Knife Skills, A Serial Novel – Part 17

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.

knifeskills_600x160Chef Robertson used his own knife for a good percentage of his work, both at the restaurant and on the few occasions when he cooked elsewhere.

The blade was made by a Portland-based master forger who had trained in Japan for a decade. Certain people viewed the forger as an upstart, but the work spoke for itself. Moreover: At $750 a blade, it was a relative steal. The metal was high-carbon steel, taken from a spring that had once been part of a vintage BMW. The steel had been heated, and pounded, and cooled, and heated, and cut, and hardened, and filed, and attached to a handle, every step undertaken by hand. The result was a perfectly balanced and elegantly pointed blade that took and kept a razor-sharp edge.

Robertson’s sense of control was impeccable, and he demanded the same of his prep cooks and sous chefs. Most of Kami’s dishes featured small, identically sized, perfectly neat little pieces of food and garnish, practically pixels of flavor and color. Once or twice a week, however, Robertson would put a special on the menu and call it “rustic,” and cut things up however he wanted. For the 20 or so minutes he inserted himself into the mix and diced onions or sliced shallots or cubed mushrooms in a haphazard style, it felt like a vacation.

When he was summoned to an unexplained breakfast meeting at the Hammermill, Robertson knew the agenda. When Robertson walked in the door — and saw Thursday feasting on bubble and squeak, now a regular part of the menu — Thursday saw that Robertson saw that Thursday knew that Robertson knew what was going on. Linneman was at the table, lookin grave and smug, simultaneously.

“Do I even need to sit down for this one?” asked Robertson.
“Now, now,” said Thursday. “Take it easy…”

“Seriously,” said Robertson, quivering with anger.

“It’s not what you think,” Thursday said.

knifeskills250squareRobertson plopped into a chair and started to order a coffee. “On second thought,” he said, “just a water.”

“We wanted to talk to you about a new…” Linneman began, but Thursday put his hand up.

“I’ll take it from here, thank you,” said Thursday. “Kami’s done very well, and we appreciate what you’ve done for it. However, as you’re probably aware, the whole Thursday Night group has been going through challenging financial times…” Thursday paused, and finished chewing his food. Robertson said nothing.

“We just can’t afford to have you continue in your current capacity. We were thinking you could ride shotgun here, at the Hammermill, and help us tune up the menu. Meanwhile, we’d be bringing Elmo Vasquez up at Kami…”

“He’s out of his heroin coma?” asked Robertson, mildly amused.

“He’s recovered… fucking A, yes, he’s back, and will work for $3000 a month, you motherfucker,” said Thursday, snarling now. “Which is what we’ll pay you at Hammermill until you bring the bottom line up by, say, 10 percent. And then we’ll put you back in the mix. You prove yourself here, and, hell, sky’s the limit…”

“Oh, so I could rise to the position of executive chef somewhere, even?” asked Robertson.

“You –” began Linneman, but Thursday raised his meaty paw of a hand to him. He then reached it out to shake Robertson’s.

Robertson shook it. He stood up, and left the restaurant. His chef’s knife was in his coat pocket.

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