Again special thanks to Editor Dave T, who for reasons, only God knows, continues 'the-root-canal- without-anesthetic 'like experience of trying to make my chicken scratch resemble something readable. All and any errors are mine.
"Seriously? You are firing me? You have got to be kidding."
My soon to be ex-boss was sweating a bit around the bald spot on his head as he stared at my wife Mary and me in the back office of his restaurant.
"Job, look I am sorry, but business is business. I am confident traffic will pick up once more word gets around about Chef H.P. Charles."
I was still in a state of shock. "Oh so I see now. You are letting me go so you can keep that fool in the Kitchen."
My boss raised his hands in a hapless gesture. "Chef H.P. Charles is like my star player. We all know Chefs are the Rock Stars that bring clients into the restaurant today. I had to cut someplace."
I could not hide the disgust in my voice. "You act like ole Charley is Gordon Ramsey or Wolfgang Puck."
Mary gripped my hand. "Well Job, he did have his own cooking show..."
"You mean that reality show flop," I interrupted "that did not even last a full season on the internet."
My boss got flustered as he defended his money hole. "Chef H.P. Charles show had a nice following..."
"And a cook book" my wife added.
"Wonderful." I said dryly "Dr. Seuss had a cookbook too. I do not see many patrons filling our tables to order the famous Green Eggs and Ham."
The boss held out an envelope to me. "When Chef H.P. turns this around we can look at maybe bringing you back. Chef HP Charles has talent. Hiring him is the most foolproof way I know to bring in a new base."
I shook my head. "Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool."
He winced. "I know this is hard, but I bumped up Mary's rate a bit to help."
Mary my wife squeezed my hand as I took the final paycheck. Married for all of 6 years she was the assistant Chef in the restaurant we both worked at, or rather had both worked at. The owner was a pudgy trust fund baby who liked to watch cooking shows and figured he would open and run a restaurant. In reality he could not run up a flight of stairs, let alone a restaurant.
Mary in all truth was the heart of the kitchen. She had always wanted to be a big time Chef. Mary had worked her way up through a series of eating establishments working in the Industry since she was 16. However to rise in restaurants in today's market, you needed the star power of a known Chef in your kitchen. Mary's single mom could never afford any of the cooking schools, either here or abroad that seemed to groom todays "Rock Star" cooks.
I tried to help out. All our vacations were "working vacations". A dairy and cheese seminar in Wisconsin, wine methods and matters in Napa valley, seafood from net to plate techniques in Maine. Even our honeymoon was spent tramping through olive gardens in Italy learning about virgin, extra virgin and dozens of grades of olive oil. Not that I am complaining, the grub from these events had me fighting to keep my waist size constant.
Mary on the other hand never seemed to gain an ounce, a rarity in most any Chef. Mostly it was a combination of her metabolism and fanatical workout schedule. I know Mary had a secret fantasy of hosting her own cooking show and did not want to be the "fat" female chef. So she always kept herself in shape for that magic phone call, which so far had not come.
Again, I am not complaining her metabolism and workout routine were a bonus to me. Many would say Mary was average in looks; if that were true I would take average and regular with Mary any day and twice on Sunday. Which coincidentally was about the frequency of our love life. Again I am not complaining with neither frequency nor quality.
Mary squeezed my hand as I accepted my final paycheck while the Boss continued "Job, you will bring Pablo up to speed on everything won't you?"
I was about to tell him to Fuck Off. The nerve of this rich prick not only replacing me with a exploited low cost illegal, but wanting me to train him to be my replacement.
I sat back in the chair. "You want I have Pablo handle the waitresses and kitchen help that ole Chef Charley keeps banging two at a time. You do know that is just a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen."
My soon to be Ex boss waved his hand. "This is the restaurant biz. Passions run high."
I bit my tongue as Mary spoke "Don't worry, I will handle Chef H.P. He is pretty much all talk, just trying to impress the kitchen staff. If he had done a quarter of what he claimed, this place would not have a single female on staff."
Mary squeezed my hand again to stop me from talking as she pulled me up out of my chair.
The ride home was animated.
"I really thought Pablo was gonna walk out," Mary said tuning the car radio to my favorite station.
I had to suppress a grin at Mary's action, as the selection of music was a daily battle for us. A truce was reached were I got my station on the drive into work and she got the trip home. Mary giving me her "turn" was a major concession.
"Pablo is a very proud man and protective of his friends and family," I replied.
Everyone knew Pablo's story. He had fled a violence-filled drug town in Central America with his wife and two small children. Trekking all the way to the border, he had fought off gangs, and predators, and led a small band to safety after the smugglers had left the group to perish in the desert with no water.
I rubbed my eyes before continuing. "That asswipe of a boss really boxed me in. He knows I can't let the restaurant fail because all we have is one paycheck now and he also knows I won't screw over Pablo."
Mary shook her head. "Pablo is the hardest working guy there. If he left, every one of the kitchen staff would follow him. He is like the Godfather of that back room. I am glad you convinced him you would be fine and everyone needed the job for their family. Especially Pablo, his wife is expecting again. Now Job, I know you will land on your feet, you are the best prep chef around."
For those of you not in the "biz", if the Chef is the heart of the kitchen, the prep chef is the "brains". The prep chef makes sure everything from salads to chopped onions are ready to go. The Prep Chef makes sure the Head Chefs order of fresh seafood is really "fresh", quality is what was received from suppliers, and all the ingredients are in stock as needed. Just as any Army is only as good as its NCOs, any restaurant is only as good as its prep chefs.
"Well Mary, I am not worried about Pablo because I am not married to Pablo. I am worried about you, because I am married to you."
Mary gave me a light punch on my shoulder. "Don't tell me you are jealous of Chef H.P. Charles!" She laughed "He is a blowhard, but Chef H.P. Charles does have some chops. Do you know the school he went to in France? The people he knows? Places he has been to?"
I made a gagging sound. "Oh please Mary that fry cook is a poser and you run rings around him. Also, please stop calling that fool 'Chef', like he has a Doctorate in medicine and cures cancer in babies."
Mary sighed as she spoke. "I know you do not care for H.P. but I could learn a lot from him."
Again I made gagging sounds. "You must enlighten me on some pearls of his wisdom. This is a man who asked why there is an expiration date on sour cream."
"Job, be nice. We both know Chef H.P. Charles is a narcissist. But you have to be to get to where he is. It is like a disease with him."
"Great, everything that used to be a sin is now a disease. One nice thing about egotists: they don't talk about other people."
Mary ignored me and continued. "For example he told me I should go by 'T Mary II' not just plain Mary."
I shook my head. "T Mary II? Sounds like a drywall bolt from the hardware store or a new robot in the Terminator movie."
Mary punched me in the shoulder again. "Job, you know darn well my first name is Theresa. Mary is my middle name and everyone called me Mary so not be confused with my mom. Besides Mary is such a common boring name."
I suppose ole Charley told you that."
Mary shrugged. "You know how everyone gabs in the kitchen when it is not busy."
"Yes, the kitchen, or restaurant for that matter, has not been very busy. Where are the throngs of hungry followers' ole Charley was going to bring in?"
Mary sighed before answering. "Well, our catering has picked up."
"Mary, the catering side was starting to thrive before his highness H.P. Charles come onto the scene to hog all the credit. We both know catering only took off due to your food and Pablo and his crew busting their ass making everything work. The trouble with doing something right the first time is that nobody appreciates how difficult it was."
I played my trump card. "Let's look at this as an opportunity. Screw all of them. Ever since the day you started watching Julia Childs on PBS TV you have wanted to attend a fancy cooking school. Let's ditch that McMansion and your status Lexus and have you go to the school of your dreams."
Mary was biting her lip. "Job, did you hit the lottery and not tell me? Last I checked our bank account was looking low."
"Mary, I'll cash out my retirement account, we'll take a student loan, whatever it takes. This is an investment in you, in us."
"You wanna go to school too?"
"Hell No! This is your dream I wanna make true. You know I can always find something to do, carpentry, plumbing, I'll work at a Paris McDonalds if I have to."
.... There is more of this story ...