Each Friday, the Heavy Table presents a new installment of Knife Skills, a culinary novel presented piece by piece as it’s written. If you’re uncomfortable with salty language, please be aware that characters regularly use words and phrases unacceptable in polite conversation. In the author’s imagination, some members of the food service industry have a tendency to swear. For previous and subsequent installments, visit the Heavy Table’s Fiction directory.
The next night, Arthur Cho arrived at Kami exactly two minutes early for his reservation. When he opened the front door, a cold blast of autumn wind followed him in, kicking in a light swirl of dead leaves from God-only-knows-what local dying tree. He started toward the host station, and then paused. He walked back to the door, and attempted to kick the leaves back out into the night, letting in more cold air while doing so. Patrons at the house’s second worst table, proximate to the blast, stared at him with considerable fussy ire. Insensitive to or unaware of their plight, he continued kicking and shuffling, satisfied only after all plant matter had been expelled from the restaurant.
He’d been spotted, as per usual, within seconds of his arrival. Wearing a long, Gestapo-esque trench coat and angled steel eyeglasses, he cut a figure of tightly coiled, somewhat androgynous menace as he walked with precise steps up to the host station. “Reservation for two, name of Arthur,” he said. “Sorry about the situation with the leaves.”
Word reached the kitchen within moments: Arthur Cho had arrived. “Cho’s here!” said the hostess, who’d personally run up to Robertson to deliver the news. “Arthur Cho is here!”
“Fuck Arthur Cho,” said Robertson, cheerfully. “I’m not cooking for him. I’m cooking for table 22. Or wherever he ends up.”
The hostess gawked at him, and opened her mouth. Robertson cocked an eyebrow at her while a gout of alcohol-fueled flames leapt forth from a silver frying pan that he manuevered over the burners. She turned around and left.
Cho had gone through a brief and comic disguise period during his early days at the Journal, but quickly abandoned it; new restaurants knew what he looked like, and were constantly on guard for him. This didn’t, ultimately, seem to do anyone a whole lot of good — entire menus were hard to reinvent, good waiters hard to hire if not already on staff and deployed — and most places by this point accepted his visits with public resignation. Some actually overcompensated reflexively by treating him poorly, which rarely worked in the eatery’s favor. Cho was polite but reserved, ordered a wide range of dishes (usually accompanied by a colleague from the Journal) and was suspicious of anything resembling special treatment, pointedly asking “Is this typical?” of suspiciously large portions. He’d been known to go so far as to inspect the plates of other diners for comparison’s sake.
Cho’s sexuality had such an overwhelmingly negative aura that everyone’s gaydar worked in reverse. Gays gossiped that he had to be straight; straights, that he had to be gay; bisexuals that he was asexual, asexuals that he was pansexual. In fact, he was not merely asexual, he was anti-sexual.
An attractive waitress at a new gastropub, acting partially on a vague directive and partially on personal initiative, cozied up to Cho, flirting elegantly but directly with the writer as he made his way through an haute cuisine rendition of bangers and mash. She left her name and e-mail on the “for the customer” part of the bill. When she returned to the table, she discovered that Cho had left a 17.5% tip and torn off the portion of the bill with her e-mail on it. There was a perfectly straight line, drawn with a mechanical pencil, lancing through the characters.
Cho’s review of the place was mixed but trended positive, making no mention of the waitress’s efforts other than to mention a “sometimes overly attentive but ultimately friendly” staff.