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"Now don't panic, the fire brigade has already left… "

26 September 2002 by
"Now don't panic, the fire brigade has already left… "

It's amazing what can happen in this place when your back is turned.

A few weeks ago, I actually got a Sunday off, so my family and I decided to go out for the day with friends who had just returned from six months' travelling around South America. As we walked along one of our local beaches, my phone went. It was Michelle.

"Now don't panic," she said, which I automatically did. "The fire brigade has already left," she went on. By this time I was stomping along the beach, shouting: "Alan, get the kite, we're going home."

I returned to the restaurant to find a kitchen filled with staff who resembled raccoons.

After surveying the damage, I was told what had happened.

One of the chefs had put too much fat in the Yorkshire pudding tins and, as they rose, the fat spilled out and started to smoke. Within minutes it had caught fire, and Michelle was summoned. She looked into the cooker and saw a few flames, so she did the right thing and evacuated the building.

Then she went back to the oven with the fire extinguisher, but by this time it had got a good hold on the oven and the flames were billowing out of the front. So the fire brigade was called and, two fire engines later, with all the lads suited up in breathing apparatus, the fire was out.

The kitchen was all right - just a lot of smoke damage - so we set about cleaning. But the cooker was a write-off.

A quick call to the insurance company the next day confirmed our position. I contacted a local engineer and, four days after the fire, he came out and agreed that the cooker was irreparable. After many more days of waiting, the new cooker arrived, six hours late and delivered by two young lads who couldn't even pull the skin off a rice pudding.

I rallied the help we needed to lift the cooker out of the van. And still it sits there…

The engineer came out the next day and - guess what? They'd sent an LPG-fired cooker instead of a natural gas one. So frantic phone calls went on all day, and new jets were sent in the post to arrive the next day.

The engineer was booked to come out on Tuesday - and you'll never believe this: he got a flat tyre on his van and now he can't make it until Thursday.

I'm bloody knackered. We've closed so many nights and lost so much trade that, if I think about it any more, I'll be going for my fitting for a straitjacket shortly. We've been without an oven for almost five weeks.

What an experience. No doubt, one day I'll look back and laugh - one day. I just want to add: "Thanks, Michelle, you did the right thing."

HELEN CUTTS is chef-proprietor of the Greenhouse restaurant in Warkworth, Northumberland

Next diary from Helen Cutts: 7 November

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