Wednesday night was a good night for me at the restaurant.
Three weeks into the job and the learning curve is beginning to flatten a bit: I’ve learned the fish station well and have begun to pick up on the appetizer and garde manger stations. (Garde manger is the station that assembles the salads and desserts.) When I get to work, I am able to see what prep work I need to do without having to ask too many questions, which leaves me time to ask other questions of Chef, relating to how he organizes the kitchen, manages food costs, and creates the menus. Two things have impressed me most: one is how little waste there is in what we do and the second is the elegant simplicity of his dishes. The point is to let you taste the ingredients, not to cover them up with sauces and spices to show off.
Weeknights, there are four of us on the line: one at the grill (usually Chef), one at the fish station, one doing garde manger and pizza, and one on appetizers. Gianni, of pasta recipe fame, works appetizers. He is only 19 and came to the US from Italy about two years ago. His English is good and his accent is thick and musical. He has an affable spirit and he loves music – mostly classic rock. Occasionally, he asks me for a ride home, which he did on Wednesday. When we got in the car, he said,
“You like the classical music?”
“Sure,” I said. “I don’t know much about it, but I like it.”
“I found this CD used. For a dollar.” (I wish I could type the way he says, “dollar.”) “It’s OK to play it?”
“Sure,” I said again.
“It’s the Messiah (which he pronounced mess-see-ya) — by Handel. Do you know it?”
“That’s one I know,” I answered.
“It’s beautiful. And I found it for only a dollar,” he said again, since a bargain is a big deal on a line cook’s salary, I’m sure. He put the CD in the player and asked me to punch down to the ninth track. “Hallelujah Chorus,” he said, smiling. “It’s very beautiful.”
Wednesday was one of those New England summer days that make you remember why you live in New England. The air was dry, the breeze was cool, and the temperature barely got about seventy degrees. Driving home that night, we had the windows down and wound our way through Plymouth and Kingston under a starlit sky and an almost full moon. Since it was going on eleven o’clock, the streets were mostly empty and the towns were quiet. All we could hear was the quiet hum of the engine, the tires on the road, and the breeze as it carried the voices past our ears and out into the night:
and he shall reign forever and ever . . .
I couldn’t help but sing along. Between church and school choirs, I know the tenor part pretty well. When Ginger served the church in Winchester, the tradition was to invite members of the congregation to join the choir at the end of the service on Easter Sunday to sing the Hallelujah Chorus together. My schedule kept me from singing with the choir regularly, but I never missed an Easter opportunity. I sang quietly as Gianni and I rode along, not wanting to frighten him or to interfere with his experience with the music. We didn’t talk much; he listened and I sang softly.
When we got to his house, I pushed the eject button and he put his CD back in its jewel box. He thanked me for the ride and I told him I’d see him on Friday. He lives in a small house at the end of a gravel road tucked in a part of Kingston I didn’t even know was there. Every time I’ve dropped him off, the house has been dark and I’ve seen no one. I know nothing of what home feels like to him, other than listening to him talk in Italian to tell someone he had a ride – at least, that’s what I think he’s saying.
Since the Sox game was already over, I was hard pressed to think of what would follow Handel. I turned down the radio and followed the road out of Kingston into Duxbury and on to Marshfield. The engine, the tires, and the breeze continued their accompaniment, even though the choir had stopped singing.
The first time I saw Gianni make his pasta dish, I asked him if he wanted to add some mushrooms and he shook his head.
“You know Leenard Skeenard?” he asked.
“I, too, am a simple man.” He smiled.
Since the moon comes up as much in the south as it does in the east during the summer time, my next to last turn towards home set the yellow orb at the end of the street as if it were my destination. Just before I drove off into space, I made my final left and turned into the driveway. The light off the porch spilled out into the yard and I could see the silhouettes of the daylilies and hydrangeas that encircle our small lawn. The Schnauzers wagged and woofed as I came through the gate.
Life’s a lot like our menu: best left simple, where the flavors come through.