We have a crisis at The Ballroom. Albert got a little too enthusiastic while the cook was making the lobster patties and she’s out for a week or two while her eye recovers. [Albert hangs his head <squawk>] Lady B placed an advertisement in the Morning Post: “Noble lady seeks temporary experienced cook. Duties include preparing supper for twice weekly balls (an array of dishes to appeal to delightfully Original Ladies and Muscular Bachelors). Must love parrots.”
After seeing candidates all morning, Lady B. asked me to step in for a few minutes. (Between you and me, I think she’s popped out for a tot of ratafia. Interviewing cooks is hard work.)
A slender, dark man enters.
Miranda: How do you do. Please tell me your qualifications
The man starts speaking in very rapid French of which the only intelligible word is “Carême.” Miranda switches on the Romance Writer’s Translator (™ Sabrina Darby).
Carême: I am Carême. I need no introduction.
Miranda: No indeed, monsieur. You are the most famous chef in Europe, lately employed by His Highness the Prince Regent in London and Brighton. [I talked about him at a Saturday salon last month] I’m sure Lady B would be honored to hire you. What are your salary requirements?
Carême: Two thousand guineas a year.
This is enough to hire about 30 ordinary cooks, or keep an entire family in considerable comfort.
Miranda: We only need you for a week or two.
Carême: To offer me less than a full year’s salary would be an insult.
Miranda: I’m sure we can come to an arrangement. How do you feel about parrots in the kitchen.
Carême, producing a poultry hatchet from his pocket: Absolument non! No birds. No visitors. And no women in the kitchen.
Miranda: Thank you, monsieur. We’ll let you know. Next! A young man wearing blue jeans beneath a chef’s jacket, comes in. He has a pony tail, a stubble and a single earring. Quite cute. I think Lady B will feel his legs have possibilities.
Young man: I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. I interned with Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, and Mario Batali. I cook only with sustainable organic ingredients.
Miranda: That shouldn’t be a problem. I think all ingredients in Regency England are organic. What’s your signature dish.
Young Man: A nice pan-seared mahi-mahi over a little pine-nut and farro risotto, with a medley of baby Asian vegetables and a nice little passion fruit coulis.
Miranda: We may have a problem with some of these ingredients. Mahi-Mahi, for example, is not found in English waters.
Young Man: No problem. Scottish salmon is to die for. We can fly it in fresh.
Miranda: Sorry. This is the early nineteenth century. It will take at least five days to reach London by coach. Can you make lobster patties?
Young Man: I have concerns about the sustainability of lobster. I could substitute scallops.
<squawk> no scallops <squawk>
Miranda: We’ll let you know.
Roars, screams and crashes are heard below stairs. Lady B enters, highly agitated.
Lady B: Miranda! There’s a man in the kitchen shouting. One of the maids has fainted, two are having the vapors and a footman has cut off his thumb trying to plate the appetizers, which is Not His Job.
Miranda: Oh lord! Gordon Ramsey insisted on inspecting the premises before interviewing.
Lady B: It’s a scene out of Hell in the kitchen. I will not hire that man. [Another man enters. Lady B calms down and perks up]. Now that’s more like it. Here’s a man who looks like he knows how to stir a pudding. We could invite him up to the Ballroom after supper. I suspect he may have most excellent legs.
Miranda (fanning herself madly): It’s Anthony Bourdain. Let’s hire him. Mr. Bourdain, we have only one question for you: how do you feel about parrots?
Anthony Bourdain: I’ve traveled around the world tasting exotic ingredients and I learned how to cook parrot meat from the Comarloros tribe of Guiana.
<squawk squawk squawk> Lady B collapses onto a sofa.
Miranda: Next! We only have one candidate left. I hope he’ll do. Yes?
Ray: Yo, Lady B! Yo, Albert! Yo, Miranda! How you doin’? I’m Ray and I’m your man.
Miranda: Do I know you?
Ray: I’m Ray of Ray’s Pizza in New York City.
Miranda: Are you perhaps related to the Ray of the World-Famous Original Ray’s Pizza?
Ray: That slime-ball! He got his recipe out of a Crackerjack box.
Lady B: I don’t understand this man. What is a pizza?
Miranda: A large flat bread, usually covered with tomato sauce and cheese and a choice of toppings. I very much doubt it has arrived in England yet.
Lady B: Excellent. It will be the talk of the town. Engage this man and we’ll serve pizza at the next ball.
Miranda: Let me think … Tomatoes are hard to grow in England outside hothouses but they should be available in September. Canning was invented in 1810 by Nicholas Appert, a Frenchman, to preserve food for Napoleon’s army. Despite the war, a translation of his book appeared in England in 1811 (I’d love to know how that happened. Smugglers?) so canned tomatoes may be available. I think we’re good, Lady B. Pizza it is.
<squawk> what about the lobster patties? <squawk>
Ray: I reckon I can whip up a lobster patty. My aunt had a parrot. Used to drink red wine. Me and Albert’ll get along fine. Do you speak Italian?
<squawk> Si, si, Signor Ray. <squawk>
Lady B: I am pleased, Miranda. The other hostess will be green with envy about the pizza. What other unusual food can we serve at our suppers? Oysters and syllabubs are so last season.
Help Lady B. come up with some creative menus to satisfy hungry Bachelors. What would you like to see served for supper after a hard night’s dancing? Bonus points if they are made from ingredients available in Regency England.