The Assistant Chef
Translated by Jordan Lee Schnee
I really should not have hired him, but he seemed like he could fill in for my regular cook. Schneider had called in sick it seemed like it could drag on, so I took him on without too much fuss. He was a stocky, small man who could speak only broken German. At the end of the day, business had to go on, and the guests were hungry.
The complex relationships that you maintain often are unclear, even to yourself. So too the code that goes along with them. It is hard to decipher. It is only when things go off the rails that you recognize how well the self-regulation mechanisms were working: how Schneider would organize his purchases, how he would talk to the staff, how he put together the ingredients, and how truly he was interested in keeping business humming.
On the surface, the assistant chef worked in the same manner. He went shopping himself. He was an excellent cook, and people heaped praise on me for the unexpected tastes that assistant chef Waldemar revealed to my guests. He had a special talent for subtly improving the dishes that my guests already knew and loved. Moreover, I attribute what was a noticeable improvement in my financial standing to the too-long unchecked rule of my temporary chef Waldemar—well, that was not actually his name, but we could not pronounce the real one and the whole kitchen thought it was hilarious how similar Waldemar sounded. Of course, at the beginning I checked on the new cook from time to time: on whether he was keeping clean so I would not have problems from the health inspectors, on the ingredients that he sourced, on his style. But when the restaurant became a small hit due to Waldemar’s subtle changes in flavor, I ceded control to him, and gave him the freedom of managing his own budget. Who would not have done the same in my situation? Do you always have to fear the worst?
My first inkling came from the coq au vin. It was not the meat at all, but the sauce’s aroma that harbored a disturbing melody. From the first night that Waldemar prepared it, the coq au vin never left the weekly menu. When I tried to pull it after 14 days—I had given it an extra week’s grace period—there came protests from the guests, who politely...
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