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October 26th, 2028

by J.S. Kohout 2 years ago in fact or fiction
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Eating clear through to the end of the world.

Debris en Croûte.

Her fingers snapped through the pages of the little black book. Her lips stung with salt. She couldn't stop mindlessly eating corn chips between each scan of the page. It wasn't filling the hole, but the barrage dulled the pain. Eventually, the greasy slick on her fingers became heavy enough that she needed a napkin. Instead, she scrubbed her fingers on the side of a stack of bills held with a pale yellow band labeled “$10,000.” She then pulled out one of the bills and dabbed at the corners of her mouth like a napkin. “Baller.” She said to herself and laughed.

Turning from the book, she gently inhaled the smell from the rondeau to her left. In it, a small lake of beer, thyme, and onions simmered.

She looked around her kitchen. Six hours from the start of service, and the place was empty. Most of her staff had wandered away the night before, and few had broken down their stations in full. Today was supposed to be her first day off in a few months. Her plans had been to sleep, rewatch Game of Thrones, and procrastinate doing her laundry. Instead, she got a text, which turned into an internet hole, a TV binge, and in the end, acceptance.

The world was coming to an end. There was nothing to be done about it. Predictions fell between six hours and three days. There would be fire and darkness, and the first victims would be the luckiest people on earth.

The end of the world was going to be messy.

After falling through the stages of grief, she followed her instinct. She went to her safe space, which was just down the street. It was the joint she’d spent the last few years preparing to open. A place she’d spent almost every day of the last year. Her kitchen. Her home. Her restaurant. Juma’s.

Unable to sleep, she put on her running scruffs, threw the extra checks into her bag, and made the one-mile jog to work.

Across the street from Juma’s was a gas station where she picked up her pre-shift supplies. In the every day of the before, a man with a “Mark” patch on his chest used to tease her when she stopped in. Even though she ran an upscale restaurant, she’d never pass up a hotdog "fresh" off the roller and a bag of chips. There were even a few times she sent a runner over for one in the middle of a dinner rush. Hot dogs were her center. Her favorite food. A family treat. Through all her education and training, to have a satisfying frankfurter reigned supreme. Why bother denying the plain and simple beauty of a kosher frank?

Today, no one stood at the counter. Still, the door was propped open with a cinder block. With no dogs on the roller, she pulled a bag of corn chips off the rack and decided to look around. She even poked behind the “employees only’ door. One side effect of the end times is that nothing is off the table. The world was on an exit path — she wanted a wiener for the road.

Blamm-o! There were stacks of dogs and bugs in the space behind the drink case. Exiting the cooler with a couple of bags of dogs and buns, she continued to poke around. She was curious to see the hidden backstage to her former life. It would be like seeing the scaffolding behind the skyscraper facades on a Hollywood tour.

As she pushed her head into the office, she saw a safe, with its door swung wide. Under a pair of manilla folders were two small stacks of cash. Curiosity was more or less all she had left, so she moved in for a closer look. It was banded bundles of $100 bills. $20,000 for the taking.

She decided she'd use it to experience wealth. For the past year, she lived in her friend’s basement. Every dollar that came into the place went out to make this small dream come true. Every penny went into the business. She hadn’t planned to pull a salary from the place for another year or so.

Instead, life had branched into this doomed world where the last gas station before the interstate was offering her twenty grand and some hot dogs. It felt like a country song. As she walked to her final destination, her only thought was how remarkable it was that twenty grand in cash could be held so easily between the thumb and forefinger.

As she opened the side door to the kitchen, she wondered what to do with this wealth. Buy some extravagance? Why? Almost anything formerly considered valuable was no longer under guard. Should she do something absurd? Money wasn’t necessary to be absurd at this point.

After dropping off the cash and packages on her prep table, she went downstairs to the walk-in looking for tube steak inspiration.

While staring at the stacks of fish tubs and delis on the rack, she pulled out her scuffed notebook. It was worn at the edges where it had slipped in and out of the pockets of her chef checks a thousand times. Read from one direction; it was a series of short recipes—lists of ingredients, measurements, and shorthand techniques.

ADGoug: 230g water, 240 milk, 113g u.butter cut, 100g Gruyère, 240g ap, 4eg, nutmg, s&p - 400con/375cve

Flipping it the other way, and it was a succinct list of dates, restaurants, and important meals and dishes.

1.22.04/maison de pute - f. onion soup top w/duxelles g.cheese. Super stringy. Svd w/tiny shears. Chihuahua?

As she stood there, she found herself lost in the details of a lifetime of meals, both as a creator and a participant. It told the story of her favorite bar, her culinary education, trips, and that terrible job she had at that tourist restaurant that rotated. She still had the recipe for their “top secret” salad dressing. The secret was whipping in 230 grams of mayo.

But outside these dishes, on the inside front cover was written a list of recipes in red felt tip.

Turtle soup, Bilinis Demidoff, Cailles en Sarcophage, Endive Salad, Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée, cheese/fruit, coffee with vieux marc Grande Champagne cognac.

"Babette's Feast," she whispered to herself. The epitome of a food film, she first caught this movie while trying to seduce a film student. Instead, the film seduced her.

The story of a French chef forced to live a life of anonymity in the wastelands of Denmark. Babette wins the lottery and uses the windfall to create an elegant seven-course meal for the uncultured locals.

Babette was a turning point for her. That was the moment where cooking great food became her path. Cooking was a temporary art form with lasting impact. It allowed her an ideal mix of anonymity, teamwork, and aesthetics. It was all about taking raw ingredients and turning them into bodies and memories. Yes, it could be Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée… but it could also be as simple as a hot dog.

If the world were ending, she would make sure that no one left with an empty stomach. Yet, would she even need to spend a penny of her $20,000 windfall?

She planned her menu using the ingredients on hand and then made a few speculations. She called up every local purveyor, and only one even bothered answering the phone.

“You guys still, you know, delivering?” she asked.

“I guess?” came a hesitant response. “Who is this?”

“Juma’s. You normally make a delivery here on Fridays. I have plenty of cash here if you want it.”

“Ummmmmm,” they drifted off, uninterested.

“Tell you what. Anyone who can deliver here, I’m making a feast. Everything’s free. Get here, and I’ll feed you.”

The voice at the other end of the line agreed. She rattled off a list. Substitutions were made. Plans modified. People were texted.

Supplies arrived. After enlisting the help of a few friends and the delivery driver, they rolled their prep into the evening. As the sun started to set, possibly for the last time in their lives, they gathered in the dining room for the bacchanal. In the end, twenty-two people showed up. All in different stages of acceptance. All ready to eat.

The course structure was loose. The dishes grew more random and sloppy as they saturated with the restaurant’s wine cellar and back bar. Highlights included a course of fondue and hot pot where each cauldron was fueled by bills rolled and soaked in cognac. There was a Beef Wellington the size of the communal table. Fried chicken lay in baskets lined with Frankin’s face. Of course, there was even a hot dog “bar” that allowed for almost infinite combinations. Everything from chili, cheese, and onions, to New York system, to crumbled gaufrette potatoes with caviar and creme fraiche were there. She even made up a play on Salmon Tartare Cornets, with each cone wrapped in a bill.

There were also personal dishes in the mix. Cajuns use the word “debris” to reference the hearty mix of internal organs that includes things like tripe, spleen, pancreas, and brain. In what she labeled “Debris en Croûte,” she packed a choir of these choice pickings and braised with a handful of puréed bills until it melded into a rich stew. She then baked it all into a pastry crust.

As they drank and ate, they conjectured at the nature of their final minutes. While life would be ending, so many things would probably continue. Some buildings, industrial equipment, basements, and bomb shelters may survive. Someone even speculated that some of the bottles they were drinking from would endure in the rubble for centuries.

They discussed the nature of existence. They concluded that no matter what they thought or felt, it would all fade away soon enough. The meal ended. Some collapsed into the banquet seating; others stole cars took joyrides into infinity.

It was all borrowed time.

As the light started to rise on what could be her last day. The Chef wandered over to the gas station, its door still propped open with the cinder block. She carried over a doggie bag of odds and ends from the feast and dropped it at the counter as tribute.

She then walked to the back and slipped her little black notebook into the open safe. She closed and locked it with a smooth click.

fact or fiction

About the author

J.S. Kohout

Obsessively thinking about the intersections of food, entertainment, commerce, human nature, and the end of the world.

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