25 Nov I was a schoolboy chef at Birmingham’s Grand Hotel | review
Four decades after taking a part-time job in the city’s top hotel, our reviewer checks out its newly restored incarnation – and finds it as eye-popping as ever
The Grand Hotel is where I met the big bad world. In 1979, when I was 15, a work-experience place led to a part-time job as a commis chef, so I spent weekends as an underling in a huge, sweltering hotel kitchen full of moody, permanently hungover chefs preparing 1970s delicacies like prawn cocktail, black forest gateau and joints of meat and cauliflower cheese for the carvery restaurant.
I still have asbestos hands developed from handling sizzling pans, can chop carrots in that show-offy chef way and have a scar on my finger to prove it (all of which I’m still, ridiculously, quite proud of). I was constantly sworn at and occasionally shoved out of the way for messing up. It was an exhilarating and slightly terrifying crash course in growing up, and I loved every minute of it.
I left in 1981 and the hotel was boarded up for half of the following 40 years. It was easy to see why: the Grand had opened in 1879, and a century later the rickety back of house still felt Dickensian (thrillingly so in my eyes, though not the hotel inspector’s). The crumbling stonework had become so dangerous by 2002 that it was forced to close.