"Q: Die you ever get complaints?"
"A: Mr. Dickerson complained. . .Mr. Dickerson sent back five times the same dish. He sent it back five times."
As Gino Petrucci sees it, Complaints are wounds a chef receives in the heat of battle. He shakes them off and just keeps on cooking.
But a challenge to his authority is something els. So when the management of Georgetown's private Pisces Club brought another man with a tall, white hat into Chef Gino's kitchen, he was upset. "I take my stuff, my knife and then I took off," he called.
Petrucci landed in a legal battle--one that may end with a jury passing judgment on his pasta and minestrone during a trial sceduled for D.C. Superior Court in February.
Petrucci wants $13,000 in back salary for what he considers is a breached contract. The 3040 M Street Corporation, in a countercliam, wants $72,850 in "damages." They contend "inconsistencies" in food quality and ineffective kitchen management hurt business and endangered the financial solvency of the club.
It's not just C. Wyatt Dickerson, one of the men who launched Pisces, who complained, say lawyers for Patton, Boggs and Blow, who represent the corporation.
There's a woman "who said there was too much cheese in her saltimbocca in butter." There was a minestrone that supposedly made someone sick, a veal provencal that should or shouldn't have contained garlic, oysters that Iranian Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi reportedly found "stinky" and pasta that Washington Star fashion editor Eleni Epstein complained was "inadequately cooked."
Then there was Bob Strauss.
"Did anybody tell you that Bob Strauss complained about any part of the food?" a Patton, Boggs and Blow lawyer asked.
"I don't know him, Bob Strauss," respondedChef Gino.
"Robert Strauss," added Petrucci's lawyer. "He's the guy with the chili."
In a deposition on file at the court, Pisces manager Helmut Eibl explained:"Mr. Strauss sent us a recipe . . . his famous chili. And we never did get . . . it the way we want it."
According to Chef Gino, seven specific incidents involving matters of taste don't add up to "complaints.""If you serve 100 dinners and 1 percent complain because there was too much cheese on the saltimbocca, he said in a deposition, "they got to be a good chef to satisfy 99 people."
According to lawyer LeVine, in a statement, for the court, "After dissatisfaction with the amount of cheese in the saltimbocca, the consistency of the fettuccine, andthe amount of garlic on the veal provencal, the defendant . . . breached the written contract with and demoted the plaintiff from head chef to cook, and is now suing him . . ."
With another chef on the scene, LeVine argues, "Had he continued to cook, his reputation and renown would havebeen permanently injured.
"This case therefore askes the question as to whether an artist who enters into a personal service contract for a fixed period of time at fixed compensation can be terminated because someof the patrons do not have the sophistication or culture to understand the art."
But the other side contends that not only was Petruccu flawedas an artist, he was hired to insure "smooth, orderly, and efficient management" of the kitchen and its employes. "He was not a manager," Dickerson said yesterday. "But we had no intention of getting rid of him. We were left holding the bag."
The jury will have to decide whether or not the manager who was brought in, a man named Luigi who has since left the club and has not been located by either side, was to work alongside Chef Gino or as his superior. But Gino testifies that he was told, "Thisis the new chef; you will be the cook."
Reminded by a lawyer that he could have stayed at the same pay, Petrucci responded:
"That wasn't what I looked for. My job was a chef, executive chef, right? How do you feel tomorrow if you be a secretary?"
So, all parties agree, Petrucci left without saying goodbye. That was in August of 1976. Several months later he filed the suit, pointing out his one year contract had three months to run and he could only be fired with notice.
The management's point of view is that Petrucci managed the "kitchen and inventories incompetently." They cite three failing grades on D.C. health inspections, claim he neither invented recipes nor searched out provision in Washington markets, was was unable to delegate responsbilities to other workers in the kitchen.
At most, Patton, Boggs and Blow contend in papers on file at the courthouse, the chef might be due a few hundred dollars.
"It was no big deal to us," Dickerson said yesterday. "We would have taken him back. But this is so unjust we will defend it all the way."
Meanwhile, Petruccui has settled in Baltimore is operating a restaurant that bears his name in that city's Little Italy section. It has been favorably reviewed in two Baltimore newspapers.
Is he sorry to be gone from Georgetown?
"No, no, no!" he said.