From Graze // Issue 6
The kitchen staff was giving Cecily a wide berth tonight, so she had most of the pass to herself as she folded melted chocolate into egg whites. It was one of the first techniques she had learned in culinary school, something they taught students early on as a technique to elevate their game. She added half a teaspoon of sweet maraschino syrup to the mix, a trick she had picked up at a restaurant in Chicago on a trip there with Justin nearly a year ago.
When the egg whites were finally folded over, she poured the mixture into ramekins and put them in the oven. The queue of tickets was coming to the end. She enjoyed surveying the restaurant in these quiet moments from behind the half-wall separating the dining room from the kitchen. The modestly populated front of house reinforced the fact that one rarely needed a reservation to get a table at Nero’s, but the crowd was decent for a Sunday. The most interesting couple was the fidgety young man with the woman in a stunning red dress. He had barely touched his food. Their chocolate soufflé was rising in one of the ramekins that Cecily had just put in the oven, and she knew there would be a ring to go with the dessert course.
As formal as Nero’s could be, the red dress was a show stopper. The hostess had seated them in the middle of the restaurant, and the din and clatter immediately softened. The woman at the table—she couldn’t have been far past twenty-one—didn’t seem to give it a second thought. That dress was a spotlight. No one in the dining room could let their attention wander for too long, as if they might miss something magnificent: a smile born from a savory fig, a whispered secret that caused a gentle pink hue to creep onto her cheeks, the delicate balance of her wine glass teetering between two fingertips and a thumb. Surely she noticed the interest she had won, but perhaps she was too young. The art of secretly basking in the attention of others was one that had taken Cecily years to fully appreciate, and she doubted this girl had developed the skill. Where others might overlook it, Cecily took note of how she occasionally tugged at her bust line, or how the heel she wore would slip off her foot and hang by a toe—all signs of the foreign feel of carefully constructed beauty. Even so, she couldn’t deny the effect the girl was having.
Cecily tugged at the waistband of her own houndstooth pants. She knew exactly how beautiful she was and not so far advanced in age past Ms. Red Dress—maybe eight or nine years—but in her chef’s jacket and baggy pants, she felt like a lump. Underneath, she wore a pink camisole that matched her nails and an immodest pair of red underwear that she had bought for her third date with Justin, but those were buried under her drab work uniform.
Behind her, Cecily could smell garlic burning. By the time she turned back toward the kitchen, one of the sous chefs had taken the pan off the flame and was starting a new order. “Come on, we’ve only got three tickets,” she said to the cooks. “No mistakes, no excuses. Let’s make it right.”
Her staff barked “Yes, chef” timidly, renewing their bustle over their skillets and grills. Cecily could tell they were edgy, understandable considering the bruise staining her face and the gouge her knife had left in the bar.
Sadly, Graze magazine is defunct, so if you want to read the full story, start pestering literary agents and publishers demanding a Steve Trumpeter collection.