National Geographic : 2000 Jun
I asked Allan what he looks for in a fish. "Good slime," he said without a moment's hesitation. "And firm flesh." Like sex, the preparation of food was some thing the British as a nation did discreetly, behind closed doors. Indians filled their homes with the pungent smell of curry. The Chinese sweated over flaming woks. The British cooked bland dishes in well-ventilated kitchens. But today Londoners dine out with the gusto of Neapolitans, and the sight and smell of cook ing are a key ingredient of the experience. Like many of London's new restaurants, Bank has its kitchen in the middle of the dining area-a stage on which, twice daily, a noisy, olfactory drama is performed. Theater and spectacle have always been at the heart of London's life. Or, as Shakespeare put it: All the world's a stage. At Bank, the clank of pots and the billowing of smoke were the stage effects; my fellow sous-chefs and I, the actors. For maximum theatrical effect we bellowed each order at the top of our lungs and sprin kled our dialogue with French. "105!" roared Steve Carter, spiking an order. "One chateaubriand! One calf's liver!" "Qa marche!" came the answering cry from inside the kitchen. My job was to see that each dish was accom panied by the correct side orders. By 1:20 p.m. we were handling 55 main courses simulta neously, and I was sweating like a stevedore. Through the plate-glass windows I could see the crowds surging along the sidewalks. Black cabs weaved through the cars and buses on their way to Trafalgar Square. As I watched them go by, I felt a wave of affection for this great city, which, like an ancient coral reef, has gone on shifting and growing, adapting itself to the needs and the dreams of each new gen eration for nearly 2,000 years. [1 Speak English but need a translator for London? Take a playful look at the language we share and comment online at www.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0006. want to be, any life you want to lead.