Saturday, November 14, 2009

Too few cooks 4/05/09

I am on my hands and knees behind the bar along with my suocera (mother-in-law) scrubbing the filthy fridges and their greasy vents when my husband returns, all pleased with himself, from a glass company in the next town with samples for the top of the bar. When we stripped the wall behind the bar we found a layer of cork which had been put in for soundproofing. It fit in so well with the natural, ethnic-chic look we are trying to achieve that we decided to leave it like that. It provides a nice contrast with the shelves for the wine and alchohol bottles, which we have painted white. We've put a strip of cork along the top of the bar too, and this glass will run along the top. But rather than just a strip of glass (clear or frosted? - another of the tiny decision we have to make), they can print the logo and the name of the bar along the strip. Much more interesting. Sensing my husband's delight, the aiuto-cuoco is overjoyed and gabbles away about the aesthetic advantages. 'Our third partner', I say to my cugnata who has just appeared bearing litte shots of coffee from the friendly bar down the road.

We are callng the locale PACHAMAMA - bar de tapas e ristorante ... Pachamama is Mother Earth in Andean culture, the goddess of fertility and the goodness of the earth. I came back from a year in South America after university thinking of opening a Pachamama café in Dublin, and my husband had the same idea after his various visits to South America for NGO work. His family have also warned us about the perils of changing the name from 'Agorà', the central meeting place where all the action took place in Ancient Greece. It will take a long time for people to accept the new name, they say. In a small town this is probably true, but since my husband and talked about this on one of our first rendezvous, we feel strongly about it. It also represents the kind of ambience and heartwarming foood that we want to provide.

Later in the afternoon I find my husband outside deep in talk with the cuoca and her husband whom she brings along every time we meet, even to the cookery lessons. He is as grey and thin as she is plump and effervescent, but she must need him for support to get her through new experiences. 'Look at you in your apron!' she says. 'Yes, I am cleaning the kitchen for you,' I tell her. Hmmm, she says. Mi marito (my husband) explains that she has had second thoughts, that she thinks Pachamama (she says Paca) is not the place for her. 'I think I'll be wasted here,' she tells me, smiling as if she is giving me good news. Well if that's the case, far be it from me to keep you here, I tell her, smiling back, feeling relief that she is going and panic that we are supposed to open next week and now have no cook. My husband frowns at me. 'But I have almost convinced her that we would be delighted if she would stay and have a trial run for a few weeks at least, that we really appreciate her cooking and suggestions.' Oops, so I have just put my foot in it. I was practising the art of diplomacy, I would never want to force anything on anyone. But it was not the time for diplomacy of that kind.

Mi marito told me later that it was my smile that sealed it. I looked too pleased that she was leaving. He also blamed it on a little chat we had had with her the day before, precisely on diplomacy, that dirty word. We felt it necessary to explain the ethos we wanted at Pachamama of cooperation and team spirit and were just a little concerned that she might not be happy to work along with the aiuto cuoco, nor to prepare the recipes we had chosen, preferring to impose her own favourite dishes instead (which at the end of the day, are fairly classic Sicilian fare). Her refusal to give a hand with any kind of cleaning and her attitude towards the aiuto-cuoco (as her scivvy) were somewhat worrying, and I firmly believe that if she was this stroppy before we had even opened, who knows what she would have been like under pressure. I had my doubts about her right from the sample meal she made for us. As with the aiuocouco, we gave her €50 to buy food to prepare antipasti,a primo, secondo and dessert; something interesting based on fish, local food with an exotic twist, after she had seen the ideas for our menu with us. Not only did she not come back with any change (the aiuto cuoco had come back immediately and worked out a very economic and tasty four courses), but she bought enough food for her entire family - and her son's girlfriend who happened to be there that night!

So good riddance. Though now we have to find another cook. And it is all my fault.

Dolores

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