They are never written down, not that I notice anyway. They make, Doug says it’s fair to say, the best almond croissant in Europe. At some point Doug, who seems undisturbed by having a novice invade his kitchen (he has adjusted the recipes and printed them out for me so I can recreate what we make here at home), asks if I have any questions before we start. I say, already holding a cup of coffee, wondering if I ought to pace myself. Once the morning deliveries have gone out we’ll start preparing the next batch of dough. Tian goes to prepare chocolate hazelnut muffins and scones, and the young French assistants begin scaling the flour. There is a constant flow of people and trays moving from counter to oven and then out to the large trolley where the food will be placed and counted before it is delivered. While we work, moving to the bagels – surprisingly easy to make – Doug explains how not a crumb is wasted.
There is an alchemy to how she cooks – part of it travels down the telephone line, speaking with her mother in the seaside port of Tripoli; another part come from the memory of what she ate as a child growing up in Beirut. The news plays on the TV screen behind us and Doug runs through the docket. My name is on the kitchen rota hanging on one of the Retarder Prover fridges where the croissants will be chilling later. Moments later, I’ve spilled flour on the floor, my apron and as I panic, manage to get it in my hair too. It’s too much work to make extras in case a croissant is burned, so the batch they bake every day is counted down to the last flaky pastry. Doug says typically croissants have something between twelve and twenty layers. The almond paste for the almond croissants are his recipe, which he shares with me, not too sweet and just right.
I don’t know why people cook; anthropologists will say we cook to connect with cultures, because we are creative beings. There is something soothing, something gratifying about baking and whiling away time thinking about a story and obsessing about a fictional character. The time had finally come for croissants but first I would have to witness a real life tourier. Built in the style of the old grand European cafe, it is one of the few places in London with its own tourier. ‘It would be fascinating and would give you a real feel for the process.’ Yes, I write back immediately. I reach the Wolseley earlier than I am supposed to. The crowd at the restaurant is winding down and I announce that I am here to report to Doug in the kitchen. The cooks, one of whose hand is bleeding badly – he is leaving to bandage it – look at me oddly. They have a French press and proper cups and saucers.
They will say that for a captive, locked away from something or kept apart from their people, cooking is a way of connecting with freedom. A tourier, from the French ‘to turn’, is the specialized name for a chef who works with viennoiserie. Friends email Jeremy King, the iconic restaurateur who owns the Wolseley along with the Delaunay, Colbert and Brasserie Zédel, and ask if it would be possible for me to spend a few hours with the Wolseley’s head tourier. Jeremy, gracious as ever, CC’s his head tourier, Douglas Gregory, who says yes, I am welcome to come in to the kitchen and observe. Never having done any actual manual labour of any kind I assume a tourier’s night shift is from 10 p.m. I also notice that they don’t greet or smile at everyone – or anyone, in fact.
In a new series, we ask authors about what they do when they’re not writing. He takes me all the way down to the bowels of the building. ‘You’re not leaving here before 10 a.m.,’ he says, laughing. ‘We wish we had girls working here,’ Tian says blushing.
In our first instalment, Fatima Bhutto works through the night for the love of cooking. ‘Some days, they don’t finish till eleven, even.’ What? A large Chinese man, he gives me my kitchen uniform and walks me through the kitchen quickly before the tourier staff meeting begins. Doug, who has been with the Delaunay for fifteen years, is the head tourier. And they are assisted by two young French touriers in training. The , or pre-fermented dough, is already turning in huge industrial mixers.
Fatima Bhutto Renowned Author, Columnist and Humanitarian Speaking on: Leadership, Women and Politics, Women’s Leadership, Violence in Politics, Press Freedom, Education.
Fatima is a world-recognised journalist, author and political activist with a family background in politics in Pakistan.
I look at them, like yearbook photos lined up in neat rows. Tian talks about how there’s a poetry not only in how you imagine but also how you present your work. But cooking has always been a luxury to me, all indulgence and praise.
She went on to work with many acclaimed directors and has appeared in over fifteen films.
Earlier this year she took the lead role in the critically acclaimed TV mini-series Elizabeth I.
At the early age of 15 Bhutto came to public note after the publication of her first book, a collection of poems.
Since then she has written five notable books and countless articles for The News, New York Times, The Financial Times, Vogue UK, The New Statesman, The Guardian and many others.