The Naturals

“Woodruff and Bob, you’re up,” Master Chef Heirnon said.

“Hehe,” Bob giggled.  “He said Woodruff and Bob Europe.”

“No, he said you’re up, you are up,” Woodruff said.  “As in, it’s our turn.”

“I know, but we’re in Europe and he said you’re up.”

“Focus Bob.”

“Right.”

Bob adjusted his toque blanche and stepped to the counter.  Woodruff stood up tall and pulled at his double-breasted white jacket.

“We’ve prepared a world’s fair presentation with spicy cumin lamb shanks, eggplant cannelloni, and a black bean garbure as an appetizer,” Woodruff said to the dignified panel of chef’s sitting on high stools behind the counter.

“We chose black beans to bring a more Latin flare to this French dish,” Bob explained.

“Very good, let’s see you plate your creations.”

“Yes sir, Master Chef.”

“Woodruff, he used plate as a verb again.”

“Hush.”

Woodruff pulled a shiny white bowl from under the counter and Bob retrieve two matching plates and laid them in a row on the wood-planked counter.  Woodruff ladled a thick steamy stew into the bowl and Bob sprinkled bay leaves on top with a dramatic flick of the wrist.

“We’ve added a pinch of cayenne to start the fiesta in your mouth,” Bob said as Woodruff pushed the bowl gently across the counter.

With pomp and circumstance the three men picked up spoons and tasted their offering.  The short chef with the double chin hummed pleasantly as he ate, while the tall skinny chef in the middle nodded his bald head enthusiastically as he swallowed.  Master Chef Heirnon smile proudly and gave them an approving wink as he set his spoon back on the counter.

“Next we have our eggplant cannelloni…”

“Which we call our eggplanet cannelloni, because it’s out of this world.”

Bob grinned and paused for laughter that did not come.  The judges sat back in their stools and folded their arms.

“Out of this world,” Bob repeated.  “You know, eggplanet, like a different planet.  An eggplanet, like a planet of eggs, not our planet…”

Master Chef Heirnon drew in a deep breath through his nose and shook his head.

“I told you they wouldn’t find that funny,” Woodruff whispered.

“Fine, you were right.  Happy?”

“We’ve stuffed these cannelloni with minced beef, garlic, rosemary, shallots, and of course eggplant,” Woodruff said, ignoring his partner’s failed comedic interlude.

“They are also infused with fresh oregano, extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and ground black pepper,” Bob said.  “And a secret ingredient that rhymes with shak’n.”

Bob raised his arms in the air and gyrated his hips from side to side as he bit gently on his lower lip.  Again, the judges stared back, unimpressed, and Master Chef Heirnon buried his head in his hands.

“It’s bacon,” Bob added sheepishly.  “Like, what’s shak’n bacon.”

Woodruff cleared his throat and continued to place the tubes of pasta on the shiny white plate.

“You see we’ve got some nice brown edges on the cannelloni, so we’re going to top it with a béchamel sauce.”

“Just a little nappe to cover the crepe and pull out the flavors inside.”

“Then we take this blow torch and melt the shredded parmesan cheese on top, until matches the brown edges of the cannelloni.”

“I call this cautting the cheese,” Bob quipped into the void at the opposite end of the counter.  “Cautting the cheese.  Like cauterizing…cautting.  Nothing?  Come on, this is gold.”

“Pardon my associate,” Woodruff said through grit teeth.  “He must be a little under the weather.”

“If by under the weather you mean at the top of my game, then yes, I’m under the weather,” Bob said.  “These guys don’t even deserve this material.  Like they don’t deserve the enhanced tomato sauce and olive oil glaze I whipped up.”

Bob haphazardly sprayed lines of red sauce over the plate of cannelloni as Woodruff forced a smile and offered their dish to the judges.  It was once again met with smiles, nods and hums of approval and Woodruff breathed a sigh of relief while Bob sulked at the end of the counter.

“For our entrée we’ve cubed and braised lamb shank with a spicy cumin dry rub.”

“Dry like your sense of humor.”

“Give it a rest, Bob.”

With a grunt, Bob folded his arms and pouted.

“The rub is a mixture of granulated garlic, cumin, and chili flakes.”

“Chilly like your funny bone,” Bob interrupted.  “Cold and frozen.”

“After marinating the shanks in the spices overnight we skewered them and grilled them over hot coals.”

“Like I skewered and grilled a bunch of stuffy chefs who clearly have forgotten how to laugh.  Hey-o!”

“Monsieur Bob, please,” Master Chef Heirnon pleaded.

“Apologies, Master Chef,” Bob said.  “I’m done, I promise.  We set the whole thing off with a tangy sweet sauce with sesame oil, gochujang, apricot jam, soy sauce, honey, minced garlic, white rice vinegar, and fresh ginger root.”

Meticulously, Bob waved the bottle over the skewers and poured lines of sauce back and forth across the plate.  Woodruff slid the plate across the counter and the chef’s each took up a skewer and began to enjoy, in their customary way.  When they were finished the chefs nodded to each other.  Master Chef Heirnon produced two white aprons from under the counter and walked around to stand between Woodruff and Bob.

“It is with great pride and pleasure that I introduce Monsieur Woodruff and Monsieur Bob as the newest graduates of Le Cordon Bleu Academy and welcome you to the rank of Master Chef.”

Woodruff bowed as he ceremoniously raised the apron strings over his head and around his neck.  Bob knelt to the ground and Master Chef Heirnon gently hung the apron around his neck.  He stood up and took hold of Woodruff and Master Chef Heirnon’s hands and raised them over their heads.

“We did it!”

“Congratulations, I’m proud of you both.  You are the finest students I have ever had and the most naturally gifted flavor curators I have ever known.”

“Thank you Master Chef,” Woodruff said.  “But you haven’t even tried our dessert.”

“There’s more?” the short chubby chef asked with excitement.

“Oh there’s more,” Bob said.  “This is our pièce de résistance.”

“Please may we try it?” the tall bald chef asked.

“May you?” Bob said.  “Mais oui.”

All three judges burst out laughing.  The tall bald chef doubled over and lost his hat, while Master Chef Heirnon and the short chubby one slapped one another on the back as tears streamed down their faces.  Bob nodded proudly.

“I knew I’d get ‘em, eventually.”

Woodruff pulled a silver dome from under the counter and the judges all fell silent.  He placed the dome-covered platter at the center of the counter.  With eager expressions the chefs eyed the silver shield that veiled the mystery of the promised masterpiece.

“This is why we are here.”

“This is what we came here to do.”

Together, Woodruff and Bob uncovered the platter to reveal two ordinary pieces of white bread stacked on top of one another.

“What is this?” Master Chef Heirnon questioned.

“A sandwich?” the short chubby chef said indignantly.

“Not just any sandwich,” Woodruff said.

“The perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Bob said.

“I don’t understand.”

“A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the most versatile food of all time,” Woodruff explained.

“You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner,” Bob added.  “And now we’re bringing it to dessert.”

“We call it PB&J All Day.”

“You can eat it whenever you want to satisfy any appetite or craving.”

The judges eyed the sandwich skeptically.

“We’ve hand-ground unsalted peanuts, added honey, palm oil, hazelnuts, and Himalayan salt,” Woodruff said.

“The hand-ground peanuts give it both a crunchy feel in a creamy delivery,” Bob said.  “The strawberry jelly was imported from a family owned strawberry patch in Wisconsin and is naturally in fused with cheddar cheese fumes from the nearby dairy farm.”

Master Chef Heirnon picked up the PB&J and hesitantly took a bite.  A smile exploded across his face and he quickly offered the sandwich to his colleagues.  In a matter of seconds the chefs had consumed the peanut butter and jelly goodness, down to the last crumb.

“That was amazing!”

“Stupendous!”

“Transcendent!”

“We know,” Bob said.

“Thank you,” Woodruff added.

“How did you make this bread?”

“Oh that,” Bob said.  “It’s just Wonder Bread we got at the groceries store.”

“You can’t improve on that,” Woodruff said.

“No you cannot.”

“Well, we’ll see you all later.”

“Wait,” Master Chef Heirnon said.  “Where are you going?”

“Home, I guess.”

“But you are master chefs now.”

“Yeah, and that’ way cool, but after you make the perfect PB&J there’s really nothing left to do.”

“See ya when we see ya,” Bob said.  “Thanks for the aprons.”

“Jusqu’à ce qu’on se revoie,” Woodruff said.

The chefs sat in stunned silence as Woodruff and Bob exited the kitchen.  Master Chef Heirnon removed his toque blanche and hung his head.

“There goes the greatest chefs the world will never know.”

Woodruff folded his apron in half and draped it over his shoulder as they stepped out onto the Parisian cobblestone streets.  Bob flung his apron over his shoulder like a cape.

“Those guys were nice.”

“Terrible sense of humors, though.”

“You know what I’m craving right now?”

“The perfect PB&J?”

Bob produced two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from the fold of his white double-breasted jacket.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Woodruff.”

“I was talking to the sandwich.”

“Oh, uh, me too.”

“You named your sandwich Woodruff?”

“I name all my food Woodruff.”

“That’s disturbing.”

“Not as disturbing as finding a guy singing to his pan flute on a gondola in Venice.”

“You said we’d never speak of that again.”

“So then I guess we have seven things we’ll never speak of again.  Deal?”

“Deal.”

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