Better to Eat You With
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 gon