Friday, April 1, 2011

Prix Fixe

The following is the first part of a short story I started writing two months ago. I keep opening it up and can't think of what comes next. I'm posting it now so that I can start on something else without worrying that I have something "unfinished."

Picture me: crooked and bloated, shifting to one side of my chair, my cheeks supporting a mixture of tears and sweat, my face removed of color except for a thin drizzle of Worcestershire sauce threatening to make its way onto the collar of my turquoise Polo. This is what I look like several nights a week. I do it for work and I get paid well.

The evening consisted of four courses, a standard for our show, considering the placement of commercials. It goes like this, usually: Appetizer, "Salad", Main Course, Dessert.

We started with rock shrimp nachos, garnished with fresh rosemary and melted Mascarpone cheese. The side (yes, the appetizer has a side) was truffled potatoes with freshly whipped sour cream and a light chanterelle mushroom sauce. I finished it all in 96 seconds, but the segment, when broadcast, stretched out to a gluttonous 11 minutes and 43 seconds, complete with a slow-motion montage, audience commentary and a brief description from the chef as to the painstaking mushroom selection process. It was delicious, but honestly, I would have sloshed a healthy helping of Tapatio sauce on top of everything, had it been available.

The "salad" course was an arrangement of organic baby spinach and arugula, topped with deep-fried chicken strips, cherry tomatoes, and drenched (as most "salads" are) with a creamy honey dijon dressing. Tabasco was available for this portion, and I used it liberally. Freshly cracked pepper as well.

These segments are cut to fit in the first 25 minutes of the show, to allow the greatest amount of time, two entire segments, for the main course. This evening's selection: braised bison short ribs with a mandarin glaze, garlic Rose Finn potatoes in a red wine reduction and steamed carrots. Despite the length of the segment, I have never been encouraged to hedge the speed at which I consume these offerings or pause to comment in any way on their quality; indeed, the producers have always been amenable to my way of doing things, my hunched posture, how I use a fork twice as wide as is standard, using a shoveling motion over my plate which I protect with my left arm as if trying to prevent a fellow student from cheating.

Then came dessert. You wouldn't guess it to look at me, but I don't have much of a sweet tooth, especially after my taste buds have been treated to several thousand milligrams of sodium and any number of meats marbled to meet my palette. Nevertheless, I press on. One has to follow through. Once I'd plucked the last tender piece of bison meat and chucked the bone into the air (which prompted our talented staff of editors to pay homage to the introductory sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey), the plates and drippings were immediately cleared and I was presented with the simplest dish of the evening. A creme brulee garnished with fresh blackberries, 22 inches in diameter.

I wasted no time, though my producers asked me to perform a ceremonial crack on the surface. I trailed my spoon quickly around the circumference of the dish and lifted as much CB as I could at one time, keeping my spoon exactly parallel to the table to avoid gravity forcing a creme-slop onto my face.

I washed it down -- all of it: rock shrimp, salad, fried chicken, short ribs, creme brulee -- with a large cafe au lait made with half & half. At this point, my dining chair (an Aeron whose limbs have been widened to accept my body -- "bulbous corpus," as members of the crew have begun to refer to it) begins to slide inevitably backward, my shoulders now unable to keep myself perpendicular to the floor. I can still speak, though in a hushed gurgle. In post-production, the editors usually add subtitles that attempt to replicate my reviews immediately upon meal completion. They're fairly accurate, though I've never once been asked to transcribe.

Then, the evening was over. The lights turned off, the table removed, another several gigabytes of digital video data sent off to be worked over, mixed and remixed. I'll see it in about two months and, despite the size of my gut and the state of my pancreas, think, "Man, that rock shrimp was damn good."