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Cocky Chef(3)

By:J.D. Hawkins

"I didn't know that," Willow answers under her breath, then looks back at me as if expecting it to satisfy. "Honestly, I think the lemon thyme makes the dish work better anyway."

The smile that cracks on my face, an incredulous chuckle, is involuntary. Even if this girl doesn't know who I am, that's a ballsy thing for a cook to tell a customer.

"Do you, now?" My voice is like ice.

"I do," she says firmly. "The citrus clears the palate a little better. Since the steak sauce has a strong aftertaste it brings out the flavor a little more with each bite. Especially when it's served that rare."

"Willow," Ryan cajoles quickly, "I can handle this now, maybe you should-"

"You don't just throw whatever you think works into a recipe," I say, my smile gone now. "If I want a mystery plate I'll go to the jambalaya place down the street. This is a three-star restaurant. If I order something I expect it to be exactly the same as it is on the menu." She's gritting her teeth now, her fake smile gone tight. I don't let up. "If you were out of mussels would you give me pistachio nuts and tell me they're the same because they come in a shell?"

"Wow," Willow says, folding her arms and shaking her head detachedly. "You really are a special kind of asshole."

Ryan's face goes white. "Um, Willow-"

"I'm an asshole?" I interrupt.

"Yeah. So you don't like the lemon thyme-does that mean you have to bring me out here to ream me out and try to embarrass me in front of the other diners?"

"Willow, stop-" Ryan reaches for her arm but she brushes him off.

I'm out of my chair and staring her down now, drawing myself up to my full height of six foot two. "It's not a matter of whether I ‘like' lemon thyme or not, it's a matter of you doing your job properly."

"And what's your job? You some kind of big shot actor? With your attitude and your fancy suit and your massive … jawline? What do you do that makes you so big-headed you think you can just come in here and speak to me like that?"

"Willow!" Ryan says, with just enough force this time to draw her attention. He points at me and looks at her. "That's Cole Chambers. He owns this restaurant."



So this is it. This is how you fuck up your dream job. By serving the wrong ingredient to your boss, one of the best chefs on the west coast, an infamous perfectionist, before calling him an asshole to his face.

And now his narrow blue eyes are fixed on me like searchlights. That broad, handsome face that I suddenly, and all too late, recognize with full clarity. I've seen that face too many times to count, pointing at me from the covers of cookbooks or celebrity gossip magazines, or twisted with hellish anger as he chewed out chef trainees on TV-and now that same face is staring at me with judgmental amusement. I feel even more ridiculous and exposed for not realizing it was him, but that tailored suit and combed hair makes him look more like a laid back movie star than the sinewy-armed force of nature that spins and shouts around the kitchen on TV or escorts the hottest models and actresses all over L.A. on dates.


My heart sinks, my blood runs cold, and the realization that there's no turning back now stretches the moment out to an eternity. Cole looks at me blankly, making it clear that it's my move, so I do what I always do when the chips are down and I've made an idiot of myself: I turn my chin up, put my shoulders back, and stop giving a fuck.

"Well," I say, pulling off my hairnet and letting my chin-length bob fall down around my face. "At least I can say I met the ‘great' Cole Chambers."

Before either Cole or Ryan can say anything else, I spin on my heel and march back toward the kitchen, already unbuttoning my chef whites. Striding through the plumes of steam, confused looks tossed at me by my fellow ex-colleagues, I grab my bag and take the rear exit like the building's on fire.

For a moment, as I'm closing my car door and then reversing out into the street, I wonder if I'm being rash, running out like this. Then I remember the stories of how uncompromising Cole is, his insufferable attitude on TV, how many sacrifices and how few concessions he makes in search of great food. They say he fired somebody once for over-salting a whitefish filet, that he kicked out a customer who asked that his bouillabaisse come with the mussels de-shelled. There's even a story that he ran seven miles in the rain so that he wouldn't have to serve the wrong kind of apples in a tarte tatin.