The Serial That Takes You to Dinner
by Chef Bob Munnich
Back of the House is a real chef's fictional story about running a restaurant and the politics behind the scenes that diners rarely see.
Sam had been a waitress for the past five years. Five years may not seem like a lot to some, but for Sam it had been her whole life. She started working the day after she graduated high school, and had worked what seemed like everyday since. Most recently she had worked at a night club-restaurant. The food was great, and the tips were too.
Unfortunately that had all changed. The Chef, Jules, had left for a new opportunity. You could tell from the food and speed of the kitchen. The owners had decided to shift the emphasis from quality food to big beverage sales. They had decided that more beverage sales meant more profit. They wouldn't need an expensive "executive" chef or high cost cooks to run up the labor cost. They hired a "short-order" cook and they laid off any good cook left in the kitchen. At first they tried to maintain the same menu that Jules had created, but after a few episodes of over cooked tuna and broken beurre blanc, they simplified the menu. The restaurant went from Tuna with cilantro infused oil and pine nut vinaigrette, to chicken fingers and fries. They weren't even good chicken fingers. Even the staff had changed. Any reliable kitchen staff member had left to work for Jules. All the wait staff were either gone or looking for work. Sam decided it was time to get out.
Sam still had Jules home number on an old restaurant phone list. She decided to give her a call and see if she needed any help. They had been friends, but only at work. After the fourth ring the answering machine picked up. After the beep Sam left a message, "Hi, Jules, It's Sam from Baileys. I was wondering if you needed any help at the restaurant... Oh, and how are you doing? We miss you." She left her number and hung up.
A few hours later the phone rang. It was Jules. "Hi Sam, How are you?"
"I'm cool," Sam said. "But I hate my job, do you have any openings left?"
"Well, we hired most of our staff, but tonight will tell. We're having a dry run tonight." Jules replied.
"That sounds like fun. I just need to get out of Bailey's, the place is just not the same." Sam said
"Are you working tonight? We need some more 'customers' to come in. Maybe we can talk about a job too." Jules offered.
"That sounds great, I don't have to work tonight. I was planning on going out with Jimmy though." Sam's boyfriend Jimmy was home from college for the weekend.
"Well you can bring him. You just have to come in and dine just like a regular night. At the end of the meal you have to fill out some questions, but there's no cost or anything...unless you want to leave a tip." Jules was glad she was interested. She wanted more people she knew to critic there first night. Their guest list now was primarily local business people and family. Not too many "restaurant" people were coming.
"Great. What time do you want us there?" Sam asked.
"How about eight thirty, that way we can talk after your done eating. I think we have about a hundred guests coming, that last seating is eight-thirty." Jules told her.
"OK, consider it confirmed. We'll be there" Sam was excited. She immediately called Jimmy and told him their plans for the night. Jimmy was a college student, but paid his way through school by working as a line cook in an expensive Italian restaurant. He loved food, and was considering a career in restaurants.
Jimmy picked up Sam at Eight O'clock. She had a beautiful dress on, he had his only suit on. He couldn't remember the last time he wore the suit. But it looked nice, and he felt good in it. They left for the restaurant without saying much. They couldn't wait for dinner. They were very excited.
They arrived to a full house. The restaurant was beautiful. Sam should easily see why Jules took this job. The building was magnificent, tall ceilings, fine wood paneling, and at one end a shiny new kitchen. Complete with an open wood grill, rotisserie and a wood fired oven. They were greeted by a man who introduced himself as one of the owners. Sam told him who she was, and he immediately recognized her as one of the "chef's friends".
"I understand you're interested in a job. I'm interested in hearing what you think of your dinner." Scott smiled as he greeted them.
"Yes, I am. I worked with Chef Jules at Baileys. She's great. The place will never be the same." Sam said.
Scott beamed. He was so proud of their choice in chefs. "Well good, I'll stop by after your meal. You can tell me what you thought of dinner."
With that, Scott showed them to a table close to the open kitchen. Jules didn't notice them, she was busy calling orders and looking over everyones' shoulders as they sautéed, flambéed and grilled. The smells in the dining room were wonderful. Sam could smell garlic simmering, fresh cilantro being cut and bread baking. She couldn't wait for dinner!
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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