It has been a few years since I have posted a new recipe. When the pandemic started it seemed a bit limiting on what any of us could do, so I took to writing, and wrote a novel. The Last White Truffle is a mystery novel with a little romance thrown in. And since I love blogging about food, I naturally situated my novel at a catering venue, in San Francisco. If you have a few minutes for a light read, would love to receive comments on what you think so far in this first chapter. Thanks in advance for taking the time!
It was a typical Thursday afternoon just before the 4th of July weekend for Jennifer Pope. There had been a recent influx of last-minute bookings for corporate meetings, two of which were happening early next week. Henry Fillmore, the Executive Chef, was in the midst of a tantrum in the kitchen, which clearly meant she would be working through the holiday.
She had briefly toyed with the idea of going to the Russian River to join her sister Bess and her brood. Yet, working the holiday might not be the worst fate as dealing with five kiddos under the age of thirteen could quickly test one’s patience. Her brother-in-law Justin frequently would try to bail on these outings that Bess would organize. As an obstetrician, he reasoned he should stay close to San Francisco General if one of his pregnant Moms went into labor.
Bess was wise to his schemes after fifteen years of marriage though and reminded him: “We decided that the summers spent at the Russian River were vital for our kid’s well-being and my sanity.”
“I get it,” said Justin. “Nine months out of the year, you focus intently on managing the kids and their school lives – and you do it so skillfully.”
Justin knew first-hand it wasn’t easy as he had taken over the role of “house husband” the previous year when Bess had surgery on both feet. He found out precisely what his wife went through each day with five kids in tow. At the end of the three weeks, he thought it quite possible that Bess and Mother Theresa were related.
“Thanks. And the summers we said would focus on family fun, swimming, BBQs, miniature golf, fishing, and family picnics,” reminded Bess. “Remember?”
Some years it was like pulling teeth to get the kids excited about going to the Russian River for the whole summer. The older kids wanted to stay home to play with their friends, and the little ones were afraid of water, sand, and mosquitoes. Bess had her iPhone and other devices with her. Still, the kids had to relinquish all electronics except for one iPad they could share each day for thirty minutes. They could read books, comics, play puzzles, coloring books for the littles, bake cookies, and watch movies outside on a big screen made from a white bedsheet. The list appeared endless. When the summer was over, and their tan little bodies started to head back to San Francisco after three months at the River, there was never a dry eye in the house. Everyone wanted to stay.
“I know the drive back into San Francisco can be hectic every Monday morning, leaving at the crack of dawn,” said Bess. “But if you play your cards right, Dr. Manning, Sunday night could be quite memorable.”
Justin cocked his head and looked at Bess questionably.
‘Uh-huh, every Sunday, babe,” she said with a sultry tone and wink of the eye.
“Okay then, I’m in,” smiled Justin.
Bess’s twin sister Jennifer was the Senior Director of Social Events at the Broadmoor Manor for the past seven years. Even though she had paid her dues at the Manor, her tenure status went out the window where holidays were concerned. And any holiday seemed to be fair game, including this one.
“Honestly, Jenny, they treat you like you just walked in off the street, and this was your first job after college,” Bess said.
“I know, I know, I just need to hold my ground, and things will change.”
“You always say that. Since when do things ever change there?” asked Bess.
“Albert has assured me that the Board of Directors recently confirmed additional funds are allocated to the coming year. It’ll allow for more help where needed. He swears,” said Jennifer.
This disagreement with Bess was a familiar rendition between Jennifer and her sister. As twins, Bess was nine minutes older than Jennifer, and she took the role of big sister seriously.
As the twins were heading towards their 35th birthday come December, Bess kept reminding Jennifer that her biological clock was chiming. She needed to get a move on before it was too late. Jennifer did have to agree with Bess that she needed to step up her game and maybe give Albert a bit of a nudge. For now, Jennifer was concerned about pressing matters at work and her upcoming promotion.
“Things will turn around once we get through the summer rush, I’m sure of it. It always seems to calm down a bit once everyone’s kids are back in school in September.”
“Ha – you say that every year. And every year, September through New Year’s Eve, your life is a living nightmare filled with chaos managing everything at the Manor. You know I’m telling the truth, Sis,” exclaimed Bess.
“Seriously?” mocked Jennifer.
“Hey, I don’t blame you. Being cooped up with my gang can sometimes also be chaotic. But promise you’ll at least get out in the sun sometime this weekend. You’re beginning to develop that San Francisco pale look. And it wouldn’t hurt to drag that boyfriend of yours outside too.”
“Got It! I need to get back to work, so, kiss the kids and Justin for me and have a blast at the River.”
“Okay, Jenny – maybe you can make it up to the River one weekend in August. Talk with you later – Luv you.”
“Luv, you back twin,” said Jennifer. She hung up and grabbed her leather portfolio, which contained the Weekly Briefing Schedule outlining all the upcoming events. And now to see Chef, she thought to herself. This should be fun.
Broadmoor Manor was located near Golden Gate Park. It was over 125 years old, a well-built reinforced building that had survived the 1906 earthquake and fire surprisingly unscathed. Over the years, the Manor grew from a single 4-story building to a full campus. At present, there was a conference center, an underground hall with 90,000 square feet of exhibition space, a theater in the round, an exquisite ballroom which could hold 4,000 people, and a teaching kitchen.
The teaching kitchen, known as Mr. Stewart, had been a hit with the Millennial crowd right from its inception ten years ago. It served as a venue to create culinary corporate team building events. Groups up to 150 people could gather in the kitchen, learn a few new recipes, and bond with each other over drinks and appetizers. The Broadmoor made a considerable effort to ensure the experience was both fun and enjoyable, albeit a team-building environment.
A leisurely dinner and impromptu speeches, which solely depended upon the volume of booze consumed, would round out the evening.
Mr. Stewart was the brainchild of Albert Stewart, VP of Operations. He had taken cooking classes while on vacation in Tuscany in 2007. Albert returned from his vacation, over the moon excited about his experience, and wanted to create an on-site cooking school at the Manor. There were already a few cooking schools in the City that only offered small classes for groups of up to 30 people. Albert envisioned a teaching kitchen on a grand scale – the more people, the more revenue.
Mr. Stewart was different from other venues. It routinely brought in celebrity guest chefs the likes of Gordon Ramsey, Ina Garten, Giada DeLaurentis, and even persuaded the illustrious Bobby Flay. Of the many packages offered to corporate groups, the Bobby Flay Throwdown was the most popular, without a doubt, and garnered the highest revenue for the teaching kitchen each year.
While Albert had established the teaching kitchen and its basic premise, Jennifer marketed and promoted it to companies and charity groups throughout the Bay Area. She had done such an outstanding job that it had become her baby four years ago. That translated into it being her sole responsibility to attain its aggressive revenue each year.
On her way to see Chef Henry, she detoured to drop in on Albert, whose office was in the executive wing near the Master Kitchen.
Chole Dawson was staffing the reception desk in the Admin Building and looked up to see Jennifer walking up the steps toward the glass front doors.
“Hey Jennifer, how are you doing today?’
“Excellent as usual. Just stopping in to see Albert before I have a meeting with Chef Henry next door in the kitchen.”
“Oh, too bad, but you just missed him. I can try him on his cell in case he’s not on the freeway yet.”
“No, that’s okay, he wasn’t expecting me anyhow. It was more of a quick meeting with a friendly face before I brace myself to meet with Chef, who I hear has been making quite a fuss in the kitchen this afternoon.”
Chloe laughed out loud, “I heard he was in a snit over some missing truffles. You know he keeps them under lock and key in a glass jar in that little refrigerator in his office. He wants to be the only who to dole them out when needed in a recipe.”
“Yes, I heard that too. Guess they’re a bit expensive,” said Jennifer.
“Like $2,000 a pound is what I was told.”
Jennifer seemed to pause for a minute, “So maybe there is some justification with his tantrum this afternoon.”
“I think the fact he was told today was his last truffle purchase for at least a year, sent him over the edge,” said Chloe.
“How odd – he’s famous for his dishes with truffles, why take that away from him?”
“Rumor has it, someone high up in the company cut that from his food budget when they were slashing dollars to finance Chef’s kitchen renovation.”
“Well, that explains it. No wonder he’s in a snit,” said Jennifer.
“Lately he’s been zero tolerance to any kind of change in the kitchen, and he always ends up having a tantrum. He goes berserk, Jennifer. And frankly, a little scary, in my opinion. Earlier today he threw an entire pot of marinara sauce at a wall – only it also hit one of the dishwashers and burned his arm. Course Jose never a word to anyone and just cleaned it all up. Come to think of it, it happened right after Tom from Finance left his office.”
Jennifer shook her head in the affirmative, “I hear you,” she said. “Think we’re probably going to have to finally address this with him. Talk to you later.”
“And Jennifer, please don’t ever let Chef or his cronies in the kitchen know that I have ever implied that it is anything but heavenly to work in that department. Otherwise, those guys will make my life miserable,” claimed Chloe.
“My lips are sealed,” said Jennifer as she swiftly moved her fingers across her lips in a zipping motion and smiled.
She hopped back on the golf cart and cruised over to the kitchen. She remembered when Chef Henry had started at the Manor just three years ago. His dishes were innovative, had outstanding flavor profiles, and looked like works of art when it came to presentation.
All of this attracted the most influential locals in San Francisco, as everyone wanted to have a dinner created just for them by Chef Henry. Henry had boosted the Manor’s business by 60% in the last year alone. He was aware of the new power he had attained and intended to use it to his advantage in any given situation.
Jennifer entered the kitchen and looked around at all the activity going on. Several sous chefs were preparing hors d’oeuvres for a wedding reception on Friday night, while two pastry chefs were in a slightly heated conversation about the placement of the topper on a six-tier wedding cake. They looked more like they were in an argument. Who knew?
The rest of the crew was busy preparing appetizers and main courses for the Independence Day Gala that was happening Saturday night. Chef Henry had assigned a Demi Chef dedicated solely to preparing the scallop seviche for 800 people. It would take hours as the Chef only prepared 100 servings at a time, in order to keep the integrity of the flavors. Once all the prep work was done, the ceviche would have to be marinated for a minimum of thirty-two hours in a walk-in refrigerator.
Jennifer loved walking into the commercial kitchen and see how it sparkled, a factor she didn’t always have in several hotels prior to coming to the Manor. Cleanliness in the kitchen was key for Chef Henry. It was almost an obsession that the stainless-steel counters and Viking Range stovetops needed to be spotless if not in use. This obsession led to his recent hire of Jose Garcia, a dishwasher who had the added responsibility of cleaning up the kitchen after the cleaning crew left each night.
She turned the corner after passing the refrigerator section and headed toward Chef’s office. As she got close, she heard shouts coming from inside, so continued to walk straight ahead as if intentional. The blinds to his office were closed 1/2 way, but she could see out of the corner of her eye a person dressed in a white coat and wearing a black baseball cap.
Man? Woman? Whoever it was, the cap had emblazoned across the back-band initials BMR – the company’s logo. The door to his office was slightly ajar, just enough for Jennifer to hear grumblings about the theft of filet mignon and Chef’s prized truffles, but not enough to identify who Henry was rebuking. Jennifer continued to walk the corridor until she reached the Banquet Manager’s office of Tony Clarke.
“Hey, Tony. How are you doing on getting the dance floor for the August Dance Off?” she asked.
Tony got up out of his chair and picked up a colorful brochure off his side table and handed it to Jennifer.
“This is the best, primo, ultra-sophisticated gold and white dance floor that no one has seen before. It’s brand new, and this company has only sold two others, both of which have inaugural dates for use at New Year’s Eve parties. That means, we’ll be the first ever to unveil this rotating, gorgeous, dance floor, and at Dance Off, we will get tons of publicity.”
Jennifer had to laugh, but also agree it looked very cool and sexy if that was possible for a dance floor.
“How much?” she dared ask.
“We are still negotiating that with the vendor. But the way I look at it, if we get it for $100,00 or less, it pays for itself at the end of the season at $5,000 a crack in the rental fee. Then we own it outright, and we make a pure profit going forward. Am I right, or am I right, Jennifer?” Tony asked.
“Yes, you are right,” Jennifer smiled. “Can you get it in time for the Dance-Off, which is only six weeks away?”
“I’ll guarantee it,” he said.
“Once you get a firm quote, send it over for my signature. If you can keep it under $100k, I will sign off on it for sure.”
She made a quick circle of a few of the changing rooms that were used mostly by brides for wedding receptions or models for the many fashion shows hosted by local department stores. She then headed back towards Chef’s office.
He appeared to be alone this time, and his door was fully open now. Jennifer knocked quickly and poked her head in his office.
Henry looked up and smiled as he saw Jennifer, one of his favorite people.
“Hi, Chef, how’s it going?” asked Jennifer.
“Well, look who’s here, my favorite food taster,” he chuckled.
“Not fair, Chef, I am much more than a food taster, I hope,” she teased back. “I was going to stop by a little earlier, but there seemed to be a bit of a ruckus going on in your office. Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Fine, fine, just a little misunderstanding. All is good.”
“Okay, but keep in mind Margaret in HR is here to help if you need personnel advice. She can even handle matters without your presence if that makes you feel more comfortable.”
“I get it, but really not necessary. I can handle this on my own. But thanks for the offer,” said Henry.
“And what’s this I heard about no more truffle recipes on the menu – what’s going on?”
“Ask your friend Albert about that. Tom in Finance cut the expenditure – today was my last order. My Truffle Chive Fettucini is a draw for people coming here to dine, and we all know that. Don’t fool yourself into thinking people won’t notice that their favorite dishes are being eliminated. It’s embarrassing as we just won our second Michelin star. And that idiot told your boyfriend we could save up to a hundred thousand dollars annually by eliminating the truffles.”
“That is a lot of money just for mushrooms.”
“Pocket change. And don’t call them mushrooms Jennifer, your ignorance is showing.”
Jennifer paused and took a deep breath. She certainly wasn’t going to bring up the subject of his bad temper now without someone from HR in the room with her.
Chef offered Jennifer a seat on the couch so they could spread out the function sheets on the coffee table for Saturday’s Independence Day Gala. Between the Gala and a wedding reception on each side of the event, it was no wonder there were forty-plus people already setting up in the kitchen and the Versailles Ballroom. This was going to be a very memorable event. More than even Jennifer or Chef could envision.