Ah, the cater out. Kind of like a carryout order, only bigger and certain to bring out the bravado in everyone.
“Call Judy the minute you get in. She says it’s urgent,” read the sticky note placed smack in the middle of my computer monitor. Lovely. First thing? On a slightly chilly Monday?
Judy is our contact at the trade association headquartered in a beautifully restored, four-level, many-additions-and-entrances-attached-to-it city home around the corner and a block up off our busier street. Judy always knows what she wants, when she wants it, how much she wants–although it’s usually with a week’s notice–and she often annoys the crap out me by saying, “I’ll walk over and sign paperwork in four minutes. Meet me at the podium.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I feel compelled to respond, but don’t, because I am all grown up now and say, instead, “Certainly.” I say this with professional love in my heart even when I don’t have a single second to drop everything and hang around the podium to wait 15 or more minutes, because she is always a bit late. Truth is, she could easily and less time consumingly complete this paperwork via email and fax. I figure she just likes to get out of her beautiful offices and get some air. I understand this, and I admit it–I don’t really mind the wait outside of my office, either.
But, I also don’t mess with Judy, and she knows I won’t. This is not out of fear of Judy. It is, actually, out of grudging respect for a woman who is in a role she’s probably overqualified for, but who is likely making plenty of money doing.
“RG, honey, I need 600 shrimp on ice by 4 p.m.,” Judy says when I call. I can hear her typing on her keyboard as she tells me this. I envision Judy as an octopus when she is at her desk, multiple arms flailing about as she gives fresh meaning to the over-used term, multi-tasking.
“You know, with all the lemons slices and sauces, like you do. 4 p.m., okay?”
Um, that’s a lot of shrimp. No, that is a f—ing ton of shrimp. “Let me double check with the kitchen. I’ll call you right back,” I tell her.
“Right back, honey. I need to know an hour ago,” Judy replies, because she always has the last word.
“Certainly,” I say, because she knows I know this is not technically usurping her last word. In our way, we are professional sisters just getting our jobs done by the skin of our teeth when others around us periodically mess us up.
I call the purchasing manager and ask him if we even store 600 extra shrimp on the premises, much less have enough to be ready by 4 p.m. this afternoon for a cater out.
“God, what is it with everyone with an emergency today?” he barks into the phone. I don’t take this personally because I feel the same way, and this is only my first emergency of the day. He’s been in his office since 6 a.m.
“Yeah, sure, I can order more,” he tells me. “But you better make sure the kitchen can handle it!” I thank him.
I wander back to the kitchen, hoping the more approachable chef is back in prep. Unfortunately, it is the chef who doesn’t yell, but who glares daggers when stressed or upset. I actually think he is a nice guy, just intense. I am about to test that theory.
“I just got a last-minute cater out order for 600 shrimp for 4 p.m. today,” I tell him in one rush of breath. I figure it is best to just put it all out there and skip the pleasantries.
“Today?” he asks, but he is not glaring.
“Today. Dave says we have them and can use them for this.”
A tiny dagger forms. “Who’s gonna deliver them, set them up?”
“I’ll take care of that, if you think you can take on getting them ready by 4 p.m.”
Two daggers begin to shoot forth, but retreat. “Sure, okay,” he says. “But you better make sure you have staff to get them over there!”
“Thanks,” I say over my shoulder as I beat it the hell out of the prep area.
I trap the first floor manager I see, who is, much to my relief, the manager who is always in a good mood and unfailingly polite to me every single time we see each other. “Chris, gotta second?” I ask him.
“Of course, RG,” he smiles. “How are you this morning?”
“I’m great, Chris, and you?”
“Very well, thank you. What can I help you with?” he smiles.
“I need to figure out how to get 600 shrimp on ice to the association around the corner by 4 p.m. today,” I smile back. “Can you help me with that?”
“I’ll find someone for you,” he answers without a pause. “If not, I can run them over there myself. That’s a quiet time in the afternoon, so it’s fine,” he says in his smooth, soothing tone. Excellent.
I call Judy back to tell her the good news. “By 4 p.m., honey, okay?” she responds. “The members are in town and these are for the reception. I know you’ll get it done for me.”
“My pleasure,” I tell her. Because, it appears, this last-minute shrimp feast is relatively painless to put together.
I check in with the not-yet-glaring chef at 3:25 who is clearly wishing he was past done with prepping his 535th shrimp. “Where are the bowls of ice? You got ’em?” he asks me.
“Ice, you need to get ice in bowls so we can get them displayed.”
Me? To not really quote a great line in a classic movie that has nothing to do with shrimp: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout displayin’ no shrimp Mr. Chef….”
But I say, instead, “Well, uh, okay, so tell me where the bowls are,” because I am clueless about how to begin to prep 600 shrimp for a cater out display, but will learn on the job right this second, if that’s what it takes to get Judy her shrimp by 4 p.m.
“Never mind,” he sighs. “Luis!” he shouts across the kitchen. “Bowls and ice, let’s go!”
At 3:55 the 600 shrimp are heaped in multiple huge bowls, transformed into dazzling displays over ice with lemon slices tucked, just so, between their tails, and cocktail sauce is heaped in bowls on the side. Several backwaiters help place the bowls on a rolling cart, and the nice manager is ready to roll down the street with them.
As he pushes the lumbering cart out the back door, I pat one of the cellophane-covered, shrimp-laden bowls, and say, “Bye bye shrimp, off you go now.”
Whew! Who says I don’t know how to get it done at the 11th hour?
But when the manager returns a few minutes later, he is perplexed. “They said 4 p.m., right?”
“Absolutely,” I respond, but begin to feel that weird sense that my seemingly seamless cater out order is about to disintegrate into the “nothing is ever that easy” category.
“Well, no one but the receptionist was there, and she couldn’t reach Judy. She said Judy had gone for the day.”
Uh oh. “So where did you leave the shrimp?” I ask.
“With the receptionist. She said she’d take care of finding out where they were supposed to go.”
Except the receptionist didn’t. And by 5 p.m., she left, because her work day was done, even though massive bowls of perfectly displayed shrimp littered her reception area.
“Where the hell are my shrimp?” yelled the association’s chief somebody to one of my restaurant’s managers who answered the call at 5:03 p.m.
“What the hell did you do with the shrimp?” screamed Judy over the phone in a separate call at 5:09 p.m. to both the chef and the sous chef, and then she mouthed a litany of insults to the one chef who had absolutely nothing to do with the order.
“Oh, never mind, we found them,” said a junior executive to another of my managers who answered his 5:12 p.m. call.
“Tell RG we found them,” said Judy, ever so pleasant, to the sous chef she had reamed earlier, when he answered her second call at 5:17 p.m.
Nervous sigh of relief again. Shrimp prepped, now accounted for, and hopefully eaten down to the last shell.
So, when I arrived at work earlier than normal this morning, I found the following sticky note on the handset of my phone: “Call Judy ASAP. She needs boxed lunches for 50 by 11 a.m.–today!”