4 comments

American Fiction

Kyle stared at the two prep cooks, wide-eyed and speechless. “Tonight? Gordon Ramsay is coming tonight? And you're just now telling me?”

“Your uncle told us not to,” Joey said. “Said you would freak out if you knew.”

“Of course I would freak out! It’s Gordon friggin’ Ramsay! And he’s gonna expect the food to be terrible..." The restaurants on Kitchen Nightmares are supposed to be terrible. The food is expected to be disgusting. Why did Uncle John invite the show when the restaurant was flourishing?

Kyle shook his head. "Damnit, we'll have to put our best food forward. Uncle John's in tonight, right?”

Shawn shot a quick glance at Joey then back at Kyle. “Uh, he said that he wanted you to handle this. He said that the executive chef shouldn’t have to come in on a Tuesday night.”

"Seriously?" Le Steak Incroyable’s executive chef wouldn’t come in most Tuesdays, but surely this called for an exception. Why would Uncle John not come in and help with dinner service for the biggest chef in the culinary world – especially with Ursula gone? He had yet to decide who would fill her sous chef vacancy.

“Well, let's get moving then; we need to get ready before he arrives. How long do we have?”

“He’s, um… he’s already here.”

Kyle’s eyes widened. It would be up to him to lead dinner service - for one of the most discerning palates in the world. If he screwed this up, he could kiss the sous chef position goodbye.

“Wh- wh… what do you mean, already here?”

“He’s giving his order to Robin now. The camera crews are already set up.”

Kyle’s stomach dropped. “Where’s he sitting?” He looked through the doorway leading to the dining room “Do I have time to – “

“Gordon Ramsay ordered the Beef Wellington.” Robin returned to deliver the crushing news. 

Just an hour prior, Kyle was watching Hell’s Kitchen reruns and imagining a day when he would prepare his own dish for the Michelin-starred chef. He now faced the prospect of serving Gordon his own signature dish - with no prep time.

Kyle froze, his mind shutting down as his heart raced.

Shawn broke the silence. “We have to get moving, Kyle. You don't want to be the restaurant that made him... how should we do this?”

Kyle took a deep breath. Shawn was right; this wasn’t ideal, but he needed to get moving. Life had just given him a giant lemon, but if he played his cards right, he could make lemonade tonight.

“Shawn, you prepare the Wellington. I’ll get started on the gnocchi while Joey works on the salad.”

What customers didn’t realize was that the Wellington was prepared ahead of time. Sometimes, they’d even serve days-old Wellington when the restaurant had a few slow days in a row. Prepping the dish just meant thawing it before browning the pastry using an egg wash, and Kyle knew Shawn could handle that.

His concern wasn't with Shawn's ability to finish the precooked dish. While regular customers would never notice the difference between a fresh and frozen, Gordon would. Thus, it was far from ideal, serving frozen Wellington - but it was the best they could do with little notice. If only Uncle John had actually warned Kyle, he would have come in first thing that morning to prep. 

He began preparing the gnocchi dough by peeling and pushing yesterday’s baked potatoes through a ricer. He combined the riced potatoes with the flour, butter, and the restaurant’s blend of spices. He’d just begun kneading the dough when Shawn returned from the walk-in fridge.

“I’ve got some bad news.”

Kyle let out a short huff and slammed the dough down on the table’s surface. “Unless you’re gonna tell me you’ve cut off your arm, now’s not the time.”

“We’re out of Beef Wellington.”

Kyle squinted, shaking his head. “What? What do you mean, out of Wellington? We had 5 servings left over at closing last night.”

“Yeah, I forgot... when we prepped this morning, we found all of the Wellingtons had been knocked over at some point last night. We had to toss them.”

“What?! That makes absolutely no sense, Shawn. How could you not remember throwing out the specific dish that you were sent to pull?”

Shawn shrugged and stood silent. Kyle’s brain went into overdrive; frustration and anger comingled with fear and indecision, each vying for the lead role. He was frustrated at Shawn, at Uncle John, at everyone - exacerbating his fear of failure. Anger at the situation conquered fear, urging Kyle to take action. Indecision took over, with Kyle unsure of how to proceed. Frustration returned, and the cycle began anew.

Shawn’s voice broke the cycle. “What should we do?”

“Shit… um, can you handle the gnocchi? I’ve already started the dough.”

Shawn clenched his jaw. “Yeah, I can do it. I’ve been doing it since before your uncle hired you.”

There was no time to worry about Shawn’s feelings. “Good. I’ll take care of the Wellington.”

“But… how? It’ll take forever to make.”

“I’m well aware. I’m also aware of what will happen if we go back out and tell Gordon that he can’t have the dish he ordered. Don’t worry about the Wellington, just work on these gnocchi.”

He sounded more confident than he really was given the situation. He’d done this dish hundreds of times before during prep, but he could afford to make minor errors then. Even the worst Karen would be pleased with an imperfect version of the dish. Gordon, though? The slightest inconsistency would have the dish sent back to kitchen in a heartbeat. 

First, he needed to pull puff pastry from the fridge. With Shawn already working on the gnocchi dough, Kyle rushed to the fridge.

When he walked in, his eyes shot to the spot he saw the prepped pastry sheets the night before. He blinked, shook his head, and looked again… there was nothing on the shelf. He looked left and right, up and down, yet there were no puff pastry sheets left. What the hell was going on today?

He shouted back to the kitchen, “Shawn! Where are the puff pastries?

I have no idea. Aren’t they on the 2nd shelf where they always are?

If they were, I wouldn’t be shouting now, would I?” Damnit, they must have been around here somewhere. Kyle shoved cartons of eggs and jugs of milk to the side, pushing past packs of bacon and marinating chicken breasts only to find that the pastries were nowhere to be found. 

Check again, he thought. He pushed the eggs aside. He shoved the butter out of the way. No… no, no, no. They had to be there somewhere. He tossed the milk to the side. Where were they?? He pulled the milk, flinging it to the side of the fridge. The milk bounced off the sidewall and tipped over the front edge. The floor became coated in the thick liquid.

“Damnit… Shawn, tell Robin to get someone in here for clean up. I don’t have time to deal with this.

After a final check, Kyle accepted that he had no puff pastries for the Wellington. For a brief moment, he stopped and considered walking out to inform Gordon that he would have to order something else. He wouldn’t make anyone else face the chef; as the chef in charge, the buck stopped with him.

He would just have to accept that his first meeting with his idol would end in failure and heartbreak.

No, that won’t be how this goes down. Kyle sprang into motion. He grabbed the unsalted butter and tiptoed around the spilt milk. As he exited the freezer, he noticed Shawn and Joey both watching the fridge door, neither working on their component of the meal. He approached Shawn’s station and grabbed the flour container.

“What are you doing?”

“Just worry about the gnocchi. And you worry about the salad, Joey.”

Shawn’s eyes widened. “You can’t be serious; you know it takes hours to make pastry.”

“Worry about the gnocchi, damnit. I’ve got this.”

It wouldn’t be the perfectly flaky puff pastry that Gordon would expect with his filet, but Kyle could whip up rough puff pastry in little time. A few chunks of cold butter, some flour, and a food processor got the process started. Minutes later, Kyle walked around the dishwasher busy cleaning his earlier mess. He placed the rolled rough puff on the empty shelf.

He could hear the Scottish chef in his ear as he worked through the recipe Gordon made famous. He blitzed the portobello mushrooms in a food processor. Minced and browned the shallots and garlic in a cast iron skillet. Added the blitzed mushrooms to the skillet, cooked off the excess moisture.

The mushroom duxelles complete, it was time to prepare the beef filet. He seared the cylindrical cut until the entirety of its surface was browned – including the sides. 

“Shawn, how are we looking on that gnocchi?”

“Done with the prep, just waiting on the word to start cooking.”

“Great, give me a hand here. Can you pull the Dijon mustard? I forgot to grab it earlier.”

Shawn disappeared into the back, returning a minute or two later with empty hands. “Boss… I don’t know what happened, but we’re out of Dijon mustard.”

“No, that’s impossible. I just saw it while I was in the fridge.”

“Are you sure? I just checked, I don’t see any anywhere.”

“Sonuva… Shawn, the beef is getting cold. We have to brush the Dijon on before it cools!” Kyle huffed as he stomped back to the fridge. He looked on the shelf he saw the Dijon before; true to Shawn’s word, there was no mustard.

What in the hell was happening? He was sure that he saw the tub of Dijon earlier. He couldn’t have been imagining it. He rushed out of the fridge and to the dry storage.  Exasperated, he stood staring at the shelves of ingredients, none of which contained Dijon mustard. He saw a small jar of spicy brown mustard and thought that it would have to do. Gordon would definitely ream him for the subpar Wellington, but at least he had a worthwhile set of excuses.

He rushed out of dry storage and back to the prep area. He slathered the mustard on the beef, then got to work on the pastry encasing. He retrieved the pastry from the fridge and laid it down on cling wrap. Then, a layer of prosciutto was added before he spooned the mushroom duxelles on top. Finally, the beef filet was added, the entire dish was wrapped tight in the cling wrap like a piece of bubble gum, before it was unwrapped and covered in an egg wash. Three scores in the top of the pastry and the dish was ready for the oven.

When Kyle opened the oven, he didn’t feel the typical blast of heat in his face. He checked; the oven was turned off. He knew he’d preheated it earlier before he began working on the rough puff. He spun the dial to 450°F before turning to his prep cooks.

“Joey, Shawn, do either of you know what happened to the oven? Why was it off?”

Joey spoke up. “Oh, I didn’t realize you needed it. I thought I left it on from earlier, so I turned it off.”

“What the hell is going on today? This is the moment that could make or break this restaurant, and it seems everyone is hellbent on ruining it.”

“Calm down, man. It’s not that big of a deal.”

Not that bi- are you even listening to yourself right now!?” Kyle took a deep breath. “Do you not realize how many people watch Kitchen Nightmares? This will either be a great opportunity for me – for us – or it will be a disaster. This could kill the restaurant.”

Kyle shoved the Wellington into the oven when the preheat buzzer sounded and slammed the door. He stomped to the station where Shawn finished the gnocchi, grabbed the bowl of prepared dumplings, and dumped them into the pot of boiling salted water he’d begun earlier. At least that was still turned on and boiling.

He went to the salad prep station to find that Joey was putting the finishing touches on the salad. “Joey, why does it look like you have a Caesar salad prepared?”

“Because that’s what it is. It’s ready to go out whenever we want to send it.”

When have we ever made Caesar salad with Wellington?!

“Oh shit, this is for the Wellington? You should’ve told me.”

I should’ve t-…“ Tears welled in Kyle’s eyes. Didn’t they know how much this meant to him? He pushed the prep cook to the side and pulled the arugula and lettuce necessary for the side salad. 

“Do you need me to – “

“No, Joey, I don’t need anything from you. I’ve got this. See if Shawn needs help with any of the other customers.”

“But there are no other customers right now.”

“Then go wait for other customers to come in. I don’t need help from either of you, it seems you’ve both lost your damn minds today.”

Kyle put together the salad, whipped up the raspberry vinaigrette, and set it out for the runner to take to Gordon’s table. He turned to check on the gnocchi’s progress, it should’ve been about halfway done. His jaw nearly dropped to the floor when he saw Shawn pull his hand back from the stovetop’s control knob. 

“I think the gnocchi’s done, boss.”

He knew that Shawn knew that the gnocchi wasn’t done. They’d worked together for two years making that dish. They had it down to a science, the Wellington should come out right as the gnocchi reach the perfect consistency.

Kyle felt a sense of calm wash over him, a stillness that arises when one has surpassed their breaking point. With a steady voice, neither louder nor quieter than normal, he said, “Shawn. Joey. Get out of my kitchen. Go home. I do not want to see either of you for the rest of the night.”

The two looked at each other, their eyes widened. Joey said, “hold on, I’m scheduled to close tonight.”

“I will take care of it. Get out.”

They both stared, dumbfounded and not moving. 

Get the hell out of here!

“…geez, it’s not this big of a deal. I don’t give a damn anymore. Whatever man.” Joey removed his apron and threw it on the tabletop. Shawn followed suit before both exited through the back door.

Now alone, Kyle got to work. He pulled the Wellington as the timer went off before draining the gnocchi. He sliced a portion from the Wellington and plated the dish, careful to wipe any rogue droplets from the white plate. Gordon would have noticed such details. 

As he set the plate on the countertop and announced that the order was ready, Kyle breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken far longer than it should have, but at least he managed to send something out that Gordon wouldn’t immediately send back with a trademark insult.

Given a moment to breathe, he wondered what happened with his two prep cooks that evening. Never before had they screwed up so badly during dinner service. Why that evening?

As he struggled with that question, heavy footsteps approached from the front of the store. Uncle John approached the station that Kyle was leaning against.

“Wait, you’re here Uncle John? Why didn’t you come back sooner? Gordon’s already – ” Kyle noticed the plate in his uncle’s hands. “Oh no, is something wrong? Has he already sent it back? It doesn’t look like he’s touched it.”

Without saying a word, Uncle John set the plate on the counter. Taking a knife and fork, he cut into the perfectly cooked Beef Wellington. 

“Wait no! That’s for Gordon – “

“As far as you’re concerned, I am Gordon Ramsay tonight. There are no television cameras and no celebrity chef.”

“Wait, what do you mean? Gordon’s not…?”

“No, Gordon’s not coming. Kitchen Nightmares isn’t coming. Do you really think I’d invite that show into my restaurant?”

Kyle stared, unblinking, at his uncle as he wrapped his head around what his uncle was telling him.

“I can’t reasonable ask my sous chef candidates how well they’d perform under pressure now, can I? Of course you would all say the same thing. No, I needed to see for myself. So, I thought I’d put you under pressure, see how you responded when things went horribly wrong.”

Kyle’s eyes widened. “I knew I saw puff pastries in there! And that we had extra servings of Wellington from last night! Wait, so that was why Joey and Shawn were screwing everything up?”

The two banished cooks returned to the kitchen, sheepish grins on their faces. Joey picked up his apron. “Sorry man, we had to keep it under wraps. It was really hard not to tell you when you got so upset.”

Uncle John pushed the bite into his mouth. “Mmm! This is incredible, Kyle. You two, come taste this.”

Shawn and Joey both took turns repeating the same steps as Uncle John, both repeating the pleasureful moan at the end.  As the two prep cooks chewed, Uncle John addressed Kyle. 

“It would seem I’ve found my new sous chef.”

Kyle knew he should have been happy. With everyone clapping, from Uncle John to the two cooks to the front staff who were walking in the back to congratulate Kyle, he should have been reveling in the moment.

All he could think about was how all of this meant that he wasn’t getting the chance to impress his favorite chef in the world after all.

July 04, 2021 22:05

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

4 comments

Cliff Mc Elrea
04:06 Jul 16, 2021

Great story. You must be a chef.

Reply

Michael Martin
04:37 Jul 16, 2021

An amateur one who watches far too many cooking shows with my daughter. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Rayhan Hidayat
11:09 Jul 11, 2021

This is great! I notice there’s a theme of being secretly tested and coming out victiorious like in your antique shop story. I kept on wondering what on earth was going on, if this was just a bad dream Kyle was having, but you held off just enough to make the reveal satisfying and cathartic. I’m just a little amused that Kyle never thought to at least peak into the dining area to check if Gordon actually was there!

Reply

Michael Martin
15:06 Jul 11, 2021

Whoa, Reedsy royalty coming down to the dregs to read my story. I'm not worthy!!! Lol thanks for reading! I was trying to accomplish that (Kyle checking for Gordon) a bit when he tried peeking out (just before they announced the order), but it's not very obvious lol

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply