Whilst drifting through life like a leaf in a gutter I find myself the manager of a small local restaurant. It’s a good business: a few regulars, a nice setting, a simple menu.
It can be boring before we open, so I start reading the unopened pile of restaurant trade magazines. I become absorbed in tales of molecular cuisine, taster menus and Michelin stars.
In one magazine there was an interview with a chef who said he put “blood, sweat and tears” into everything he did. He was successful. Maybe I could be in the magazine, if I follow his lead? So I decided to revamp the menu.
Before the staff arrived I began my work. I ran up and down the stairs wearing jackets I found in the cloakroom. I opened the oven doors, full blast. The exercise took its toll, and I tilted my head over the pot and the drips of sweat splashed into the thick stew. I took off the jackets, then my shirt, and wrung my essence from that, too.
The next part was harder. I took the long sharp knife, and, pretending to myself that I wasn’t going to go through with this ridiculous idea, my left hand relaxed and fell to my side. That’s when my right hand pounced, slipping the knife into the fleshy part of the thumb, blood sliding along its edge, then quickly positioned, dripping, over the pot, spreading in the sauce like a slow explosion.
I was feeling a little light headed now, sitting in front of a plastic tub of risotto. I tried to force tears through a torrid trawl of memories: death and loss, girlfriends leaving and missed opportunities (famine and war not having much effect). I was eventually able to squeeze out a few tears – feeling sad as they left me – into the classic dish.
That night, the chef was run off his feet. People clamoured for more, invited friends down and word spread. People talked of the poetry of the dishes, how they really felt something from them, how the flavours evoked the emotions between the emotions. Like the scent of the first cut grass.
I wanted the world to experience this. I sent out a press release advertising our official relaunch night.
I got in early that day, armed with old photos. I cried with loss, joy and melancholy, remembering great things done and undone. I fuelled these emotions with red wine, and was soon drunk enough to open my arms with the knife and let the blood flow liberally. The highs and lows of many years seeped from me, and infused into the food.
As I entered a state of shock, my skin went clammy, pale, and I sweated profusely, staggering from pot to pot, putting everything I had into these dishes. I slid along the kitchen wall, and fell out the door into the alley, collapsed by the bins.
Later, I heard voices drift by, the critics, the customers, rhapsodising about the food.
I lick the cuts on my hand and taste sweet success.