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Authors: Bru Baker

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King of the Kitchen

BOOK: King of the Kitchen
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King of the Kitchen

By Bru Baker

 

Rising kitchen talents Beck Douglas and Duncan Walters have been on the foodie paparazzi radar for years, since their status as heirs to two of the biggest celebrity chef empires around makes them culinary royalty. Beck is known for his charm and traditional food as cohost of his uncle’s popular TV cooking show, while Duncan earned himself a reputation as a culinary bad boy, both for his refusal to work in his father’s restaurants and his avant-garde approach to cooking.

They’re also heirs to a food rivalry that could put the Hatfields and McCoys to shame, and when they’re photographed in the middle of a heated argument, the press goes wild with speculation. Damage control ensues, with a fake friendship engineered by PR cronies that leaves both of them secretly pining for more.

Beck chafes under his uncle’s micromanagement, and Duncan’s relationship with his homophobic father becomes even more tenuous when Beck and Duncan start getting closer. It’s hard to hide their chemistry on national television when Duncan joins Beck’s cooking show, but they won’t be able to take their relationship—or their careers—to the next level without breaking a few eggs.

For my dad, who taught me not only how to cook but also how to love the kitchen.

Preface

 

 

WHILE THE
restaurants and cooking shows in
King of the Kitchen
are all fictional, the cooking techniques definitely aren't. The food prepared in the book falls mostly under two broad culinary umbrellas: molecular gastronomy and the slow food movement.

At a glance the two don't share much in common. In fact, in a lot of ways they're polar opposites. Molecular gastronomy uses science and often a slew of chemicals to subvert traditional cuisine and challenge palates through unique flavors and textures. The slow food movement is about using locally and ethically sourced ingredients, showcasing regional cuisines and in-season foods, and using cooking techniques that highlight the freshness and flavor of the ingredients. That dichotomy is part of what made it so fun to write. But when you dig past the surface, both movements come from chefs who are intensely dedicated to the craft and focused on making food more than just, well, food.

Readers don't have to be avid cooks to follow along with the action in the kitchens in the book. Even those who don't know a roux from a rutabaga won't be lost for long, since the cooking scenes are fast-paced and pretty well laid out.

Some techniques used in the book might be unfamiliar, like using a siphon with a nitrous oxide canister to make potatoes into a foam (which is called an espuma). Or using a sous-vide to gently cook something (usually meat) by encasing it in a thin plastic bag and then submerging it in a water bath kept at a continuous temperature, which allows the food to retain all its original fat and juices.

Mostly, though, the food and the differing cooking techniques in
King of the Kitchen
are a backdrop for the chefs who use them. Duncan is every bit as edgy and playful as the food he cooks using his array of smokers, siphons, and chemicals, and Beck is as traditional and classic as his simple, elegant food implies. And when they come together? Let's just say there's more than food sizzling in the kitchen when they're around.

 

Prologue

 

 

July 2006

 

THE KITCHEN
was as hot as a sauna, and the bandanna Duncan had tied around his head had lost its ability to keep his forehead dry hours ago. His feet ached, his hands were chapped, and despite being surrounded by food, he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It was long past the dinner hour, but the flurry of frenetic activity hadn’t slowed much at all. People were underfoot everywhere in the small space, bustling around with hot pans and large pots, and no matter which way he turned, Duncan ran the risk of toppling a precariously placed container.

It was perfect.

“Order in! Rancher’s omelet, no onions, no peppers, no potatoes, no meat.”

Duncan rolled his eyes, yanking the ticket out of John’s hand. “So basically they want a cheese omelet? You don’t think you could make it easier on us in here and just write down what they actually ordered?”

John grinned. “She ordered the rancher’s omelet, dude.”

“Without three quarters of what makes it the rancher’s omelet? Did you tell her she could order a cheese omelet and save $3.75?”

“I did, but she’s not the one paying, and she wanted to stick it to him.”

That startled a laugh out of Duncan. John motioned over his shoulder, toward a table, and Duncan leaned through the pass-through, trying to see the couple without being too obvious. He knocked over a battered pot in the process, making most of the diner’s customers look up. So much for subtle.

“Them,” John said, pointing toward a small table in front of the plate-glass windows near the entrance to the diner. The woman was tall and slender, with dark wavy hair cascading down her back. Her clothing and the purse hanging off the back of her chair screamed money, as did the suit on the man she was with. They weren’t the diner’s typical patrons by a long shot, but Duncan did have to concede she looked like the type of person who’d be a special order. When business was slow, he and some of the other kitchen staff passed the time by betting on whether the customers who walked in the door would be complicated. He was almost always right.

“What about him?” Duncan asked, jutting his chin toward the man she was with. He could only see him from behind, but from his immaculately cut hair and his ramrod straight posture—difficult in the rickety diner chairs, Duncan knew from personal experience—he looked like a special order as well.

Duncan looked down at the ticket, frowning as he tried to decipher John’s chicken scratch. No matter how many times the kitchen complained, John’s handwriting never improved. Duncan had worked at the restaurant on and off for more than ten years, and the only constant had been John and his atrocious handwriting. It was kind of comforting, in an extremely exasperating way.

“Seriously? Two eggs over easy, bacon, and whole wheat toast?”

Duncan looked from the ticket to the man, surprised. He peered at him, studying his shoulders and finding himself wishing he could see the mystery man’s face. Duncan’s culinary profiling rarely went astray. Intriguing.

“They’re cousins. It was his week to pick where they had dinner. I’m getting the feeling she’s less than pleased,” John said.

“Which is why she special-ordered something guaranteed to piss him off?”

“That’s just it, though. He didn’t get angry. He laughed and told her if she really wanted to pull one over on him, she should have ordered the eggs Benedict, since that’s the highest profit margin dish on the menu.”

Duncan furrowed his brow. It was true the eggs Benedict was the most expensive breakfast item on the menu, aside from the steak and eggs, but the dish was hardly ridiculously priced. None of the regulars ordered it, but that was more because they had traditional meat-and-potatoes palates.

Francie, the other waitstaff on duty at the moment, broke Duncan’s view of the man as she walked up to grab an order off the warmer, and Duncan shot John a mischievous grin before ducking back through the pass-through into the kitchen.

“Duncan,” John said, his voice holding a note of warning.

“Order in!” Duncan yelled, ignoring him completely.

Ten minutes later, Duncan got his wish when a plate clanked noisily on the pass-through. He looked up absently, about to scold John or Francie for being so harsh with the dishes, when he realized it wasn’t either of them. It was the man in the suit, and even scrunched up in irritation, his face was beautiful. He had a strong, straight nose and full lips—currently thinned in annoyance—and eyes the most interesting shade of blue Duncan had ever seen. He absolutely looked like someone who would special order, and Duncan found himself wishing even harder that he could puzzle him out.

“We didn’t order this.”

Duncan looked at the plate of eggs Benedict and smiled his dopiest grin, the one that never failed to get him free refills and phone numbers whenever he applied it. He’d sent the guy a free meal along with the breakfasts he and the woman had ordered—could he seriously be pissed about that?

“On the house. I heard you had a particular interest in them.”

The man blinked in confusion but seemed to recover quickly, anger clouding his features.

“If you wanted to impress me, you’d have to do a hell of a lot better than a plate of fatty ham and congealing hollandaise. We don’t serve eggs Benedict in our restaurants,
Charlie
,” he said, eyeing the name on Duncan’s chef’s whites with disdain and drawing it out like an insult, “and even if we did, I don’t appreciate having you encroach on my personal time with your pathetic attempt at a job interview.”

Duncan’s mouth hung open, and he wavered between outraged and completely confused. What was this guy talking about?

“Listen, buddy. I was only being friendly,” Duncan snapped, choosing to go with outraged. He left the plate in the pass-through, pointedly ignoring it—and the man—as he pulled a new ticket off the carousel. “Order in! One deluxe hamburger, one order of chicken tenders, one spinach frittata!”

He turned toward the kitchen to get started on the eggs but was pulled up short by a hand on his shoulder.

“You can’t talk to me like that,
buddy
.”

Duncan scowled. “Of course, sir. The customer is always right. Yes, the eggs Benedict was part of a convoluted plan of mine to apply for a job cooking for your, what?” He made a point of studying the gorgeous guy’s suit. “Office building? Hotel, maybe? I admit, it’s always been my life’s ambition to run a carving station at a Marriott buffet. How could you tell?”

The man gaped at him and would have responded, but the woman he was with—his cousin, John had said?—walked up behind him and unceremoniously placed her hand over his mouth.

“I apologize for Beck’s behavior. Charlie, is it?” Duncan nodded, figuring it was easier than correcting her. He was too busy watching as the man fumed silently behind her hand. “He’s a bit on edge at the moment, and he misread your intention in sending the plate. He’s used to having dishes we didn’t order sent over to our table when we go out, and it’s almost always a gesture followed by the chef coming out to ask a favor or chat him up.”

She leveled a look at Beck, her sculpted eyebrow arched in challenge as she removed her hand. He huffed ungraciously but didn’t resume yelling at Duncan, so Duncan was going to go ahead and call it a win.

“I apologize,” Beck bit out, the words sounding forced. “Please add the eggs Benedict to our check in recompense for the misunderstanding.”

Duncan was struck by a familiar pang of guilt. He could never hold a grudge against anyone. It was well known among his friends—and often taken advantage of. But he
had
sent the eggs over as a prank, and now he felt bad because he’d obviously ruined their meal. As he looked closer, he could see the designer suit was wrinkled, as if the poor guy had been wearing it all day, and dark circles smudged the skin under his brilliant blue eyes.

“No need,” Duncan said, lifting the untouched plate down from the pass-through and setting it aside. He and John were both off shift in twenty minutes; the dish wouldn’t go uneaten. He looked over at their table, noting that neither of them had touched their food. “I’d be happy to remake your meals. I’m sure they’ve gone cold by now.”

The man stared at him with an unreadable expression, but the woman chimed in.

“We’ve had a long day, and I don’t think we were that hungry anyway,” she said, smiling slightly. She slipped a business card on the pass-through. “I’m Lindsay. I realize you’re not looking for a job right now, but if you ever are, give me a call.”

Beck looked a bit sour at her parting words, but he followed her silently back to their table, pulled his wallet out, and dropped some cash on the table. Duncan watched them leave, Beck’s posture stiff and menacing until Lindsay wound an arm through his and leaned into him. He seemed to melt against her, his shoulders relaxing and his gait less abrupt as they walked down the sidewalk and out of sight.

Duncan looked down at the card on the pass-through, his eyes widening when he read it. Lindsay King, Assistant Producer,
King of the Kitchen
.

“Holy shit,” he muttered, staring at the empty sidewalk. The Kings were legends in the restaurant and culinary television worlds. Lindsay’s father, Christian, hosted what was widely considered the most popular cooking show on the air, and he had a huge stable of high-class restaurants as well. Duncan had been forced to listen to rants about the evil King empire practically every time he talked to his father.

The rivalry between Vincent Walters and Christian King was epic, which was one of the reasons Duncan had never had the chance to meet Lindsay before. Or Beck, who now that he had a name to go with the face, he recognized as Beck Douglas, Christian’s right-hand man. An up-and-coming chef himself, he had a hand in all of Christian’s Chicago-based restaurants. Word was he was being groomed to eventually take over the restaurants, and probably
King of the Kitchen
, whenever Christian retired. Duncan had never seen a picture of him because the articles he read about Beck always had shots of the food instead. But damn, he had no idea why a man who looked like Beck didn’t plaster himself everywhere. Duncan would definitely watch
King of the Kitchen
if Beck was the one in front of the camera, even though he obviously had a chip on his shoulder as big as his ego.

BOOK: King of the Kitchen
4.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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