Written / Cooking On High


Chapter 10

Since their run-in over the napkins, Miguel had been giving Fry short courses on all things service. He’d taken her aside and explained that through no fault of his own, he’d have to spend time giving her a primer. He assured her he would make it as brief as humanly possible to suit their mutual antipathy.

She was astounded at the universe of trivial minutia that gripped the man’s mind. It was disturbing.

For his part, Miguel was grateful that they did not finish dishes at the table at Bachanal. While Fry might be capable of deglazing, he could only imagine the damage she could do flaming a dish tableside. Of course, in his heart of hearts, this was the service he most enjoyed. But it wasn’t for everybody. Fry was one of those bodies. She’d probably light the whole place on fire while chatting about the weather. He was nervous enough letting her light the table candles as it was.

He was a good teacher though. He didn’t have to explain more than once. His directions were crisp and clear. Fry thought he’d planned this out, probably to limit his exposure to her unseemly flaws. She knew that she’d never rate in his estimation, who would? Still, she couldn’t fathom why her inadequacies in particular bothered him so much.

Spooky attention to detail aside, it was clear that anyone who was on the receiving end of Miguel’s mastery, was a lucky patron. They might not know it, because discretion was one of his dearly held maxims, but their experience was enhanced no doubt.

She was pleased at her growing repertoire in the napkin department. She made the mistake of showing Barbra a tricky maneuver Miguel had shown her that made the square bit of cloth do a spiraling fan thing.

“Hey that’s not bad, there’s hope for you yet!” Barbra couldn’t imagine why the hell it mattered, but Fry seemed pleased with the development.

Fry returned to the dining room to finish setting up and had the unpleasant sensation of Miguel closing in on her.

“Think you’re clever don’t you?” he asked.

She stopped and took a calming breath. “It may not be the most perfect helix Miguel, but I thought it was a decent attempt at a fan.”

“A couple of napkin folds won’t get you my job. Why don’t you go show French your little effort? Do you honestly think I’ll sit by and watch you worm your way onto this floor in anything but the lowliest capacity?”

“Technically, bussing is lowlier. But while we’re on the topic, are you insane?! What on this green earth could have possibly given you the impression that I have even the slightest interest in your job? If you had the last honest job on the planet and I needed it to feed my children, I’d learn to steal. I’d deal crack before I wanted your job!”

Miguel stared at her. “Tell me you don’t have children. I couldn’t bare the thought of the poor things living in the disarray you must create at home.”

“Hello! Did you catch any of that? Do you really believe that I spend the balance of my free time plotting to overthrow your tyrannical reign before I return to school in a couple of months? I’ve met microorganisms that have a broader world view than you do. Stick your head out the door, get some perspective, would you?”

Put that way, it was conceivable that Fry was not interested in his position. And why not? Was it possible that she was an innocent? No threat at all? Just another waitress, out of the many hundreds he’d ignored over his distinguished career. And yet...

Fry was still reeling from her experience in the twilight zone, when she entered the kitchen. It was still early and they weren’t open yet, so Sonny and Milo were prepping. Brian and French entered from the back, discussing the specials. As Brian turned to go down the stairs to check the stockroom French asked him to get the truffles for the le rond de veau. She turned back and noticed Fry smiling at her.

“What’s your problem?”

“Don’t have one now. When you make that it puts me right in the best mood. I love the smell of the puree. That sauce is my favorite and the garnish is a hoot. But it’s the subtle scent of the prunes in the...”

She stopped speaking as French closed the few paces between them, leaned down to make direct eye contact and asked quietly, “Who is it Fry?” The waitress had never heard this tone of voice from the chef, but she knew before she’d finished speaking that she didn’t like it.

“W-who’s who?” Fry asked.

French began smoothing the material of Fry’s shirt at her shoulder. Fry was pretty sure she couldn’t have gotten it that wrinkled folding napkins.

“Which one of them sent you? Which one figured out that you were the perfect choice? That no one would question the hard working, girl next door act?”

Fry had thought that she’d left the twilight zone in the dining room, but it was all over the place today. And French’s hands were on the move. She found herself pinned to the wall, French holding her by the collar. This couldn’t be happening. Whatever it was.

“Who sent you?”

“What are you talking about?” She was getting panicky. No one in the room seemed to notice them. And French was starting to lift her off the ground.

“No one, not even Brian knows I use prunes in that dish. Have you been poking around in the trash? Paying extra for some information here and there? It won’t take me long to find out. How did you know?”

“Why wouldn’t I know it? It’s not like you can’t taste it! It’s brought out in the glazing or something, I don’t know. But the carmelized shallots set the right tone, I wouldn’t have ever thought you could use those together like that...” She stopped. The stunned look that had come over French’s face was freaking her out more than the choke hold. French’s grip loosened letting her rest her legs.

How could Fry have known? Known the thing that had driven so many to distraction or plain ruin trying to figure out? There had to be an explanation. She was a waitress, okay, a student, a “person”, whatever, but a waitress in a small town, east of nowhere. Big time chefs in big time places hadn’t been able to discern this particular tidbit of information, and some had offered large sums of money to get it. So?

“I said, who sent you!” This time French was in an all out rage, apoplectic at the thought of a spy insinuating herself into the mix. A spy in the guise of this diminutive enigma who was looking at her this moment like she’d bit the head off of a live chicken and was coming for her next. “Oh shit!” French stepped back, realizing that in her blind fury she’d been mishandling the small waitress. She patted Fry’s collar into place awkwardly.

Now that she thought about it, Fry couldn’t be a spy. No way. Her face was an open book, with large print. She couldn’t conceal a secret to save her life. She’d burst from the internal pressure. She’d probably feel bad that she wasn’t sharing with the group. And if she wasn’t a spy, that meant... “Did you say carmelized shallots?”

“Yeah,” Fry said, still stunned herself.

French groaned and rubbed her forehead. It wasn’t like it was an unlikely ingredient in anything french. Fry could have made a lucky guess. She may have known the classical preparation of the recipe French had used as a foundation. Both of these options were less freakish than the likelihood of her being able to filter out the flavor of the carmelization in a sauce that had a couple of other things going on in it, thank you very much. “How the hell did you know they were carmelized?”

Fry hesitated, cringed, then said, “That’s what they tasted like?” French got that look that made her uneasy again. She looked shocked, maybe sick. “French, I swear I wasn’t spying. No one sent me. What’s the big deal? It’s a couple of ingredients...” She got it in a rush. A couple of SECRET ingredients.

French turned and walked away. Fry couldn’t let her go, not like this. She followed, not knowing what to expect, not caring, but needing French to know she wasn’t a threat. She wouldn’t betray her. She caught up to her at her station. French had bent down to do something in the small reach-in refrigerator there. Fry was about to make her case when the chef turned on her.

“Eat this.” French stuck a cracker in her face with something spread on it.

“What?” Confounded once again Fry took one look at French’s expression and decided it was best to please then.

“Taste it, tell me what it is.” The chef demanded.

Fry took a bite of the cracker, figuring French had lost it. As she tasted it she smiled. “It’s your Montpellier sauce, I love this stuff! The first time you served it with the salmon and watercress, I couldn’t believe...”

“What’s in it?” French wasn’t having a conversation, she was asking a question.


“The ingredients Fry, what are they?” She waited, watching closely.

Fry took another small bite, and smiled again. “Well, there’s the dill, the capers and anchovies...” She was warming to the game.

French frowned, “Well, I guess maybe you lucked out on the onions, because you missed...”

“The jerusalem artichokes?” Fry asked.

There was that look again. Maybe Fry liked that look after all. Maybe it meant that she’d stumped this impossible egotist. Yeah, she liked that look fine come to think of it.

“Maybe you should have let me finish?” She added with a smug little grin. She was warming to this game alright. But there was another look that came over French’s face that shook her bravado. French took a spoon from one of her drawers, walked down the line and dipped it into one of the pots simmering on the stove.

“Blondie, over here!” She barked. Holding out the spoon, she indicated that it would be a good idea if Fry tasted the liquid in it.

Fry leaned in, blew on the liquid and sipped it. “Oh yeah,” she groaned. “I love this stock. It has a smoky edge to it, is that from the beans?” There was a definite twinkle in Fry’s eye as she said it.

French stared at her. A look of surprise painted on her face.

“Well, well. Chef is speechless. Wanna try me again? What else ya got? Gimme something tough.”

French wasn’t sure what to do at this point. All evidence indicated a simple truth. Fry was a spy. While logic dictated that French accept that conclusion, something prevented it. Possibly the irritating grin plastered on Fry’s face. No spy would gloat so openly, so cheerfully. They had better survival instincts.

No. The absurd reality appeared to be that Fry was able to discern subtle, yet key ingredients in a dish... that no one had been able to detect before... that she wasn’t sure she could detect if she hadn’t put it in there herself... Ingredients that made her who she was... made the restaurant the place it was... Oh shit.

All of a sudden French felt vulnerable, yet safe... It didn’t make sense. Her secrets were being laid bare, but somehow, in her long neglected heart she knew Fry wasn’t a threat.

Could it be that growing up on tasteless, vegan food had preserved Fry’s palate? The absence of any real flavor depriving them, increasing their sensitivity and optimizing the chance of detecting some flavor in the bland diet fate had cast her way.

But taste is only twenty percent tastebuds, the rest is smell. Ever try enjoying a good meal with a cold? Well there you have it.

More likely, Fry was a super taster with something akin to perfect pitch. It happened. There were palates insured for millions throughout the food industry. But French had never seen anything quite like this.

She looked at Fry, giving her that smirky grin. She realized she could care less if she knew it all. She was tired of the clandestine preparations, and compulsive obfuscation. But old habits die hard, especially the habit of feeling in control... French pursed her lips and cocked an eyebrow at the waitress. “Think you’re pretty clever, eh?”

“At this point? Yeah, I guess I do.” Fry patted her apron and rocked on her heels. Feeling every bit the cat who swallowed the canary, though not entirely sure why yet. She’d won some kind of a culinary contest as far as she could figure.

She should have known better than to gloat, because there was yet another look she’d never seen French give her, and it was making her uncomfortable in an entirely different fashion. As was the very slow, fluid way French had started to move toward her. It was like in those nature shows when the big jungle cats get a small animal in their sights and all of their focus reduces down to a single point and their heads are still, but all of the muscles of their bodies are coiling in the readiness to strike at their unknowing or hypnotized targets. “Move, move!” She shouted to herself, but she was paralyzed.

French leaned down to make direct eye contact with her. Fry swallowed, her eyes wide.

“You know something?” French's voice was a purr. It gave her a chill. Not the kind of chill Fry was anticipating in what she figured was a near death experience.

“Huh?” Was all she could manage as she gazed into those mesmerizing, blue eyes. French was so close. Fry’s breathing quickened. Even here in a kitchen filled with the aromas percolating out of the pots on the stove right next to them and several dishes prepping in the ovens, she could make out that scent that was unique to French. “What am I thinking? This woman is about to grill my rear and I’m getting horny over her smell!”

“You are either a spy...” French paused as Fry shook her head weakly in protest. “Or...you have the mostly highly developed tastebuds I have ever encountered.”

French narrowed her eyes. She’d intended to throw the cocky waitress off balance, to regain the advantage she was used to having. But as she’d approached Fry, something had happened. French couldn’t quite put her finger on it, she’d lost her train of thought, and now she was staring into those guiless eyes... close up... caught there in a pull of some kind...

There was a loud popping noise. French jumped and yelled, “Shit!” She grabbed at the back of her neck. The sauce on the stove had overheated and bubbled up, some of it splattering out of the pot and hitting her. Acting on instinct she turned quickly and reduced the heat on the burner. And swallowed, hard. Could this be happening? Did she have feelings for Fry? Fry? Nah, not the cheerful pipsqueak. She turned at feeling a cool rag being placed on her burning neck. And there was Fry with a smile of concern and a doughy sort of look in her eyes. “Damn, what do I do now?” French thought. She smiled back, and did the only thing she thought someone in her position could do. “Well, back to work! Right?”

Fry felt as though she’d been force marched through an emotional maelstrom in the last five minutes. Hitting the extremes of triumph and fear, not to mention the final pitstop for arousal and now it was ‘Back to work!’? Wrong! But all she could do was open and close her mouth. A bottleneck of emotions and exclamations blocked any speech from getting out.

“Okay then.” French continued. “I’ll be getting to it.” She turned on her heel and headed for her office, relieved at the prospect of escaping the encounter.

“Stop right there!” Fry finally verbalized a thought. She was so exasperated it burst forth as an order. French pulled up short as she’d reached the door to the back. “You’ve gotta be kidding right? What just happened here French? Are you trying to make me crazy? Because if you’re not, I gotta tell you you’re doing a darn fine impression! One second I’m backed into a wall and you’re yelling at me about spies and culinary conspiracy. Next you’re sticking food in my face! Then you’re gonna... well you looked like you wanted to... You’re making my head hurt!” She grabbed her head with both hands and squeezed her eyes shut in frustration.

French stood in the doorway breathing hard. She felt a wave of uncertainty and confusion overtake her. She wasn’t in control. This was bad. Worse still, she knew why. For the first time in her life, she saw her role in the situation clearly. She could understand Fry’s point of view. Viscerally. But she wasn’t quite sure where to go from here... She’d never been here before. She’d never let herself get that off balance, that outpositioned, that unattached to her primary goal. She’d gotten distracted. And she hadn’t decimated Fry reflexively to regain advantage, as she knew she could. Was this good? Was it terminal?

Fry looked up at her boss, who looked for all the world like that jungle cat from the nature shows but crammed into a cage and freaking for space. It didn’t look natural. “Hey, it’s okay.” She began quietly. She’d lost her steam at the look in French's eyes. “I’m confused, maybe we can talk about it later?”

To French this sounded like a reprieve. “Sure.” She said as she backed through the door.

The entire crew gaped at Fry openly. They had been drifting in, watching. She had done something they’d seen no rush, no knife fight, no amount of harassment ever do. She had unnerved French. The world had changed. They weren’t sure if that was a good thing.

And judging from the amount of yelling French did during the evening rush, Fry may have thought they were right. To the rest of the staff there was something comforting in French’s solid rally to despotism. No slip of a townie waitress was going to take their chef down. Not without a fight.

Fry watched French rail and hiss her way through shift. Despite the fact that their encounter earlier had obviously shaken her resolve to be ‘so over French’, she was still committed to the basic premise. French was one mixed up lady. She was also scared, though it would probably take the Grand Inquisitor to wrestle an admission from her. Worse yet, she may not know.

And that realization gave Fry the insight she needed. To what French needed. A friend.

Continued in Chapter 11.

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