Exhausted after eating his way through the local cuisines in the back of beyond, celebrity chef Jude Marshall ditches his camera crew during a London layover. He’s ready for a beer and plain, familiar food, the sort a random pub could provide. What’s this artfully presented dish where plain pea soup should be? Parsley? Really? Demonstrating his lack of a brain to mouth filter earns him a glower from his server—and a visit from chef Tommy Bell, a fan of both Jude’s show and his cooking.
Maybe signing Tommy’s copy of Jude’s cookbook will make amends for his lack of tact. When the unexpected arrival of picky diners puts Tommy behind in the kitchen, Jude wants to lend a hand, for the joys of cooking and Tommy’s smile.
Stumbling into this gastro-pub might be the best mistake Jude’s ever made.
With bonus story Breaking the Fast
Excerpt: Prep Work
I was desperate to eat something without an audience. Nobody but I would know what the sip from the glass was, no one else was entitled to an opinion of the contents of my plate, no one was there to tell me, “Have another bite. Do it again.”
No camera tracked every morsel from plate to palate tonight; I could not take another request for a do-over of some tidbit that only the crazy or the starving—or the locals—would willingly put in their mouths. Maybe Renfield wanted another taste of the morsels I was expected to eat until Sam the Sadist and Marcie the Monster were satisfied that the light values and the grotesquerie of my meal were properly captured on film, but I did not. I wanted good, honest lager, poured with just the right amount of foam on the head, and a snack of something that the English-speaking world recognized as bread with a bit of cheese that didn’t smell like dead men’s feet. I wanted to chase it with a pickle that looked like it began life in a garden, not the bottom end of a cave in ancient Gondwanaland. And damn it, no one was going to take pictures of it going into my mouth. I would chew in privacy for what might be the first time in weeks.
I know, that sounded ungracious, especially since I had the best job in the world—going from continent to continent eating my way through the best cuisine in the neighborhood, telling the camera and therefore the folks down home how delicious it all was. Or how stomach turning. Or how the gnocchi and risotto in Parma, Italy stacked up to the same dishes served at Mama Rosa’s in Parma, Ohio. I’ve been from Phoenix, Arizona way past Tahoma, to Bombay, to the back-ass of beyond in Thailand and Kenya, munching my way through whatever the locals offered me. Sometimes I thought they were having way too much fun at my expense. Sometimes they’d fight me for what was on the plate. Sometimes I felt like an unmitigated ass for taking even a mouthful away from people who work too fucking hard to collect enough food for family groups who are way too kind about taking in the ugly American who can’t even say “thank you” properly in their language. I always worry about it coming out as the local variant of “fuck your mother.” I’m not much of a linguist.
I didn’t have to practice words I didn’t understand here. We might be divided by a common tongue, but any insult I offered to someone’s mother would be on purpose, because we were all speaking English, more or less. Me, probably less. At least by local—UK—standards.
But that’s okay; I wasn’t saying a word here. I was drinking a pint of lager—that’s “beer” to my fellow Yanks and “one type of beer” to people who are accustomed to a lot more choices—that’s sitting at the perfect temperature, not too warm, not too cool. Best of all, I’m not explaining to anyone or their camera about the best way to cellar the stuff, something I’d become an expert on about seven minutes before the camera rolled.
The traveling circus that is Jude Marshall Tastes had been left behind for the moment, and I had no doubt that Sadist and Monster were using the room to its fullest capacity before we flew back to the US. I would come back later and try not to breathe deeply of their escapades. It was just for one night; we couldn’t connect flights from Nowhereskavi to New York without the layover. Sharing a hotel room kept the expenses down, which was entirely necessary both because it was the end of this filming tour and because—have you ever priced a hotel room in London? The producers should thank us for watching the money. Oh, you thought I was the tall guy with the earring and the big budget?