For my friends Jacquelyn and Julia.
“OK kids, 4:30, time for line up, let’s make it quick, it’s gonna be a busy night!”
Chef Jacks snapped her fingers repeatedly as if to put some additional energy into her crew’s shuffling feet. Every afternoon she held a thirty minute meeting with the staff of her restaurant, Cafe Morte, to discuss the evening’s dinner. Jennifer Jacks ran a tight ship, her restaurant had turned a profit from day one and that had been almost three years ago. She wasted nothing. Parsley stems, duck necks, pork liver, potato skins, used tin foil, lemon peel. Items that in any number of restaurants would have gone right into the garbage, Jennifer found a use for and she reinforced this attitude into her staff every day. The third month she was open she began giving out a weekly award, tight-wad of the week. And it was at her daily meetings that her staff recommended one another for this award. At the end of the month, everyone that had won a weekly tight-wad was eligible for a monthly drawing to win dinner for two to any number of restaurants on St. George’s Avenue. She had swapped gift certificates with a dozen different restaurants, and in a year’s time she had every other bistro on St. George’s participating in their own tight-wad style awards.
Jennifer smiled as her crew of servers, bartenders, bussers, cooks and dishwashers assembled in the dining room. Yet someone was missing.
“Anyone seen Pellegrino? Damien, have you seen our esteemed sous-chef?”
Damien, her grill cook, rubbed his scruffy cheeks and shrugged his shoulders. He thought hiring Pellegrino had been a mistake, so what if he had come highly recommended from the Serbian cafe across town. Big deal. So he made a delicious beef blood Pelmini…good luck selling that on a busy Friday night. Damien didn’t trust Pellegrino from the moment he laid eyes on him. Maybe it was the starched black chef’s coat, maybe it was the manicured hands, his pale complexio or his inability to lift anything over seven pounds. “What’s a matter chef, ya just get another manicure? Here, let me help you move those itty-bitty potatoes, I wouldn’t want you to break another nail.” If Damien kept humiliating him at every opportunity, Pellegrino would soon quit, Chef Jacks would realize her mistake and promote Damien to sous-chef, like she should have in the first place.
“Where in the hell is Pellegrino?”
Damien snickered. Jacks was already on edge and now Pellegrino was late, when he did show up she would surely dress him down in front of the entire staff. One more nail in his coffin.
“What the hell, where is this guy?” Jacks looked at her dining room manager. “Ginger, would you start please while I go hunt this guy down please?”
“Yes ma’am, of course.” As Chef Jacks stormed off, Ginger stood up and winked at Damien who offered a sly smile. The staff braced themselves. As soon as Chef found Pellegrino, the yelling would start.
Jennifer stormed into her kitchen, her blood pressure rising, she looked down the hot line then the garde manger area, nothing. Out back maybe? She opened the back door, nothing. Now she was furious, had he walked out on her? She stormed back into the kitchen and glared at the aluminum door of her walk-in cooler then promptly marched to the door. She yanked it open and there he was. Pellegrino had an entire USDA Prime 1 by 1 Strip Loin in his hands, his teeth sunk deep into the flesh of the meat, blood running down his chin, continuing the length of his neck. When the door flew open Pellegrino’s eyes popped and his body shuddered in surprise. Jennifer exploded into a furious rage as she grabbed Pellegrino by the scruff of the neck, jerking the strip loin to the floor.
“What the bloody sonofabitching hell do you think you’re doing in here! That strip loin cost me twelve freaking dollars a pound and you think you can suck it down like it’s some kinda pixie stick!”
Chef Jacks temper boiled over as she shoved Pellegrino out of the cooler, knocking over a five-gallon bucket of pickles. She had Pellegrino by the backof his chef’s coat as she pushed him through the kitchen.
“Now you’ve cost me a twenty seven dollar bucket of freaking PICKLES! You’re finished here!” As she corralled him towards the back door she grabbed Pellegrino’s rolling pin off of the prep table. When she reached the back door she hoisted her left leg and kicked the crash bar, the door burst open and Pellegrino was tossed into the parking lot, tumbling to the concrete.
“And don’t forget THIS!”
Jacks threw the rolling pin, aiming for his head but Pellegrino covered up and the rolling pin ricocheted off his forearms. Her fists clenched, the veins on her neck protruding, spit flying off of the corners of her mouth, Jacks offered her assesment of Pellegrino’s prized dish.
“And I HATE PELMINI! They’re just effing DUMPLINGS! and not even good dumplings!”
With a bang that shot a burst of air through her cafe, she yanked the door closed. She took a satisfyingly deep breath, stood up straight, tugged on the hem line of her chef’s coat, exhaled then proudly walked to the hand sink. She took her time washing her hands and giddily sang the happy birthday song, just like the Health Inspector had suggested. She yanked a paper towel out of the dispenser, dried her hands, wiped the delicate corners of her mouth then triumphantly marched into the dining room. As she took her seat she smiled politely at her staff.
“Now, where were we?”