Flash Friday 06/02/2015: Five Stars
Denise had never been to an Italian restaurant before. It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested — she loved food, after all — it’s just the thought never occurred to her. As she grabbed the menu, she wondered if they were all like this — completely empty save for herself and her husband Peter, with faint Italian music drifting through the speakers. If they were, she could definitely get used to it.
A deep, booming “Hello!” from Denise’s right caused her to almost drop her menu.
The newcomer was the chef of the restaurant. Denise knew this by his rotund shape, his thick black moustache, a smile that could warm a block of ice, and a puffy chefs hat atop his head that jostled left and right as he talked, but never toppled off.
“Aah!” The chef clapped two large hands together. “This must be our special pair for tonight, hm? Peter, and his lovely wife…?”
“Denise! What a lovely name. If only the girls back in Italia had such good names. I take it you know why you’re here?”
“Well…” Denise eyed Peter. “I had a vague rundown of the situation.”
“Well!” The chef slapped the menu-perusing Peter on the shoulder, who jumped. “This fine man here wrote me a spectacular review in that little newspaper of his. Isn’t that right, my friend?”
“Yes,” Peter managed, still recovering. “That’s what I did.”
“And what did you say about my fine cooking?”
“That it’s some of the finest in the entire town.”
“And how many stars, hmmm?”
Peter looked as if he were about to light the fuse on a stick of dynamite. “…Five.”
“Five!” The chef burst into a foray of laughter and clapping. He pointed to each of his fingers on an outstretched hand. “Five wonderful, shining stars, one for each of Pedro’s fingers! Why, if I had any less stars, I wouldn’t be able to hold a knife ever again! So, to thank Peter for his wonderful tribute to my craft, I told him that he could eat free at my place at any time.” Pedro nodded, then quickly added: “But only once! I have my own little bundles of cavolo back home to feed. So, have you made up your mind as to what you want, hm? Hmm?”
Denise realised she had not even had time to properly look at the menu. Taking a browse, she pointed at one of the items. “What’s the–”
“Don’t,” Peter said.
Denise frowned. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t…don’t read it.”
“Read what, exactly?”
“The menu item.”
“What’s wrong with asking what the ‘Chef’s Choice of the Week’ is?”
“Imagine, if you can!” Pedro bellowed. When Denise looked over, she had noticed that Pedro looked as if he were about to tell a room of children an exciting story. “A group of explorers are currently walking through the Chinese fields, attempting to stalk their prey. For! They have been hired by yours truly to bring back the meat of a truly elusive beast; the zebra.”
Pedro glared at Peter. “What did you say?”
“I said, zebra are in Africa. They’re not in China.”
Pedro slammed a fist on the table. “I have the damn things shot and grilled, I know where they came from! Anyway.” Pedro turned back to Denise with a warm smile. “They go through the bushes and the reeds, peering and searching for their prey, when suddenly–!” Pedro made a silent exclamation and pointed to nothing in particular. “A zebra is spotted! Their journey has been long and arduous, but finally, their goal is in sight.” Pedro nestled an imaginary rifle onto his shoulder and looked down its scope. “Silence is key. One sudden burst of movement or sound, and the beast will escape into the fields, never to be seen again. The hunters steel their nerves, take a deep breath, and then–!”
Denise waited in silence as Pedro elongated the tension as long as he could. Before he could shoot his rifle, he looked away with a confused face. “Wait a minute, what’s the date?”
“August the seventh,” Denise remembered.
Pedro cried in exasperation. “Damnit. Zebra isn’t the meal of the week until tomorrow. I trust you will not go out and ruin the story for anyone else. I’ll know who did it.”
“So…what is the dish this week?”
“Oh, it’s some steak.”
“No story behind it?”
Pedro shrugged. “They probably shoot some poor sucker over in Scotland and drag its corpse back behind a tractor. But!” Pedro flared once more into energy. “Don’t think it’ll not be the best damn steak that you have ever had! Why, I could go out the back and shoot a homeless person in the head, and I can still prepare it to be the greatest steak you’ve ever sampled!”
Denise, suddenly, was not so crazy about the dish of the week. “Chicken, please.”
“Ah. Yes, yes, good. And for the sir?”
“I’ll take the meat pizza.” A pause, and then: “without the beef.”
“Good, good! Now that I have your orders, please excuse me while I work my magic in the kitchen.” Pedro tottered off towards a silver door at the back. He slammed through the swing door with all his weight, but before it could close, he held it open and added: “Maybe if I do a good job, you’ll give me another five stars, eh? The first ten-star restaurant in the world, one for all of my fingers!”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “Do I get another free meal if I do?”
Pedro pointed an angry finger. “Only once!” And then, he disappeared behind the door, singing something loudly in Italian.
Denise blinked. “He, uh, definitely has a passion for his craft.”
Peter snorted. “Just don’t ask for his tragic background story. I’m pretty sure the bottled water here is fresh from the tears he collects. His own, of course.”
Denise felt she was getting the hang of these Italian restaurants.