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. Alex self-published the book and it is available only in electronic format from Amazon here.
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 like all lawyers (who are by and large stereotypical MasterChef contestants) 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.
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. He describes the rituals, the humiliation and the trials as he finally crosses his own Rubicon into the fiery furnaces. 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.
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.