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Cocky Chef(9)

By:J.D. Hawkins



"No … well, you're tall. But a lot less droopy."

We all laugh, and I turn to Maggie to ask, "So what are we doing today?"

"Oh, that's on you. I'm leaving her here now," Maggie says, in the slow, clear tones of someone who often addresses large numbers, "and I'll be back to pick her up in a couple of hours. Does that sound ok? My cell number is in the email we sent you, just in case."


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"Wait, but what am I supposed to do?" I say, getting a little frantic now. "Just give a cooking lesson, or lecture her on matching appetizers to mains, or-?"

Maggie eyes me, a little puzzled.

"Nobody told you anything?"

"Nope."

"Well, Miss Chloe is involved in a cooking competition, and she's made it through the first rounds already but the finals are in a few months, and most of the contestants-as well as being experienced and having attended cooking courses-are being mentored by various chefs from California. None of them as big as you, though, I must say," Maggie smiles.

"Oh, that sounds awesome!" Willow says, glancing from me to Chloe to share her excitement.

"So," Maggie continues, "you can do whatever you want, whether it's refining her skills or working on her mental game-anything you can think of to try and help her be a better cook. It's not about the winning, of course, but it should be fun for both of you."

"Say no more," I assure her, finally feeling like I have a handle on the situation. "I might not understand kids, but I definitely understand competition."

Minutes later, Willow, Chloe and I are walking toward the neighborhood farmers' market. Willow and Chloe are getting on like a house on fire, and I'm spending more time marveling at how good Willow is at this than I am thinking about the kid.

"Are we going to cook after this?" the kid asks.

"Hell no," I say. "I don't let chefs get anywhere near a flame until they prove they can understand the principles. Produce, plan, and prep."

Willow squints at me a little.

"Isn't that exactly what you used to say on your show? The one where you showed convicts how to cook?"

I glance at Chloe, then back at Willow.

"I don't see how this is any different-with less swearing, perhaps."

Willow nods, a smile as if humoring me, and we enter the farmers' market, passing through stall after stall where I drill into Chloe the importance of choosing good produce and providing consistent quality.

After about an hour of eyeing vegetables with a critical gaze and squeezing fruit, I turn to Chloe.

"You have any idea what you're gonna cook for the final round?" I say.

Chloe looks up at me, the smile she's been pointing at Willow turning into a pout.

She shrugs and says, "I dunno. The first round was assigned dishes, and after that one they gave us the ingredients they wanted us to use to make something up, but for the finals we have to pick our own dish. I have no clue. There's just too many things I could choose." 

"Well," Willow says, "what do you like to eat best?"

Chloe thinks for a second.

"Pasta."

I shake my head and frown.

"You ain't winning a cooking competition with pasta."

Willow glares at me before turning back to Chloe.

"That sounds great," she says. "Let's see about selecting some ingredients to make your pasta the best."

I don't like the way Willow overrides me-if anyone pulled that with me in the kitchen, they'd be washing dishes for a month. Yet the combination of her being so disarmingly hot, and the way Chloe seems to respond by gaining a burst of energy, gives me no choice but to roll with it.

We continue walking on a little, buying agua frescas and a box of ripe, fragrant strawberries to eat while we check out the other produce. I give up on trying to add anything productive to the conversation, especially in the face of seeing how adept Willow is at it. It's hard to imagine the kind of women I usually spend time with pulling silly faces for a kid, or even putting that much effort into one, and if I suspected Willow was something a little different before, I'm absolutely sure of it now. Instead, I focus on complimenting Chloe's skills at choosing perfectly-ripe fruits and vegetables, and keep my mouth shut as she goes on and on about ideas for her competition-worthy pasta sauce.

Eventually, we make our way back to Knife and meet up with Maggie again at the curb. I send Chloe home with a bag of her farmers' market selections and she grins and waves at me and Willow through the departing car's window. When the SUV is out of sight, Willow turns to me and I can almost sense her sympathy.

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