01. May 2022 · Comments Off on A Bit From the Next Luna City Installment… · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

(A Liquid Treasure is the title of this segment …)

Richard was in two minds, at accepting a management position from Lew Dubois, to be the executive chef of the Cattleman Hotel. He regretted, but in a minor way, handing over management of Luna Café and Coffee to Araceli, since the Café had been his life and reason for living for five years. But on the other hand, he was experiencing twinges of acute boredom, having turned it into a profitable, popular enterprise, renown for the in-house cinnamon rolls, and the line of gourmet edibles, sauces and condiments which had been developed by his junior staff. In any case, management of the Café was now in the frighteningly capable hands of Araceli – who had been a reliable constant in the front of the house since coming to work at the Café when she was a teenage waitress nearly two decades previously.

“You may wish to make use of a staff suite in the Cattleman,” Lew had waved an airy hand in the direction of the grand staircase, “Until the private enclave at Mills Farm for senior staff and visiting management is complete – you and your intended are entitled to one of the cottages there. It’s part of your compensation package.” This was on Richard’s first official day of employment as an upper-level minion of Venue Properties, International. They were sitting in the manager’s office; one of a pair of adjoining wood-paneled 19th century marvels of fine paneling and plasterwork, wedged into the space adjoining the gloriously ornate main bar, and accessed by a small, discrete door adjacent to the monumental front desk. Richard had been given to understand that the larger of the two would be his, shared with the hotel’s duty concierge, and Mr. Georges, the maître d, who boasted a Gallic mustache to rival Poirot’s, and greeted Richard in the slangy French patois which Richard remembered from his days training in Paris. A short hallway behind the second office connected with the kitchen, which made it handy for chef and maître d.

“Oh, really?” Richard confessed to being somewhat gob smacked. He hadn’t read that far into the sheaf of documents which Lew had conveyed to him for signature, Jess would surely have administered the gob smacking, for signing documents without closely perusing every line. “In that case … Miss Heisel and I will be thrilled at having a residence as part of the deal. For myself, though – I shall continue living at the Age until the marriage. I’ve become very fond of the place, you see. Sefton has agreed to continue renting it to me as a pied-à-terre, a kind of get-away refuge.”

“As you wish, mon cher Richard,” Lew acknowledged by way of dismissal. “You may wish now to conduct your own review of facilities and staff. In the meantime, welcome to the family of Venue Properties … oh, tomorrow there will be some slight disruption. The workmen from the security firm will be installing certain additional devices and connecting cables… They will need to work in this office, and in mine, for about a day, but I am assured that the mess and disruption will be minimal.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Richard replied, and withdrew to his own shared office, where Bianca Gonzalez – one of the numerous Luna City Gonzales-Gonzalez clan – was already on the phone at her side of the antique partner desk which dominated the windowless room. Bianca was a rising star in the Venue Properties firmament, an elegant young woman who had obviously taken Audrey Hepburn as her sartorial role model: she wore a simple black dress, pearl earrings and had her dark hair rolled into a simple chignon.

“Of course,” Bianca was saying into the receiver. “White orchids in the suite, and a reservation for four at eight o’clock that evening. The guide for the kayaking excursion will call for you promptly at seven the next morning … he will have your number, in case of a delay… thank you, Mrs. Sheldon. I’m certain that you and the family will enjoy your excursion… see you next weekend, then … ‘byeeee…Good morning, Chef!” Bianca beamed at him. “Welcome to the Cattleman. Let me know if you have any questions, ‘k, or can’t find anything.”

“Thanks, Miss Gonzalez,” Richard replied. “Mr. Dubois was very thorough in briefing me…”

“Isn’t he the total sweetheart?” Bianca twinkled at him. “He knows everything about everything, and gosh, you’d best stay on your toes, if you work for him!”

“I know,” Richard replied. There was a small closet next to the door to the kitchen – he opened it, to find there were ten or a dozen identical chef’s jacket already hanging in dry-cleaning bags, all with the logo of the Cattleman Hotel embroidered over the breast pocket, and his own name – Chef Richard Astor-Hall below the logo. A stack of flawlessly-starched and fluted toques sat on the shelf above the hanger rod – no, there was no detail too small for Lew Dubois to overlook. He shrugged one on, donned the toque and went to survey his new domain.

An absorbing business, as it turned out to be: he commanded a sous-chef, a dozen junior chefs and apprentices, a pastry and bread baker, and a pantry supervisor, plus several kitchen porter-cum-dishwashers; the front house staff fell under the stern but kindly rule of Mr. Georges. Most of them were young, hired from local schools and training institutions; they had not had time to acquire bad habits, and Richard could barely recall all their names, serially introduced as they went about their duties in a pleasingly professional manner. Fortunately, with Lew Dubois’ customary attention to detail, every one of the kitchen staff wore proper kitchen garb with the Cattleman logo and – most importantly – their name and office embroidered over the left front pocket. Richard had not had such a large staff since his abortive glory days in London, launching Carême, the towering failure of which had sent him first on a blackout drunken bender, then on to Texas. The Cattleman was not going to be a similar disaster. In any case, he was a hireling, not an independent, frantically juggling a dozen flaming balls while tap-dancing on a tightrope. Richard had only to oversee the restaurant and catering functions and do it to the satisfaction of customers and of Lew Dubois. He was part of a team, not the one whose neck was a hundred percent on the line.

He passed the remainder of the morning, reviewing the menus, considering prospective menus, his personal well-thumbed copy of Larousse Gastronomique, the availability at a reasonable price of those commodities which might eventually be turned into amazing and appealing menu selections which would turn a tidy profit for the Cattleman’s restaurant. Such research absorbed his interest for the remainder of the day, only interrupted around mid-day by one of the junior female kitchen minions bringing him a tray with a beautifully composed Salad Niçoise upon it. Barely recalling his manners, he complimented the minion, who fled with the empty tray, blushing beet-red.

“Nomi’s very new,” remarked Bianca, with some amusement. “At least you didn’t make her cry or piss her underpants. She is so very thrilled to be working here, and she worships you. For Captain Kitten in the Kitchen, mostly. That’s why she decided that she wanted to be a chef and work in a real restaurant.”

“A cousin of yours?” Richard replied glumly. Of course – one couldn’t throw a brick in any direction in Luna City without hitting a round dozen of Gonzalezes and Gonzaleses. Bianca giggled and flapped an airy hand in the direction of the kitchen. She had her own plate, with a small salad upon it, arrayed with exacting precision

“Of course. Our family has Luna City in the palm of our hands, Chef.”

The remainder of the day passed in the same absorbing fashion – Richard engrossed in plans, cost estimations, and Larousse. When he lifted his head from the various piles on the desk, he was amazed to discover that it was nearly dark outside; well past sunset. The pleasant clatter of plates and silverware, and the low hum of conversation trickled out from the hotel dining room. Feeling that his day had been sufficiently full and tomorrow he would do serious work in the kitchen, he did the rounds of the dining room, briefly exchanged remarks with Mr. Georges, another of the kitchen, which hummed along like a well-oiled machine, and stuck his head into Lew’s office. That gentleman was just closing up his desk – or more importantly, the computer which sat upon that graceful example of the 19th century office furniture – for the day.

“Tomorrow, mon cher? I thought you had gone already.” Lew remarked.

“Ah well, we in the trade commonly work long hours,” Richard replied. “All part and parcel of the game.”

“Indeed,” and Lew bent a look of near-to-fatherly concern upon Richard. “But one must set limits, cher Ricard, especially as one intending to marry and commit to a family. Work, if one is not careful, will expand to consume all of one’s time and energy, and that is not conducive to a contented marriage or a happy family life. There is no one, ever, who has on their deathbed confessed that they wished they had spent more time at the office … if you would walk with me, Richard, I will impart some of my hard-won knowledge of management … successful management of an enterprise such as this; you must not think that it requires your presence all the hours of the day and the weeks. That way lies madness and despair, if not for yourself, then for your loved ones. No. The way to success is to carefully select your subordinates and train them up in the manner in which you wish things to be done. Once accomplished, allow them the authority do to conduct matters in your absence. And then,” Lew added, in a practical manner, as they walked out of the staff entrance, where Richard’s trusty trail bicycle was chained to a handy railing. Lew, who had the advantage of a staff suite in the hotel, had no convenient transport waiting for him. “One might live what they call a balanced life. It is the secret to success in management, as I have found – train and encourage your subordinates in the way that one might wish – and then when that is done, one might take the time to have a full life… I should write a book, do you think? Management Secrets of the Lazy Manager. It is then a matter of the quality of time spent, not the quantity of time. Good night, cher Richard. Tomorrow, dedicate your time in acquainting your kitchen staff to the standards and principles which you wish them to achieve and maintain. And then,” Lew bestowed a beatific smile upon Richard, “Allow them to go forth, dedicating themselves to achieving your standard, while you pick daisies in the field with your estimable and delectable Miss Heisel.”

“I don’t know if I am up to that, Lew,” Richard confessed glumly, “I just don’t know if I am that kind of good management materiel. I boobed the job pretty catastrophically, the first time out of the gate… you knew about the Carême disaster? I think everyone does by now, what with all the videos, although it was five years ago. A century in internet time.”

“Ah,” Lew replied. “But you had a second chance with the little Café, you see. Which was that which inspired my interest in you, Richard. You had the management of a tiny café – and what with one thing and another, you brought in or encouraged a splendid team. You brought in new customers, recruited a solid team …Made the little Café famous and popular … and profitable.”

“It was more chance and good luck than good management on my part,” Richard confessed, and Lew smiled.

“Ah, but didn’t Napoleon himself ask of a prospective marshal for his Grand Armee – is he lucky? I myself are not Napoleon,” Lew laid a finger along his nose and looked wisely at his latest recruit. “But I have a sense of who is able … and lucky.”

Comments closed.