Saturday, 6 October 2012

Analphabetic Soup

My editor, an otherwise lovely woman with impeccable taste, had insisted that I pay a visit to this restaurant.
"It's new!" she said, as though that meant anything.  "There will be celebrities there!"  She fluttered her hands in front of her face as though fanning herself.  "I've even heard that... Gordon might be there!"  She sat back in her chair, the expression on her face suggesting that I was supposed to know who Gordon was and why it was significant that he was there.  Wherever there actually was.
"Look, I don't normally do this," I said, feeling unaccountably like I was turning down a date.  Possibly with Gordon, as there's no way I'd date my editor, and I suspect her ogre of a husband has similar feelings on the matter.  "I pick my restaurants based on research, not on looking in the paper for whatever's new this week.  I don't generally go anywhere where there are sublebrities clamouring for attention, as they tend to get served the better food and the rest of us can go hang, because if Kate or Britney is eating the soup then everyone wants to.  Even when Kate's throwing it up in the toilets five minutes later.  Oh, and I don't know who Gordon is."
"He's a chef," said my editor, putting so much emphasis on the job title that italics and bold wouldn't do it justice.  Imagine her leaning over you, looking down the length of her nose at you, disapproving with every syllable.  "How can you not know a chef?"
"Easy," I said.  "I eat the food, from the restaurant.  Very often it's not been cooked by the chef du jour at all, but one of his brigade.  And while Norman Normal might be a very nice kid, two years out of cooking school, on his third stage and turning out beautiful pierogies, no-one cares because he's not got a name that people pronounce in special ways that my keyboard can't transliterate.  But he's the one producing the food, and that's what matters when you're the one eating the food."
"You're going," said my editor, her face doing that blank thing it does when she doesn't want to listen anymore.  "I'd come with you, but I've got another engagement that evening.  But you're going, and you're eating, and I want you to meet Gordon and make sure his name gets in the article.  And get a picture of him too!"
"Topless?" I asked, and she shot me a filthy look.
I arrived at seven fifteen for a seven thirty table and there was a queue at the door.  I took this in, a little surprised, as the restaurant itself seemed rather smaller than I'd been expecting: almost like someone's front room, completely with tiny, hedged garden outside the window.  I strode confidently to the front of the queue, ignoring the cries of distress and the whimpering of small, starving children.
"I have a reservation," I said to the maître'd, noticing that his suti looked creased and the lapels appeared stained.  "For seven thirty."
"Your name, please?" he asked, and I told him.  He stared at the page of the appointments book for a moment, and then dipped his head, a jerky little nod.  "You do," he said.  "That makes a change.  I see it's a table for one.  Would you like to choose a dinner guest from the queue outside?"
"No," I replied.  "Desperation does nothing for my appetite.  What are they all there for?"
"They want to meet Gordon," he said, with just a hint of anger in his voice.  "What else?"
"The food?" I said, slightly surprised that there should even be a question.
"Hah, hardly," he said.  "I'm sure you'll form your own opinion though."
"I have a meeting with Gordon too," I said, as he showed me to a wobbly table with a threadbare tablecloth.  I looked at it, he looked at me, and slowly I realised that I would have to sit down as he had no plans to seat me elsewhere.
"Oh, you're that guy," he said, sounding tired.  "Gordon will come and meet you between courses."
"Topless?" I asked, but the maître'd had already turned away to answer the question of a belligerent, chunky woman with a feather boa.
The menu was insipid, with nothing that looked particularly interesting, or even appetising.  Since the starters all seemed to variations on prawns save for the soup, I ordered it.  When it arrived, I stared at it, and the waiter walked hastily away while I consulted the menu again.  There it was, in small print: analphabetic soup.  Swirling in a salty, hot broth that tasted industrial were strands of pasta that, at a push, might have been Chinese pictograms before they were overcooked.  I pushed them around, wondering if I was making sentences or just piling them randomly and offensively together.
As I laid my spoon down, deciding that not eating the soup was better than eating it, Gordon appeared. Somewhat to my astonishment he wasn't just topless, he was also naked save for a chef's toque, that he was incongrously wearing on his head.  Well, incongruous given his state of undress.
Without hesitation I took advantage of the screaming groupies throwing themselves at him to duck out of the restaurant and hide in the nearest bar that carried single malts.  My editor could pick her pictures out of the blogs in the morning.

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