Jason watched the guards lock the doors from the inside. A TV studio filled with kitchen equipment now held the 5 of them captive.
“So, do you cook Alice?” he asked. She had bossed him around mercilessly in the previous stage and he wanted to stay one step in this round.
“Successful people don’t waste their time cooking, Jason. They use other people for that.”
“And can I ask what it is you do with your valuable time?”
“I’m leading Amaze’s Brand Strategy new initiatives, looking at Porter's Five Forces to analyze our competitors’ moves.”
“Okaaay… so you do know that not cooking, is probably not going to help us right now.” Jason gestured at the tv studio that looked like the one on Masterchef. He faced the larger group, “Do you all think we are cooking together, against each other, or just posing for the cameras?”
They shrugged their shoulders.
“And Jason, what do you do with your valuable time after work?”
“Well most nights I down some chow at Chipotle and then, back home to check the game scores because booyah we aren’t allowed to do that here.”
“Uhh time spent meaningfully,” Alice said dismissively.
“But I do make a fine chili on the weekend, maybe I can make you one Friday night?”
“I’ve got plans.”
“Sure,” Jason said, and then poked around the kitchen cabinets. “I wonder if they have any booze in this place.”
He didn’t mention his real hobby. Possibly the cause of why he wound up here today. On Sunday he had taken the ferry to Bainbridge Island and brought back a Labrador, yet another post-Covid abandoned dog, to add to his pack of rescues.
One of the things that happens when you adopt a new dog is a battle for position. His dogs took their rivalry late into the night fighting over the spot out in the hallway closest to the door of his bedroom. Not getting enough sleep, he lashed out a few times Monday and was unlucky enough to be reported.
"The five of you are here because you’ve been selected from among the Amaze employees ranked lowest for teamwork by your colleagues. Today is your chance to turn things around. You will work as a team to create a meal for our CEO using only the locally sourced artisan organically grown eco-conscious ingredients that are in this kitchen."
Alice, Jason, Miles, Jen and Fred began opening cabinets of overpriced ingredients and figuring out what they could make with them.
Steve Storm, Amaze’s CEO, was cast by the media as a renaissance leader, a polymath genius, a hero remaking America’s competitiveness through his visionary leadership. Others may differ but Jason thought this view was spot on. And without the opportunities Amaze has brought to Seattle in the last decade, Jason would still be selling furniture in his uncle’s 2nd floor shop in Lynnwood instead of being here changing the world.
As Steve Storm was shepherded into position on the judging stand by his assistants, Jason watched closely. He had rarely seen more than a glimpse of the mythical leader before. Just barely, he could hear Steve mumble “Why the fuck did I need to cut my jiu-jitsu session short to come down to this?” to an assistant.
“And now for a word from our CEO.”
Steve turned on his mic on the judging stand. Then he calmly and firmly said “A word.”
Everyone held a long silence. The announcer finally realized Steve Storm wouldn’t be saying anything else.
“We appreciate those kind words from our CEO, and now our competition begins. You have 60 minutes, your time starts now.”
“That was awesome. Our CEO takes no prisoners,” Jason said. “So, Alice, who doesn't cook, what can you make?”
“I bake. I’ll do dessert if that's ok with everyone? Good.”
Miles said he could make Soup, Jen and Fred volunteered to make salad and tea. Not sure if it was the long hours, or the free buffet, but the Amaze employee pool wasn’t a breeding ground for foodies. By process of elimination, Jason would need to cook the main dish. Everyone was deep into cooking when…
“You are now halfway. This means, we will have a vote by the contestants to choose which member will be eliminated.”
Someone gave Jason a pen and a ballot. Having watched Ken playing around with tea for 30 minutes he wrote his name down.
“In the voting, Jason received one vote for elimination, and Fred received 4 votes. A decision has been made..”
A guard shot a taser. Fred crumpled into a heap on the floor and was carried out. Shaken, they returned to cooking with a higher level of earnestness.
With his onions and beef simmering, Jason turned an eye toward his teammates.
“How is the dessert going Alice?”
“I folded the pastry, now I’m glazing the croissants with egg,” Alice said.
“Wow. My brain is trying to figure out what all that means.”
Jason looked at Miles, who was slowly cutting vegetables at a snail's pace. Next to him Jen was making steady progress on a salad bar cliche, the red beet goat cheese salad.
“Miles is definitely not working as fast as I am,” Jen grumbled.
“But you are both doing great, “ Alice said and smiled.
Steve Storm strolled into the kitchen. “People, we are on a quest to make the world a better place, let no egg go unbroken.” He grabbed an egg carton to throw and realized it was empty. He reached out and swept half of Jason's ingredients onto the floor. “Chaos, we must thrive within chaos at Amaze.”
Steve left and Jason felt the blood rush to his face. He looked at Miles and then watched Alice fixated on tiny adjustments to her almond croissants.
“Alice, you are our TED speaker motivational expert, can you do something about motivating Miles?”
Miles was standing reading a cookbook. He had spent the first 30 minutes trying to figure out the food processor and hadn’t even begun cooking yet.
“Busy,” Miles said, not looking.
“Miles! What are you doing?” Alice said, almost screaming. “We only have 25 minutes left. You fucking idiot!”
Miles put the book down and started putting chopped vegetables into a stockpot on the stove.
The air was thick with the smell of baking croissants and boiling soups and stews and in what felt like a few minutes, time was up. The four presented their meal to the CEO. He tasted the first item, smiled ironically and looked at his notes.
“Jason, your Chili is kickass…bro! It so kickass it tastes like dog shit. This is the single worst Chili I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
Jason shuddered. Steve Storm frowned then continued tasting.
“Alice, your almond croissant really, really.. is the shit. This is simply superb.”
After giving a thumbs up to the cameras, Steve whispered something to an assistant who scurried off. He then tasted the other dishes and gave them ratings in between the previous hyperbolic highs and lows of shit. The announcer went over and compared notes with Steve before going back to his mic.
“We would like to announce that the main award for this challenge goes to…Alice! Alice please step up to the main stage.”
On stage a staff member gave Alice a trophy, and she was asked to say a few words. Alice dived into a passionate speech, thanking the company and the CEO. The cameras panned in.
“Do you believe you deserve the award for Top Cook?” Steve Storm asked.
Alice gave her well practiced TED talk contemplative look on stage and thought carefully before answering.
“Yes I do.”
“Well Alice, too bad this isn't a cooking competition,” Steve said, “You do know this is a teamwork seminar?”
“Ah, yes”, she said hesitantly
A projection played behind her. A video showing her screaming expletives at Miles.
Steve Storm spoke over the video, “A ship doesn’t float on the buoyancy of its food. It sinks from who’s punching holes in the hull. We can not let our ship sink. You have won this stage’s award for Worst Player.”
The CEO pushed a button and the trophy Alice was holding exploded in a cloud of yellow mist. Alice, in a stupor, staggered until the guards rushed up, held her arms and led her away. Steve said “you will need to spend the next year working in the warehouse.”
“Remaining contestants, to share the fun, you will now need to cook 5,000 of the best item in your meal today, for the employees of Amaze headquarters of the item chosen by our CEO Steve Storm, within 4 hours. Steve, what item will they need to make?”
“The almond croissant,” Steve Storm said.
“Oh shit. I need her back,” mumbled Jason to no one in particular.