I knew Sam and Toni would be a problem when they cancelled and rescheduled. Twice. In 48 hours. I would have blown them off, kept the deposit as my contract allows, but, like most of my clients, these two were referrals – specifically from Jimmy & Sophia. Thus, I try to avoid unnecessarily salting relationships.
I was about to walk into Sam & Toni’s condo building when I got the phone call asking if they could “push the start time an hour.” I agreed but only because I happened to know a bar around the corner where I knew the owner and knew he would let me stash my perishables in his walk-in refrigerator.
“Just call me when you’re ready, but understand that I still need three hours of prep before the first course.”
Two hours later, I finally got started with my prep. The first hour was uneventful filled with Sinatra, slicing and simmering, though I was actively ignoring the clamor coming from the other room.
Round about the time that I was setting the Pumpkin and Pine Nut Bisque to simmer, Toni whirled into the kitchen and announced “Refugee, we’re only going to be two this evening, I don’t want to inflict us on any one else tonight.”
Glad to know that I am not really a person to you.
“That’s fine, Toni; changes are inevitable” I said cheerily, knowing that the evening will go a little faster now.
“Open this champagne for me, will you dear” Toni demanded, ignoring my completely full hands; before continuing “and don’t worry you’re still going to get paid for four people even though we’re only going to be two.”
I put down my immersion blender and opened a bottle of vintage Krug. More than half a dozen bottles were stacked shoulder to shoulder – the collective value of which was greater than that of the SubZero unit in which they sat.
Toni downed the glass, handed me the bottle and said “Feel free to cook with the rest of this.”
That bit of obnoxiousness just lost them a lovely Amuse Bouche of Lobster Claw and Shallot Confit.
About an hour later Sam came into the kitchen. I was moving at my usual twenty minutes to service pace – like my hair was on fire and I couldn’t find water – when he announced “So Refugee, have you had a chance to go through the wine cellar to pull bottles for the night? I’m excited to know what we’re gonna drink.”
My patience had just reached its Hubert Peak. I took a deep breath but continued to stir the bisque in an effort to mask my frustration before turning to Sam and saying “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding but our contract was only for the chef services, Toni indicated that she didn’t want sommelier services as part of the package…”
“Yeah, I know that” Sam interrupted, “but I figured that since we’re paying for four but we’re only two you would just throw that in.” His words were soaked with both privilege and entitlement.
I took another deep breath and couldn’t help the smile curling my mouth as I tried to explain the issue. “Sam, the cost differential of cooking for two versus four is related to food not time, and I arrived with all of the food. I would be happy to take a spin through your cellar and pull a few bottles – it won’t be the same as the sommelier service and it will delay the first course by a few minutes – but I’m happy to do it.”
“Door’s over there and we’ll just make up the difference in your tip, ok champ.”
I fucking hate being called “champ” – that just cost you the Dark Chocolate & Truffle Petit Fours
Three hours later, I had completed the contractually promised courses:
Salad of Asparagus “Linguini” with Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta and Poached Quail Egg
Pumpkin and Roasted Pine Nut Bisque with Garlic and Truffle Au Jus
Lamb Tenderloin Medallions with Lamb Shank Confit Spring Rolls and Spinach & Artichoke Cassoulet
The Refugee Cheese Board with non-traditional & traditional Accoutrements
The big “get under my skin” moment of the dinner came when Toni inquired about the absent amuse bouche. As I cleared the salad, she said “Refugee, that salad was divine, but isn’t it traditional to serve the Ah-Mu-Say before the first course?”
“Toni, the Amuse Bouche is gift from the kitchen but it’s kind of an optional thing and the first that gets cut when time is tight. When I had to go through the cellar at the last minute I just had to cut it; but I certainly understand why you would expect that gift.”
Not only am I ok with not serving you an undeserved gift, I am totally fine with lying to you about the reason it got cut.
As I was cleaning and they were on the the cheese course, Sam came into the kitchen to give me final payment. “That was just terrific, Refugee” he said while scribbling in his checkbook, “like I promised, there’s a little something extra in there for ya, champ.”
Fuck you, your obnoxious wife, your pretentious habits, sense of entitlement, the horse you two assholes rode in, and what I know is a less than ten percent tip.
“Thank you, Sam; I’m glad you enjoyed it,” I said rather than my usual “It was my pleasure” because I’m trying to avoid lying.
“Say, I know you came in through the front door, but you mind leaving through the service exit? Thanks, champ.”
Whatever gets me away from you fastest, you more-money-than-good-sense fucktard.
With my knife roll over one shoulder and my cooking bag on the other, I walked out weary, and a little bent but far from broken. Curiosity got the better of me and I removed the check from my pocket…
My estimate was too generous – 3% tip.