“I’m boiling mad!”
“Who you talkin’ to, Sir?”
The man in the tall white hat spun around, eyes glazed in fury. “Any yahoo who doesn’t have flapjacks for a brain!”
All I could do was listen. When the boss was steaming like a pressure-cooker I’d learned to let him simmer down before offering too many comments. I continued to act like I was interested while I cut vegetables for the salad. He stormed back and forth across the well-stocked kitchen grilling me about some minor infraction of his compulsive rules.
“And another thing…blah, blah, blah.”
I was able to shift my attention to more pleasant things, like what I had planned for my gastronomic future. It did not include a dictator-employer with a bitter disposition. I had finished my courses at Cuisine College and wanted to start a school of my own -- a school with a purpose.
I checked back in to see where the frothy-mouthed doughboy was in his predictable diatribe. He had gotten as far as, “What half-baked, chowder-head, idiot…?” I knew he would be finished as soon as he reached, “…and that’s all I have to say about that. Now get back to work.” Responding to his ridiculous rage was as useless as putting out a grease fire with water.
I envisioned myself in that run-down cafeteria on the south side of town. I could almost smell the delicious aromas from good, hearty grub emanating from the happy kitchen I was planning. It would be a warm and inviting place for the homeless, or anyone who needed a good meal and wanted to learn a trade; not like this fancy-smancy, overpriced, foo-foo establishment.
The big man stopped hollering but I did not remember hearing his grand finale. When I shifted back to reality he had disappeared. I heard gasping. He had fallen down right at my feet. I’m surprised I had not felt the room shake.
“ Do something…please.” His face was beet red as his eyes pleaded for my help.
I knelt beside him to loosen his kerchief while I punched in 911 on my cell phone. Within minutes paramedics appeared and hoisted the patient onto a stretcher. Before they rushed off to the emergency room, he grabbed my arm and pulled me closer and whispered, “I believe what you told me. You know what to do.” Then he seemed to fall asleep.
After an uneventful but busy evening, I met with the wait staff, placed a Closed Until Further Notice sign on the door, and then headed for the hospital. The ICU nurse seemed to know the chef had no family and I was his assistant. She led me into a small room with a couch and some coffee percolating on a table in the corner. We sat down and she told me what I didn’t want to hear.
Her manner was gentle. “Your friend didn’t make it. I called the restaurant but you must have just left. We found a note in his billfold with instructions in case of emergency. Your name was the only one mentioned.”
The bag she handed to me held the starched white chef's garb , plus the wallet and his keys. I didn’t know what to say so I got up and left.
After the graveside service, I spent a lot of time wondering if the witnessing I had done gave some sustenance to his weary soul and helped him to accept the ultimate key to an afterlife in Heaven. There were times when he seemed to be listening, and others when he told me unceremoniously to “shut up.” Only the Lord knew what was in his heart. Every single day I had tried to tell him, “Man does not live by bread alone.”
Chef Pierre left me enough green stuff to get my dream up and running. I have been able to train unemployed folks to cook and serve so they can find jobs. Some of his rich clientele have decided we are the new “downtown shabby chic.” That brings in lots of business.
The moral of my bittersweet story is not, “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” I hope it is, “When you find yourself in hot water, or jump out of the frying pan into the fire, or end up a few sandwiches shy of a picnic, don’t get in a big stew. Hold on, keep praying, have faith, and life will unscramble and sizzle again!”
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