We have been asked to be co-conspirators in many celebration plans such as surprise birthday parties and so on the but the most unusual request we've received to date came via an email from someone who we had never met before.
Haifa emailed me to ask if I would be interested in helping her reveal the baby's gender, as at the time she was around 16 weeks pregnant, expecting their third child. She and Mike, her husband, already had two gorgeous little boys so they had decided to find out what this next one would be; the beginning of their very own football team or little girl to be spoilt rotten by them all?!
Being a fellow coeliac she had been trying to book to eat at Knife & Fork for sometime but had not been successful. She was currently on a couple of our wait lists and was wondering, if they managed to get some seats, would I be up for it?
I have a terrible habit of scan reading my email on my phone as soon as I wake up. This may not sound too terrible that my family and certain friends, who are in the know, would say that I'm not really a morning person. Even more amusing considering I have B&B rooms! Also, it's not strictly true; I'm just a tad grumpy before I have my morning cup of coffee.
My morning grumpiness is always short lived and I like to think that, for John my husband, it's like watching a Disney transformation waking up next to a wicked witch who miraculously turns into a princess after a sip of coffee. In fact I'm sure that's exactly what it's like – minus make up and youth…
So, on reading Haifa's email I moaned and groaned and muttered my favourite morning phrase "I'm a chef not a… magician" and such like. John not only my wonderful husband but also my morning coffee waiter, humoured me and went off to get my morning cafetiere, suggesting, as he exited our bedroom, that I didn't reply until later. It was fairly obvious it is going to be a resounding NO if I replied immediately and most probably not in the most tactful way. I muttered and mumbled to myself for the short time that John was downstairs brewing coffee and eventually sat up in bed to drink it, thanking John obviously. If you're going to be a "princess" you must be a polite and appreciative one!
As I sipped away my mind wandered and before I knew it I was dreaming up dishes that included pink and blue clues for Haifa and Mike. Obviously, having metamorphosed into my normal happy chatty self, I then had to start sharing all my random ideas with John who was now back in bed happily sipping his cup of tea and contentedly reading the rugby reports. It's one of his favourite morning rituals, to be disturbed whilst reading, particularly rugby reports and also to listen to me talk at him (his phrase not mine) for food, menus, ideas etc. His other favourite thing is to be right, which sadly happens almost always, so he happily and I'd like to add, slightly smugly, pointed out he had said that once I had woken up and had some coffee I would love the idea and would rise to the challenge and have great fun doing it.
The more I thought about it the more excited I became so I happily emailed back saying I would love to do it. In fact, now, I wanted to do it and was praying we ended up with a cancellation so that Haifa and Mike could join us for dinner. Luckily, we did get cancellation and they were at the top of the waiting list for that particular date; Haifa was automatically notified by my new booking system, she made the booking and everything was in place I just have to wait for them to have their scan results.
The week of the dinner Haifa popped over and delivered the envelope from the sonographer who had performed their scan. Once alone, I felt quite emotional opening it. It was a huge leap of faith to give a relative stranger sex of your unborn child when even they, as parents to be, didn't know. At this point only the radiographer and I knew.
Over the weeks I had mentioned friends and family what we were doing and yes, course, everyone asked me what gender the baby was. Even on the actual evening Mike, the expectant father, said I must have told friends but I can honestly say the only person I told was John, who was going to be waiting on the night. I would have told him anyway as he is very good keeping secrets 😉 but also meant I could bore him all week about the menu choices, ideas and colleges. I'm very considerate, like that!
Mike and Haifa were very happy for all of our other diners to also find out the gender of their baby and we agreed that we would play it by ear as to how obvious we were about it on the night. I was going to gauge the other diners, but knowing some of the diners I was fairly confident they would happily join in.
At the beginning of every evening at Knife & Fork and guests are welcomed and given a glass of Prosecco. On this particular night John was assisted by Verity, a family member, who asked not to be told so even she did not know.
After everyone has had a drink and their canapés I always go through and say hello, welcome everyone and give a brief introduction to the evening; mainly directions to the loo ( that everyone promptly forgets!) and what to do in case of fire (referred to as 'doors to manual' by many - if you've seen me do it you'll know why) and so on. I also explained to the guests that we were doing a gender reveal and the room erupted; thankfully I had gauged correctly and everyone was fascinated by the concept.
Then slowly the room realised that even Mike and Haifa didn't know so I explained how the sealed envelope had been delivered to me earlier in the week John, the radiographer and I knew. Not even Verity! I think most were fairly stunned that we had been entrusted with the information – it was a great conversation starter for the evening.
So, the evening proceeded with everyone joining in. We have two tables of eight, seating a maximum of 16 on any one night. Mike and Haifa sitting on a social table of eight where we have three different groups that didn't know each other and the other table had been booked by a group of eight friends who also joined in too. John and Verity came back to the kitchen every so often with snippets of conversations for me and also pieces of paper with a guest name on it and their best guess – boy or girl.
I had decided, and also cleared the idea with Haifa, that I would sprinkle a bit of pink and blue throughout the courses to keep everyone guessing to the very end. On the menu I just stated marshmallows as the petits fours to accompany coffee and tea at the end of the meal.
As each course went out the room would burst into even louder chatter than normal as everyone tried to decide if it was blue or pink. The main course of salmon (pink) caused a bit of a stir as I garnished it with edible borage flowers (blue). It had to be done as it looked so pretty! Some guests were considering it was twins and one of each but I knew that Mike and Haifa were very sure it was only one so they would not jump to the wrong conclusion. I didn't want to be the cause an early labour…
During my research I learned that there is not a single naturally blue food in the world. Even blueberries and blue apparently. Even so, I actually found blue easier than pink, which was a surprise.
I also discovered that as well as Himalayan pink salt there is Persian blue salt so I had immediately ordered some ready for the big day. I had originally said to Haifa I didn't use food colourings etc. as it was not my thing. I'm very much a real food/good husbandry/natural kind of cook. However, after my research I decided I would invest in some natural blue food colouring just in case I needed to add a touch to something.
I also prepared rough menus before I knew the sex of the baby so I had a pink, blue or mixed menu for the night. I knew I would not get a lot of notice as the scan was quite close to their booking for dinner. Also, all references to pink or blue very much an interpretation or poetic licence, whichever you prefer; some dishes, stretching it a bit more than others!
So, what was for menu:
Rare sirloin steak with wasabi & coriander (pink)
Butternut squash soup with spicy pumpkin seeds (neutral – I forgot the garnish – eek)
Gorgonzola and leek risotto with toasted hazelnuts (blue)
Roasted salmon fillets with white wine sauce, cavolo nero & potatoes (pink and blue)
Delice de Bourgogne, Bert's Blue, Black Bomber, teff crackers, caramelised walnuts, celery & red grapes (blue)
Lemon cheesecake with candied lemon, blueberries & toasted almond Florentine (blue)
The marshmallows were raspberry, white chocolate and toasted almond decorated with baby pink rose buds, pink rose petals and dusted with freeze dried raspberry dust.
It's a girl!
She has now arrived. Both mummy and baby are healthy and happy with baby weighing in at 10lbs; she's not chubby but she is very long so I think we may have a supermodel in the making!
Congratulations to Mike and Haifa x's