'Chefs are like Spartans. There's only 300 of us and the rest of the world has descended upon us. The only thing we can do is lift our shields and stick side by side.'

The  Staff Canteen

Chefs Glynn Purnell and Luke Butcher have written a limited edition cookbook - part retrospective, part indulgence, and most definitely a treat for any chef out there wanting to learn a few secrets from the Michelin-starred Birmingham team. 

The six-kilo book, A Purnell's Journey: There and Back Again, of which just 1,500 copies will be printed features stories about customers having sex in the disabled toilets, Claude Bosi losing it over sleeping snails - and a bit of food, for good measure. 

Why now, you might ask? Glynn explained that now felt like the right time for a book like this, because "Purnell's has been open for 13 years, we've done Cracking Yolks and the Choux-Inn and that was directed and guided a little bit by the publishers." 

At the time of their previous books, the publisher apparently requested that the recipes be accessible to home cooks.

"You look at other people's books and you think to yourself, it might be nice for us to have a bit of an ego book," Glynn laughed. 

Contrary to their other publications, this doesn't simplify anything.

"Luke's written a lot of the recipes on the basis that we would use them at the restaurant," calling them "a little bit long winded," but much more truthful. 

"It's not like a book where you open in and go well actually I can't make that because I've missed out half of the recipe," he added. 

The result is a book which gives detailed instructions on how to recreate 30 of the restaurant's most iconic dishes. "We've given a lot of secrets away from the kitchen," Glynn said.

An ode to the team

As well as shining some light on what defines the restaurant's food, Glynn wanted the book to cast some luminescence on the family that is their team. 

"Anybody that's owned a restaurant or runs a brigade, that have got those loyal people who are with you - the likes of Luke, Sam and Phil," he explained. "Any chef that says he goes into the office, writes his menu and then comes out isn't really telling the truth, because you need people - if you've got an idea you need to bounce off people." 

An inevitable part of the process was to recount his own experiences of becoming a chef, from being laughed at by his peers for cooking quiche as a teenager, to his father promising to get him "a proper job" doing manual labour in the industrial sector.

But seeing his life written down on paper, he said, was "quite emotional."

"When you sit down and start talking about the day you started carrying sacks of potato down from the garage for your family to working in two and three star kitchens to winning a star. When you look at it, it's very humbling."

Also designed to show what a great industry they are a part of, he said the intention was "to say to anyone who wants to get into the industry, if you want it, it's there for the taking, you've just got to go for it and enjoy every form and aspect of it, positives and negatives." 

"Chefs of my generation didn't have much of an opportunity to do anything. I'm not great academically. I can count because I know when someone's ripping me off - that's the only sort of thing that you were taught." 

Spartans

Glynn recalls a comment he made to Heston Blumenthal when they filmed Great British Menu in 2008, which was 'Chefs are like Spartans. There's only 300 of us and the rest of the world has descended upon us. The only thing we can do is lift our shields and stick side by side.' And that's what it's like in the kitchen. When the shit hits the fan half way through a Saturday night, you don't be falling out with people because we've all got to stick together. 

But it's not all recipes and bromance - stories of turds being posted through the restaurant letter box, lovers going for a pre-dessert jolly in the disabled toilet, and antics of Claude Bosi losing his temper over sleeping snails when he was at Ludlow

Glynn said: "That's the sort of stuff I think people should know because I've been running restaurants for a long time and nothing ever surprises me at all." 

"It's not in an uncool way or a way of saying 'this is as crude as it gets, it's just that little bit of honesty that, to be fair, this is what happens." 

Luke said he throughly enjoyed the process of putting the book together, from the curation and the thought that went into picking out recipes and the flow of what makes Purnell's Purnell's, he said: "It's bigger than I thought it would be - not just in size. It's far exceeded my expectations." 

"It's such an incredible insight into the world - and it's a bloody beautiful book." 

Glynn concurred, and added: "I hope that some of the stories," some of which, he conceded "are a little bit brutal", "that some chefs will come out and tell us their stories to make the whole industry chuckle a bit in such a rough time." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th September 2020

'Chefs are like Spartans. There's only 300 of us and the rest of the world has descended upon us. The only thing we can do is lift our shields and stick side by side.'