A Moment On The Lips
By Ian Harrison
“What’s wrong, luvvie?” Asks Samantha Swann, fresh on-set. But, before you can even answer, the If You Can’t Stand the Heat celebrity turns to the camera, waving her arms around.
“I can do that better,” she says, flapping to the next station, your pain forgotten. Phew. You don’t need this kind of attention, what with the latest challenge, and dessert not quite as you hoped it would be.
“Fifteen minutes to go and your owner has forgotten to pay the bills,” announces Fern Growmore, deftly moving a frypan to a neighbouring bench. “Everything’s spoiled, and the repo men have left you with… this.”
She waits for the camera to focus on your workstation, and with one arm, sweeps everything off the benchtop, save your kettle. One of your competitors is already using your skillet. You can’t believe that this grain-fed hippy is capable of such violence. The reed-thin arms need a second go, to get the heavier stuff off the sides, but an old-fashioned copper-bottomed kettle, full of water, remains.
“You can keep that,” she smiles, turning to head back to the end of the large kitchen set, to conspire with the other judges.
“What the?” You ask, incredulous.
A knife is still buried in the linoleum, point-first, and any number of other ingredients, utensils and containers lay smashed on the floor. A medic can help you with the cut on your leg, but the adrenaline’s flowing faster than the blood and you can’t spare the time.
Looking around the room, anyone else would’ve turned to water, but your resolve strengthens. You grab a tea-towel and wrap it twice around your ankle. Ignoring the cries of production staff and judges, you push the double-doors and head outside.
In the bright sunlight, time slows. Your tapioca pudding is ruined and you’ve got to impress the four judges with a minimum of ingredients and fuss. And a kettle. You remember the service station on the corner and the twenty in your pocket. Best of all, you have a plan.
“Welcome back, welcome back.” Starr Annise, food blogger, is effusive in her praise.
You’ve been on the receiving end of her frustration when you’ve presented something not colourful enough to appear on her blog. Your gamble today might pay off – if you can convince her to shoot monochrome.
“If owners look like their dogs,” you remember joking with one of your competitors in the qualifying stages, back when neither of you were sure you’d get through, “that bloke must own the oldest, saddest, bulldog ever.”
That bloke – Michelin Hatted chef Maximillian Garnaud – never accepted shortcuts. Not to his meals, and certainly not to his name. The competitor you joked with, was eliminated by Chef Garnaud for not first baking the bread before toasting some croutons. A little tough for a one-hour challenge, but this was Cut the Mustard and they hadn’t made the Cut.
You had, however.
Where doubts may have crept in, considering Chef Garnaud’s possible reaction to your serving, your attention shifts to Swann and Growmore. Swann was famous as a TV chef who couldn’t boil water and so perhaps that’s the reason Growmore left you with the kettle. A little niggle between judges. Who cared about the collateral damage – about you?
All brinkmanship aside, there’s something in your dish to appeal to all.
The final break for the show begins and ends, and Chef Garnaud calls you by name. You stride forward to present your dish, and all judges four stare. At your covered bowls, the kettle, and you.
Hands trembling, you divide the contents of the kettle into the bowls, pouring into one after another.
“Magnificent!” Starr Annise spoons out some of the water. “So fresh.”
Fern Growmore has her spoon and helps herself, again and again, crunching away. “So clever – your dish has the least calories out of everything we’ve tasted tonight.”
Not to be outdone, Samantha Swann takes her bowl, holding it to eye-level, looking at the steam slowly curling out. “The rumours,” she confirms, tears in her eyes, choking out the words, “are all true. Well done, you. I couldn’t match this.”
She reaches out a hand and grasps one of yours.
“Truly, I could put this on my dessert menu.” The downward-hanging jowls of Maximillian Garnaud pull up as he looks you in the eye. “And I have half a mind to do just that.”
In the background, your competitors applaud, aware that this is rare high praise.
“I call it three states of matter,” you announce, sipping at a service-station ice-cube, soaked in boiling water.