About this blog...

Food has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Food and the festivities surrounding its arrival to the table has always been a focal point in our family. For many years I have been amassing the cookbooks, recipe cards, cooking journals, diaries, manuscripts and clipping files of our once extensive family.

Personally, I’ve been professionally involved with food for over 40 years in numerous and varied culinary capacities across the country so I also have the collected stories, as well as current and on-going food-related experiences from my own life I’d like to share.

My idea has long been that someday I would bring all of this marvelous raw material together into a culinary journey through our family’s heritage. This journal is the beginnings of that journey.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Private Chefdom - Part 3: The Audition

Part 3 of a 9-part series
Over the course of the next week I worked hard on developing three impressive, balanced menus.  I was trying to show off what I considered my specialties while incorporating them into well-rounded, harmonious yet diverse menus meant  to demonstrate my flexibility.  At last I had a trio I was proud to present.

I called Karen on the phone and read my menus to her (this was well before faxes were so common), making clarifications as necessary so that she could present my ideas to The Family.

A couple of days later she called me with their choice.  Choices actually.  They had used my carefully designed meals like columns on a Chinese restaurant menu, “one from column ‘A’, two from column ‘B’…” and so on.  So much for well-rounded harmony and balance, but we certainly had diversity well covered.  Frustrated, but anxious to get on with it I said “fine” and we re-confirmed the audition for the coming Friday evening.  She said that there would be The Husband, The Wife, she (Karen) and two of the grown children (who lived elsewhere)  at the meal.

“Total of five people, beginning the appetizer course at 7PM, this Friday”, I double checked all the particulars.

“Right, and don’t forget about the diet analysis of the menu, OK?  I  told her OK.
The night of the audition came quickly but I was well prepared.  I had pre-prepped as much as I could figure out how to at home so I didn’t have to arrive until just an hour before service time.  I pulled up, parked, grabbed the first milk crate of ingredients and headed for the door.  Before I got there, Karen came out.
“Don’t use the front door, go around back”.  She pointed around the left side of the house.
By the time I had completed the detour she had gone through inside and was holding the kitchen door open for me.
“Where have you been?  The Family thought you weren’t going to show up!”
“Why would they think that?  We didn’t set a time for me to be here, just a time for the meal to be served.”  I was truly puzzled.
“I know, I know, but they fuss about these things.  They thought you’d have to have been here hours ago to be ready.  They were sure you weren’t coming.”
“Well, I’m here, and dinner will be on-time.  Give me a hand bringing in a couple more boxes of stuff OK?”
We got all the crates into the kitchen and as I unloaded things Karen pointed to where the various utensils, serving plates, mixing bowls etc. which I inquired about were located.  Once I had found everything I’d brought and made sure it had made the trip in one piece, I took a minute to put on my chef-ing togs.  I had been wearing the nicely creased black pants so all I really had to do was slip into the crisp white double-breasted jacket (with my name and “Executive Chef embroidered on the pocket), attach my kerchief, pop on the toque, tie on the good-old four-fold apron and I was ready for business.
No sooner had I finished dressing when Karen strolled in and about fell over looking at me.  An absolutely tremendous grin stretched across her face ear-to-ear.
“Wow!  You look so…so…official!  Fantastic!  They’re going to love this!” 
After getting a couple of things into the oven and refrigerating the dessert components, I collected all of the serving plates, bowls, and underliners I would need to plate up the food.
As I was setting up a plating station at the end of that magnificent granite slab countertop, Karen breezed through.  She was carrying a couple of bottles each of red and white wine (and darned fine ones too I could see).  She saw me and stopped mid-stride.
“Um, ah, you’re not going to put any food on that counter top are you?”
“No” I said lightly, “I’m going to try really hard to actually put it on the plates!”
She just stared at me for a couple of seconds then turned away muttering something like, “dear, dear, dear” and scurried off.  In seconds she was back again minus the wine but with a large, thick table clothe tucked under her arm.
“Let’s just play it safe and put this clothe down to cover the counter.  You have no idea how upset Madam would get if we got this granite stained.”
“You mean that this entire, gigantic kitchen counter top, (which is nearly the size of my whole kitchen at home by the way) can’t be used for cooking or food prep?”
“Well, no.  Not really.  They were going to have it sealed but decided it might mute the colors too much.  Isn’t it pretty though?  One time somebody spilled a little spot of something greasy on it and it took us months of work to get it so you can hardly tell.  There!  See that spot there?”  She was pointing now.    “You can barely tell it’s there now.”  Oh brother, what next?
We put the cloth on the counter and I re-set my serving station, stacking piles with five of each of different the service plates, in the order they would be used.
“Oh”, Karen said.  She was wiping all the silver (and very nice sterling silver it was). “Didn’t I tell you?  The kids aren’t going to be here for dinner, but might show up for dessert”.
“So now it’s only the three of you?”
“Yes.  That’s right”.
What a pain in the butt these people were turning out to be!  What was I supposed to do with the other two peoples-worth of food I had already prepared?
“Can’t you just divide it between the other plates?” Karen asked, sensing that I was beginning to not have a very good time now.
I could have done that, of course, BUT if I did then all that work I had done with the diet analysis  of the menu would have been worthless.  The analysis, naturally, depended on portion sizing for its calculations.  It also would have made for a lot of food to serve on each plate.  I told Karen that since they were paying for all the food anyway I’d just wrap anything left-over and throw it in the fridge for the next day, or when ever.
“The Family isn’t really very fond of anything left-over.  They would prefer not to see anything a second time…”
“Whatever.  Give it to the maid for lunch if you want to.  It’ll be in there.”
Things started to come together better after that.  Everything was on schedule and I was ready.  I gave the printed menus and menu analysis sheets (all five sets) to Karen for distribution as she saw fit.  
The food smells that were beginning to waft about were great and I think it prompted The Family to finally come in to meet me.  As the older-looking couple came in Karen jumped up to introduce them.
“Mr. and Mrs. Quire, this is David.  David, these are the Quires”
I shook both sets of hands.  Mr. Quire seemed preoccupied and disinterested.
“Smells good in here”
“Wait until you taste it” I returned, but he was already half way out the door, shuffling a little, staring down at the floor as he moved.
I turned to see Mrs. Quire had maneuvered behind me and was looking into pots and bowls and poking through some of my prepared garnishes on the counter.  With a twinkle in her eye she snatched up from its ice water bath, one of the intricate curled carrot flowers I was planning on using for the salads, and popped it into her mouth.
“Ummm, that was pretty” she said.  She had an interesting guttural “old country” accent.  Suddenly her eyes got wide and she quickly bulled past me shouting, “OY!  no, No, NO, NO!…”
Her destination was a cutting board on which I had the shrimp all lined up, ready to go into the pan for their appetizer.  She snatched up the cutting board and with surprising agility, flung the crustaceans unceremoniously into a nearby bowl.  Within a second she was at the sink with the cutting board scrubbing it with bleach water.
“Never, ever, the fishes on the boards!”  She turned away from the sink long enough to shake an admonishing finger in my direction.  “Stinky, stinky phew!  Always will stink now.  Forever!”  She scrubbed furiously.  “Have to throw out and get new one now.”  Scrub, scrub, scrub.
Satisfied that she had either scrubbed all the shrimp smell off the cutting board, or resigning herself that she was going to have to throw it away, she eventually stopped, tossed the cutting board into the dish drainer and dried her hands.  She then turned to address me.
“Always the saran” she said in a now patient tone, as though addressing a child, “Always saran before fishes.”  Now she was making a smoothing motion with her hands over and over, miming herself  pressing the plastic wrap onto the cutting board.  “OK?, Yes?”
“Yes” I said, and she was on her way like a tornado, slowing only long enough to snitch a piece of warm bread from its basket on the counter before disappearing toward the dining room.
“Wow”, I turned toward Karen, “Are there any other minor little house rules or laws I’m apt to break in the next couple of hours that I should know about?”
“Actually, there are a few, but let’s not worry about them for now”.
“If you say so…”  I had the feeling that this was probably the only meal I was going to be cooking for these folks anyway.
I checked the time and it was a little past 7 but The Family still wasn’t seated.  Karen said not to worry, just make up the food and they’d show up to eat it.  So that’s exactly what I did.  Starting at the top of the menu I started making and serving each course.  Karen would bring in the plate when they were done with a course and I’d get the next one out.  They seemed to be enjoying everything but I noticed that one of the entrĂ©e plates came back almost untouched.
“Was there a problem with that one?” I asked Karen as she was unloading it near the dishwasher.
“Oh, not really.  That was Mrs. Quire’s plate.  She says she’s getting full.  Don’t worry, it was probably just the sandwich she had before.”  Or the bread, or the garnishes or who-knows-what-else she had snitched before the meal I thought.
“What sandwich?”
“Well, I told you that they didn’t think you were really going to show up right?”
“Yeah?”
“Well, at about 5:30 she had me make them some cheese and salami sandwiches.”
“At 5:30 they were already so convinced that I was a no-show that they had you make them dinner?”  She shrugged as if to say “Yup, that’s the way it is around here, it’s no biggie” and left.
At last, the dessert course went out, fresh strawberries in puff pastry with Bavarian cream, and I was done.  Actually there was a fair amount of clean-up to do but I was done performing. 
 While I was packing and cleaning, Karen came in with the last of the table clearings.  She brought with her the remnants of the two wines the Quires had been drinking and asked me if I wanted a glass.  Of course I did.  I had a little of the white, a rich Pouilly-Fusse that was really wonderful and a little bit more of the deep, mellow Cotes du Rhone red.  I’m sure that I didn’t get near enough of either of them for my tastes. 
Perks like that would be very interesting but, while the food that went out was near perfect, I thought my personality and theirs was too much of a clash to work.  I wasn’t going to hold my breath, waiting for them to call with an offer .
As it turned out I didn’t have to wait.  Karen called the next day and said that the Quires were "most impressed" with last night’s dinner and that they were pleased to offer me the job.  A short time, and a bit of negotiating later and I was a full-time Private Chef.

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