(Blogger’s Note: Every Friday an excerpt from the soon-to-be-published book, Faux Pas is French for Restaurant, appears in this space.)
Although concerned about the lack of organization, or at least, the details Chef Jesse chose to share with us, Kranston was excited about the first party we would be hosting at Cottagewood. I was less concerned about the event. I assumed the chef knew what he doing.
Kranston´s love of corporate organization frequently clashed with my less structured style. However, when it came to catering, Kranston was the director – she could choreograph any event from start to finish on paper and transform that organization into a casual or elegant evening depending on what the customer desired.
That quality eventually became out company´s largest asset. It saved the evening on that Saturday in late summer at Cottagewood.
Chef Jesse, clad in his gym shorts and a tee shirt was on a different plateau from where Kranston wanted the catering event to be on the organizational chart when we arrived at the store in the early afternoon.
The scribbled menu was on a napkin, attached to a clipboard hanging on the wall. The tablecloths were in the washing machine in Jesse´s apartment, above the store, and the black plates that we would be placing on the Mexican cloths still had to be unpacked from the party Jesse hosted in his apartment some nights earlier.
Jesse was losing his favorite child status rapidly. Kranston becomes very quiet when she is upset with someone. Her walk becomes assertive, her stare, chilling. She focuses on completing the task, her way, without emotion. Her tactics are simple: asks questions, accumulate data, resolve whatever problems developed. Jesse of course saw no problems developing because Mary Raymond, his close friend would accept whatever was on her plate. Jesse assumed professionalism didn´t matter with your friends.
"Jesse, do you have any menus printed for this evening?" Kranston asked.
"No, Karen, the guests know what they are having."
"Jesse, that´s remarkable. I don´t know what they are having and I own the place." I said shaking my head and
leaving the kitchen knowing that the top executioner on the immediate Northwestern quadrant of the Mississippi was in the kitchen asking the chef questions.
"Jesse, what appetizers are you putting out before dinner?"
"Karen, they didn´t ask for appetizers. They were going to have those at her house before they came to the store."
"Jesse, what are they going to do from the time they get here until the time they sit down to eat?"
"I don´t know, I´ll be in the kitchen, cooking."
In Kranston´s Corporate America that could have been Jesse Duggan´s last sentence, but in a small kitchen at Cottagewood, a few hours before the guests are to arrive there was life after smart-aleck.
With little experience in the world of stoves, knives, stockpots and pasta, we were not ready to break ties with the few allies we seemed to have on the culinary team. We knew however, that some of the players had apparent weaknesses that needed honing. There were other alternatives but those were not available at this late date, so essentially Jesse was out boss, even though we signed his check while not getting ours. What was wrong with this movie?
While Kranston found the space she needed to ward off Jesse´s demise, I stood next to my executive chef watching his every, sweaty move.
Mushroom risotto, stuffed pork loin, summer vegetables, and cheesecake eventually made its way from the napkin scribbles to legible paper. The chef didn´t enjoy my presence in his kitchen. Instructed to chop carrots, clean Brussel Sprouts and prepare the appetizers that Kranston had suggested be served when the guests arrive, I was beginning to feel as though I may not get the culinary education I was expecting from the man on my payroll.
When the guests opened the green screen door of the store, complete with the perfect porch squeak and slam, Kranston, who had just returned from Kinks. had printed menus for each place setting. The guest´s name appeared at the top, as did the occasion. The evening´s courses followed. The store´s name, logo, and address appeared at the very bottom. A marketing keepsake for future business. I had completed my first tray of commercial Cottagewood appetizers – some ridiculous puff pastry concoction that the Chef pulled out of the freezer from a purveyor´s frozen appetizer assortment.
When Mary and Allen Raymond walked through the door, Jesse was still in his gym shorts but had put on his chef´s coat. He graciously introduced us to Mary and Allen and then proceeded back to the kitchen.
Eventually, the conversation with Allen turned to the business of Cottagewood.
"How do you like being the new owner," he asked.
"We just love this store. It has unlimited potential and the neighborhood seems great. We have not been spending as much time as we would like here but that will change." I said.
"Have you spoken to our dear friend and neighbor Marny Hensel?"
"No Allen, I haven´t. Why, should I," I asked.
"Oh, you really should. She and her husband Carl live across the street from us and are our dear friends. They were invited tonight but they will never walk into the store again, according to Marny. It has something to do with Jesse and a catering event. She is not very happy. She is a wonderful person but she is head of the Wayzata Garden Club and she knows everyone. I guess when people see her on the street and ask how she is her response is something like, "I´m fine, did you hear what happened to me at The Cottagewood Store?´ and then she proceeds to tell the story," Allen said. "I think it could be hurting your business, a lot," he added.
"That´s terrible. You´re kidding right?" I said.
"No, I´m not kidding at all. She´s really upset."
"Allen thanks for the tip. I´ll look into that first thing Monday morning. I really appreciate you telling me. You´ll have to excuse me though; I have to check on something in the kitchen. I´ll see you later."
It took only nano-seconds to get back to the kitchen.
"Jesse, did something happen with a customer named Marny Hensel at a catering event?"
"Oh, yeah. There was a real mix-up with that. She never confirmed the menu so we never did the event. I have to call her and straighten that out. Everything will be fine. I just haven´t been able to connect with her. I´ll talk to her this week."
"Jesse, you really should, from what I heard the event happened in May."
"Yeah, well I´m not real good with customer service. Would you let the guests know dinner is served," he said, smiling.