This story was inspired by a friend who is a real chef. He’s also a vegetarian. 😀
‘Two minutes, chef.’
‘Chef. Table 14 have been waiting nearly an hour. They say if their meals don’t arrive within the next five minutes they’re leaving.’
‘What did they order?’
‘One medium steak, one vegetarian risotto and two specials.’
‘They were sent out twenty minutes ago. Look, the tickets on the spike. Jake! Where’s Jake?’
‘Think he went out for some fresh air, chef. He said it’s too hot in here.’
‘You mean he’s skived off for a fag. Get him back in here, now! And find out what happened to table 14’s order. Penny, go and apologise to them. Give them a bottle of wine on the house and tell them their food will be with them shortly. Mel, leave that for now. Do the steak and the specials while I do the risotto. Priority. We can’t afford any more bad publicity.’
Running my own restaurant had been my dream ever since I’d learnt to cook at my grandmother’s knee. I knew my food was good but finding decent staff had been a nightmare. These were the best of a bad bunch but I was fed up with their inefficiency, lack of passion and inability to take simple orders. Every night my heart sank as I did the books and found myself moving ever deeper into debt. The bank was on my back but I wanted a fine dining establishment, not a cheap and nasty take-away.
The worry stopped me sleeping but I couldn’t carry on like this much longer. Tonight was meant to be my big break. I’d had a tip-off some renowned food critics would be here this evening, and if they were impressed my future would be assured. I’d been convinced they were the party at table 14, had given their order extra special attention, and now it looked as if they would be leaving without even sampling the food. When Jake slunk back up to the counter, I let rip.
‘Where the hell have you been? You’re paid to serve, not disappear every five minutes. What happened to table 14’s order? You knew how important it was to keep them especially happy?’
I noticed the group at the table nearest the kitchen turn at the sound of my raised voice. Great. Now I’d shown not only were we inefficient, but I appeared unprofessional and was bullying my staff. Following Jake’s gaze, I noticed the four plates of cold, congealed food sitting on the cutlery shelf.
‘Oh yeah, forgot,’ Jake muttered as I tried to keep my temper under control. ‘Shall I give it to them now?’
‘I’ll tell you what you can do, Jake. You can get your coat, go home, and don’t bother to come back. OK?’
‘Didn’t want to work in this shit-hole, anyway,’ he shouted as he strode through the restaurant and slammed the door behind him.
‘Chef, specials and steak ready to go,’ Mel said quietly as I finished the risotto.
‘Service! Table 14, quick as you like.’
As the waiter collected the plates, I glanced at the dishes Mel had prepared and noticed how good they looked. I had only taken her on as a general dog’s body when she had come to me desperate for a job. She peeled vegetables, washed up, kept the condiments filled and made sure the table linen was clean and available, but had never previously been involved in the actual cooking. A quiet, shy girl, I had come to rely on her for all the little, unnoticed things that keep a restaurant running smoothly.
‘Thanks, Mel. They look great.’
‘You’re welcome, chef. We’re running a bit short of glasses. If you don’t need me here, I’ll collect up the dirties and get them washed.’
Once I’d finished the last few orders, I watched Mel as she went round the restaurant, stopping for a few seconds at the various tables, acknowledging requests, giving orders to the bar and then delivering drinks, cutlery, clean glasses, whatever the customers needed. In between she folded napkins, delivered bills, collected coats and generally did the job of five of the others in half the time. Why had I not noticed before how much she carried them? Without her I would have gone under long ago, and it seemed she could also cook.
‘Are you free for a minute, chef?’ her soft voice interrupted my reverie. ‘Table 14 have asked if they could have a word.’
With a sinking heart I made my way over to the table ready to face the music.
‘Good evening, chef. Thank you for sparing us your time. As you might have guessed we work for the ‘International Best Restaurant’ group and we’re here to do a review. I’m sure you appreciate how important our promotion can be; it’s been both the making and downfall of many restaurant businesses.’
The rather plump, red-faced man gave me a grim smile, and I was tempted to shut up shop there and then, when the lady sitting next to him spoke.
‘You did get off to rather a shaky start. The wait was too long, and you’re well rid of the sulky young man who stomped out after you gave him a dressing-down. He wasn’t doing you any favours.’
So, they’d heard the argument too. Definitely not one of my better days.
‘However,’ the other man in the party said. ‘Your waitress was top notch and more than made up for him. Also, that steak was undoubtedly the best I’ve ever had in my whole life, and I’ve sampled them in the finest restaurants all over the world. We’ll be giving you a glowing review. Keep up the good work.’
As they rose to leave, Mel was already waiting with their coats, and I signalled her to forget their bill. The good publicity would be worth every penny of the cost. Once we had locked up, I called her to enjoy a celebratory drink with me.
‘I owe you a lot, Mel. You’re invaluable as a general help, but even better as a chef. I intend to promote you and double your wages as soon as the business picks up. What did you do in your last job? Why did you never tell me you could cook?’
‘Thank you, chef, but it’s probably better if I stick to doing the odd jobs. I left my last place under a bit of a cloud. They objected to my use of ingredients when I sourced and cooked the steaks.’
‘But that’s what the critics loved most. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. You get off home now, I’ll clear up. Thank you again.’
I didn’t often get involved in the kitchen after hours, and I must admit it was a bit of a mess. Fresh blood covered the work surfaces, and there were more discarded bones than I expected. It was only when I found the severed head that I had to decide whether to risk losing my dream restaurant, or keep my promise to employ Mel as my chef.
© Voinks March 2019
The answer to last week’s question was Titania who you will find in ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales,’ a collection of fantasy short stories.
This week’s question:
Not the nicest of characters, this young man leaves his restricted country life to seek his fortune in the big city. Who is he?