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War of the Wyvern

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It’s the early hours of Sunday morning when it really kicks off. The Wyvern, Holby's most exclusive restaurant, had been fully booked for Saturday night and the kitchen was rushed off its feet turning over the 38 covers in time for the next sitting. Finally at 11.45 the last guest had left, the kitchen had been scrubbed clean to within an inch of its life and everything was back in place ready to start lunch prep again first thing tomorrow.

It had not been the most successful service in the history of the Wyvern, since losing their coveted Michelin star early in the new year the pressure had been beginning to tell. It was widely known among the kitchen and front of house staff that Head Chef, Michael Spence, had been given 3 months to turn things around and while the restaurant had been filling up again and the clientele were enjoying the food once more, there were still issues behind the scenes. Not a service went by without Michael and sous-chef Serena Campbell barking and sniping at each other. Michael hated the way Serena undermined him in front of the kitchen and Serena, who was credited by the kitchen and servers with being the real reason the Wyvern was getting back its reputation, found Michael to be sloppy, she was fed up of constantly having to correct his mistakes and clear up his messes.

This tension had finally boiled over when Serena had dared to suggest that the dishes Michael was about to let go from the pass were sub-standard and would require re-plating. Seemingly this latest criticism was to be the last as Michael dramatically ripped off his chef’s whites and hurled them down in a fit of pique, storming out of the kitchen and leaving Serena to take over the running of service. Serena was momentarily left open-mouthed at his toddler tantrum before pulling herself together once more.

“Show’s over – back to your stations please, we have a service to complete.” She barked to the wide-eyed kitchen staff, clapping her hands sharply for emphasis.

The rest of service went as smoothly as could be managed running the kitchen while a chef down, everyone pulling together to cover the gaps where they could. Now they all congregated at front of house sharing a drink in virtual silence as they rested their feet for the first time in 10 hours. Serena herself slumped back in a chair, shoes off; wiggling her numb toes as the front of house manager Fletch wordlessly slid a welcome glass of Shiraz in front of her. No-one dared speak of what had happened between her and Spence but it was the topic on everyone’s mind, even more so when the door opened and the restaurant owner, Henrik Hanssen, appeared looking a bit more bleary-eyed than usual but still impeccably tailored. He nodded to the staff and went straight into the back office. This made them sit a little straighter and every eye moved to Serena.

“What? I didn’t call him. I have as much idea of what he’s doing here as you do.” She snapped back at their accusatory looks. The reappearance of Spence a few minutes later answered the unspoken question for them; he slowed slightly to cast an angry stare at Serena before marching over to join Henrik in the office.

Serena puffed out her cheeks and took a large gulp of wine.

“Don’t worry Serena, we all know that you were only doing what was right for the restaurant, I’m sure Henrik will see that.” It was one of the commis, Raf di Lucca, who had spoken up. Serena gave him a grateful smile before resuming staring at her wine as she swirled it absent-mindedly in her glass.

The silence was broken by the sound of raised voices coming from the office, well one raised voice as no-one had ever heard Henrik Hanssen have to raise his tone above his usual softly spoken pitch. The door burst open and Michael appeared.

“Good luck getting that star back without me here, Henrik.” He yelled in his west coast American drawl before slamming the door so hard the frame shook. He swung around to Serena, eyes blazing with fury. “Got what you wanted now Campbell, well we’ll see how long you last.” Not waiting for a response he stormed out of the restaurant for the second time that night.

Once again the eyes of the team swung to Serena, some in shock, some looking for her reaction. Serena ever the diplomat played the long game. “Don’t jump the gun, we all know Spence can be a bit of a drama-queen at times, I’m sure this will blow over and he’ll be back soon. Right I could murder another Shiraz, anyone joining me?” A few nods and few shakes of the head, Fletch bless him topped up Serena’s glass and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder saying more with the gesture than he ever would with words.

Serena had learned from many years of experience to never openly stab someone in the back, the restaurant circuit was a small little clique with Head Chefs, sous-chefs and commis changing kitchens like people changed their socks. Everyone knew everyone else, you could not move restaurant without your reputation going with you. Serena had worked hard at making her reputation one of the best, tough, honest but fair and generally well-liked and respected. She had steadily worked her way up the ranks and had taken a sideways move to the Wyvern from a more highly regarded London restaurant specifically with an eye on the Head Chef position. Michael Spence was known to be a bit of a liability of late, flashes of inspirational brilliance more often disguised in sloppy lack of precision and control. Serena knew his days were numbered and she had ensured she was right there waiting when they finally ran out.

Serena was stirred from her thoughts by Henrik appearing from the office. “A word, Ms Campbell, if I may?” From anyone else it sounded like a polite request but if you knew Henrik Hanssen it was a direct instruction. Serena rose from her chair, slipping her aching feet back into her trainers, took a quick swig of wine before crossing to the office and gently closing the door behind her.

“Take a seat, please.” Henrik indicated the chair opposite his desk as he resumed his seat, frowning slightly he realigned a pencil he had errantly knocked into on his way past. “Mr Spence has provided me his version of events of what happened this evening, I wonder if you would be so good as to share your observations of what has gone on before you leave.”

“As you wish Mr Hanssen, but honestly, I do not know what all the fuss is about. I was merely pointing out to Spence that the two lamb plates for table eight looked completely different to each other and we could not send them out like that, they just needed re-plating that’s all. Mr Spence said they were fine and he told Essie to serve them, I told her not to and sent them back to Ollie to redo. Ollie was fine with the request. Michael seemed to lose his cool and started yelling before storming out of the kitchen. I’m sorry if I did the wrong thing but we have to uphold the highest standards especially if we want out star back.”

Hanssen stilled for a moment, before nodding. “Fine, thank you Ms Campbell.” He paused, narrowed his eyes at his desk, before nudging the errant pencil a further millimetre to the left. Seemingly satisfied he looked back up to Serena again. “It was probably clear from Mr Spence’s outburst earlier than we have parted ways, which leaves us without a Head Chef. I would like to ask you to step up in the interim and fill the position while I consider what my options are to take the Wyvern in the right direction. Are you agreeable to this?”

“Yes Mr Hanssen I’m here to help in any way I can.”

“Very good, I shan’t keep you any longer then, thank you for your time.”

Serena rose and nodded to Henrik before turning her back on him and heading to the door, a satisfied smirk crossing her face before she schooled her features and opened the door to the team anxiously waiting her return.

The team had the grace to wait until she had resumed her seat and taken another sip of her wine before someone broke the silence.

“Well, what did he say?” It was Dom, one of the young kitchen hands, who piped up first.

“Mr Spence has parted company with the Wyvern, while Henrik looks for a replacement, I will cover Michael’s duties.”

“So you don’t have the job permanently then?” Fletch chipped in. A muscle twitched in Serena’s jaw as he touched a raw nerve before she composed herself again.

“Fletch we are trying to get our star back, I think Mr Hanssen needs to consider who is the best person to do that very carefully.” Serena coolly replied even as the voice inside her head screamed “me, me, me.”

Serena stood once more and drained the rest of her glass and slipping her coat on she bid them all a good night before making the short walk back to her house.

 

“Raf, how long on the three monkfish for table five? Ollie’s lamb is up in two minutes, will you be ready?” Serena shouted across the pass while shuffling the tickets along.

“Yes chef” Came the instant response and Serena glanced over to see Raf already into his plating up and she hummed contentedly. Sure she had covered service for Spence before but she had never run it for so long and she was absolutely in her element.

There had been a few teething problems, she had needed to elevate Dom from his kitchen hand duties to being in charge of one of the dishes in order to cover the gap left now she was acting Head Chef. Dom could not have gone straight into preparing the complex and delicate monkfish main that Serena used to prepare, so she had been forced to move Raf from the poached pear dessert to cover the fish dish. Dom might have been able to do the poached pear but the cinnamon biscuit accompaniment required careful watching or it would catch and be ruined, so Serena had moved Jasmine over to prepare the dessert and Dom slotted into the least technical dish to prepare, the ham hock and chicken terrine starter.  All of this disruption to routine meant that the previously well bedded lines of communication broke down; dishes were arriving too early or worse too late, many having to be completely remade and expensive ingredients ending up in the bin.

There had been a couple of complaints during the transition but now everyone was settled in dishes were coming to the pass on time, every time. Tables were filling, customers were happy, the tills were ringing, Serena was supremely confident that Henrik would make her the Head Chef on a permanent basis after this. Her daydream was broken as Raf slid the three monkfish plates onto the pass and Ollie was just finishing dressing his lamb for table five.

“Nice looking monkfish, Raf. Ollie – good job on the lamb, nice and pink still.” Giving the plates a last wipe around the rim she called out, “Service” before smiling as Isaac swept in to balance the four plates onto his arms and out to the waiting diners. Her smile turned once more to a scowl as she espied the gorgeous plate of food turning to mush in front of her she shouted across the kitchen “Zosia! Where is the raspberry roulade I asked for, the chocolate fondant is ready and the ice-cream is melting, hurry up.”

 

Mr Hanssen was in the next night, not an unusual occurrence itself but he typically delegated front of house duties to Fletch during the week and Henrik himself only appeared on the odd weekend shift when the restaurant was packed. The service was slow as usual for a Wednesday, perhaps only half the covers they would get on a weekend but the conditions in the kitchen were even more stifling than normal. April had yielded hotter weather than expected and despite forecasts of a storm coming to break the heat it had yet to hit Holby. It was therefore a very tired, hot and sweaty team that finished cleaning for the night. Serena and Raf had retreated up the stairs to the roof above the restaurant where it was high enough that you could feel the cooling effect of the light breeze from the west. They leaned against the wall of the stairwell, close enough to talk but far enough away to ensure the cool night air would catch them both.

“So Henrik is here tonight, what do you make of that?” Raf’s gentle Scottish tones echoing Serena’s own thoughts. She turned her head towards him, the wind hitting the back of her neck making her shiver slightly where the sweat from hours in the kitchen was now cooling.

“Hmm, I don’t know Raf. Not like him, and he is a creature of habit.”

“Think it’s anything to do with the Head Chef position?”

“Well they will be finishing up scrub down in a minute so I guess we will find out soon enough. Care to join me Mr di Lucca?” Serena offered him the crook of her arm and smiling he looped his through hers.

“Why Ms Campbell, I never knew you cared.”

Indeed when they got back downstairs, some of the team had already left and there were just Jasmine and Zosia still preparing their dessert sections for service tomorrow. Henrik was looming near the pass and he spotted Serena and Raf return.

“Ah Ms Campbell, I was just looking for you.”

“I’m all yours Mr Hanssen.” Serena gave a tight smile before turning to Raf and kissing his cheek. ”Night Raf, see you tomorrow.” The Scot gave her a little wink of encouragement in response.

Serena followed the tall Swede once more into the office and he indicated for her to sit down.

“I appreciate it is late Ms Campbell and you must want to get home so I will be brief. I’ll admit I was concerned when Mr Spence left us and you were required to step up so suddenly, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the transition has been managed. The kitchen is running like a well-oiled machine by all accounts and that is a testament to you and everything that you have achieved in the 2 weeks you have been running the team.”

Serena felt a light blush hit her cheeks, and allowed a small smile to curl at the sides of her mouth but she kept still and quiet awaiting Henrik to make it official before she spoke up. Her heart was hammering in her chest as she composed herself to hear the words she had worked her career towards.

“That is why,” he continued, ”I have the utmost confidence that the combined talents of you and our new Head Chef, Berenice Wolfe, working closely together can deliver us our Michelin star back. I feel very lucky to have two such exceptionally talented and capable women running my kitchen and I greatly look forward to what you can deliver. In the meantime I want to personally thank you for stepping up and performing so admirably while I finalised the agreement with Ms Wolfe.” Serena could feel the flush of anger rising up her face and she tried to breathe through it, now was not the time to lose her cool.

“May I ask Mr Hanssen, whether you considered me for the role? I believe I have made my intention clear to use the sous-chef position here as a step into my first Head Chef.” Serena could hear the bite of anger in her tone but if Henrik picked up on it, he did not react.

“Of course and it is still my plan to honour that arrangement, however I had a rare opportunity to bring Ms Wolfe in and I could not pass the chance up. I see you and her working very closely together and when Ms Wolfe looks to move back to London, as I would expect her to do in a few years, then you should be in a much better position to take on the Head Chef role. In the meantime you will have had the opportunity to work with one of Britain’s most gifted new culinary talents.”

She managed an ingenuous smile at this, “I look forward to learning from her.” Serena positively hissed through gritted teeth. Ms Wolfe had no idea who she was messing with, that woman’s life was going to be hell. A few years - ha, Serena had every intention of making sure she would be high-tailing back to London in a few months if she even lasted that long.

 

Serena spent the next few hours tossing and turning in her bed as waves of anger and despair each brought hot stinging tears to her eyes. Despite knowing, even more than usual, she needed to be on top form tomorrow, still sleep evaded her. At 3am she finally gave up trying and flicked on the switch for her bedside lamp. Reaching out to her phone she opened up her Google app and typed Berenice Wolfe into the search engine, kitchen gossip had provided her some information about the woman who was stealing her job, but she was going to have to be fully prepared if she was going to destroy her.

The search returned a surprisingly low number of results, most were just linked to her time at L’Sauvage as sous-chef, a few were linked to her military awards and medical discharge but the most informative was a relatively recent lifestyle piece looking at the rising British chefs of 2016. It profiled her military career, the explosion that had returned her to the UK and it briefly mentioned her divorce, then her stellar rise through the London culinary circuit to become sous-chef at L’Sauvage. Unlike the other articles, it carried a photo of her, it was a bit small and unclear but it showed a tall, lean woman with curly blonde hair and a slightly bashful smile, eyes hidden beneath a long fringe. Serena zoomed into her face to study her features but it only became blurry and pixelated. She stared for a long while at the picture trying to read the woman, before locking her phone screen with a sigh. She was bloody supermodel thin and pretty as well, all the staff would be fawning over her like little puppies, Serena had not thought it possible, but she hated the woman even more now. It was with visions of long legs, sharp cheekbones and blonde curls that sleep finally claimed her.

It is only a few hours later that Serena Campbell, sporting heavy dark circles under her eyes, arrived at the Wyvern for Thursday lunch prep, despite being bang on time most of the team are already at the restaurant and are busy readying for service. She can see Henrik’s looming presence straightening his already straight tie through the open door to the office.

“What’s going on Serena?” Raf had sneaked up behind her and was stage-whispering in her ear. At Serena’s confused expression, he flicks his head towards the office. “He’s here again, come on spill it.”

“Ah, Henrik is here to announce the new Head Chef to the team Raf.” Serena avoids making eye contact with his questioning gaze.

“But it’s you” Serena shoots him a dark look and he finally catches on. “Oh, it’s not you, Serena I’m so sorry, but who is it then?” She is about to enlighten him when Henrik appears and clears his throat to call everyone together.

“Thank you for taking the time to break from your preparation for lunch service, I won’t take up much of your time. I would like to announce our new Head Chef and wanted you to hear it from me rather than through the highly efficient rumour mill. I am very pleased to announce that Ms Berenice Wolfe, who has been sous-chef at L’Sauvage in London until recently, has agreed to join our team. She will be joining us tonight to observe how we work and to sample the menu but will take charge of service officially from tomorrow night. I trust that you all will make her feel welcome and work with her closely to get her up to speed.”

A murmur rumbled through the ranks, a few eyes darted to Serena nervously who was in the process of biting down so hard on her cheek to disguise her inner turmoil that she could taste the metallic tang of blood on her tongue.

“The Berenice Wolfe? She’s a ledge!” Mo chipped in. “I heard she once produced a perfect tomato consommé for a restaurant critic who refused to order from the menu, used a technique she learnt in the army to cool it quickly without ruining the texture or clarity, rumour has it.” Mo trailed off as Serena shot daggers at her.

“Yes thank you Ms Effanga, you’ll receive your Berenice Wolfe fan club membership badge in the post shortly.” Serena remarked dryly. “Now unless there are any more questions for Mr Hanssen may I suggest we get on with our work or we won’t even have finished lunch service by the time Ms Wolfe arrives.”

The team quietened at Serena’s sharp tone and swiftly returned to their workstations as they were now cutting it fine for pre-lunch prep. As Serena swept around each area checking their readiness and getting them back on track, she could not fail to notice the way hushed conversations cut dead as she approached. Her cheeks burned once more, she had been humiliated in front of the team, her team and she would not stand idly by and let this happen, it was her dream and she would not be denied.