Portofino is smoking hot!

Many of our customers bring us back photos and postcards of other Portofinos from around the world but a guy went one better! He brought us back a Cuban cigar called Portofino!
Shame that I gave up smoking 23 years, 2 months, 28 days and 14 hours ago!

Nowadays I'm into smoked salmon and tea-smoked duck breasts...

Staff Profile: Jimmy Bailly

Position: Chef Age: 30
Joined the restaurant: July 2004
Initial job: Chef
Job History: Hostellerie des Montdeveaux France 97-99, Restaurant Le Jeanne D'arc 00-01, Portofino 01-03, Hotel Le Chamoix (Switzerland)03-04

What do I like about working here? Multi-nationalité.
Favourite dishes: All things French
Favourite holiday:
France and Crete Places I'd like to visit: Japan
Heroes: The best football player in the world: Zinedine Zidane.

Krimo says: Jimmy is a rather unusual name for a Frenchman, although many Sixties French artists adopted English names, like Johnny Halliday, the old crooner...
Jimmy first worked at Portofino for a couple of years before heading back to France and a very busy hotel on the Swiss border.
He came back to the UK (Why??) to marry an English rose.... (Ahhhh!).
We offered him a position at Krimo's with Madjid and Colin. When Madjid got diagnosed with heart trouble back in December, Jimmy stepped up a gear and gave Colin the necessary help to get the restaurant through a very busy Christmas and has now begun deputising for Colin.

Jimmy, je dois te dire que sans toi il nous aurait été très difficile de maintenir la qualité de notre cuisine en l'abscence de Madjid. Je sais que ton nouveau rôle te plait beaucoup maintenant que tu as appris à nager et je te souhaite un bel avenir avec nous.

Fishing practice...

For two weeks now, since I was picked for the Fish recipe final in Birmingham on 3rd April, I have been practising my fish tagine and the Cod loin compulsory dish.

We've had three lots of tagines and three different versions of Cod loin since I got the news. Good job Karen and I love fish!
I have just about perfected the first dish but I am still playing about with the second. The loin is very firm and doesn't lend itself to baking so I have cut it into medallions, grilled and served them on a tasty tomato and basil sauce with green beans.
My fishmonger must be wondering why we're eating so much fish all of a sudden.
Seven days to go!!

I will post the recipes if the judges like them.

Funny weather...

Typical Easter Monday!
Sun... Snow... Rain...Time elapsed between first and last photo: 15 minutes!

Great result for Hartlepool! 2-0 against Yeovil Town.
But I can't believe I have not had a single Easter egg yet!

Desperate for inspiration?

Can't you think of anything for dinner?

When I was a student, I used to surprise Karen by making something out of nothing. Hunger drove me to sit down in front of the wide-open fridge, yoga-like, staring at the few ingredients in it. My eyes jumped from one almost-bare shelf to the next until the tiny germ of dish began forming inside my bubbling head. A quick visit to the cupboard completed the culinary creation. Out came the pan and within half an hour, I magicked something to eat.

The result was not always guaranteed though. On a few RARE occasions the concoction went straight into the bin while a quick trip to the takeaway saved the day.

This morning I stumbled this useful site which speeds up the process by analysing the ingredients inside your fridge and larder and spitting out (!) a series of dishes.

Cooking by numbers

Check it out! The results can be quite enlightening but sometimes hilarious!
One of the suggestions I got was Aubergines with Mozzarella! Strange! I have neither ingredient in my fridge...

Staff Profile: Chris Wilkinson

Position: 2nd Chef at Portofino
Age: 21
Joined the restaurant: August 2002
Initial job: Part-time Pizza Chef
Job History: Joined Portofino from school.
What do I like about working here? I enjoy the work atmosphere in the kitchen. I love creating nice dishes.
Favourite dishes I like cooking: Sea Bass with fennel and rosemary butter. Slow cooked lamb shank. Salmon with mussels and chive sauce.

Favourite dishes I like eating: Tomato and basil bruschetta. Beef fillet or sirloin steaks. I am really into Indian food at the moment.
Favourite holiday: Anywhere hot and busy. Magaluf in Spain is my best to date.
Places I'd like to visit: Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Lapland at Christmas!!
Heroes: My parents, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsey.
Thoughts: "Don't take life too seriously, you may not get out alive!"

Krimo says: Chris has gone from strength to strength since starting out with us nearly six years ago. He was given the opportunity to progress and he took it. He is a good listener and a quick learner. His cheerful disposition is a great asset in the very busy environment of Portofino's kitchen.
"Chris, I honestly love your easy going personality and happy face at Portofino. Keep up the good work!"

Please try and get the basics right first...

...if you want to become a great cook...

I remember exactly when I cooked my first dish ever. I was at Uni in Algiers studying Computing and lived on the campus where food was not bad at all. If it ever happened to be a little bland then a generous dash of Harissa (North African hot sauce.) would give it a welcome zing.
I spent my weekends at my brother's who lived a couple miles away.
One weekend I decided to cook my mother's Lamb and Chickpea soup.
I phoned her for the recipe, bought all the ingredients with my meagre monthly allowance and Bob's your uncle, the result was delicious!
I then graduated to more elaborate dishes such as Tagines, Coq au Vin, etc...

But I really wish I had seen this video before embarking on my catering career...

My Yacht...

When kids visit Portofino, they love to sit by the windows overlooking HMS Trincomalee.
I jokingly tell them that she's my yacht. You should see the look in their eyes!
I don't blame them. The Trinc is absolutely gorgeous!
If you haven't yet visited her, do it as soon as you can and tell everybody about it!

The other day, I attended a Trincomalee Trust meeting and took my camera with me. The first view is that of Portofino from the quay.
Please click on the photos to enlarge them.

Staff Profile: Hayley

Position: Manager at Krimo's
Age: 23 going on 53
Joined the restaurant: December 2007
Job History: Seven years at McDonalds (!!!) from crew member to shift running manager.
What I like about working here: The customers. No more working with troublesome kids. Our customers are lovely.
Favourite dishes I like cooking: Eggs à la Hayley: scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes and cheese. (Wow, Hayley! You gourmet! Watch out, Colin. She's after your job!)

Favourite dishes I like eating: Mamma's home made anything!!
Favourite holidays: Marseille, where I discovered olives (What's wrong with Asda?) and Cancun (Mexico) for the dolphins. (You had dolphin! What's wrong with tuna?)
Places I'd like to visit: Paris, London's West End for the shows and New York for the same thing.
Heroes: No heroes as yet!!
Thoughts: Just happy one with a large glass of red wine.

Krimo says: Hayley has been in our family for many years now as she was Adam's girlfriend. She's no longer that... they got engaged on the plane on their way to Cancun. So, hopefully in the next couple of years, she will become another Mrs. Bouabda.

Hayley joined Krimo's just before Christmas to become its manager. Karen took under her wing and showed her the way we do things. The lads still take the mickey out of Hayley when she shouts an order. "Is that with fries?"

Hayley is a most pleasant young lady who has fitted very well at Krimo's. Her pleasant attitude has already gained her the praise of all our regulars.

Hayley, welcome to the family!

Brain food...

Yesterday, the office phone rang. It was someone from one of the fishmongers we use for our restaurants.

Cynical me thought: "I bet he wants to sell me more fish..."

He asked if I could remember sending in a recipe for the online competition the firm ran back in January.
"Fish and seafood Tagine?"
I remembered casually copying this dish from my website recipe section and pasting it onto the entry form.
He said that I had been shortlisted and asked if I would be available to attend the finals in Birmingham at the beginning of April.
I checked my mobile phone diary. A phone is not just a phone these days, you know!
"I'm free."
"All expenses paid." He added.
"It's a date!"
Once I came off the phone, I began to imagine myself teaching Gordon Ramsay how to cook my dish and watching Heston Blumenthal turn it into a chemical experiment.

I must get started on the acceptance speech...
The above photo is of a Lamb Tagine we serve at Krimo's.

Windy Day on the Marina...

A view from Portofino on a windy day.

Normally HMS Trincomalee sits still inside Hartlepool Maritime Experience but the slightest whiff of wind makes her sway gently from side to side. Funnily, my shaky camera action gives the impression that it is Portofino that is swaying...
One can see Krimo's bobbing up and down in the background.
There is one ship that stands still in the wind and that's the play-ship that is firmly sat on terra ferma.
With views like these is it really a wonder that Portofino is popular with young and old alike?

Snow in Algeria...

How many times have people laughed at me when I have told them that Algeria gets its fair share of snow every winter?

The top photo was sent to me by a nursery school friend who was spending the weekend in our hometown near the Tunisian border. It depicts many families enjoying the snow.
I remember the warm soups and tagines my mother cooked during snowy days.

This next photo was sent to me by my brother-in-law in central Algeria. My dentist niece posing for her dad.

Our computer-till-guy-man said he'd be unavailable for the next week or so.
"I'm going skiing!"
Yeah, right, Chris! I bet you will be doing a lot of apres-skiing too...

Staff Profile: Adam Bouabda

Position: Manager at Casa del Mar
Age: 26
Joined the restaurant: 1995
Initial job: Waiter at Krimo's after suffering a few weeks with me in the kitchen.
Job History: Krimo's 1995-1998
McDonalds 1998-2001.
Also DJ at various music venues 1999-2005

Why I like working at Casa:
Seeing customers enjoying themselves in a party atmosphere when the restaurant is busy, and the al fresco dining in the Summer.

Favourite dishes: Anything with flames, such as Fajitas. Duck, seafood...

Favourite holidays: Cancun (Mexico), Iceland, Ibiza a few times. I'd like to visit Brazil, New Zealand, Algeria, India and South Africa.

Heroes: George Lucas (I love Star Wars!) and, if I am allowed to say, My Dad.

Krimo says: Adam was 3½ years old when we opened Krimo's in 1985. So he really grew up within the restaurant industry and, though I didn't want him to, I am not surprised that he followed in my footsteps. Poor lad!
They say that it is very hard to work with family. IT BLOODY IS!! Especially when your son happens to be as hard-headed as you.
It takes patience! And loads of it because today's young think they know better! (Cue violin music!)
But I feel that the future is looking good, because we really are getting on at last. Honest! What is it, Adam? Old age catching up with you or are you just catching up with your Dad? xxx

We met by chance at Asda after work last week. Now I know why many of our customers say we are like two peas in a pod! But I KNOW you are handsome because you take after your mam!

I caught the early worm...

on Monday morning...

I knew I had to get up at 7am to open the restaurant doors to the air conditioning engineers. A brand new system! The new system uses a gas that's Earth-friendly but does it have to cost the Earth?

I woke up at around 6am and, as I couldn't go back to sleep, I decided to go down to the restaurant.
The photo shows the view just out of the kitchen door! Nowadays I carry my camera in my pocket just to snap anything worth snapping.
As they say in Amateur Photographer Weekly:
A Happy Snapper makes a Happy Sole!
And a Happy Snappy Sole always catches the Early Worm...

Stop me, please!!!

What Next?

Clothes, watches, interiors and now Salsa! Where is Next heading?
Ok, I confess! At Portofino, we merchandise our own branded T-shirts, so if Next want to sell hot and spicy salsa, let them!

And now I have a good mind to start selling knickers and socks with our tagines at Krimo's! I wonder what the old dears will say.

In a bid to protect the innocents, I have to admit that Karen did NOT buy this jar. She knows better than to buy ready-made crap when she has her own private cook who can prepare his own. This salsa is part of a colourful nacho set my sister-in-law got me for my birthday.
Thanks, Denise!

Back to school...

Last night I started my University course. Design for web publishing!
It felt like the first day at school. Nerves. Expectation.
Does anyone remember the beautiful smell of new books?
There were no books but the Apple Imac computer made up for them. It was the first time I had worked with one of these technical marvels.
So slick compared to my work pc!
The first lesson was quite simple but very interesting. Those of us among the twenty-or-so students, who had a background knowledge of web design found a few new tricks with the Dreamweaver software.

The next lesson is on Wednesday when we'll be issued with our student card which will allow us 24-hour access to the facilities! Yeah, right!

When I came out I was horrified to find that my car was the only one left in a LOCKED car park in Middlesbrough. A frantic search for a janitor revealed that, though the car parks were not usually padlocked overnight, a new security firm that had just taken over appeared to have changed the rules.
A few phonecalls later, I was finally freed to nip into Central Park for a bowl of mussels and a tomato garlic bread to settle my nerves.
Can't wait for Wednesday!

Mother's Day...

This morning, I felt a bit artistic so I took a few photos of the daffodils Karen has so carefully tied with raffia to present mothers and grandmothers with at the end of the meal.
It happens to be a great sunny day over the Marina but quite cold and windy.

Colin rang me at around 9.30 to say that all the electrics had gone off in Casa and the whole of Navigation Point. I contacted the emergency number. A recorded message announced that engineers were already on the way and that it was anticipated that repairs would be completed by 10.30 or 11 at the latest.
I wonder whether the electricity will be back in time to serve Mother's Day Lunch.