A Meal to Die For: A Culinary Novel of Crime

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9780765353146: A Meal to Die For: A Culinary Novel of Crime

Benny Lacoco is a "food fence". A load of frozen shrimp falls off of a truck, or perhaps a few cases of olive oil or some nice expensive wine with an unpronounceable name comes into your possession, Benny is the guy who can move it for you.
No questions asked.
He's well connected and a man of respect.
But there is another side to Benny. He's a gourmet cook who once aspired to be a renowned restaurateur...but business (and other matters equally unsavory) got in the way.
Now Benny has been summoned to cook a special meal for some of his associates on the occasion of the big man being sent up the river.
This gives Benny the chance to prepare the meal of his life
 
A MEAL TO DIE FOR
 
because word has it that someone in their midst is a rat, and some things just can't be forgiven.
 
From the abundant antipasto of chicken liver mousse, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, grilled sardines, and other delicacies to the creamy delight of crayfish bisque, three types of pasta, and main entrees of roasted lamb, baked snapper, and chicken with artichokes and sausage, we are treated to flashbacks of Benny's life in a novel that blends the best of Big Night with Goodfellas.

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About the Author:

Joseph R. Gannascoli is an actor who has appeared in numerous movies and is a regular on HBOs phenomenally successful TV series The Sopranos. He has been a guest on such shows as Emeril, Bobby Flay, Donnie Deutsch, and Howard Stern as well as on VH1's Celebrity Fit Club. He is also a skilled restauranteur.  Allen C. Kupfer teaches at Nassau Community College. He is also the author of The Journal of Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Appetizer
Seared foie gras
with roasted apricots & sour cherry syrup


Seared Foie GrasSlice foie gras and sear until brown.
Peel and halve and pit apricots; toss with olive oil.
Roast.
In a saucepan, cook pitted cherries, sugar, red wine vinegar.
Reduce.
Puree in robot coupe.
Strain through chinois.
Cook until thick.
Toss sprouts with truffle oil.
Arrange foie gras and roasted apricots on a platter.
Pour sour cherry sauce over it.PreludeBenny Lacoco walked across the street, pulled open the door to Cobbler’s, a neighborhood bar, and shook off the cold. The odor of beer and spirits hit him, but it was the warmth of the place that he immediately sensed.It was goddamned cold outside, and the evening sky was dark, but it had that velvety, cloudy grayness that often predicts an impending snowstorm.Everything was quiet: the few people walking the streets, the traffic, everything.In fact, it was too quiet.Even for a Monday night.Especially for Brooklyn.More than anything, it was that stillness that made Benny nervous. It reminded him of a lot of old westerns he had watched on television. There was always that moment in those movies and television shows, when the two protagonists—usually the sheriff and the head outlaw—approached each other down Main Street, their hands dangling by their sides an inch or two from the revolvers in their worn, leather holsters, their eyes fixed intently on each other. Then they’d stop and there would be that totally silent, totally still second or two before they would draw their guns and fire at each other.It was the eventual gunfire that audiences found satisfying. But it was that pause—that hellish, quiet second or two—that got on Benny’s nerves. Shoot the bastard, he used to think. What the hell are you waiting for? Shoot, damn it!Right now, as Cobbler’s stained glass and steel door closed behind him, Benny felt like he was caught in a real-world suspension of time like the scenes in the old westerns. Only he knew this feeling wouldn’t be over in a second or two. Probably not even an hour or two. Maybe if he were lucky it would be over before the early hours prior to daybreak, when he’d be meeting his friend Joey Arso back here in Cobbler’s.Yeah, lucky, Benny thought, pulling up a red-cushioned stool at one end of the bar. From this seat by the window facing the avenue he could keep an eye on the open but staffless restaurant he had just left.He didn’t know if he’d be lucky or not.He didn’t know shit.“What can I do you for?” the bartender asked.“Lemme have a Heineken,” Benny said, reaching into his pocket and throwing a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.“You got it!” the bartender replied. He was about thirty, several years younger than Benny himself, but he dressed like most of the clientele of the bar, who looked like they were in their early twenties.Benny’s thoughts turned back to the evening ahead of him.Lucky! he thought. I’ll be cooking all night and my reward could be a piece of lead in the head.The bartender brought the beer, took the twenty, returned the change, and drifted back down to the far end of the bar, where he was engaged in entertaining two women trying hard to look twentyish.Benny quickly checked out both of the women.One had a nice shape, a decent profile, and a stylish haircut that circled and complemented her face. And she was wearing boots with stiletto heels that absolutely screamed “Fuck me!” She was provocatively sucking on a straw, all the time making eye contact with the bartender.The other woman, Benny assessed, was a skank. Period. However, Benny wasn’t interested in women tonight, and that in itself was unusual. This was going to be a really strange, tense night, perhaps the most nerve-racking night in Benny’s somewhat unconventional life.And it was still early.The night hadn’t even really begun yet.The Gunfight at Bay Ridge—if it were to occur—wouldn’t be starting until the sumptuous meal Benny was preparing was reaching its end.He sighed and said, “Shit.” Then he downed half the Heineken and looked across the street to the front of the Il Bambino restaurant.“Shit,” he repeated, mumbling the word to himself. Benny was tired. He had been in the restaurant since one o’clock in the afternoon. And before that he had personally selected and paid for a lot of the food he’d been preparing all afternoon. He wasn’t going to leave that to anyone else. After all, he had a reputation to keep. Nor was he going to use many of the supplies that Il Bambino stocked. The place was a decent enough neighborhood restaurant, but it never quite achieved greatness in anything: not in its recipes or the quality of its food, not in its ambience, not in its service. He was somewhat surprised when he got the call “from above” over the weekend instructing him to be at this restaurant on Monday night to prepare a meal for some of the family.Face it, Il Bambino was no great shakes.But someone at the top must have had his reasons. Maybe the owner owed a favor. Or, Benny thought, maybe it was the Bay Ridge neighborhood, which was usually quiet and unpopulated late in the evening on a Monday night, when most of the neighbors were home watching Monday night football on television.Benny himself kept an eye on the television screens in Cobbler’s. More than one of them was tuned in to Monday night football. Benny had a couple of hundred riding on a straight bet on the Giants game, and after the financial beating he had taken the day before, he was eager to make his money back. God knows, the three-team teaser he had had for Sunday’s games had left him almost a grand and a half in the hole.Those goddamn underdog Packers! They had fucked him over again.Whatever.He turned his thoughts back to the night ahead of him.It wasn’t his place to question. He got the call to show up tonight, and he was here.He just had to do what he did best: prepare practically legendary meals. Meals to die for, some of the guys at the top had called them.Benny shifted his two-hundred-and-fifty-pound frame on the bar stool and drank down another mouthful of beer. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a box of Marlboro Lights, then remembered that he couldn’t smoke in the bar. For a moment, he weighed his choices: go outside in the cold to smoke or just wait a while for the cigarette. Or he could just light up, but that might cause a minor scene, which was something he didn’t want.Not tonight.A low profile was in order.He opted to wait. It was just too nasty out there.Goddamn stupid law, he thought. Can’t smoke in a bar! What’s this city coming to? Pretty soon you won’t be able to drink in a fucking bar.The bartender approached him again. “Get you another?”“Yeah, okay,” Benny answered. He had to kill some more time, at least until his “guests” showed up, not that he knew who all of them would be. As they showed up, he guessed that he would recognize some (maybe even all) of them, but right now he had little idea who had been summoned to this dinner. He didn’t want to be in the restaurant as they arrived, because that would mean more time shooting the shit with a lot of them. And some of the likely invitees he couldn’t stand. Some of the guys were straight-up; others were windbags or assholes. He’d rather sit in this bar for a while, at least until enough of the guys showed up so that they could amuse themselves.He knew he’d have to make nice with all of them, whoever they turned out to be. A lot of them probably would have been connected far longer than he had and would technically have rank over him.But Benny had an ace in the hole when it came to position in the family.In the kitchen, Benny reigned supreme.If the goombahs got overbearing, he could always withdraw to the kitchen, claiming he had to stir something, chop something, or keep an eye on something being prepared. And few would question him about it.Besides, Benny didn’t feel like talking much tonight. Because deep inside, he was nervous. Scared, even. Thank God, the preparation of the many courses of this meal would keep his mind preoccupied. It’d help get him through the night.The bartender brought the beer and asked Benny if he was through with the first one. Benny drank down the last of it and handed the empty bottle to him. “Yeah, thanks.”The kid took another few dollars from the bar and rang it up on the register. Then the skanky chick called him back down to the other end of the bar again. The good-looking barkeep scooted down to her and her friend. Then she whispered something in his ear as she stroked his cheek with the tips of her fingers.Jesus, go for the other one, the one in the boots, Benny thought. At least fucking her won’t put sores on your dick.Then, just as the juke box in the bar began blasting “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake, a car pulled up outside Il Bambino. Benny didn’t recognize the black Cadillac Seville, but he did recognize the man who got out of the passenger door. It was Palumbo. Thomas Palumbo. Or “Pally” as he was called by most of the soldiers. Benny always...

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