Authors’ Note – Anthony Bourdain was a huge source of inspiration for both of us. He was important to Keith as a chef and we both loved his books and shows. His work made me want to start writing again after decades of denying myself that pleasure.
Today would have been Tony’s 63rd birthday.
Chefs Eric Rippert and José Andrés have declared today Bourdain Day. The story below came out of a writing contest we participated in only a few short weeks after Tony’s death. It was, and is, meant as a tribute. Mark was, of course, based on Tony. I’ll let you guess who Mark’s nemesis is modeled after.
We hope you can hear a little bit of his voice. We hope you like the story.
I think Tony would have laughed his ass off. ~ J
Like revenge, Vichyssoise is a dish best served cold.
A former celebrity chef finally reaches his breaking point
and serves up a recipe that’s a real killer.
I wish I knew what the fuck went wrong.
I wish I could remember the perfect joy, the sense of adventure, a taste of some new delicacy could convey when I was taking my first steps toward what would become a culinary career. But publishing Cooks’ Confessional took me off the map of my personal paradise and into some concentric circle of Dante’s Inferno.
I stared at the assignment. The Network had just signed another major deal with some Mega-global Foodzilla. So, the memo on the counter of my very own Purgatory, the test kitchen of Fifteen or Less and none other than Satan herself, Thalia Day, proclaimed the new episode’s theme: Insta Magic with Instadspuds. Just add water, 86 all that’s good and pure. Oh, and while you’re at it, throw in the last shred of my soul.
Meatless Monday Magic. Mock Shepherd’s’ Pie, heavy on the mock.
What fresh hell is this?
A chill warning of the presence of evil ran down my spine.
“Can’t wait to see what you come up with, Markie.”
And there it is.
“Yeah, this’ll be swell,” I bit out through a rigid smile, refraining from reminding her I don’t do nicknames.
Her shark teeth flashed in return. I think she smiled so much around me just to see if I’d say anything. That big fake grin had figured prominently in Confessional. My thinly veiled references to She Who Cannot Be Named peppered the later chapters. She might not have known, but I slipped in a few of her catch phrases, so there was no doubt.
“Oh, one thing … Our sponsor wants us to use this new spread, so no butter … and let’s shake it up a bit for the live special. Maybe do an appetizer? How about vichyssoise?”
“Are you serious? That’s impossible in under fifteen minutes.”
“How hard can it be? Instant mash, a dash of EVOO, powdered cream base, some dry spices and veg, a can of chicken broth … Throw it in a blender and boom, it’ll be delish.”
A pregnant pause.
I bit my tongue to keep quiet.
“Hard to believe you’re a better chef than you were a writer,” Thalia said as she breezed off.
Okay, in Confessional, I maybe said some not very nice things about the inspired paragon of selling out who currently employed me. Doesn’t mean they weren’t true. She hired me when my career tanked so she could appear the bigger person. She never missed an opportunity to needle me in her faux-wholesome, smarmy way.
Fuuuuuuck! I’ve done very little to be proud of since my fall from grace, and especially these last few months. Thalia made it clear from word one; I’m not here for ideas. I’m here to make her, and the corporate jackwagons ruining food for millions and pretending it’s a favor, look good.
I went from the top of my craft to another soulless master of compromise, whoring myself for an admittedly not inconsiderable paycheck. It feels dirty, but in an I-can-pay-my-rent-and-not-drown-in-debt kind of dirty. Like a blowjob in a barroom bathroom stall.
Sure, it’s morally questionable, but there’s something about it that feels oh so right.
God damn her. Instant vichyssoise? One of my fondest early memories of the slow seduction food wrought on my tender young soul and she’s fucked that up, too.
Brother, I’m no saint. Hell, my ex thinks I’m the devil, but even I have limits (bathroom blowjobs notwithstanding), and this … No. Just no.
My rage-wrinkled brain ran through some ideas. The old standbys; hot pepper extract, bittering agents in the base, spite spitting. Not good enough. I needed to make my stand. And I wanted to do it in a manner consistent with my style. She was always telling me what a prick I could be. This time I wanted to prove her right.
A shit-eating grin stretched my face. I decided to make her nightmare come true and humiliate her on live TV. I mean, I’d lose my job. And forget about working in my field in a way that didn’t involve a paper hat and a dirty griddle in some backwater truck stop, living under the name Cletus, or maybe Bubba.
Shit, I could do time. Better make it worth the trouble.
“You okay, jefe?” Juan, my sous chef, asked with concern.
I shrugged and shared the news of what Ms. Delish had in store for us.
“Another day in paradise,” he smiled. “Give me ten and we’ll suffer together.” He snagged a smoke out of my pack on his way by.
I rubbed my temples as I pictured her fake smile with her fake perfect teeth.
Oh, no. I couldn’t … I really shouldn’t … I knew I still had some enzyme glue kicking around from my last foray into food photography.
Enzyme glue bonds proteins to porcelain, to keep food stationary for pictures. Adding some to the soup base would bond with her high-end dentures, gluing her mouth shut in front of her adoring mindless masses. On live television.
It took some planning, some sneaking around. Then, on the day of the show, I did the unthinkable. I stood in the wings to watch. I’ve always had a voyeuristic streak. You can ask any prostitute on the Upper East Side. Thalia took it as a sign of me getting with the program and showing some support for a change. I think. She looked pleased as anything. A blood-swollen tick feasting on the flesh of a job I used to love.
I had the decency to cringe as I watched her give birth to the culinary abomination I fertilized in her test kitchen. Hamming for the camera, she picked up the cutesy little shot glass she’d chosen as a serving dish.
Her smile faded as the glue set up. Teeth cemented shut, she panicked. Muffled screams ensued. At some point she puked. And that glue holds on tight. It was all over then.
For the record, I didn’t want her to die.
Well, not like that. Drowning in adhesive potatoes and stomach acid.
I took in the chaos. This was the bathroom blowjob, except the girl is dating the bouncer, a jealous ex-con type, who’s just opened the stall door.
I lit a cigarette and breathed deep.
“No smoking! It’s in the employee handbook!” some pointless production toady chided.
“Buddy, I don’t work here,” I said with actual relief.
I blew smoke in his face as I shouldered past.
“But hey, if you’re ever in East Cousinfuck, West Deliverance County, look me up.”
“Just ask for Cletus.”