Clara's Taste.

She tasted the salsa. Mmm, just about perfect. Maybe another squeeze of lime though? Clara squeezed a small wedge of lime over the salsa, stirred it in with her chip, and tasted again. There we go. She wrote the winning combination down on her notepad next to the bowl, now a bit splattered with tomato and lime juice, and moved on.

Clara loved her job. It was frustrating at times, trying to bring balance to a kitchen that was inherently and insanely unbalanced. She managed one of the kitchens for Essensgeld Catering, and nothing could go out without her approval. She wasn’t sure it was a normal catering practice to so fully trust one person’s tastes, but this was her first job of this sort in years. And she was happy, so she didn’t really mind what the other companies did.

She’d been a stay-at-home mom for years, one of her greatest work experiences, she would joke, but her kids were grown now, and she needed work, needed to feel useful. Her husband had encouraged her, seeing how restless she was, and had suggested calling her friend Marjorie to see if they needed any help. Marjorie offered her the kitchen manager position at her South Bay location, saying she trusted Clara’s taste, having shared many dinner parties with her. I simply can’t be in two places at once, She’d said. You’d really be doing me a favor. Clara knew Marjorie was really the one doing her a favor, but she didn’t argue. She was especially thankful for the job now that John had passed on, and the house was too still. She loved the hours the company asked of her, so she was never home alone at dinner. Breakfast she could handle, John had always left early for work, but dinner…dinner was awful. And so she threw herself into her work.

She slid her tasting spoon along the edge of a plate of enchiladas and tested the sauce. She turned to cough. “Who plated this?” She called out to the hectic kitchen before her. A young man, Eric, she thought, stepped forward out of the chaos. 

“I did, Ma’am.” He was visibly shaking, never having been called forward before. He’d been here for maybe a week now. Who told him to start plating? He should still be doing dishes! She shook her head.

“You topped this dish with pure cayenne, not paprika, as instructed. If you can’t tell the difference on sight, dash a bit on your finger first and taste it. If your mouth burns, don’t put it on the food.” Clara turned to move the plate to the staff area, knowing that the food wouldn’t go to waste even if it couldn’t be served to a customer.

“It’s supposed to be spicy, I thought.” Eric spoke. It was rare for Clara’s tastes to be challenged, and she stopped mid-motion in surprise.

“Eric, is it? The dish is spicy. My job is to make sure it is the exact level of spice desired. There are green chiles in the enchiladas and ancho and guajillo peppers simmered in the sauce. It is more than spicy enough for today’s purposes. You like it spicier, fine. Make them for yourself, at home, away from the customers. In the meantime, back to dishes.” She turned and walked away, shaking her head. He didn’t know how lucky he was that it was Clara that had to chide him instead of Marjorie. Had he been in her kitchen, he probably would have lost his job.

Clara walked over to the dessert table, nodded to Bernice and Tommy, who stepped back from their creations for her to approve. She’d tasted the samples they’d made for her earlier that day, so she simply had to approve the design. Tommy’s cakes were impeccable works of art, perfectly painted gum paste flowers atop delicate cakes with perfect crumb, surrounded by small chocolate curls. In contrast, Bernice had made flan for this particular event, and it was freshly turned out onto plates, caramel sauce oozing everywhere. 

“Bernice, wipe the plate rims, and you’ll be fine. Tommy, make sure you put the chocolate curls at the base just before the plates go out. This one is warming too quickly in here. Lovely work, you two.” She walked back through the kitchen, in search of Wallace, her head waiter. He was leaning on the counter near Daisy, his girlfriend, who was burning the corn. 

“Wallace, let her work, or she’ll continue to burn my side dishes and I’ll have to send her back to dishes.” Daisy had just earned her way out of the dish washing area two weeks prior, and she straightened and gasped when she saw the state of the corn. 

“It’s alright, Daisy, we’ll call it charred, and they’ll love it. Pay attention though, I can’t save everything with wording.” Clara turned to Wallace.

“Time to work. Please let the hosts know that everything is running according to schedule and dinner is prepared and ready at their leisure.” Wallace nodded, brushed his vest and strolled out.

Clara nodded to herself. Ok. Here we go.