No sooner than Bill had set up that first solo order did the kitchen spring into life. Waitresses came in one after the next with orders, several of them with multiple orders. One by one they handed Tommy the dupes then stepped over by Bea to pick up their salads. Bea was prepared and started on the next grouping of lunch salads as the waitresses depleted the ones she had set out ahead.

It was always better that Bea did the portions. Waitresses would give away anything for tips and they always had to be kept in check. Some of them, especially the ones Drenovis had taken advantage of, the ones who’d had to do their time in the back seat of his Riviera, were angry and took pleasure in giving larger portions. Not only did they get better tips, but they paid Drenovis back by cutting into the profit margin.

Tommy had to keep his eyes on this part of the business just as he had to make sure none of the cooks wasted anything. But waitresses and cooks here were different. Here, the cooks were all regulars. There was just about no turnover. They were all trained in-house for how things were done and their bonuses were dependent upon profits. As Mary had told Bill, they were a family and their livelihoods depended upon each other. So Bill had learned that if he messed up on a strip loin and got one steak less than he should have (sometimes he didn’t mess up, sometimes the loin’s angles were messed up), he made up that steak on the next loin. Not only was it a matter of money for the bosses and consequently the kitchen help, but it was also a matter of pride.

Mr. Jim’s reputation, in part, depended upon how good the cooks were. Mr. Jim, old-fashioned chef from the dining-car era on the first trains, was about as good as they came. Not only was he a gentleman, but he was an ace at anything that had to be done in the kitchen, from baking to prep work to meat cutting and carving. And because he was at the very end of his career, he had no qualms about teaching what he knew. In other kitchens later in his career, Bill would discover cooks and chefs who would never give up what they knew.

Tommy could tell Mr. Bowman what a  great job Mr. Jim had done in teaching Bill. Tommy could tell Mr. Bowman that not only was he capable, but he was capable of doing pretty work, making things perfect as they could be. A pretty plate with steam rising out of the hot items was the name of the game. And sometimes, just sometimes, a plate came together so perfectly that it was textbook worthy.

Personally, Bill did not understand that. He couldn’t figure why doing it the same way every time did not produce the same beautifulness every time. All the plates he made looked good, very good, in fact, but some were just plain beautiful. The more he attempted getting that beauty, the less he got it.

The lunch sped by almost in one big blur. Tommy stayed in the kitchen just about all the way through and Mr. Jim, doing what Mary ordinarily did, replenished the line items. He came around every so often to see what needed replenishing, but mostly he came to make sure that in the heat of the rush the plates that went out were as perfect as possible.

“Remember,” “Mr. Jim always said, “specially if it’s a touch off, make it look pretty and make sure it’s hot. If it looks good and the customer sees the steam rising up from the plate, you just about always get by.”

Pick up a copy of my published works here: Books by Peter Weiss.