A Meal to Remember.
The kitchen was a soaring symphony of major chords and rich harmonies upon which the chef laid a strong melodic line. His assistant, with almost telepathic understanding, played perfect counter-point. A chorus of contentment and industry sang in the background while the steady rhythm of purposeful endeavour kept metronomic time. Tempting aromas rose from a dozen bubbling saucepans and the air was filled with the cheerful sizzling of a roast joint. The Yorkshire puddings swelled to gigantic proportions and retained their size and shape even when taken from the oven and positioned on a rack above the stove. In ten minutes the restaurant would open and, in the kitchen, everything was ready.
The chef was in love for the first time and the delightful object of his affections was due to enter the dining-room at any moment. She had only one hour for lunch but the bank where she worked was just minutes away. She would normally eat sandwiches brought from home but today was her birthday and something special was called for. He had promised her a meal to remember and he meant to keep his word. He was nervous. He tasted the chasseur sauce for the tenth time and added a touch of white wine then tried it again and pronounced it good. Nothing must go wrong. This meal could be the catalyst which would alter the conditions of their relationship. She was fond of him, of that he was sure, but she didn't, as yet, love him. The meal she was about to eat could change all that. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach then he would prove that it was likewise true for a woman's heart. The enjoyment and effect of a good meal was one area in which the sexes really were equal.
He was looking through the small glass window in the swing-door which led to the dining-room when she arrived. After a moment's hesitation she sat down at a table in the centre of the room. Sun-beams leapt through the leaded windows and played catch on the black-beamed walls. She looked even more beautiful than he remembered her.
Soon, the waiter brought her order to the kichen. She would have pate maison followed by lamb cutlets with a selection of vegetables and finish with creme caramel. The chef made it known that, contrary to their usual custom, he would take responsibility for the hors d'oeuvres. He cut a generous portion of pate which he trimmed heart-shaped and decorated it with radishes carved into roses and tomatoes resembling tulips. The melba toast was hot and crisp. He glanced discreetly through the kitchen door in order to appreciate her delight as it was place before her. It was a quiet day, Tuesday always was, and he had time to prepare her main course before other diners arrived. On the plate he formed a heart from two cutlets and decorated them with finely shredded lettuce. Upon this he laid small pieces of truffle, in the shape of crotchets, like notes upon a stave. She could read music and would recognise that the truffle formed the first six notes of Happy birthday to you. The bouquetiere of vegetables was a mass of colour and seasoned to perfection.
Twenty minutes later her empty plate was returned to the kitchen with a heart etched in the remaining gravy. He peered through the small window and saw her delicately spooning slivers of creme caramel into her perfect mouth. She looked up and saw his eyes upon her and thanked him with a warm, loving smile. He had never known such happiness. As she was leaving she tapped on the kitchen door and waved goodbye.
The following four days were a Tchaikovsky Concerto of soaring strings and dramatic passages. He leapt from elation to despair and back again as easily and quickly as a pianist jumps octaves. His existence was a series of emotional crescendos followed by resonant discords. He was hearing a tune he had never heard before.
He was due to have the evening off on Friday and they had planned to go to the cinema but his assistant phoned in sick during the morning so he reluctantly cancelled their date. He could feel that she was displeased but that was as nothing compared to his own displeasure which expressed itself in his heavy consumption of cooking sherry. All that day the kitchen was a cacophony of discordant noises and raised voices. The staff went unwillingly about their tasks and the chef found fault with even the meanest of endeavours. The potatoes had been peeled incorrectly and cut wrongly; the parsley chopped too fine and the lettuce badly washed. His heart was not in his cooking. Left-overs were re-heated, tins opened and frozen vegetables boiled in plain water without the benefit of salt. He prayed that there would be no customers but twenty-five were already booked and there were sure to be others.
The first three set the scene for the rest of the evening. They ordered three different starters, three different main course and intended finishing with three different desserts. So! They wanted to be difficult? He would show them difficult; they would regret their hasty actions in not making life easy for him. He barely warmed the soup, burned the Melba toast and cut a thin slice from an un-ripe melon. He warmed to his task as he prepared their main courses and was gratified to see their hors d'oauvres plates return to the kitchen with the soup, pate and melon only half eaten. He felt a cruel contentment as he grilled the medium-rare steak until the inside was the colour of dull mahogany. He fried the chicken as dry as cardboard and put extra salt in the already over-seasoned boeuf bourgignon. As a final gesture of contempt he spat in it. He was enjoying himself for the first time that day.
It was no surprise when the food was returned un-eaten with the message that the customers considered it inedible and the worst meal they had ever been served in a restaurant. They also wished to confront the chef personally in order to convey their utter dis-satisfaction. Did they indeed? He would not disappoint them. Even if it meant losing his job he would have the pleasure of speaking his mind to these worthless people. Not bothering to change his blood-spattered apron he picked up a meat cleaver and, kicking the door open, strode threateningly into the dining-room.
She sat there with her parents. She had obviously been crying and her make-up was smudged and smeared round her red-rimmed eyes. Her father was scarlet with anger while her mother smouldered in quiet indignation.
There was a clash of cymbals followed by a solitary cello droning dirge-like over a lone kettle-drum beating in funereal time. He felt out of tune with his surroundings; a flat note in a minor key. The chef knew, without a word being spoken, that he had lost her. He had become a stranger and felt very alone. His arms fell to his sides and, after one last look, he turned and walked weakly back into the kitchen.
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