Usually, the aroma of good food cooking would seem heavenly to three young men in their teens, but when they’ve spent all day learning how to make béarnaise sauce or a soufflé, the last thing they want is to eat it.
Peter, André, and Matthew Robertson of Birmingham, England, are following their father, Bruce, into a demanding profession. They are learning to be chefs.
Although they thoroughly enjoy their work, food no longer smells appetizing. A day’s work involves constant testing of various dishes. Oldest son, Peter, 21, comments, “It’s easy to go off a dish if you taste it too often. And when you make a mistake—ugh! It means adding more ingredients, then sampling until the flavour is correct. Too much salt is the worst as it is impossible to put right.”
“A bit like life sometimes,” Dad remarks. “Too much of anything becomes boring after a while, and putting mistakes right is usually a distasteful, but necessary, job.”
The boys smile. They’re used to Dad’s comparisons. He’s been a bishop or a high councilor most of their lives.
Fortunately, catering hasn’t become boring for the Robertsons. Despite the late working hours, Brother Robertson has progressed from chef to lecturer. He is now Head of Catering at Garrett’s Green College and is also the Open Learning Tutor for the whole of Birmingham, conducting management courses in the hotel and catering trade.
“The Church gave me a vision of progress,” Brother Robertson comments. “If I hadn’t been converted, I should probably still be a chef with only one or two children instead of having a worthwhile career and a family of six.”
Peter and André are quickly following Dad’s footsteps. André, 18, is serving an apprenticeship at one of Sutton Coldfield’s finest hotels prior to serving a mission next year. He recently passed his City and Guilds Hotel and Catering exam with distinction. So far he has specialized in banqueting and breakfasts.
“The traditional English breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs, and fried bread doesn’t look so good after preparing hundreds of them,” André says with a laugh. “I couldn’t eat one if they paid me.
Aren’t chefs usually overweight? The three Robertson boys are all tall and streamlined without an ounce of spare flesh among them. It’s clear they are the exceptions. Peter has the answer. “Living the Word of Wisdom makes all the difference. There’s more to it than a list of don’ts. If you read carefully, there’s good advice on healthful foods. And avoiding all the rich desserts, especially gateaux, helps keep the weight down.”
Peter’s cooking talents proved popular when he served his mission in Colorado from 1984 to 1986. None of his companions, except one, dared to try their hand in the kitchen with Peter around. The exception was an elder with a flair for Mexican dishes. Peter had no experience with this type of cooking and couldn’t distinguish mistakes from success. Nevertheless, visiting elders were common on preparation days when Peter made pizza and fruit pie.
Peter used his abilities with prospective members. Missionary functions were organized to which admittance was a nonmember friend. The evenings took the form of a demonstration by Peter with the guests doing the sampling.
Thinking back to his mission experience, Peter can now see his Heavenly Father’s guidance and love. “I didn’t want to go at first,” explains Peter. “I had passed all my catering exams with distinctions, had an excellent job with good prospects, and was worried because the modern employment situation indicated I’d have nothing on return.
“But I had this niggling feeling that something special was expected of me. I took the problem to my Heavenly Father in prayer. It was two weeks before any answer came. Then one day in the kitchens I had the distinct mental message that I should go on a mission. I questioned this feeling three times. On the third occasion I actually heard a voice telling me if I did my part as a missionary, then I had a promise that a job would be mine when I came back. I would not lose out.”
That is exactly what happened. Peter says, “The very day I arrived home I received a call from Michelle’s, the top French restaurant in Birmingham. They wanted me to be Second Chef.”
Specializing in French cooking was quite a challenge for Peter. He relates many experiences, remembering especially the day one customer returned a plate of food with the complaint, “These frog’s legs are too bony.”
“There wasn’t much we could do,” Peter admits. “I’ve yet to find a frog’s leg that’s really meaty.”
Another event that proved painful was when the Bain Marie had a broken plug. A Bain Marie is a large container filled with water and suspended over a small flame. Pots of various sauces stand in the hot water until they are needed. This way the sauces stay warm, but do not curdle or burn.
“I was working with three French boys when the leak started,” says Peter. “I stuffed my oven cloth over the hole, but the water began seeping through. Desperately I tried to think of the French word for bucket, but couldn’t. The boys stood looking blankly at me. Eventually, when my hand was three quarters burned, one of them found a small saucepan. We had to paddle out of the flooded kitchen.”
The Robertsons find many everyday situations in which to share the gospel. The way they react and conduct themselves does not go unnoticed by workmates. And good example also leads to promotion. Peter has now taken a new position at Aston University with even better hours and pay. His latest ambition is to take a five-year management training course and possibly go into a family restaurant business with his father and brothers André and Matthew, 15.
Opportunities often arise for religious discussions at work. Brother Robertson recently had occasion to interview a new employee. Halfway through she asked suddenly, “Are you a Mormon, sir?”
When he answered yes, she said, “Two American lads came to teach me the other day. When I said I was coming here soon, they asked me to look out for a man named Bruce Robertson. I told them you were my new boss.” This young lady now has the unique opportunity to work and learn the gospel at the same time.
Brother Robertson has had other chances to share the gospel on the job. One year he taught an aspiring chef named Mark Harrington. Not only did Mark learn to cook, but he also learnt of the restored Church. With the help of Chelmsley Wood ward members, this young man was soon ready for baptism. He then went on to serve a mission.
As a working chef, Brother Robertson has cooked for some prestigious people. He was asked to cook for a private dinner party that included two former Prime Ministers of Great Britain and the Duke of Edinburgh. He has also prepared meals for the casts of several BBC Television productions, including the food they use on screen.
When asked about the dish they find the most difficult to create, Brother Robertson answers, “There is not one actual dish, but it is the accompanying sauces that are difficult.” As usual he is quick to point out an analogy of sauce making.
“Same as life,” says Brother Robertson. “You begin with a good foundation. For the oil-based variety there’s egg yolk, cream, flour, and oil (family, scriptures, prayer, and baptism). Then you add more ingredients for flavour such as herbs, spices, cheese, and salt (sacrament meeting, seminary, Sunday School, youth activities). Finally mixing, fixing, accepting, and cooking (learning, repenting, forgiving, and growing) to bring about a smooth, refined culinary delight (a resurrected, perfected, eternal being).
“If you add too much heat at a vulnerable stage,” continues Brother Robertson, “the mixture breaks down, separates, and curdles. You have to work very hard to recover the sauce, but it can be done, and it’s always worth saving. The ingredients are of great value.”
The gospel of Jesus Christ blends very well with the life of a cook. Our Saviour recognized the importance of nourishing the physical as well as the spiritual side of man. One of his acts of service after the Resurrection was to make a meal of fish for his friends (see John 21:9–10).
Fish may not be the main item cooked by Peter, André, Matthew, and their father. They have tackled everything from a stuffed sheep’s head to a baked Polish swan, but they are doing a fine job sustaining bodies and minds.
One thing is certain. The phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth,” can never be applied to this family. They practice the art of feeding family, friends, and fellowmen with nourishment of all kinds.