Max and I came home from our dining experience at the restaurant Musica y Plata. Max’s complaints were a mouthful of crab, crab, crab even though he’d had duck.
I tossed my handbag on the table in the foyer. “Max,” I said, “I think instead of Golden Radish Awards, you should have gotten Golden Prune Awards!”
“Come now, Sylvia! You know I’m right when I criticize a restaurant’s performance. I was trained to find fault with food presentation.” He sauntered to the terraza bar. “A nightcap?”
“Instead of Golden Radish Awards, you should have gotten Golden Prune Awards.”
My silver-tongued pain! I sighed. “Okay, just a wee bit of a dram.” I dropped into a lounge chair by the pool. He carried two crystal snifters and a bottle of Eau De Vie on a silver tray and put it down on the side table. He sank into the chair beside me and we clinked glasses.
“How come you’re so critical at restaurants? Why can’t you just enjoy the food?” I ran my finger over the edge of the glass. “After all, you’re not a restaurant critic and you’re retired, so relax!”
By the dim light of the pool, I could see his furrowed brow. He scrutinized me. “Am I that bad? Really?”
He settled back and looked at the night sky. “I guess it all has to do with my first job after training with Tokanada in Japan. The time I put in at the restaurant run by the Cast Iron Witch, a name we called her behind her back, was like basic camp training for a lifetime of battle with food.”
I nodded. “I was with you when you had the job. You wanted the best training before starting your catering and garnishing career.”
“And I got it, but at a high price. Max took a sip. “I think the Cast Iron Witch worked me especially hard. I had graduated with top honors in Tokanada’s garnishing school. She respected Tokanada and wanted to continue my rigorous training.”
I snickered. “That’s old school training. Instead of encouraging, she criticized.”
Max closed his eyes. “I can see her now, her long white braid twisted in a circle around her head, small mouth puckered in distain, dark beady eyes missing nothing, her voice, low, calm controlled. We had to strain to hear her above the clank of pots, the thud of wooden spoons, the whack of knives, the sizzle of cooking food.
“I was low cook on the totem pole, first to enter the kitchen in the morning, last to leave at night. She burst through the door carrying baskets of fresh vegetables, each personally chosen and dropped them all at my feet. My job was to wash the vegetables with a toothbrush and scrape the skins with only a hairbreadth of waste.
“After several months, I was allowed to cut the vegetables that went into sauces and strained soups. You couldn’t even see whole pieces in the finished dish, still she watched the cutting of each piece with a hawk’s eye. When she pursed her lips even tighter, you knew she was displeased. She was known to throw sauces and soups down the drain if the vegetables weren’t cut right. I had a day off once a month. You remember?”
I nodded. “I remember all of it.” I took another gulp. “You had permanent purple circles under your eyes.”
He poured more brandy. “It was the worst year of my life. Yet,” he said, pausing in mid pour, “it was the year I learned the most.”
“She taught me the three P’s of the kitchen: preparation, precision, and presentation. Also, discipline and quality. And above all humility!”
Max humble? He had quickly forgotten that lesson.
I raised my glass in a toast. “To you, my professional Max. you have perfected them all but skipped humility. I wouldn’t have you any other way. Cheers!”