…He pushes the door open, but instead of showing me in, he pops my suitcase just inside and pulls the door shut. ‘Couldn’t grow a Pinot in this wind-chill, eh?’
I stutter, then scramble for a quick reply. ‘Yes. Certainly it needs to be warmer. Except when there’s a frost. You also sometimes need a frost.’ He’s staring at me, so obviously I continue my verbal drivel. ‘For the grapes, because sometimes they need frost. To make the wine, er, better.’The Summer Job
Birdy has arrived at a luxury hotel on the Isle of Skye ready to take up her role as their new sommelier. Except she has no clue about wines. The hotel is expecting Birdy’s best friend, Heather, who has decided at the last minute to follow a man to Italy and not take up the position. Birdy, with nowhere to stay now Heather is out of the country, decides that she will impersonate her friend at the hotel… because, how hard can it be to learn about wines?
The plan up until now – if you could call it a plan – was a crash course with my brand-new copy of Wine for Newbies, and Sir google, as my tutors later this evening. Surface knowledge. A bluffable amount. Enough to blag my way through the summer at a crappy hotel in the middle of nowhere. Only, the crusty, ramshackle shithole Scottish hotel has not materialised, and instead I find myself in a fine-dining, luxury boutique property. This place is in need of a world-class sommelier to decipher the brand-new twenty-page wine list. Which I am definitely not.The Summer Job
Birdy quickly realises that she is out of her depth, but she also quickly falls in love with the place and the other people working there and doesn’t want to let them down. Birdy has had a troubled upbringing, dealing with her father’s alcoholism, and at the hotel Loch Dorn she begins to find her feet and understand what it means to be part of something. The only problem is: they all think she is Heather.
Not only that, Birdy has arrived at a crucial time at Loch Dorn as they are getting to re-launch after a complete overhaul of the interior and menu (including hiring a Michelin star chef), and a lot is riding on this summer. Birdy has to work hard to learn about wine and step into the shoes that Heather would have easily filled. But it’s a constant battle for Birdy against her lack of self-belief and the feeling that she has never been able to get going in life. Can she finally find her passion and feel she’s good at something?
In the acknowledgements, Lizzy Dent describes The Summer Job as a love letter to Scottish hospitality and it really is. There are lots of scrumptious references to venison and red win jus, scallops and whisky, and the joyous role food can play in bringing people together.
‘I love the intensity of service. The creativity of working with food. But when it comes down to it, it’s that one dish. Everything that’s on that plate, from the sea salt to the squid ink, has taken time to get to that point. Someone’s alarm went off at four a.m. to go out on the boats. The weather was just right. Someone else had to know the perfect soil… And I get to transform it. Take its perfect natural state and warm it, or pickle it, or dry it, you know? And sometimes I barely touch it. I kiss it with the pan and season it. Whatever. And the I plate it. And even though they’re perfect strangers, cooking that meal for them is one of the most intimate things you can do…’The Summer Job
This book should come with a warning that it will make you hungry. And want a glass of wine.
I loved this book – it’s funny and poignant. It also has some brilliant characters in it: from Birdy, who I was rooting for the entire time in the hope that she could pull it off and stop being so hard on herself. To James, the chef, and Roxy the waitress. Lizzy Dent really paints a picture of all the different guests too as they come in to be served: one guest, for example, “has all the bombastic confidence of a woman schooled at Fettes College, with winter holidays in Lech – swathed in cashmere and drowning in entitlement.”
I also read this book to get myself in the mood for my holiday to the Isle of Skye – and it did just that! All the descriptions of the landscape, the beauty of the loch and the brightness made me so eager to go.
James once told me the name was Norse: Ski meaning cloud and Ey meaning Island. Cloud Island, owing to the mist that often clings to its saw-toothed mountains. When I came here with James the first time, that certainly fitted, but today everything is that heart-lifting, soul-cleansing summer blue. The blue of joy and hope. Sunshine and laughter.The Summer Job
Get me to Portree so that I can sit on the pier with my newspaper-wrapped fish and chips!