Master Chef

Authors: F13Fanatic

Hosted by VendrediAntiques.com


1: Food and Wine

Michael set down the spicebox and grinned. Another perfect set of meals, just in time for the arrival of the editors of Food and Wine.

Michael had been getting tons of press lately, to the point where he could hardly keep up with both his frequent magazine appearances and his restaurant.

It was a dream come true. He walked to his assistant's side, "Lester, hold those plates for my special guests today. I don't want anyone else cooking the meals for them."

"Yes, sir. Do you want me to do the rest of the cooking?"

"Of course. I've prepared all the spices you'll need, as usual. Now, is everything ready in the dining room?"

"It is, sir. I've reserved their table, and left instructions with the host that you are to be informed as soon as they arrive."

"Good," Michael said dismissively. "I'll be in the back, working on my new recipe." He stalked to the back corner, the section of the kitchen reserved for his work. The spicebox set there while he was in the kitchen, and when he left the kitchen, he locked in the safe in his office.

He found it best to be distant from his customers, usually - so it generated lots of excitement when he did enter the dining area.

Lester, meanwhile, worked diligently with the staff and made certain the customers were always happy. However, as great as the service was, Lester knew that it was the food that the customers were coming for every night.

He didn't know how Michael did it; from what Lester had heard, Michael had been a sub-par student at culinary school. He was, supposedly, an arrogant student who often fought with instructors; Michael was certain he knew the best way to do everything.

Still, Lester couldn't argue with Michael's recent success - over the past few months the restaurant's popularity had skyrocketed.

Lester glanced at Michael as he worked in the back corner, at his own stove, thoughtfully throwing in various spices from that gorgeous antique mahogany spicebox - he always worked like that, trying out recipes until he was happy with one. He would never tell anyone which spices any recipe used, either - he was afraid someone would steal his recipes, so he always prepared the spices for the day.

Lester shook his head - maybe one day he could convince Michael to work with him, teach him his technique. In the meantime, Lester was happy to be a part of the success at Hitotsu Repas.

2: Fine Dining

Ryan fixed his tie in the mirror by the foot of the stairs, and checked his hair, "Micki, we're gonna be late!"

Micki finally appeared from the double doors of her room, dressed elegantly in a black dress. She was always running a bit late, but Ryan always knew it would be worth the wait.

He let out a low whistle, looking at Micki's shapely form, "You look amazing."

Micki smiled as she walked over to him and began fixing his tie for him, "Well, thank you. You don't look too shabby yourself...there you are, all done."

Ryan looked quickly at his perfectly straightened tie and wondered why Micki was so much better at straightening a man's tie than he was.

"I can't wait to try this place out, everyone is raving about the food," Micki said excitedly, grabbing her small, black clutch, "How did you manage to get reservations at a place like that, anyway?"

"I called about a month ago, and got wait-listed, to tell the truth. I hope you like what's on the menu tonight. I hope I like what's on the menu tonight," he added, commenting on the restaurant's menu policy - every night, they served one meal.

Ryan picked up Micki's coat from the back of the chair, and gestured, "Come on, let's go!"

-----------------

Ryan opened the door for Micki, and stood waiting patiently for the host, who was talking to another customer. While waiting for Ryan, Micki looked around the restaurant - it was decorated in a modern, minimalist style. The walls were white, with one huge canvas of cubist art dominating each wall. The tables were bushed aluminum, with square glass tops. The floor was black tile, and each of the 30 tables was lit with a single Japanese-style electrical lantern hung from the 20-foot high ceiling.

Ryan touched her arm, "Ready?"

"Sure."

They followed the host to a corner table by the window overlooking the water. As soon as they were seated, the host left, replaced by their waiter, "Hello, Ms. Foster, Mr. Dallion. My name is Sean, and I'll be your waiter tonight. Our meal this evening is a tatsoi and sweet-corn salad, tigernut soup, ginger-rosemary trout with seasoned buckwheat, and finally, sweet dumplings served with carrot ice-cream. So, what will we be drinking tonight? Ms. Foster?"

Micki looked a bit surprised, but recovered quickly, "I think I'll have a white wine..."

"Chef Michael recommends a very dry wine with the meal tonight, will that be okay?"

"Sure," she answered.

"Good. And for you, Mr. Dallion?"

"Do you serve beer?"

"Of course, sir. Chef Michael recommends a pilsner with tonight's meal, will that be okay?"

"Yeah," Ryan answered.

"Very good," Sean said, "I'll be back with your drinks in a few minutes."

Micki and Ryan looked at each other after Sean had left and Micki could tell that Ryan was stifling a laugh. "Micki, you owe me big time," he said quietly, with a grin.

Micki tried not to laugh and nodded, "Deal. I'm sure the food will be excellent, though."

Ryan nodded, "Yeah, the carrot ice cream actually sounds pretty good..."

Ryan's voice trailed off as a relatively boisterous group of people sat at the table next to them, talking about the menu expectations and their latest restaurant critiques.

Ryan's face lit, "All right, a table next to food critics. Our service will be great for sure."

Micki smiled, "I'm sure, in this place, it would have been anyway. Chef Michael's restaurant comes highly recommended."

Ryan grinned at her snide comment, "True. The view is spectacular, too..." his voice trailed off as he saw a man in a white apron over a starkly tailored black suit come over to the table.

He gestured, and Micki turned to watch the reflections of the scene in the window, "Hello, my guests. I trust your experience has been wonderful so far."

One of the women smiled widely, "Oh, it has, Chef. The salad was simply genius!"

One of the men agreed, "Genius indeed! I would never have thought to combine such flavors, but it was wonderful. I'm very excited about the soup, too."

Chef Michael was grinning from ear to ear with the compliments, "I'm so thrilled to hear that you're enjoying everything. I'm sure the soup will be along shortly."

Ryan was grinning when Micki turned to face him again, "Wow...looks like we're in the wrong business...Should have been food critics," he said quietly.

3: Dessert

"I'll be right back," Ryan said after excusing himself to go to the men's room while they waited for dessert to be served.

Dinner had been wonderful, and now they were anxiously awaiting the carrot ice cream. Neither Micki nor Ryan could remember ever having enjoyed a meal so much. It was if every bite brought them to the brink of pure bliss.

As Ryan passed by the tables and neared the men's room he heard what sounded like hushed arguing coming from the back office area of the restaurant.

Thanks to years of nosiness and prying at Curious Goods, Ryan couldn't help but move closer to the door so that he could hear more clearly.

"...and I am telling you that it's not possible. It's simply not. You were a hack back in culinary school, and I can't see how you could get all this for yourself in a few measly months. Especially without your restaurant business partner. He was the brains of your group...Then he disappears and all of a sudden you have more success than you know what to do with!"

"I'm a great chef - everyone knows it! Just look at my restaurant, full of customers, with reservations months in advance for a Tuesday night in the middle of September! I was never a hack - I just happened to use techniques too different from those the teachers used!"

"I was your classmate, and your techniques weren't just different, they were terrible! This doesn't make any sense! How can you be so successful?"

The voices lowered, and Ryan couldn't hear any more. When he returned to the table, he told Micki what he had heard, "Do you think we ought to check it out?"

Micki sighed, "I guess we ought to. Chef Michael..." Just then, the dessert arrived, and Micki clammed up.

By the time Micki and Ryan arrived home their suspicions had gotten the better of them and they went straight for the manifest.

"Hey, how was dinner?" Jack asked, looking up from his book, "Was the acclaimed Chef Michael everything you though he..." Jack's voiced faded as he saw the two of them getting out the manifest, "What happened?"

"Well, dinner was wonderful. Some of the best food I've ever had," Micki said as she flipped opened the front cover.

"Yeah, a little too good." Ryan relayed what he had heard between Michael and the other Chef and Jack listened intently.

"So, you think one of our objects is behind this?"

Micki and Ryan nodded almost in unison, and Jack moved so that he could scan the dusty old pages with them.

4: Easy Recovery

Ryan shook his head, "Okay, so he didn't buy anything from Uncle Lewis. But we have the possibilities narrowed down to a set of Swiss-made cooking knives, a spice-box, or a cast-iron skillet."

Jack nodded, "The first two are a lot more likely than the skillet, I'd say. So why don't you two try to track down the people who owned them, and I'll stay here to do some research on Chef Michael. But for now, I think it's time we get some sleep."

The next day, Micki and Ryan arrived on the porch of a well-kept house, at the address listed for Susan Biggs, the buyer of the knife set. She opened the door on the third ring, wearing a jogging suit, "Can I help you?"

Micki smiled apologetically, "Sorry to have interrupted you. We inherited an antique store from our uncle, and in going over his books, it seems that he sold some things he shouldn't have. About 5 years ago, did you buy a set of knives from Vendredi Antiques?"

Susan nodded, "I seem to remember something like that. My husband bought me a much nicer set for Christmas that same year, and I never used them."

"If you still have them, we'll buy them back from you," Ryan said hopefully.

Susan frowned, "I'm not sure if I do...although I don't remember getting rid of them." She hesitated, "If you don't mind waiting a few minutes, I can check."

Micki nodded, "We would really appreciate that."

An hour later, Micki set a wooden box down on the desk in front of Jack, "Well, Chef Michael isn't using the knives."

Jack opened the box to reveal 3 knives, 1 fillet, 1 butcher's, and 1 paring. The metal had aged before Lewis had cursed them, and they weren't much to look at. But when Jack tried to break one against the desk, it was indestructible. He laughed, "This is wonderful! Look at these! We got them back before they hurt anybody!"

Ryan nodded, "I know, Jack - I wish it was always this easy."

Micki shut the box, "We'll put these in the vault, and go visit the spice-box buyer next."

----------

Ryan knocked on the door and looked anxiously at Micki, "Do you think Mr. Eels still has the spice-box?"

Micki looked thoughtful, "I hope so; it would be great to get two items back so easily in a week."

The door opened and there stood an old man who had a tuft of white hair, round glasses, and a cheerful look about him. He had on a flour covered apron and it was pretty obvious that he was in the middle of baking.

"Hello, there! How can I help you?"

"Hi, Mr. Eels, my name is Micki Foster." Micki smiled and extended her hand. Mr. Eels shook it, leaving a floured handprint across Micki's skin.

Ryan received the same floury handshake before Mr. Eels enthusiastically inviting them into the house without so much as asking why they were there.

Micki and Ryan stepped inside and were instantly greeted with the scent of fresh baked bread, "Hey, it smells great in here," Ryan said taking a deep breath.

Mr Eels clapped his hand together, "Thank you, Ryan! It's my newest recipe! I added a bit more Lavender to this recipe and I think it will give it the extra flavor I was hoping for this time...Come, come, have a taste...Oh, I never did ask, what can I help you two young people with today?"

Micki was a bit taken aback by his rambling, but recovered quickly. She explained the situation to him, the same way she had to Susan, hoping that it would work just as well.

He munched away on a bite of his new bread, "Well, now, I do remember something like that. That was when I taught classes, and I took it to work with me. I used it for a while, but I didn't like it as well as I thought I would. I gave it to one of the students."

Ryan's eyes lit, "You taught? Did you ever know that guy, he's got a new restaurant, Chef Michael?"

"No, I can't say that I knew him. I'm really only a pastry chef, you know, so I didn't meet a lot of the young men in the classes unless they wanted to learn to make pastries."

"I bet you were a wonderful teacher," Micki said, enjoying the bread immensely.

He smiled, "Well, thank you, dear."

"Can you remember the name of the student you gave the spicebox to?"

"Maybe. Let me think about this for a minute here. I think it was a young man named Roger Al...Al...Aleman." Mr. Eels spelled the last name for them, "He was quite talented - I imagine it shouldn't be too hard to find him, if you call a couple of bakeries."

"You think he would have stayed in the area?"

"He had family he was close to here, so he probably did."

Micki and Ryan stayed for a while longer, letting the conversation drift to Mr. Eels recipe, and they promised, at his behest, to come back and visit him again some time.

5: The Trail Runs Cold

Micki and Ryan went back to Curious Goods and made a quick report back to Jack before starting their search for Chef Aleman. After a bit of digging, they came across some contact information and set off to his home a few miles away.

When they finally arrived, they went up to the door and knocked. Finally, after a few minutes, a depressed looking woman answered the door, "Yes?"

Ryan was the first to speak, "We're looking for Chef Aleman...do we have the right address?"

The woman nodded, tears in her eyes, "I'm his widow..."

Micki looked at her sympathetically, "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Aleman...I'm sure this is a bad time, but we're looking for an item he got from one of his teachers in cooking school..."

The tearful woman shook her head, "I donated all his cooking things to the school. I couldn't stand to have them around any more." And she shut the door. Micki and Ryan could hear her crying inside.

Ryan frowned, "I guess we visit the Culinary Institute."

-----

"I'm sorry, Mr. Dallion, but we have no record of who bought what. We auctioned it all off. Most of it went to students, but our alums, and some other chefs from around the city also came. Chef Aleman had a great collection."

"Do you happen to know if Chef Michael, from Hitotsu Repas, was one of them?"

"No, sorry, I don't think anyone would have remembered. He wasn't a name until months later."

They nodded and glanced at one another. "Well, thank you for your time," Micki said politely, wishing that they hadn't hit a dead end so soon into their search.

They began to walk back to their car when Ryan stopped dead in his tracks, "Micki, look...that's Chef Michael's car."

Micki looked at him and cocked an eyebrow, "Do I even want to know how you'd know that?"

Ryan looked smug, "It's a classic 1965 Chevy Corvette, red, with custom rims...it was the only thing I noticed out of that Food and Wine article you had me read."

Micki shook her head, "Well, I'm glad you remembered. Let's see if we can find him." Just then, they saw Chef Michael walk through one of the glass hallways into the main building. They raced inside, just in time to see him and someone dressed in a white apron go into one of the classrooms. The door shut behind them.

Ryan gestured, and Micki followed him. They stationed themselves outside the door, pretending to be studying the school brochure they had been given, as they listened.

"I want my records removed from the database. I want it to be as if I never came to school here."

"But you did."

"If people find out about my performance while here, they may question my skill. How much do I need to pay to have my record removed from your files?"

Ryan looked up at Micki, "Did he have anything with him when he came in?" he whispered. Micki shook her head, "No..."

Ryan gestured for her to wait there, "Keep listening, I'm gonna go check out his car. I won't be long...I just want to see if I can find anything out."

Micki's eyebrows furrowed, "Be careful," she called out after him as quietly as she could.

When Ryan got to the car he was relieved to see no one around and peered in the driver's side window. It was tinted darkly so he squinted in an attempt to make out the shapes...nothing.

He moved quickly around to the passenger side, squinting into the tinted windows. A grin spread slowly across his face, "Bingo!" he whispered to himself excitedly.

There on the passenger seat sat a small box covered partway by a coat.


6: Almost

Ryan grinned, reaching into his back pocket for his wallet (in which he kept his lock-picks), then looking around. There was a security camera in the parking lot, and Chef Michael had parked his car in full view of its eye. He considered - it might be worth it.

He went back into the building, and almost ran into Micki as she was coming out the doors, "Ryan! Did you get it?"

He shook his head, "No, I..." Ryan stopped, seeing Chef Michael stalking towards them, a deep scowl on his face.

As he walked out the doors, the two exchanged a glance, and made their way casually back to the room, to which the door was closed, but not locked. They entered, finding themselves in a teaching-kitchen. Poking around together, Ryan told Micki about the security-camera.

They were looking in the closet when they heard the door open, and in their panic, both managed to squeeze into its depths, and Ryan pulled the door closed, except a half-inch.

Chef Michael leaned down to look into one of the cabinets, and pulled out a jar of red liquid. He grinned, and pulled open the front door of a mahogany spicebox, and Micki and Ryan could see rows and columns of 1-inch drawer-fronts.

Along the side of the drawers there was a narrow slot that held a leather-bound recipe book. Chef Michael smeared the red liquid into the wood on each of the drawers, and waited - 6 of the drawer-fronts had labels fade into view. He pulled out the recipe-book, and flipped through the pages, "Orange-Date Duckling with spicy couscous. Perfect again, Chef Michael..."

Michael then picked up the box and sauntered out of the room, pleased with his new recipe.

When Micki and Ryan finally made their way out of the cramped quarters they glanced at one another, looking sick at the thought of having eaten at Chef Michael's restaurant.

7: The Grand Unveiling

Micki and Ryan waited patiently outside the kitchen entrance two nights later.

Ryan had staked out the place the night before and discovered that the back entrance to the kitchen opened on occasion as chefs went outside to take a break, or bring in last minute supplies. He was confident that he and Micki could slip in relatively unnoticed. What they would do once inside, however, was another story entirely.

But they had to try. And besides, Ryan was pretty sure that it would be easier than they expected to snatch the evil item out of the back office. A famous food magazine had critics at the restaurant again tonight, so Chef Michael was distracted and the staff was bustling around making certain that everything was perfect. It was the best possible time for the two of them to sneak back to Chef Michael's office without being noticed and grab the accursed spice box.

Micki shivered and pulled her coat around tighter. She hoped the door would open soon, it was freezing outside.


"...and of course, I use the freshest, most organic ingredients available so that my amazing experience preparing the food can be transferred to your expert palettes." Michael gave a small bow, and the table of critics nodded, smiling in agreement, charmed by his speech.

"Oh," one of them began as he brought the fork back down from her lips, "Chef Michael, this is exquisite! How do you do it? A different, award-winning menu every week...simply amazing!"

He gave an arrogant smirk and thanked them, turning to head back to the kitchen.


Nearly 30 minutes later the door swung open and a thin, pale chef stepped outside into the cold night air, yelling back to his friends that he was taking a 10 minute break.

Ryan looked at Micki, knowing that this was their only chance. The young chef began making his way away from the door, heading towards the coffee stand on the corner.

As the door began to swing shut, Ryan lunged forward, sprinting past the chef as he moved towards the side of the building. Within seconds, Ryan and Micki were both inside the interior kitchen hallway, panting, and hoping that they had not been seen.

"So, what now?" Micki asked, looking at Ryan. He looked to his side, and made a small motion with his hand, "Let's go check out the office while Michael's out schmoozing it up with customers."

The two of them moved with stealth like precision to the back office, and closed the door behind them.

Within seconds they were tearing the place apart, as quietly as possible, looking for the spice box. It hadn't been in the place they had expected, and now they were looking everywhere for it.

After a few minutes, the box was still nowhere to be found. "Guess it isn't here after..." Micki's voice trailed off as her eyes focused on a small corner of wood sticking out from under the desk.

"Ryan," she whispered, "there it is!"

Ryan moved forward and snatched the item up, turning to Micki, "All right, we got it, let's get the hell out of here."

Before he could even finish his sentence, Michael strode into the office and stopped in his tracks, eying Micki, then Ryan, then his precious spicebox which, by now, was tucked under the arm of the young man.

Ryan, dodged out of the way as Michael came at him.

"Give me that spice box you son-of-a-bitch," Michael hissed, lunging towards Ryan again, a look of fierce determination and anger in his eyes.

Ryan dived out of the way, and Michael stopped. Grinning, he leaned down and picked up one of the large chef knives that he had in his office, "I had these in here because I was going to have them sharpened. But I can't think of a better use for this knife than to kill the both of you and turn you into my greatest recipe yet!"

He dived forward, lunging at Micki, who was closer to him. She quickly jumped out of the way, causing Michael to hit the door with the tip of his knife. As the knife dug into the wood, Michael's hand slipped off of the handle, running up against the blade, and leaving a gash along the palm of his hand.

He let out a low growl as he went for Micki again, this time catching her and holding the knife to her throat, "Give the box to me or the bitch dies."

Ryan nodded, his eyes wide with worry, "Fine, fine, just let her go."

Ryan held the box out for Michael, and set it on the desk. Slowly, Michael lowered the knife from Micki's throat and walked over to his spice box, practically mesmerized.

Ryan made his way over to Micki protectively as Michael picked up the box, leaving a bloody handprint along the thing as he opened it.

Ryan and Micki turned and began to make their way to the door when an odd sound filled the room. It was a simmering, searing noise accompanied by a smoky scent.

They turned in unison, and Micki let out a small squeal as they surveyed the scene before them.

Little by little, pieces of Chef Michael's body were peeling off of his frame and falling to the floor, splattering before turning into piles of spices that were whisked away into the open spice box.

Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, the horror was over, and Chef Michael was tucked neatly away into the drawers of the cursed box.

Seconds later the door opened and a nervous looking, well dressed man in a suit came into the office, "Have either of you seen Chef Michael?" he asked, voice shaking.

Mick and Ryan found it odd that the man thought nothing of them being in Michael's office alone, but Ryan recovered quickly, "No we were just looking for him ourselves."

"I bet," said the man, voice still quivering, "he probably ran off after seeing what happened."

"Why, what happened?" Micki asked.

The man made a disgusted face and looked as if he were going to be sick, "Right in the middle of dinner, people's food started to change..."

He ran out, and Micki and Ryan followed closely behind, spicebox tucked safely under Ryan's arm.

When they finally got to the dining room it was chaos. People running around, waitstaff trying to calm customers down, some people had fainted.

When Ryan and Micki got closer to one of the tables they saw why.

The orange-date duckling with spicy couscous had been replaced by platefulls of flesh, blood, and entrails, oozing off of the plates and leaving bloodied stains all over the tablecloths.

Micki and Ryan glanced briefly at one another before racing out of the front door with a mob of other people.

8: Epilogue

Ryan put down the newspaper, "Well, they're calling off the investigation. The police don't suspect any foul play, they just figure Michael skipped out on his restaurant after that night's...events. Still no explanation about the food transformation, either."

Micki still looked mildly nauseous at the thought of it, "Ugh...I'm just glad we got the thing back...and that we weren't eating there that night."

Micki walked over to the front door and flipped the sign around to read "Closed," then she made her way back up the steps towards the counter.

"So why do you think he did it? I mean, why not just wait until he learned the skills on his own?"

Ryan shook his head, "Who knows. No patience, maybe? Or maybe, like a lot of people, he wound up damaging himself by trying so hard to be something he wasn't."

Micki nodded, looking thoughtful. Sometimes Ryan's observations and deep thoughts surprised her since he was usually so playful and, sometimes, could be downright goofy.

"So," Ryan started, "You know, with everything that's been going on lately, I forgot to mention that I finally got reservations at that bistro you had been wanting to try. For 7:30 tonight..."

Micki walked over and forced a smile, looking mildly nauseated at the thought of eating at another 'famous, raved about' restaurant, "You know...a quiet dinner at home sounds really nice instead."

"Great!" Ryan said with a grin, "I'll head down to the vault and see if I can rustle us up some exotic spices."

When he saw Micki's face after hearing his joke, Ryan couldn't help but laugh.