The concept of The Sinful Kitchen is a surprisingly noble one: ex-cons giving ex-cons a chance. Everyone knows the difficulties former criminals contend with when trying to find meaningful work, thus the offering of a safe place for one to hone a new skill and take advantage of a second chance is a beautiful one. That’s about the best I can say about The Sinful Kitchen.
It simply isn’t possible to enjoy your experience at this restaurant. Rather than the dull roar of a dining room filled with patrons laughing and enjoying a meal together, the atmosphere exists in the heavy silence of eaters afraid to make eye contact, giving the impression that everyone present is there against their will. This, coupled with the widely publicized nature of the staff, leaves you searching for the warden and praying you’re sat a table where you can keep your back to the wall.
The food at The Sinful Kitchen elicits but one confession: no one knows how to cook. With a menu boasting such punny offerings as Endive Embezzlement, Fricassee Fraud, and Meat Lovers Murder – none of which, by the way, had any further description of what the dish contained, but all of which I ordered – one might be led to believe one clever enough to come up with these names would be clever enough to take a cooking class, or at the very least watch a how-to online. After death-marching my way through these courses I can say with criminal certainty that neither of these things have happened. If I could give The Sinful Kitchen less than zero stars I would. This “restaurant” should be closed immediately and its owners – and every person who works there, for that matter – should be thrown back in jail. This is what homicide looks like in the restaurant business.
The review sat on the pristine white table cloth in a gleaming cream Lenox frame accompanied by a single red rose perched in a tiny crystal vase. The table was set for one and was arranged for a three-course meal, the dinnerware neatly stacked three high – soup, salad, entrée. A simple pattern delicately stenciled around the circumference of each dish was accented by the tell-tale gold rim. This was the “good” china.
Intricately adorned silverware, polished to brilliant perfection, accessorized either side of the dinner setting – two forks on the left, a knife and a spoon on the right. The two crystal glasses in the upper right-hand corner of the gossamer lace place mat were both filled, one with water, one with red wine. The over-head light, designed more for interrogation than for fine dining, hung low over the setting, casting everything on the table in harsh white light, and blocking out the view of the room beyond.
Elliot Size blinked in the blinding light, slowly raising his head. The first thing he noticed was the immaculate place setting before him. The second: the pounding in his head. The light cut through his brain like a searing hot meat fork, forcing his eyes shut again and dropping his head. A low moan escaped his lips, bringing with it the information that his throat was raw and sore. As the pain normalized, a new sensation made itself known. Elliot leaned over as best he could and vomited with such force that he knocked himself over – this bringing the realization that he was tied to a chair.
A dingy mop appeared, soaking and sloshing the floor until the vomit was cleaned. As he lay helpless, his face hovering mere inches from the cold, polished concrete floor, the astringent scent of the cleaning solution mixed with aromatics of cooked garlic, onion, celery and spices. Elliot worked out, in his drug-addled and terror-filled mind, that he was in a kitchen.
Sounds began to penetrate the painful fog in Elliot’s head. The light clanging of metal on metal, the low rumble of simmering liquid, the pop and sizzle of something frying. Shing-shing-shing. A knife being sharpened.
Heavy footsteps approached, thudding in time with Elliot’s aching head. A pair of war-hammer hands righted the chair, with Elliot in it, with an ease that belied incredible strength. The man released the restraints on both of Elliot’s hands and stuffed a damp cloth into one.
“Clean yourself up. Dinner’s almost ready.”
The voice was gravel in a garbage disposal. Elliot tried to look but found he was bound around the chest, thighs and ankles in a way that prevented any range of motion. Though his hands were free he had little choice but to do what he was told.
The massive hands reappeared, tattooed and gnarled, this time to drape a napkin over Elliot’s lap from behind. The man, still standing out of Elliot’s sight, gently lifted the soup bowl and departed with it. From somewhere behind him, Elliot heard the gentle slosh of soup being ladled, followed by the thick footsteps. Serving him from behind, the disembodied arm returned the bowl to the setting with surprising dexterity and reverence.
“Eat it before it goes cold.”
Elliot remained still, his heart beating an escape route through his chest. The man remained just beyond his peripheral vision. Seconds ticked by in silence, the man and Elliot in a game of chicken Elliot did not know how to win.
The voice echoed in the darkness beyond the lit table, startling Elliot into action. With trembling hands, he picked up the spoon.
“Don’t worry,” the man added, “it won’t kill you.”
The man walked away, taking none of the tension with him, his words easing none of Elliot’s fears. Elliot leaned over as far as his restraints would allow, catching a whiff of the steaming soup. To his surprise, it was intoxicating. He carefully lifted a spoonful of the brothy concoction to his lips.
“What do you think?”
The man was directly behind him, having snuck up this time. Elliot barely got any of the soup in his mouth, spilling most of it into his napkin-clad lap.
“About the soup. What did you think?”
“No!” the man roared. A clattering of pans and utensils erupted behind him as the man cleared a counter-top. “Review it!”
“I-it’s a savory minestrone with a sturdy broth that doesn’t overpower the variety of vegetables and noodles blended and cooked to perfection.” Sweat beaded at Elliot’s forehead and ran cold down his back. The man removed the soup bowl and took the salad plate.
Elliot sat in quivering silence, staring at his review of The Sinful Kitchen, framed for him to dine with. It was a mistake from the start. Jack Turlington, his editor, wanted to create controversy, to be the paper that was proudly unafraid to tell the truth. Jack had gotten the idea in his head that the only reason The Sinful Kitchen received the good reviews it did was because no one wanted to negatively review a restaurant full of criminals. He paid Elliot an under-the-table bonus for an excoriating review, which he’d written in 10 minutes after only looking at the website. Elliot had never actually eaten there.
The salad was gingerly returned to the table, causing the hair on Elliot’s neck to raise in fear. His entire body sensed the ominous steel presence of the man standing behind him, a dangerous aura that could only be acquired in jail. Elliot considered the course placed before him: a bed of Boston greens, fragrant green apples, walnuts, halved grapes and celery in a creamy dressing. Arranged on top were a few paper-thin slices of the reddest carpaccio Elliot had ever seen.
“Fresh cut minutes ago.”
Forgetting for a moment the situation he was in, Elliot took up his salad fork and ate a bite, carpaccio and all. Barely a chew in and Elliot sat for a moment, basking in the delightful food. The man shifted menacingly behind him, waiting for his assessment of the salad and bringing Elliot back to the present. Elliot swallowed hard.
“The familiar flavors of a Waldorf salad are brought to life with expert blending of only the freshest ingredients, a delicate but flavorful dressing, and a surprising carpaccio accent that will surely delight.” Elliot hadn’t even said the words out of fear. The salad was truly exemplary.
Before he could take another bite, the salad disappeared, along with the entrée plate, the tender and unique carpaccio nothing but a delicious and interesting aftertaste. Despite being attacked, drugged, kidnapped, and lashed to a chair, Elliot found himself excited for the final course. When it arrived, sizzling seductively, Elliot found himself more surprised than anything. The cut of meat had been seasoned, pan seared and charred to perfection in the salamander. A serving of broccoli rabe – roasted to fragrant bliss with a hearty helping of garlic – rested in perfect accompaniment alongside the meat. The unassuming meal was absolutely tantalizing.
Elliot took up his utensils and tucked in. As the flavors combined and complemented each other in his mouth, he closed his eyes to revel in the heaven that this simple, yet original dish had to offer. The meat was so fresh it tasted like it had been cut mere minutes before being cooked. It was better than anything served at the poshest 3-star Michelin rated celebrity steakhouses. When Elliot opened his eyes again, he was delighted to see the course remained in front of him. His captor, still standing behind him, allowed him to finish the entire plate.
“I don’t know what this is, but it is, without a doubt, the best meat I’ve ever tasted.” These were the only words Elliot had for such a divine treat and was relieved that they seemed to be enough.
The man cleared Elliot’s plate, then sat down across the table from him, revealing himself. He was shorter than Elliot had expected, but was bursting at the seams with chiseled, hard-earned muscle. A ragged scar, surely received and repaired in prison, cut a swath across his cheek and nose, nearly bisecting his face all together. The tattoos on his hands were only the beginning of a continuous trail of ink that disappeared beneath the short-sleeved chef’s coat before peeking out at his neck and rounding to an end somewhere on the back of the man’s shaved head.
The man placed the largest butcher’s knife Elliot had ever seen on the table between them, bringing Elliot screaming back to reality. His sated gut now roiled with fear, threatening to bring the entire meal back up. Elliot quaked under the man’s icy gaze.
“This,” the man gestured to the beautifully framed review and said nothing more.
“I-I was paid to. I’m sorry.” Tears welled in Elliot’s eyes as the man considered his confession.
“I see. Greed. Let’s see how that compares.”
“Compares? Compares to what?”
“Gluttony and sloth were too fatty, although they made a great ‘bacon’. Wrath was far too tough to use as anything but stock fodder. Envy always tastes like it’s gone sour, for some reason, even when you cook it right away. And I’m not sure how you find an unadulterated cut of Lust. Pride, as you just tasted, came close. But it’s still not perfect.”
“What are you talking about?” The words came out in a choked whisper.
The man stood and came to Elliot’s side of the table. Elliot squeezed his eyes tight, expecting a blow from those monstrous hands. Instead, he felt a gentle squeezing, first of his arms, then on his chest and thighs. Elliot opened his eyes.
“What are you doing?”
“Appraisal of what?”
“Meat.” The man tossed a plastic card attached to a lanyard onto the table in front of Elliot. Jack Turlington’s arrogant smile peered out from the photo on his press credential, a smear of blood tainting its bottom edge. “I don’t know why everyone thinks the best cut of meat comes from an animal.”
3 Replies to “Serving Size”
A great, entertaining story. Couldnt stop reading it till I got to the end.
You surprised me with the ending. I was expecting the meat to be human, but I was thinking it would be the man’s family. Using the “sins” of the person/meat was very clever. I love the way the dishes were titled. Nice job! Your pacing was smooth and the story flowed easily.
I have only one suggestion, and it’s pretty minor. I enjoyed the review at the beginning, but without having a link to the protagonist yet, it might be a bit too long. Or maybe not — all the scathing comments in the review are definitely necessary to justify/explain the narrative.
I think you did a great job with your prompts. Thank you for sharing this, and good luck with the judges!
Delightful short story.