The little fish and chip shop that sat halfway along the jetty leading to “The Laguna Belle” was just that – little. It was an adjunct to the restaurant; its role was a minor one in the whole scheme of the operation. Our main focus was on the restaurant; making it a profitable business once again after the owner had allowed it to run into the ground…or, perhaps more appropriately, the river.
At the time of our taking over the business, the owner’s daughter, a young woman in her late twenties to early thirties, had been managing the restaurant. I use the word “managing” very loosely. She, along with her father, was another reason for the business failing and falling into the red. The daughter mixed with the “wrong” people. She was known to the police. Amongst other misdemeanors we were led to believe she was a user of hard drugs.
With a certain amount of goodwill, misguided as it turned out, we kept the daughter on as a member of our staff with the proviso that she stay away from the operation of the restaurant completely. Her job, alone, was to run the fish and chip shop; the restaurant was out of bounds to her; but before too long we realised the arrangement, no matter how well intended, wouldn’t work out.
Her operating times were erratic, and when she did appear her public relations’ skills were somewhat lacking. It didn’t take long for some her cahoots, her partners-in-crime to come sniffing around. They lurked about on the jetty; at the front of the shop; and then, when they began creeping nearer to the gang plank leading onto “The Laguna Belle”, that was the last straw. We fired the daughter on the spot, telling her to never return; and to take her hangers-on with her.
Our timing was perfect!
We sacked her late on a Friday afternoon. The sun had already begun its rapid run for the western horizon. Friday, as you know, was, and probably still is in some areas, notoriously the most popular day for a feed of fish and chips; whether you’re a Catholic or not!
I grabbed a surprised; and then questioning Jill, our kitchen-hand, out of the restaurant’s galley and headed for the shop, explaining the dire situation to her as we ran.
Potential customers were already leisurely strolling along the river bank at Noosaville, enjoying the late afternoon ambience; their noses twitched like those of eager rabbits. Thoughts of fish and chips for dinner played mischievously in their minds. The rumbling I heard in the distance wasn’t thunder, it was their empty, hungry stomachs! Every so often, their eyes were drawn uncontrollably towards the tiny timber store attached to the side of the jetty. It was built over the water; buffered by rubber tyres to protect both the building and the jetty.
Inside the shop, bedlam was already in full swing. Deep-fryers were switched on. Batter had to be made; crumbing ingredients prepared. A quick scan of the stock of fish fillets needed to fill the soon-to-be placed orders from an already surging crowd was conducted; as was a breathless count of the bags of potato chips (French fries) on hand. Salt, pepper, grease-proof paper and butcher’s paper were laid out at the ready on the bench beside the deep-fryers for the wrapping of the cooked products. Lemons were sliced; a search began for the vinegar bottle. Tantalising crumbed prawn cutlets and crumbed calamari rings were certainly off the menu! A queue of starving people had already formed when I realised that we may have been a floating fish and chips shop, but we had no float! At my request, Jill high-tailed it back to the restaurant to rectify that problem, grabbing the shop’s money bag.
And that was just the start of my hilarious introduction to operating a fish and chips’ shop! Coincidentally, Jill had never worked in a fish and chips shop before, either; and after the couple of hours that ensued that afternoon, she never again repeated the exercise!
The general public, bless their little hearts, really have no idea what goes on behind the scenes in the operation of fulfilling their needs – and their stomachs.
Unfortunately, in this particular case; on that Friday, everything was going on in front of them! We had no where to hide. Jill and I were centre stage; the star performers!
I’d never before in my life cooked fish and chips on a grand scale; not with a thousand hungry eyes pouring into my back; and a thousand eager hands outstretched waiting, pleading for their food! Talk about pandemonium - we had it down pat!
That Friday, Jill and I were confronted with a thousand impatient Oliver Twists! And we had to pretend we were professionals; that we were efficient, proficient, purveyors of the task at hand. We had to feign experience and skill!
We were within a hair’s breadth of coming undone when I cooked one of my first baskets/batches of hot potato chips! I was so proud of myself…and the chips. They were golden.
After allowing the chips to drain for a few minutes, I flipped the basket over to deposit the crisp, golden beauties onto the waiting paper. Nothing happened. I tried again – still nothing! Jill got the giggles, which didn’t help at all; because I was in a similar state!
I mumbled at her under my breath to stand really close to me so the waiting customers couldn’t see what was going on. We needed to block the mayhem from their keen eyes! The performance Jill and I were putting on was far better than any reality television show!
Refusing defeat, forcefully I banged the basket once more on the bench. To my relief and delight, the chips were released from their prison; in one large, rectangular solid block! Jill looked at me; her eyes were like to spinning saucers! I felt the size of my own eyes matched hers! Both of us could have lit up the whole Sunshine Coast!
By that stage we were hysterical, but still desperately trying to hide our hysterics from the people standing at the counter, waiting. The crowd had grown in number. I wasn’t sure if it was from hunger, or from the free entertainment Jill and I were providing!
I tried a karate chop on the chips in an attempt to separate them; but they weren’t going to break up no matter what I did! Giving up, I wrapped them up as is, and handed the waiting customer a parcel of potato chips that looked like a shoe box wrapped in butcher’s paper!
I’ve often wondered what that poor person thought when they got home and opened up their surprise package!
And then came a break in the crowd!
In a state of panic and every other emotion possible, I bellowed at Jill, who by that stage was almost rolling on the floor in helplessness, to pull down the front shutters to the shop; that we were out of there! There was not time to waste. We had to grab the money out of the till and run before a next group of starving people descended on us; we had to get back to the restaurant. It was due to open in about one minute! Diners had already started to walk down the jetty.
What innocents they were…they had not a clue what had transpired the previous hour or so. I doubted that Jill or I did, either!
Out of breath, we leapt on board “The Laguna Belle”. More quickly than Clark Kent changes into Superman; or Bruce Wayne into Batman, Jill and I changed into restaurant-mode. She raced into the kitchen to join Phil; and, with a welcoming smile as if all was peaceful, uneventful and harmonious in the world, I greeted the arriving guests.
At the end of each night after the final guests departed; after we’d cleaned up the kitchen and re-set the restaurant for the following day, Randall, the staff and me would gather around the bar for a few of drinks; the first drinks were always “on the house” – staff drinks were part of our deal with our crew. There were times, after a particularly exceptional service that a couple of free staff drinks were part of the play. It was always a good “bonding” time, and one that was never taken advantage of. We’d talk through the day and night’s events before branching off onto general conversation. We all got on well together.
That Friday night’s end when Jill and I arrived at the bar we both collapsed in laughter as we recalled our introduction to operating a fish and chips shop.
Panko Prawn Cutlets: Grab, nab, net, haul or buy a few large green (raw) prawns. Heat some vegetable oil in large pot over high heat. Peel prawns leaving tails intact. Coat prawns in flour; shaking off excess; dip into beaten egg; and then roll in Panko breadcrumbs. Place gently into the hot oil for about 2 minutes; remove with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels. Have some tartar sauce or a sweet chilli sauce (whatever or whichever takes your fancy) and lemon wedges at the ready! Don't dilly-dally! Dig in!
Crumbed Calamari Rings: Slice 4 calamari tubes into rings. In a plastic bag, combine 2/3 cup stale breadcrumbs with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Beat 1 egg; add ¼ cup milk; mix well in small dish. Dip calamari rings individually into egg wash; then into the bag with the crumbs; shake well; repeat until all rings are coated. Deep fry in hot oil (160C) until golden; about 3-4 minutes; don’t over-cook the calamari. Serve similar to the crumbed prawns.