Authors: Lila Moore
Copyright ©2016 Lila Moore
First published by Lila Moore 2016
Distributed by Amazon
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Table of Contents
Steam filled the alleyway as men unloaded crates full of fresh vegetables and meat. They laughed as they passed the containers along for inspection. Vincent Moreau stood at the entrance to his kitchen examining the food. I watched from across the street as he brought a melon to his face and smelled it. He tossed it onto the ground contemptuously. He turned his narrow gaze on the deliverymen. The men held up their hands defensively. I could imagine them saying: ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’ The quality of the food wasn’t their responsibility; they just delivered it.
That didn’t stop Vincent Moreau from screaming at them though. His eyes were severe; his cheeks flushed. He waived a strong arm in the air as if swatting away a fly. That was the men’s cue to exit. They placed the remaining crates in the alley outside the kitchen, got into their delivery trucks and left.
I checked my watch. It was five thirty in the morning. I wasn’t due at work until six. I sipped my coffee and tried to work up the courage to walk into Vincent Moreau’s kitchen. It was my first day of work and to say I was intimidated was to put it mildly. He was one of the best chef’s in the world. He’d taken several hole in the wall restaurants and turned them into Michelin Star winners. His success was as famous as his temper. Perfection was not just an expectation; it was a demand. If you slighted him in anyway, real or imaginary, he’d rip you apart.
Moreau’s kitchen staff had a notoriously high turnover rate. Most people quit the first day. If you made it a week, you were considered a veteran of the Moreau Kitchen Nightmare. I was determined to stick it out. I was going to learn everything I could from the man, then start my own restaurant.
Someday Moreau would see me as a colleague. Or so I hoped. Until then I had to survive working with him.
I tightened the scarf around my neck and took a breath. This was it. I stepped onto the street and slowly made my way to the back entrance of the kitchen. It was like walking into a mad house. I was immediately greeted by shouting. Vincent Moreau leaned over a table, red-faced as he yelled at a man wearing a black apron. His arms were crossed in front of his chest. He got in Moreau’s face and shouted back. The two men’s voices drowned each other out. I couldn’t make out a word either of them was saying.
The man in the black apron took it off and threw it on the floor. He blew past me, practically knocking me down as he exited the kitchen. I turned to watch him leave. He kicked over one of the crates as he stormed off down the alley, leaving a path of destruction in his wake.
“Who are you?” a voice demanded from behind me.
Vincent Moreau’s eyes fell on me, dissecting me into parts. I couldn’t tell if he approved of what he saw or not.
Up close, he was better looking than I imagined. His features were masculine and intense. His scruffy beard, tanned skin and long hair gave him the look of a lumberjack. Most people think of chef’s as being big, jolly men, or skinny French guys. Vincent Moreau never fit into anyone’s mold of what he was supposed to be. It was one of the reasons I admired him so much.
I smiled and held out my hand. “I’m Beatrix Roche- Bee- everyone calls me Bee,” I stammered.
“You’re late, Roche.”
When it became apparent he wasn’t going to shake my hand, I dropped my arm and checked my watch.
“It’s five forty.” He stared at me blankly. “I’m supposed to be here at six.”
“Being on time means you’re here thirty minutes early. Being late means you’re on time.”
I nodded as if I understood. I didn’t. “I apologize. I’ll be here earlier tomorrow.”
“So, you’re my new saucier?”
This generated several curious glances from the others in the kitchen. Everyone was preoccupied with meal prep, but they were curious about the new girl. Saucier is an important job; one I take seriously. It’s my job to prepare the sauces, finish off meat dishes and make hors d’oeuvres. I can make or break a dish depending on how well my sauces are. It’s a respected position within the kitchen hierarchy. In fact, it makes me third in command.
I could see the resentment on the faces of some of the older chefs in the kitchen. They’d suffered under Vincent Moreau for God knows how long and he’d repaid their patience and loyalty by giving a coveted job to an untested girl in her early twenties. Instantly, they hated me.
“We’ll see how long you last,” Moreau said. He turned away and started to yell at a pastry chef.
I exhaled. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath. From afar, people joked about Moreau’s temper. They saw it as part of his appeal, like he was a bad boy rock star who liked to destroy hotel rooms. They had no idea what it was actually like to work with someone like that for hours on end in a stressful environment.
This was going to be interesting.
I put my things away, donned my favorite crimson red chef’s apron and found my station. I’d memorized the menu and spent the last week recreating all the dishes at home. I wanted them to be perfect.
My sauces were good. Combined with Moreau’s food they would be excellent.
I started to prep my station. I got everything ready for the lunch crowd. Time flew by more quickly than I realized. Moreau didn’t harass me, thankfully. I was more than a little nervous. I wanted to impress him, so I checked, then double checked to make sure everything was perfect. Then the lunch crowd rush began.
Moreau grabbed two meal tickets from a server and started to call out dishes. Everyone snapped into action. It was like a gun had been fired signaling the start of a race. The room instantly became twenty degrees hotter. The wood fire ovens turned the room into an inferno.
I rubbed sweat off my forehead with the back of my arm. I’d have to start wearing a bandana in the kitchen to keep the sweat out of my eyes. This wasn’t my first time working in a kitchen. I should have known I’d need one. I silently cursed myself for my lack of preparation. It was a minor mistake, but I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to prove to Moreau that I was as good as him and someday I might even be better.
I quickly whisked a sauce and added a pinch of brown sugar. The sauce was meant for a roasted chicken dish that was seconds from being passed my way. Technical ability only takes you so far in this business. Timing is everything. The kitchen has to function like clockwork or else you’ll fall behind on orders, then the mistakes start. You cut corners, screw up a dish and a customer ends up with a bad experience. Next thing you know, the restaurant folds and you’re out of a job. More importantly, your reputation is ruined. I take pride in my work. Cooking isn’t just a job; it’s an art form. I won’t send a dish out if I’m not proud of it.
Dishes started to slide my way. Suddenly, Moreau was in front of me. I added the final ingredient to my sauce then started to pour them over the chicken.
“Give me that,” Moreau barked.
“What?” Suddenly, I was a ball of nerves. My stomach twisted into knots.
“Step aside,” he said with frustration. “Before I throw you out.”
The girl was bewildered. She was doe-eyed and thin with creamy soft skin and long hair she wore pulled up in a knot on top of her head. How long was that hair? What would it look like hanging over her naked body?
Fucking the staff has gotten me into plenty of trouble in the past. It’s not my fault if some girls don’t understand that a one night stand means it begins and ends in the bedroom. You don’t bring your feelings into the kitchen. Actually, that’s not true. I bring all my feelings into the kitchen and I put them into my dishes. It’s more than just my work; it’s an extension of myself. And it’s an experience for the customers. That’s why I demand perfection.
The new girl, Roche, was good, but she was young. She didn’t have that hard edge more seasoned chefs luxuriate in. Most of the guys I work with survive on cigarettes and alcohol. Some of them use hard drugs to get through dinner service. No one minds because they’re fantastic at their jobs.
It would be a shame if a pretty, fragile thing like Roche lost her softness. Of course if she didn’t this job would eat her alive. Only the strong survive in my kitchen.
Roche’s last job was working for an arrogant ass at a French bistro. That’s where I discovered her. She was slaving away, to a maniacal Frenchman who had no appreciation for her work. Worst of all, he did nothing to cultivate her talent. With work and discipline, Roche was going places. But she needed discipline. And she needed to toughen up. It was time for a little Baptism by fire.
“Step aside before I throw you out,” I said.
The fear in her round eyes gave me pause. Maybe I’d gone too far? No. You can never go too far in this business. I grabbed a spoon and dipped it into the glaze she’d prepared. I tasted it. It was good. Actually, it was better than good, it was outstanding.
I looked up at her sharply. “Taste this.”
I dipped the spoon into the sauce and held it out to her. She leaned forward, her full lips parted. She sucked the sauce from the spoon and leaned back. I couldn’t help imagining those full lips wrapped around my cock.
The girl was stunning. She was going to be the death of me. I could feel it.
I cleared my throat. “Tell me what’s wrong with it.”
Panic shot through her eyes. “I, um, I’m not sure,” she said weakly.
I could barely hear her over the din of voices and clanking pots and pans in the kitchen. “Speak up.”
“I’m not sure.” She spoke louder, but she still sounded as meek as a kitten.
“You don’t know what’s wrong with your own dish?”
The entrée preparer was listening closely. A smirk twisted his ugly face into a gremlin snarl. If he was smart, he’d wipe that smug grin off his face before I did it for him.
“More salt?” Roche guessed.
I sighed and dropped the spoon into the bowl. “Roche, your sauce is perfect.”
“It is?” She looked more bewildered than ever.
“You’ve got to own your dish. You did an amazing job. Don’t sell yourself short.”
She nodded quickly. Her face was bright red. Her rosy cheeks made her look younger than her years.
“You’re off to a good start. Don’t fuck it up,” I said.
“Finish plating. We’ve got hungry customers waiting.”
Lunch service flew by and soon we were in the weeds trying to make the dinner crowd happy. Moreau was working hard on his signature dishes while also supervising the rest of kitchen staff. I don’t know how he did it. It was like he had eyes in the back of his head. He knew when someone screwed up instantly. He didn’t hesitate to rip them apart either.
One of the guys working the fry station actually had tears in his eyes after Moreau screamed at him for sending overcooked chicken out. By then end of the night, he was gone. I never saw him again. Moreau was on my ass all night too. First I was moving too slowly, then I was going too fast.
“Pay attention, Roche!” he’d scream. “If you fuck up this dish, you can join the fry cook.”
In other words: I’d be fired.
I managed to get through dinner service without any major disasters. I checked my watch. It was eleven o’clock. By the time I got home, showered and went to bed it would be after midnight. I was due back in the kitchen at five thirty in the morning. So much for a social life. The kitchen was my new home.
After I was done cleaning up, Moreau called me into his office. I braced myself for criticism.
“You got through your first day,” he said. “Now you have to do it all over again tomorrow.”
The thought of doing this over and over again was exhausting.
“Take off your apron.”
“You heard me. Take off your apron. We’re going out to drink.” I glanced at my watch again. “What’s wrong? Is it past your bed time?” he asked sarcastically.
“No… I just have to be here early tomorrow and it’s already late. So, I really should go home. Thanks for inviting me though.”
“What exactly do you think I’ve been doing all day? I have to be here early tomorrow too, and yet I’m still going out. C’mon. I’m not asking you. It’s mandatory. I’m your boss and it’s your first day on the job. You could use a drink.”
“Okay…” I reluctantly agreed.
I grabbed my coat and scarf then followed him down the street. He led me down an alleyway and through a back door of a restaurant. Instantly I was hit with the smell of rich spices. I spend all day tasting my food as I prepare it so I’m usually not very hungry at the end of the day, but when I caught a whiff of the food being prepared I suddenly felt starved.
As we passed through the kitchen, the head chef spoke to Moreau in Spanish. They shared a laugh, then we headed into the dining room. Considering it was late Monday night, the place was packed.
We sat in plastic chairs at a small table in the corner of the room. I looked around. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls and the floor was scuffed and dirty. Moreau’s restaurant was beautiful. He’d talked an investor into giving him six million dollars to build it. It had state of the art equipment in the kitchen. The interior of the restaurant had been decorated by one of the best decorator’s in the world. We catered to the rich and those who saved up to eat there.
Our menu was pricy, but worth it. We used only the freshest, best ingredients. We had fresh fish flown in every day from the coast. Only the best would do.
I picked up the torn menu and looked over the options.
“I already ordered,” Moreau said.
“In the kitchen, I told them what to send out to us. Trust me. You’ll love it.”
I put the menu down. Moreau smiled.
“You’re pissed,” he said.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes, you are. You’re mad because I ordered for you.”
I was a little pissed. He could have let me order for myself.
“You’re a control freak, y’know that?”
I bit my lip. Had I lost my mind? It must have been the exhaustion talking. No one spoke to their boss this way, especially not on the first day. Moreau started to laugh. I was caught off guard. I’d expected him to yell at me, maybe even fire me.
The server set down two beers. I drank deeply from mine.
“At least you’re not uptight about alcohol,” he said, admiring how quickly I finished off the beer. He signaled to the server to bring us another round.
“I’m not uptight.”
I drummed my nails on the table.
“Yes, you are. You’re so tightly wound you can’t sit still.”
I noticed my foot was bouncing under the table. I had to make a conscious effort to stop it. It was a nervous habit of mine.
“I’m just nervous. It’s my first day, and…”
“…and? I’m difficult. I fire everyone and make their lives a nightmare. Is that it?”
I probably could have added a few more of his unpleasant personality traits onto that list. Instead I grabbed my second beer and drowned out my thoughts with alcohol.
“So, what are we eating?” I asked.
“Don’t change the subject. We were talking about me.”
“Don’t you get tired of talking about yourself?”
“No,” he replied simply.
I laughed. “Okay. You’re right. You’re scary to work for.”
“You’re scared of me?”
“I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“What makes you think I’m disappointed? If anything you’ve exceeded my expectations.”
Moreau didn’t respond. He leaned back in his chair taking his arms off the table as the food was placed in front of us. Our tiny table was full of Mexican street food. Tacos, elotes, six different kinds of salsa and more covered every inch of our table.
“Dig in,” he said.
I didn’t know where to start. It all smelled amazing. I grabbed the plate of elotes and took one of the corn cobs. I sunk my teeth into it. The corn was sweet and crisp. The outside was coated with cotija, garlic, chili powder and a creamy, spicy mayonnaise.
“Oh my God…” I said. “This is amazing.”
“Aren’t you glad you came out with me?”
We dug into the tacos. I picked up one that was full of spicy, shredded pork and covered with pico de gallo, avocado and a delicious sauce that any Michelin Star restaurant would be proud to serve.
“What’s in it?” Moreau said, testing me.
I dipped my finger into the sauce then stuck it in my mouth.
“Cotija, mayo, garlic, cilantro, chili powder, and… lemon juice.”
“You’ve got a good palette.”
“If I’d guessed wrong would you have fired me?”
I meant it as a joke, but he didn’t laugh. Nor did he respond. He dug into his food and smiled. I followed his lead. We ate most of the food, then polished off four more beers. By the end of the meal, I was drunk and stuffed.
Moreau took a hundred dollar bill out of his pocket and left it on the table.
We made our way through the crowd. It was close to midnight, but people were still streaming into the restaurant. It was no surprise; the food was amazing. Moreau positioned himself beside me. He put his arm around my waist and led me through the growing crowd.
Outside was just as crowded as inside. Servers carried food to the waiting tables. People ate happily. Food moved out from the tiny kitchen quickly. I was impressed. They were an efficient team. Moreau’s kitchen didn’t feel like a team. It felt like a dictatorship.
As we made our way down the street, Moreau kept his arm around my waist.
“Where are you parked?” he asked.
“Where do you live?”
I stopped in my tracks. “I know what this is.”
“What?” he said, feigning ignorance. His eyes were alive with mischief.
“I know your type,” I slurred. Sober, I would never be this bold with my boss.
“My type?” he laughed. “Tell me, what’s my type?”
“You’re the stereotypical chef, boozing and slutting around with the women who work in your restaurant.”
“You’ve probably slept with every girl who works for you.”
I was the only girl in the kitchen, but most of the servers and hostesses were women.
“You’ve got me all figured out, don’t you?” He was toying with me, but I knew I was right.
“I’m not that kind of girl. I’m not going to let you chew me up and spit me out.” I took a step back, shrugging off his arm.
“I see. Will you at least let me see you home? A girl like you shouldn’t be walking home alone at this time of night.”
“What do you mean ‘a girl like me’?”
I realized I sounded pretty harsh. The alcohol gave me an edge I don’t normally have when I’m sober.
“You’re tiny with big eyes that are always searching for something. You look like easy prey. You’re like little red riding hood waiting to be eaten by the big bad wolf.”
“If you recall, little red riding hood got the best of the big bad wolf in the end.”
“Yeah, well this isn’t a fairy tale. I’d feel better knowing you got home safe.”
I didn’t trust him. I was sure he was trying to get into my pants, but I relented.
“Fine. You can walk me home.”