Home > Cocky Chef

Cocky Chef
Author: J.D. Hawkins

1

Cole

Hunger can drive a man crazy. That emptiness inside that twists and stabs until the only thing you can focus on is filling it. Power, money, women...food.

Some men have appetites that can never be appeased—hungers so big, so powerful, that they can never stop. Men like me.

"We're here, Mr. Chambers."

I look up from the invoices and work orders in my lap and see the driver glance at me in the rearview mirror. I nod to him as the Maybach pulls up in front of the restaurant.

Usually I’d drive myself—God knows I own enough cars to run a grand prix—but today’s been a busy one, and I’ve spent every moment I could poring over paperwork for the new spot in Vegas.

“Thanks, Derek,” I say as he opens the door and I step out into the canopy lights of Knife: the hottest restaurant in L.A. I hand him a hundred bucks. “I’ll get a cab back.”

He smiles in gratitude, spins back into the car, and drives away, leaving me to stand for a moment in front of the place. It still looks beautiful after all these years. A grand entrance; glass so fine you’d swear there was nothing there, framed by woodgrain hand-picked from Portland logs. A deep red canopy modelled after Prohibition-era movie theaters looms over the doors. Above that, the word ‘Knife’ in understated steel lettering. Through the glass on either side of the entrance, glowing in the gold of candlelight against the exposed brickwork, I can see the diners sitting at their tables.

The music of their chatter, laughter, and clinking cutlery is faint, as faint as the aroma of garlic and white wine sauce on mussels, the sweetness of a newly caramelized soufflé. Sensations that compel you like a woman’s flickering eyelashes, urging you to draw closer, close enough to devour what you’ve set your sights on.

The place is clean, elegant, modern. And on a night like this—even after a day like today—when the Pacific breeze moving through L.A. jostles the palm fronds like they’re conjuring a dream, it’s almost magical.

What you don’t see are the blood, sweat and tears embedded in those bricks. The struggle and hardships that glued them together. The betrayals and broken friendships, the burning drive and resilient determination that laid its foundations. Only I can see those.

I walk up and enter, greeted by the maître d’ standing behind his podium.

“Evening, Mr. Chambers,” he says.

“Evening, Charlie.”

He’s worked here for six years, and is still the best in the business. The joke goes that Charlie is so good at making people wait that it’s only a matter of time before the DMV hires him. The job is in his blood. So much so that he still won’t call me Cole no matter how many times I’ve told him to.

“What’ll it be, sir?”

“Well, I’ve just spent a whole day dealing with the morons in Vegas, I haven’t eaten since this morning, and I’d like to get home in time to see the Clippers highlights. As long as it comes with a side of the most alcoholic wine we have, I don’t care.”

Charlie smiles wryly.

“Very good, sir.”

Most restaurant staff would start sweating at the idea of picking something off the menu themselves, but like I said, Charlie’s of a different breed. His party trick is knowing what people are gonna order while they’re still standing in line.

I’ve just told him that I’m tired and pushed for time, which means I won’t bother with an appetizer. The most alcoholic wine we have is a Zinfandel red, which is recommended for the beef dishes. And besides, it’s a Tuesday in May, so we’ve just had a fresh delivery of ribeye cuts.

“Will table four suit, sir?”

I nod appreciatively and move inside. It’s a relatively quiet night, which means most tables are full but there’s no line outside. Instinct immediately draws my eye to the three attractive women at a table across the room. Specifically the demure blonde facing me in a green dress so thin you could blow it off. She catches me looking and immediately reaches for her wine glass to hide the upturn in her lips.

Seconds after I take my seat, the wine is brought and poured at my table. I lean toward the waiter and point subtly in the direction of the blonde.

“What are they drinking over there, Ryan?”

He glances over nonchalantly, then back at me.

“The house rosé, sir.”

“Send them another bottle of it, on me. Tell them—but look at the blonde when you do so—that it’s for dressing so elegantly this evening.”

“Yes sir.”

The waiter leaves and I wait for the blonde to glance over at me again before raising the glass in her direction. She smiles more broadly now, then whispers to her friends, who all look over. Just a quick glance before they turn back to themselves, leaning in to giggle amongst each other like conspirators.

Maybe they recognize me from the TV show I had a couple of years ago, where I taught a bunch of ex-convicts and young offenders how to cook professionally. It was a fun time, but I quit the show when I realized the production company kept trying to stir up drama between the cast members. In reality, most of them took to the kitchen like ducks to water, and the heat of it left none of them with enough energy to cause trouble. So the producers thought it would spice the show up a little to instigate some fights, get the cooks wound up. Well, I don’t like drama—especially in my kitchens. So I quit. Swapped the chef whites for fine suits, started combing my hair in the mornings, and decided to get back to the business side of things since Knife seemed to be running well on its own with limited supervision from me. That’s when I started my plans to open up another restaurant, this time in Vegas.

The wine arrives and I enjoy the show, the women still all shocked mouths and slight blushes. The waiter points back at me and I raise an eyebrow, keeping my eyes on the blonde as I bring the glass to my lips, savoring the sweet taste of the wine and the elegant curve of her cleavage at the same time. She’s smiling now, bashfully hiding behind that hair and stealing glances at me. Her slender fingers delicately holding the fork that plays around her plate. Gentle and careful. I won’t say getting this woman into bed tonight will be easy, but the truth is, it’s not gonna be hard. And after the week I’ve had, I could use the distraction.

“Your steak, Cole.”

I turn away from the blonde to see Ryan, the waiter, place the large plate in front of me.

“Thanks,” I say, a little growl edging into my voice as I look down at the marbled meat. It’s all juicy softness, outlined by the prickles of peppercorns and grill lines, the red wine sauce glistening so that it seems almost alive. The blonde’s gonna have to wait a little.

I slice a piece—pleased to find the knives have been sharpened as I like them—and reveal the center; red as lust. I spear it, take a piece of the crisp potato like an afterthought, and put it in my mouth.

It takes about a second for my brain to get the messages my tongue is sending it, but when I realize it I slam the cutlery back on the plate loud enough to make the diners around me turn in my direction. Ryan rushes over, his Ken-doll eyebrows shooting upward as he sees my tightened jawline, my fixed expression.

“Something wrong?” he says tentatively.

“Who’s working the vegetables tonight?”

“Um…Willow.”

“Willow?”

“Yeah…the new chef. We hired her last week, remember? While you were in Vegas.”

I frown. “Bring her out here.”

Ryan hesitates for a split second, forcing me to look at him and erase any doubt that I’m being 100% serious. Then, he bolts. After tapping my fingers on the fine tablecloth for a few moments, Ryan returns, the chef in question following close behind him.

She walks elegantly, proud. Shoulders back and chin high. The chef whites and baggy black slacks hiding her body, dark blonde hair twisted up and buried under a hairnet, but the long neck and delicate features of her face all the more striking for the outfit’s plainness. Doe-brown eyes set in an oval shape, lips that pout like they’re mid-kiss, and a slightly upturned nose so demurely imperfect that only an artist could have made it.

“Is there a problem?” she asks, glancing from me to Ryan and back again. Her hand is on her hip, exhibiting a flash of attitude.

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