My Bisque Couldn’t Save This

Getting paid to prepare dinner for six people in a stranger’s kitchen is not unlike conducting a symphony while trying to play all of the instruments yourself.  Though the closest I have ever come to conducting was sitting in the second cellist chair for a youth orchestra more years ago than I care to claim, I imagine the two feelings to be similar.  Timing is everything, but timing is meaningless without a plan.  I always have a plan – until the first violinist (or sauté pan) throws a hissy and the plan goes to shit.

Friday night was proceeding according to plan: arrive by 5pm, inventory kitchen supplies, unpack, lay out mise en place, have four burners, two cutting boards and a mixing bowl going by 5:15.  The woman who hired me is very gracious but is asking me a number of questions about the things I am doing – this is not in my plan.  As she is writing the checks, I make every effort to respond to her queries – “the water bottles are filled with fish stock I made last night, it is the base for the lobster bisque, flour and butter are heated over a low heat to form a rieux – it is a staple of Cajun cooking and will thicken and enrich the bisque, the pork shoulder was roasted for 12 hours in a low oven now I am bringing it back to temperature by steaming it over a seasoned beer bath” – and on it went.

When she left to get dressed I was extremely grateful as my internal metronome had slowed by a beat and a half – I was at least 15 minutes behind.  By the time her guests began arriving, the bisque was done but the shrimp and lobster still needed to be poached in butter.  The pork was stuffed in their puffed pastry cigars with mushrooms and mascarpone cheese and ready for the oven but I hadn’t made the sauce that goes with it or the spinach and apple salad.  I could hear the guests milling about the living room but only muffled conversations.

I left the kitchen to let the host know that once she gave me the sign the first course would be on the table in four minutes.  Two guests seemed to follow me back to the kitchen but stopped in the doorway.  I tended to the stove but could not ignore the terse tones of their conversation. 

“John, I’m sorry you’re not taking this seriously.”

“Jane, I’m sorry that you’re feeling pressure because we’re going to all these weddings and you want one.”

“This has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with you being lazy about our relationship.”

This is not in my plan. 

Thankfully, the host calls everyone to the table, but not before John punctuates his exchange with his girlfriend by saying “Jane, can we not have any more of your drama tonight?”

A moment later I present the amuse bouche.  “This is a gift from the kitchen; it is an Italian Clam Casino with crispy pancetta on a bed of rock salt.”

“This wasn’t on the menu, Refugee” says the host with happy surprise.

“No, the amuse bouche is just a restaurant tradition, a gift, something unexpected to help set the tone for the meal” I reply, delighted that I have achieved the desired effect.  The undesired effect was Jane mumbling “unexpected gift to set the tone, novel concept” in John’s direction.

Who knew we should have set an extra plate for Awkward?

Lobster and Shrimp Bisque is five minutes from the table where the chatter sounds polite, but heard through the door I can’t be certain.  Being greeted by silence upon emerging from the kitchen arms full of dishes is not uncommon, but this is an awkward silence.

“Butter poached Lobster and Shrimp Bisque” I announce to approving hmms and ahhs.  When I return with the final three bowls for the gentlemen at the table, the host inquires “Refugee, where did you get your bisque recipe?”

“Almost ten years ago, I wanted to date a friend who told me that lobster bisque was her favorite soup ever.  So I set out to make the best bisque ever – this recipe is the result of several weeks of kitchen tinkering to make a date worth lobster bisque.”

Jane found another opportunity to twist the knife in John’s ribs – “So nice when a man makes an effort to impress a woman.”

“Even better when the woman is worth impressing” John retorted.

“Fuck you, John.”

There is safety in the kitchen and I quickly retreat to it.  Several minutes pass before the host comes into the kitchen to return bowls but more to apologize.  “I’m sorry, Refugee; I am pretty sure that was the last outburst for the evening” she says. 

There is a planned cigarette course between the slow pork cigars and the beef tenderloin but Jane must be a fast smoker because she swung the double kitchen doors my way.

“Is there anymore wine?”

“The wine for the next course is still decanting, but you are more than welcome to some of the pinot noir I’m drinking.”

“Thank you” Jane replies as I fill her glass halfway.  “When did you start cooking?”

“Forgive me for being the blunt, Jane, but are you sure you want to talk to me at the moment?”

“Better you than my asshole boyfriend.”

I wanted to agree, but neither party has comported themselves well from my perspective.  “You’re with friends, celebrating Valentine’s Day, enjoying exquisite food and great wine; surely you can find a way to enjoy this evening even if you and John are not having the best of nights.”

“Are you always this reasonable?”

“I am sure that my ex-wife could provide an itemized accounting of me being unreasonable, and the next course is ready.”

The beef tenderloin and pastry mezzaluna courses proceeded without incident.  As I was prepping the cheese course Jane came back to the kitchen.  “I’d like you to cook for me sometime; please give me a call” she said tucking her business card into the breast pocket of my chef coat in a maybe flirtatious way (my hands were full.)

Some clients aren’t worth the money.



22 Responses to My Bisque Couldn’t Save This

  1. laloca says:

    that couple’s public sniping is unattractive in teenagers, but at least at that age it’s somewhat expected. in adults – ugh.

    Selfish, entitled, annoying, and like Ralph Nader said of the Corvair Unsafe at Any Speed.

  2. Lemmonex says:

    Oh, wow. That is the worst. Sometimes my two friends–both whom I am incredibly close to–will snipe at each other and try to drag me in to it. I love them and it is never this nasty, yet I still find it painfully uncomfortable.

    Lesson to all couples from Lemmonex: please keep your drama away from mutual friends.

  3. Fearless says:

    Whenever I see both parties sniping in public (or in this case, semi-public), I always assume that they both get off on the attention it brings. It may be the one thing that actually keeps them together – the mutual need for drama, performed in a public venue.

    I am sure that you are right; that they love that twisted drug.

  4. Shannon says:

    Oooh, the Bickering McBickersons, and their wee little baby, Awful Awkward. Always fun.

    Decked out in matching accessories from the Entitled & Selfish collection.

  5. Gilahi says:

    Stay away. Stay very far away.

    I learned a long time ago that some clients/customers need to be fired.

  6. LiLu says:

    My worst nightmare. At least keep it behind closed doors, no? The public arena is for drunken tomfoolery ONLY.

    To me, the worst part is the selfishness of it all. Ruining your own dinner is one thing, ruining your friend’s dinner is rather unconscionable.

  7. Lisa says:

    An elegant Valentine’s day dinner washed down with a big glass of public bitterness garnished with immaturity. Dread. Ful.

    So sad and for so many reasons.

  8. Scarlett says:

    HAHAHA – TOO funny! I’m sure half the guests wanted to escape with you to the kitchen! Ya know, being single definitely has its advantages – then again, if a boyfriend had said that to me,…he’d be WEARING the bisque.

    You only say that because you haven’t tasted my bisque – you might have dumped something else on him but you would protect the bisque.

  9. A- God damn that sounded good
    B- It’s impressive to see someone (aka you) behaving so professionally in the face of a crap storm. It’s a skill we seem to be losing these days.

    If I am not mistaken, you spent some time in the restaurant trenches as a GM like me. Hard to do that job without the ability to maintain at least the appearance of cool in the face of shit storm.

  10. Sara says:

    I can’t imagine being the type of person who airs dirty laundry in public. There is a time and a place for everything and a being a guest for a beautiful meal at a friend’s home is the time and place to shut your mouth and table the issue.

    I don’t know if it makes it worse that the friend was shelling out serious cash to have someone cook or if she had cooked herself.

  11. Yes- you remember correctly- I did. I was always amazed at how many people should not be in the industry, let alone in the position of GM. Like professionalism & customer service were “optional” dependent on mood. Was a direct cause of my taking up bourbon & chain smoking as Olympic worthy sports 🙂

    Wait you mean those sports haven’t been added to the 2012 games? Have I wasted all of this training?

  12. I know- I finally gained my “pro” status only to find that our dear sport is no longer socially acceptable.

    If boozing isn’t socially acceptable in your social circles, is it time to switch circles?

  13. Kevin says:

    Seriously, if I were the host I would have given them both a time out. When someone else is picking up the tab there’s no excuse for that kind of childish behavior. If you’re pissed off at your SO, wait until you get in the car or home to be a 5-year-old.

    But for the blogosphere’s purposes? Awkward always equals funny as hell for the disinterested observer.

    That really is what they needed – a time out – and a therapist.

  14. kathleen says:

    good work. the bisque sounds amazing, and that woman may or may not be in the market for a “warning” tattoo for her forehead.

    thanks, but from limited perspective they shared blame rather equally.

  15. What a very inconsiderate friend/couple. It is one thing to fight prior to a dinner party, remain quiet all evening, but to air your dirty laundry and make everyone else feel uncomfortable is rude.

    The Host and guests were clearly uncomfortable and I wonder if Jane understood how she may have ruined an evening of great food and company for others.

    I’m hoping the Host was able to enjoy the evening despite the inconsiderate guest. However, I imagine she was too busy apologizing to everyone for the selfish guest(s).

    While I hold blame for Jane, John deserves at least an equal share from my perspective.

  16. ella says:

    not often is there an excuse for such morbid manners.

  17. f.B says:

    I think the worst part is that the host had to apologize. That’s what hosts do, fair enough. But one of the two principals should’ve had the awareness to do so as well.

    f.B, do you think that if either had a level of grace that would have prompted an apology that the public fight would have occurred in the first place?

  18. Megan says:

    Hilarious post. I can just feel the awkwardness.

    Yeah, it was definitely unpleasant, but honestly, I felt worse for the host than I did for myself.

  19. Julie says:

    Fking god. You find yourself in the most amusing situations… well, to us at least.

    Sorry you couldn’t have had a better Valentine’s Day.

  20. […] I made dinner on Friday and Saturday nights this weekend.  This was the only new dish that I did on either night.  Amongst the nine courses over two nights, this was the star by country mile.  It was even better than my lobster bisque. […]

  21. […] with shiny white people* – went as a Klansman.  Recall how awkward I thought it was to have bickering clients at a Valentine’s Dinner?  Yeah my Saturday night clients made the V-Day couple look like Ward and June Cleaver.  That […]

  22. […] Can’t Buy Class, a Soul, or Good Manners As promised, and I’ll leave it to you to debate whether they were worse than the V-Day dinner… […]

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