Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance (10 page)

BOOK: Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
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Sally left to change her blouse and I went back to the kitchen. Two tall, skinny Tonys tried to avoid eye contact as they scooted by me on their way to clear and wipe down the set, but I put a hand on each of their pathetically underdeveloped chests and stopped them. “Never, never,
eat so much as a piece of parsley until you hear me say, ‘We are completely finished, there is no more, I’m going home.’ Even if everyone else in the studio drops dead and the studio is struck by lightning and burns to the ground, leaving only the food from the show remaining, do
touch it until
say it’s okay. If I die before I say it, then the food rots here without ever being touched. Is that clear?” They nodded their fuzzy chins like bobblehead dolls.

Coming on the heels of the almost blown “piece-of-cake” lobster spot, the tart took on a new dimension. I began to look over the pans and consider all the things that could possibly go wrong. The caramel could burn. “Mae, ask a Tony to turn the large front burner on the set up to a medium-high temp and then stay there so no one burns themselves.” I wanted to make
sure the stovetop would cooperate. “And measure out two more butter-sugar backups and put a cut lemon on the tray.” If we needed more apples, we could always scoop them out of one half-assembled tart and add them to another. I made a note of which tarts could be emptied if needed. If Sally missed the unmolding three times, chances were good we could slip one of them back in the pan to be re-unmolded. Unless she dropped it on the floor. Apple pudding. I couldn’t go there.

I went out to check the set and brought a number of tools to put on the shelf below the counter in case Sally needed something that wasn’t on the counter. I checked the burner to make sure it was heating, then stayed on the set until Sally came back in a pretty apple-green blouse. That was a good sign.

“Quiet on the set,” said the director.

“In five, four, three . . .” said the floor manager.

In exactly three minutes and thirty seconds, on the first take, Sally pulled off the making and unmolding of a perfect tarte Tatin. From the control room, the director’s voice was warm and genuine. “That’s a go. Nice job, Sally. Thank you, everyone.” Mae, Sonya, Jonathan, and I clapped. Sally made a little bow and then followed us to the kitchen, where the Tonys were hovering close to but not touching the tarts. “We are finished. You may eat now,” I said.

“I think that went well.” Sally never boasted about her work; that was about as close as she came to patting herself on the back. It was well deserved.

“Piece of cake,” I said throwing my head back and rolling my eyes.

“Well, I’m off to my lunch at
, and then I’m going to do a little clothes shopping.” She opened her purse and handed me a card key. “Here’s your key to the hotel room, Casey. Just make yourself comfortable. Did you bring your
suitcase?” She looked around the room, and I pointed to my overnight case in the corner.

“That’s a very small bag.”

“It’s a very small dress.”

“Huh!” She turned to Sonya and Mae. “Why don’t you come to the hotel beforehand and we can have a little drinkie and then all go to the party together?”

“Lovely,” said Sonya before turning to me. “What about Mary?”

“She’s going to meet us at Oran Mor. She’s getting ready for a Calvin Klein show and may be late.”

Sally walked to the door, then turned as though she had forgotten something. “Oh. By the way, George said he wants to go also and will meet us there.”

No one said “Great” or “Lovely” or even a noncommittal “Gotcha.”

, S
accommodations were over the top. The management had covered the highly polished wood tabletops with bouquets of fresh flowers, bowls of fruit, and little silver dishes with chocolate candies that had the hotel’s logo molded into them. There were two large bedrooms, a spacious sitting area with an office desk, and a small kitchen stocked with wine, liquor, mixers, and assorted edibles.

I telephoned Mary to remind her about the party—like she might forget—then drew a bath and soaked for a while before washing and drying my hair. Wrapping myself in the hotel’s big fluffy white robe, I went to the little kitchen to check on ice, glasses, and nibbles for our little preparty party.

As I was setting out a tray of glasses, the phone rang and I went to the desk to answer it. I said hello a couple of times before realizing it was the fax machine, which stopped ringing
and began spitting out a piece of paper. It was from George and, thinking maybe it was him saying he couldn’t make it tonight or wanted to be picked up or wondered what time, I read it, in case I needed to call Sally on her cell. At least I tried to convince myself that was why I was reading it. His message had nothing to do with the party. It was to tell Sally that the appointment to discuss the new book contract was set for tomorrow morning at Farrow Publishing and they insisted that she be there. I read it again. What’s that all about? Farrow’s not Sally’s publisher. Welling is. Welling has published all thirteen of her books and Jill Jennings has edited every one of them. Looks like
Morning in America
is not the only one on George’s shit list. I wondered if Sally was aware of what permanent damage George’s temporary status was causing. I knew that Sally wouldn’t discuss George in front of the others, so I hoped that she would be back before they came. But she still wasn’t there by the time I started dressing.

I put on the “little” black dress and slipped on my Jimmy Choo spiked heels, which made me an even six feet tall. I checked myself out in the mirror; the dress looked even skimpier than I had remembered. I was prepared for that and had packed a red antique French damask shawl that Mary had given me for Christmas. I draped it over my shoulders and across my chest, and as I teetered on my Jimmy Choo’s, I had one thought: If I concentrated on my walking, I would make it through the night without tripping.

As it turned out, Sally came dashing in just before the others arrived. There wasn’t time to talk. She looked at the fax from George and said, “Damn him.”

“You didn’t know he was speaking to Farrow?”

“Oh, I knew, but after he did, he went back to Welling and they reluctantly agreed to meet his price.” I noticed that she referred
to it as “his” price, not “my” or even “our” price. “He knew I wanted to stay with Jill, but he must have gone back to Farrow for more money and gotten it. If he wants me there, he must be ready to sign the contracts.”

“Can’t you just refuse?”

“No, I can’t. I’d better get dressed.” She threw the fax in the trash as she went into her bedroom.

Chapter 7

Whose bed have your boots been under?
—Shania Twain

’m not sure what I expected the Oran Mor party to be like. The restaurant had been all the rage with the in crowd since it opened a year ago, but trendy spots come and go in New York like dot-com companies. What was hot last week may well wind up tepid and tired on a steam table tomorrow. But there was nothing tepid about the looks of Oran Mor. When we arrived, there was a crush of happy-looking, with-it people waiting to get in the door. A man dressed all in green was checking invitations and wishing everyone “top o’ the morning” in spite of the fact that morning was long gone.

“Whoops. Who remembered the invitation?” I hadn’t seen the generic invite since the day his nibs had handed it to me, and I wasn’t sure Sally had actually gotten the one with her name on it.

“I have it. Good thing you brought me.” Mae was heavy into this party. She had colored her hair tuft an emerald green, and her straight, ankle-length taffeta skirt was about the same
color. Somewhere she’d found a gauzy white blouse with shamrocks on the collar. Her vintage strappy shoes were sequined and green; she said she’d spray-painted them. In the taxi on the way over, she’d applied a shamrock decal to the spot under her eye where her star usually shone. She had extra decals for the rest of us. We put them on our wrists.

We got in line with our invitation but needn’t have bothered. Rent-a-Leprechaun spotted Sally and came hurrying over. “Mrs. Woods. It’s such an honor to have you here. Please come right in. They’ve set aside a table for you in case you’d like to sit.”

Mae offered the leprechaun her invitation, but he ignored it and her, in spite of her colleen appearance. Then he seemed to have second thoughts, snatched the invitation from her hand, and focused again on Sally. “Would you mind autographing this for my mother, Mrs. Woods? She is such a fan. She still laughs about the time you dropped the goose on the floor. It was so funny.”

“Yes. Wasn’t it?” said Sally as she pulled a pen out of her purse and signed the invitation. Signing an autograph in a crowded venue is always a mistake, and sure enough, a splinter group of the people crush broke away and, without apologies, pushed Sonya, Mae, and me aside to get to Sally. They held out invitations, grocery lists, bank deposit slips, and what looked like a used Kleenex for Sally to sign. After about five minutes of this, Sonya took charge and announced to the crowd in a no-nonsense tone, “That’s all there’s time for now. We have to go in.” The crowd immediately backed off. That’s why Sonya gets the big bucks.

Sally tucked her pen away and said quietly to Sonya, “Thank you. Why do you suppose they want old pieces of
signed paper anyway? And what do you suppose they do with them?” The leprechaun led us inside the restaurant and left us in the care of a not very tall but very blond beauty.

“Hi.” She twittered the word. “I’m Kim, your greeter.” Was that a new front-of-the-house position? “We’re so thrilled that you are here.” I took that to mean all of us, even though she looked only at Sally. If possible, Kim the greeter’s Kelly-green dress was cut even lower than mine was, and she filled the top out a hell of a lot more generously than I did. I hoped that “greeting” didn’t involve bending over. She had a small nosegay of shamrocks pinned to her hip, which was the only place there was room. I’m not sure she looked any better in her dress than I did in mine, but who could tell since I had taken the cowardly route of camouflaging mine with a shawl.

Kim the greeter led us to a round six-top table situated in a high-visibility area so we could watch the room and the room could watch us. A waiter immediately arrived with a tray of drinks. There were flutes of champagne, glasses of warm, dark Guinness stout, and stemmed martini glasses that held a pale green cocktail that the waiter told us was an Oran Mor specialty called a “Shamrock Mintini.” I think we were supposed to choose from the tray, but Sally told him just to put the whole lot in the center of the table and he said, “Good choice” as he set the drinks down. I took one of the Mintinis; it was very good and probably lethal. I guessed vodka, an apple liqueur, and a touch of mint.

The room was comfortably crowded with clusters of smiling people scrunched around tables and sitting and standing at the bar. Many more were circulating through the dense crowd, in all likelihood searching for the most important person to be standing next to when the
photographer snapped a shot. Waiters in starched white shirts and cute green bow ties
were weaving in and out of the throngs balancing trays with drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Small nosegays of raffia-tied shamrocks were everywhere.

I immediately saw that this was the culinary A-list. The media was out in full force, as were a number of entertainment personalities known for being foodie groupies. Three food editors from competing culinary magazines were in a tight circle, laughing and probably surreptitiously trying to find out what the others were planning for future issues. A columnist noted for his exhaustive, in-depth columns on such microscopic topics as the Croatian Dalmatian Coast juniper berry and Uruguayan Baerii caviar was rapidly jotting notes on a steno pad as he talked to a waiter who held a platter of smoked salmon. My guess was he was asking if that particular salmon swam to the right or the left of the rocks on its way to spawn. A popular radio-show host sat at a table with two of the doyennes of cookbook publishing, and whatever he was saying, he had them howling. Well-known chefs were scattered throughout the room; I wondered if people knew not to eat in their restaurants this night. It was amazing. Danny had been in this country for just a year and yet he had managed to gather everyone who was anyone to his party. If they all had been female, I would have had my own theory on how he did it.

A tall, pretty redheaded chef with a generous scattering of freckles approached our table. She wore an impeccably clean white chef’s coat with a green shamrock and the name Erin stitched over her heart. Erin was carrying a sizable platter of food, and a busboy followed in her steps, carrying an equally large platter. “Chef fixed these special for ye and wanted me to thank ye for being here,” she said as she and the busboy put the platters on the table. One platter held two fillets of salmon, each thinly sliced and surrounded by appropriate garnishes and
small rounds of dark bread. The other platter had a lush assortment of appetizers.

“Why, that’s perfectly lovely,” said Sally, who immediately had a brioche round swathed with foie gras on the way to her mouth. I attacked the salmon. Between chews, Sally managed to say, “Please thank him for us. I’m sure it’s a sweatshop in the kitchen, but when there’s time, I’d love to meet him.”

“I’ll be sure to tell him. Right now he’s a bit like a chicken without its noggin.”

“This salmon is delicious. Do you smoke it yourself?” I always like to compliment freebies from the kitchen. It usually keeps them coming. This time I was being totally honest; the salmon was incredible.

“Aye, we do. And the other salmon fillet on the plate is cured in tequila and lime juice. We do that here as well. And we bake the brown bread that’s with it. All of our salmon comes from Ireland, as well as the dark flour for the bread. A bit of the ‘old sod’ in the kitchen is what one of the American chefs calls it.”

“Did you come from the ‘old sod’ with Chef O’Shea?” Sonya asked.

BOOK: Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
5.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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