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Do chefs have tales?

Zubin D’Souza

As part of my outreach programme and pro bono work, I used to volunteer some time at a local college where I taught a course to young underprivileged kids and tried to prepare them for a life ahead in the hospitality industry.

I often chose to break up the monotony and the seriousness of the class by regaling those assembled with a couple of stories from the hotelier world.

I rarely took names of the celebrities or guests involved but the rest of the facts remained
unblemished.

Which is exactly why I was slightly incensed when one of the students slid up to me during lunch break that although everyone loved the way I told my ‘stories’ with the dramatic flourish and an air of semi pomposity, none of them actually believed me.

That was shocking to me! I have actually served Bill Gates and president Bill Clinton; I have met president Jimmy Carter in Ethiopia and Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan in Hong Kong.

I have traversed the length and breadth of Bollywood and Hollywood and you can for good measure throw in other film industries that end with the word ‘wood’ including if I may be so cheeky
Tiger Woods.

I have cooked for the A list, the B list all the way down to the Z list!

At certain points in my career I used to feel that I started at the top and worked my way to the bottom.

And I have been called many things but a liar has never been one of them.

How could my stories be deemed as fantasy; they seemed so normal when they occurred and were so expected if you knew the people involved.

My favourite story involves Muammar Gaddafi; I can name him now that he has passed on.

Gaddafi was the eccentric head of the oil-rich Libya but despite all the wealth at his disposal, he decided to live in a tent to show that he was truly one with the people.

Of course his tent living came at no cheap price. He booked several rooms at a fancy hotel and flew in with a huge entourage spread over several 747s. The team booked the entire pool area that was covered to allow the tent to be pitched in the open air. He had a fondness for Indian food and I was tasked with ensuring that his meals were prepared to his liking. He also had a fondness for huge, female, well-built Amazonian guards who were his personal protection.

Since he had been a guest for several days, I was a familiar figure and often carried food to the area where he held his court. That changed quickly enough when I approached the barrier with both hands occupied by food and the Junoesque lady demanded to see identification. I tried to explain that I couldn’t put the food on the floor and the card was strung around my neck but my feeble attempts at communication did not seem to be getting through. I was searching for the right words when she pulled out the meanest looking automatic gun and pointed it straight between my eyes. The anatomy behind that part in my case is simply composed of sawdust so I wasn’t too worried about brain damage. I, however, saw my career as a major Hollywood heartthrob simply slip away while simultaneously there was something warm that was beginning to stain my
trousers.

I am betting you that the young lady in question would have fired that device if it wasn’t for the timely intervention of Muammar Gaddafi. He waved us over; it appeared that he was getting hungry.

I probably looked harmless enough to him albeit a bit unkempt because of the nefarious substances still clinging to my trouser and leg and forming a small trail as I walked with the food.

Now if I had said that I stared death bravely in the face and gave a smartass answer or retort; well that would have been a lie.

I wasn’t as brave as I thought I was and my life or death situation came at the most inopportune
moment.

But that is exactly how they always come; hopefully the next time I will not let my emotions show on my trouser leg!

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