I work nights. Late nights that are filled with aromatics, digestion, and hyperbole. Temper and arrogance. Fuel and fire. Tonight, I’ll get home, drop my keys in the copper dish that sits on the side table in the entrance hallway, and pour a scotch on the rocks. I always use the glass my ex-wife bought me for our anniversary some years ago. It came as a set of two but it sits on my drinks cart with an empty spot left behind next to it. Fair call, I suppose. No night is different to the last one, and again, tomorrow. Another one. The faces are all mechanical. They smile at all the adoration of their senses I tease out with what my hands create. On occasion I smile back at them as they sit in my restaurant for the reserved. They are swathed with a learned appreciation for the fine white tablecloths and elegantly rolled linen napkins. The table setting speaks the volumes they want spoken on their behalf. Despite this, I need them here as they are. I know it tastes sublime. I know I am surrounded by people, but I know I work alone.
As a child I watched while my mother made simple corn fritters on our kitchen stove top. There was no fuss about it. Just a cast iron pan, enough butter to melt the hearts of an army of hungry men, and a creamy batter that came up as golden as the Californian sun. She would always make sure to give me her homemade tomato relish which she spooned out from the jar into a ramekin. She would hand me the special bent silver spoon that was never polished, and I would place it to the side of the condiment. I learned it all from her.
My old man was around. He taught me how to stack a wood fire and smoke herbs and fish over the coals. I watched as he made the fragrance swallow the air and swoop around the furnace. He never had to say much. Just move his hands and check to make sure my eyes were watching his directions. He taught me the importance of understanding that two ingredients were enough, as I only had two hands to carry them in.
I was given a book of recipes passed down through my family that happened to land in my hands during my sixteenth year. Slowly, the knowledge for variety and beauty of food piqued my interest and lured me in, while an obsessive awareness of time management has kept me here. I can work with colour and the senses, and I can make them work within a system. It makes sense to me. Nothing compares to the feeling of my prized knife chopping and dicing the fare and watching it’s efficiency, effortlessness and grace, as it throws slithers of chives to the edges of the chopping board for later collection.
Tonight, the customers are S’mors. They’ll arrive ready to be swept up in sweetness, surrounded by something that makes them feel secure, then heated to the right temperature of indulgence in such an affair of taste. They’ll walk in and announce themselves for their reservation. Some of them are routine, some of them first timers who want to look like routine. And sometimes, they’ll look like love. I’ll wipe the sweat from my focused brow and continue on, unaffected by their arrival. I’ll serve them bread tonight, and they’ll swoon. They’ll want more, and they’ll tell me so.
My selection of ingredients have always roamed through the seasons. I meander the expected and the improvised, and sometimes include gusts of irreverence. Here, I am enveloped with the banging of pots and pans. With noises of movement, meticulous purpose and meaning. With vibrant language and vigour. These are the surroundings that give me comfort. I know where the saffron is. When the ducks have left the frozen pond, they come to see me, where I acquaint them with juniper and orange. The twists and folds of fragrance, but with a need for more precision, like origami. Rosemary finds her final resting place on the plate after being hunted and gathered by my hand. And the plum sauce knows how to quietly accompany. A sure thing, it never feels the need to question it’s hierarchy. It’s job is done when poured upon the lamb. Paired with a fine pinot noir, the ribs leave my sight.
Once inside, the shrill sound of the keys on the copper dish reverberates through the solitude rooms, piercing the background silence. Every night, nothing is louder than this. Tonight would be our anniversary, but tonight is no different to the last one. And again tomorrow, another one. I know the other scotch glass isn’t here, and it bothers me, still.