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What Else Is There?

by Al Norris

Chapter 8

Dorothy Thomas loved the flowers!

After introductions were completed, Mitch helped me bring in everything we bought for the meal yesterday. Of course, Mrs. Thomas had to come to the kitchen to be sure we knew where everything was. Uncle George and Mr. Thomas, not wanting to miss anything, just followed the crowd.

After a few minutes, I glanced at my watch and with a cheeky grin, spoke up. "OK everyone, we need to get started. There will be a 5-minute photo op, and then everyone is banned from the kitchen, and dining room, until dinner is served."

While Mr. and Mrs. Thomas laughed, Uncle George, who was a bit scandalized by my brazen announcement, blurted out "Peter…"

"No, it's OK George," Mrs. Thomas said between giggles. "It's their show."

Mitch's Dad added, "Besides, that will give us plenty of time to gossip about these two without them getting underfoot and pestering us, like the rug rats they really are."

"Not fair Dad."

"Oops, the photo op is over. Come on Mitch, we have work to do."

Dinner went over very well. The only point of contention was the two half glasses of wine that I had poured for Mitch and myself. After a brief discussion, the grumps all agreed that it wasn't too much alcohol and relented.

Everyone thought the salad was very good and wanted to know what the dressing was. They had never tasted vinegar and oil dressing quite like the one we had made. I told them that it was a traditional Italian vinegar and oil dressing, except that the vinegar was balsamic vinegar instead of the more commonly used white vinegar.

The main course consisted of steamed asparagus and penne pasta cooked in chicken broth. A baked chicken breast was sitting on top of the pasta. The plate was generously drizzled with the sauce. When it was served, they all raved about it. When asked, I explained that Gorgonzola was a traditional Italian blue cheese similar to Roquefort but not as piquant. It was a sharp cheese but softer and better for use in sauces than Roquefort. This particular sauce went very well with the chicken, vegetable, and pasta.

"Yesterday, when we were buying things for dinner, Pete explained that the cheese was made from goat's milk. I gotta be honest. I wasn't sure if I'd like it or not. Who knew Italian goats could make cheese, or that it would taste this good?"

Mitch shared the last piece of chicken, pasta, and sauce with Glenn, his dad.

Dessert consisted of a graham cracker bottom crust in which cream cheese, half & half, and a package of instant lemon pudding were thoroughly mixed and poured into the pie crust. It was chilled for an hour then topped with a blueberry glaze. It looked and tasted almost like a real cheesecake. No eggs, no sour cream, no sugar (except what was in the pudding mix and topping) and you didn't have to cook it. Hence the term 'mock' cheesecake.

After dinner, Dorothy took a deep breath. "Well, I think I will leave you gentlemen to your man talk, while I clear the table and find my kitchen."

"Um, Mom? Pete and I will clear the table, while you of the elder generation get down to the serious business of digesting and talking about the good ol' days. Besides, the kitchen is already cleaned up."

Dorothy blinked and with a skeptical look, stood up. "Now this I've got to see." She disappeared into the kitchen only to reappear 5 seconds later with the strangest expression on her face.

"This has been an absolutely wonderful afternoon. First the flowers, then some wonderful company, and an extraordinary meal with more wonderful company. But… to top it all off, I find my kitchen as clean, if not cleaner, than I left it… It's almost overwhelming. George, would you mind if I borrowed Peter, just long enough to teach my two delinquents, that it does not require the use of everything within reach, just to fix a bowl of cornflakes? It should only take a month or two."

Since the only things not cleaned were what we used to serve and eat with, Mitch and I cleaned everything up in no time at all and then joined the adults in the lounge with coffee.

They were still talking about the dinner and as soon as Glenn saw me he asked, "Peter, do you have the receipts for what you spent on this great meal?" I pulled my wallet out and handed him the receipt from Smith's. "That's amazing! Dorothy, I would have expected to pay this much at Johnny's in Reno just for the two of us!"

"That was just under a hundred, wasn't it dear?"

"Yes, it was." Glenn handed the receipt to her. "Peter, you are a very good cook. Your meal ranks right up there with one of the best Dorothy and I have ever eaten."

"Look at what you've done, Glenn!" Uncle George chuckled, "He's blushing and we haven't even discussed sex yet!"

"Peter, do you like cooking?"

"Yeah, Mr. Thomas. I do." Then remembering earlier this afternoon, and working with Mitch, "Sometimes it can be a lotta fun too."

"Please, call me Glenn. I'm asking because you're fourteen, and a sophomore?"


"Have you given any thought to becoming a real chef? There are ways to get a Certificate of Culinary Achievement before you graduate. Would you be interested in something like that?"

"Um… I don't know. I haven't really thought about doing something like that. I've kinda just always liked to cook. Is there a real career doing that?"

"Yes, there is. A good chef can make about thirty grand to start. That's assuming you have a Certificate in the Culinary Arts. If you were to have an associate's degree too…"

"They have degrees in cooking?"

"Yes, they do… As I was saying, if you went to school to get a degree in Culinary Arts, you could make from forty grand to sixty grand a year. Of course, it depends on the type of cooking you excel in and where you want to live."

"Wow! I never really gave it much thought. Didn't know they taught stuff like that."

"George? Do you have the internet? If you do, get Peter to go online and have him look up Culinary Arts. I'm betting you will find a lot of information on becoming a real chef… Assuming you're interested in doing that, Peter."

"Mr. Thom… er, Glenn? How do you know this stuff?"

"My sister Mary's husband, Mitch's Uncle Leo, is a chef in Seattle. He runs a restaurant there and makes over ninety grand a year, last I heard. I sorta know what he had to do to get there."

"OK, let's assume that's what I want to do with my life… What would I have to do?"

"There are several Culinary Arts Schools that offer online classes for a certificate. If you were to take these courses this summer and complete them next summer, you could then get a part-time job as an intern to finish out your senior year.

"With the certificate and an internship during your senior year, we can look at you doing a two-year in-house Culinary Arts School to get your AS degree. That will open all kinds of doors."

I grabbed hold of Mitch's hand and looked hard at each of the adults, then I smiled my most innocent smile. "Guys, I'm only 14. Instead of trying to have me decide on a career at my age… How about we talk about something near and dear to every teenage boy's heart…"

Uncle George, Glenn, and I said at the same time, "SEX!" While Mitch and Dorothy said, "FOOD!" I gave Mitch a funny look while his face turned red and the adults busted into gales of laughter.

It had been a fun afternoon. I had to admit to myself that I really did enjoy cooking. Especially a meal like this that everyone raved about. It was easy to see, in their body language and vocal tones, that they loved it. That alone made me feel so good.

It helped bunches that Mitch was there to assist this one-armed chef! He seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing and asked a lot of questions as he helped prepare the food. We talked about everything and nothing, then setting the table, and washing pots. Thinking about it later that evening, I realized that this was our first real bonding time. It was wonderful!

"Peter, that really was an excellent meal." Uncle George said as we drove home. "I think Glen is right. You should look into the Culinary Arts. If for no other reason than to see if that's your calling, you certainly have the talent. I think it might be. On the other hand, you might end up hating it. Getting into the field now would give you time to decide if it fits you."

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look into the online courses."

"No, it wouldn't. Did you know that at 14, you can work during the summer? Granted, at most, it would only be 20 hours a week but if you could get started at, say, Luciano's, it might give you more of an insight as to how the hospitality sector works."

"I bet I would have to start at the bottom. Washing dishes, learning to bus tables, things like that?"

"Yes, that's the way most entry-level jobs start. Especially in the hospitality sector. Think of it this way, if you start at the bottom, by the time you work up to actually preparing a meal, you will know what all those other jobs are like and how your coworkers' jobs integrate into the whole of the business.

"Whether you work in a large restaurant or end up with your own business, you'll learn how to manage your staff. That also means scheduling the shifts. You will learn how to order the food, the quantities, and the costs. Setting the profit margins so you don't go broke. You will also find out how your clientele reacts to the bussers, the wait staff, and the chefs. That is very important. Because if you start losing customers and don't know why you will go broke."

"Yeah, just by being a customer, I've seen some bad reactions from other customers. Some warranted and others without any real cause for complaint!"

"In almost any business, you will have customers that you can never satisfy. It's just a part of human nature. Some people are not happy unless they have something to complain about.

"The point I'm trying to make is that by learning from the bottom up, you will also learn how to integrate your cooking skills with the rest of the restaurant's team. That's just with an associate's degree. Should you go further and get a bachelor's…"

"They have a bachelor's degree?"

"... Yes they do. A bachelor's degree in Culinary Arts will give you the business knowledge to run your own restaurant."

"Glenn told us how he knows this stuff but how do you know all of this, Uncle George?"

"While you and Mitch were finishing up in the kitchen, we talked about what Glenn's brother-in-law had to do to get to where he is now."

"OK. Why would I need to know how to run a business, if all I want to do is to cook good meals?"

"See? That's the thing. If all you want is to cook good meals, then you don't need to become a real chef. A real chef will most likely become the manager of the restaurant he works at or he will want to open a restaurant of his own. Another way to think about it is that the word chef can also mean head man or boss."

By this time, we had pulled into the driveway and Uncle George was opening the door to our house. I gathered the few things we had brought over to Mitch's place and went into the kitchen to put them away. "You want some coffee, Uncle?"

"Sure. Get us a cup and then come and sit with me."

It took me a few minutes to make a couple of mugs of coffee. I gave Unc his coffee and sat down on the sofa with him.

"I heard you grinding the beans, so I suspect you used the French Press. Why didn't you just use the canned coffee and the drip maker?"

"Because grinding the beans just before you use them, guarantees you get the best flavor of the beans. Same with the French Press. Pouring boiling water onto the beans, then pressing the water out helps to cut the acidity, and the bitterness, and makes a more rounded brew."

"And you learned this, how? Why go to that much trouble just to make a couple of cups of coffee?"

"Um… Because everything I've read or watched says this is the way to make the best coffee. We've had dinner and now we are just relaxing. So why not make the best coffee, to relax with?"

"The dinner you made this afternoon, did it come from a memorized recipe?"

"Well, sorta. I've made it before and it didn't taste right. So I've added a few things and taken away some other things. I thought it would taste better that way. It was OK, wasn't it?"

"So you took someone else's recipe, made it, and then modified it so it tasted right to you?"

"Yeah, that's kinda what I did."

"No, that's exactly what you did. That's what a chef does. Takes a recipe and makes it his own. How many times have you made that dish until you got it right?"

"This is only the second time I've cooked this."

"Oh? What was wrong with the original recipe and what did you do differently?"

"The recipe called for sweet Vidalia onions and regular white mushrooms. I used shallots because they have a sweeter taste and impart a slight garlic flavor. I also used crimini mushrooms because they have a taste similar to portabellas. White mushrooms are essentially tasteless. The original called for the chicken to be cubed and sauteed with onions and 'shrooms. I didn't like it that way. It seemed to me that the gorgonzola sauce overpowered the chicken. So I lightly seasoned the breasts, lightly sauteed them, then finished by baking them. I only drizzled the sauce on the finished chicken. The majority of the sauce was ladled on the pasta. This turned out much better than I thought it would."

"I noticed that you didn't use a book or any notes. You memorized it, after making the dish once? How long ago did you make this?"

"The first time I made it was almost a year ago. Other than taking a lot of time, it's a really simple meal to make."

"Remarkable, Peter!" Uncle George had this huge smile on his face. "In your spare time, I would like you to write out the original recipe with all the instructions on how to prepare it. Then write out your new recipe the same way. Also, add in why you thought the original wasn't good enough and why you think your way is better."

"You've got something up your sleeve… Why do you want me to do this?"

"You're right. I do have an idea. Will you trust me and just do as I asked? If it turns out well, I'll tell you what I have done. If it doesn't turn out, then you'll have lost nothing."

"Sure, I can do that for you." Just the way he said it, I'm pretty sure he is going to show the recipes to an actual chef. There's only one Italian restaurant in town unless he knows someone in another city.

I do like to cook. Do I like it enough to make it a career? Can I become that good? What do I want to do with my life? All of this really is a new idea for me. I've never thought ahead more than a year, like what will I do next summer? Do I even need to decide at fourteen? On the other hand, the idea of having a summer job is kinda exciting. I wonder what I could do with all that money.

While I wrestled with these and several other questions, I went ahead and typed out the two recipes. Once they were done, to my satisfaction, I sent them to the printer, in Uncle George's study.

I looked at the time and decided I could call it a night. I told my uncle that the recipes were on his printer and that I was going to go to bed.

Monday morning came and what has become my routine set in. My escort was there. Nothing happened on the way to school. Classes came and went. Practice was practice and I was escorted to the pedestrian overpass. We talked just a bit and decided that they would pick me up at the overpass for the next few days.

Tuesday and Thursday were boring. To protect Mitch from being outed, I couldn't go to his house after school and he couldn't come to mine. I'm starting to understand that life can be a bitch. The time I spent with Mitch last weekend only made me want more… and that was not happening.

Friday I had a doctor's appointment in the morning. Yay! The staples came out and I was set up for physical rehab… On Tuesdays and Thursdays after school! Dang! There went any time I might have spent with Mitch. And that is assuming this whole escort business stopped. The only time we could be together was on Saturday. Once the season was underway (next weekend!), even that would become a moot point since any away games would involve a lot of traveling.

It was starting to get confusing. It seemed like every time something exciting happened there was a disappointment that came with it. The corner in my mind where I pushed all that sort of stuff, was beginning to feel very full.

One good thing that the Doc did, was to give me a set of exercises to do every day unless the therapist changes them. He even hinted that if I was really serious about the exercises, I might even be released to play ball after just two weeks of therapy! I was given a limited activity slip.

It was Saturday morning just before I headed out for practice, that Uncle George told me what the chef at Luciano's said about my recipes, "He said that the recipe you first made was a pretty standard chicken and pasta with a gorgonzola sauce. However, the way you modified it, using shallots, crimini 'shrooms, and baked chicken breasts, while only drizzling the sauce on the vegetable and breasts was a much better and more appetizing way to present the meal.

"In other words, he liked your interpretation better than the original. He was impressed that you were only fourteen yet seemed to have a sophisticated palate. He was also impressed that you paid attention to visual appeal for a family dinner. He would like to meet with you and talk about what else you've made that you think is a better interpretation than an original recipe."

"Ohkaay… Ummm… When does this guy want to talk to me"

"The guy's name is Luke. He is the owner and would like to talk with you today, after your practice."

"Alright, I guess I should talk to him. Luciano's isn't far from the ball fields, so I think I can walk there after practice."

"No, you call me after practice and I will come and take you there."


"No argument, Peter."

"[sigh] Fine. Have it your way. I'm sure gonna feel better when all this freakin' drama stops!"

"I think we all will. Is your escort meeting you today?"

"Yeah. They said that they would wait at the north end of the footbridge." I looked at the time, "So I guess I should get going. I'll call when we're done." With that, I grabbed my sports kit and headed out the door.

Because I'd been good about keeping the sling on until the staples were removed, the Doc had written a note allowing limited participation in sports. Nothing too strenuous, but I could do some stretching and running. I could even play, as long as I didn't have to do leaping saves trying to get the ball. Until I got a good range-of-motion back, according to the therapist, I couldn't bat either.

I thought about this as I jogged to and across the footbridge. Robert and Tom were at the foot of the ramp, waiting for me. Tom must have heard me running across, 'cause he turned to watch me.

"Hey! No sling and no stitches!" Robert turned to look when Tom almost yelled.

I held out my right hand to shake theirs. It felt good to be able to do such a simple thing. "They were staples, but yeah, I can use this arm again. The Doc even gave me a 'light duty' release."

We start walking towards school, and Tom asks, "How's the shoulder, Pete?"

"I've got a list of exercises the Doc gave me to do. Then I have to see a physical therapist on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. It's all something to do with strengthening the shoulder and arm and getting my range-of-motion back. If the therapist gives his OK, I might be released to play in two weeks."

Robert looked thoughtful, "So what are you able to do now?"

"I can do the normal warm-ups and do some fielding, as long as I'm careful not to overstress the shoulder." I spat into the dirt. "He says I can't bat, though."

"Yeah, I can see where that would put stress on your shoulder alright."

"Pisses me off though."

Tom looked at me, "Why? You'll be able to play again."

"'Cause, the relief second baseman has gotten pretty good since I've been coaching him. I'll have to work on getting my place back."

"I didn't think Truman was that good," Robert said.

"Jack wasn't at first. But since I started coaching, he's really taken my advice to heart and worked at being better. Much better. He's almost as good as I was." My paranoia kicked in just a bit, as I looked around us. "I'm just hoping I can get good enough again that the coach puts me in for a few innings. I want that letter!"

"Knowing you," Tom said, "you'll work hard enough to reclaim your position. I can't see you settling for anything less." He chuckled, "In fact, that's why you're worried about getting a letter."

"Wada ya mean?"

"Well, like I said, you give everything you do your best, and you tend to be good at it. Like coaching for instance. If you weren't a good coach, Truman wouldn't be where he is." There was another chuckle. "Some of us might of held back there just to protect our position. But not you. You're a real team player."

"Well, maybe… but it all depends on this shit blowing over and I don't get re-injured."

It was plain that Tom and Robert didn't want to travel down that road anymore. The talk became just plain baseball talk until we reached the ball fields.

I gave the coach my limited-release form and we talked about what I could do for a minute before he called everyone together. I was coaching again, but this time I was allowed to wander around the infield.

A runner is on first. The right-handed batter hits a grounder just to the right of Mitch at shortstop but too far from the third baseman. Mitch takes one step, fields the ball, turns to flip the ball to Jack at second… Jack is still three steps away from the base. Jack barely gets the ball from Mitch, tags second just ahead of the runner. Jack throws to first. The runner is already there!

"Guys, this should have been an easy 6-4-3 double-play situation. Jack? What'd you do wrong?"

"Um… I was too far from my base?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?" I shook my head. "Look, the batter was right-handed. His hit was going to go to left field. Maybe center field. You played it as if the batter was left-handed. That meant you were too far from your base to make the double-play. As it was, you darn near missed making the out on the runner."

Jack was nodding his head. He knew what he did. I looked around, "OK, that was mistake number one. What was mistake number two?"

Mitch sort of raised his hand. "I threw to the wrong base. Seeing Jack out of position, I should have sent the ball to Terry for the out. That meant we left a runner on second, but we had an assured out."

"All righty then, enough criticisms. Just try and remember that depending upon the situation, shortstop and second base are critical in controlling the infield. That requires teamwork. Each position should intuitively know what the other is doing.

"I see Coach Anderson signaling the end of practice. Let's pick up the gear and hit the showers, guys."

As we walk back to the shower block, Mitch asks me what I'm doing the rest of the day. "You remember that Unc took my recipes to the chef at Luciano's?"

"Yeah, you said something about that last Monday."

"Well, it looks like the guy wants to talk to me about why I changed it from the traditional recipe."

"Do you have any idea how long it might take?"

"Nope. I think this might lead to a part-time job for the summer. Perhaps even an apprenticeship."

"So you've taken a liking to becoming a chef?"

"Yeah, the more I think about how much I like to cook and what you all were saying last Sunday, the more I'm liking the idea."

"Says the guy who is too young to think of a career!" Mitch chuckled. "Does that mean you're gonna take one of those online courses for a certificate?"

"Let's see what happens today," I give Mitch a grin. "How about I call you when I'm done? You gonna be home?"

"I didn't have anything planned… Kinda wanted to get with you today…"

"OK, then I'll call as soon as I finish this interview."

As Mitch enters the block, I pull out my cell phone and call Uncle George. He pulls into the parking lot before any of the team are done with showers and changing. The ride to Luciano's is quick.

"Peter, I'll wait out here. If you're going to be very long, call me and let me know."

I got out of the car and tapped on the door to the restaurant. A guy came and opened the door. "Are you Peter?"

"Yes sir, I am."

Holding out his hand to shake, "I'm Luke. Good to meet you. Is that George in the car?"

"Yes sir. He said he'd wait out here for me."

"Go tell him to come in. This might take a while and I have some fresh cannoli and coffee made."

I went back to the car and invited my uncle in.

"George, sit over here and I'll get you some coffee and a couple of fresh cannoli."

"That would be wonderful, Luke."

Luke got Unc settled and motioned me to follow him. He walked through a doorway into the kitchen, handed me a good knife, and pointed to several garlic bulbs. "Would you mince that garlic while we talk?"

"I'd be glad to, Luke. But are you going to want me to prep any other veggies, after the garlic?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"Because I'm guessing that not everything you cook will have garlic in it. If I mince the garlic first, the oils will be on this board and it will taint the rest of the veggies." Luke smiled, turned around, and brought me a large colander of zucchini that looked freshly washed.

"Good answer, Peter. I would like to see you slice half the zukes, then wedge the other half."

And that was how the next hour and a half went. He had me help prep the day's veggies and also watched how I did things. I suspect he was timing me, to see how fast I went. I didn't let this bother me, as I went as fast as I could safely slice, dice, and chop what he wanted. I saved the onions until next to last, with the garlic being last. I got to watch how Luke was prepping the various types of meat, as I prepped the veggies.

When we were done, Luke asked me to clean the board. "OK. At home, I use Dawn to pull the oils out. What do you use here?" He showed me a big bottle of Dawn that was under the sinks.

When we had the kitchen cleaned up, we went back out to the dining room and sat with Unc.

"Peter, it's pretty obvious you know your way around the chopping block, and that you know how to prep and in which order to prep. While you could be much faster, I figure that will come with time and more experience. That impresses me, simply because you are so young."

We spent another half hour as Luke questioned me about some of the other things I've become good at cooking and why I used certain ingredients. During this, two other guys came in and Luke told them that the meats and veggies were prepped and they needed to get the sauces ready.

In the end, Luke shook my hand and told me I had a job for the summer when school let out. He emphasized that I would start at the bottom to learn how all parts of a restaurant work. I would be working only 20 hours a week at minimum wage. He also wanted me to sign up for an online Certificate of Achievement in Culinary Arts. Luke recommended the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts online program because he had worked with them before. We shook hands again and left for home.

"So what did you think, Peter?"

"I think I got caught up in a tornado!" I laughed. "Seriously? He tested my ability to properly prep all the veggies they will use tonight. He watched which veggies I used first. He was watching my knife work. Luke also tested me on sanitation." I didn't know how much time we were in the kitchen, but he was very thorough in what he looked for.

"So what do I think? I like the guy. He's very good at what he does and uses quality produce. Luke was prepping the meats as I prepped the veggies. From what I could tell, that was all quality stuff too. I believe I will like learning from him… Once I get to that point in my training."

"Peter, everything you do there will be training for running a kitchen. All those jobs are just as important as cooking."

We pulled into the driveway and Unc shut off the car. As we went into the house I asked, "Uncle, do you want some lunch?"

"I don't think so, the cannoli and coffee were just what I needed."

"I'll just fix me a sandwich, then." I pulled my cell out and called Mitch, as I walked to the kitchen. It rang once and went directly to voicemail. I scrolled through my contacts and dialed his house.

It was answered on the third ring. "Thomas Residence."

"Hi Mrs. Thomas, it's Pete. Is Mitch there?"

"Hello, Peter. No, he came home from practice and called another friend. They went off doing something but I expect him home for dinner."

"Oh, OK. I'll talk to him tomorrow, maybe."

"Do you want me to leave him a message, Peter?"

"Nah, that's OK. Bye Mrs. Thomas."

"Peter…" But I just hung up.

Hmm, that was strange. Mitch said he had nothing planned and knew I was gonna call. So he went home, called another friend, and left the house. He turned his cell off, so I would have to call his house phone to find out he was gone. I had to wonder what was going on.

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