Excerpt: Yes, Chef

Executive Chef Diego Ramirez wiped down the prep surface one more time. The kitchen was always so peaceful before the crush of the dinner rush. Not that he minded the madness. Hell, he loved it. He needed it, thrived in it. The hellish pace of the kitchen was his drug of choice. The quiet was a nice way to start a shift, if only as a sweet counterpoint to what happened later.

He surveyed the silent sea of chrome, searching for any trace of his early morning experiments. Clean as you go, he repeated to himself. How many times had his mentor bellowed that at him? He chuckled at the memory of having to clean every surface of the kitchen with a toothbrush after leaving a messy prep space.

He spun the dial on the stove and turned off the burner with a click. His risotto was perfectly tender, and he hoped it tasted how he intended. Diego pulled a fresh spoon from the bin and scooped out a small mouthful.

Tasting it, he rolled the flavors across his tongue.

The fennel was still not as elegant as he had hoped. Perhaps a little more salt? Maybe he was being overly self-critical. Less spinach might pop the fennel more too.

The door to the kitchen swung open and a stranger walked in. The young man was a bit taller than Diego, with sharp cheekbones and dark eyes. Something in the angle of his jaw line looked terribly familiar. Diego’s hackles rose.

“Good morning, Chef,” he said with a pleasant smile.

Diego frowned and crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Can I help you?”

“I’m Ben Walsh, I’m starting today. You must be Chef Ramirez?” Ben walked confidently across the kitchen and held out his hand to Diego. He reflexively took Ben’s hand and shook it.

Aww shit. Walsh. The restaurant’s owner, Evan Walsh, had dropped this bombshell in his lap a week ago. He was bringing in his nephew to be the new pastry chef. Evan had tried to frame it as a progressive step for the restaurant. They were doing well enough that they could afford to bring in a dedicated pastry chef. It would be less work for Diego and his staff.

Diego wasn’t buying it.

“I’m looking forward to working with you, Chef,” Ben said genially.

“Sure…”

“Sorry, I’m sure it’s awkward having a new chef brought in like this. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.” The kid was so sincere, it was hard to scowl at him for too long.

“You said your name was Ben?” Diego asked.

“Yes, Chef.”

“I didn’t exactly get a resume from your uncle. Where are you from?”

“San Francisco. You?”

“Como? Me?” Diego stumbled. “I’ve been in Minneapolis… almost fifteen years now.”

“You must like it then.” Ben grinned and leaned casually against the counter. His smile was utterly distracting.

“I… well. Yeah, I guess so.”

Ben laughed. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “You looked like that had never occurred to you.”

“It hasn’t? Never thought about whether or not I liked it here. This is where I live, where I got a job, you know?” Diego shoved his hands deep into his jeans pockets behind his apron. Strangers simply didn’t ask him personal questions. People were intimidated by him because of his size and his arguably sour disposition. Diego wasn’t tall by any means, but he was broad across the chest. He kept his curly, black hair styled short and his beard neatly trimmed, but people still kept their distance. Ben’s calm confidence was confusing for him.

“Sorry I’m late, Chef!” Amelia called. Amelia burst through the door behind Ben with her knife roll and apron under her arm. Long strides of her athletic frame brought her cruising into the kitchen in such a rush, she nearly ran into Ben. Stopping short of crashing into him, Amelia looked up as he turned to face her. Amelia’s oval face was topped with a fashionable inverted V-cut to her bright blonde hair. She cocked her head to the side as she stared at the curious interloper.

“Hi, I’m Ben Walsh.”

“Oh. Hi.” Amelia stopped and shook his hand, her brows knocked together. “Oh, you must be the pastry chef!”

“That’s me.” Ben chuckled.

“Good to meet you.” Amelia grinned. “I’m Amelia Parson, the Chef de Cuisine. Welcome to The Local Dish.” She made her way past him to her station and laid out her things. She set about tying up her short blonde hair into a spiky ponytail high on the back of her head. Once she was finished, she covered it with a black head wrap patterned with goldfish.

“I’ve been getting to know Chef Ramirez here,” Ben said.

“Good luck with that.” Amelia scoffed.

“Oh?” Ben arched an eyebrow.

“Really? Already you’re going to start with this?” Diego grumbled.

Amelia waived a dismissive hand toward Diego and slipped on her chef jacket over her tank top. “I’ve been working with him since this place opened, so… seven years now, and I probably know as much about him as his dry cleaner.”

“Shows what you know, I don’t have a dry cleaner.”

“I stand corrected. Apparently I know you better than your fictional dry cleaner.”

“I wouldn’t go that far…”

Ben laughed again and held up his hands. “Oh man. I’m going to have fun here, I can tell.” Ben grinned.

“I hope so. We’ve never had a pastry chef in house here, so I’m sure it will be a learning process for all of us,” Amelia said.

“Yeah, I was getting to that part of the conversation.” Diego huffed.

“You mean the interrogation,” Amelia muttered under her breath.

Diego caught Ben biting his lip, trying to hold in another laugh. Leave it to Amelia to come in and take things over. But, that was why he promoted her to the position she was in. She was a leader.

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