Sizzling(Buchanans, Book 3)(55) by Susan Mallery
“Me, too,” Dani said, shaking the other woman’s hand and making a mental note to call her sister-in-law and thank her for the plug.
“Good, good. All right. Let’s start with talking, then I’ll show you around and we’ll finish up with a mini-tasting. I told Martina, our head chef, to dazzle you.”
“I look forward to it.” Dani sat in a white wicker chair that was surprisingly comfortable.
“She’s brilliant. Beyond brilliant. Are you a vegan?”
Dani hesitated, then shook her head. “I’m sorry, I’m not. The job description said that wasn’t a problem.”
“It isn’t,” Valerie assured her. “The only issue we’ll have is a familiarity with the various dishes. While you’d have that anywhere, it’s more important here. Our serious vegans want to know exactly what they’re getting, while those who are experimenting often want ideas for home cooking.”
“Learning the menu isn’t a problem.”
“Good. We’re fanatical about fresh here. I have seasonal vendors who provide most of our produce. They’re amazing.”
Dani thought about Penny’s insistence that everything be as fresh as possible.
“The right ingredients make all the difference,” she said.
Valerie smiled. “I like you already. Come on. I’ll show you around.”
They toured the supply areas upstairs, then moved downstairs and met the few members of the serving staff who were still hanging around, having a late lunch together and talking. She saw the wine cellar, the two main dining rooms along with three small rooms that could be used for private parties.
The kitchen took up the rear of the house. It was light, bright and filled with delicious smells. Martina was a tiny woman with a big smile.
“I know Penny,” she said by way of greeting. “She says good things about you.”
She and Dani shook hands, then Martina introduced her staff.
“Most kitchens are difficult, stressful places,” Martina said. “I try to be different. We all want to please our guests. I prefer harmony. Of course I’m more than willing to knock a few heads together if necessary.”
Dani really liked the restaurant. She liked the staff and Valerie and Martina. She liked the location, the ambience and how no one seemed terrorized.
“Go on and sit,” Martina said. “I’ll have Gerald bring out the first course. I did up a little tasting menu for the two of you.”
“Wonderful,” Valerie said. “Thanks, hon.”
Valerie led the way to a small table by the window. In winter the view of the garden was impressive. Dani could only imagine what it would be like in summer.
“I hope things work out with you,” Valerie said as they took a seat. “But even if they do, I’m tempted to pretend to interview a couple more people just to have Martina keep making her tasting menu. It’s delicious. The best of what she does. We’re starting with a vegetable quesadilla with a few spicy surprises and a leek soup you’ll die for.”
Gerald, a good-looking guy in his early twenties, appeared with a tray and a pitcher of iced tea.
“House blend,” Valerie said as he poured.
He then served small cups of soup and set a plate of steaming tortilla wedges between them.
Dani sipped the tea, then stared at her glass. She wasn’t a huge tea drinker, but she certainly enjoyed a glass of it from time to time. But this one tasted odd. Like it had been steeped in celery juice or cucumber water. It wasn’t a great combination.
She then tasted a spoonful of the soup. Leeks were fairly innocuous, so she wasn’t expecting much. Certainly not the sharp tang of licorice.
“Anise?” she asked after she’d forced herself to swallow the unpleasant liquid.
“Fennel mostly. A few other herbs that bring out the distinctive flavor. The stock is a cauliflower base we make up fresh every day. Guests beg us for the recipe or to at least sell the stock to them, but Martina keeps it all a secret.”
Dani nodded and smiled, but on the inside, she felt the first hint of worry. She loved Valerie and her restaurant. It had never occurred to her that she could find the exact place she wanted to work and be unable to eat the food.
Things would get better, she told herself. They had to.
But they didn’t. The vegetable quesadilla was more awful than the soup, which turned out to be the highlight of the meal.
Part of working in a restaurant at the manager level was the need to be enthused about everything served. Not only would Dani be eating it herself every day she worked, she would also have to talk about it with guests and make recommendations. How could she do that if she couldn’t even choke down one meal?
“Isn’t this incredible?” Valerie asked as she scooped up a forkful of a lentil casserole with an unfortunate spice combination that tasted and smelled like bad tuna.
“Martina is innovative,” Dani said.
This was so unfair, she thought bitterly. The restaurant was her dream job. Why couldn’t Valerie have a passion for steaks or Thai food or anything else? Something she, Dani, could enjoy, or at least tolerate. And how could she tell Valerie the truth?
She was saved from having to come up with a polite version of “yuck” when Valerie got an urgent call from her root vegetable vendor. She promised to be in touch with Dani shortly.
As Dani walked to her car, she glanced back at the beautiful old house. If Valerie called with an offer, she would have to figure out a polite way to tell her no. Then she would have to keep looking.
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