Knife Skills, A Serial Novel – The End

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.


Six months later, it was summer in northern Minnesota. Outside, there was wind on the water, and warm sun beat down on the greenery that seemed to be everywhere, a thriving northern jungle.

“Six months a year,” said Robertson, quietly. “Six months a year, it’s goddamned beautiful around here.”

Robertson did a walk-through of the pantry and cooler. He had a few freshly ground spice blends, all made by a Palestinian guy in Minneapolis with a gift for balance and attention to detail. He had venison and six whole pheasants. Numerous rabbits. A heritage turkey. Local honey and maple syrup. Sixteen kinds of cheese, from blue to aged gouda to 15-year cheddar to Finnish juusto, most from Wisconsin, all from within 350 miles of his door. Raspberry ale. Complex hard cider made with Trappist beer yeast. Charcuterie he’d cured himself. Lemon mead he’d brewed himself. Bison braunschweiger. Hand-churned butter of European quality. Bread made with spent grain from a friend who brewed the kegs of Belgian dubbel that were tapped at the bar. Freshly caught sunfish. Corn, tomatoes, jams, jellies, and other house-made preserves, including pickled cucumbers that had grown in his own garden.

He checked his watch. Tonight, he was cooking for a guest, putting some of the debut menu through its paces. She was showing up early — he’d do some prep, they’d walk around the lake, and she’d watch him cook for her.

She knocked on the glass of the front door, peering into the restaurant to see if Robertson was there. She shaded her eyes with her right hand, spotted him, and waved.

He walked over to the door to let her in.


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Well, that’s it. I hope you can forgive the various lapses and errors I’ve committed in my haste to keep up with the weekly deadlines. I’m deeply grateful to the loyal few of you who took the time to read this work in progress, and I hope you’ve enjoyed aspects of it.

I hope I’ve been able to tell a story with at least a couple compelling characters and some distracting meditations on food and life. What I can promise you is this: I’ll take a serious pass at revising this, and hopefully find some sort of a real home for it — if not as a legitimate published novel, then at least as a nicely illustrated, ably edited self-published novel.

Two special thank-yous (although I’m sure I owe more): Emily Nystrom has copyedited this book in progress, and I’m extremely grateful for her vigilance. Every chapter of this story has been improved by her efforts.

And an extra special thank you to my wife, Becca Dilley. Becca’s been an invaluable sounding board, an inspiration in the kitchen, and a constant source of encouragement.

If you’ve enjoyed this book and have any thoughts on ways it could be revised and improved, please send me an email: I welcome all constructive criticism, enjoy (but don’t particularly profit from) praise, and will tolerate whatever else you’d like to toss my way.

Once more, thanks for your patience and support.

At your service,

James Norton