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Cooking up Trouble
By Joanne Pence
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Joanne Pence
All right reserved.
"I wouldn't feed this swill to my cat!" Martin Bayman announced.
Angelina Amalfi watched the older, gray-haired man stand, throw his napkin on his plate, and storm from Hill Haven Inn's dining room.
The lentil-soybean cutlets were not a hit.
Angie had to agree with Bayman. The cats she knew would have tried to bury them.
"Some people are so insecure, they have to make a big deal out of everything." Disgust dripped from Finley Tay's voice. Tay was the owner of the inn and would be its head cook when it opened to the public in another three weeks. In his midforties, he was a gaunt man with thinning brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, a long, angular face, small eyes, and sharp, jutting cheekbones. He was also Angie s new boss. "Eat up, Miss Ainaffi," he commanded cheerfully.
"Oh, I will." She cut a bite-size piece from one of the patties. "This is so interesting. I've never heard of making cutlets with beans. I mean, they're usually made out of meat."
Finley Tay's fork froze in midair. The four-letter word she'd just uttered brought a look of shock to his face and a gasp to his lips.
"Delicious," Angie lied, stuffing the forkful of cutlet into her mouth. It was better than the foot she currently had in it.
Maybe her new jobwasn't going to be such a piece of cake after all. From the time she first spoke to Finley Tay over the telephone, she should have known the job he described was too good to be true.
He had told her he was opening an inn in an elegant Victorian mansion built in the 1870s by a man who'd amassed a fortune in the goldfields. It stood atop the windswept cliffs of a secluded promontory overlooking the rugged northern California coastline. Everything in it would be of the finest quality. To go with this setting, he was looking for a student of fine foods to assist him in developing a series of menus for gourmet dining.
Angie wanted this job. The setting had decided her, as visions leapfrogged from Manderley to Wuthering Heights. She could easily imagine herself in such a place, even if Finley Tay, charming though he was on the phone, was unlikely to be a Max de Winter or a Heathcliff.
The only minor proviso, Finley said, was that the food must be vegetarian.
This gave her pause. But only for a moment. She was a student of cordon bleu cooking, so how much of a problem could a vegetarian menu be? Nothing a spicy imagination couldn't solve.
"Your job offer sounds like a wonderful opportunity," Angie had replied. A wonderful opportunity to add to a résumé sorely in need of a current entry. She was out of work. Again.
There was a second even more minor proviso, Finley added. Rather than a salary, she must be willing to receive room and board at the inn for a week, since he was strapped by opening-day expenses. She asked for room and board for two.
He agreed so readily, she was almost sorry she hadn't asked for more. He sounded ecstatic to have her, as if her cooking skills were the answer to his most heartfelt dreams.
Gleefully, she took the job.
After two weeks of reading every book about vegetarian cooking she could get her hands on, and talking to every chef she knew who had ever worked in a vegetarian restaurant, she had arrived at the small, windswept airport near the town of Hayesville.
As she stood off to the side of the runway, her bags at her feet where the copilot left them, she saw a man awkwardly heading her way. Long, skinny legs stepped over rain puddles, and pointy elbows flapped, giving him the appearance of an overgrown flamingo.
"Hello, Mr. Tay," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Angelina Amalfi."
"Right, right." Without shaking her hand, he scooped up all three of her bags. "Got to hurry, Miss Amalfi. Storm's coming."
She had to run to keep up with him. "Is the inn far?"
He stopped in front of a battered \TW van that sported gingham curtains, a crumbling GET OUT OF VIETNAM bumper sticker, and a faded peace symbol. "Hop right in."
She stared at the vehicle, a definite relic of the sixties. 'They just don't make vans like they used to," she said.
Finley ignored her comment as he tossed the bags behind the front seats, climbed in, and then faced her for the first time. "I should explain to you, Miss Amalfi, that I create the perfect balance of foods at each meal."
"That's important." She smoothed the front-seat upholstery over a bare spring, then got in beside him. "I always try to do the same thing. To begin each dinner with a small but elegantly arranged appetizer as the first course, let's say warm boiwhées or cold arnuse-gueule -- "
"Food needs to be soft, easy to digest, and yet centered in simplicity, without nonessentials." He scarcely waited until she was settled before he tore out of the parking area. The van rocked precariously at each turn.
"Pardon me?" She must not have heard right over the roar of the engine.
"What we eat," Finley said, "must not impede our spiritual journey. It must not arouse the baser passions that deny us enlightenment."
Baser passions? Enlightenment? She forced her mouth to remain shut. Being slack-jawed made one look so foolish. She searched for something to say. "Enlightenment is important when eating," she murmured. "I hate heavy meals myself. As I was saying to my good friend, Chef Raymond DuTuoille of Greengrocera -- a true master of vegetarian cooking, as I'm sure you know --
"No. I pay no attention to those who choose to make names for themselves in this world."
She retreated into silence, trying to remember the alleged pluses of this new job. Finley Tay did not appear to be one of them.
Excerpted from Cooking up Trouble by Joanne Pence Copyright ©2006 by Joanne Pence. Excerpted by permission.
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