Know your stuff

I went looking at new cars the other day. I’ve always been a bit of a car nut and it helps in that I have to drive at least 30 miles to and from work; some motorway but plenty of bendy country roads too. So it was with some happy anticipation that I looked forward to the exercise. Sitting in one showroom, the salesman was pleasant, chatted about my profession, commented on the effect the poor weather might have had on our summer and then asked me what I was looking for. He was a really nice chap. So I told him what I liked in a car and started to ask about the cars he was selling. He was a totally useless chap.

He didn’t know the first thing about cars; or at least not the sort of car and information I was looking for. However there was a couple at the next table who were being bombarded with bhp, torque, power curves and chassis geometry. They looked around them in panic as if scanning for an escape route. “I want that salesman” I screamed. In fact I didn’t but I was thinking it and I could imagine going for a test drive as he encouraged me to go faster while shouting facts and figures at me. I love buying things from people who love those things and care enough to know every detail about said things. Unfortunately not everyone wishes for that level of knowledge and, anyway, it’s obviously not always available.

I’ve just spent some time at the Speciality and Fine Food Show in London; one of the annual foodie bashes for those in the trade. I was there to look at stuff specifically for our business with particular emphasis on regional British foods and dishes. But there were suppliers from around Europe and even further afield.

And I noticed that while there were some excellent UK producers and suppliers, in general, those from abroad seemed to know more about their products, or at least wanted to demonstrate their products, and overflowed with passion and knowledge about their food. After a visit to one stall I’d decided to convert the restaurant to a fine food Italian. But at the next, I wanted to sell nothing but Belgium chocolate, then French cheese then Italian meats again. These people were amazing. If they were selling cars you’d quickly be able to find out who’d raised the cow that supplied the leather for the seats. You want to know who’d tightened the third fuel injector? Just ask.

Maybe it’s because we’re less demonstrative than those excitable Europeans but those from overseas certainly seemed to live for their food. It’s not just the Mediterranean types because there was one lady from conservative Holland who wouldn’t let me leave her stall until I’d tried every one of her rare herbs; she kept grabbing my arm and dragging me back. Her fellow foreigners begged us to try their cheeses and cured meats. They had absolute belief in their products and, as a result, knew everything about them. I marvelled.

Her in the more reserved North East, ask me about our food in the restaurant and I’ll answer your questions. At length. Possibly too long. It hasn’t been unknown for people to comment on my verbosity. Maybe, despite my colouring, I have an Italian gene somewhere.

But it’s because I care and so do my colleagues. Obviously we’re always training new staff who’s knowledge is limited, particularly Durham University students, but we soon find that they start to share our enthusiasm and I know that they leave us to take their education elsewhere; both from their studies and their employment with us.

But here’s a little exercise for you. Next time you’re at the local fast food drive through (or is it drive-thru?), just ask the body in the window what sort of beef’s used in their burgers, the source of the bread buns or the constituents of the relish. It’ll be an exercise in futility I’m afraid. But it might give you a laugh.

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