Bon Appetit

By Gary Wosk

[In 1995, a prominent Los Angeles restauranteur disappeared. The following classified information was provided to the author of this story by a Los Angeles Police Department detective who requested to remain anonymous. To this day the case has remained unsolved. I have pieced together the following series of events. It is strictly conjecture on my part, but all signs point in this direction. I have also changed the names of the characters mentioned in the story to protect me from any possible lawsuits.]

“Undercooked!” blurted out Charles, the conceited owner of Restaurant Ombrelle, after spitting a half-chewed morsel of chicken onto his linen napkin at his employee’s home.

His host, Paul, a very well-known French chef who had served the dish, was stunned. He usually bit his lip when Charles complained, which was often, but he had crossed the red line this time. This was the ultimate insult as far as he was concerned.

Undercooked? Paul blared out incredulously. “What?”

“You heard me,” said Charles, a rotund man with an oily complexion and a bad comb-over. His nose became even upturned when his feathers were ruffled.

“This chicken is not completely cooked. Are you trying to make me sick?”

“C’este impossible. Comment tu m’unsult!” said Paul, a much slimmer man who wore a razor-thin mustache that rested just above his lip.

“Spare me zee French words,” said Charles mockingly.

“First, you impugn my reputation, and then you criticize my language,” said Paul accusingly. “How dare you.”

The ponytailed Paul wanted to slap his guest silly. Before he could raise his hand, however, he thought better of it. He didn’t want to spoil his new surprise dinner plans. Instead, he meekly asked for an apology even though rage simmered under his skin like a bowl of bouillabaisse.

“I believe you owe me an apology,” said Paul.

“Apologize. Ha. You should beg for my forgiveness for possibly infecting me with salmonella!”

The chef retorted, “For your information, the supermarket chicken is not undercooked. It has been cooked to perfection. And it cost only seven dollars and fifty-nine cents, plus tax, for a two-pound bird that looks like a small turkey. A bargain. There’s enough chicken to here to last a week, so you’re welcome to come back.”

“Supermarket chicken!” erupted Charles. “How dare you serve me this inferior poultry, you fool!” He worried that the ingredients that he had just regurgitated were impure and would cause permanent damage to his delicate gastrological system. “You idiot!”

“I wish you would not address me in that manner,” said Paul. He wanted to call him a gluttonous baboon but refrained; otherwise, the outburst could ruin everything.

“I’ll use any words I want. Remember, it was I who rescued you from the pancake house when you first came to America and only made minimum wage as a short-order cook. I put you through a French cooking school. I took a big chance on you. And this is how you repay me? With this rotgut? My God, I may have to go to urgent care.”

“Yes, my dear friend. I have never forgotten how you save me,” said Paul. He also hadn’t forgotten how Charles would make him work on his days off and dock his pay if diners were not one hundred percent satisfied with their meals or would go into a tirade if he served one morsel too much of food or if he was a few minutes late. And then there were the little digs. The slights that Paul that put up with.

“Obviously, you need a refresher course on how to thoroughly cook chicken,” Charles said in his typical condescending tone.

And back and forth, they went like a fencing match. One on offence, the other on defence. And this is how it usually went when Charles and Paul met before the order was restored by their level-headed wives. Fortunately, their spouses were out of town, thought Paul. Perfect timing. He had an axe to grind.

“Please, Charles. Calm down. Let’s stop the arguing,” said Paul, extending an insincere olive branch.

Instead of agreeing to a ceasefire, however, Charles lobbed another verbal grenade. “This is, how should I say, so bourgeoisie of you. I had expected your famous beef bourguignon, my favourite; however, you chose to serve me this commoner’s meal.”

“Remember, I told you I would be serving something different.”

“I did not expect this gamey abomination of a dish!”

“Everyone I know loves supermarket rotisserie chicken except you, it seems,” said Paul, infuriating his guest even more. You behave as if you are royalty, but you are not. And you know what I’m talking about.”

“Supermarket rotisserie chicken indeed! Was this prepared in a supermarket? Disgusting,” said Charles. You must be kidding. Wait to tell everyone I know about the great French chef who works at my restaurant. And how dare you threaten me.”

Paul decided not to back down.

“You expect to be treated like a gourmand, but you are not. You eat the pancake house, for God’s sake, on a regular basis. Wait, I tell everyone I know that your favourite meal is buttermilk pancakes drenched with butter and maple syrup. You are not the king of the finest cuisine. Touché.”

“Ah-ha, I see you are finally standing up to me,” said Charles, who was just as overly sensitive to criticism as Paul. “Perhaps you are not so meek after all. Good for you. Go ahead, get it all off your chest. It does not matter. You are finished. Or in your case, fini.”

Paul tried to dial it down a notch. He didn’t want Charles to storm out of the house, not now. He took a step back.

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“If you like, I can cook the chicken for another five minutes. And I will not ruin our reputation.”

“Five minutes? Try thirty minutes. One hour would even be better. Nice and crisp.” He proceeded to split open a leg with his knife and fork to reveal the pinkish meat. “You knew I prefer my chicken well done. You are an ignoramus.”

“I followed instructions on the plastic lid of the chicken,” insisted Paul. “Reheat for fifteen minutes.”

“I repeat. You are a fool. I meant it the first time, and I mean it now.”
Paul’s face turned red. “Absurd! How dare you come into my house and tell me the chicken I served is undercooked. You then tell me how long I should reheat it. And then this constant barrage of insults.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?” challenged Charles. “Unload on me again? Like I just said, you are finished. I must be on my way. I will mail you your final check.”

“I only said you were not the king of cuisine. Remember, we met at the pancake house. It wasn’t a royal house. You were eating there too and liking it.”

“Stop it already. You keep bringing that up.”

Paul realized the evening he had envisioned could suddenly end if he kept it up.

“I am very sorry that I offended your pallet,” he said. If you’d like, I can whip up a quick souffle.”

“That is quite all right. I have suddenly lost my appetite. Supermarket chicken!” Charles muttered as he stood up from the dinner table and walked toward the front door.

“Wait, Charles. Why don’t we retire to my wine cellar and talk this over? We’ll have a toast.”

“A toast to what?”

“The renewal of our friendship and working together,” said Paul in a fawning voice.

“I suppose now you’re about to cry.”

“Please, Charles. A drink. Let bygones be bygones. Like we always do.”

“I’m not sure about that. You nearly poisoned me and criticized and threatened me; however, if you insist, so be it. One last drink with a former friend and employee.”

“Ah, you have found some forgiveness in your heart,” said Paul, gently brushing his mustache with his thumb and index finger.

“Who said anything about forgiveness?” said the surely Charles.

“Now, if you please, follow me. In a while, you will forget about all of this senseless quibbling.”

“How, by numbing our senses with alcohol?”

“Something like that,” laughed Paul.
After descending the stairs, Paul flipped on the wall switch. Before them, in the middle of the wine cellar, was a long wooden table and benches surrounded by wooden wine casks and racks of bottled wine that reached nearly to the ceiling.

“Here, my friend,” said Paul. “Please, sit down and relax. I will find a rare, vintage wine, something suitable to your refined palate.”

“Perhaps I was too rash upstairs,” said Charles, rethinking what had seemed to be an unretractable stance. “How comical that we should argue over supermarket chicken.”

“But, Charles, everyone knows that you often fly off the handle. You have no filter, but that is quite all right; I am used to it. Again, all is forgotten, and I mean it.”

“Ah, again, taking a swipe at me, but maybe you are right.”

“I owe you an apology, my friend,” said Paul, in another gesture of goodwill. “The chicken was awful. I wouldn’t even feed it to my dog. He deserves better.”

Paul reached into the right-hand side pocket of his dinner jacket and delicately pulled out a small leather cigar holder. “I would like to offer you one of Cuba’s finest cigars. He opened the case. The Montecristo. Enjoy it.”

“I’m starting to like you again,” said Charles. “If you will do me the honour, please light my cigar.”

“I am honoured that you are beginning to like me again.”

Paul retrieved an old-fashioned silver lighter from the other pocket of his dinner jacket, pressed down on the lighter’s spark wheel. He then extended the tiny flame to the tip of Charles’ cigar.

“Ah, excellent,” said Charles after inhaling the tobacco. “Will you have one, too?”

“Yes, in a moment, but first, I will find the rare vintage wine that I keep locked away for special occasions like this.”

As Paul began walking down a long, dank corridor, he turned his head and smiled at his friend. “Oh, I see you have some company.” A humungous Swiss mountain dog weighing nearly one hundred forty pounds sat in front of Charles. Man and beast stared at one another.

“Charles, meet my friend, Geoffrey.”

The heavily built black, brown and red shaded dog whimpered and began to brush up against Charles, sniffing about and licked the shins that were not covered by socks.

“Damn it! Tell your dog to stop licking me,” demanded Charles as he wiped away at the thick layer of pasty slobber that was left behind by the drooling dog.

“That’s a sign that he likes you. Geoffrey, leave my friend alone. If you’re good, I’ll bring you a nice treat. I’ll be back soon.”

“Hurry,” grunted Charles.

After what seemed like an eternity to Charles because of the unwelcome attention he was receiving from the dog, Paul finally reappeared.

“I hope Geoffrey has been a good boy,” he said as he tossed an oversized milk bone to the dog. “Here’s your appetizer. I will feed you more soon. Don’t worry, my little baby.”

“Yeah, he’s been a good boy all right, passing his germs on to me. And his constant staring is quite unnerving.”

“He likes to stare. That means he’s sizing you up.”

“For what?”

“To decide if he wants seconds.”

“Seconds?”

“To taste more of you.”

“That is just preposterous,” rejoined Charles. “You and your dog are nuts.”

Paul looked at his dog and issued a command in a calm voice, and pointed. “Go sit over there and be a good boy. He began filling two crystal goblets with wine.

“Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, 1962, only the best for you, Charles. There, please tell me what you think.”

Charles swished the dark liquid around his glass, placed his nose on the rim, then took a small professional sip. “This is exquisite. More please.”

“Yes, yes, as much as you’d like. Don’t be shy. We’re here to celebrate us.”

Charles and Paul lifted and clinked their glasses.

“Keep drinking, my friend,” Paul said encouragingly.

“Yes, fill my glass again.”

“I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?” said Charles in a slurred voice as inebriation and incoherency settled in. “Oh, yeah, we just ate. Supermarket rotisserie chicken. It was delicious. I love my meat raw now.”

“Have some more wine, Charles.”

“You’re the best friend and chef in the world. I’m going to give you a big raise.”

“Respect would have been good enough.”

“Respect. I respect you. Why would you say something like that?”

“You treat me like a greasy spoon fast-food cook.”

“Ah, you are so sensitive, my French cook. Okay. Okay. No more insults ever again. I promise,” said Charles before the glass slid from his hand and shattered on the concrete slab floor.

“Promises, promises,” said Paul to Charles, whose eyes were now completely closed.

“It’s too late.”

Just to make sure Charles stayed asleep permanently, Paul gave him a lethal injection he had concocted. When his body was completely limp, Paul laid him out on the table. He began removing Charles’ clothes so he could begin the process of marinating, which included such ingredients as the tomato-based Provencale sauce, garlic, shallot, butter, olive oil and dry white wine.

It took some doing, but Paul managed to lift Charles onto a gurney which he rolled toward his downstairs test kitchen. He turned to his dog. “Not yet, Geoffrey. Dinner will be served in about one hour. Braised short ribs, just the way you like it. Medium rare. Bon Appetit.”

{Paul bought Restaurant Ombrelle from Charles’ wife in 1998. He closed the restaurant in 2010 and turned it into an El Pollo Loco restaurant, where he occasionally helps out in the kitchen. As far as I know, no one has ever complained of undercooked chicken.}


Gary Wosk was raised in the Bronx and Los Angeles. Since graduating from California State University, Northridge, with a journalism degree, he has been a newspaper reporter, organization spokesperson and media relations manager. My Gym, They Are Here, Bezillgo Versus the Allerton Theatre, Bubbe to the Rescue, Flameout, On the Cover of the Rolling Stones, The Violation, Best Intentions, Sugar, Full Bladder, Typecast, Adrenalin Rush, Big Frank, Infirmary 909, Pearl, The Recliner, The Cabbie, Trini, The Raid, Executive Material, Tick-Tock, Scare Tactics and many of his other short stories have been featured in anthologies. Gary is a member of the California Writers Club. He lives in North Hills, California, with his wife, Mina, and an Australian Cattle Dog named Shelley. 

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