by Karen Cantrell
He said he’d been out with Randi again, planning a new menu, a cuisine of the absurd based on the Futurist food being made in Milan. In Milan, he said, they were mixing orange juice with grappa and melted chocolate and hard-boiled eggs, upending the traditional eating pattern, serving the sweet banana before the bland shellfish and then the savory olive.
“Who wants to eat this way?” she asked.
“Ah, ma cher,” he said, “Can you leave the church? It is raining, which means a slow day at the restaurant and thus a perfect opportunity to rendezvous. Come to my apartment, and I will whisper to you about Futurist cuisine.”
Perhaps this was better she thought, grabbing her raincoat and purse, stopping only to tell Else she was going out for lunch. It would be better to speak with Isaac face-to-face even if that meant going to his apartment. His apartment. The pronoun tasted bitter, but going there would certainly be easier than facing the up-and-down glances from the staff at Dar Janus, especially when her mouth was again the pink worm.
She hadn’t seen his apartment since that first time, two and a half months ago, when its romantic and otherworldly décor had ignited the fluttering under her ribs. This time, though the fluttering returned, the rhythm had changed from nervous anticipation to the black disks of non-comprehension to – what? Irritation? Resignation? She noticed also that the art deco elevator was rickety and the orange-painted living room with the low-slung blue couch looked like what it was - a bachelor pad.
“Did you sleep here?” she asked, opening the wooden shutters to let in light and air, running a finger through the dust on a shelf.
“I did not really sleep,” he said with a crooked grin and a wave at the kitchen, which bore the sloppy evidence of his efforts: The stove covered with pots and pans, a wall papered in sheets of newsprint on which lists were scribbled. One listed the flavors of a Beaujolais: banana, grape, strawberry, pear, fresh, light; another the ingredients for jambalaya: poulet, Italian sausage, parsley, shrimp. Under the heading, “Bobby Flay,” were chorizo, chipotle, vodka, mussels, crab, basil; under Moroccan: Merguez, harissa, beaujolais, cilantro.
She noted the Merguez.
“Have you told the landlord you’re moving out?” she asked.
“Moving out?” he said. “Cherie, I cannot give up my test kitchen, and I hope that once you try the jambalaya, made with langoustines, and the salad of julienned vegetables, you will agree that they should be on the new menu.”
“Is this Futurist food?”
He laughed and said that Randi had nixed the idea, but the nouveau Beaujolais would be out in three weeks, and this new jambalaya should play well into that marketing ploy.
“Maybe too the pea soup,” he said. “Did you know that Heston Blumenthal uses frozen Birds Eye Garden peas in his pea and ham soup?” He dipped a spoon into a pot and showed Rebecca a bright green puree, which he tasted and pronounced sufficiently pea-like, but he did not offer her a taste.
“I have got the tamis, to strain out the skins, but I need a Pacojet to do the micro puree, and I need better connections for truffles, and I am still working on melting bacon to make bacon oil. You know that Grant Achatz has a goose dish that smells like opening the oven door on Christmas day and a poached pheasant breast that he serves with smoldering oak leaves.”
“No, I didn’t know,” she said and compressed the pink worm to keep the black disks from escaping.
“I want to work with the smells of autumn and winter, burning leaves and orange peel, nutmeg, allspice, and sage,” he said. Not really caring about Heston whomever or Grant, she interrupted his Proustian memories. “How often do you come here to cook?” she asked.
“Today. It has been too long.”
She worried his phrase, “too long,” wondering whether this was a warning that he would stay away more often while also noting how happy he looked, dishing up the lobster jambalaya for her to carry into the living room, setting the salad and a half full bottle of Beaujolais onto the low table, still talking about the pea soup, which required further refinements although the bright green color and the availability of frozen peas pleased him, as did working the soup into the Christmas or New Year’s menu, even later into spring.
“We will have my version of bananas foster for dessert,” he said, pouring the wine and talking about his interest in seeing how bananas would taste when poached in wine with cinnamon and clove.
Of course the jambalaya was delicious, smoky and spicy with rich bites of lobster. Still it stuck in her throat when she compared this meal with the first, when he had so clearly wanted to please her, when he had seduced her with his cooking and his stories, when she had been so surprised by the pleasure of sitting beside him on this long blue couch and eating the fresh and delicious food he had prepared for her with seemingly little effort, when sharing their stories had felt so natural and real.
Of course she understood that the ongoing interchange “each in the other what each has to give,” as Wallace Stevens said, would necessarily take unexpected twists and turns, but having a husband who stayed out all night was way beyond her expectations of the casual solitudes, as was his talk about the inadequacies of the kitchen in your parsonage and the glories of his rent stabilized apartment.
“Not to mention,” said her lawfully wedded husband, “that my Moroccan theme would not blend well with your late grandmother antiques.”
Not to mention was such a stupid phrase. It always introduced a criticism or an inadequacy, a lack, a failure. If a person shouldn’t mention something, then why do it? And late grandmother antiques? What a dis!
“My place has a country look,” she said. My place not our place. Why had neither of them in the two and a half months of their marriage done anything to make it their place?
“Country,” he said and shrugged, “but country and Moroccan, they are very different themes, no?” He held his hands out as though to show how very far apart they were, perhaps even to embrace the separation.
“Yes,” she said, “MY parsonage and MY life have very different themes from YOUR apartment and YOUR life.” She was getting worked up and needed to take a breath, to calm herself.
“Imagine nights at your place and afternoons here when the weather is bad or the Yankees are playing,” he said. “This can be our place for the secret rendezvous, our pied a terre, not to mention my test kitchen, whereas the parsonage is your place to meet with the people from your church.”
“But we’re married,” she said. “Can’t we just get a bigger place? What about having children?”
“Ah, children,” he said and shrugged.
“Would you feed them this Futurist food you were talking about? What was it you said you would do to a chicken, stuff it with ball bearings and promote it as some kind of military glory?”
He laughed. “Why not feed them the cuisine of the absurd? Imagine children being fed a combination of smoked camel’s meat and raw onion ice cream. Marinetti said that if pasta with tomato sauce was the food of angels, then it proved that Paradise was boring.”
“Angels in the Bible are not necessarily cherubs,” she said. “And the ice cream you made for me that first time I came here was absolutely delicious, so simple and sweet and fresh.”
But the day of sweet corn and fresh tomatoes, ice cream made from heirloom peaches and farm fresh cream belonged to the past. Summer had become fall, and now he wanted to deconstruct rice pudding, to put the rice on the bottom of a bowl and caramel in the middle and milk froth on top. Now instead of telling stories and making connections, he talked of buying a Cryovac to vacuum seal food and thus infuse meat and vegetables with more intense flavors, of turning food into sculptures, pureeing cranberries only to shape the puree back into the original form.
“Why can’t you just make the food people like?” she asked.
“You sound like Randi. When I said I admired Ferran Adria, she got Elizabethan on me, invoked tempests and high seas and howling winds at the thought of putting food on wires and spraying it with nitrogen, no chemistry lab for her, but chef means educator, and you know I desire to be more of a creator chef. I need to make my mark. Of course, maybe I would do better to be like Martin Picard in Montreal and serve traditional French food, black puddings and trotters and poutine. You know he’s serving the bloated stomach of a pig with a lobster sauce and putting foie gras into hot dogs and pizzas and melted cheese curds? Say, do you know any farmers who are producing grass fed cows? A pig farmer would do as well. If I were on a first name basis with the farmers who supplied my meat, I could offer more than the regular filets, tenderloins, and steaks the suppliers provide. You want to visit your father, no? We could go to Illinois in the winter, in January when the restaurant is slow. I could do a traditional slaughter and make sausages and pates and be ready for the Valentine’s Day rush.”
“It’s really cold in Illinois in January.”
But he only shrugged and rattled on about his experiments, how he’d mixed the spices from his grandmere’s shelf then tasted his concoctions, remembered what he liked the best, added that to other things, became familiar with the smells and the flavors.
“So what would you create using Merguez?”
He glanced at her and then looked away. “Merguez?” he repeated.
“Yes, how would the Futurists cook a Merguez?”
“The Futurists?” he said with a grin. “I think they would prop one upright in a cup of cafe au lait with anchovy stuffed dates scattered around the edges and spray the plate with cologne.”
“Cologne,” she repeated.
“We could use your Samsara,” he suggested with another crooked grin. “We would work in the scent of the crushed rose petals.”
“That sounds disgusting.”
“You think that is disgusting? Randi came up with the idea for cinnamon soufflés - she would save her dogs’ shit and have the runner top the soufflés with the turds so that as the shit sinks, it sends out cinnamon scented farts. Of course, we would need to be like Thomas Keller and only serve two or three bites at a time of such food.”
“Two or three bites would be plenty,” she said, “but let’s go back to the Merguez. You serve them at Dar Janus, don’t you?”
“Oui, of course,” he said, refilling his wine glass. “What Moroccan restaurant would not serve the Merguez? There is Merguez in the jambalaya.”
“Yes,” she said and speared out a slice of sausage with her fork, looked at it for a moment then put down her bowl. “And cilantro, chopped fresh cilantro.”
“Ah, you noticed the cilantro,” he said and nodded approvingly.
“How do you normally serve Merguez? You fry it, don’t you? And you serve it with chopped fresh cilantro?”
“Oui, chopped fresh cilantro is de rigueur.”
“You know, someone broke into the church and left a plate with a small piece of Merguez and some bits of cilantro in my office. ADT, the alarm company, called the police. The police took fingerprints. The detective said they would test the plate and fork for DNA.”
“A DNA test for such a small contretemps?” He shrugged. “Would you like more wine?”
|Karen Cantrell's fiction has appeared in publications like the Palo Alto Review and anthologies like Red Hen Press. Her non-fiction has appeared in Prison Life and The Tribeca Trib. She is currently renting out her home in New York City in order to live the life of a vagabond writer.|