It feels like forever, but it has only been 3 months that I have been back in Australia. Since coming home (give or take a few weeks when I was busy soaking up my homeland) I have been hanging out to hear when Topdeck wanted me back in Europe. The other day the news arrived! There is a meal for me to cook at the Venice campsite on the 8th of April. As always with Topdeck this is simply pencilled in, however, how much can possibly change at the very start of the season?
I spent two and a half months at the Venice campsite last year and I am so excited to go back. Topdeck this year has 4 sites in total, one in Rome, Venice, Paris and Lauterbrunnen in the Swiss Alps. Hopefully this year I get to experience a few more of them! This starting position that I have been given is that of Site Manager, which is pretty cool even if it is only for a short amount of time until the real site managers start. Then, with any luck, I can keep working as a Site Assistant until my first trip.
The majority of a Topdeck Chef’s time is spent on these sites, so let me give you a quick run down as to how they work. On an average day we might be serving 150 people breakfast, lunch and dinner. This number however can vary wildly, from 40 at the start and end of season to 240 during peak.
A site generally has a Site Manager and two Site Assistants. We serve an alternating breakfast of hot (scrambled eggs and potato gems) and cold (fruit and yoghurt) from about 6:30 each morning, then it is straight into prep for the dinner and packed lunches for each group on the day they leave us. We provide each trip with 4 huge salads as well as fruit, cake and cheeses. Or if they want an individual packed lunch, we make each passenger a pasta salad and lunch box.
After prep we probably need to go for a shop. Luckily our supermarkets are really close in Venice, it means when we have to do two trips to pick it all up it is not the end of the world! Shops can last for several hours, we have to visit two supermarkets to get all we need and the trolleys are like something you might use at Bunning’s (huge) and there are often 3 of them piled so high that I can’t see over them. We spend a lot of money and time at these supermarkets and get to know the checkout ladies enough to joke in stilted Italian and English as we go through.
Back at camp we have to unload and then it is probably lunch time and break time. An average day would mean that I spend my couple of hours off poolside, doing laps, drinking vodka and reading. Sometimes we visit the market in our town and on days that we have prepped really fast and not had to shop we might have time to get into Venice city. A lot of people don’t understand that our campsite is not on the island itself. It is a 15 minute drive away in the town of Marghera. Last year I managed to get into the city once a week, it isn’t hard, it’s just finding the time.
Back at camp, dinner is usually served somewhere between 6:30 and 8pm depending on where the group is coming from. So we are back in the kitchen at least 2 hours before that. Again it is an alternating menu, one night is marinated chicken, salad and roast potatoes with make your own sundaes for dessert and on the other it is antipasto plates, caprese salad, Amatriciana pasta and creamy mushroom gnocchi. On a good night we start cooking at 5, serve at 7, have our dinner for the crew outside then do all the washing up and are out around 9:30. In peak season we have to have 2 sittings. We will start cooking at 4, serve at 6:30 then again at 7:30/8pm and will probably be all cleaned up around 10:30. Then it is straight to the bar! Of course it ends up that when we are quiet with little to cook, that means that there is also little partying going on. But when we are busiest, that is when there are pool parties, live bands, toga nights, and nobody wants to miss out on them! During 4 weeks of peak season I think I only missed two nights at the bar. Up until 12-2 then back to bed to start it all again at 6:15 tomorrow!
It’s a busy lifestyle and it is almost more restful to actually be on a trip (you don’t have to cook every night!) but when I do get down time, I try not to waste it. On days off at the end of last season I went to Verona, or into St Marco’s to listen to the bands play under the stars. There is still more I need to see in Venice and especially the other sites.
The other exciting thing about this start date is that hopefully it will be the beginning of an even bigger adventure for me. I am in the process of applying for my 2 year visa with the UK. I intend to stay over next winter (when Topdeck don’t have any work for chefs) and find a way to support myself! I have never even spent a whole year away from Australia (9 months is the most) so 2 years is going to be huge and hard but hopefully also will let me achieve a few more things that I have been dreaming of. I hope I will find the time to post on here a bit more often this year to keep everyone in the loop, but for now, I have 2 more months in Sydney so I had better make them count!