The old chef made his way through the soft snowflakes. The night was dark, yet still dimly lit by the suns afterglow on the first sliver of a waning moon. The only other illumination was from the candle and firelight flickering on the windows of the tavern to his right, dancing their day’s last dance in the fading aurora of a day past, a twilight gone and night approaching.
Snow was piled high in drifts to his left along the roughhewn sidewalk, all but lost in the winters repeatedly clearing of the pedestrian surface. Only a few weeks ago it had been wide and brightly lit and passable even in the dead of night, as the late night merrymakers finished the last of their drinks, ushering in a new rise with puffed cheeks and rosy noses. The women had been clad in skin tight leggings and furry boots, the fabric of the pants pulled tight to give what they hoped was the best possible image in the fuzzy, uncertain light.
The old man enjoyed the look, and the embrace of the young girls as they squealed and greeted him, one and all, with a hug and a kiss. Always the opportunist, he relished the chance to pat their behinds, smell their shampoo and marvel at how beautiful youth had become. His days of romantic liaisons with the young, desirable and sexy were now long behind him, but that did not mean he could not dream. He could reminisce of the days of his youth, before Father Time began his unavoidable pull. Men such as he felt age piling against their door differently than some and more quickly than most. Years spent in backbreaking toil, substance abuse of all kinds and the lifestyle of a famous, if not broke, rock star aged a fellow.
The sidewalk was not quite visible this far from his cottage, but he knew the path as he once was mesmerized by the dimples over a lovers ass. This little path was not as attractive as the previous recipient of his attention, but it deserved a little observation, even so. His shoulder throbbed, a constant reminder of a night not that long ago when he had trusted his balance on ice a little too much. He had fallen then, and broken three bones, as his calcium deficient skeletal system attempted to absorb the blow.
His dog ranged a bit ahead of him into the lot, where snow had been pushed away to provide parking for the fine automobiles that the financially astute would motor through the weather on their way to the place of fine dining. Their youthful frames were comfortable and fabulous in the heated leather seats, skinny jeans and scarves, all carefully askew. Hair mussed and iPhones plastered against their heads in perfect disregard for the cancer that it may cause, they were the new masters now.
In his day, a Chef, although revered in his own kitchen, was an outcast. A fringe character, sullied upon their chosen career more by chance and skill than by intention. More often than not, they were unspoken repositories of a past that took many shots of alcohol to pry out. Sometimes, they were criminals, unfairly cast upon by the system for crimes real or imagined. They were often victim of petty charges which, through negligence, took root and grew under the social framework. Another cook may be a recovering addict, paying the cost of his or her narrow escape from certain death in the comradery and unspoken rules of the kitchen.
A true Chef rose to the top of these miscreants, hard workers and talented all, by simply becoming the best. It was not enough to attend one of the many fine culinary institutes, although he had. Then, before the days of celebrity chefs and twitter and the ever-growing success of television reality shows where competitors, for real or not, cooked for the entertainment of the masses, there were no pretenders.
He had started cooking in a professional kitchen when he was twelve years old. An age when most adolescent males in the United States today are thinking of things like class, school, phones and girls. He had thought of girls, of course. A smile played across his face, followed by the drag of a match as he lit his pipe.
Puffing contentedly, he meandered along behind his dog, stopping when she did, pausing once to clean the remnants of her dinner out of the snow and place them carefully, still warm, into a protective plastic bag. He thought of the sunsets over the Aegean Sea, as the light, so different then, full of hope and dreams and the soft kisses of a beautiful young Italian girl, bursting with romance and so very in love with the young dreamer with the scars and aspirations for grandeur.
The scars had faded with time and travel, put there by his boss, an angry potslinger with a penchant for flame and razor blades, who had sadistically branded most of his young apprentices as they worked in his kitchens. The young men were blood relatives more often than not, inexorably tied to the tradition of serving under a master craftsman in order to learn a skill. Under this madman, Chef had transformed his fiery temper and tenacity into something hard and brutal, steel under the skin of a normal man. He had learned to ignore pain, hardship and the taunts of his fellow comrades as the only white boy in the arena. Perhaps more importantly, he learned flair and showmanship and demonstrated an instinctive command of the senses intuitively, without thought.
He left on a cruise ship, bound for other destinations, other ports of which he had dreamed, as any young man will fantasize of, no matter their current location. He left the young girl sleeping in her bed in the humble abode they shared, years before the tourist hordes descended on the Amalfi Coast in their tour buses, disembarking to waddle from the safety of the air conditioned seats under the watchful and bored eyes of their captors, who loudly informed them that “This is where the locals eat!”
He went away, traveled the world, never settling down as so many chefs are still inclined to do, wandering in the search of something else, something better to taste and learn and enjoy. Another girl or three, aging as he did in the graceless but seemingly infinite space of life.
He awoke one day to find it all changed. In his twilight years, he had been dethroned, removed from command. As all old generals are forced one day to serve dissident, disenchanted witness to the new champions of the kitchen. Tattooed and manscaped, they were a far cry from the cooks of his youth. They rarely, if ever, had endured the hardships of years of toil. Sporting six-pack abdominals, groomed hair and hip beards, they were ever conscience of their image. To them, their visage was everything, their iPhones a constant presence, their attention spans attuned to the twelve second sound bite. They knew nothing of true hardship, of poverty or desperation.
Frankly, he found them and their relentless posturing annoying at best. But he had long learned his place. Yet, like an old prizefighter, staggering and weak, he still felt he had one good fight in him, one more monstrous kitchen moment, fighting for the glory of the line and the admiration of the female wait staff.
He watched the driving snow and turned around to his lonely cabin, where his brandy and fire waited patiently. He could wait. He could dream.
He could remember. His dog followed him as she always did, the faithful companion that he had always dreamed of. Along with the sweet, salty scent of the girl by the sea.