kick off my new Bex Basics series with something I have always enjoyed making, gnocchi! Whether a big weekend batch for a busy hotel or just a dinner at home for me and T. It does take a little bit of effort but the end product is totally worth it. Plus if like me you never grew out of Playdoh it’s great fun!

    Without any further ado


    6 Medium Potatoes

    Strong White Flour

    1 Egg

    1 Large Handful Grated Parmesan

    Small pinch Baking Powder

    Herbs (you can use whatever you fancy but for me oregano, rosemary, thyme or any combination thereof is an absolute winner)

    Salt and Pepper to taste

    First preheat your oven to 180 and bake the potatoes in their jackets for around 1 hour.

    When the potatoes are fully cooked through carefully cut them in half. Please don’t burn yourself but be aware that the potatoes are easier to work with when they’re still warm.

    Use a spoon and scoop out the flesh from the potatoes. Put into a large bowl and mash thoroughly.

    The hot crispy skins are the chefs treat. Add plenty of salt!

    Leave the mashed potatoes to cool down a bit then add in the egg, parmesan, herbs and baking powder. Season well with salt and pepper.

    Next add in your flour. How much you need will depend on how the potatoes are. I usually end up using just over half the amount of flour to potatoes. We’re looking for a smooth dough that can be easily rolled out into sausages on a floured surface.

    My best advice is to mix with your hands. You’ll soon get a feel for how the dough should be.

    Little pillows of joy!

    Pop your biggest saucepan full of generously salted water on to boil.

    Now comes the fun part. Roll out your dough into little sausages. Pinch the roll gently between thumb and forefinger then cut through the roll with a good sharp knife. Then just pinch and cut. Pinch and cut until you have a surface full of gorgeous little pillows.

    By the time you finish rolling the dough your saucepan should be boiling. Have a large bowl of ice water on standby.

    And it’s time to start cooking. First get YouTube or Spotify up and put on the popular sea shanty What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor.

    Wait OK what?

    Ah got you, OK confession time!

    You don’t actually have to do this. It’s just a silly tradition I have…

    Hooray and up she rises!

    Seriously though there is a little bit of method to my madness. We now need to blanch our gnocchi. Using a slotted spoon, add a few gnocchi into the boiling water. When they are ready they’ll rise and float on the top of the pan. Hooray and up she rises! Early in the morning!

    As soon as the gnocchi float scoop them out of the boiling water and straight into the ice water.

    Drain them well.

    At this point you can coat them in a little olive oil and store in the fridge or freezer until needed.

    When you need some gnocchi just get a non stick frying pan good and hot (defrost the gnocchi before using if they’re in the freezer) and add in some oil.

    Fry the gnocchi until good and golden brown.

    Serve with lamb chops and pesto or with your favourite pasta sauce.

    You should probably have switched music from sea shanties to Dean Martin at this point.