Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A Blog a Day No. 9 - Creative Challenge # 211 - Chef of the Year

Christmas Day 2008

“I like it“

Fred was just a week and these three little words away from becoming the Champion Chef of the year. He had worked his way through all the qualifications, his creations were shown on television and he was one of those three cooks that deserved to reach the finals. Fred knew he now had to show his best in the television kitchen and impress Claude Poubelle, the chief judge and his assistant John St. Clair. 

“I know I can do it” thought Fred. He reflected on the beginning of his cooking career, although he decided to keep that to himself. If asked, he just replied that he was always encouraged by his parents to develop his cooking talents at home.

“They lapped it all up; it is amazing how you can pull the blinds over the gullible eyes of the food critics” he thought.

Fred’s beginnings were quite humble when it came to food and he was not spoilt by the culinary gifts of his mother. A working class family in the slums of the big city, whose idea of good food was basic and cheap.

“Eat your greens son, you will get brainy and strong like your dad” his mother always said when he was confronted by his mother's meals. 

“But I don’t like greens” was his answer, wondering if it was the best idea to cook a vegetable in a pot full of water with a sprinkling of salt for good measure. His mother fished the vegetable out of the pot and slid it onto his plate, accompanied with boiled soggy potatoes and a slice of indistinguishable meat that was pretending to be beef.

He decided he definitely did not want to become brainy and strong like his dad, who worked on a building site. It was today a mystery where the brains were situated in his father’s head. 

As time passed Fred left school and his parents decided he would follow in his father’s footsteps as a builder. There was a problem; Fred did not want to become a builder. He had made another decision.

“Mum, dad, I have found a job.”

“Where son?”

“The restaurant down the road, Luigi’s, are looking for a kitchen help, so I applied and have got the job.”

“Where????” said both his parents in unison. “You can’t work in a restaurant in a kitchen. That’s woman’s work.”

There was an argument but Fred won. He moved out. It was no problem; Luigi was offering a room to go with the job. It was next to the kitchen in the basement, but Fred was glad. His days of potatoes and greens were a thing of the past. It was replaced with spaghetti and pizza, but discovering that there were other things in the world to spice your food instead of salt and pepper which was a revelation to Fred’s tastes. Names like Oregano and Basil entered his daily routine and he found that you could compose a sauce using tomatoes, garlic and onions in a pan, and not just boil them. Mum and dad never saw their son so much anymore and yes, Fred really did have a talent for cooking.

Within a year Fred had become chief cook in Luigi’s and he was now known as Frederico. Luigi was sorry to see Fred leave to join a restaurant belonging to Pierre Choufleur where the French cuisine was trimmed to perfection. Fred was happy and knew he was on his way to becoming a perfect cook. He was ambitious and wanted his own restaurant. He saw that the television was auditioning for the Cook of the Year programme and applied. 

He had to be chosen, auditioned, tested, but he was in the final fifty cooks. It was then Fred found that he was not the best by far. Others could also cook just as well. He wanted to win, he needed to win, even if just to prove to his mum and dad that cooking was not only a woman’s job.

Everyone liked Fred at the television studios. He was so helpful. Not only did he concentrate in cooking his own dishes for the competition but was a great help and support to the other cooks.

“I will look after your curry while you are chopping the vegetable” he said to Jack. It was a shame that Jack had to leave the competition, but his curry was just too hot to eat, containing ten chili shoots instead of just one.

He helped Sheila with her Victoria sponge, but it seemed she had mistakenly put salt in the mixture instead sugar. And so the competition progressed until there were just three cooks left. Fred, Basil Smythe and Pauline Camroux.

That night Fred could not sleep. He knew he was up to strong competition but was sure with a little careful thought and his cooking talents he would win.

Basil Smythe could be a problem. His parents owned a successful restaurant in Mayfair and he grew up with the cooking spoon in his hand. Fred began to watch Basil.

“Good morning Basil” he greeted when they arrived at the television studio, Fred in his small car and Basil in his Jaguar, that his parents had given him on his last birthday.

“Lovely car you have Basil, I am sure that does a good speed.”

“Oh yes, Fred, gets up to 100 in no time at all. We live out in the country and I only need half an hour to get home on the motorway.”

That evening before going home after the rehearsals, Fred took a closer look at Basil's car. The next day when he arrived at the studio, Pauline was already there.

“Have you seen Basil?” she asked Fred

“No, hasn’t he arrived yet?”

It was then that Claude Poubelle arrived in the studio. 

“It looks like now have only two contestants in the competition. Basil Smythe had an accident on the motorway on his way home yesterday.”

“Is he badly injured?” asked Fred, hoping that it might be more than a simple injury.

“He won’t be able to carry on in the competition, he is in a bad way and the doctors are not sure if he will pull through.”

Pauline shed a few tears but Fred was not unhappy.

“We have a substitute contestant” said Claude. “George Makepeace will take his place.”

 Fred knew that George Makepeace was a good cook, but just good. His parents did not have a fancy restaurant. He had picked up his cooking talents in the local restaurants where he lived. He just did not have any imagination.

Now there was only Pauline to put out of action, but he knew that would be no problem. That night someone sneaked into Pauline’s house and the next morning she could not find her treasured Persian cat anywhere. The cat had disappeared. She arrived at the studio nervous and worried. It was the day of the finals, the day when the chef cook of the year would be appointed.

“I don’t think I can go through with this” she said to John St. Clair and burst into tears, crying on his shoulder telling him what had happened.

“Don’t worry” he said to her. "You are a good cook and problems like this should not spoil your chances." He dried her tears with a damask serviette and the competition begun.

Each of the cooks did their best and Fred was sure he was perfect. They had to cook a chateaubriand with duchess potatoes and fennel puree. It then came to the final moment when the meat had to be cut and tasted. The meat knives had been sharpened and the first cut was made on the meat that George Makepeace had cooked. It was well done, far too well done for a perfect slice of beef and Fred knew that George was out. Next in line was Fred. His meat was to perfection. Both Claude Poubelle and John St. Clair took a mouthful and smiled appreciatively. The fennel puree and duchess potatoes  also met with their approval. 

Although Pauline was preoccupied with worries for her cat, she bravely battled on in the competition and completed the assignment perfectly.

George had been excluded and it was between Pauline and Fred. Claude Poubelle stood between the two of them as was the custom and said those magic words “I like it” turning to Pauline and shaking her hand.

Fred was disappointed, more than disappointed. He had made sure that Basil was not there to spoil his chances, had a Persian cat in his apartment wanting to be fed with calf's liver and now this. He was blind with anger. Took the sharply ground knife in his hand and made a lunge at Claude Poubelle.

Fred’s cooking days were at an end, or almost. Of course he was arrested for attempted murder, the knife just missing Claude’s heart by inches and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Fred was a well behaved prisoner, never caused any trouble and was assigned to the kitchen in the prison. Crooks, thieves and murderers were glad to be sentenced to serve in the prison where Fred worked. It had the reputation of serving the best prison meals you could eat. 

Pauline’s Persian cat curled up on its velvet cushion after an exquisite five star menu of calf's liver and salmon and slept. Yes, life was wonderful living with the Chef cook of the year.

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