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La Parade des Chefs

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
REAL LIFE

A Chef in pristine whites leans languidly against the entrance to La Parade des Chefs.

Scuse Fingers by Kam Mistry, Pixabay

Submitted: May 18, 2019

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Submitted: May 18, 2019

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La Parade des Chefs!

 

A Chef in pristine whites leans languidly against the entrance to La Parade des Chefs' live theatre cooking arena and takes a drag from his cigarette. In the dreary rain and filthy pollution of a murky night in the City he looks tired and resigned. Amy in her sopping whites, soaking wet hoodie and floppy toque hat pats his wrist, cooing sweet tweets of encouragement. Chef still looks dejected.

‘I can’t do this, Amy,’ he says.

‘Course you can, Joe. Believe in yourself. Cross the t off.’

‘It isn’t that. I know I can,’ he says, flicking the spent butt into the gutter, ‘It’s him.’

Amy’s freckled nose creases as if she just smelled a rotten egg, ‘Him? Don’t let him get at you. He’s just a silly old compere.’ Her eyes go all dewy, her face beams, ‘Who loves you, Chef?’

She makes him happy. Makes his food worth cooking. He zips Amy’s hoodie up to her chin and brushes the dripping strands of hazel off her face. Her cold skin smells clean and fresh. He can’t help but kiss her blushing cheeks.

‘You do,’ he says, adding, ‘I wish you didn’t have to work this evening.’

‘Get in there and win for me. See you in bed tonight to celebrate!’

He hugs his lucky mascot, then she trudges off in the teeming rain. Joe goes through the goods loading bay, removes his hoodie, and shakes off the rain.

En route to La Parade he walks through the Salon, passing the displays of cooked meats, poultry, egg, fish, vegetables and delicious sweetmeats, all decorated in layers of aspic. The Judges have awarded First to a decorated lobster, presented as an open top red bus with twelve jellied pink prawns as passengers, craning their heads forward, staring at a Big Ben fashioned from mashed potato. 

He moves on to Amy's unplaced effort, the glazed chicken in the style of Woman's Own magazine - an antiquated concoction of cooked and skinned boiling fowl, stuffed with chopped walnuts, mandarin segments and basmati rice, sealed with a knob of butter, coated with mayonnaise, decorated with raw carrot stars and glazed with runny aspic.

Poor Amy spent the whole of last night trying to perfect the consistency of her aspic. Nightmare! And yet she still lifted his spirits just now. He misses her already. She is only small, round-faced, blue-eyed, with freckles. Joe has fallen in love with her. He wants to care for her. Amy, his teenage sweetheart.

Seth, a Development Chef, responsible for organizing this evening's Parade, stuffs the judging sheets into his saggy brown briefcase, stomps over to Joe in his safety shoes, wraps an arm around his shoulder, and, seeing sadness blooming in his teary red eyes, sympathizes with him:

'Amy will be a Chef one day. Give her a chance, Chef, she’s only sixteen, fresh out of school. Look, she came from a broken home, did drugs, glue, alcohol, self-harm, had a forced abortion. Given what she has been through, this is a terrific first effort. Don't tell me. You stuffed the bird for her last night. Got a crush on her, haven't you Chef?'

'Yes, I stuffed her bird. That’s the least I could do. But I don’t have a crush on Amy, Chef, I love her.'

'Give it time, Chef, you're still only sixteen. Love comes to those who wait.'

He regards Seth with a new-found respect, 'Do you really think so, Chef?'

'I do think so, Chef,' Seth crows, 'I didn't marry Fleur-Anisette until I was 18.'

Joe rubs his goatee deep in thought.

'Chef?'

'Yes, Chef?'

'Why didn't Amy win a prize for her work in Salon?'

Seth is distracted by the Gorgeous Gherkin Sisters: Julia, MD, Gloria, FD, and Jennifer, OD, having their brollies pumped for them by grovelling Leon Castell, Hospitality Manager at the Arena. The owners of Gherkin 333, the exciting new all-deli contract catering company, are identical twins, only identifiable from their hair and dress sense.

Tonight, actress, model and host for the evening, Julia, is wearing her teak hair off her face, centrally parted, with hooped earrings and a black evening dress worn off the shoulder. Julia will make a speech about giving the Young a fresh chance in Catering after the live Cook-Off, but before the Prizegiving.

Gloria, who will present the Certificates of Merit, wears silver blonde shoulder length hair, ruby studs, graphite choker, and an ocean bed blue diamante evening dress, worn off the shoulder.

Jennifer, sporting wavy auburn hair and a short black party frock will present the coveted Gherkin Trophy for Best Decorated Gateau.

There will be a polite round of applause from the paltry handful of Catering Managers in the audience, followed by crisps, nuts and orange juice. Then the Gherkins will depart in their chauffeur-driven limousines for their luxury apartments overlooking St Katherine's Dock. While the Chef's plod through puddles to the nearest tube station, share a Boris-bike home, or jog to their high-rise flats in soiled whites and hoodies.

'Chef?'

'Sorry, Chef.' Seth frowns, 'Amy was disqualified for forgetting to display a 'Warning: Contains Nuts' sign next to her exhibit.'

'Oh, I didn't think you tasted the display ...'

Seth interjects, 'How do you fancy your chances in the Cook-Off, then Chef?'

Joe retorts, ‘Is he there, tonight?’

‘He is, I’m afraid.’

‘Then my chances of winning are zilch.’

‘What makes you think that, Chef?’

‘He hates my guts.’

Seth looks at him, mystified, ‘Why would he do that?’

‘Because I stole his precious daughter from him.’

Joe walks into the auditorium to a muted reception. The audience are busy phoning food orders to Suppliers, updating risk assessments or answering e mails. He sees his manager sitting in a creased grey suit and chunky black safety shoes near the central aisle which runs between ten rows of ten seats either side. The auditorium has a distinctly empty feeling about it, like the aftermath of the Black Death. He waves enthusiastically at Eric.

‘Hey, Eric, it’s me, Chef!’

Eric ignores him, reciting, ‘Six A10’s of peeled plum tomatoes, six A10’s of baked beans, own label please, six A10’s of solid pack apple, six A10’s of…’

Joe spies Leon Castell, fawning over the beautiful Gherkins in comfy leather seats in the front row. The rest of the audience make do with curved black eco chairs. His heart sinks when he sees him, prancing around on the stage.

*****

Joe is the latest in the dynasty of Chefs to be born in flat 96 on the 8th floor of Pith’s Tower in Hackney, the illegitimate son of Lucinda Belle-Fleur, Commis Chef at Extruded Plastics, and Eddie Boulter, Breakfast Chef at Filton Rubber Pipes, hardly a recipe for culinary celebrity. Joe, a zit-faced, bonehead with halitosis, piles, hiatus hernia, and facial warts will never be rich.

He was expelled from School at the age of fourteen for assaulting a Teacher. Joe met Amy on the streets, begging in a subway at Elephant and Castle, when she was fifteen. Took her home to flat 96. Begged Lucinda to let her stay. His mum reluctantly agreed, if Amy gave up drugs, glue, and drink. Amy cried a lot that night. She pleaded with them to be given a chance to reform.

Six weeks later, she fell pregnant and was forced to have an abortion. When she reached sweet sixteen, Amy started work with Lucinda, at Extruded Plastics: helping her in the Kitchen, washing up, pot wash, on the night shift. Amy spent the whole of last night’s shift trying to perfect the consistency of her aspic and decorate her boiling fowl with star-shaped carrots. Nightmare!

*****

Chef waves enthusiastically at Leon, ‘Hey, Leon, it’s me, Chef!’

Leon ignores him. He might as well not exist. Joe struts up the short stairway to the stage and La Parade des Chefs! The stage has been set up with six trestle tables covered in foil. Each table has been meticulously laid out by Seth with a chocolate Genoese sponge mounted on a rotating cake stand, a set of star-shaped piping nozzles and bags, a chopping board, knife, a set of mixing bowls and plastic spoons, some cutters, a palette knife and cloths with sanitizer for cleaning.

The Chefs have been given identical amounts of ingredients with which to decorate and finish the cake: icing sugar, chopped nuts, butter, caster sugar, cocoa powder, angelica, black cherries and whipped cream. Joe eyes the other five contestants, resplendent in their black skull caps, black and white chequered aprons, black jackets and black and white check trousers. He is wearing traditional unstarched whites from the laundry hire company; all that he can afford.

He is there, Ralph Steiner!

Steiner swaggers around the stage in his faded navy pin-stripe suit, faded blue-and-white striped shirt and loosely knotted navy tie with pullies, brogues with worn heels. Worn, like old Steiner, a catering relic from the past, about to be put out to graze. Tonight, will be his final performance, his swansong, as compere… and one of the three Judges, together with Jennifer and Seth.

The Chefs take their places. Joe walks up to the Gateau he has to decorate in 30 minutes. The auditorium remains silent. La Parade des Chefs is about to begin! Steiner lifts the microphone, sees Chef, switches it off, sidles up to Joe and hisses: ‘What are you doing here, you, pathetic little turd?’

Joe stares at the compere, seeing the hatred burning in his eyes, and starts to tremble. Joe, who rescued Amy from a life of drugs, glue, drink, begging on the streets. Who rescued her, from her abusive, violent, Dad? He is dumb with fear, his mouth is dry, he cannot speak. Steiner, red-faced with fury, spins on his heels and marches centre stage. Switches on the mike and bawls:

‘Welcome friends to the show that never ends! Parade des Chefs! Hurrah!’

Julia stares at Steiner as if he’s gone bonkers. The audience slow-hand clap.

‘Let’s meet the great, and the not so great, who are going to decorate! A big round of applause for Ella, Mustafa, Bruce, Raj, Zoe…!’ No mention of Joe.

There is a short burst of applause. ‘Come on Joe, show them!’ Eric heckles.

Steiner explains, ‘Tonight our intrepid Chefs have 30 minutes to decorate a chocolate sponge,’ he glances at the second hand on his watch as it approaches 12, ‘Are you ready, Chefs?’ They all nod. ‘Okay everybody, are you starting to get the Buzz?’ Someone yawns, a mobile phone rings: Game of Thrones. ‘Okay, Guys and Gals, on the count of 5: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Cook!’ 

Joe doesn’t cook. Instead, he walks across the stage to Steiner who is fawning and gesticulating and generally making a complete arsehole of himself in front of the fuming Gherkins. He taps Steiner on the left shoulder. Steiner spins round to see Joe, holding a boning knife.

‘Careful with that knife, Chef!’

Without hesitation Joe thrusts the boning knife into the compere’s heart.

The auditorium erupts into screaming!

La Parade des Chefs!


© Copyright 2019 HJFURL. All rights reserved.

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