Saturday 24 June 2017

If You Can’t Stand the Heat by Vanessa Couchman

Ever since I’ve worked in this kitchen it’s been nothing but stress, stress, stress. I’ve never been able to understand why they all get so excited about it. I just do my job. Reliable, dependable, never missed a day so far.
It’s been even worse since Chef decided to go for that second Michelin star. The first one was bad enough. We all had to be on duty eighteen hours a day. We didn’t do scrub-down till the small hours. I never felt clean with all that grease and steam.
Every new dish was a nightmare. Was there just a soupçon too much of this? Wouldn’t it be better with piment d’espelette rather than smoked paprika? The saffron emulsion is too strong.
‘Throw it in the bin. Start again.’
‘Yes, Chef. Sorry, Chef.’
Talk about paranoia. Chef took to peering out through the porthole in the swing door.
‘That one at the corner table wearing the suit and tie – he looks like an inspector. Oh my God, his foie gras has gone out without the fig and walnut chutney. For Christ’s sake, do something. That couple: why’s she taking notes? They don’t look very happy. Why the hell hasn’t someone taken their order?’
Then came the letter of confirmation, the popping of champagne corks, momentary euphoria. But we couldn’t stop there. Back to work; we had to aim for the next one.
‘We are fully booked until January 2014,’ the answering machine said. ‘But if you would like to leave your email address we will add you to our waiting list and inform you should a table become available.’
Like a badly-regulated watch, it started running down. We were hamsters on a treadmill, running hard but never getting anywhere. Maître d’ got a better offer. Chef’s new signature dish, turbot with caramelised calf’s foot and cèpe mushrooms with foie gras sauce didn’t do it for the customers. Bookings started tailing off. Chef threw saucepans and utensils around.
 ‘You’re all f***ing imbeciles,’ he would announce every morning. ‘Try and get it right today.’
‘Yes, Chef. Sorry, Chef.’
It’s early morning. I’m there as usual. Chef pushes open the door and slumps at the table, shoulders hunched. He crumples a piece of paper, tosses it into a corner and puts his head in his hands.
 ‘Bastards,’ he says. ‘How could they take it away? I worked so hard for it. It’s not fair.’ He raises his head, glances at me across the kitchen and comes over. He presses his thumb against me, testing my edge.
With each drip the red puddle spreads like a wine stain on the white tiles.


  1. Great story Vanessa; you left me breathless.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I now realise I wrote this a while ago and should have updated the January 2014...!

  2. Oooh! I didn't see that ending coming. Nice work.

    1. Thank you so much. I was experimenting with writing something from the POV of an inanimate object. Fun to try that sometimes.


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