Well, STM came through again, delivering to us what we think is his best piece yet. It's fresh, it's met the challenges head on and is highly readable. (see below.) It did set off a bit of a discussion between the two torturers, DMH and RM, which we thought we should relate below.
DMH: He's done brilliant. I loved it. It was fast to read, which to me makes it good. Only a few stumbles that a light editorial cream would fix. The story took me to a foreign location and gave me a foreign experience that I wanted more of. But, and this is my issue, wasn't the challenge to rewrite the original story? Has STM met the challenge of reworking his original piece, or has he written something completely different?
RM: Agreed. I loved the foreign locale, the wit and the occasional absurdist touches, but the only link back to Renee & co seems to be the reference to the medication. Is this enough? Maybe. Our job is to provoke and stimulate, so … Even though the use of the first person wasn't forbidden, it does feel like we've taken a small narrative step backwards. And then there's the overarching question of plot i.e. where is this thing going?
DMH: What is with this modern fetish to avoid plot? Does STM try to avoid it out of artistic choice, or is it lack of confidence to impose a storyline too early? It seems writers these days want to write aimless wandering prose on the off chance that it will end up somewhere. How many Dharma Bums do we need?
RM: One is plenty. And although it may sound old-fashioned, story is still king, irrespective of the medium or mode. I want writing to take me some place new, some place different, with an assured voice that is as convincing and authentic as it is surprising and unpredictable. I want to be enlightened, amazed; I want to come away enlivened by a new idea and a new way of expressing it. All of which requires incessant planning, practising and then more practising. Again, the old adage rings true: you need to master the rules in order to break them. Miles Davis didn't start out blowing improvised riffs; he spent years obsessively mastering the fundamentals before he diverged. I'd like STM to think about the structure of his story next; the big picture, bullet pointed, even; the raison d'être, s'il vous plait.
DMH: I think there is an angle for this resistance to story, but to me all I want is a shape. I want a sense that what I'm reading is going somewhere, or I won't go with it. Is that intolerant? Is this a question of art versus craft? Is it too crafty to pre-plan your novel? Is that not true to the spirit of writing? What about the spirit of reading? Are there readers out there who would say that story isn't the be all and end all?
RM: I guess there are as many types of reader as there are types of writer, and this is a good thing most of the time, as I'll explain. What I'm longing for on the page but only occasionally find is greatness, or at least the sense of aspiration towards greatness. (By greatness btw, I mean art that's intelligent, interesting and original, expressed well and, crucially, that will stand the test of time and be enjoyed in years if not decades to come.) The question is how to achieve this, and as with the reader/writer thing, there are as many ways as there are grains of sand on Bondi Beach. Story in and of itself mightn't be critical, but the writer needs to know what they're doing, whether that be stream of consciousness prose poetry or a tightly-plotted work of crime fiction.
DMH: Alright. It seems like we are both ranting. Upon reflection, perhaps the main character in the original story, and this most recent one, is still present. A young man, searching for his niche and perhaps a meaning to his life. This is perhaps a life imitating art parallel as the character wanders without direction similar to the story. Perhaps the next obstruction should be to just do story? Nothing else. Just plot out the damn thing like a synopsis.
RM: That's a plan. And it ought include notes on the basics: story, characters, settings, chronology, plot, etc, to see if all the pieces to date cohere. Writing it will be a valid element in itself: 'young man searches for meaningful structure'. Good luck, STM!
Tomas Tollefsen stands at a flip chart doing word associations before service. He is not embarrassed to brainstorm in front of waitstaff. He does this most nights and it is essential to the menu.
The words usually go: “Mexico: hot, salsa, fucked up” and “Japanese: cool, white rice, white radish, white miso, cold, spring, snow, calm.”
The trick is to find the balance between the two. That’s hard to do when he’s thinking more about one than the other. If it isn’t working for him he writes BALANCE in big blue Sharpied letters and then circles it a few times and then a few times more.
Tomas works as head chef at Zen Diagrams, a Japanese fusion food restaurant in Veracruz, Mexico.
The restaurant is one of three. The other two are in New York and San Francisco, where I was working before being sent to work under Tomas. Someone stupid once called this the vertical integration of the cooking world. Mexico was literally beneath me for a long time.
Tomas moves from the flip chart into the kitchen where he stands injecting mirin into a cut of marbled steak with the finest hypodermic needle to be found inside or outside a hospital.
Tomas is taking a similar approach to the Mexico restaurant as the other two – although he has more creative control than the other two head chefs, mainly through distance and lack of oversight. It’s still a safe mix of sushi and Mexican overtones.
The popular appetizer is an oyster tempura with jalapeno and wasabi oil on a bed of forest mushrooms.
The mushrooms are imported from Tomas’ native Norway.
Tomas also offers a sashimi and avocado taco, which reads like the simplest thing on the menu, but that avocado is no avocado. It is a wasabi and green tea savoury ice-cream shaped to look exactly like an avocado. There is abalone meat buried inside the ice-cream.
It takes three hours to make.
I wish I could say I was on the hunt for white abalone – deep sea diving in a wetsuit – but it is more like a lazy walk down to the post office. The mushrooms and other obscure-for- ingredients come in boxes to the post office. I am routinely the one sent out to pick up the packages. The seafood shipments – fish and shellfish – also come via the post, in big white tubs filled with ice packs.
I don’t like what Tomas does with the abalone. He hides the natural sea flavour by burying it in the green of that wasabi. It’s a waste of what is very expensive ocean-farmed food. It is $180 a kilo back in Sydney airport duty free; perceived to be there for the Japanese tourists. It’s farmed successfully on the Baja Coast in Mexico and so there is a surplus, but still it is a waste for Tomas to bury them so deep in the mix.
I slice across the street. The traffic is a murderous stream in Mexico City, but in Veracruz cars slow in the rising heat. Veracruz is where Mexicans come to holiday.
I avoid the local fish market when carrying these tubs back, because Tomas and Zen Diagrams are committed to not using any products from them until they improve their hygiene standards. This has not made Tomas popular in Veracruz. It goes against Tomas’s whole local produce only ethos, and it pains him somewhat, but nobody wants a customer who has eaten at the restaurant to go to hospital because some fishmonger didn’t mop a floor.
I bring the boxes into the back of the kitchen. The silver surfaces of the new equipment make the kitchen look like an ice skating rink.
If only it was as cool as an ice skating rink. It’s about forty degrees outside. The stoves are heating up and there is Diego – who works the grill, obsessively – starting the fire.
Tomas gets this look on his face before the first order comes in. He moves his tongue around to check that all his teeth are still in their place. It looks like he thinking deeply over the make up of his mouth.
I sent him a New Yorker article early in our working together about a Chicago-based chef, Grant Aschatz, who was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Aschatz refused radical surgery to have part of his tongue removed. Chemotherapy dulled his palate. Tomas is worried that something like this could happen to him.
Tomas worries too much.
I worry too much and play into the way he worries.
The first order comes in, brought in by the gliding waiter Guerro.
Tomas picks up the ticket and calls out two sashimi taco starters, sea urchin tomatillo chawanmushi and the salmon with jalapeno and dashi jelly cubes.
That is all seafood, which means that I am on the mains. The orders come to my station and I start working through them three at a time.
Diego by the grill with the wagyu steaks wading in marinade looks disappointed.
The sashimi tacos are an assembly line job, but Tomas wants the avocado ice-cream sculptures out of the freezer at the last possible moment, but it means running across a busy kitchen.
I have a choice of being yelled at for dashing over his floor too fast or taking out the ice-creams too early so as not to rush them.
The meat orders come in and the kitchen is soon thick with charred smoke.
Tomas says that he will take over the chawanmushi.
I pick out the best looking pink fish and lower them into the pan.
I make sure not to glance at the clock above the kitchen doors.
Tomas has a high reedy voice and I don’t like listening to it through service. But he talks constantly, mostly delivering inane imperatives.
“Plate – clean plate, please. Clean the edges of the plate.”
He wanted to lay carpet on the kitchen floor to make sure we took extra care not to spill a drop of sauce.
Zen Diagram’s whole being, its very ethos, is about plating and Tomas gets insanely angry if there is any wiping down that needs to be done. He doesn’t like cloth marks on the outside of plates.
“Clean the plate!” and five minutes later, “I don’t want to see you touching those fucking plates with a cloth.”
I guess those are the words of a contrarian as much as a perfectionist.
I lower the --fish onto the serving dish and drop the jellies lightly. Seaweed salad that I had slaved over that morning goes on next and everything is an equal height. It’s spirit level plating.
Tomas sneaks by to check it out.
He wants everything on the plate to sing.
Well, hello, they hum a bit.
Service continues like this – Tomas trying to cook and be overseer at the same time – until the entrée and main orders stop coming in and the night switches over and changes mood.
Dessert is called La Playa and a rip-off of a molecular gastronomy dish that Tomas ate once in London. The London equivalent of La Playa is a seafood main but Tomas turned it into a dessert. He uses a mixture that looks like sand to create a Veracruz-style beachscape. He gives the diners a little wooden rake to remind them of a Japanese sand zen garden, too.
I think it’s a mess of a dish – the fusion not quite fusing – but the ground-up biscuits and miso oil that make up the edible sand is impressive.
I don’t do desserts – Tomas says he doesn’t trust the sweet end of my palate after he saw me spitting out some candied daikon he had experimented with – and so I can go out the back and play around with the late night challenge while he is still going.
I keep a short, itinerant and definitively anonymous cooking blog that gets a bit of traffic when I post about the challenges. I want to expand it, so I upload some photographs of Tomas’ La Playa and a basic breakdown of the recipe.
I sit on the back steps of the kitchen with my laptop in the titular lap, and hit publish.
Visa problems, boredom, the heat, illness, poor access to medication, fights with Tomas over the menu, flings with not quite girlfriends, workplace stress, newspaper reports of decapitations and kidnappings, unidentified smells, strained phone calls home, drunken nights, dinner parties, kitchen world gossip, stomach problems, global recessions, poor quality fruit and vegetables, natural disasters, blunt knives, un-exotic locations, sewage on the beach, rude tourists, brutal locals, flat surf, the word gringo, fixing the bathroom, heavy backpacks, unresponsive wait staff, bad internet connections, long flights, oil spills, overrun dining rooms, Skype cutting out, criminally inept coffee, unhygienic toilets, boredom again.
It is true that chefs eat poorly. Tomas has high standards for the seafood used in the restaurant, but he’ll eat any old shit as soon as he is out of the kitchen.
We are in love with this terrible prawn cocktail that you can get on a boat – a bulky ex-military ship – that has been converted into a restaurant and bar down at the port.
We gothere after every stressful service and either have a really bad Bloody Mary or the prawn cocktail, or we order a michelada, a beer mixed with tomato juice, lime, Worcestershire sauce, chili and anchovies or dried shrimp.
They go down easy once you are over the fish tank flavour.
The prawn cocktail looks wrong tonight under the coloured lights that line the stern of the ship. I convince myself that the pico de gallo is hot enough to kill off any bacteria that might be present at the prawn party.
Tomas asks me if there is anything I would like to say now about tonight or forever hold my peace.
“The service tonight was uber-stressful.”
“Uber-stressful makes it sound not all that stressful. Uber makes it sound slightly comic.”
No one was laughing through service.
I fail to say as much as I watch the barman stir Tomas a michelada. Tomas buys us a couple of shots of mezcal too, imported from Oaxaca. I knock them back.
“I’m thinking about doing a michelada inspired degustation meal. Like you could start with something cooked in spontaneous fermentation beer – one or two years old – and find things to do with the limes and the anchovies and the chilli, each as a separate course. Like a savoury key lime pie and then whatever – every ingredient covered.”
I just want to switch off when we’re onboard the ship – once the locals grind to the sound of bad house music – but Tomas can’t stop talking shop.
He talks about his ethics and his ideas and his approaches and his way of life and his plans and his dreams. He sees Zen Diagram as having an integral place in the Veracruz culinary revolution. He thinks we can improve cooking across the country.
This is where we disagree: I don’t think the restaurant should take a corrective role to Mexican cuisine.
Tomas pisses off the locals enough already.
We can probably show them how to improve on their approach to preparing Japanese food, though. Mexicans bastardise Japanese food. They line the middle of Californian rolls with cream cheese.
I find the words cream cheese embarrassing.
Isn’t Tomas’ fusion food a form of bastardization, too?
He is talking right this second about creating a teriyaki sake margarita as a starter cocktail. Who needs that?
“Mexican food is basically decaying. I want to be here because I want to be part of something struggling and growing, not something established and proven. It is a case of past versus future tense.”
Tomas doesn’t say it, but he’s talking about New York.
He was sent down here because he didn’t get a job in the New York Zen Diagram..
New York is the girl who keeps turning him down.
Veracruz was his chance to stay in the Zen Diagram family and run a restaurant on his own but Veracruz is not on the culinary map and the hours spent here are useless for a chef’s CV.
I was sent here as if it was a day spa.
I wasn’t well. They said I needed a break, a working holiday. But my being in San Francisco, my moving from Sydney, was my working holiday. Trying to get my head around a working holiday from a working holiday is too much for me to think about.
I don’t want to go on about it, but I kind of do.
It helps that people like Zen Diagram.
I get emails.
Tomas is a talented chef too and people are impressed that I am under him. He has a cult following.
The LA Weekly food blog described his food as “bipolar” – a mood swing of a meal. He has worked at Michelin starred restaurants under a couple of greats, who are not just celebrity chefs, but well known for the right reasons.
Not everyone is a fan, though: one particularly perceptive blogger described Tomas’s take on food fusion and the restaurant as a Geisha throwing up after a night of tequila and Tex Mex.
I want to look out at the ocean and not talk and think some more on all of this, but two women come up to our table, and lean over our drinks.
“Are you Tomas Tollefsen?” one asks.
Tomas sits up straight. “Yes.”
“We’re eating at your restaurant tomorrow night!” the other exclaims.
The women would be gringos to the locals – they are close enough to the border, Arizonans – but we get called gringos, too.
Tomas and I spend way too much time trying to convince the locals that we are not Americans.
!Soy no gringo!
“How do you know who I am?” Tomas asks.
“I follow food blogs.”
Tomas invites them to sit and I get up to go and get another drink from the bar, which is at the other end of the restaurant. It is an unsteady walk as the seas become higher with the rising tides.
I come back with a tall glass of Sol beer and sit on the tallest stool. I tower over Tomas for the first time in a while.
“This lovely young woman here had her legs all cut up. Tell him,” Tomas says.
The woman had been travelling from the touristy pyramids in Tulum through to Veracruz. She had started hitchhiking with a male companion. They had taken a ride from two men in a semi-trailer, who had passed beers to them and told them jokes in Spanish. The men had been jovial for the first few hours before they started putting their hands on her legs and talking about being arms dealers. They told them that they were being kidnapped. They pulled over to piss and this woman’s friend jumped out of the cabin and ran into the forest. The men chased him and she went in the opposite direction. They eventually met up near some trees and watched the headlights of the truck as it circled the highway looking for them.
I ask her when this happened and she says a few days ago.
“I ran into an electrical fence and got a bad shock, and then ten metres later there was a barbed-wire fence that cut up all my legs and then I had to walk for hours until I found a farmer who didn’t know what to do with me.”
She lifts up her skirt to reveal lacerations from the barbed wire and burn marks from the electric fence.
I don’t know where to look. I certainly don’t want to look at the legs or the cuts on the legs. What if I’m attracted to them?
Tomas is staring at them longingly. “I want my menu to be more dangerous. I want the menu to be more like you.”
Tomas looks into her eyes. She smiles at this and slips her hand into his and I decide to get off the ship and go home.
“You want your menu to be like a kidnapping? What would that even taste like?”
“It wouldn’t be a taste – it would be a definite, veritable feeling of danger … in your mouth, at the table.”
Tomas fetishizes these sorts of experiences of Mexico.
He had a fellow Norwegian friend who came out to stay with him for a few weeks. When Tomas went back to work, the friend went travelling solo and ended up being held up with a gun in a bar.
Tomas is disappointed that he has no equivalent story to relate. He complains about not having experienced the real Mexico yet.
Because he has not had a gun held to his head?
He prizes authenticity.
I hate authenticity.
I excuse myself and say that I have to get some air, but then Tomas points out that we are out in the open, on a goddamn ship in the Caribbean.
Where is there more air than on a bar on a ship?
“Excuse me,” I say for the umpteenth time.
I walk off and he follows and as we pass the kitchen, he asks a passing waiter if he can go below deck to inspect. He is led down to a cramped steel space where two men stand preparing the hot food we eat up above.
The kitchen is not all that clean and I can imagine it being my last night aboard the good ship prawn cocktail. Tomas shakes his head as one of the chefs fries off some onions and takes the skillet from his hands. He can’t help himself. The chef rightly takes offence and sends us back upstairs.
I look back down the gangway and see two men who are doing their best with great limitations and constraints put on them. Tomas is unable to see this and continues to complain about the state of the kitchen and the food.
I follow him out and watch as he starts moving with either music or the waves lapping up against the side of the ship. There’s a gentle rocking and I can imagine him going over the side. The fairy lights strung high on the masts begin to blur.
It’s not him who is swaying.
Seasickness or did someone spike my drink?
I feel backwards.
Tomas is drinking pulque, a disgusting brew made of fermented cactus, which he claims has a slight hallucinogenic edge. He says it gets him mystical drunk. He mixes it with mango juice, and calls it man-goo. It has the texture of a mudslide. I wonder if he hasn’t slipped some into my drink. Was the michelada thicker than usual?
How can you trust a molecular gastronomist with your drink?
I excuse myself and go to the bathroom. I lock myself in the toilet stall and lean my head against the door, before thinking of the hygiene levels of leaning your head against a toilet door.
I leave the stall and Tomas is standing at the urinal, waiting for me. He turns his head but keeps pissing straight. He doesn’t say anything. Tomas is paranoid from all of the pulque and his isolated upbringing in a snowed-in forest.
I feel the boat moving away from the shore but the scene is stationary.
It feels like water has drained from my ears.
Tomas and I have a small game that we play, where we choose a very difficult ingredient and force each other to cook a dish. Last week he gave me these disgusting, foul-smelling bitter beans and I gave him duck tongues.
He ended his culinary adventure throwing up in the toilets after accidentally eating a raw tongue during a taste test – cooked and raw look scarily similar – whereas I made a stink bean pudding, which turned on some tourist in the restaurant and which convinced her that I might be a good person to go to bed with.
This week Tomas has stepped it up, asking me to cook with turtle fins. I gave him emu. I considered specifying and giving him an emu egg, but feeling cruel about the duck tongues, I offered him any part he wanted. There is an emu farm just outside of Oaxaca and I had them deliver the best cuts. If I knew he was going to be such an arsehole tonight, I wouldn’t have gone so easy on him.
Tomas asks the two women if they would like to come back with us to his restaurant to judge a culinary competition. We were supposed to be challenging each other after service the next night.
“You have your stuff prepared, right?” Tomas asks.
It’s lucky that I do.
They ask what we’re cooking with.
Tomas says emu and I say turtle.
They fake gag.
And real giggle.
“I’ve cooked with emu before,” Tomas says. “I went home one summer and roasted emu for my parents. We didn’t even know what it was. I think they thought it was turkey or some gamey bird but from memory the meat was very red.”
“You didn’t tell me that.”
“I didn’t feel the need. Do you have any turtle experience?”
“I went swimming with turtles down in Puerto Escondido not long after I arrived. This local guy stopped us on the beach and asked if we wanted to go for a boat tour – halfway through steering the boat he revved the engine and dived off the side, stranding us. I thought it was some weird sort of way to hold us up, like another boat would come and ask for all of our money, but he surfaced pretty soon after and dragged up this giant, must be like one-hundred-year-old turtle, which he pulled into the boat and made us – asked us, but basically made us – take photos with it. Then he tied a rope around the turtle’s leg and chucked it back in. If we wanted we could go swimming with it and I really didn’t want to get in the water.”
“What did you think of Puerto Escondido?” Tomas asked.
“That’s the question that you ask at the end of that story? Don’t you think I would feel a little bit uncomfortable cooking with turtle after telling a story like that?”
Veracruz at midnight is as hot as Bangkok at noon. The sun feels high in the sky during the dark. The ocean provides no relief, no wind coming off the flat blue to cool down the city. Shade provides no escape during the day, and even air-conditioned bars don’t do much good at night. The hours I have spent in the awful Las Americas Mall, buying tickets to movies and drinking soda in the food court, will not be returned to me.
There are wolf whistles coming from the passing cars for the “girls” on the walk. The two women are blonde-haired, like Tomas, and to the taste of the locals. I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt with Nicole Kidman’s likeness screen-printed on the front the other day.
I could punch a hole in a wall if one would present itself to me.
I am edgy because I have not slept in weeks. I have been living with Tomas while my bathroom is fixed and Tomas likes to sleep without the air-conditioning on. He says he won’t get the chance to have hot nights like this again if he were to move back to Norway, or even New York. He switches it off at midnight and lets the heat filter in. I go to the freezer and fill a bucket with ice and take it out onto the balcony, where I lower my feet into the freezing plastic tub.
The street is sweating with my body on the way back to the restaurant. Windows are wet from night’s muggy air. Faces are melting ice in a plastic bucket.
Tomas opens the doors to the restaurant, unbolting the roller screen and letting us slip through the security grille. He goes to make drinks and I go into the kitchen to put together the challenge. I have done what I can, preparing a Turtle soup matched with Guīlínggāo, a Chinese-style turtle jelly.
Tomas left me with zero to one options – I tried to pan fry and then deep fry the innards, but they tasted terrible, so I had little option but to turn them into broth and pretty disgusting jelly.
I pan fry a little of the leftover turtle meat – taken from the fin and neck – to use as a garnish, with some black pepper, and break it over the top of the soup like smashed croutons.
I’ve fucked it.
I bring out the first plate.
The gringos choke back on the jelly but make a smile at me when they slurp at the soup itself.
“It’s pleasing. I didn’t think that I would like it.”
I have heard that one too many times in my life in this job.
Tomas disappears and I expect him to bring us out his crimes against emu meat – an overly clinical deconstruction of the flesh of the bird. Instead, the emu has been crisp fried and then served with goat cheese tamales, corn, shitake mushrooms with roasted chillies on the side. I want to take points off, because this is a quail recipe that has been on the menu for months.
I did the prep work on the tamales earlier in the night.
The two women eat it up, though. They are careful with their spoons, and they clean off the plates carefully. My meal sits unfinished.
“That is absolutely gorgeous.”
“Who knew I would like emu?”
She says it emoo – as if the bird emanated from a cow’s guttural moan – and I bite my tongue.
Hoo noo I woo like emoo?
Tomas wins by two votes, and the only two votes that count.
I go behind the bar and scrape my food into the bin.
Tomas’ fingers are scratching at the wood of the table, as if he is a cat clawing a lounge. I can tell that he is restless.
“You won’t congratulate me?” he asks.
“You don’t like me, do you?”
“Don’t you think this is kind of a boring conversation for everyone here except you and me?”
“Who else is here but you and I?”
It is lucky that the two Arizonan women laugh, because otherwise I would be feeling very worried.
“You’re a bad sport, sport.”
I have a pretty good idea that the drink is making this stuff come out. Despite his fondness for mixing drinks, Tomas doesn’t drink all that much normally.
He can’t handle it.
That wooziness comes back and hits me again. I look down at the drink Tomas has prepared me, his experimental sake martini and the drug question comes into my mind again.
I need to get back at him somehow. I go into the kitchen and switch off the refrigerator and watch the thermostat drop. I wait for ice to drip from the ceiling. But I better not wait. I better get out of the restaurant and onto the street and not be seen. I leave the doors wide open and watch melting green drip down the side of the fridge.
Tomas and I meet at the aquarium in the morning. The air-conditioning is freeze-blasting the crowd inside. The line to get into the actual fish tanks and shit is about sixty people deep and the decision to wait will cost us an hour or two. Tomas wanted to come to the aquarium because he likes looking at the native fish, but of course he has to avoid the local fish markets as usual.
He has business on the brain, too.
He had talked about starting a temporary restaurant slash food stall in Cancun during the climate change summit. Tomas had been in Copenhagen during the summit there and had figures that proved that the influx of visiting dignitaries saw a rise in fine dining profits greater than any other time. Obviously, we didn’t have start-up money to open up a restaurant in Cancun, nor did we have any desire to be based out of there, but there was a small desire to open up a temporary restaurant and so we went and had a look and just set up a stall for a few days, bribed a couple of officials, but we ended up making more money off the rowdy college students than we did off any actual dignitaries. Having a temporary stall meant that we could only really do variations on street food. We tried to introduce as many fine dining elements into that and it was a success, so we discussed trying it again during what is typically known as spring break. They enjoyed popping the oyster tempura into their mouths as they downed beer and danced suggestively. Tomas wants me to scout some locations. He thinks that he is punishing me by sending me to Cancun but I don’t really care. I’m happy to stop living the restaurant life for a few days.
Watching the shark swim beside the fish, I wonder what stops it from eating what it wants?
The impressive self-control of a natural predator.
More business, Tomas says. He has shark eyes.
The owners of Zen Diagram got a cease and desist letter from a London restaurant. They are not to produce a dessert called La Playa any longer because it adheres too closely to the London restaurant’s own recipe.
He holds up his Blackberry.
The emails are on screen.
They have screen shots of my blog.
Tomas plays it panicked, “They think that I have done this. Like I’m some sort of mole in the restaurant business, ratting everyone out.”
“Isn’t this a little bit of the danger that you want for the restaurant?”
He stares into the glass and looks worried at the worried look of his reflection.
“My recipes are their recipes. They own my intellectual property and this isn’t exactly my intellectual property. These are dishes in development. They are unfinished and so they resemble other dishes, of course.”
“There’s no copyright on food. They can’t sue. They can’t do shit.”
“No, but there is my reputation and they could crush that. The word unoriginal … you know … shiver. It’s a big difference when you’re talking about intellectual property and taking recipes and adapting them, but putting the recipe online and photographs and saying that the work is your own. I’ll have to figure it out. Replace the dessert.”
Tomas hands me a bus ticket for Cancun, but holds it for a moment more before handing it completely over.
“Did you turn off the fridge last night?”
Mexico is synonymous with buses. There is no other mode of transport for tourists. The country goes by in a blur outside of smeared windows, the landscape flat and brown. I pay extra to take the top of the line bus so I can actually get some sleep, at least. They have recliner chairs and footstools. I am handed a rolled-up wet wipe and a disgusting ham sandwich, with plastic jack cheese, as I get on. I take my seat and see the cover of a newspaper taped around the top of a telegraph pole. Thirty-five bodies have been found beneath an overpass near the exit of town – naked, gagged and shot.
It makes any disputes between Tomas and I immediately trivial.
I go through the small bag that I have packed, trying to find some sleeping pills and to blow up the neck pillow that I will probably throw into the isle a few hours later. I try and find some headphones too and then I realise something, looking into the lower depths of the backpack.
I was not drugged by Tomas last night.
I forgot to take my drugs.
There at the bottom of the bag is my unopened medication, which if not taken, produces dizziness and nausea. I pop a white pill into my cheek hole and swallow it with a mouthful of bad ham sandwich. I can’t be bothered opening my bottled water for now.
I never accused Tomas of drugging me, so there is no need to apologise, but I still feel like writing a letter to the guy or something.
The bus backs out of the depot and drives off. I’m not sure how long the trip will be. I fall asleep in the recliner chair. They play bad movies dubbed in loud Spanish all night long, so sleep is fitful. I get up to go to the toilet, when a boulder smashes through the front window. It hits the driver in the chest. It is hard to impart the drama of the situation.
It is comic for the first few moments, until the bus careens to the left of the road and the driver is not moving.
Men who can only be described as banditos board the bus. They are balaclava’d. They have guns. They point them at people.
I stash the company credit card down the side of the seat without taking my face off the disguised men.
Here is the danger you were after, Tomas.
I wonder if you can figure out a way to get it on the menu.