Hiring Bill wasn't probably the best decision Hillary ever made in her life. Training him proved to be very challenging and frustrating. He was not in any way receptive to the new techniques that were being taught to him, and since he was already an executive chef of a Michelin-star restaurant, his ego was preventing him from coping with the new work environment.
Hillary massaged her temple as she digested the news that one customer had complained about the overcooked lièvre à la royale. The dish, which was made of hare cooked long and slow until it has a melt-in-your-mouth texture, was a French specialty. Hillary immediately knew that the culprit for the imperfect dish: someone had cooked the hare over high heat. This simple error should not have gone past Bill, as it was his duty to supervise the meat dishes.
She went down to the kitchen to check what was happening. She saw Bill and his assistant chefs plating another batch of lièvre à la royale.
"Boys, stop this for a sec," Hillary ordered, and Bill and the chefs obliged. "Have you tested the dish before plating?"
"We have," said Bill.
"And? Does it pass our standards?" she asked.
"Well, it's not the best lièvre a la royale but it is extremely delicious, I can assure you," said Bill.
Hillary took one of the unfinished plates and tasted a small portion of the hare. Her face crumpled as if she had tasted something sour.
"The customer's right. It is overcooked," said Hillary.
"What?!" Bill yelped. He took a spoon and took a bite out of the plate where Hillary took from. "It's soft and tender. It's earthy. I fail to see what's wrong with this plate!"
"This dish is soft for a reason," said Hillary. "This was made for a toothless King Louis XIV so that he could eat his favorite hare even without chewing. If you have to chew it, then it's not lièvre à la royale!"
Bill annoyingly threw the spoon that he had been using and walked out of the kitchen.
Stacey, one of Hillary's other sous chefs, was watching from the other side. She approached her boss and friend, offering a sympathetic ear.
"That's what you get when you hired an executive chef for a subordinate position," reminded Stacey. "Didn't he beg you for a job?"
"Yeah, he did," Hillary replied, still looking at the direction where Bill went. "I was feeling bad for his misfortunes so I hired him, against my better judgment."
"Obviously," Stacey rolled her eyes. "Are you sure you didn't just hire him because he looked more edible than the entire menu here?"
Hillary tried to remain casual. "No. I just really feel bad for him. I met him years ago in Las Vegas. He was a good friend. I couldn't deny him the help he needed."
"So let me get this straight. You guys met each other in Vegas a few years ago and your next conversation is like, three months ago where he begged for a job? Sounds like a lousy friend to me"
Hillary couldn't look at her sous chef directly. She was praying that Stacey wouldn't notice.
"Well, I don't want to dwell into our frequency of conversations," Hillary tried to pivot the conversation.
"What's important is that I find a way to connect to him."
"He should be connecting to you, Hillary," Stacey reasoned. "Not the other way around. He should take this job seriously if he wants to get ahead."
"I know, but it takes the two of us to make progress. If I am not receptive to his needs as a boss, then he would not grow," Hillary said.
Stacey simply sighed. "Fine, Hill. You're the boss. I know you can manage him."
"Thanks, Stacey," Hillary smiled. "By the way, the vol au vents were amazing."
"Of course," Stacey winked as she returned to her workstation. "I learned from the best."
After an exhausting workday, when most of her staff had already left, Hillary sat in the kitchen, eating the leftover gratin dauphinois. She had been more involved in the kitchen that usual, not just because of the influx of diners due to the weekend, but because of a problematic sous chef that she couldn't fire because of legal reasons.
A number of her staff greeted her as they passed by, but when Bill did, carrying his backpack, he gave zero fucks that his boss was sitting there. Hillary noticed his ignorance, and she quickly called for him before he could leave.
Bill masked the annoyance in his face as he walked back towards his boss.
"Hey," he tried to sound casual. "You need something?"
"Yeah," she replied, talking another bite of gratin. "I wonder if we can have a chat. Have you eaten dinner yet?"
"I'd like to eat dinner at home," Bill said.
"Why? Food's free here," she replied.
"I just like the peace, you know, of eating alone," he lied. That did not escape Hillary's sharp senses.
"Alright," she pretended to accept his response. "I'd like you to invite to dinner then. Let's go to my office. Gary, can you please send some food to my office?"
Gary, a younger chef, nodded and left to do his boss's orders. Meanwhile, Bill was this close to rolling his eyes in front of her.
Hillary and Bill together went to her office, which was simply a small room where she could receive guests. She led him to the small table which doubled as a dining table. Not long after, Gary arrived with plates of food and set the table for them.
"Alright," she said as they took their seats. "First, I apologize that I held you up when you're just about to leave, but you're always gone before I was able to call you."
"No problem," he said, which the exact opposite of what he was thinking.
"So, I just want to talk to you about your first three months here. I just want your feedback how you are getting along with your work."
"It's okay," he said. "I do the stuff asked of me."
Hillary bit her lip. "And? Anything else?"
"No," he replied.
She sighed. Bill didn't want to open up to her. He didn't even want to learn.
"Bill," she said, "listen to me. I know that you are having a hard time in this job, and I understand that because of your different background, but if you want to succeed in his path that you chose, then you will have to learn how to cope. You have a lot to learn in here, Bill."
Bill simply looked at the other direction, and this was starting to get into her nerves. But she might know what do motivate him, much as she hated to bring that up.
"Bill," she sighed, "Do not think of your employment here as something that would benefit me. Think of it as a training for yourself. I know that doing a favor for me is the last thing that you'd want to do, and with a level of skill like yours, you are doing me and my business good, but I accepted you here because you needed somewhere to start again. Don't let me get in the way of your growth. You are a very talented chef, Bill. Prove to me, to your coworkers and to the diners what made you a Michelin-starred chef. Because in the end, the reason of your success is you, not me."
"I know that you hate me," she continued, "but don't let your hate for me prevent you from being successful."
"I don't hate you," Bill said through gritted teeth. "I just work this way."
To say that Bill was lying was a massive understatement, and Hillary knew that. The Bill that she met in Las Vegas and the one sitting in front of her were two different persons. She couldn't blame him, though. He was hardened by his experiences, and he simply needed to be reminded that there was more to life that misfortunes.
Hillary tried another approach. "I know you are just new here, but if you need to take a leave then you have my permission to do so. I know losing everything that you've worked for hurts a lot."
"How would you know?" Bill asked bitterly. "You've never failed."
"Getting the top job at The French Laundry wasn't a walk in the park," said Hillary. "The last three executive chefs before me have far less experience than I have. Being looked over and branded as not being enough despite my skills was painful to me."
Bill simply stared at her. He didn't know that part of Hillary's life. But then again, he never had a real, in-depth conversation with her.
"I know what you're going through, Bill. You need to pick up the pieces. You might be demotivated right now, but you will have to stand up for yourself at some point. And whenever that is, I will be there to support you."
For the first time since they met again, Bill looked at her with kind eyes, the same way he looked at her when they first met, and it set off the butterflies that had been slumbering in her stomach.
Glancing at the food in front of them, Bill pulled the plate in front of him and began to eat. Seeing Bill open up a little felt like a small triumph for Hillary.
Suddenly, someone knocked on the door. It was Gary.
"Chef H, Sean is waiting for you outside. He says he wants to take you to dinner."
"Too late for him because I already ate, but tell him I'll be there." Hillary then turned to Bill. "Hey, I am sorry but I cannot join you. You are welcome to finish my plate, though. I haven't touched it so it should be clean."
Bill nodded and muttered his thanks.
Hillary smiled. "Eat. Chill. Rest. You need it."
She stood up to meet with her boyfriend. But before she left the room, she gave Bill one last glance. Her heart swelled at the sight of him eating. She knew that Bill took the first step towards healing, and she was proud of him for choosing to fight for himself.
He's stronger than he thinks he is, she thought.