Memoir Excerpt – New York, 1996

Baby having a baby, and two-thirds of the kitchen team.

If there is such thing as a generic way to go about living life,  the road I have traveled has in no way, shape, or form been the over the counter variety. Little has come to me by script, and whatever will be next in my career fits perfectly into this shapeless mold. What follows is an excerpt of the story I am nearing completion of, and I am looking for an agent to represent this effort. If you know of one, please leave a comment or email me at thepickledtongue@gmail.com. Below is a small representation:

It was the beginning of 1996, and I was at the ripe age of twenty-five. I had been married a little over three years and I was working on my  second anniversary with Le Cirque. The big news of my wife’s pregnancy hit me like a brick wall. I recall we weren’t taking precautions and I think I found the idea of being a daddy romantic. After all, why get married if you didn’t want to have kids?! My methods of reasoning were not very well thought out, but since I was already a married man at twenty-two, at least I was consistent if nothing else. With the prospect of fatherhood on the forefront, I could no longer manage as the sole bread winner on the meager salary of a saucier.

When relaying the 411 to good friend and Le Cirque pastry chef extraordinaire, Jacques Torres, he told me he knew of a place in the Village that was looking for a chef. The name of the restaurant was Chez Jacqueline. It was a quaint little bistro with a pretty solid following. They doubled my Le Cirque salary, and were very excited to see what I could bring to the table. Unfortunately, I was in over my head from day one. My number one cook could handle the responsibilities and do whatever he was told, but this didn’t involve much more than holding up the walls. I remember him once bragging about fucking chickens and sheep in his native Dominican Republic. Although I am gullible, there was sincerity in his boasting that never really sat well with me. My number two cook  - who was still there on my last visit in 2009 – missed work with no notice on two separate occasions for getting drunk and then thrown in jail. The final cook spoke no English at all, and was so old then that he’s probably dead now.

There were some good things going on to be sure: Their technique for soup de poisson (Provençal fish soup) stays with me to this day. Other highlights when I arrived were the couscous special we’d run every Tuesday night, and the grilled calamari was also nice when properly prepared. Consistency was always the biggest issue during my short stint. Being used to the high output ovens, French flat tops and burners of Le Cirque, I was ill prepared for the beaten up kitchen equipment that we had to work with on this tiny line.

To make matters worse, New York was about to go through one of the worst winters it had seen in quite a while. I was about three months into the job, Sylvia was struggling big time in the first trimester of her pregnancy, and I would be gone from the early morning until the late evening.

It was in the middle of this winter that she miscarried. I was confused to say the least, but relieved deep down. Shortly thereafter I was fired. The restaurant had seriously over extended themselves in regards to my salary – especially considering the desolate dining room in these cold and snowy winter days.

Both of these instances turned out to be blessings in disguise. Despite the ways in which the miscarriage affected the marriage, it’s hard to imagine where I’d be if I had a 15 year old child now. I can say with a great deal of confidence that my life experiences wouldn’t be half as rich as they’ve been. That’s all retrospect however. The one thing I can say in hind sight is that I was not ready to be a daddy at twenty-five.

The real blessing however was in losing the job. It was about one week or so before I got the axe, that I was visited by my friend and colleague, Lisa Schroeder. She told me that the sous chef at Le Cirque had been fired for throwing a potato at a cook. He had apparently been warned a couple of times before about similar meltdowns since I had left, but this one sent him packing. So the day after I was fired from Chez Jacqueline, I decided to just pop my head into the restaurant to say hello.

When Sottha saw me, he shook my hand and immediately brought me into his office. It was common knowledge by then that the original Le Cirque on 65th street would be closing its doors forever in June, and was slated to move into the Helmsley Palace on 52nd street. The restaurant would be known as Le Cirque 2000 (even though the turn of the millennium was several years away).
Sottha offered me the vacancy. He once again asked me to go home and think about it overnight, but of course there was nothing to think about. Aside from the good salary, it allowed me to simply wipe the disaster at Chez Jacqueline clean off of my resume, and replace is with sous chef of Le Cirque. In the end, it was all good fortune. If Sylvia hadn’t become pregnant, I wouldn’t have quit in the first place. Had I not quit in the first place, it could be said the sous chef wouldn’t have had so many meltdowns in such a short period of time. Had that not happened, I never would have had the opportunity to reach the level of sous chef or invited to remain with Le Cirque in the move. 

Even more so, if the baby had gone to full term – and I do say this with a sincere degree of reservation – there is no way I would be sitting here writing my story since it’s goddamn likely it wouldn’t be nearly interesting enough to write or read.

2 Responses to “Memoir Excerpt – New York, 1996”

  1. chadzilla says:

    Old photos are a trip. Just a reminder of how the road of life turns us from fearless young bucks into… well, Uncle Buck.

  2. James Toland says:

    Nicely written! I take offense to the comment about children holding us back however. I was 24 when my daughter was born to my first wife. A shared your reluctance at the time about starting a family but it ended up saving my life and giving me the drive I needed to make something of myself. Truth be told, I don’t think having kids so young held me back at all. If my life was any more exciting and adventurous I’d have to have sherpas to carry my memoir.

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