Dressed in her civvies and ready to go home, Jo Ann stopped by the kitchen entrance. Bill thought she was younger than her age, that she carried herself like a girl at least 20 years younger. He was cleaning up some when he saw her, stopped what he was doing, approach her.
He was still alone in the kitchen. Jimmy had been gone a good while now, had left him all alone on his very first night once he was sure that Bill knew how to serve every entrée on the menu.
“I just wanted to say you did good,” Jo Ann said.
“See you tomorrow?”
“Don’t let Caesar get you down. He’ll leave you alone once he sees how well you do your job.”
Bill winked at Jo Ann. “Not a problem,” he said.
“Well, night then.”
“Night, Jo Ann. Thanks.”
As Jo Ann left, Bill went back to what he was doing. He was wrapping things that could be wrapped, cleaning things that could be cleaned. No new orders had come in. He’d long ago finished the soda Rosie had brought him. Neither Rosie nor Edelgarde seemed to be anywhere to be found. He wanted a coffee, wondered momentarily if it were all right to leave the kitchen unattended, decided without hesitation that it surely was and went out through the double doors to where Kalista worked.
Jimmy was sitting off to the side and slightly behind Kalista where he could not too easily be seen. Bill walked around her service counter to where the coffeemakers were.
The Falstaff Room, at least as it tried to be, was a step up, maybe more than one step up, from Suburban. It was fancier, much more elegant with its real-silver silverware and fine china. Everything had to be just so, set just so, served just so.
And Caesar watched over it like a dictator. Just before the service started every day, he checked every table to make sure everything was set straight. He checked the three girls to make sure their nails were clean, their shoes polished, their uniforms fell just so. He really believed he was Caesar, Bill thought.
When he returned from Kalista’s station with his coffee, a mug of coffee, Caesar was waiting for him.
“You can’t leave the kitchen unattended,” Caesar said.
Bill did not say anything. He looked at Caesar, consciously decided not to say anything. Instead, he sat down on Jimmy’s box and put the mug of coffee on the counter there. He was waiting for Jimmy to return to show him when and how to clean up everything.
Of course he knew how to clean things. He could clean the grill, the stove and all the equipment. He knew how to do that. The issue was exactly what he had to do and how they did it there.
So he sat and drank his coffee.
Realizing that Bill was not going to answer him, Caesar did an about-face and walked away. Still no more orders had come in.
Bill was thinking that if this were it for the job it was going to be a piece of cake. Clearly, he could handle everything all by himself. In fact, he would learn in time that he was expected to do so, especially when there were banquets going on at the same time they were doing their dinner service. That would not happen all the time, but it would happen somewhat frequently and since Jimmy’s cousin Jimmy was the banquet chef, Jimmy G. would always want to be around him.
As he drank his coffee from a mug that Kalista had taken from the main kitchen and given to him (they did not use mugs in the Falstaff room, they used matching cups and saucers) he checked the time. It was nearing ten o’clock. He’d now been on his job for eight hours.
That little rush ended pretty near nine o’clock. About that time, about when they only had one order working, Jimmy went out to Kalista. Bill found himself alone in the kitchen, which was quite all right with him.
The order was straightforward and easy: two sirloin strips with baked potatoes and veggies. They were both cooked medium-rare.
“This is my last table,” Jo Ann said. She lingered at the service window waiting for the food to come up. “If you don’t mind, I’ll have an order of salmon for my dinner.”
“That allowed?” Bill asked her. “I mean Caesar’s on my case and I don’t want to get in any real trouble.”
“It’s okay. Only things we can’t have is steak, lobster tails or frogs legs.” She smiled at Bill, not flirting, just what he thought of as her being friendly and cordial. Then she said, “Anyway, apparently you can cook, so you’ll be okay. And you’ve already shown you can handle Caesar and aren’t afraid to do so.”
“That’s a matter for the chef.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, where’d you cook before?”
“In a big steakhouse down in Columbus.”
“Go to school?”
“College boy, huh?”
Bill stopped what he was doing momentarily and looked directly at Jo Ann. “Ready for your order?” he asked.
“Sure. Let me have it.”
Bill smiled. He turned to the Garland, took up his tongs, flipped both steaks one last time. Then he plated each one on a plate he’d laid out and already set up with the garnishes. Done, he put a potato on each plate, split each one and gently spread the split by squeezing the end of the potato.
The last thing he did was spoon vegetables onto the plates. Then, one plate in each hand, he lifted them to the service counter, set them down and slid them toward Jo Ann.
Jo Ann took both plates in one hand, said, “Thank you sir,” and walked off to serve them.
Alone in the kitchen and with nothing working, Bill set up an order of salmon on a metal plate. He slid the plate onto the grill where the fish could broil. As it worked, he cleaned the area around him. When the salmon was sufficiently browned, he took up his kitchen fork and using it for the curved part of the fork (the back end of the two prongs) he hooked the metal plate, lifted it from the grills, opened the Dutch oven with his free hand, slipped the metal plate inside and released it from the fork. With the fork, he closed the Dutch oven.
When he turned to face the window, still alone in the kitchen, which he would discover in the first few days was going to be a norm of sorts, he found all three waitresses there facing him.
“This one knows what he’s doing,” Jo Ann said.
“Rosie likes him already,” Edelgarde said.
“Guilty,” Rosie said with a smile. Bill noted her dimples.
“You know, I’m standing right here,” Bill said.
“We all know,” they said pretty much all together.
“This is our way of letting you know that if tonight was any indication of what you can do, we’re hoping you’ll stay around a while.”
“Gee,” Bill said, “thanks.”
“My salmon ready?” Jo Ann asked.
“Getting there,” Bill said.
“Want anything to drink?” Rosie asked.
“A beer would be super,” Bill said.
“Not allowed,” Rosie said. But I’ll buy you one after work.”
“I’ll take a rain check,” Bill said.
“Open-ended offer,” Rosie said.
“Diet Coke be fine,” Bill said.
Bill turned away from them to the Dutch oven. He opened it and once again using the curved end of the fork prongs he hooked the metal plate then carefully lifted it from the oven and set it on the grill. There, he took up his spatula and slid it under the salmon.
After he plated the fish, he spilled most of the water in his sink. Then he melted some butter on the metal plate in the little bit of water he’d left. He squeezed juice from a lemon wedge into it and some capers with their juice. He let this reduce then spilled it onto the salmon.
Joanne watched him work on her plate. When the fish was set, he put a baked potato and vegetables on it. The plate, like all the plates he’d put out, was beautiful.
Bill’s first order was three-top, a Cupid (a surf and turf, a filet mignon with a lobster tail), a sirloin strip and a frog legs. Each came with a baked potato and vegetable.
Jo Ann handed in the order. She slid the dupe on the counter, said “Ordering,” and waited for Jimmy or Bill to pick up the piece of paper.
“I’m early girl,” Jo Ann said. “I’m always early girl, so unless we get slammed the first orders are usually mine. You’ll see that some regular customers prefer Rosie or Edelgarde. You’ll get to learn it all if you stick around.”
First thing, Bill put the steaks on the broiler. They were both medium. Next he took out a lobster tail, slit it to open the shell, peeled out the lobster meat (the tail) but not quite all the way so it was still attached, set it atop the shell. He used a brush to brush on melted butter and sprinkled it with paprika, salt and pepper. He set the whole thing on a metal plate which he slid into the Dutch oven after lining the plate with just a touch of water.
Jo Ann watched him work. She was hanging around to see what Bill would do with her order. When he’d started everything, she went back to her tables.
Bill didn’t say anything to her. He knew she was checking him out to see if he knew what he was doing. He just looked at her, turned to Jimmy and asked him if he wanted him to sauté the frog legs too.
Jimmy shrugged his shoulders, said, “Sure.”
So Bill did that first order all by himself.
The frogs legs were easy. As they were, they got sautéed in butter with a touch of fresh garlic, salt and pepper. When they were done, white wine was put in and reduced. Finally a small ladle of crushed tomato in its juice was put into the pan to complete the sauce.
All Jimmy had to do was put the sides on the plates.
Jimmy showed Bill how they made the presentations, the steak with a candied apple and a sprig of parsley, chopped parsley atop the lobster tail. The frogs legs were set slightly overlapping, the sauce on top and then sprinkled with chopped parsley. The Cupid and the frogs legs got a wedge of lemon. The lemon was set atop the parsley sprig for the frogs legs. It was set in the candied apple for the Cupid.
Caesar came in to inspect it all before it went out. He looked and he looked. He was looking for something to criticize, but there was nothing. It was all pretty and perfect.
“Why don’t you take a picture,” Bill said, “so instead of you holding it here getting cold it can go out while it’s hot.”
Jo Ann stood by waiting for Caesar to allow her to pick it up, which he did quickly after Bill had spoken.
Bill knew he shouldn’t have said anything. He knew the moment it came out of his mouth. On one level, he really wanted to put Caesar in his place. On another level, he knew intellectually that he would have to wait ninety days to be able to do it. Still, it was fun on a whole different level to see how far he could push Caesar until Caesar did something stupid.
After that first order, orders started coming in regularly such that by seven-thirty, now five and a half hours into his first day, Bill had cooked and served everything there was to cook and serve on the Falstaff Room menu.
In the midst of what they called a little rush, Bill overheard Jo Ann, Rosie and Edelgarde talking. They were getting things from the shelves under the serving window’s shelf.
“He surely knows how to cook,” Jo Ann said.
“He’s cute too,” Edelgarde said.
“Very cute,” Rosie said.
Caesar returned at five-thirty on the dot. He was clearly flushed in the face and Bill could see he was perturbed, maybe even irate. Jimmy took the moment Caesar returned to go out to Kalista. He came back a few moments later with espressos for him and Bill.
Jimmy and Bill stood over on Jimmy’s side of the kitchen which had a little wall that kept them partially out of view from customers. From there they could see Caesar call the waitresses to him right before the kitchen’s serving window. No customers had come in yet. None would come in until just about six o’clock.
Caesar lined the waitresses up and stood facing them. Bill surmised that he’d done this before since the waitresses seemed familiar with the procedure. He would learn that Caesar did this every day.
Perfectly lined up, Caesar checked their uniforms, front and back by making them turn around. He tucked here, pulled there, straightened the bows in the back, didn’t stop until the uniforms fell how he wanted them. Then he checked the waitresses’ hands and fingernails.
“Shit,” Bill said to Jimmy. “I wouldn’t stand for that.”
“Ya,” jimmy said. “Lot of girls want this job. Plenty competition.”
As they were sipping their espressos and watching Caesar with the waitresses, the phone rang in the kitchen. Jimmy answered and rattled off some words in Greek. When he hung up, Jimmy told Bill that little Jimmy said the chef had laced it into Caesar pretty good. The chef told Caesar that he worked for him and that the cooks, all of them, and all the wait staff and banquet staff worked for him, that he and he alone as chef de cuisine was in charge of the food operation. Little Jimmy, according to Jimmy G., said Caesar turned red in the face, that all he could say was ‘yes chef.’
So Caesar was irate, he was perturbed, he was pissed at Bill altogether and shot him bull daggers all night long. Only one thing would be Bill’s saving grace and that was that he could, very easily and even all by himself, handle the entire food service for the room no matter how busy it got.
Just before the first order came in, the two women Bill did not know and who were now in French Maid’s uniforms, came up to the window to introduce themselves. Bill saw when he met them that their uniforms were less modest than Jo Ann’s was, at least on top because with the serving wall between them he couldn’t quite see them much below the waist until they stepped away.
The taller and less angular one spoke first. “I’m Edelgarde,” she said in what Bill knew immediately was a distinct German accent. She did a little curtsy for Bill and smiled at him, revealed even, straight white teeth. Her lips were painted red and very inviting.
“And I’m Rosie,” the other one said also with a heavy German accent. Rosie was shorter, more normal height since Edelgarde was unusually tall for a woman. She winked at Bill as she did her curtsy and she gave Bill a big, big smile. “We can talk later,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
So there they were, the three Falstaff Room girls. Jo Ann, the oldest one somewhere around fifty, was more mature-looking, more sedate, more modestly dressed even in the maid’s uniform. She was somewhat plump and blonde and very interested in making money. Rosie and Edelgarde, both German, were in their thirties, both cute, both dark-haired and thick-lipped. They wore their uniforms tighter and skimpier than Jo Ann and immediately flirted openly with Bill.
“Ya,” Jimmy G. said. “This will work out well.”