Chris Chown, the distinguished owner-chef of Plas Bodegroes, Pwllheli, Wales, replies to last month’s newsletter which said that a great breakfast should not be expected at restaurant with rooms: ‘I must have cooked around 80,000 breakfasts, including maybe 1800 kippers!
‘It is the only meal I now cook, and not the least reason I still cook breakfast myself is that I do indeed ascribe great importance to it, as apparently do our guests. Two points you make in particular have become watchwords for me through my own experience: the first is the memory of fried bread cooked in bad oil which was the impression I took away with me from a hotel, negating the excellent dinner I had the night before, and the second is that the single worst hotel breakfast I have ever had was at one of Britain’s most famous names, because it had obviously been cooked by the 14th commis with no idea, and the head chef obviously thought it beneath himself to either get up early or train his staff.
‘Nobody can please all of the people all of the time, but I think that I have developed a fairly accurate idea of maximising the number for whom I get it right, but changing tastes are adding pressure. The problem a breakfast chef has is in offering a decent choice of dishes but still cooking them to order. It is probably about 20 years ago that the Good Food Guide said breakfast here was slow, but about the same time a Tourist Board inspector told me I should offer a greater choice, so it is a balancing act.
‘At dinner, most restaurants ascribe times for arrival and stagger those to allow the staff, both kitchen and front of house, to offer the best service. Three chefs then have at least 30 and up to 90 minutes to prepare the various courses to order. We offer a window for guests’ breakfast from 8.00 to 9.30, or earlier on request. But we can’t insist upon times, so most mornings here up to 20 guests arrive between 8.50 and 9.10. Well over 90% order a cooked breakfast and around 30% have no starter. In that case I need to try to get a full breakfast cooked in 10 minutes, or 15 if they do have a cold starter. I also cook porridge, but that gives me an extra 10 minutes to get the sausages on. I prepare the fruit, grapefruit, and yogurt dishes, and the girls plate our home made granola and cold cereals and prepare juices, tea, coffee and toast. So sometimes it is just impossible for me to keep to my target timings.
‘I also accede to every request for anything not on the menu if I have had the ingredient available. Normally this is for fried bread, or cheese or ham for EU tastes, or smoked salmon. I have never refused to cook an omelette but it adds massive pressure to my timing. And yes, when notified, I will offer vegetarians and vegans my own version of avocado toast, which if I say so myself is rather good: spelt bread toast is spread with roast tomato and olive oil, topped with warm avocado smashed with chilli, coriander, garlic and lime zest. We also keep vegan sausages, but I cannot see why anyone would want a sweet pancake or waffle for breakfast, so they are not offered.
‘Fashions are changing, and not just for gluten-free cornflakes and avocado. This morning both the orders I had for poached smoked haddock requested black pudding with it – this fad is presumably on the back of the fashion for black pudding with scallops. Many more people now double up on their eggs, I frequently poach 30 or so as well as fry, scramble and boil.
‘I would love to offer a greater choice with smoothies, laver cakes, kedgeree or devilled kidneys, all of which I love myself but I simply could not cook or prepare them to order, and I will not precook dishes. The British know their breakfast and it deserves the same accord as dinner. If I precooked everything we might as well have the dreaded buffet. It would also lead to waste, which in my book is the greatest crime any conscientious chef can commit.’