electronic Gourmet Guide


Back of the House

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.

Episode #3: "Valentine's Day"

Al was a good looking guy. He was just a bit overweight, but you'd never notice. His dark hair was always combed back, and his tightly trimmed goatee made him look very distinguished. Al was the Chef at the new "Tuttopronto" restaurant. He loved to cook, loved to eat and loved to flirt.

It was February 14th, Valentine's day. In addition to the regular menu, Al had assembled a special menu consisting of:

  • Blini with Caviar & Creme Fraiche
  • Grilled Oysters Over Sautéed Sweet Bell Peppers
  • with a Sweet Vermouth Cream Sauce
  • Chilled Lemon & Black Pepper Linguine with Mesclun lettuce
  • Topped With Diced Cucumber, Red Onion And Rice Wine Vinegar
  • with gRound Black, White & Pink Peppercorns and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Surf & Turf "Tuttopronto" for 2:
  • Boiled 2lb Whole Maine Lobster Display with Lemon, Saffron and Butter Sauce
  • Roast Chateaubriande with Cepe and Burgundy DemiGlace
  • with Bundled Carrot, Asparagus, Red Pepper and Leek Wrapped with Scallion Ties and Refried Risotto Cakes
  • Couer a la Creme
  • with Raspberry Purée and Lemon Sorbet

Mandy, the new waitress, was waiting on a full station, but she still had time to smile in Al's direction. "Chef, Fire table 12 please." Al responded with his traditional short "Table 12!", but was grinning ear to ear in Mandy's direction.

He gracefully but swiftly drizzled the saffron beurre blanc on the platter, arranging the lobster pieces around it, then with a large spoon spread the Cepe DemiGlace on the other half of the platter, placing the Chateaubriande over the demi. Swiftly John, the entremetier, garnished the plate with a perfectly bundled vegetable display, and two mushroom risotto cakes, crisp but still creamy.

Al nodded his approval, and John placed the platter on the tray for Mandy. Mandy gasped. "Aahh, beautiful," she said with great pride to be delivering such a beautiful platter. Al looked over at John and grinned, winking at Mandy he watched her take the tray through the double doors and into the dining room.

Even though Mandy was new, Al thought he knew her well enough to ask her out on a first date. The next time she entered the kitchen he asked her if she had a second. She did, and he asked her if she would be interested in a bite after service tonight. She was new in town, a student at the University, and didn't have too many friends yet. She thought Al was kind of cute, and he was always nice to her. She agreed.

Mandy went back to her tables, and Al smiled as he went back on the line. Al was trying to think of how he would put together a romantic dinner, and have it ready by the time dinner service had ended. He gets done about a half hour before the servers, so he thought he might be able to throw something together.

"Tuttopronto" was located in an old brownstone, converted into the restaurant, a couple of offices and a small apartment on the second floor where Al lived. The building was beautiful, and had several fire places including one in Al's apartment. Al rushed upstairs as soon as the kitchen was clean, and lit a fire. He went back down stairs and asked his assistant John if he would like to make a little extra money. He borrowed a couple of wine glasses from the dining room, a table cloth and a flower arrangement off one of the tables.

When Mandy finished her paperwork, she smiled at the pile of money left over. Her tips were always great, but today her mood was just a little happier than usual. It was Valentine's Day and she had a date. She was sure while Al was nice, he probably didn't think about it being Valentine's Day, and would be waiting at the bar to go out and grab some pizza with her.

Sure enough, there he was, relaxing at the bar. He looked nice in his street clothes, and she felt a little awkward in her waitress uniform. She joined him, and he offered her a Kir Royale, his idea of "the only" drink for Valentine's day.

He then asked her if she'd like to join him for dinner in his apartment. He apologized for his bold proposal, but explained that any other good restaurant was closed, and he could probably "whip something up."

She blushed a little but agreed, it might be interesting to see how a chef of his stature lived. They went upstairs. His apartment was behind a big dark mahogany door with an old fashioned brass door knob. As he opened the door, the smell of the roaring fire sent a feeling of warmth through her and she felt incredibly welcome and comfortable.

On a little table in front of the fire was a fancy china plate with elegant blini topped with firm creme fraiche and a teaspoon of shiny black caviar on top. He offered her one, and they enjoyed a glass of "Perrier Jouet Rose" Champagne. The fire shining through the Champagne's beautiful rose hue just added to the ambiance.

The rest of the meal was just as elegant. John brought each course in as if he had a sixth sense, and just knew the right timing. Each plate looked just like it did in the restaurant. Al joked that they didn't even need him. Mandy knew this was all his artistry. First was the oysters, lightly grilled and served over the most beautiful diced red, yellow and purple bell peppers in chive butter with a sweet vermouth cream sauce. Next came the salad, fresh chilled lemon and black pepper linguine with Mesclun lettuces topped with finely diced cucumber, red onion and tomato relish tossed with just a hint of rice wine vinegar, cracked peppercorns and extra virgin olive oil. Following that John brought in the entree, and large platter with beautifully arranged lobster, a yellow saffron butter sauce and perfectly roasted Chateau of beef with a Cepe DemiGlace.

They couldn't finish it all, but only because they were saving room for the refreshing "Couer a la Creme" with a perfectly smooth raspberry purée and a light lemon sorbet. A delightful finish.

John smiled as he put down the last plate. Al winked at him and said good night. Mandy was impressed and Al was happy. John's job was done.

After finishing the dessert, Mandy politely thanked Al. Al thanked her for accepting his invitation, and told her what a wonderful time he had. He showed her to the door, and Mandy and Al's eyes locked in a thick and heady stare as he opened the door for her...


What will be the finale to Al and Mandy's Valentine's dinner? Meanwhile, what's going on in the front of the house? Join us in two weeks for the next episode from "The Back of the House."

Back of the House Archive

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Bob Munnich. All Rights Reserved.

This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

Copyright © 2008, Forkmedia LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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