Better to Eat You With
*Originally appeared in Jellyfish Review
At nineteen you start dating a sous chef, and he teaches you words like emulsion and dredge and chiffonade and crème anglaise. You like the last one the best because at first you think it’s one word, and then you think its “crèman glaze,” and all of these unfamiliar things that he knows so much about are as delectable to learn as they are to eat.
He cooks for you often. Steaming piles of jasmine rice and juicy cuts of beef with a red wine reduction sauce that spreads like blood on your plate. Roasted vegetables flecked with parsley and oregano. Homemade sheets of pasta coated in creamy sauce and bubbling, gooey cheese. You learn to love truffle oil, how it tastes like you’ve curled up in the dirt and pulled it over your head like a blanket.
You joke that all this eating is going to make you fat. He says that would be the greatest compliment to a chef.
II. Mise en place
One day he asks for something from you. Just a dash of a good memory. Just a teaspoon of a happiness. He’s composing a new dessert for the restaurant and says this will make it taste like honey straight from the comb, dripping and thick. It’ll bloom on the tongue. You believe him, of course: he went to culinary school in Italy, while you can barely make packaged ramen.
So you give him a small memory to start: one of your parents smiling as you learned how to ride a bike. Absolute joy. You give him their clapping hands and booming cheers. He pares this down to its core. Scoops it out: a secret ingredient.
The next night, the restaurant debuts the dessert, and it sells out within the first seating. Food bloggers and restaurants critics rave. How did this young chef accomplish what many veterans never have? What is his secret?
A good chef never reveals his recipes, he tells you, and you think he’s mistaken himself for a magician. He asks for another memory. This time something sad. Sadness tastes bitter but will balance out the spiciness of his next dish. Just wait till they taste this, he tells you, so you hand it over.
You give him your first heartbreak. You’re happy to get rid of this one, actually. You give him the sting of seeing your first boyfriend kiss another girl at a football game. You give him the bite of that boyfriend telling you, It’s not like you’re my girlfriend, though. Did you think you were my girlfriend? He reduces this with some chili peppers and a hint of cinnamon and cardamom for a warmth that doesn’t burn. Deglazes the pan with whiskey.
And the papers and blogs call him a revelation.
You’re starting to get nervous, though. He takes this too. Nerves provide texture on the plate.
Once those memories are gone, they’re gone. Gobbled up. Washed down with a expensive bottle or two. You can’t remember them anymore, so you ask your friends if this is normal. You haven’t had a relationship in so long, you’ve forgotten how it all works. They don’t know. They’ve never dated a chef, but did you know that dedication can make a boyfriend’s promotion a sure thing? Or that a serendipitous thought can sell a husband’s artwork to the highest bidder? That a sprinkle of confidence can get him into a the best masters program in the country?
And so you let him take. And take. You let him steep your pain. You let him sift your confusion and self-doubt. Simmer anxiety. Stew love. It bubbles and fills the kitchen with the sweetest aroma, like melted sugar and butter. You eat it, and it is transcendent, but you can’t remember what that love feels like anymore.
At night, he tells you he loves you, and something flares in your chest. It flambés.
When he touches you, he tells you that your skin is the smoothest cream. That your thighs are buttery soft.
He kisses you, says it tastes like wild berries.
And you can’t help but think my, what big teeth you have.
You go to the restaurant almost every night, and nobody knows your secret. Nobody knows that it’s you who satiates them. That it’s your memory of losing your first baby tooth or running your first half marathon that seasons the dish. No one knows that it’s you who has gotten him promoted to executive chef. How unbelievable! How incredible! A twenty-two-year-old executive chef of a restaurant that will no doubt get a Michelin star or two, all thanks to him.
All thanks to you.
But none of this matters because he says words like we and our and crème anglaise and us, us, us.
When you wake up in the morning, the first thing he asks you is if you had sweet dreams. You tell him you don’t remember, because he’s starting to take these, too. He recommends serving them tartare, paired with a dry Riesling.
And so he will keep taking and taking, and you will stay because you want to believe that one day, once he’s had enough, once he’s full, it will stop, and maybe he’ll give you something of his in return. But until then, you will give and give until you are a hollowed out shell, and even that he will use that as some kind of garnish or decorative serving platter.
Hannah Gordon is a writer and editor living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Hypertrophic Literary, Jellyfish Review, WhiskeyPaper, and more. She is the managing editor of CHEAP POP. When she's not writing, she's reading or hanging out with her two cats, Luna and Neville. She once dated a line cook who was kind of an asshole. This story is dedicated to him.