Who said that men can’t multitask?
Whoever came out with that scathing observation has evidently never been to a cookery demo before – or, to be specific, one of my demos. If you haven’t attended one, and are also of the opinion that men are pretty inept around the kitchen, it involves me cooking a lengthy and varied menu whilst explaining the manifold benefits of an Aga or Rayburn. These are premium, world-renowned products, so I have to be professional – but I also have to be entertaining. I would describe what I do as being pitched somewhere between an informative lecture and a jolly good night out. The crowd will comprise all different kinds of clientele: some are recent buyers looking for tips on how to get the best out of it, some have always had one in their family kitchen, and some are thinking about installing one in their home. They get to enjoy a glass or three of wine, a meal afterwards, and the pleasure of my company for two hours.
Therefore, I need to wear several different caps at once – along with my chef’s hat. Not only am I required to present dishes that are exciting yet manageable (would you buy the product if the demonstrator made either a basic toasted sandwich or a complex Michelin Star winning entree?), but I am also expected to persuade the clientele to make purchases. It’s like putting on a magic routine where you pull something out of the top hat other than a rabbit. It’s important to get the patter right – a joke here, a self-deprecating comment there – but the punchline has to be satisfying too. When I lift a rack of delicious roast lamb from the oven, or reveal a platter of fresh-baked saffron bread, it invites a chorus of “Oohs” and “Aahs” that would make David Copperfield blush.
The first important thing, however, is not that I look good. Or even, actually, that the product looks good. The important thing is that the audience feels that they can perform the same trick themselves. It’s my job to gently lead them to imagine that they are capable of cooking the same thing. At a family meal, at a dinner party…whatever. They need to understand that, with the help of Aga, they can also do magic for their friends and loved ones.
The next important thing is that the guests feel comfortable. Plying them with drinks and nibbles helps in that regard, but they should not feel that I am patronising them, nor should they feel that I am forcing them into a sale. There is no great trick to what I do. I try my best to be natural and speak to people with warmth and humour. A joke or two invites the audience in rather than forcing them out – you are cooking with them rather than for them.
The other night, whilst putting on a cookery demo in the Aga Shop Belfast, I stood in front of the assembled throng and served up – amongst other things – red onion and Goat’s cheese quiche, Teriyaki beef stir fry, meringue roulade, vanilla poached peaches, tomato clafoutis and Lapsang chicken. The latter involves wrapping the fillets in black forest ham and simmering them in stem ginger and Lapsang Suchong tea. Your palate might be cringing at the sound of that, but trust me, it tastes fabulous.
I used a 4 Oven Aga to do all of the above and melted chocolate to accompany the dessert, popped popcorn on a sheet of Bake-O-Glide ™, and cooked the most perfect, fluffy, delicious rice. On occasions like this, remembering the contents of each oven and the timings is enough to make your head spin. For some reason, I’m reminded of a cartoon I watched as a child, in which a smiling octopus chef simultaneously flipped pancakes, chopped vegetables and rolled pastry with its tentacles.
I know I’m guaranteed a warm welcome when I go to the Aga Shop Belfast. The manager, David, and his team are always supportive, helpful and make me feel right at home. It is the small things like that which take the edge off your nerves and allows you to have fun with the format. If I’m bored, it will more than likely be boring for those watching; if I’m running on autopilot, nobody is going to have a good evening.
And that, friends, would mean that I wasn’t doing my job properly.
So, to finish the song which lends this blog its title: one man went to demo, along with his dog. The family McIntosh have a new pup, ‘Burt’. Welcome to the clan, big lad.
Come and see me at work, have a look at my diary here and phone the Shop to book a space.
Looking forward to seeing you!