Monday, September 13, 2010


He worked almost mechanically, his mind numbed by shock and sorrow but his body moving to a practiced rhythm.

He lined up all his ingredients. A large group had requested the Chef's special, and he was expected to deliver. Eight years as Head Chef, he had never failed. And he wasn't about to start now, whatever his inner turmoil.

The saucepan clanked against the stove, the oil stopper popped, and he carefully measured out two tablespoons of virgin olive oil. Next, the meat. Freshly ground not half an hour ago, the process smoothened by the usual preliminary hacking and rough dicing. A few stray chunks were assiduously chopped further. He'd been asking them for a new processor for months now, but the idiots in management had steadfastly refused. They dared refuse him, among the finest chefs in the city!

He browned the meat on medium heat, carefully separating the tiny pieces with a wooden fork. It was a little soft, but smelt heavenly.

He sighed. What a day for it all to unravel. They were just a week from their twentieth anniversary, and he had had a romantic getaway planned. Now it would be just him. All alone with his thoughts, his anger, his regrets.

His eyes clouded over slightly, and a stray tear sizzled on the pan. The meat was browned, ready to be moved to a colander and drained. Mustn't daydream, he scolded himself. Mustn't slack. Focus!

He dropped in some chopped onion, sautéing it in olive oil. Watched it become translucent.

Why him? Suddenly, filled with a blinding rage, why that guy, of all people? Some two bit model with rock hard abs and rocks in his head.

He threw the drained meat into the pan viciously. Flung in some tomatoes and added half a cup of water.

Stupid, stupid, stupid fool. He'd never suspected, never dreamt that she would cheat on him.

A few finely chopped stalks of celery, a bay leaf.

He still remembered the first day he saw her, she a patron at the finest restaurant in the city, he a lowly apprentice. He'd wooed her persistently, charming and cajoling and wining and dining her until she agreed to marry him.

In went the sea salt and the pepper. The water seethed and boiled with him.

He had come home that afternoon from lunch, bursting to tell her about the new opportunity he'd been offered. Head Chef at the new seven star hotel everyone was raving about! He'd thought he'd reached the peak, but there was so much more ahead!

The meat was cooking well. Time to start on the side dish.

The house was strangely quiet, the living room deserted. Weren't her soaps on this afternoon?

His boys had already shelled the beans, softened from soaking overnight. He transferred them to a pot and added minced onion and a cup of water. Paused a second, and added half a cup more. He covered the pot, his hands trembling just a little from the emotion and exhaustion.

It was the noises that led him upstairs. The guttural cries. The sound of... of another man's voice.

He leaned back, resting for a few minutes, and looked about the kitchen with pride. His kitchen. Head Chef at the most swanky (well, now the second-most swanky) Mediterranean restaurant in the city. Possibly even the country. It had taken him years of toil and perseverance to get this far, to nearly the summit of his profession. Her modelling career peaked and then sputtered, as expected, but he loved her none the less for it. Had loved her, he reminded himself bitterly.

Back to the meat. Perfect. He quickly brought some broth to boil.

She pleaded for forgiveness, of course. That bastard pleaded too, but with a superior smirk on his face.

The oven had been preheated already. All going to clockwork, as it had the thousand or so times he'd made his signature dish - a traditional Greek favourite - earlier. He transferred the meat mixture to a baking dish and added the broth and pasta. Set to cook.

He hadn't known how to react. What does one say in such a situation, what does one do? It was bizarre, and he struggled to understand the betrayal.

A quick check on the oven and the stove. All was well.

What had he done wrong? Had he not made her the centre of his universe, given her everything she ever wanted, treated her like a queen? Then why... this?

A light rattle from the pot jerked him back to reality. He peeked into it. The side dish was just right, soft and mushy. He added salt, pepper and enough olive oil to make it just a little creamy, and set it aside to cool.

He replayed the scene over and over in his mind, almost in a trance. His entry, their protests, the angry recriminations, her soft hastily-clothed body, the screams and shouts, her young lover with his impossibly perfect body...

The meat was done as well. He removed the baking dish, and covered it with a cotton towel to absorb the excess moisture. He busied himself with the plates.

The marriage was, obviously, over. He sighed, and massaged his temples. He suddenly felt far, far older than his forty five years.

With a flourish born from years of practice, he plated the meal. The Yiouvetsi, a riot of bright yellow, brown and red, with fresh parsley and a topping of finely grated cheese. The side dish, an inviting green. And, to accompany it, a glass of the finest Tuscan red wine. Onto the cart, and rolled out personally to the table.

He'd lived his life an honourable man. He'd slaved to earn society's respect, and his harlot of a wife was going to bring it all crashing down. It had been too much to take. He had to protect his reputation. He had no options.

"The Chef's special, Sir," he said to the chief patron. "Traditional Greek Yiouvetsi - Ground meat with Orzo Pasta."

A ghost of a smile flickered across his face.

"With some fava beans and a nice chianti."

(Recipes from here and here.)


A_and_N said...

I love food stories and this was very well-written. I'm someone who cooks rather well when I'm upset/angry. IS your chef like that too? :)

Vikram said...

Dude, brilliant ending! But I think most people won't get it :)

AC said...

Thanks A&N. My chef cooks particularly well when he has major emotional issues!

@Vikram: Thanks... don't think too many will, either. Maybe I should have toned down the food part of it a bit.

Hemamalini said...

Nicely done! reminds me of a story about a conscientious omlette :)

AC said...

Thanks Hemamalini :) I've tried tracking down that story, but can't find the book it's part of at my local bookstore...

Shveta said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shveta said...

A bit late to comment, still....very well written! When I read this earlier, I did get the plot, however, I understood the significance of the last sentence recently. Reminds me of a nice Johnny Depp movie :)