Kristmas is here...

Four weeks since my last blog.

Algeria has qualified for the World Cup in South Africa. I was looking to supporting two teams. My country of birth and my adopted country.

They were drawn in the same group and will be playing each other one Friday evening in June. Can't wait to find out which country my heart will support.
The festive season seems to get shorter every year. Twelve weeks in 1985. Four weeks last year. Three weeks this year. The credit crunch is still biting. New businesses are suffering a lot more than the established ones.

2010 is our 25th anniversary year. Looking forward to the nostalgic memories from many of our long-time regulars.

2010, the year of the Tall Ships in town. This may be the making of Hartlepool.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

Krimo's future chefs...

When a teacher from Jesmond Road School asked if she could bring a couple of pupils round to Portofino as they are learning all about Italina food, I expected some teenagers.
And then Matthew and Bethany landed this morning to see how our restaurant operates.
Two adorable five-year olds, keen to learn how to make pizzas and pastas.

Then they sat to taste their own cooking. Kim served then and between the two of them they wolfed down a massive pizza. Actually, I pinched slices.
Once they finished their gourmet meal, they were kind enough to take a pizza back to school for their friends.

Great morning at Portofino.

Krimo's Young Gourmets...

Young Emilie (11) must have been so impressed with her teatime treat at Portofino that she had to write about it in our visitors book! She recommends the soup of the day among other things!!!
I love the French spelling of her name.
I shall have to congratulate her on this comment when she comes again.
Well done, Emilie!

Tourism Awards

The Hartlepool Mail reports on the North East England Tourism Awards.

Our restaurants scooped Bronze in the Taste of the North East category.
The Gold was awarded to Archers Jersey Ice Cream and the Silver to Michelin starred White Room restaurant at Seaham Hall.

Hartlepool picked two other awards. Gold for Hartlepool Maritime Experience (Large Visitor Attraction of the Year) and Bronze for Wendy Clarke in the Outstanding Customer Service Award category.

Pools for ever...

Grandson Alex had no idea what hit him when I bought him a season ticket to Hartlepool United a year ago.
So much so that, after his first match and Pools defeat back in August 2008, he asked what team we were going to support instead.
I told him it wasn't the way it worked. When you support a team, you go through the peaks and troughs, the ups and the downs but never give up.

Alex listened and listened well. He is now a staunch HUFC supporter. He knows more facts about our team than I will ever care to research.
He reads the match day magazine more ardently than a priest studies the Bible.
He knows more facts about HUFC than his times nine table. He knows how many times Ritchie Humphries has played, who has scored the most goals, who has defended best, etc...

Terry Hanlon, took this picture of us with H'angus the Mascot, smiling and laughing before we lost to Norwich...

Krimo's Candlelit Dinners...

A few nights ago, we had two birthday parties at Portofino. One was a 13th and the other 16th. The thirteen year-olds were accompanied by a couple of parents. The sixteen-year olds were solo. Twelve of them but they all behaved impeccably.

When it came to lighting the candles on the birthday cakes, both sets of girls sang Happy Birthday to each other.

Both cakes lit up the whole restaurant and the singalong created a great atmosphere.

I took this photo on my iphone.

A busy place on a Wednesday night made even "buzzier"!

Krimo's Game for a Laugh...

The Face of Tees Valley contest is hotting up.
I was invited to be a judge (as if I knew what I was doing.)
With four other judges, journalists, radio presenters and tourism officials, we had to shorlist two contestants to go head to head and become the Face of Tees Valley next March.
All entrants were absolutely magic! Exactly what we need to represent our region.
They had to take part in two physical activities, Thundercats (mini-speedboats) and Walk-on-water.
I got roped in to participate in the race and absolutely loved it.
But I declined the invitation to walk on water. I think I am claustrophobic.
We all had a lot of fun watching people trying to stand up inside the giant balls only to fall back down in hilarious heaps.
Each of the entrants later had five minutes to persuade the judges why they should be shorlisted to be the Face of Tees Valley.
I got to meet two journalists from the Evening Gazette and the Northern Echo and Graham Mack from TFM Radio.

Tomorrow the Great North Run takes place. We have already had a few people from the South of England gorging themselves on pasta in anticipation of the race.

Krimo's Midnight Walk...

I was invited by the Hartlepool and District Hospice to perform the countdown to the start of the Midnight Walk on Saturday 5th September.

On arriving the Historic Quay car park, it looked like Hartlepool's entire female population had descended on the Marina.
Daughters, mothers and grandmothers wearing something pink and sporting sparkling antlers warmed up to the sound of dance music, copying the moves of an aerobic trainer assisted by an enthusiastic bobby.
Besides raising money for the Hospice, the Midnight Walk raises awareness as to the work of the Hospice and its dedicated volunteers.
When I first got invited, I imagined myself being trusted with a starting gun and dreading it to go off in the wrong direction causing a bloody massacre. As it happened a harmless pair of scissors was thrust into my hand a few minutes before midnight.
I began the 10-to-1 countdown with the backing of a giant female choir. On reaching "1 and Go!" I theatrically cut the ribbon and quickly stepped aside to avoid the oncoming female tide. The walkers set off on their trek towards Seaton Carew. On reaching the seaside resort, they would turn and head back to the starting post to be rewarded with a medal and a hot bacon butty...
By the time the first one did just that, I was tucked away in my warm bed dreaming of the Olympics.

Flix takes off...

Flix Movie Café opens tonight after a couple of training evenings where I was dragged back into the kitchen to supervise, train, tweak and taste pizzas, burgers, chips etc...

Adam's new place looks absolutely great.

The sound and picture are really good.

Once you are sat watching the movie you feel as if you are in really cinema, but even better than that said a few of the guinea pigs who were invited to test the team.

The Hartlepool Mail gave Adam a great sending off.

Fingers crossed it all goes well from now on...

Krimo's DIY repairs

There was a time back in the early days, when money was tight, I repaired everything that broke down. Mixers, tills, fridges, cookers, etc...

The resulting electric shocks, burns, cuts and bruises never deterred me. I've drilled through water pipes, sliced across electric wires, caused total blackouts in entire neighbourhoods...
But the exhilaration when a defunct mixer whirred to life made all these minor disasters fade into insignificance.

Nowadays, three restaurants later, I am quite happy-ish at the inflated repair bills when the staff call out a qualified repairman. This leaves me free to get on with the real business of running restaurants and posting the occasional blog.

There is only one thing that I am always happy to waste time on these days.
The Stick Blender.
This is an indispensable piece of kitchen kit. Without it, soups and sauces would be sadly lumpy. Each restaurant has its own. A hefty £400 essential investment.
Every now and then, one of them grinds to a halt. Fortunately, Stuart, our helpful greengrocing delivery guy, does not mind shuttling blenders between restaurants as he goes delivering vegetables from one to the next.
And all the while I sit at our kitchen table dissecting the fatigued blender trying to bring it back to life.
Last week, Kevin, Casa del Mar's head chef said his had stopped blending.
I took it home and tonight, in between sips of wine, I dismantled it, poked, pulled, cursed and finally repaired it.
I celebrated with a long sip of wine and decided to blog this technological victory.

Krimo's Next Generation...

Our son, Adam has been in the restaurant business with us for as long as he can remember. Once at the tender age of four, back in 1985, he entertained the diners with "When Santa got stuck up the chimney..." on his plastic guitar, on the first and only time we opened the restaurant on Christmas Day.
He has managed first Krimo's and then Casa del Mar for the last nine years and now he has sprouted wings and feels he needs to do something on his own with his parents' blessing and a bit of pocket money.

He is opening...wait for it... A Movie Café...
A What??
A Movie Café. After much research, he came up with the name of Flix Movie Café. A place where one can watch DVDs, dine and drink with family and friends in relaxed surroundings, right here in the heart of Hartlepool.

As with many projects of this kind, the completion date has been a moving target but he now feels confident enough to plan on opening the doors to the public by the end of next week.

For the last two months, I have forced myself to take a backseat and watch him manage the project, helping out only when asked.
I couldn't resist for long so I donned my thinking and graduation cap to come up with the logo and website.
Karen also helped out, picking many of the colours as, unlike me, she can tell the difference between violet and lilac.

So, this is the start of the next generation! Good luck, son!

Krimo's Red Skies...

Red sky at night... A chef's delight.
Hartlepool Marina is my place of work. A wonderful place of work. Not a day looks like the next.
I took this photo on the way back from Krimo's to Portofino. I nearly cause a pile-up trying to park and get out of the car in time to catch this beautiful red sky.
Give me an evening like this and I begin dreaming of the Med, a glass of Rosé and a few sardines.
Just a simple Pavlovian reaction.
Tonight, the Marina was busy and warm. Not a breath of air.
I met and spoke to many people at our restaurants this evening.
A Galician woman and her husband from Middlesbrough celebrating their 30th anniversary.
A woman from Mauritius celebrating her birthday with her Hartlepool husband.
A family from Ayr visiting relatives in town.
Hartlepool, the Centre of the Universe!
Not a day looks like the next.

A lot of allotted vegetables...

Our green-fingered son Les and his wife Jen are living the Good Life.
You'll remember they brought me a basket of vegetables for Father's Day.
Over the last few weeks they have bombarded us with courgettes, onions, cabbages and many other vegetables from their allotment near Blackhall.
Today I decided to go and pay them a visit. It was more like farming than gardening.
So many varieties of potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, peppers...
I once mentioned that one of my favourite vegetables was fennel. They decided to give them a try. They are some of the tastiest I have ever tasted. Check out the leaves on them.

Aubergines and gherkins are next.
Their noisy hens have also rewarded us with many delicious eggs.

Krimo's Shortlisted Again...

In the wake of our win in the Hartlepool Business Awards back in May I was encouraged to enter the North East England Tourism Awards. (Taste of North East England)
I sent off my entry without really expecting to get anywhere. North East England encompasses a very wide area full of delightful eating places from the Scottish Borders to Yorkshire. I was really surprised when I received the letter announcing the good news.
But it really seems like a feeling of deja-vu. Just like in May when I honestly doubted that we would win, I once again do not feel very confident.

Restaurants are encouraged to use local ingredients and local suppliers to support the local economy.
We have used the same local butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers for most of our 24 years in business and have always trusted them to supply us with nothing but the best ingredients, which happen to be grown, reared or caught within the region.
Most days, our fishmonger, Hodgson of Whitby Street sends his boats past Krimo's out to the North Sea to net some of the best fish around, from cod to marckerel, langoustines to crabs.
The beef and lamb that go to make our delicious dishes are reared on local farms from the Scottish borders to North Yorkshire.

We will find out in September if we have won. If we do, then we will go to London to represent the North East next Spring.

Krimo's Walking on the Moon...

Forty years ago! When I was sixteen in 1969, I could never have imagined that I would live another forty years... Moi, fifty six? Never! That is totally ancient!
I saw the Moon landing by chance.
We did not have a telly and I had no idea that the Americans were heading for the big round of cheese in the sky. Our daily newspaper reported mainly on very mundane stuff. A cat stuck up a tree. The opening of a new shoe shop in town. Vietnam.
I came across the Moon landing by chance.
My mother woke us up at around 3am.
Not to watch the landing. No, no... A simple coincidence. We had to catch a coach at 5am to go to Collo a couple hundred miles away to spend a month's holiday at my uncle's.
Excited, we all got up without a moan, had a cup of milky coffee and a chunk of buttered baguette with Mother's delicious quince jam. A quick wash and we headed for the station.
At 4am, the town was very quiet.
The only noises came from the cafés on the Square. Their owners were already busy furnishing their terraces with plastic tables and chairs.
As we passed the last café before the station, my eye caught sight of the television above the counter. The black and white picture of Neil Armstrong taking big steps on the Moon.
I was truly moonstruck but my mother only allowed me to witness a few bounces before she dragged me away, threatening to leave me home with my Dad for another week. I left Neil Armstrong bouncing and followed my mother to the Med.
My Grandmother later laughed at my tale. "It's a lie! They would've been burnt alive! Just look at it glowing."
The holiday was a dream but that morning has stayed with me ever since.

Portofino's Thanks...

We often get Thank You cards from customers who have enjoyed their visit to one of our restaurants, but this is a new one.

There was a retirement party at Portofino on Friday night. There were 33 guests.
They must have really enjoyed themselves because below is the card we have received, signed by all the members of the party.
As soon as I arrived at work, Nicole, the assistant-manager showed me it, full of pride for a job well done.

It is my turn to say: "Thank you for coming to our restaurant, enjoying both food and service and not only that, but making our staff totally proud of themselves by sending them this card!"

Business Class...

I was invited to judge a Hartlepool schools competition which involved Expochef and six finalist teams. The kids had to research and then market a new food product. The offering ranged from fruity smoothies, fishcakes to stir-fries and healthy yoghurts.

The enthusiasm shown by the schoolchildren was infectious. All had meticulously researched the ingredients, the packaging and various forms of marketing.

I was one of a few chosen "dragons" whose arduous task was to choose the winning team after the presentation and a thorough "grilling".

The initiative was well supported by the town's Mayor, Stuart Drummond.

Krimo's Future Celebrity Chefs?

Every Spring and Summer, our 3 restaurants welcome a host of schoolchildren on work placement for one or two weeks. Every year, we seem to be getting more and more.

Most of our kitchen and restaurant staff are now used to catering for these young kids, eager to experience restaurant life first hand.
Whether they embark on a catering career or not, they will have at least got a taste of working in teams, performing under pressure, having a laugh, etc...
Work experience usually means filing, cleaning or making tea among other boring things.

I gather that many of those placed with us tend to go home to show off the skills they have learnt. Making pizzas and pastas, from scratch!
I cannot begin to imagine how pleased their mothers would be at having to clean up the kitchen after them...

Krimo's Last Laugh...

This weekend, sunny Hartlepool played host to an amazing number of visitors from all over.
Parades, fancy-dressed entertainers, cookery demonstrations, fairground attractions, music and comedy shows, etc...
Hartlepool showed that, given the weather, it can be a very attractive town with lots to do.
The weekend finished with a comedy evening, headlined by Sean Lock.

Hartlepool Dockfest... A success!

Dockfest is up and running for the weekend.
The weather is beautiful and holding.
Music, food, fun...
The comedian Sean Lock winner of a coveted British Comedy Award for ‘Best Live Performer will be headlining the festival on Sunday 5th July.

Krimo's Web Designs...

In Spring 2008, I took a course in web design. Last month, I was invited to collect the certificate below. I could not make it though I wish I had, because the ceremony would have meant wearing a robe, hood and mortarboard.

So, I used my artistic licence to fit myself with a customised graduation dress.

Krimo's Beautiful Marina

On a fine evening Hartlepool Marina is absolutely gorgeous.
After a couple glasses of wine, many of our customers often say: "You could be anywhere. Puerto Banus, St Tropez...."
I say, I'm sure there will now be a couple sat on a Mediterranean bar terrace saying: "You know what, it feels exactly like...Hartlepool..."
Click on the photo to enlarge.

Krimo's Summer Madness...

When Krimo's was at Seaton Carew, I often took advantage of the rare warm Summer evenings to catch the last rays of sunshine. Just before the service, around 7pm, I sometimes sat a for a short while by the paddling pool across the road from the restaurant, facing the North sea and fantasizing it was the Mediterranean.

One warm Saturday night after a busy service, around 11.30, the whole kitchen team, all 5 of us headed for the beach. My second-chef aimed his Land Rover's headlights at the water and we all dived in, still wearing our chef's whites.

Even on the hottest August day, the North Sea is never clement and had it not been for our shared bravado, we would jumped right back out of the freezing water.

The current was so strong that the next time we looked back at the lit-up shore, we had drifted as far as the Staincliffe hotel, 500 yards away.

The highlight of that adventure came when a hungry seagull swooped on one of the commis-chefs and pecked him in the head maybe mistaking him for a juicy catch... He has never lived it down since.
I'll always remember that evening with fondness as it was the one and only time we were mad enough to take a midnight dip at Seaton.

Krimo's Father's Day Present...

The Longest Day. Father's Day. A warm day...
I got presents, cinema tickets, Amazon vouchers, chocolates, cards...
And a crateful of vegetables!!
Leslie brought me it from the allotment he tends in Blackhall.
Broad beans,
Lollo Rosso,
Frisee lettuce,
Baby kale,
Pak Choi,
and he said he had forgotten the potted coriander and basil.

Absolutely priceless!

Krimo's proud to be a Poolie!

Over the last 15 years Hartlepool has been transformed into a fantastic town...

Judge for yourselves...

Krimo's magic mushrooms...

Mushrooms can be used in so many dishes from soups to stews, pastas to pizzas. I often wish I could go picking my own in nearby forests.
Two inconvenients: lack of time and lack of knowledge. I can imagine myself dying a slow death after enjoying a poisonous mushroom omelette.
The following video is quite useful in helping us choose from a few edible varieties.

The first time I tried Enoki mushrooms was in Spain where they called them Hedgehog Eggs... (Huevas de Erizo)
Being the inquisitive type, I wanted to know what these eggs looked and tasted like. I ordered them in a starter with scrambled eggs and discovered that in reality they were a variety of mushroom. I googled them the following day and found out they were widely used in Japan. Since then, I have enjoyed them raw in salads and sauteed in stir-fries.

Krimo's win the Hartlepool Business Awards...

Yep! We did it!

We were shortlisted in the Tourism and Leisure category with The York House Hotel and The Tavistock-Grand Hotel.
A great evening at the Borough Hall. Good food provided by our friends, Cleveland Caterers. Great company at our table among them, Deepdale Solutions.
Adam was at another table, invited by Keith Thomas and Censis Accountants.

After the meal, though he had lost his voice, John Megson of Hartlepool Forum, began announcing the nominees and winners.
Deepdale Solutions won two awards.
Then came our category, the Leisure and Tourism nominations.
Followed by the long wait for the announcement of the winner.
And finally, the realisation that we had won!
I was later told that we had got the loudest cheer of the evening. I did not hear a thing. Karen had said that she would not get up on stage with me. I just grabbed her hand and she followed. Colonel Bob Steward presented us with the award.

Formal photocall, then a couple of words with Chris Cordner of the Hartlepool Mail. And back to our table past congratulatory faces and handshakes.

We thought it was all over but later on in the evening we found out to our total surprise that we were nominated along two other firms for the Hartlepool Business of the Year.
Absolutely amazing!

Krimo's Shortlisted for Business Awards

Twenty four years after we opened at Seaton Carew!

Actually, this is the first year for the new category of Tourism and Leisure at the awards.
I am very proud, chuffed, pleased, honoured... to have been shortlisted along two other businesses.
My friend, Daniel of the York House Hotel has also been shortlisted. We met last week at a PR and Marketing seminar and joked about our respective chances of winning. We both said that we'd be happy if the other won, but added that we each would like to win the Award on its first year. "May the best man win!" while crossing our fingers behind our backs.

We will find out on Thursday evening.

Krimo's Twenty Four...

May the Fourth be with you!

Another year ticks by...

Who would've thought twenty four years after Karen and I opened our little restaurant on Seaton Carew seafront on May 4th 1985 that Krimo's would still be going strong?
And according to a survey I conducted a couple of weeks ago it still is the place for special celebrations in Hartlepool?

I tell people we did it with £250 of our own money but it was less than that. It was actually £240! One week's wages and one week's holiday pay.
But all the credit goes to Bert Bryden, our bank manager who started the ball rolling. He gave us a personal loan to put down as a 10% deposit for our 90% building society mortgage to purchase the freehold property.

Bert knew Steve Adams, the building society manager and I had already cooked for him in a small restaurant in Peterlee. Between them they provided us with a 100% mortgage. They must either have had a lot of faith in us or lots of money to dish out. Was that the start of this current credit crunch?

In the three weeks before the Grand Opening, family and friends helped us scrub clean "Davy Jones’ Locker" as the restaurant had been known prior to closing down two years earlier. They painted, decorated, plastered, shopped, sewed, stitched...

Three weeks after opening, as the Saturdays began to be booked up well in advance, we felt so confident about the future that we organised a get-together with everyone that helped out, including Bert and Steve, to thank them for giving us the chance to take our life in our hands.

And, today, we are grateful to all the customers who have kept us going over the years, and allowed us to expand with a further two restaurants.
There is a saying in the motivational business guru's handbook which tells you to "fall in love with your customers". I guess our saga was love at first sight!
The rest is history...

Adam was 3½ when we opened. Nowadays, he runs Casa del Mar. The photo below was taken outside the original Krimo's in July 86 with his Parisian cousin, Mélissa...

Krimo's Tropical Casa...

Hawaiian shirts, Latino and Salsa sounds... The last Wednesday of every month at Casa del Mar.
Tropicana North East is a group of music lovers who play around... yes, you've guessed it, the North East. They meet up at Casa one a month to rehearse, exchange ideas and prepare from their forthcoming gigs.

Last Wednesday was the first time they had their new colourful Hawaiian shirts on. The odd one out at the back, the drummer arrived late and was left with a medium shirt which was a bit too snug.
I watched them play "Oye como va!"and dreamed of playing the bongos with them, the Santana way.

Do tapas taste better when one listens to this kind of music?
Yes, they do!

Krimo's Fast Food...

...Is not bad for you!

Fast food can be anything from an omelet to a grilled steak, a salad to a pasta...
One has to be organised and prepared.
A simple omelet will take less than one minute to cook. Getting the eggs out of the fridge, cracking them, whisking them and heating the frying pan is what takes time.

The same thing goes for a steak. If you like it medium-rare, it won't take longer than five minutes as long as the pan is hot and the olive oil smoking.

Just imagine a bowl of steamed mussels! Five minutes.
A mixed salad: Ten minutes!
A pasta: Twelve minutes!
A risotto: Twelve minutes!
Cajun chicken: Six minutes!
Fast food doesn't have to be burgers, fried chicken or fish and chips but even then, there is nothing at all wrong with these, as long as they are consumed in moderation.

So, next time you fancy some fast food, check out your fridge and larder...
You might rustle up something faster than your local takeaway will.