It’s been raining heavily all night. Because our wimpy customers are afraid of a little moisture, Café Machiavelli’s been experiencing an abnormally slow Friday night. It’s almost nine o’clock and I haven’t even cleared a hundred bucks.
“Oh man,” Paolo, the executive chef, says, surveying the empty dining room. “It’s dead.”
“Tell me about it,” I reply.
“Did you send any waiters home?”
“Willem cut two guys at around seven.”
“No dinero,” I reply sadly, “No comida.”
The chef laughs. “I’ll feed you guys. Don’t worry.”
“I hope so.”
“Say,” Paolo says, “Could you make me an espresso? Two sugars?”
“Sure,” I reply. “Long or short?”
“The right way.”
“Short it is.”
I walk over to the coffee bar, preheat a demitasse cup with hot water, grind some fresh espresso, tamp the coffee into the filter until I have something resembling a caffeinated hockey puck, slap the filter onto the diffusion head, turn the handle until it’s sealed tight, flick a switch, and let the expensive machine force hot high pressure water though the grounds until I have a perfect cup of espresso. I throw in two sugars, put the cup on a saucer, and bring it to the chef. I forgo the lemon rind. That’s for amateurs.
“Thanks man,” the chef says.
“My pleasure,” I reply, watching Paolo down his coffee in a single gulp.
“Mmmmm,” Paolo says, placing the empty cup on the coffee bar. “You make good espresso.”
“I had a good teacher,” I reply. “He told me good espresso should always be a creamy smudge of coffee at the bottom of the cup.”
“If you gave that to an customer,” Paolo says. “They’d complain they didn’t get any coffee.”
“That’s why I always give the customers an extra long pour. They seem to think the cup should be filled to the brim.”
“You know why they think that way?” Paolo asks.
“Because the customers are so goddamn cheap.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Check this out,” Paolo says. “I was a waiter once. I had this man and woman at a table. The man asked if there were free refills on the coffee. I said yes. The man ordered one cup of coffee, drank it, and then asked for a refill. You know what he did with the refill?
“I’m afraid to ask.”
“The cheap bastard gave it to his wife. They were taking turns drinking coffee!”
“That’s fucked up.” I say, shaking my head.
“Can you believe that?” Paolo says, seething. “All to save what? A dollar?”
“I’ve seen people make their own lemonade at the table. Nothing surprises me anymore.”
“Those people should be shot,” Paolo says angrily.
“How about the people who ask for hot water and lemon and then provide their own teabag?”
“Shoot them twice.”
“I’m glad you’re in the kitchen,’ I say, chuckling. “You’d be dangerous out here.”
“Shoot them,” Paolo says, heading back into the kitchen. “Shoot them all.”
As I watch Paolo disappear behind the swinging double doors I smile to myself.
Not all chefs can be Food Network personalities.