A dish best served cold

Mr Brown was not much to look at, quite forgettable in his cheap light brown suit, a comb over that would rival Donald Trumps. He was part of the down trodden, those who can not see their own gifts to the world after a life of bullying, put downs and the occasional beating, his wife had left him to pursue a lesbian relationship, which only highlighted to him his own imagined short comings. His life fell apart around him for the first few years of his divorce, he grew to hate the world around him that had left him so destitute and alone. Screams of ‘why me, why is it always me’ would reverberate off the beige painted walls when the alcohol had got its claws in to him in the wee hours of the morning.

This came to a head one cold wet January morning, he awoke to find himself curled up on the cold wooden floor, having evacuated himself from all three orifice’s while passed out his top half smeared with icy vomit, his lower half soaking wet and smeared with excrement. A totally liquid diet does not form a solid stool and it puddled around his frozen body, as he stood, struggling with the dry reaching that convulsed through his entire body, he caught sight of himself in the full length mirror, he finally saw the sorriest of sights before him, and a gentle voice, akin to a lift attendant, whispered in the back of his mind, ‘rock bottom’. It didn’t take an ethereal voice to confirm this, as he looked at this gaunt figure, covered in his own unpleasant internal waste. He could sink no lower, he could not even remember the last time he had eaten.

He cleaned himself up, and the floor where he awoke this morning, made himself a cup of tea, and just sat by the window watching the rain fall, smelling that freshness to the air that comes with a heavy down pour. He had never been spendthrift, after twenty years spent as an accountant, he knew how to get the best from his money, and for that reason alone, he had been able to live off savings and social welfare for the past fourteen months as his life descended in to the bottom of a bottle. By 6pm the rain had eased off, he pulled on his raincoat and took a walk to the local supermarket, this time he was only going to buy some real food, not booze, not boil in the bag, but proper food, and…. Oh well…. Go on then, a nice bottle of red wine. It was well past time to get back to his life, and while his dinner was cooking he would put his CV on a few agency websites, see what work he could get, that was not accountancy.

He was in no rush to find work, his finances would last a while longer, he wanted that job that made him feel a spark to life again, a new challenge for a new life, no longer was he going to be the butt of every joke, the victim of practical jokes, he shudders as the memory of such a prank had been played on him. Robert Brown was a creature of habit, at work he was know to always use the toilet at the same time each day, they even picked up on the fact that he would use the same stall each time, even if the middle stall was in use and the two on either side were empty, he would still wait to use the middle stall. This day the ‘lads’ had stretched cling film over the bowl, put the seat down and loosened the light bulb to dim the surroundings and keep the cling film invisible. He had to leave work and ride on public transport having, what looked like he had messed himself, he was so humiliated, and guess this was the final straw for his wife, he had become so meek, that she believed, apparently, he would die from a heart attack if a mouse farted nearby. He had become a target for every prank, he had never noticed himself slowly slipping away, and he just felt so emasculated when his wife left him for another woman, he just gave up on life and awaited the reapers call.

The timer went off on the oven, just as he had sent the last email to various agency’s with his CV attached. He set the table, plated up his dinner and sat their watching the TV as he enjoyed his meal and bottle of red. He had a lovely evening, just relaxing in front of the telly, slowly drinking his wine. He was reflective on the previous eighteen years of his life, and where they had gone so wrong, he was not a bad man, he never stole, cheated or lied, was this some kind of test from the lord on high?, was it misfortune? Or was he just to weak to survive out in the world? Evolve or die? He had decided as he ate, that tomorrow that the start of the rest of his life, if it was evolve or die, then by Christ he was going to evolve, fresh start.

In the weeks that followed he had numerous job interviews offered to him, most he went on just to get back in to the habit of being interviewed, with no intention of taking the job, just so he could be well prepared for when that right job found him. It did indeed find him, it hit him between the eyes like a thunderbolt, a job working for a well known food guide, he had aced the interview, his practical writing skills were more than in order, and he spent four weeks on a training course just to learn what’s what, it also help that he loved to cook and eat out at top end restaurants on his wedding anniversary’s, he felt by the end he knew what was what. Full of confidence and ready for his first gig, Park House, an old sprawling mansion house, set in its own park land, it had been regarded for many years as one of the top ten hotels in the country, and he was filled with childlike excitement as he drove up the tree lined gravel drive.

The hotel was spotless, his room had been shown the care and attention that the price tag commanded, afternoon tea on the terrace was just divine. All boded well for the evening meal, he had seen the menu in the handbook in the room, along with a copy of that days table d’hote menu. His fist though was it was courageous, there were many pitfalls on the way to completing most of the dishes to perfection, and believed he was in for a wonderful evening. It currently stood at five blue ribbons, the best of the best, they graded from one to five blue ribbons, and only two percent of the food establishments in this country ever achieved a full five.

He had, however, returned to his room more than a little disappointed, only the espresso help lift his spirits. In his room he vigorously scribbled down his thoughts while they were still fresh in his mind, he would review them in the morning before filling out the report sheet, he knew his recommendation would be to strip them back to three blue ribbons, with further visits to see if they would be striped of more. After he checked out he handed his business card over to the receptionist with a request to see the General Manager.

The meeting started by going through the running of the hotel, and that he was more than pleased to leave the hotel at five golden oak leaves, as he had found it to be immaculate, but it would more than likely be dropped to four due to the poor evening meal. At this point the General Manager asked for the chef to join them, as was normal when discussing the food offering. Mr Brown laid out his scathing attack on last nights meal, everything from the amuse bouche, right through to the petite fours, but heaped praise on the espresso. He had not looked up at the chef during his report, he had not seen the flush of anger turning his complexion to a deep beetroot flush. He had not even noticed that the chef had remained silent, Derick Hedges was, well, a mountain on legs, he was a few stone over weight, at least, legs that would not look out of place holding up an oil rig and a large head that sat on a neck that was as wide as this extraordinarily large noggin. Not a man you would want to bump in to in a dark alley.

Mr brown had no idea what had made this human stick of dynamite explode, but he went from zero to full on in a split second, the silence shatter by a saliva filled rant, in which was claimed, that the best part of Mr Brown had ended up as a stain on the hospital mattress, to death threats and finished of with a rather harsh…………. ‘I didn’t know they piled shit that high’ when he referred to Mr Browns stature. Mr Brown had been bullied, physically, mentally and vigorously his entire life, but he had never come across such a level of anger before in all his days, he had laughed at various TV chefs as they ranted at their charges, but to be this close to the real thing was truly frightening, he did actually fear for his safety, the General Manager sat their nonchalantly sipping slowly at his coffee and brushing imaginary fluff of the leg of his trousers. Mr Brown felt the only way out unharmed was to capitulate, and keep the chef from dicing him up for the next staff meal.

He told Derick he would look upon this as a warning, leaving the the hotel with its five blue ribbons, although Derick was still shaking with rage his complexion had returned to pink, and threw back a thanks as he stormed out. Mr Brown said farewell to the general manager, and strode to his car, and once inside he broke down, full on snot and tears, and completely fogged up all the car windows. It took a full fifteen minutes to regain control of himself, and he took a leisurely drive home, stopping on the way for a pub lunch and a couple of cheeky pints. He filed his report first job when he got home, and then found himself alone in the silence, which almost instantaneously was broken by a second emotional breakdown. He hated himself for capitulating in the face of full throttle anger, he tore himself apart with shame, anger and hatred. This was supposed to be the new him, not the snivelling wretch who a few months ago woke up covered in his own filth. How could he have fallen at the first hurdle? In the cold light of the following morning having not slept a wink all night as his mind raced away with one line of verbal self abuse after another, something had to change, and that was him, from this day forward he would take his revenge out on the entire world of cullinary expertise. He would reduce as many chef to tears as he could, just for the pleasure of watching them squirm.

Over the next five years he closed more restaurants than he had hot dinners, his name was feared throughout London, everyone knew it was the end of the business, with a harsh word from him. Over that time he had met Derick Hedges five times, each time giving him a bad review and stripping him of his accolades, which invariably led to Derick move from one job to another, each time being given his marching orders Every time he began stripping back this chefs ego he would whisper ‘a dish best served cold’, he has never had a sleepless night since, he relished his role, he did not nock everyone back, some meals were just too perfect to be able to find fault, also he had to look as though he was being fair to his reviewee’s, for the sake of his job. He loved life, he had invested in better suits, finally given up the challenge of trying to hide his balding head, and confidence beamed from every inch of the man reborn.

Derick’s life had gone in the other direction, The Park Hotel had sacked him within days of the poor review, regardless of the fact he had got all the ribbons reinstated during his rant, they just were not ready to take a chance on him, just in case. He had four jobs all lost because of Mr Browns callous reviews, things had got so bad he had opened his own restaurant, just to be back in a job, the offers had slowed down and all the recruitment agents had gone silent. He had only been in business for six weeks when Mr brown visited him, and hammered another poor review in to him. This restaurant had been a busy little place, within weeks of the review it was like a ghost town, £500,000 lost on the swipe of a vindictive pen, he still would not let himself understand the reason behind the venom this man said about him, and Derick had noticed at each visit how big this mans balls were getting each time. He had begun to shudder just at the name Brown appearing on the booking sheets, he would sometimes turn up as a single diner, other times he would bring a friend, or even book as a two them make an excuse as to why he will be dinning alone. Derick could just not spot him, he never used the same phone number, but always used his real name, and it always made Derick wonder at just how many people of the name Brown had booked tables and either cancelled at the last moment or just not turn up, or was this just over thinking this situation?

He shuddered at the thought of the ‘meeting’ that always came within a few days attended by the HR manager and operations director, followed by a thanks, but sorry and his P45. The humiliation of going in to a kitchen full of chefs, accompanied by the GM and HR, to collect his knives and books, then being escorted to his car, all the staff turned out for this walk of shame.

For once in his life, Derick felt he was in his perfect job, he had a full team under him to carry out his orders, follow his recipes and create, and present his cullinary dreams. Some nights he would watch over the team as they sent the food, sometimes he had the evening off, these guys were some of the most eager and talented chefs he had ever worked with, he could relax, safe in the knowledge that these guys didn’t drop their standards if he were there or not. The wage was so good he could actually afford to have a life after his debts from the restaurant were paid in affordable instalments. The other bonus was that it was on the outer edge of London, he knew Mr Brown covered all the posh eateries in the West End, and had half a hope that he was now out of his jurisdiction, fingers crossed. Life was good, he could not help giving himself a congratulatory pat on the back, and hesitated as he heard his late mothers voice saying ‘pride comes before the fall’, he pushed it from his mind, and congratulated himself for finding the perfect job.

Derick was walking on air as he strode across the car park, he had been feeling on top of the world since waking up this morning, he even whistled a happy tune as he walked down the corridor to the reception desk. He said a cheery hello to the girls and chatted while he waited for the booking sheet to print off, a voice behind him threw out a ‘good morning’ and as he turned around there was the GM popping his head out of his office and waving for Derick to join him in the office, normal after Derick had a couple of days off. They discuss any issues or events that need to be kept an eye on, nothing heavy, he was setting the place on fire with the level of his cuisine. A hour later he sauntered through the kitchen giving each chef a cheerful good morning and rigorous hand shake, as he passed them on his way to get changed. He left the booking sheet on the hotplate for the team to look at before a chefs meeting in the dinning room. He opened the meeting with a well done to the team, and how impressed everyone was with the food, but finished a with warning not to get complacent. They discussed the up coming functions to see at what stage they were at with the prep, and finally Derick picked up the booking sheet for the days business.

Immediately Derick’s world came crashing down, the beautiful spring morning was now blotted out from his sight, just a couple of black shapes on a white background, inoffensive to everyone, except Derick…
7.30……Mr Brown………………DBB                                                                         He cut the meeting short and stormed off to his office, the team of chefs sat there dumbfounded at what had just happened, they all looked at the sheet and saw nothing wrong. The group decided to return to their prep lists and carry on just getting ready for service.

Derick sat there for over an hour just on the edge of tears, he could hear them rumbling just behind his eyes. Just when everything was perfect, he was back on his feet, just about to give up on the trade when this job came along, he had hoped it would last a bit longer than six months, but unless he could pull out all the stops he would be out on his arse by Friday. He had no notice, he had not been able to prepare, what if the fish is on the wrong side of fresh? If the beef were a little tough, did he have enough stock in to be able to offer him everything on the menu? Were the guys using his recipes? Or were they just winging it? A thousand question bounced all around inside his head. He run in to the GM’s office at such a pace, the GM let out a little squeal of fright and surprise. This was a Derick that the GM had not seen before, his face contorted by fear, anxiety and horror. It took a full ten minutes and a shot of Single malt to calm him down enough to verbalise what issue was troubling him. He text all the staff to be on their best as there was an inspection due, while he waited for Derick to catch his breath. Then followed and hour of anger, tears and frustration, accompanied by quarter hourly top ups to his glass, as the GM tried and failed to put Derick’s mind to rest.

Derick retired to his office, he firstly called the reception desk asking to be called when Mr Brown checked in, if he could see the mans face he would know instantly if it were his nemesis. He pondered for a time on if it were possible to overdose someone on laxatives, easy enough to get in to the correct dishes, make him shit for England, Derick thought. He had already dismissed powdered glass, uncooked bay leaf, rat poison, bleach and using the curtain tie backs to throttle him before he could order, his death before he could lodge his report to the GM or MD, but was it worth doing time for. He needed an idea that could not be traced back to him, he had already been told that they can not cancel his booking, it might not even be the right Mr Brown. By 2pm he was sick of the sight of his office walls and wandered down to the kitchen to see how things were going, test the beef, the sauces, smell the fish, inspect all fridges, its either right or wrong, and he wanted to make this meal spotless, no room for manoeuvre. Working along side his team lifted his spirits, to a man they were confidant, at 4pm they plated up all the dishes on both menus they all tasted them, all comments were welcome as this was no time to hold back, Mr Brown certainly would not. At 5pm they sat for their evening staff meal, and talked about the food, reiterating directions to make sure all were in the right headspace. At 5.30pm the kitchen phone rang, and a much happier confident Derick picked it up and said
“Sutton Crematorium, you kill ‘em, we’ll grill ‘em”

He was told that Mr Brown was at present, checking in. Derick dropped the phone, he ran through the bar area, peering around corners to get a good view of Mr Brown, his heart stopped before lurching in to palpitations, at one point Derick thought he was having a heart attack, the cold hand of fear caressed his spine up and down. That was him, he could tell that tiny sack of bile from a distance, he all of a sudden wanted to cry and he would have if his team had not come out to investigate. Two of them gathered him up under the armpits and took him outside for some fresh air, another brought him a generous mug of cooking brandy, he did not feel the harsh spirit burning down his throat, until the fire started burning in his chest. He was under control a few minutes later, and told the boys that this was him, Mr Brown, and he would be eating at 7.30pm.

For a Wednesday night the restaurant was nicely busy, thirty covers, the food was immaculate, the diners loved every mouthful, Mr Brown, as usual remained silent. Tonight was going to be a long night for Derick, he would try to drink himself to sleep, as he did not feel it would come to him easily this evening, he even had a bit of G13 cheese to help him rid his mind of unwanted thoughts. After a night in the kitchen like tonight he would normally have been over the moon, but he could not help thinking over the food for Mr Brown, he had believed it had been up to snuff, some of the best meals he had ever pushed across the hotplate. Then he would start to believe he had over played it, maybe pushed his luck too far, it was inherent in every chef, when under pressure, to over serve an inspector an accolade worthy dish, going past the point of being edible. He sat there in front of mindless TV, the red wine was breathing, and he was about to inhale the second can of Guinness, neither of them touching the sides of his building anxiety. He knew he had to get a handle on this or his weed would push him over to paranoia rather than a pleasant relaxing stone. By 4am he was surrounded by an empty wine bottle, several empty Guinness cans and had been on a borderline whitie, before he trudged his inebriated body to bed, walking up stairs using his shoulder against the wall for a bit of balance while gripping the handrail so tight his knuckles had gone white.

Sleep still did not visit him as he lay their gazing at the ceiling, his mind working overtime due to a lack of any other stimuli in the dark of the morning. He heard the birds wake up as sunrise began to tickle the horizon, the traffic noise increasing on the road outside, he wished to be in the shoes of any of those rush hour drivers today, just to avoid his meeting with his nemesis later that morning.

He arrived at the hotel early today, he had begun to collect up all his books and knives from the kitchen, to save that walk of shame, picking up his kit from the kitchen while being escorted by the GM and HR manager. He had also popped in to the GM’s office to tell him how perfect the meal had been for Mr Brown, showing him the picture of the plated meals, point towards all of the happy diners from last night, all those people could not be wrong. It seemed to the GM that Derick had all but given up on hearing a positive reaction from the inspector, this was a shadow of the man who had cheerily strode in to his office yesterday morning, almost an exact polar opposite in fact, bags beneath his eyes big enough to fit everything in ready for emigration, hair dishevelled and not the preened barnet, as it usually was, unshaven, and he almost seemed to have developed a hunch in his stance overnight. He tried to ensure Derick that he had no qualms with the food service last night, and due to and inspection visit everything he ordered was cook four times, each piece of meat cooked for different lengths of time to get the perfect piece, each potato, each garnish cooked or reheated at different intervals for the perfect moisture or crisp skin, each were plated at the same time and the best one was used, the other three were used where they could be, but one ended up as dinner for the GM, he believed it to be the best meal he’d had since his last ventured up to the West End. He tried to give Derick the support he had felt he needed, but it did not appear to even scratch the surface. This funk that Derick had been in for almost the last twenty four hours was worrying, borderline suicidal.

The clock on the wall in Derick’s office ticked by so slowly as he waited for the call to meet in the restaurant. Every time the phone rang a wave of nausea rolled over his entire body, cold sweats would drench his body, he could not hold a pen to write as fear trembled through every fibre of his being. He was a mess, he slowly drank his morning Berocca trying to avoid the temptation of the bottle of Demi Sec that was in his top draw, but he was convinced of one thing, it would go well in his effervescent vitamin pick me up, but a corner of his brain kept whispering…. ‘hair of the dog’. The worst part was he was starting to lose the will to deny this overwhelming urge, until his entire brain was screaming ‘hair of the dog, hair of the dog, hair of the dog’ in a constant chant. He broke the seal on the bottle cap, sniffed the first gasp from the bottle, pondered and then poured a generous couple of fingers. He picked up his dirty Berocca, fumbled in his coat pocket for his stash tin, pulled out a small, perfectly rolled joint and he scuttled off to a quiet corner to smoke his herbal blend. It was not normal for him to get stoned at work, this would in fact be the first time, but he could not resist the temptation to roll a few to bring to work, just in case.

He had been back in his office for five minutes after his time out, when the phone rang, he knew before he even picked it up it was to attend the meeting in the restaurant. He trudged through the kitchen, his team roaring support for him as he went, he mustered a brave smile for his boys waved and thanked them all for their support and hard work, and then disappeared through the swing doors at the end of the still room. There he was, Mr Brown, Derick whispered under his breath ‘smug little prick’, but beamed him a broad smile through gritted teeth, and he sat. The tirade that came across that table over the next fifteen minutes was one of the worst dressing downs he had ever received, it mirrored the level of hatred, spite and venom that Derick had handed him on their first meeting. Every nail of humiliation was hammered through his skull with blunt force, his anger was rising.

Mr Brown as normal with this Neanderthal, never once made eye contact with his victim, never even lifted his eyes from his scribbled review. He had not seen Derick’s face flushing through from deep pink to postbox red, his GM, on the other hand, was happy to see the grey pallor of his Chef replaced by some colour. Neither had Mr Brown been aware of the audible grinding of teeth or the frantically vibrating right leg of Derick’s. Yet as he finished his dressing down, he lifted his gaze just in time to see the first of the foam to escape through Derick’s clenched teeth, it soon became a torrent of foam, and a low guttural growl began emanating from the chef, growning louder as more foam tumbled down the front of his pristine white tunic. In a blink of an eye Derick snapped upright, throwing his chair crashing in to the table behind followed by the smashing of glass and upturning cutlery.

Derick picked up the first piece of cutlery that came to hand, a fish fork, and brandished it like a mugger in a dark alley. It frightened Mr Brown, but not to be out done he too picked up a pick of cutlery, a butter knife, and grabbed a silver cloche off the table behind and took guard, using the cloche as his shield. In turn Derick picked up a glass cake dome, and took guard too, the two gladiators circled the table, each assessing his opponent, looking for the best time to strike, Derick lunged across the table first, piercing Mr Brown’s left cheek leaving four bright red furrows as Derick fell on to the table, Mr brown cried out in pain and anger, flashing his butter knife through the air in a late defence and carving a deep wound across the back of Derick’s neck. It was Derick’s turn to cry out in pain, both jumped a stride back and began circling the table again, Mr Brown wiping away the blood that streamed down his cheek, Derick lunged forward again, Mr Brown fending the attack away with the silver cloche and hitting the glass cake dome, which exploded in a shower of lethal shards, at that moment Derick froze and Mr Brown made it count by plunging the butter knife deep in to Derick’s neck, severing an artery as it carved a three inch long gash, and in Derick’s attempt to recover the air was filled with a shower of blood, he grasped frantically a the wound to stop the torrent, but to no avail, the GM watched in horror as his Head Chef bled out on The restaurant floor, he looked across to the inspector as Mr Brown wrapped his wound with fresh white line, picked up his files, quietly places them in his brief case and left.

Sometime later Mr Brown was questioned by the police, charged with man slaughter, and went through a fortnight long trial, several months later, after his acquittal, his stock was higher than ever. Twelve months on from the fight, he is now working for an even more influential food guide (think tyres). He is even more feared now, he could have dinner is New York one day, and the next he could be settling in to Old English comforts. There is not a chef in any kitchen world wide, looking to be the best, who does not fear the name of Mr Brown on the dinner booking sheet, and Derick Hedges was a warning story for any new Commis Chef entering the trade, not as being a food icon, but as a cautionary tale of Mr Brown’s unyielding grasp for revenge.

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