Sunday, May 30, 2010

The new cook arrives

Finally the cook has arrived from Germany. After weeks of anticipation, procrastination and speculation as to whether he would actually come at all, he showed up en famille with wife, son and sister, for dinner last Saturday night. We were a little taken aback at his relaxed attitude after keeping s waiting so long; perhaps we would have preferred to see an example of his eagerness to work at this stage! But he dodged in and out of the kitchen between courses, commenting on potential changes and offering advice on presentation and cooking methods as if he was already in charge! Crucial to his performance in the kitchen, he explained, was his outfit; he didn’t dress all in white, but rather in the shirt and black trousers he was wearing at the moment, since he felt more himself. His wife nodded, strongly backing him up. I noted that the tiny 8year old son was dressed identically; was he going to be his father’s accomplice in the cucina?

In fact, on Wednesday, his first night at work, father and his replica, were in the kitchen together, since the wife had gone off to see her family in her mountain paesino. I wasn’t too happy to see him in the kitchen, fearing he would get in the way, or at worst, get us in trouble for child labour! But he made himself useful writing down the shopping list, though he had to ask the spelling of almost everything, since he is more used to talking in Sicilian dialect, than Italian. Halfway through the evening he went off to sleep in some cushions in the store room.

The aiuto-cuoco started on Wednesday too, on trial. He made a great impression on all of us. Only 20, he is doing the scuola alberghiera, the catering course here, and is keen to get all the experience he can get. Meticulous presentation of dishes, immaculate order and cleanliness in his work area and intensely focussed during the rush of orders on Friday and Saturday night, he was always courteous and speedy. His effeminacy gifts him with his presentation skills; he even made the Panini look good. He made me an exquisite fruit platter; the pears cut in identical pieces, the strawberries neatly sliced, the pineapple in homogenous triangles, the finished dish an eyecatching landscape.

Meanwhile, our cuoco made favourable impressions on all too, after his circus stage entrance on Saturday night. Excited about the orders coming in, energetic and quick at work and endlessly enthusiastic, nothing phased him and everything was beautifully presented. No troubled tables this weekend, no botched orders, not a single delay. This man is professional and knows we are counting on him. Mio marito brought him paccheri – large cannelloni-like pasta tubes, and he suggested paccheri all’ortalano, with a sauté of fresh seasonal vegetables and topped with shavings of ricotta di Ragusa, a salty sheeps cheese which works well with the sauce, since our cook is not as heavy on the salt as Sicilian cooks are. We brought him maccheroncini alla chitarra, tiny curved pasta tubes with grooved on the side like guitar strings and he rustled up a special of the night with fresh prawns and calamari with baby tomatoes. Very tasty and light. I thought the touch of chopped garlic enhanced the dish, but some customers who tried it found it too garlicky – Italians are terrified of garlic and its effects on the breath! So mio marito suggested flavouring the oil with a large garlic clove and then lifting it out to toss the pasta in it. I’m on his side where the garlic is concerned though, good to have it back!

In the midst of all, my mother-in-law is there, finally able to do her kitchen justice with its two new recruits, helping out wherever she can, guiding them as to where to find implements or store comestibles. She’s having a ball between these two playboys, flattered by the aiuto cuoco’s attentive courtesy and entertained by the cuoco’s stories and schemes. Much better than sitting in watching TV, says my sister-in-law, sure this is like having a reality show in your own kitchen. The cuoco already is coming up with ideas of running a kebab caravan from the garden, and she is all for it. ‘let’s make money,’ he cries, ‘who ever said Sicilians were lazy and didn’t want to work?’ He has been influenced by the large Turkish population in Germany, and also warns us that the Russians will soon be descending on Sicily to buy up property, as they did in the small tourist town where he was based in Germany. ‘They bring money,’ he assures us, with a confident, entrepreneurial air. God knows what he will be proposing to mio marito next. He already has suggested opening in the summer during the day, to make the most of the fact that the castle has finally been opened, after years of renovation. I don’t know where he gets his energy.

So, could things finally be looking up for us?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lola,
    Good luck with the new chef! I tried to come and visit the restaurant with my girlfriend and a couple of friends a few weeks ago (we had rented a car and were on our way back to Palermo from Taormina), but we arrived too early in the day and you weren't open yet.

    I'm hoping to get another chance to come out and see the restaurant and explore Milazzo a bit more this summer!

    All the best!!!