Everyone knows that a classroom is a room filled with nice little desks arranged in rows facing a whiteboard. Everyone knows that the instructor stands at the front of the room to present a lecture that numbs brains while assuming that knowledge is being conveyed. Everyone knows that; but then again -- everyone can be wrong. Not all classrooms are like that.
An exception to the classroom norm was the classroom of a very exclusive culinary arts institute located in New Orleans. Entrance into this school practically required that the person was born in a kitchen. It required that the student had already worked six years in a five star restaurant and be nominated for a seat in the class by the head chef of the restaurant. The training goal was to take a good chef and produce a great chef; one that could produce a great recipe at the drop of a chef's hat.
The rattle of pots and pans filled the air in a cacophony of sound that only someone born into a kitchen could love. The youngest woman in the room hummed happily while putting the finishing touches on her very first cooking assignment. The first assignment had been a surprise to all of the students gathered there. The expected assignment for a pastry challenge would have been a dessert, but that would have been too obvious. This assignment had been to create a pastry hors dourve.
Chef Rupert, the instructor, shouted, "Time is up. Bring your dish here."
The young woman carried her dish to the front of the room confident that it would be the best one presented. She set her creation on the table and stood behind it waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. A young man stepped up next to her and set his dish down beside hers. She frowned upon seeing that he had made an identical dish to hers. She crossed her arms to keep from exploding. He looked over at her appreciatively and smiled at her while wiggling his eyebrows.
Chef Rupert walked along the table examining and tasting the dishes. He made a few comments; pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each dish. So far the average score was three stars despite the fact that none of the dishes would have been out of place in a four star restaurant. The standards of the school were just a little bit higher than that.
He reached the young woman and noticed her unhappy expression. Assuming that she was not pleased with her dish, he said, "You don't look happy. What is the matter?"
"He made my dish," the woman answered giving the young man who stood next to her a look that should have killed him on the spot. The young man's grin grew even larger.
Chef Rupert looked at the young man and asked, "Why are you smiling?"
"I like the way she has her arms crossed. It is like she's putting her breasts on a shelf to be admired and you've got to admit she's packing some mighty fine breasts," the young man answered. Every female in the room turned to glare at him.
Chef Rupert rubbed his forehead and said, "You must be Mark O'Toole."
"That's right," Mark answered proudly.
"Oh god, not an O'Toole," one of the female students moaned. "I want my money back."
Mark leaned forward to look at the woman who had complained. He said, "Don't worry sweetie, you're safe from me. I'm going to marry this luscious dish standing next to me."
The young woman looked at Mark as if he was insane. His comment about her breasts had rendered her speechless. Stunned at his audacity, she managed to croak, "What?"
Chef Rupert looked at the young woman and said, "Take my advice and quit now while you can. You really should consider changing your name and going into hiding. You might get away for a year or so before he finds you."
"Never," the young woman said.
Chef Rupert said, "Well, Miss O'Toole..."
"My name is Molly Andrews."
Mark said, "Not for very much longer."
"Stop staring at my breasts," Molly said in a low growl.
"I will as soon as you stop displaying them so attractively," Mark said.
Putting her hands on her hips, Molly said, "I'm going to cut off your balls, saute them, and feed them to you."
The woman who had spoken earlier said, "She would be better off killing him outright. A life sentence in prison has to be better than being married to an O'Toole."
"You even talk like an O'Toole woman," Mark said.
"I hate you," Molly said.
Mark said, "That is a perfectly fine way to start a relationship."
Ignoring the exchange, Chef Rupert examined the two dishes in front of him. He said, "This is rather remarkable. The presentations are identical."
"Great minds think alike," Mark said while taking one of her hands in his.
"Don't touch me," Molly said pulling her hand out of his. She backed away from him.
Chef Rupert tasted each dish. Stepping back he rubbed his chin while considering the two dishes. Finally, he said, "Molly, your raspberry sauce is just a little sweeter than his. I really can't tell which I like more. Your sauces bring out different flavors in the brie."
"She's a lot sweeter than I am," Mark said. Seeing the glare she gave him, he added, "You can tell just by looking at her."
"You both get three stars," Chef Rupert said.
"Three?" Mark said insulted by the low score.
"Three?" Molly echoed.
"Originality," Chef Rupert said with a grin.
"I'll use his intestines for sausages."
"She must really love me."
Stepping back from the table, Chef Rupert said, "For tomorrow's assignment, you will prepare a five course meal using a cheese theme. Every dish must contain cheese as an ingredient. You will work in a team of two. Mark O'Toole will be teamed with Peter Chang. Molly O'Toole..."
"My name is Molly Andrews."
" ... will be teamed with Ellen Maples."
Mark leaned over to Molly and said, "I wouldn't go with Chicken Kiev if I were you. Everyone is going to make that as their main dish."
"Don't talk to me," Molly said. She wasn't going to admit that dish was the first one that came to mind. She had learned a very nice variation of Chicken Kiev at the place she had worked before coming here.
Having finished cleaning her cooking station, Ellen went over to her partner's cooking station to begin planning for the next assignment. Seeing Molly scrubbing her baking pan furiously, she said, "I don't know whether to congratulate you or offer you my condolences."
Without looking up, Molly said, "That man is insufferable."
"I know, but he's a good chef," Ellen said.
"How do you know that?" Molly asked.
"He's an O'Toole. At least fifty of the five star restaurants have an O'Toole working in them. I know of ten five star restaurants that are owned by O'Tooles," Ellen said.
"I don't care, he is insufferable," Molly said.
"We've got to plan our menu for tomorrow," Ellen said. She felt that a change in topic was necessary.
"We'll start off with roasted O'Toole and then move onto baked O'Toole and then we'll make some... ," Molly muttered.
Ellen interrupted, "I'm serious. We need to plan our menu for tomorrow."
"I'm serious too," Molly said. She rinsed off the baking pan and started to dry it.
"The theme is cheese, not O'Toole," Ellen said.
Molly picked up a sauce pan. She said, "We'll turn it into a double themed meal."
"Get serious," Ellen said. She had a feeling that tomorrow's meal was going to be a disaster.
"I am," Molly said. She growled. " ... packing some mighty fine breasts..."
"He's right," Ellen said feeling a little embarrassed. She had always felt a little insecure about her breast size and being around Molly didn't help any.
"If I swung that way, which I don't, but if I did ... well, I'd be interested," Ellen said.
Molly looked up at Ellen and asked, "What do you mean?"
"You've got impressive breasts," Ellen said.
Molly examined the sauce pan, saw that it was clean, and started scrubbing it anyway. She grumbled, "I'm only a C cup, okay."
Shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, Peter Chang said, "I'm afraid that I will not be able to contribute too much to tomorrow's assignment. Chinese cuisine does not use cheese."
"That's okay," Mark said. He watched Molly working over her sauce pan.
"I just don't want to be a problem," Peter Chang said. He hadn't done too well with the first assignment and he didn't want to do poorly on this one.
"She's a pretty woman, isn't she," Mark said looking across the room.
Peter Chang looked over at Molly and said, "I guess."
Mark said, "I bet she's a C cup."
"Um," Peter Chang said feeling very uneasy about the direction of this conversation.
Nodding his head in approval, Mark said, "Look at that passion. She's scrubbing that pot like it was filled with tar. Something must have gotten her panties in a bind."
"I think it was you," Peter said. He couldn't believe the kinds of things that came out of Mark's mouth.
"I hope so," Mark said. He looked over at Peter and asked, "What do you think of the idea of cheese filled egg rolls?"
"Not much," Peter said with a grimace. He felt the idea was particularly disgusting.
"Maybe you're right," Mark said. "How about Spring Rolls filled with shrimp and covered with a cheese sauce?"
"That doesn't sound quite so bad," Peter said.
Mark said, "Chinese food with cheese. It'll be great."
"I don't think so," Peter said.
"We'll get a lot of points for originality," Mark said. He was silent for a minute thinking about what he could do for the rest of the meal.
Ellen looked across the room and said, "Look at the expression on Peter's face. You'd think Mark suggested that they make Chinese food with cheese."
"That's not a bad idea," Molly said.
"Are you sick?" Ellen asked looking at Molly.
"Egg rolls stuffed with cheese," Molly said with a grin.
"That's disgusting," Ellen said.
"How about Spring Rolls filled with shrimp and covered with a cheese sauce?" Molly asked.
"That's not a bad idea," Ellen said.
"We would get a lot of points for originality," Molly said.
Mark said, "You know, we could make some Paneer and substitute it for tofu in some standard Chinese recipes."
"Paneer," Peter repeated thinking about the suggestion. He was only familiar with paneer in the context of Indian food. Nodding his head, he said, "That just might work."
Molly looked across the room at Mark. Thinking that she would love to see him shamed by her brilliance as a chef, she said, "We could make some Paneer and substitute it for tofu in some standard Chinese recipes.
"Paneer," Ellen repeated thinking about the suggestion. Nodding her head, she said, "That just might work."
Molly said, "Let's see the bastard beat that."
Chef Rupert stopped at cooking station where Molly and Ellen were working on their menu for the next day. They would have to finalize it before the morning in order to get any required fresh produce from the downtown market. Normally, he would not interrupt their planning, but a special opportunity had arisen. He said, "I hate to rush you, but you will want to finalize your menu for tomorrow soon. We're going to have dinner at the Dirty Skillet of New Orleans."
"I've always wanted to go there," Molly said standing up a little straighter. The Dirty Skillet of New Orleans was a very exclusive restaurant. The reputation of the place was so good that it didn't need to advertise.
The invitation to dine at the restaurant had come on short notice, but Chef Rupert wouldn't have turned down the opportunity for love or money. He said, "I promise you that it will be a special dining experience."
"I've got to try their Cajon Bayoubaise," Molly said. Five Star magazine had done an entire article on that particular dish.
"It is their trade-mark dish," Ellen said.
Chef Rupert said, "We'll be leaving in an hour."
"An hour? That isn't enough time to get dressed for a place like that," Ellen said.
"There's no need to get dressed up. It is a rather informal place," Chef Rupert said. He knew it was a lost cause from the expressions on the two women's faces.
"I'm not going to the Dirty Skillet wearing anything except my best dress," Molly said.
While leaving, Ellen asked, "What about the dessert for tomorrow's assignment?"
"We'll just get some nice old world cheeses, cut some of them into the shapes of the various principle food regions of China, and serve that as dessert," Molly said. Her mind was already on trying to decide what to wear to the dinner.
"I like it. It is simple, yet elegant," Ellen said.
Peter looked across the room and noticed the two women leaving. He said, "They are done already."
Mark grinned and said, "Molly is just getting ready for our date."
"Your date?" Peter asked. Outside of a single call on his cell phone, Peter didn't see how Mark could have arranged for a date.
"Yes," Mark said.
"Does she know about it?"
"No," Mark answered.
"What if she turns you down?" Peter asked. It seemed to him that it was highly improbable that she would actually accept a date from Mark.
Mark grinned and answered, "Don't worry. I've invited a bunch of chaperones."
"What about our menu?" Peter asked looking down at the sheet of paper. They still hadn't identified a dessert.
Mark shrugged his shoulders and said, "We'll just get some nice old world cheeses, cut some of them into the shapes of the various principle food regions of China, and serve that as dessert."
"Simple, yet elegant," Peter said. "I like it."
Chef Rupert came over and said, "You might want to finish your menu quickly. We've been invited to have dinner at the Dirty Skillet of New Orleans."
"Really?" Mark asked giving a wink to Peter.
"You didn't?" Peter asked staring at Mark. He wondered how the guy was going to afford taking everyone to such an expensive restaurant.
"What?" Chef Rupert asked.
"I'm excited about going out to eat with Molly," Mark answered.
Chef Rupert said, "I know O'Tooles tend to be a little blunt with the opposite gender, but you might want to tone it down a bit. There are others in the class who are offended by some of your comments."
"Did you see that Baked Brie she put together? It was almost as good as mine," Mark said. "There's no way I'm letting her get away by being anything less than honest in my appreciating her as a woman."
"You're basing all this on one dish that you didn't even taste?" Chef Rupert asked incredulously. He knew that O'Tooles were rather impulsive when it came to matters of love, but this was beyond the pale.
"She hates you," Peter said.
"I know all about Molly Andrews. She's the reason I came here this year," Mark said.
"How is that possible?" Chef Rupert asked. He knew that the two of them had worked on different continents. There was no way that Mark could have met her before arriving here.
Mark answered, "Cousin Jenny worked with her a couple years ago. She told me all about Molly."
"Cousin Jenny?" Chef Rupert asked with a sick feeling in his stomach.
"You know Cousin Jenny," Mark said. "She's your niece."
"Oh my God," Chef Rupert said.
Rubbing his hands together, Mark said, "I can't wait for this date to begin. There's no way that Molly is going to go to the Dirty Skillet without dressing her best. She's going to look magnificent."
"Yes. I figured that she wouldn't be comfortable without a lot of support so I called Cousin Mary and she arranged things for us," Mark said.
"You got us the invitation to the Dirty Skillet?" Chef Rupert asked. He had completely forgotten that the head Chef was an O'Toole. If he had remembered, he would have turned down the invitation.
Waving a hand as if batting away a fly, Mark said, "It was no big deal. A bunch of my family will be there. Everyone wants to meet Molly."
"There will be a bunch of O'Tooles there?" Chef Rupert asked horrified. He was recently widowed and was terrified of being around too many O'Tooles at the moment. There was always the chance that one of the O'Toole women would decide that he would make a good catch.
Mark said, "There are only two O'Tooles in New Orleans at the moment. We've got a bunch of Anders and Sanders here."
"Anders and Sanders?" Chef Rupert asked turning pale. His lawyer, Arnold Anders, was always trying to fix him up with a date. He had been tempted to take the man up on his offer to fix him up with someone. Suddenly, he had a pretty good idea who that blind date was.
Mark patted Chef Rupert on the shoulder and said, "Let me tell you a little about Cousin Mary. She's single and looking for a good man who knows how to cook."