He’d used his favorite santoku knife to cut his wrists in the kitchen of his restaurant.
His reviews had been going downhill for years. He was trying to keep up with the demand to create something new and something extraordinary. It was never enough. Spending all his time cooking, he couldn’t do what he loved—traveling the world to new places and trying more cuisine—the lifeblood of his creativity.
The last review was the final straw. A two-word headline—Has Been—followed by less than a hundred and fifty word write up. In his prime, he’d get the cover of magazines and entire feature write-ups.
He was tired. No longer seeming worth it, he’d used his tools on himself. Blades so sharp he hadn’t even felt a cut.
Had he cut himself?
He could still hear his thoughts, indicating a consciousness. The kitchen he found himself in was unfamiliar. At a cursory glance, though, it was obviously well equipped with the best cooking implements he’d ever seen with familiar and exotic ingredients strewn about.
“What the hell?” He said aloud.
“About that,” came a voice from a doorway he hadn’t noticed before. Standing outlined in dancing flames was a figure that was simultaneously grotesque and nondescript. The more he tried to focus on the figure, the harder the shape was to see. It didn’t help that the smell of sulfur was attacking his nose.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, suicide is a sin, so you’re corrected in assuming that you’re in hell. But I’m a bit of a connoisseur and when I saw your name on the torture docket, I thought it’d be a shame to let such talent go to waste.
“This,” he said, gesturing about the kitchen, “is all yours. If….”
The demon paused for dramatic effect. Having watched enough movies, the chef knew demons’ deals always came with conditions.
“You can impress my guest this evening. You have eleven hours to prepare our meal.”
As silently and mysteriously as he came, the demon disappeared. With the demon gone, five other people filled the kitchen, all staring at him. He realized they were waiting for his orders.
“I can do this.”
Breath filled his lungs as he thought about his next step. It’d be a tour of the world. With every ingredient possible at his disposal, he would prepare dishes from multiple cuisines: barbecued snags from Australia, nasi goreng from Indonesia, Poulet à la Moambé from the Congo, and so on. There would be enough flavors to appeal to anyone.
Rolling up his sleeves, he took his trusty santoku and went to work.
The hours passed quickly, but the many hands made quick work of his instructions.
One hundred and ninety-five dishes. One from each nation of the world set out across a table draped in white that was the exact length to fit each dish.
Wiping calloused hands on his stained apron, he watched the clock ticked to the eleventh hour.
The smell of sulfur let him know his guest had arrived.
“Your food smells delicious,” the demon said. “What do you think, Frank?”
A man emerged from behind the demon, one the chef recognized immediately. It was his final critic.
“I don’t smell anything remotely appetizing,” the man said, turning up his nose.
“I think you know Frank,” the demon said. “He died of a heart attack right after you joined us. Frank loved delicious food.”
The demon took a spoonful of my ajiaco soup from Chile and took a deep drink of it. “This is amazing.” The silver spoon was offered to Frank—“Try it.”
The man put the spoon to his lips and slurped. Holding the liquid in his mouth, he coughed and spat the soup out, staining the table cloth.
“Is this some kind of joke?” Frank said. “I’ve enjoyed the finest food in the world, and this is the garbage you feed me?”
Shrugging, the demon smiled and winked at the chef. “You have plenty more dishes to try and find something you can enjoy again. My personal chef is at your disposal until you find something that makes your taste buds sing, and you,” he said, turning to the chef, “have my kitchen to keep trying. I hope you two enjoy your eternity cooking and critiquing each other.”
This short story was inspired by a Reddit writing prompt.
Copyright © 2021 TJS Sherman All rights reserved.