Delicious(Buchanans, Book 1)(45) by Susan Mallery
Edouard glared at her. “Did you have to offer two different reductions? On a Friday?”
Penny shrugged. “I thought you were up to it.”
She offered bravado to her staff because it was expected, but on the inside, she winced. She hadn’t been thinking when she’d planned the specials for that evening. Unfortunately, they required too many burners. Which meant if several came in at the same time, there was a delicate dance to be performed, along with a strong-armed game of “who gets the open burner.”
She wanted to make a general announcement that the baby had moved and that had distracted her, but she doubted anyone would care. So she put up with the complaints and vowed not to screw up again.
Naomi blew into the kitchen looking like she was ready to choke someone.
“The wine inventory is wrong,” she announced. “I can’t believe it. On the tasting dinner, they’re out of the pinot. Just like that. Randy just announced it in hushed tones, as if by whispering no one would notice.” She stood in the middle of the kitchen and raised both her fists. “Where the hell is Cal? I want him dead. I mean that. Seriously, not breathing, dead.”
Penny stared at her. “What do you mean, we’re out of pinot? We can’t be out of pinot. Next to my fish and chips, the tasting menu is the most popular item. Dammit all to hell, I told Cal we needed to double-check the wine inventory. Did he have Randy do it?”
“That’s what I’m guessing.”
“And Cal’s not here?”
Naomi shook her head. “I haven’t seen him in about an hour.”
Great. It was a Friday night. The restaurant was packed, they were out of wine and Cal was missing.
“Nobody screws with my tasting menu,” Penny muttered as she headed for her office.
The tasting menu—a five-course prix fixe meal that offered everything from appetizers to dessert—came either with or without wine. The “with wine” selection offered a different glass of wine with each course, including a very nice Pinot Noir with the salmon.
Penny had been very specific about the pairing. Some pinots were sweeter than others and she’d wanted the exact balance of sugar with her salmon.
She jerked off her jacket and stepped out of her clogs. If she was going to have to walk through the dining room, she didn’t want everyone noticing that she was the chef.
After slipping into loafers and tugging on a black blazer she kept hanging on the back of her door for just such occasions, she pulled off her head scarf and raced toward the dining room.
Once there, she moved slowly, acting as if she were simply one of the staff. She smiled at various diners as she walked toward the wine room that was clearly visible from the front of the restaurant.
The cold hit her at once. The room was kept at a constant fifty-five degrees. She ignored the momentary discomfort and quickly walked to the pinots. Sure enough, the bin in question was empty. The wine room door opened.
She turned and saw Randy there. Cal’s assistant was young, tall and very blond. He rubbed his hands together in a signal of worry that reminded her of her grandmother.
“We’re out of the pinot,” he said, his voice shaky and weak. “I don’t know what to serve with the tasting menu. Naomi wouldn’t help. She just threatened to kill me.”
“I know. Right now I’m all that’s standing between you and certain death.”
Penny scanned the various pinots, then grabbed three and walked back to the kitchen. Randy followed.
“What are you going to do?” he asked in a whine.
“Taste them and figure out what works best with my salmon,” Penny said.
“But then we’ll have three open bottles. Plus, what about costs? We haven’t calculated if these wines will still allow us to meet our margins on the tasting dinners.”
Penny did a quick change of clothes again, this time emerging as chef. She found Naomi holding a very large chef’s knife to Randy’s throat—and Naomi looked more than capable of taking him down.
Ignoring the tableau, Penny collected three wineglasses, then quickly opened the bottles.
“Salmon,” she yelled.
Burt dropped a piece of salmon onto a plate. Edouard topped it with the reduction and slid it toward her. She poured, careful to line up each glass with its appropriate bottle.
“Taste,” she yelled.
“Do I have to let him go?” Naomi asked.
“Yes. This is more important. You can beat up the assistant manager later.”
Naomi released Randy, who squeaked, then raced from the kitchen.
Penny grabbed a fork and took a taste of the salmon. She let the flavors meld on her tongue.
“Damn, I’m good,” she muttered, then studied the wines. She picked up the middle one first and took a sip. “Not enough flavor.”
The first wine blended well. She took another sip, tried the third wine, then scrawled her initials on the first bottle’s label.
Naomi went next. She liked the first and third bottle equally. Edouard agreed with Naomi.
“Then I’ll break the tie,” Penny said. She grabbed the first bottle and handed it to Naomi. “Give this to Randy. Don’t hurt him until the shift is over. Understand?”
“Oh, be that way,” Naomi grumbled.
Within five minutes, the kitchen was back on track. Penny left the two open bottles of pinot in the kitchen for her staff to indulge in later. It would serve Cal right to lose the money. He shouldn’t have left such a green assistant in charge of something that important.
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