The Perfect Salmon

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by a coworker to contact an old family friend and past client to arrange a menu for a high-end dinner.

Really I’m not sure how to refer to this coworker. I was recruited into this position by a professional and somewhat personal acquaintance because the lady who has managed this company, heart and soul, for the last 6+ years has left something to be desired by senior management.

She is the sweetest woman a person could hope to meet, and I suspect that without her this company would’ve fizzled out long ago. However, like most people, she does have some characteristics that if dwelled upon could drive one to violent tragedy—not unlike the mythological Sirens that caused sea captains to crash their ships onto the rocky shores. I personally have a hard time not dwelling.

Nonetheless, I was hired to take her place. She hasn’t left, but I digress.

The aforementioned client, a wealthy widower of nearly 90 years, was hosting a dinner party to celebrate the end of an annual internship that he sponsors for Christian young people at a certain university. These are really nice kids that have taken summer internships with various “help” organizations, ours being one of them. He apparently puts on this soirée each year, but usually at a local club or restaurant which was not available this year—enter our Sirenesque friend.

After a brief and deliberate conversation on the phone (in which he did most of the talking) I scribed the following menu.

Warm Crab Salad with Marinated English Cucumbers, Tomato/Basil Macedoine, and Horseradish Vinaigrette

Baby Field Lettuces with Roasted Beets, Walnuts, Green Apple, and Oven-Dried Grapes in a Goats’ Cheese Vinaigrette

Braised Beef Short Rib in Merlot Demi-Glace with Butter Poached Lobster, Pappardelle, Stanly County Butter Beans, and Roasted Pepper/Almond Romesco

Poached Spartanburg County Peach with Watermelon Soup and Blackberry/Cabernet Sorbet

Why I didn’t see this coming I don’t know.

A couple of days later Lady and I (Desolation Row) stopped in to meet our client at his retirement community hacienda and review the menu with him. As we entered the house I was abruptly made aware that I would be in charge of nothing. “She’s the boss. I don’t know you and I don’t even know your company’s name, but I trust her.”

These people just come into my life. I’m like some kind of magnet for assholes.

So here’s how it went…

Asshole: “What’s wrong with Shrimp Cocktail?”

Me: “Nothing sir, be glad to.”

AH: “I think the salad sounds fine. Let’s do that”

ME: “Great!”

AH: “These people are going to be eating off of TV trays and I don’t think we need anything that has to be cut with a knife. How about a nice piece of salmon?”

ME: “I don’t typically suggest fish for groups sir, unless you are positive that everyone likes fish.”

AH: “Good point. But there is nothing like a nice piece of salmon when it is prepared properly.”

ME: “Let’s define properly, because to me properly cooked salmon is served rare—a cool to barely lukewarm center.”

AH: “Oh no, no, no. It has to be cooked. Listen, just last week I was at one of the finest restaurants in New York City with a very sophisticated woman who knew how food should be…”

ME: Thought [OK, at least you’re kind of admitting you don’t]

AH: “…and she sent her salmon back because it wasn’t cooked enough.”

ME: [She showed them I guess.Did it ever occur to you and Miss Fancy Pants that ya’ll know fuck all about fish?] Smile

ME: “Salmon it is sir.  Grilled.  Well-done with mashed potatoes and asparagus.”

AH: “Gotta get that little asparagus, not the big ones.”

ME: “Of course sir.” [Only the best for you and yours.]

AH: “Now let’s talk about dessert. I like this peach thing, but what’s wrong with just a plain half of a peach with some sweetened whipped cream. I can’t see putting all of this other stuff in there to dilute the flavor of the peach.”

ME: “I suspect you’re right. Happy to do it for you sir.” [Now why did I never think of that?]

I thought of “Alice’s Restaurant”. You know the song… “the judge walked in
sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down…Obie came to
the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice, and
there wasn’t nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn’t going to
look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the
circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what
each one was to be used as evidence against us.”

It was a humbling hour of my life, but I got through it and I was reminded that the customer is always right. Well, actually the customer is quite often wrong, but he is the one paying the bill and when it was all over I got a hundred bucks a person for this little shindig! His menu turned out to be a lot easier to pull off than mine was anyway.

The old guy ate about two bites of each course. Still couldn’t stop talking.