Why is it great to be a writer? There are so many reasons—no commute, no pantyhose—but one major one is the cool stuff I get to do in the name of research. This time it involved food which is always a good thing, in my opinion.
The hero of Book 3 in my Sanctuary series is a chef, a career I know virtually nothing about. Luckily, my critique partner Miriam Allenson has a son in the restaurant business, and she volunteered him as a resource. We writers are quite ruthless in using our friends’ connections for this sort of thing so I immediately accepted her offer.
My research trip turned out better than I ever expected. Miriam’s son works at Barcelona, a fabulous tapas bar and restaurant in Greenwich, CT. He invited us to come see what goes on in the kitchen and talk to the executive chef Adam Greenberg as he worked.
Did I mention that we got treated like royalty? It pays to be with the mother of the restaurant’s well-respected general manager. First stop: the elegant bar, where we were plied with superb sangria and given a glimpse into the life of a bartender by Brandon.
We also sampled pata negra, a cured ham made from free-range pigs that forage on the border between Spain and Portgual and eat nothing but acorns. It is bacon taken to the highest level of scrumptiousness.
We were then seated at the chef’s table, a high marble counter with a great view of the kitchen’s smoothly-oiled workings. I tried really, really hard to keep my mind on business: asking probing questions, taking pages of notes, and snapping photos.
But the chefs kept sliding plates of scrumptious tapas in front of us, describing them in mouth-watering terms that built the anticipation, and then leaving us to sample and savor each delicious bite. It was hard to concentrate on my true mission when I was experiencing the exquisite flavors of chorizo and figs, flank steak with black truffle oil, locally grown roasted peppers, warm crusty bread and jamon sliced paper-thin on a beautiful antique meat slicer. I’m drooling on my keyboard as I relive it.
By the time they offered us a choice of desserts, I was so full I couldn’t eat another bite. Yet when Chef James put his special tart of baked apples topped with crunchy oatmeal and cinnamon ice cream in front of me, somehow I managed to force a few spoonfuls down. Unbelievably delicious! Then they brought us dulce de leche crepes drizzled with chocolate. Again I swore not another bite would fit, but I ate several. Divine!
Oh right, what did I learn about being a chef? That it requires a high level of organization and an ability to train and supervise a staff that has to work together night after night under pressure without killing each other. A passion for food is a given, but so is a passion for making your patrons happy. If a customer asks for a special dish, Chef Adam says someone will race out and buy the ingredients if necessary. An executive chef has to be an accountant and an artiste all in one person since he is responsible for the budget and for creating new dishes that won’t break it.
Here’s Chef Greenberg studying spreadsheets before the dinner rush begins:
There’s so much more in my pages and pages of notes, some of which will appear in detail in the book and some of which will simply paint a vivid background in my mind so I can give my hero depth and authenticity.
In the meantime, I ate like a queen!
A big thank you to the folks at Barcelona Greenwich for sharing your joy in your work with me!