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A Chic Wedding What We Hosted

We Host a Wedding, September 1998
This story dates from the time that we ran a country hotel. It describes a wedding where the food happened to do our street cred great wonders, and our stress levels even greater wonders as it looked like we might have a food refusal on our hands, but it’s all down to how you sell it.
Many hotels say they welcome weddings since weddings have the reputation of generating lots of income. Maybe they do, but we were less keen, since the amount of work they also generate seemed to us to offset the profits to too great a degree. The problem with a wedding is that too many people have too great a stake in wanting to ensure that nothing, absolutely nothing, goes wrong. And that is asking for trouble to occur.
We did a wedding for a local couple. The couple being local and paying for most of it themselves the wedding was on a very limited budget, and the bride-to-be had the bright idea of making the wedding breakfast consist of sausage, mashed potato and baked beans.
She knew, because we had discussed it with her at great length, that when we cooked sausage, mashed potato and baked beans, the sausage would be made by Garth the local butcher, and there would be a vegetarian sausage too, made by ourselves; the mashed potato would be Colcannon, made by Mark the chef who, as well as being an excellent chef, was also of Irish descent, so the Colcannon would be authentically exquisite; and the baked beans would not be taken from a can, we would marinade the white haricots in a trusted sauce of our own recipe.
The wedding breakfast, then, was going to taste delicious, but would the local populace, who were invited as guests, be impressed?
We hit a stroke of luck, because a famous actress, who had starred in an immensely popular film about the sinking of the Titanic, got married at about the same time, in Reading, of all places. The papers reported that the meal at this high-profile celebrity wedding was nothing less than sausage, mashed potato and baked beans. How chic! And a little bit of chic has been exported up here, well, what do you know? Someone must have been in on the famous-person gossip round. The locals suspected Hilary.
Whether the Reading version of the meal had anything approaching the high quality of food preparation and presentation as ours we have no idea, but we trust that the chef there had less of a heart-stop in the kitchen than we did. For, it being a wedding at a busy time of the year, Mark became a little overloaded with work, and we suggested to him that, to ease his load a little, if he gave Audrey the housekeeper his recipe for the baked bean sauce, together with a few tips, she could deal with preparing that more than adequately as she is experienced in commercial catering. So he did.
In our baked bean sauce we always put a little chopped red chilli. Not so much as you can taste it, but it gives the sauce a touch of a zing, livens it up a little. What Mark forgot to tell Audrey was that, before he chops the chillies, he de-seeds them.
The sauce was duly made and it looked fine, and then Mark made another mistake. For some reason, and being in a rush, he tipped the beans into the sauce to marinade, before first liquidising the sauce, so we had beans in among bits of tomato, onion, herbs, and unidentifiable stringy vegetation. Then Mark tasted the sauce, and aspirated, ‘hhhhhhhhhhh!’
‘Hot, this sauce’, he whispered, looking rather worried, ‘I’m not sure we can get away with serving it to the guests like this’. It was then that we discovered about the omitted instruction concerning de-seeding of chillies.
There was nothing else for it. It was all hands on deck, separating the beans from the multi-textured mixture in which they found themselves. Beans, red sauce, bits of tomato, the kitchen began to look like an operating theatre. Naturally, a guest knocked on the door and asked for a pot of tea at this point but fortunately we were moderately experienced by this stage in our career and so did not find this untoward or unexpected.
Eventually most of the beans were back in a pot and the lumpier bits of the mixture in another pot, and we were ready for liquidisation. We tried diluting the sauce a little, but it was still a fiery experience, whichever way you looked at it. What was to be done?
We decided to go for it, and if the guests found the beans hard to cope with, we would tell them that was how they were supposed to be, how they were served in the finest restaurants, when the finest restaurants served baked beans, we would tell them we knew these things because, well, remember Reading?
But no one complained. All the beans were eaten up with evident relish, by people who are proud never to have tried a curry or Chinese meal in their lives. People who are forthright steak-and-chips men, with a thump on the desk to prove it.
We had contemplated for a moment changing the menu, describing it as sausage, mash and chilli beans, and how fortunate that we resisted this temptation. Had we done so, no one would have touched them. As it was, they were baked beans. Baked beans are What We Eat. If they aren’t exactly the same as you get in the shops, well you expect some fancy cooking from these posh people. ‘To be expected, that, s’like anything, you can’t make it like the shops do.’
Sometimes, the things that go wrong can have a profound cultural effect on the world, like being pushed off the diving board when you are frightened to jump. The Titanic, and Mark’s errors through overwork, had moved the local people on in their experience of life, just one little bit. If only they knew.


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