It was late September. The nights were drawing in, the sun was sinking below the crest of the mountains, and for the first time a slight chill filled the village of San Gregorio. Lorenzo Compagno sat on the low wall outside the village's only restaurant - his restaurant - and gazed across the valley. In the distance, the town of San Demetrio was lit up by the last rays of
the evening sun. Beyond the town, a chain of mountains separated the broad valley of the Aterno River from the Adriatic coast. Lorenzo looked up at the mountainside, trying to pick out the lights that marked out the Stations of the Cross. Every Easter he would make the trip from San Demetrio up to the hermitage at the top of the ridge; at each station he would stop and rest. From the top there was a clear view down to the sea, but Lorenzo would always look back into the valley. He would look down towards his own village with its clutch of red roofs, and to its castello, where long ago the villagers would seek refuge.
Behind San Gregorio, another line of mountains, lower, but no less wild, formed the other side of the valley. Beyond them lay famous places like Napes, Pisa, Rome. In the distance above and below the village the two chains appeared to meet, walling in the tiny kingdom with its green fields and rolling hills. Far off to the left, the spire of the cathedral at L' Aquila was just visible over the top of the castello.
Behind him Lorenzo could hear the clattering of knives and the conversation as the restaurant prepared for another evening's service. For as long has he could remember, Lorenzo had lived above the restaurant. His first memory was of his father taking him into the kitchen and teaching him how to chop parsley. He had spent most of his youth working with the old man in the restaurant, serving at tables, learning the trade. All too soon it had been his turn to take over. And now, he himself was an old man, and most of the work was done by his sons. But it was still his restaurant; it was his world, everything he knew, and the one place where he could be sure things would always be done just right.
Lorenzo spent a few more minutes gazing across the valley, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells of the country. He watched a car winding up the road that lead to neighbouring San Benedetto. He heard the whistle in the distance of a train approaching the village station with its level crossing. Then he turned and headed into the kitchen.
The kitchen was a scene of frantic but controlled activity. Giuseppe, Lorenzo's oldest son, was in charge; Sophia, Lorenzo's daughter, was chopping vegetables; and the boy Gino was stirring a pan of sauce. They all fell silent as the old man entered the room, and carried on with their work even more conscientiously than before.
"So, what's for dinner?" Lorenzo asked.
Giuseppe looked up at his father. "Antipasti, with some of that smoked boar sausage your cousin Domenico makes; Ravioli stuffed with wild mushrooms; and Saltimboca alla romana."
"Alla romana?" Lorenzo said. "Al' San Gregorio, I hope you mean."
Sophia stopped chopping and looked up, a smile on her face. Lorenzo turned to face her.
"I don't mind you serving foreign food, but that was your grandfather's recipe and he invented it here in San Gregorio."
"Honestly, father," Sophia said, "anyone would think you thought Rome was another country."
Lorenzo glared at her. "They don't talk like us; they don't look like us. They definitely don't cook like us. And that makes us like them ... how?"
Sophia shook her head, still smiling, and returned to her chopping.
"You know what I heard they eat in Rome?" Lorenzo continued. "Pizza with ham and pineapple. Can you believe it? Pineapple! Antipasti, main course, and dessert, all in one. What's that all about? If that's not foreign, then what on earth is?
Giuseppe smiled; Dino grinned nervously. Lorenzo looked at Sophia for a reaction, but she said nothing. At length he abandoned the subject and walked around the kitchen, inspecting the work that was going on, looking into the pans.
"You need to cut the onion a bit more finely," he chided Sophia. "Has that brother of yours taught you nothing? I told him I should show you how to do things, but no, he says, I need to rest."
You have a great idea in your hook. This buries it under too much backstory and set up. When you come to a good restaurant for a meal, you start with the appetizer NOT chef's grocery list. Get past the prep work. Sautee some onions, pour some wine and let's see some ACTION.