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Bone in the throat, p.3
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       Bone in the Throat, p.3

           Anthony Bourdain
 
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  This was his favorite part of the day. The cutting boards were rubbed clean and white; the stainless steel work tables and reach-in refrigerators gleamed. There were no other cooks due in until two-thirty. A dishwasher would be in at noon to help him with the scut work and to catch up on the pots. Tommy would be undisturbed until then, free to cook at his own pace and in his own way. He went over the prep list taped to the reach-in door by the sauté station.

  "TOMMY!" it said, in the chef's jagged, block lettering. (The chef loved exclamation points.)

  Veal stock not reduced enuf. . . FIX! Also: Roast Chix . . .

  25# culls coming . . . Cook and shuck for pasta Tonite.

  Need Sauce for Sword . . . Any Ideas??

  Also: Gaufrette Potatoes and Pommes Annas (sorry)

  Tommy hated to make Pommes Annas.

  There was more:

  Fill bottles with red pepper vin. and Cilantro Sauce.

  Cut Fish—One Sword Puppy (make sure it's a puppy!) and one

  Salmon coming in. Sword cut 7 oz. Salmon usual.

  SOUP!! 86 the old shit. Use squid from walk-in, any odds and ends in reach-ins. DO NOT USE SCALLOPS!

  Mushie Sauce: Use portobellos, black trumpets, dried cepes. Step on it with regular mushies. Use demi after reduced. And PORT WINE!

  Use any scraggly veg trimmings in veal stock . . .

  Have DW pick over mussels when he comes in. Also shellfish.

  One Pine Island Oyster and One Cherry coming in . . .

  There's Veg cut already in walk-in . . . DO NOT MAKE!

  When Ricky and Mel come in, have them clean out boxes, throw out Mystery Items. I'll be in around 2:30.

  Tommy looked at the last line. When the chef said he'd be in around two-thirty, he meant maybe three-thirty, or even four o'clock. "Mel" was the name given to any new, inexperienced cook. It was taken from the Italian term mal carne, meaning bad meat. The latest Mel was the new garde-manger, real name Ted, or something like that. Like all the other Mels, he was an extern from the Culinary Institute, spending a semester working in the real world for school credit. He was having what was sarcastically referred to as a Learning Experience, meaning he worked his ass off and the restaurant got some motivated labor dirt cheap. He'd shown up, like the others, freshly scrubbed, in his own new uniform, with the standard-issue black-vinyl knife roll-up under one arm and a copy of The Professional Chef under the other. But he worked like a Trojan, didn't bitch if somebody asked him to peel garlic or make hollandaise in bulk for brunch. Tommy considered asking Mel to shuck the lobsters but thought better of it.

  The bell at the delivery entrance rang. Tommy walked down the narrow hallway and pushed open the heavy trap doors to the street. It was the fish delivery. A short, unshaven driver wearing a leather truss, work gloves, and rubber boots came in with a long cardboard box heaped with crushed ice. He dropped the box at Tommy's feet, a thin stream of water from the melting ice running out onto the floor. Tommy reached inside, first removing a wheel of swordfish, then an Atlantic salmon. He weighed both on the digital scale atop an ancient chest freezer, gave the salmon a perfunctory press with his fingers, checked the eyes and gills, and signed the invoice. He gave the driver the white copy and spiked the yellow on a nail on the wall next to a stack of shellfish tags. Then he returned to the kitchen.

  Tommy could hear Barry, the manager, in the upstairs waiter station steaming milk for cappuccino. He finished his coffee and shouted "SALAAM" to the two Mohammeds as they passed through the kitchen on their way out the door. He filled up the steam table with water and, his knees resting on the clean rubber floor mats behind the line, reached under and lit the burners. He switched on the range hoods and fired up the Frialator, the ovens, and one side of the grill. In a nonstick pan, he sauteed some chorizo and chopped scallions left over from the night before, then quickly beat in some eggs with a rubber spatula. He added a little fresh cracked pepper with a few turns of a steel peppermill, slid the eggs onto a salad plate and, standing there at his workstation, ate quickly. When he was finished, he put the empty plate and the fork down on the prewash area of the dishwasher.

  Moving on to his mise-en-place, he collected the pots he would need from the overhead racks and neatly arranged the house knives next to his cutting board. He filled a stainless steel crock with hot water and dropped a handful of male and female spoons, a pair of tongs, and a spatula in it. He got a stack of clean kitchen towels from the changing room and lay them down on a shelf over his workstation.

  He went in the walk-in and hauled out a tall plastic bucket filled with veal stock, then poured the stock into a double-weight Crusader-Wear stockpot and started reducing it. He then went back to the walk-in and returned with a buspan of wriggling, one-clawed lobsters. He poured two quarts of white wine into a stockpot and added some bay leaves, some peppercorns, a bit of crushed red pepper, whole cloves, a sprig of raggedy fresh thyme. He found some vegetable trimmings in the sauté box, a drying half-onion, a few wrinkled carrots, some limp celery. He threw them in along with some leek tops and a head of garlic. He put a sheet pan over the pot and waited for the wine to cook down a bit and suck up the flavor from the spices and vegetables. He went back to the walk-in, wondering how much mileage he put in every day on his trips back and forth, then returned with a bucket of fish fumet and a bucket of peeled potatoes. The food-spattered radio cassette player was blaring an old Modern Lovers tune, "She Cracked," and Tommy bounced around in time to the music unembarrassed, as he was alone in the kitchen. "She cracked . . . I'm sad . . . But I won't. . ." he sang along. He rubbed a few red peppers with olive oil and put them on the grill for red pepper vinaigrette.

  Tommy turned back to the frantic lobsters. He emptied them out of the buspan and into the boiling white wine. "Sorry guys," he said. "It'll all be over in a minute." He listened to them scraping their claws against the metal. After a few moments, the noise died down.

  When the lobsters were cooked, he poured them into a colander in the pot sink and ran cold water over them.

  He reduced some port wine for the mushroom sauce. Reaching into a cold bucket of shallots, he found there were dangerously few. His hand still wet, he started a night prep list on a piece of notepaper from the chef's clipboard, writing "Chop Shallots!!" He put some dried cepes in warm water to soak and, with a paring knife, trimmed away the gills and stems from a few handfuls of portobellos.

  The old surf instrumental "Pipeline" by the Chantays came on the radio. Tommy smiled and decided it was an auspicious moment to begin the soup. He found his favorite pot in a corner under a work table where he had hidden it the day before and put it on the range. He poured some olive oil into the pot, minced some garlic and simmered it until transparent. He wanted to play air guitar along with the music, since no one was looking, but instead peeled the onions and chopped them into a fine dice. Remembering the red peppers on the grill, he spun around, grabbed them with the tongs, put them in a stainless steel bowl, and covered them with plastic wrap to free the skin. He tossed the diced onions into the soup pot with the garlic and sprinkled in some thyme and some bay leaves. He seeded some red and green peppers, cut them into a medium dice, and added them to the pot. He poured a healthy hit of ground cumin in after. Soon the kitchen began to fill with the smell of garlic, onions, and cumin. He added the cut squid, chasing it around with a large steel paddle. He rooted around in the grillman's reach-in for a few minutes, coming up with some swordfish trimmings, a little lobster meat, and, wonder of wonders, a full crock of cherrystone clams, already shucked. He strained the clam juice in with the fish fumet that was already heating on a back burner and added the clams to the squid, along with the lobster and swordfish. When the fumet was hot, he poured it into the soup pot, added two cans of crushed tomato, a couple spoons of paste, and a gallon of red wine. He cut ten of the peeled potatoes into large dice and threw them in the pot, too. He finished the whole dark, wonderful mess with some crushed red pepper and a little tabasco sauce, and left the pot to s
immer.

  He lit a cigarette and felt around under the station for the chef's ashtray from the night before. He couldn't find it at first. He looked through the tilted speed rack, pushing aside the greasy bottles of Tabasco, olive oil, white wine, brandy, Worcestershire, rice wine vinegar, and lemon juice. He finally found the ashtray on an overhead shelf, tucked behind the chefs $450 custom-made Japanese knife in its rosewood scabbard. There was a small glassine envelope peeking out of the scabbard, and Tommy slipped it carefully out from next to the knife. The envelope had a colorful, rubber-stamped image of a toilet on it. He quickly rolled up a bill from his wallet, peeled back the tape on the envelope, and after a quick look in both directions, took a short, measured sniff of the bitter contents.

  "Oooohhhh, baby" he said out loud.

  AS ALWAYS the chef showed up late: around three-thirty. He went straight for his knife, disappearing back into the changing room for a good five minutes before he reappeared in his whites, looking noticeably refreshed. Tommy didn't say anything. The chef tuned the radio to a classic-rock station, lit a cigarette, and drifted upstairs to the bar, returning a few moments later with a shaker glass of CocaCola and ice.

  "What's the soup?" he asked Tommy.

  "Check it out," said Tommy, proudly, "Portugee Seafood Chowder."

  The chef lifted the lid off the still-simmering chowder. "That smells fuckin' great. If I think I can hold anything down, I might have a bowl for breakfast. You get the lobster squared away?"

  Tommy nodded. "Yeah. And I hated every minute of it. We should get the dishwasher to do that shit."

  "The dishwasher'll throw half the fuckin' lobster meat in the trash. They don't get the knuckles. And he gets upset. He's not too crazy about getting involved with shellfish. I think it's a religious thing."

  "I got a fish sauce together," said Tommy. "Mustard tarragon vinaigrette with crispy leek garnish. That okay?"

  "Yeah, that's fine," said the chef. "An oldie but goodie."

  "I haven't cut the leeks yet," said Tommy "I wondered if you'd let me use your knife. The house knives just mash them to shit."

  "Looks like you were at my knife already. Half the fuckin' bag is gone," said the chef.

  "It was half empty when I found it. I just did a tiny poke," said Tommy.

  "That was my wake-up, man," whispered the chef. "You don't need the shit. I need it."

  "Sorry I tapped it," said Tommy. "Spur of the moment. Mea culpa. Sorry."

  "Now I gotta go east," said the chef, jerking his head to the east.

  "They got nothing uptown, it's too hot in the forties. I was gonna go over later, but now I gotta go sooner. I don't want to turn into a fuckin' pumpkin halfway through dinner."

  "Really, I didn't do a lot," said Tommy.

  "Now I gotta go over there," said the chef.

  "Why don't you just send a busboy later. Hector's coming in in an hour," suggested Tommy.

  "I thought about that," said the chef, "I don't like doing that anymore. It's not too cool. What if he gets popped? They'll probably deport the guy. On top a that, you know Hector. I sent him over there a few times, now he thinks he can shake me down for a steak dinner for his shaft meal. Can't you see Hector, the fuckin' busboy, sittin' up there, munchin' on a twenty-ounce sirloin and all the waitrons and the manager are trying to choke down their shepherd's pie? Doesn't look too good. On top of that, the son of a bitch eats his steak well done. I got principles."

  "So you're going over now?" asked Tommy.

  "Yeah, can you set up my station?"

  "Yeah, sure." He hesitated. "Well, since you're going, can you pick me up a couple?"

  "You have any money?" asked the chef.

  "Enough for two bags."

  "You got twenty extra till next week? I'm short."

  "Alright," said Tommy, reaching for his wallet. "But I gotta have it back."

  "No problem," said the chef. Though Tommy knew it would be a problem.

  "So, you're gonna get four?" Tommy asked.

  "Two for me, two for you," said the chef. He turned and headed for the door.

  Seven

  Two men sat in a graffiti-covered step van across the street from the Dreadnaught Grill. The dashboard was covered with empty coffee containers and candy wrappers. The men watched the white-clad figure emerge from the trap doors to the kitchen and head east on Spring Street.

  "Who's that?" asked Detective Dudziak.

  "That's Tommy Pagano," said Detective Rizzo, sitting behind the wheel.

  "Yeah?"

  "Tommy. The nephew," said Rizzo. "Sally's nephew."

  "That don't look like the nephew to me," said Dudziak, fumbling for his scope in the glove compartment.

  "That's him," said Rizzo. "That's the nephew."

  "You got the pictures?"

  "Left 'em onna breakfast table this morning. Kids were late for school. Forgot." Rizzo started the engine.

  "What are you doin'?" asked Dudziak.

  "I'm thinkin'," said Rizzo.

  "You're sure that's him?"

  "I'm tellin' you, that's him. That's Tommy. I remember the face."

  Dudziak consulted a clipboard on his lap. "Where the fuck is he goin? Says here it's the middle of his shift, he's not due off till nine. What's he doin'?"

  "I wanna follow him."

  "Maybe he's runnin' an errand . . ."

  "Maybe he is. Maybe he's runnin' an errand for Uncle Sally."

  "Maybe he's runnin' out for a head of lettuce."

  "It would be nice to find out."

  "What?"

  "C'mon," said Rizzo, "let's find out."

  "Leave the post?"

  "He who dares, wins."

  "Oh, shit . . ."

  "If he's not doin' nothin' we don't have to tell nobody. If he is, great. I'm tired a sittin' here just lookin' at a fuckin' restaurant. Maybe we got somethin' here."

  "So we follow him?"

  "We follow him. Maybe we get lucky."

  THE TWO DETECTIVES followed the chef in the van down Spring Street.

  "Oh, man . . . It's nice to get a breeze in here," said Rizzo. At Bowery, the chef headed uptown. The van dropped back, waiting for him to gain some distance.

  "Don't lose him," said Dudziak.

  "I got him, I got him," said Rizzo.

  At Houston Street, the chef turned right, heading east.

  "Where the fuck is he goin'?" asked Dudziak.

  "I dunno, maybe he's got a girlfriend. Little love in the afternoon . . ."

  The chef crossed onto the uptown side of Houston at Avenue A. Rizzo had to make a U-turn. The chef turned right at Fourth Street, once more heading east.

  "That's Neverneverland in there," said Dudziak. "He's lookin' to cop."

  "Look," said Rizzo. "He's slowin' down, he's lookin' . . ."

  The chef crossed Avenue B, walking slowly through the suddenly crowded streets, headed for Avenue C.

  Detective Rizzo pulled the van over to the side of the street and took the scope from Dudziak. He peered through the lens. The chef was exchanging words with a thin, young male Hispanic wearing a baseball cap. The young man held a short length of plywood; he motioned the chef toward an abandoned tenement. The chef looked up and down Fourth Street a couple of times and then ducked quickly under a corrugated metal barrier that didn't quite block the entrance to the tenement.

  "Bingo!" said Rizzo.

  "What?" exclaimed Dudziak. "He score?"

  "This is just too good to be true," said Rizzo. "They gonna love our asses for this. We're gonna catch him dirty . . ."

  "I don't know about this . . ."

  "They are gonna love our asses for this at Strike Force! We score . . . We score big time." He imitated a cheering crowd. "Yessss! Two days on the job and we score. Are we a pair a swingin' dicks or what?"

  "What's he coppin'? Crack?"

  "Better," said Rizzo. "Much better. Tommy's a fuckin' dope fiend! I love it!"

  "We better call in," said Dudziak. "We better call in
before we do anythin'. Are we gonna do anything?"

  "I dunno, I dunno. I'll call in a minute. I just wanna savor the moment. I just wanna sit here and enjoy myself for a sec. Tommy's a dope fiend. It don't say nothin' about that inna file. This is a break. Tommy Pagano. Dope Fiend. I'm gettin' a fuckin' hard-on just thinkin' 'bout it."

  "He could come outta there any fuckin' minute. You better call in."

  "He ain't goin' nowhere," said Rizzo. "I know that spot. They sell the Check-Mate in there. That's one of the populuh spots down here, man. They usually got forty, fifty skells lined up in there. Tommy's gonna be busy in there for a while."

  "So, what? You thinkin' a grabbin' him he comes out?"

  "Damn right. You know he's gonna be dirty. Alright. . . I'll make the call."

  TEN MINUTES LATER, Detective Rizzo returned from the pay phone.

  "They said we can grab him," he said.

  "Who'd you talk to?"

  "Some AUSA, Lipman, I think his name is. He said we can grab him."

  "What about Al? The Fibby . . . He's not there? You ask him? He's supposed to be the supervisor."

  "They beeped him. Lipman said it's okay to go ahead. He said grab him when he comes out. We bring him down to the precinct and twist his nuts for him. The feds'll pile on later."

  "He's gonna give up his uncle for a few dime bags? Is that the idea?"

  "Who knows? Who knows? Greaseballs are funny about their people doin' smack. Tommy's gonna hafta think about that, sittin' there in the interrogation room. He's gonna hafta think about how his uncle's gonna feel about that, him doin' that babania. Tommy might worry a little bit about that. Maybe he can stand up for the bust. But Uncle Sally's not gonna be happy. That's the kinda motivation makes cases."

  "So we grab him," said Detective Dudziak.

  "Yes we do."

  OUT ON FOURTH STREET the chef moved at a brisk pace back toward the restaurant. He heard footsteps behind him, closing fast. Thinking he was about to get mugged, he broke into a trot. He crossed the street, reaching into his pants pocket as he picked up speed. Over his shoulder he caught a glimpse of a man running after him. He put the thin bundle of glassine bags in his mouth. The man looked like a cop, he realized; he was too heavy to be a mugger. Heart racing, the chef broke left for an abandoned lot connecting Third and Fourth streets. He saw another man coming straight at him. He considered swallowing the bags, but his mouth was too dry. He felt his knees weakening as he stumbled through the lot. Suddenly there was an arm around his neck. He felt himself thrown to the ground with somebody's weight on top of him. The arm tightened around his neck. A hand squeezed his cheeks. Yet another hand yanked his head back. Somebody was pinching his nose.

 
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