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Too much vinegar can burn a person’s stomach if ingested. That’s why vinegar is usually diluted with water….
Chefs at prestigious cooking schools tell you to always warn people you are cooking for about bay leaves in the food, despite the fact that the choking hazard is large enough for people to see….
A certain type of blowfish in Japan is one of the most delicious tasting fish in the world. Its poison is one of the deadliest to ingest….
They teach you how to cut properly in cooking school. Different styles of cutting, using different types of knives, each cut has a different use and different cooking purpose. You stand at your cutting board and slice away using very sharp knives, some of the best made and sharpest steel made. It’s when you’re cutting and practicing that you meet Mr.Grey.
Mr.Grey doesn’t tell you his first name, tells you to call him just Grey (“My friends all call me by my last name, so I got used to it. You know, like cops talk to one another ?), he calls you “Champ”. He has no apparent skills with a knife. He butchers the potato practicing Julienne style cutting.
“Harder than it looks.” He chuckles to himself and you can’t help but smile at him. He tries again, and cuts his potato too thick once again. You give him a pointer – he should rub the knife across the potato piece, letting the cutting edge across the potato and not bring it down onto the piece.
“Thanks.” His cuts become better and he thanks you again. He introduces himself.
From then on you’re classmates. You talk about your girlfriend Connie, and he tells you about his late wife Meredith.
“She would’ve been thrilled that I’m taking classes…she always said she’d like for me to cook for a change.”
You move from cutting, to sauces, from sauces to salads, from salads to meats & poultry. You move to main courses. Mr.Grey says,
“I’ll finally know how to do a proper chicken…”
You tell Connie later on that night about Mr.Grey as she brushes her dark hair before coming to bed.
“Sounds like a nice guy.” She says this as she watches herself in the mirror.
The next day at cooking class you learn about sauces.
You learn that a perfectly blended sauce can mask any other taste or smell on food, which is why many foods incorporate sauces – to cover up the original taste of the food prepared. Some foods required a sauce to even taste edible. You help out Mr.Grey who’s having a hard time with his Bolognese.
“Meredith always made the best meat sauce…” He tells you about the time a huge snowstorm had prevented him and his wife to leave their cabin up north.
“The only thing we had was tomatoes, some ground beef, and spaghetti…she was able to whip up the best plate of pasta I had ever tasted. Still is to this day the best.”
Certain foods can cause allergic reactions and can cause death – nuts, shellfish, fruits, milk….
Certain foods have a high percentage of chemicals from the environment, and if not either properly cooked or eaten without moderation, it can lead to life-threatening disease and even death….
You and Mr.Grey go through all of the motions in cooking school: filleting, tenderizing, baking, frying…
Your teacher tells you you’re the most promising cook in the class. He tells you, “You have superb technique and you don’t forget presentation.”
Pretty soon you’re the one that everyone goes to for help, and you start seeing Mr.Grey less and less until he disappears.
For a few days you wonder where he went, but you soon leave it to being too busy or boredom, and you press on. At the final, the Fois Gras you chose as your final piece won the top prize, and you go home happy that you graduated at the top of your class.
Fast forward…and your working as a short order cook in a local diner. The pay is shit, you work long hours, and you’re miserable. If it wasn’t for Connie’s work as a paralegal, you both would be out on the street…and then Connie accuses her boss of sexual harassing her. He had asked her in to take a letter and bring in a file he requested. His hands were all over her and she had slapped him to get away. A lawsuit came up, but needless to say she’s out of a job now.
This takes us to now, where the unemployment checks are running out, and you’re working extra shifts at the diner to keep paying the rent. And then a familiar voice calls out to you as you’re walking out of the diner at one in the morning in the middle of February.
Mr.Grey is wearing a black suit, black tie, and long black coat. He’s a startling contrast with the snow all around him. You go to a coffee shop to catch up on old times. You notice something different about him, but ignore it. You ask him why he left the cooking school.
“I was there…I was observing.” He takes a slurp from his coffee. You suddenly feel nervous. He puts his cup down and looks you straight in the eye.
“How would you like to make two thousand dollars, Champ ?” Your thoughts go to the overdue electric bill, the water tax, and the maxed-out credit cards. You ask him what you have to do.
“Cook.” He says this nonchalantly. “We give you the time, place, who to cook for, and what to cook. Simple…All we ask is that you first come along for an observation.”
“Me and my associates…the people I work for.”
He doesn’t tell you who they are, but hints that they were important in terms of the nation and its protection…
And just like that you’re sitting in one of those hard to eat restaurants, observing the chef preparing a Thai beef salad. He sprinkles the chilli over the top of the salad. He finishes off the dish with a sprig of parsley. Mr.Grey takes you outside to sit at a table. He motions to his left across the room to a successful business type, with bleached teeth, a severe tan, and a bunch of bodyguards surrounding him.
“He loves Thai beef salad. Introduced by his ex-wife.”
You remember playing the Last Meal Game with your friends from cooking school…
If you were going to be executed the next day, what would your last meal be ?
You would get answers like – mom’s chicken soup, my wife’s meatloaf, a turkey sandwich with that special turkey dad bought…
…nobody would ever say the fish cooked at Spago’s….
You watch as a waiter puts the plate down in front of him, and you watch as he digs in. He savours the flavours and you can see his eyes rolling to the back of his head as he closes his eyes in delight.
Mr.Grey leans over, still chewing his steak and says to you, “Emotion and memory are the perfect camouflage….”
He doesn’t drop dead until he’s about to climb into his limo outside of the restaurant. You and Mr.Grey watch as the ambulance takes the body away, and the two of you are in another café.
The psychology of food says that many people equate food with comfort.
Food can be used as an aphrodisiac….
Food can be used as a window to the past….
Food can be used to kill….
The very dead business man had mafia ties. The FBI couldn’t find anything on him so they contacted Mr.Grey. And now Mr.Grey is asking you to cook for him.
You think of bills.
The credit cards.
You think of Connie….
Your first target is a minor drug lord. Mr.Grey’s reports tell you that he loves to eat chocolate cake. You wear the chef’s coat from a restaurant famous for its pastries and desserts, and you are pulling the cake from the oven, the same cake this drug lord’s mom used to make. The smell is good, and you remind yourself not to test it.
Flavours are determined by the spices and ingredients put into a dish. The more flavours in a dish, the more endorphins are released into the brain.
Context and memory play the biggest role in the great food of one’s past…
The drug lord is putting the napkin in his lap, and you can practically see the drool coming from his mouth.
When he cuts into his piece, you’re already throwing the uniform in a dumpster outside of the restaurant.
Kings who were afraid of being assassinated had food testers, people whose job was to make sure that the king’s food wasn’t poisoned by tasting it first….
When he’s more than half way through his second piece, you’re already in a taxi on your way to the airport.
By the time the police find him dead in his room, still in the clothes he wore to the restaurant with vomit on the front, you’re climbing into bed with Connie.
Ironic death by chocolate….
Mr.Grey has upped your pay to almost a hundred grand per head, and the latest job you had was almost for half a million. You keep the money, only taking a bit to live. You tell Connie that you’re the new head chef at a hotel. Mr.Grey provides you with ID, a uniform, and alibis at said hotel.
You do more jobs, and with every meal prepared you start to feel disillusioned. You remember when cooking was a joy, when the person on the other end enjoyed your creation.
You remember when cooking was a means of creating something and not destroying. You tell Mr.Grey that you want out, you want to go back to your normal life. He tells you one more job and you’re free.
That was four jobs ago.
Then you decide that this upcoming job would be your last. Mr.Grey quoted the price at two million. It’s a local one, which means that you want to tell Connie and then leave. You accept the consequences that are sure to follow.
A week before the job, you tell her everything, and despite your initial thoughts about her reaction, she surprises you by telling you that she’s with you no matter what. She kisses you and asks:
“What do you need me to do ?”
And you tell her to be at a certain place, at a certain time, and to go into a certain restaurant. You tell her to pay attention to a particular someone and what’s being ordered….
The night of the job, you’re in a black chef’s coat and you’re reading the recipe for a seafood platter, when you get a call from Mr.Grey on your cell phone.
“You’re customer is here.” He hangs up immediately and you go to the kitchen door and peek outside at the man with white hair. He looks to be in his late fifties, wearing a striped suit, and this man walking in with all of his obvious business partners, is your target.
He’s also Connie’s ex-boss.
You prepare the dish making it absolutely perfect when you spoon out the seafood on a plate of rice. You make it a near-perfect copy of the recipe. Near-perfect being the operative words….
When you meet Grey at the coffee shop, he looks at you in a different way.
“If I didn’t know anything, I’d say that was more than professional…” He tells you that your target didn’t even make it to his home. When the limo driver opened the door, they found him already dead. His skin had become pale grey which showed all the veins located in his head, his expression bug-eyed and in terror. Preliminary intelligence had told him that the target’s heart exploded.
“…no worries…no one will ever be able to trace who was responsible.” He chuckled as he took a gulp of coffee. You tell him that you’re out, that this one was the last one. He sighs and looks at you with saddened eyes.
“I hate to lose you, and I understand where you’re coming from, I really do…but I need you for one last job. Then you can go.”
You tell him that you knew he was going to say that, and you look at your watch. The minute hand moves over a little past twelve, and with that you get up.
“Where are you going ?”
You tell him that you’re going home, and before you’re too far for him to hear you, you ask him if he enjoyed his corned beef sandwich he had for dinner tonight.
You don’t see his look of terror and you don’t hear the coffee cup smashing itself on the floor….
Fast forward, and you and Connie are in a large house somewhere in a small town. You’ve used a bit of the money you’ve saved to buy a house, a car, a dog and cat, a little plane that you fly yourself, and to renovate a new room for the baby in Connie’s belly.
You give your parents and Connie’s’ vials of a blue compound used to test for poison, and advise them to not trust chefs and cooks anymore. When they ask what all of the precautions are for, you tell them that food can be dangerous.
You and Connie never go out to eat anymore, rejecting your friend’s invitations to go to dinners at restaurants for birthdays, engagements, and baby showers….
….You don’t know if you and Connie have a price over your heads…you don’t risk anything that has food brought from an outside source…you can trust only your food prepared by your own hand…nothing ever tastes the same again….