Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance (4 page)

BOOK: Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
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“Do you really think that’s the best way to use one of life’s three wishes?”

“Good point.” I laughed. “Let’s get to work.” I pulled a thick packet of recipes and scripts out of my James Beard House tote.

Mae squeezed my hand and picked up her copies of the scripts. “So how are we for the rest of the week?”

“We have the live spot on Wednesday with Sara Paul, the vegan chef. Vegan chef—that’s an oxymoron,” I said to tease Mae. Although she follows no restricted diet, she is a definite fan of whole foods, organic foods, and vegetarianism—anything natural and good for you. I am less discriminating and tend more toward gluttony and cheddar cheese Combos.

“You should go to her restaurant,” Mae gushed. “It’s
popular. She does amazing things with grains. Like she shapes seitan into real-looking baby lamb chops. And around Thanksgiving she makes this turkey out of seven grains and serves it with a citrus, tamari, and cranberry coulis. It is
awesome. She’s writing a cookbook,
The Gourmet Vegan

“Those are two words I never expected to hear in the same sentence.”

Mae rolled her eyes and punched my arm. “You wait. You’ll be blown away by her food.”

“Tempeh fajitas and chocolate tofu cheesecake. I don’t think so.”

“I’ve had the cheesecake. It’s totally amazing.”

I’ll bet not as amazing as one made with Zabar’s fresh cream cheese, but no point in pushing it. “You better tell Tony where to shop and exactly what to look for in tofu and tempeh. I’m betting any one of the Tonys is more a cheeseburger guy than a seitan lamb chop freak.”

“I’ll send them to my whole foods store.” Mae looked at her scripts for Thursday. “Why’s Sally not doing a live spot on Thursday?”

“She will be on live but she won’t be cooking since she, Jim, and Karen are going to do a spot on the latest food trends. After the show, she’ll tape the two segments. First we’ll do the one
with Sally showing Jim the proper way to eat a lobster and then we’ll tape Sally making the tarte Tatin.”

“Tarte Tatin. In three and a half minutes. I can’t wait to see that.”

“You know Sally. She loves to do the undoable. She’s got it all worked out. That’s why she needs the ten cast-iron skillets.”

I pushed another packet of papers over to Mae. “These are for next week. Tuesday’s a live spot with a pinch hitter for the New York Mets who’s going to make his mother’s calzone recipe. He uses packaged Pillsbury rolls. You know, the Dough-boy ones.”

“I thought he died from high cholesterol.”

“The baseball player?”

“No, the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

My turn to roll my eyes. “Very funny. Sally will be back on Wednesday for a live show and two tapes. The live show is going to be fun. She’ll be with a kitchen brigade from a fire station north of Boston. They won this year’s chili cook-off and they’re going to show Sally their recipe. After the show, she’ll tape a promo for Italy and then a piece on the hottest new cookbooks.

“The following week is the killer. I don’t have any recipes yet, but on Tuesday we have a live spot with that crazy, neurotic Sal Vito.” Mae groaned. Sal Vito was an Italian comedian who was volatile and unpredictable. Nobody liked working with him. “Wednesday we do a live spot with a new chef-owner and then tape two segments with him to air the week Sally and I are in Italy. He’s never done TV but he’s the new ‘it’ chef in town and Sonya wants to cash in. Danny O’Shea from Oran Mor. Thursday we leave for Italy.”

Mae widened her lovely gray eyes and slapped both hands on the table as she lifted half out of her seat. “
Shut up!
you seen him? He’s so hot. And he has that cool Irish accent.”

“Now, lassie, would ye be talking about a lilting Gaelic tongue?” It was a poor attempt at an Irish brogue.

“Whatever. He definitely rocks.”

“Where did you meet him? Have you been to his restaurant?”

“No way. It’s much too expensive. I saw him at Dean & Deluca. He was doing a demo for Irish smoked salmon. Women were buying it by the armful just so he’d smile at them and say something in Irish.”

“I think Sonya booked him for more than his cute accent. He’s getting a lot of press. I’ll get the scripts and lists to you next week.”

“Okay, then. I’m off like a prom dress. See you tomorrow. I’ll be at the family joint if you want to talk.”

“Thanks, Mae. See ya.”

I had to talk to Sonya about the Italian shows, and then my workday would be over. That’s one of the perks of working morning TV: the studio becomes a soap opera set at one o’clock, so we always have to be out by noon. Since we’re usually at the studio by five-thirty or six
., it’s still a full workday; it just ends at a nice time.

Occasionally, I’ll work on scripts with Sonya in the afternoon, but it’s rare; I usually have the better part of the day to myself. The problem now that I no longer had city digs, though, was there wasn’t much I could do. I didn’t feel like going back to New Rochelle, but there aren’t many places you can go in the city when you smell like the inside of a Dumpster. That’s what cooking in small spaces does to you. If I were still living with Richard, I’d go to the apartment, shower, and change, then go shopping or to a museum or meet friends for lunch.

I left the studio and walked the four blocks to Sonya’s office. The executive offices are separate from the studio, probably so the suits won’t pick up the Dumpster smell on
clothes. When I went into her small but windowed office, she was on the phone and rummaging through a pile of papers on the floor. Her desk was buried under more papers, stacks of videotapes, and piles of books. It’s always that way. Publicists continually send her their clients’ material in hopes of getting a spot on the show. I don’t know how she keeps it all straight, but she does.

Sonya Pierce-Jones is forty-five years old, British, and very good at what she does. She has worked, and worked hard, in American television for fifteen years. She became an executive producer when she brought Sally onto the
Morning in America
team, a decision that immediately and impressively raised the show’s ratings. I love working for Sonya. She’s tough and demanding but fair. Because of her accent, people often think she’s stiff and formal, but I’ve gotten to know her warmer, laid-back side.

Sonya continued her phone conversation but stopped shuffling papers long enough to wave a videotape at me. That meant she wanted me to watch it to see if the talent had any talent. A Post-it stuck to the top said, “Ravenna?” We were planning to tape five segments, one in each of the five cities we’d visit. Sally would give a brief tour of the city, concentrating on culinary sites, relating some little-known fascinating food facts, and then invite an Italian cook from that city to demonstrate a traditional regional dish. We were still looking for someone from the Adriatic Sea area. I popped the tape into the VCR and watched a pretty, middle-aged Italian woman in a flowered housedress and frilly apron hold up various fish and shellfish as she spoke to the tape in rapid, enthusiastic Italian,
espousing the virtues of the seafood. She was standing at a battered wooden table in what appeared to be her own kitchen. After she finished showing off the fish, she beheaded and eviscerated them, and then washed them in a chipped white enamel bowl full of water that sat on the table. She put the cleaned pieces on a brightly painted platter, chosen, I’m sure, with less deliberation than our Jonathan would have required. She poured olive oil into a large, slightly dented pot that sat on a small two-burner stove and then in a flash chopped a couple of onions and a good amount of garlic and put them in the oil. While the aromatics became, well, aromatic, she cut up a half dozen fresh tomatoes and a healthy amount of herbs and added them to the pot. She stirred everything around, and before long she had all the fish and shellfish in the pot. I understood the gesture when she pushed the point of a finger into her cheek and twisted it before she said the word
delicious. There was a little break in the scene where the camera must have stopped to let the stew finish, but then our Italian mama was back ladling out the stew and insisting that the camera crew
mangia, mangia
. When Sonya got off the phone, she asked me what I thought.

“If she speaks English, it’ll make a great spot. The varieties of fish are different from what we have here, but Sally can explain what to substitute. I even like the housedress. It’s so homey. I think viewers will identify.”

“That’s what I thought. She does speak English. We also found a charming seaside restaurant where they cook eel in an outdoor fireplace. Might be fun to see. Do you like eel?”

“Sure. We eat it every Christmas Eve. It’s a standard part of the Italian seven-fishes meal. It would be a great visual. Sally would like nothing better than to hold up a slithering eel for the camera. So we now have all five cities covered?”

“We do. I should have recipes for you by the end of next week. Are you getting excited about the trip?” she asked somewhat optimistically. She knew I had hoped that Richard would be going as well.

“I am,” I said in a totally unconvincing tone.

Sonya read it loud and clear and took off her glasses to look more intently at me. Richard is Sonya’s dentist. That’s how he got on the show in the first place. I knew she had seen him since the breakup but because she didn’t say he had lost weight and looked like hell, I didn’t press her for information. “It’s going to be a great trip, Casey. I know you had other plans for it, but it’s time to shake it off. Truthfully, I never thought you two were cut out for each other. I’m surprised that you were together as long as you were. You’re very different people.”

“Tell me about it. I’m politically opposed to fondling staff on my lap.”

“But in favor of self-torture. You have to let go of it. You’ll drive yourself crazy.”

“Too late. I think I’m already marginally brain-dead.”

“Well, you’re not, but your teeth will definitely go bad.” She smiled, showing her own beautiful white teeth. “You are going to be fine. He’s the one who will regret this. Trust me.”

“Thanks. You’ve made me feel much better, I think.”

“Good. Because I’m about to make you feel a whole lot worse.”


“George Davis is going to be in Italy when we’re there.”

“What? What? Why?
” George Davis is a “celebrity agent.” He appeared literally out of nowhere less than a year ago and somehow managed to glom on to Sally. “But he hates me,” I whined.

“He hates me too. He hates everyone who was part of Sally’s
life before he arrived on the scene.”

“But he hates me more.”

“Probably because Sally likes you more.” I had a momentary good feeling knowing this was true. I’d worked with Sally for six years, and in that time we’d become close friends and confidantes as well as a dynamite work team. We always had a great time together and I hated to think of George honing in on our Italian good times.

“Why is he coming?” I asked.

“Supposedly he has business in Italy, and his business involves Sally.”

“When did she tell you he was coming?”

“She didn’t. He did. He called to say he’d be there and suggested that I might want Carol Hanger to come along as executive chef. I told him we were all set, thank you.”

Carol Hanger does what I do on a freelance basis. She appeared on the scene when George did, and the two of them seem to have a secret pact to make the rest of us miserable. She’s unfriendly, haughty, and, although I hate to admit, really not bad at what she does. Not as good as I am, and that’s not just my opinion. “That bitch! Over my dead body. What
his problem?”

“Sounds like a classic case of control. He’s gradually been alienating anyone who has worked with Sally before. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is talking to a different network about signing a contract with Sally for morning TV. He’s meeting with our VPs on Wednesday to discuss her renewal.”

“She’d never abandon you. She’s been with you all these years. You’re family!”

“That seems to be why he wants to remove me and you from her life.”

“Can’t you talk to Sally?”

“No. She isn’t open to discussing George’s choices for her.

“How bad will it be for you if she leaves
Morning in America

“I doubt that I’ll lose my job, but I definitely won’t move upstairs.”

I knew that Sonya was hoping for a promotion to the upstairs offices, which held the vice presidents. She had developed one of the most popular portions of the show and had earned the promotion, but the network would be fuming at the prospect of losing the major chunk of advertising revenue that Sally generated. I also knew that this revenue supported my job. Sonya wasn’t saying it, but it might mean I’d soon be surfing
. Things were beginning to look decidedly unrosy. “What can we do?”

“Hope that she’ll see the real George Davis before her contract with us is up for renewal.”

“Yeah. But, exactly
is the real George Davis?”

She raised her eyebrows and shrugged. “A good question.”

Chapter 3

Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.
—Roger Miller

uesday didn’t start out to be the second-worst day of my life. I didn’t have to be at the studio until after seven, since there was no live food spot that morning. After work, I was meeting my cousin Mary, who in addition to being my closest confidante and no-nonsense adviser is, to my good fortune, a buyer for Calvin Klein. Klein was starting a half-price sale tomorrow and if you added in Mary’s discount, they were practically giving the clothes away. By going in a day early, I’d get first pick. Mary had convinced me that I needed a new wardrobe for my trip, and even though Insanity never complained about what I wore, I thought she might be right.

The extra few morning hours gave me time to blow-dry my hair and work the waves into something that resembled a “style.” I put on makeup, concentrating on my eyes according to Mary’s directions. Since we wouldn’t be frying or roasting, I wouldn’t leave the studio smelling like a greasy-spoon short-order cook. So I decided to go all out for my trip to Calvin
Klein’s. I put on a sheer silk Chloé shirt with a thin white jersey camisole underneath. The shirt was a pale, pale blue and I had just the right short Max Mara sateen skirt in a gray blue to go with it. There’s nothing sweeter than a Bergdorf’s designer sale. I slipped on a new pair of amazing Sergio Rossi suede mules with low heels and pointy toes. Mary would be impressed. I packed some of Mom’s cannoli in a white pastry box to bring to the kitchen staff, and headed to the studio.

BOOK: Last Bite: A Novel of Culinary Romance
6.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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