Just over broke, entrenched for long hours with foul mouthed, sweat soaked bodies slamming sauté pans onto every open fire late into the night you bang out Steak Frites, Confit de Canard, and Gratine des Halles. Chits strung like white prayer flags, or flags of surrender, and carry the threat of pulling the entire line down in a death spiral into the weeds. Plates crowd the pass, you lean into the ear of whoever is expediting tonight but who is so fucking mired and shout out an impatient Pick Up as you lock incriminating eyes on the new server darting through the mayhem of a Saturday night rush.
You in the after hours with your comrades join other back of house brigades from surrounding culinary dens and seep out into the late hours, released from your lines, seeking out the cool down places and a cold one gripped in a calloused hand impervious to heat and lean on the sticky bar with tattooed arms filmed over with grease. Your wife already accustomed to not waiting up.
That life, like a proving ground for showing your grit, prowess and speed, your staunch regard for the industry’s swagger. An outlaw with a ten inch french knife and a microplane, part of a brotherhood in aprons, worn like armour; scars and burns like medals of honour.
Yet at mid-life you owned no home, put aside no savings, and could barely make rent. Barely enough for drugs, but your long arms had that life in a full body embrace. And when you casually penned that exposé to the New Yorker that pulled the stained sheet off the nation’s restaurant kitchens you once served time in you didn’t expect to shoot like a cork into another dimension. A trajectory that spun you around the world a hundred times over, that windfall that erased all your past hardships and filled your coffers; the prize that took you off the line for good.
And you found true love, and had a baby girl. For her you got clean.
And then us, your prime time entourage, took hold and followed you into those far reaching lands, becoming students of the curriculum you dished out on food that defines these places.
And because we knew the hardships you overcame we celebrated your good fortune, because you were the real deal. No pretence shadowed your motives. Obvious to everyone that you held the world by the tail. You had once said of your new life, that you felt like you had stolen an expensive car and kept looking in the rear view mirror for the flashing lights. We understood you came through the mire, and you made something real and soulful and honest. So maybe we could do that too.
And when you have the network finally heeled to your creative vision, you love what life unfolded for you. You said so. You look so happy. Steadfast to your own terms, never succumbing to the lurid lure of a sell out. Embraced and folded into a hundred million hearts as kin, you are one of us. We never faltered or showed concern you would one day not come. You are riding that wave, shoreline still far off in the distance. Instead you decide to shed your body on a summer day in a lovely room at the Hotel Chambard. Abrupt as suicides are, that decision reached in a quiet moment, liquified the ground beneath the feet of the ones who took you in, leaving all behind to question, leaving your young daughter to question the unanswerable.