Staff Profile: Elaine Reed

Position: Manager at Portofino (Also helping out at Krimo's at the moment)
Age: 36
Joined the restaurant: 13 September 1996
Initial job: Part-time Waitress
Job History: Trained as a beauty therapist but my first job was as a counter assistant at a fast food place (Funky Chicken!) Bar work at two local nightclubs (No longer in business!)

What do I like about working here? Keeps me out of trouble!! I love seeing our regulars and having a good chat with them. I enjoy working with the girls too, they make it worthwhile. The chefs can be a pain! ;o)

Favourite dishes: Potato skins and Salmon although I am partial to a Parmo after the nightclubs. Favourite holiday: Dubai is the best place I have visited so far but you never know, I'm only 36, you know... ;o)

Thoughts: I am usually too tired to think! I never thought I'd be in a job as long as I've been at Portofino. It's like part of the family now. Although if I'd thought earlier, I'd have tried harder for that company car!

Krimo says: Elaine started as a shy waitress when Krimo's was still at Seaton Carew. Then a year and a half later, she came to help me out at Portofino, liked it so much, she stayed ever since.
Together we devised management systems that ensured that the busy pizzeria was run properly and a couple years down the road we were awarded Investors in People.
Elaine looks after the day-to-day running of Portofino as well as the hard task of setting up our tried and tested procedures at Krimo's.
She is especially good at fathoming out what is wrong with our tills if no one else can balance them.
Elaine, I am very grateful you've stuck by us through thick and thin. With you around I can concentrate on more importants tasks, such as wasting time keeping this blog up to date and sneaking away for the odd holiday. Thanks.

Happy Leap Year...

I was born a few years ago today! 28th February!
Some may think that if I had been a little bit reluctant to come out of my mother's tummy for another twenty four hours, I would by now be looking forward to my teenage years...
But fortunately, I was born in 1953 and it wasn't a leap year.
Madjid, Krimo's chef was also born on the same day, but a year earlier...
So Happy 56th, Madj!

I began thinking about writing this post about three weeks ago, after I caught sight of a television advert about Leap Year weekend breaks...
The power of advertising!
Might as well make the most of it, after all the next one will be 2012! Great leap of faith for the Olympics!

Well, for us in catering, it will certainly be a busy weekend and not with young ladies proposing but with deserving mothers being treated out for Mother's Day Lunch!

Sorry, Krimo's is already fully booked but we have a couple tables left at Portofino and Casa del Mar!

Martian delicacies...

This artery-clogging delight is said to have originated from a chip shop in North-East Scotland.
The Mars bar is fried in the same type of batter used for the likes of fish, haggis and black pudding, with the Mars bar generally chilled before being fried.

The plunging of Mars bars into deep fryers has sparked a trend of such things, with Creme Eggs, Snickers bars and even pizza suffering a similar fate.
In fact, deep-frying pizza is thought to go back even further than the deep-fried Mars bar.
Now, you may say that deep-frying is quite an unhealthy way of cooking food and you could be right. But successful deep-frying depends on the temperature of the oil. The latter has to be hot enough for the item dropped into it to crisp up instantly, creating an outer layer that prevents the oil to soak in.

Throughout the world, cooks deep-fry foods. From Tempura in Japan, Wontons in China, Beignets in France, Fish and chips in the UK to Crickets in the Sahara!!

"What? Crickets as in insects?"

Yes, I hear it is a delicacy in Southern Algeria and the rest of the Sahara, but I have not yet had the pleasure of tasting them.

Casa's Menu...

I spent yesterday working on Casa's menu front page.
Adam and I reorganised the menu to make sure all the different offerings were in one single folder and avoid confusion.
I reduced the square drawing which I did for the original menu and found that it was too small and stretching the image would have resulted in a loss of sharpness or as they say in the trade, "depixelation".
So, I got my magic Wacom tablet and added the surrounding illustration including some mosaics.
Piece of cake!
Next Monday evening, I join Teesside University!!!
To do a course in Design for Web Development! Can't wait to see what I learn to improve the look of our websites.

Casa del Mar...

...broke its Winter record! 211 Customers!

I got there at around 9pm after a very busy, short-staffed shift at Portofino. Although there were many people in the bar area, the Tapas Bar did not seem "bouncing" as it usually appears on Saturday evenings.

I posted the league table in the hallway and the gents toilet and commiserated with Kevin for Hartlepool's dismal performance against Northampton on Friday night. We lost one nil! Argh!!!

Later, Adam telephoned to say that they'd had 211 diners. I don't think that is a record because Casa is usually busier during the summer. But this is good enough for a cold, windy evening on the Marina.
Last night was our fortnightly Salsa night. I'm not sure I'm enjoying the lessons but I enjoyed my steak and prawn fajita though.

Profile: Kevin Dove

Position: Head-Chef at Casa del Mar


Joined the restaurant: September 1997 Initial job: Commis-Chef at Krimo's in Seaton Carew Job History: Joined Krimo's upon leaving school
What do I like about working here? The bustling atmosphere on busy weekends
Favourite dishes I like cooking: Paellas, Cordero con salsa
Favourite dishes I like eating: Fajitas

Favourite holidays: Gran Canaria, Center Parks
Places I'd like to visit: New York, Thailand, Taj Mahal, Egypt
Heroes: Bono (U2), Duncan Bannatyne, my Dad, Hartlepool United.
Thoughts: Why didn't Roman Abramovich buy Hartlepool instead of Chelsea?
If you're not fast, you're last...

Krimo says: The first day Kevin came into the kitchen at Seaton Carew, Madjid and I looked at each other and thought the same thing. "This poor kid won't last two minutes." He was skinny, and shy.
Over the years, he just got on with his job learning from Madjid and Colin, plying his trade first at the new Krimo's on the Marina and then at Portofino as second-chef! Yes, Kevin was on his way up.
Two years ago, when the Tapas Bar opened he was promoted to Head-Chef. I worked with him for three weeks to introduce him to Spanish dishes and then let him get on with it. He settled very quickly in his new Head-Chef role and has now surrounded himself with a very competent young team.

Kevin, do you know that, after Madjid, you are our longest-serving chef? That is an achievement in itself and I thank you for your loyalty!

Would you like a slice of lemon with that?

The lawn was white and so was everything else yesterday morning. I did not need to look at the display to know it was cold.
The office at Portofino was not the only place I couldn't get warm.

Tuesday night was also very cold and although we did not expect many brave souls to venture out for a meal, we were fairly busy, especially during the Happy Hour at Portofino.

I think that many people prefer to come straight from work for something to eat before heading home to camp in front of the telly on cold nights like the ones we are having.

When I got home I made a quick vegetable and chicken soup with basil (Half an hour in the pressure cooker!). Talk about fast food!!

Fishing for compliments...

Click on photo to enlarge

I took this photo last week as I waited for the lock gates to open after the fishing boat entered the Marina.

Sometimes the catch of fish and crustaceans is landed just outside the restaurant's windows to await collection. I once witnessed a crab's hopeless escape attempt out of its holding crate.

Krimo's highly visible, golden sign must be one of the first things that weary sailors catch a glimpse of when entering the safe haven that is Hartlepool Marina.

Besides the fishing fleet, the Marina is home to many moored yachts, sailing boats or cruisers whose owners use mostly at weekends like a floating caravan. During the summer there is also an influx of foreign seafarers making their way up or down along the North Sea coast.

Most of those who stop the night in Hartlepool usually use at least one of our restaurants. This has generally been an excellent opportunity for me to have an interesting conversation on boats, yachting and foreign lands. I often end up being a little envious of these lucky free spirits. This never fails to take me back to my sailing days when I was a student. The farthest place I visited was Madagascar.

What made Britain great...

Krimo's makes news in The Australian alongside the Trincomalee.

How wonderful!

On the photo you can get a glimpse of Portofino (Bottom left).

Food Parcels...

Yesterday we had a birthday party.

For starters, I prepared two lots of pastry parcels with "Feuilles de Brick" which are similar to wonton wrappers.

Here are the two recipes:

1-Mix the following: Half a pound of minced prawns, a tbsp of minced ginger and garlic, two chopped spring onions and one egg white. Season well.

2-Mince a quarter of a pound of Chorizo and Goat's cheese each with two tbsps of Pesto.

Place a teaspoonful on the end of a rectangle of pastry (15cm by 5cm) then fold into triangles.

Shallow fry and serve with a simple green salad.


Staff Profile: Colin Berry

Position: Head-Chef at Krimo's
Joined the restaurant: June 2000 Initial job: Sous-Chef

Job History: Swallow Hotel Stockton 1987-94, Ayton Hall 1994-94, Didier's Hartlepool 1994-98, Al Syros 98-2000

What do I like about working here? The staff and meeting people

Favourite dishes I like cooking: Thai food

Favourite dishes I like eating: Thai food

Favourite holidays: New York, Thailand and China

Places I'd like to visit: Australia but won't because of spiders...

Heroes: The one and only Status Quo! and the Boro.

Krimo says: I met Colin long before he started at Krimo's in July 2000. He worked with Didier, my best French friend in the whole world. Didier is one of the best chefs I know personally and to get to employ someone who had worked for him was an honour for a cowboy cook like me.

Colin is tall, very, very tall and bloody thin for a chef! You know the old saying "Never trust a thin chef!" Colin has broken the mould... among other things.

From the heights of his cool head he makes all the staff look and warm up to him. His funny lines often stump newcomers but those waitresses or young chefs who have fathomed him out will always try and come back with a quick repartee.

He runs a tight ship, making all the "sailors" very comfortable even on rough evenings when waves of orders batter the galley every few minutes.

Colin, it is great having you on board!

Valentine's Day Fever...

As I predicted, all our three restaurants were full to the brim with lovestruck couples.
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Chocolates are sweet
And so are you...

The origin of St. Valentines day is not clear. But it is known that it wasn't just a day invented by the greeting cards industry. (I know I didn't believe it either!) Valentines day as we know it first originated probably as early as the middle ages, perhaps even earlier with roots in roman times.

Saint Valentine - who was he? Most probably a legend, there are in fact 3 saints who go by the name Valentine or Valentinius and are associated with the 14th of Feb, one was a priest, another a bishop but all 3 were said to be martyred. One of the most popular legends states that just before his beheading for refusing to deny Christ, Valentine wrote a letter to his beloved which was signed "From Your Valentine"

The association of romance with St Valentines day dates from around the 14th century. One of the earliest written accounts of the romantic nature of Valentines day is by Geoffrey Chaucer where he notes the pairing of mating birds on St Valentines day.

Valentines or love notes are traditionally given to loved ones on Valentines day. One of the earliest known valentines is a love poem written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was held in the Tower of London after he was captured at the Battle of Agincourt. This is probably where the St. Valentines legend arose. Facts from the Quizlhelp website.

Next there is Mother's Day coming up... Will it be as popular as Valentine's Day?
Better be!
Your mother will always be there for you!

Fresh Mussels...

We serve them in all our three restaurants.

Over the years we've cooked them in various guises, but the most popular way is that simple one, Moules Marinieres with added cream, although if someone asks, our chefs can always leave that last ingredient out.

Personally, I prefer them without cream exactly the way my cousin in Dieppe showed me back in 1979.

Her husband and I picked them from rocks on Dieppe beach, cleaned them and she cooked them. I fell in love with them and have been cooking them her way ever since.
Mussels are so much cleaner these days. Because they are grown on ropes, they contain no sand at all and very few barnacles.
Ours come all the way from the Shetlands.

Yesterday, I had a bowlful for lunch at Casa and another bowlful at Portofino just before I went to watch Pools scrape a win against ten-men Port Vale.

I love to eat them with some tomato garlic bread.

Cooking steaks....

...can be quite frustrating.

The usual questions are:
"How do you get your steaks so tender?"
"How long do you cook a steak to get it medium to well done or medium rare?"

The answer to the first question is to use a local butcher who hangs the meat for long enough to tenderise it. Two to three weeks will make all the difference.
Once you have a good produce to start off with, the rest is simply cooking by numbers.

1-Choose a heavy-bottomed pan that can retain heat.
2-Warm it up a little then add a tbsp of olive oil. This is enough because it will spread in a warm pan. Use good olive oil because it will not burn.
3-Make sure that the meat is dry. Use kitchen roll if necessary.
4-Once the pan is hot enough (2 minutes) place the steak to seal it on maximum heat.
Do not season until the end. Salt draws moisture leading to the meat being boiled.
Important: Leave the steak alone for around one minute. This will seal it on one side.
Turn it over using tongs . Pricking it with a fork will lead to loss of juices.
5-Seal the steak for another minute.
6-Turn the heat down by half.

HOW you like your steak will determine the length of time you need to cook it.
With your index finger press the steak to test its cooking. The longer it cooks, the firmer it will get.
Below is a simple test the steak.
Gently touch (not squeeze) your thumb with your index finger as in the photos below. Feel the ball of your hand. You will find that it is quite soft. That is how a rare steak should feel like.
Index: Rare
Second finger: Medium to rare
Middle finger: Medium
Third finger: Medium to well done
Small finger: Well done.

Photos modelled by Karen's hand. ( You could've let me get my nails done first!")

Salsa night at Casa...

Last night was our 6th salsa lesson at Casa. We were both tired after the busy Saturday night and a long session of DIY at our daughter's but we mustered the strength and went down to the Marina.

The first lesson was well on the way. Adam said that Sunday lunch went down very well. Casa is now serving traditional Beef dinners alongside the tapas. Second Sunday and it is going great.

After the hour-lesson we all sat down to a late supper. Karen had grilled vegetables, couscous salad and spicy king prawns. I had a steak and prawn fajita. Delicious.

A very experienced dancer invited Adam to try a few salsa steps with her.

Most of the dance students are getting better. I am still struggling because I prefer free-style dancing rather than counting steps...

A busy Saturday night on the Marina...

Last night, at Portofino we fed 212 customers from 5.30pm till 10pm. I love it when it is a non-stop service which goes smoothly. The kitchen coped very well and so did the service staff. Noel, Chris and their young team were totally on the ball and so were Joey and Belinda and the girls.

On busy nights like that, I like to take orders so I can chat to customers. The regulars who like to be remembered, greeted and made to feel special, and the new faces, whom I have to steer through our menu, suggesting this or that dish and making them feel comfortable and welcoming them to our restaurant.

Later, when things slowed down a little I went to Krimo's which was also full. Many tables were already having desserts. Karen said the service had been smooth. I visited all the tables and had a few words with all the customers. A few of them were celebrating birthdays, with helium balloons floating over the guests. Colin and his team were tidying the kitchen while finishing off the last few orders. We talked football. He had gone to watch Middlesbrough beat Fulham one nil. Hartlepool lost two one away at Southend. The situation is getting dire!

Next I went to Casa. Adam said one of waitresses had phoned in sick and they had struggled a little with the numbers of diners. The tapas bar is getting very popular as more and more people find out about it. I passed the kitchen with the football table, Kevin shook his head in despair. He too is a season ticket holder.
I spoke to a few customers. Many new faces, which is very pleasing. The Marina is now attracting many people for out of town.

Staff Profile: NOEL STAMP

Position: Head-Chef at Portofino
Age: 26 Joined the restaurant:28 June 1999 Initial job: Part-time Pizza Chef
Job History: Work experience at the Blue Bells while at Middlesbrough College.

What do I like about working here? Having a laugh with the lads at work. They're more like a family. I also like the satisfaction of teaching staff new things. I love cooking good food.

Favourite dishes I like cooking: Sea Bass with basil butter and roast cherry tomatoes, Tuna Loin with red pepper coulis, Goat's Cheese and Parma Bruschetta with a tomato chutney. (My girlfriend loves it!)

Favourite dishes I like eating: Tuna, Beef fillet, Goat's Cheese, Beef Carpaccio, Indian food, Sunday Dinner!

Favourite holiday: Florida, Cancun (Mexico), Zante (Greece) Places I'd like to visit: The Seychelles, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Goa, Antigua, Mount Everest...

Heroes: David Beckham, Gordon Ramsey, Sebastian Loeb

Thoughts: "If I had his money, that would make me a better chef, better looking and richer than Gordon Ramsay." "A winner never quits. A quitter never wins!"

Krimo says: Within a few short weeks of starting as a part-time pizza chef, Noel decided to give up catering college and work full time at Portofino.

A couple of years later and through a lot of hard work, Noel slotted into the head chef's shoes. It was then that the real slog began when he had to quickly grow into the role of kitchen manager while going through the pains of becoming an adult.

Nowadays, after much coaching and sparring, laughter and tears, Noel has come to accept, just like we all do, that one never stop learning.

Noel, I am proud of you even if, at times, I could throw you into the Marina.

Diamonds are forever...

...but Roses come by the dozen...

Valentine's Day! Ahhhh....

It has truly become the most popular day in a restaurant's year!
Mother's Day has been relegated into second place. Well, can you really blame husbands and wives? Soon after the wedding bells, mother takes the back seat.
This is a day when, if a restaurant isn't fully booked, it might as well be turned into a newsagent's or a laundrette.
The scramble for tables is such that telephones are like the X-Factor or Strictly Come Dancing hotlines on finals night.
About fifteen years ago, I placed this advert in September!! "Valentine's Day is only 19 weeks away! Do not disappoint your sweetheart! Book now!" Within twenty four hours, the restaurant was fully booked for February 14th.

That went to prove two things!
1-My adverts were definitely being read.
2-Romance was alive and kicking up in the North East!

Many leave it the last minute just in case they're no longer dating the same person. Others make a booking weeks ahead in the hope of being attached come February 14th.
This year, with one week to go, Krimo's is already fully booked, after all it was nominated one of the top fifty most romantic restaurants in Britain in a poll conducted by Remy Martin Champagne.
But, as far as I can tell, we have a couple of tables left at Portofino and Casa... That won't be for much longer though.

Gordon Bennett!!!

If you’re going to steal recipes from a celebrity chef, you really should do it from Jamie Oliver or Anthony Worrall-Thompson. If you get caught, the chef in question will probably just sigh and say something like, “I’m very disappointed in you.”

So it was a very foolish man who got a job with Gordon Ramsay and started nicking his blueprints. Instead of a simple dressing down, Ramsay stripped the unnamed cook naked and made him do a day’s work wrapped in cling-film.

“We followed him on the CCTV and found out he was sifting all the ideas out of my kitchen,” said TV’s Mr Bad-Tempered.
“So I stripped him stark b****** naked and wrapped him in cling-film. It’s probably the nastiest thing I’ve done.”
Added Gordon, with glee: “He sweated like a pig. I don’t know why he did it, but then it’s pretty hard to talk when you’re being wrapped in cling-film by 25 cooks.”

The telly chef explained that the man had come to the back door of his kitchen and said he wanted to learn, offering to work for two years for free. Ramsay said that if he hired him, he would be paid. However, three months later, recipes were going missing.

“It was a bit naughty. If you’re going to work for a chef, don’t be so ignorant in trying to steal. I’d happily give out my recipes, but you still won’t cook a dish as good as me – the thing about this job is that it’s from the heart.”
Source: Daily Star Picture: Big

My next task for the blog is to post senior staff profiles, so look out for those guys who cook or serve the food you've come to enjoy at our three restaurants.

Staff night out...

Chris and Noel (Portofino's 2nd chef and head-chef) with Colin (Krimo's head-chef) in the background at our last senior staff night out at the beginning of December.

The first two had such a good time they could not remember much of it. I believe that by the end of the night they were in firstname terms with Ernest and Julio Gallo.
Tonight is our annual staff outing.
Last year we held our Annual do at a local hotel, a fancy dress party when everyone dressed up in all sorts of hilarious outfits. I went as a Spanish bullfighter.

This year, we're going to the same hotel again. The original fancy dress theme started out as The Fifties, but I extended it to The Sixties and Seventies. If you cannot find a costume that represents one of three decades, then you might as well stay at home in your slippers.

Photos and report of the night will be appearing the next few days, if I can remember any of it.

Talking Potatoes...

The hit counter is telling me that, at least 40 people visit my new restaurant blog every single day!
And yet, there are very few comments left by our customers.

Are they shy?

The only reason why we've lasted for nearly 23 years is because we listen to our customers.

So, come on! Start talking!
You can even talk b........s if you want...

Today Lydia, our longest-serving member of staff, 18 years with us, found this misshapen potato. She didn't have the heart to peel it just in case this brought tears to Colin's eyes.


...are getting very popular!

The name, Tagine comes from the terracotta slow cooking vessel used in most of North Africa, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Before we got a gas hob, my mother did all her cooking on a charcoal burner, which meant that she had to start preparing food very early in the morning.

When I was about 12 or 13, she began sending me to do the daily shopping before going to school. The freshest of meats, fish or vegetables!
By the time we all came back from school at midday, our delicious lunch was ready and waiting.

Nowadays, at Krimo's we prepare our Lamb Tagine in a large stew pan but serve it in the traditional Terracotta dish.

Most of our Terracotta tagines came not all the way from North Africa but from Sedgefield of all places.
I gave Bill Todd of Sedgefield Pottery, a drawing and he happily reproduced dozens of them for us over the years.

Though he really enjoyed making the tagines, due to new commitments, Bill is no longer able to create those beautiful dishes. We have since sourced other firms supplying genuine Moroccan tagines, but being the eternal romantic, I will honestly miss the marriage of Northern artistic ingenuity and North African culinary theatre.