so tell me what do I need
when words lose their meaning
i was spinning free
with a little sweet and simple numbing me
He’s not exactly sure when he started making cakes, but that’s what Bobby Flay does for a living. He likes cooking, he really does (grilling might be one of the most awesome things in the world), but somehow pastries ended up being his real favourite. He loves the feeling of mixing all the ingredients together; folding the eggs into the flour with precision and care, the way sugar turns into caramel with the right touch and caramel can turn into the most decadent caramel sauce you have ever tried under his watch.
And so Bobby makes cakes. And that’s how he knows Jane Nichols. Sad, sad, not-so-plain-Jane, who comes in often and smiles, but the smile is a sad one, doesn’t quite reach her eyes each time.
“Hi Bobby, how are the cakes coming along?” Jane asks him Tuesday, scribbling into her planner before looking up and flashing him a small smile. The store is quiet and just a tad bit lonely midday, so he brings the cake he’s working on out to the front counter. Usually she'll stick around and chat with him for a while, unless she's burning the candle at both ends for obnoxious brides, which seems to be the case today.
“Just fine. Tomorrow‘s cakes are both ready,” he replies, as he pipes more icing onto a traditional birthday cake he’s finishing up. “And the Darcy cake will be ready on Thursday.”
“Okay, I’ll have the caterer swing by to get it. I'm really sorry I have to run right now,” she replies, scribbling more notes in her planner. “Is three ok?”
“Fine by me,” he says, concentrating on the edge of a flower that’s giving him a little bit of trouble. She nods in agreement and is halfway out the door by the time he looks up.
Their friendship starts tentatively.
Jane comes by to pick up the four-tier cake he’s been slaving over icing, and quips she has no weddings for a whole week. It takes until the third time she says it for him to notice what she’s hinting at. So he does something incredibly daring and asks her if she’d like to stay and try some new cakes he’s been struggling with. He’s got this grand scheme in his head about reworking old recipes that could use a fresh perspective, because he is more of a traditionalist and wants a fresh palate to judge his creations.
She smiles at him softly, and says she’ll be back once she finishes her errands, three hours or so.
And he's not sure what she sees in a lonely pastry chef with a one bedroom apartment and flour-streaked red hair, but this time that small smile of hers actually reaches her eyes.
However, Jane’s not the only one vying for attention in Bobby’s thoughts. There’s another pastry chef, another Chef de Partie added to the team at Bon Fondant! that has been causing quite a stir. In fact Bobby can hardly keep up with their new star and mad scientist, Alton Brown, who has already stolen one of his assistants, and may actually going to be in the running for taking his job as Lead Patissier soon.
Not only was Alton Brown hired to train the new cooks, which he does alarmingly well considering the band of miscreants the place gave him to watch, but he’s also smart, creative, and intuitive, a necessary skill when it comes to dealing with food, because sometimes things can be ever so slightly unpredictable in the kitchen of Bon Fondant!(like that one time all the torches went out and he had 32 more crème brulee’s to go for the governor’s own birthday party. Was that a fiasco, trying to douse them in alcohol and set them on fire with a lighter might not have been one of the most stellar plans he’s ever had.) He also secretly (but will vehemently deny it if ever asked or confronted on the subject) likes that Alton is not vain about his receding hairline, instead he draws more attention to it by spiking what’s left. He really wishes he thought of that. Putting a hand up to his scalp he notices his hair is just beginning to thin out too. But it’s the wrong texture to spike up in chaotic directions.
One thing Bobby can say is that he is one hundred percent sure Alton’s also a damn good cook. His pieces have a strange, otherworldly flair to them that Bobby is terribly jealous of. How he uses paprika in caramel sauce to give it kick or that one time he pureed real truffles into a chocolate for truffles, that bastard.
“That’s why I hired him,” Mr. Daniel Kessler, owner of Bon! explained to Bobby the day before Alton showed up on a plane from Gaziantep, where he was apprenticing under a very well-known Turkish Patissier, learning to make traditional baklava. “You’re the best, but I think you might need another view point.” Patting Bobby on the back lightly, he added, “it’s nothing to get discouraged about.”
Yeah, right. Bobby thought to himself, but just smiled a cocky grin at Daniel. “Nothing to sweat. Bring ’em on, Kessler.”
Except Bobby is sweating over it a lot.
Scowling as he pulls out another overcooked batch of cupcakes, he muses how it’s just one more thing he adds to the list of things he can’t stand about Alton freaking Brown. Just the other day Alton unveiled a ginger-lemon torte with a rich white chocolate fondant that totally worked and was a hit with practically everyone, marking Bon‘s sixty-fifth newspaper review with five stars.
A party was thrown, and champagne served, the article tacked on a corkboard in the break room, as Bobby poured the champagne and Alton sat to the left of Daniel and his well-dressed partner, Mr. Fogarino, who just kept smiling, gold capped teeth shining in the bright lights of photo flashes. A toast was made and Bobby conceded to making a mild comment of appreciation, because for all that their rivalry is, it was an amazing torte.
Alton just smirked back from the table, holding up his champagne flute for a refill, as Bobby walked by with the bottle.
Arrogant bastard, Bobby thinks to himself before going over and topping his glass off, but like he’s really one to talk.
He’s just putting the finally touches on several new cakes, a sprig of mint here, walnuts there, a bit of candied orange peel sprinkled on top of that, when a soft rap at his door alerts him company is here. He opens the door to Jane fidgeting nervously squeaking out a meek hello.
Standing in the doorway, he smirks at her. “Are you ready for the most awesome cakes you are ever going to try in your life?” He asks her, as she steps in and he takes her coat.
Jane laughs softly. “I don’t know, man. I’ve had a lot of cake in my day.”
“But never such cakes as these,” he says, a gentle hand on the small of her back guiding her into the kitchen, and beginning to explain the rules of cake judging.
“Okay, so there are the obvious ones, like the toos,” he tells her, as he sets out the cakes on the counter one by one. “Too dry, too soft, too dense, too eggy, too sugary-” he stops, midway through, when he notices her rolling her eyes. Cutting a delicate slice out of the one of the cakes, he adds the final plating touches to it, before sliding it her way.
“Keep in mind its likely champagne will be the beverage served alongside it, not- is that milk?” Bobby stops, looking mildly affronted. "How did you get milk without me noticing?"
“Um, in the fridge?” She replies and he just shakes his head at her before busing himself with plating the next slice.
“There’s such thing as too bitter, right?” She says, and Bobby looks up to see her scrunching her nose up at the plate in front of her, taking a giant gulp of her milk (honestly, what?), before sliding the rest of the slice towards him.
And with that they small talk some more and the cranberry-walnut goes straight into the trash with a soft thump. He cuts the slice of the next one, which also gets vetoed with one bite. Pulling out the next cake, he hopes it will have a little more luck, and it does. Jane chews on it thoughtfully, and motions for it to be put to the side. Three down and two to go, Bobby decides to give his favourite a chance, even though the apricot-almond is the superior of the two. Plating the dark brown hued cake, Bobby sprinkles a little more candied orange peel on it before taking the fork and cutting off a delicate slice of cake.
“My favourite, though is having potential,” Bobby tells her, bringing a fork to her mouth. “Means it’s not flavorful enough.”
And when her mouth closes over the bit of cake on the tines and her eyes practically roll into the back of her head, he knows he’s found it, that they’ve found The One, Chile Cocoa with Orange (Bobby’s favourite). He files it into the back of his head for later use, trying not to notice the way her lips are wet and parted when she licks them for a stray crumb on the side of her mouth.
He’s happy enough he could kiss her, because Alton will be pouring the champagne this time at his party. He thinks about how he’ll be the one back on Mr. Kessler’s side, toasting fluted champagne glasses high as the camera’s shutters snap, but he thinks more about a kiss between himself and the girl in front of him would be, because he knows exactly to the last teaspoon of ingredients how her lips would taste.
Two days later, after the unveiling of the brand new cake in his shop to disappointingly mixed reviews, Jane comes over to his New York flat unannounced one night, cheesecake balanced precariously in one hand and a very good looking bottle of Riesling in the other.
“HiI’msorrythecakeIpickedsucks,” she says in one breath, practically unloads the armful of food on him and walking through the door, taking a seat at the kitchen island. “I figured making you a cake would be utterly stupid considering, so I made a decadent cheesecake for us to gorge ourselves on instead."
"It’s my dear Grandmother’s recipe," she adds, not commenting on Bobby's raised eyebrow. "But blame me if it’s atrocious.”
“It won’t be,” Bobby finally reassures her, that gentlemanly tact finally kicking in as he sets the cheesecake on the countertop, giving it a once over, before mentally smacking himself.
He can’t believe he’s wearing the chef hat right now, because this is Jane, Jane who is sweetcakefriendsugarflourandsin, not work. But in a rational way this is work, she is one of his clients, after all. He can’t help it if he critiques without thinking, sometimes the line gets blurred in his head. Some men size up their women by their hair, their breasts, their clothes. Bobby Flay sizes them up by their cooking prowess.
“I brought really fantastically recommended wine as a backup plan,” she adds, waiving her hands in the air, as Bobby takes the bottle from her gently, prying it out of her grasp.
He thinks about how both of their hands lingered, and for reasons unknown his mouth goes dry as he opens the Riesling with an uncomfortably loud pop.
And of course her cheesecake is fantastic, he thinks as he takes a bite, swallowing it down with the Riesling. Outwardly the cheesecake’s surface is perfect, just like its cook. And the inside, he doesn’t want to keep this metaphor going because it’s sinfully sweet, melting in his mouth, and that’s about all the food metaphors he can take right now and stay professional.
He imagines her measuring out the ingredients exactly, calculating how much time she has before the oven warms up, while folding the sugar into the mixture, and suddenly the room gets very warm, like the stove has been running and no one opened up any of the windows.
Despite how well the night went, it‘s a long time before he sees her again, months even. She never answered any of his calls (embarrassingly numerous) and Bobby started wondering if maybe she finally quit her job as a wedding planner, because the alternatives running through his head get more and more sinister every time someone asks what happened to his best client, the perky blonde one, wasn’t she a doll?
“Bobby!” She squeals as she walks through Bon's doors, hugging him as he would a long-lost acquaintance, and he hugs her back tightly, as if it might make her never leave again. She smiles at him, megawatt and brilliant, as he taking her hands and that’s when he feels it underneath his fingers, sharp sides digging into his palms. The reason for her entrance back into his life.
The reason for her beautiful smile. (And it's definitely not him.)
“I meant to tell you!” She says, twisting the platinum band on her finger, diamond reflecting small rainbows in the light. “I know i know the planner's dream. I’m finally getting married myself!”
“To…” Bobby stops, looking mildly confused as to how she met someone in the span of a few short months worthy of marrying after days of endless jokes mocking the sanctity of marriage, the clichedness of it all, amongst other things.
“Remember Kevin?” She asks, slapping him playfully. “I know i told you about him before. Right...?”
“The reporter guy?” Bobby asks, anger faintly tingeing his voice. “The one who not only stalked you but also who wrote about the wedding where they used our cake and totally bashed it?”
“Bobby,” Jane says, stepping back and furrowing her brow a little. “This is my now fiancée we are talking about.”
“I’m sorry,” he mutters, before turning back to the cake he’s setting up. “Congratulations. To you both.”
“Thanks," She replies after a suitably awkward amount of silence has gone by without either of them speaking or particularly looking at each other. "Yeah, it’s actually the reason I’m here. I, um, I want you to make our cake.”
First Alton, and then this, clearly the world is obviously conspiring against him, Bobby thinks, as he nods numbly and she smiles one of her megawatt smiles (and this one might actually be for him), but it it’s just not the same now.
Bobby begins working on the cake (he tags it the "Nichol's cake" because in his mind its still Jane Nichol’s and will always be), putting every ounce of effort he can into perfecting the taste, the shape, the colour, of the cake for the girl he never got. After three sketched out design concepts and two ruined batches of apricot-almond batter, he finally throws the baking pans into the sink and slides down to sitting on the kitchen floor, wondering to himself exactly when, in between baking wedding cakes, he realized that he had fallen for her.
And that’s how Alton finds him, with his head in his hands, flour streaking his forehead, mixing oddly with the russet of his hair.
“Cupcake for your thoughts?” Alton asks, holding out a small cupcake iced with something that looks like key lime pie, but much more viscous. Bobby quirks up an eyebrow in confusion at the strange concoction held out in front of him.
“Slimetime cakes,” Alton explains, holding up another, before biting into it. More of the lime smelling goo spills onto his fingers from inside of it, and he licks it off. “Nickelodeon wanted me to make them as dessert for the Kid’s Choice Awards.”
Bobby laughs quietly, but sets the cupcake on the ground. “Really not hungry right now, especially possibly poisoned pastries.”
He winces inwardly as Alton gives him an affronted look. “Nice alliteration. They only have a mild sedative added to quell the mass hysteria of children once I heard Miley Cirus was going to be there,” he says, before beginning to munch on Bobby’s. “And isn’t that totally illegal? Doesn’t Disney directly compete with Viacom for child audiences?”
“Nah, you can’t touch Disney,” Bobby replies, still staring at the tile flooring, scuffing it lightly.
“Fellow chef, you are obviously in a funk. We must remedy this situation immediately,” Alton professes, before getting up and rummaging through a cabinet loudly. Bobby finally looks up when he hears a cry of victory and Alton is in front of him holding a golden hued bottle of something that looks suspiciously like very expensive single malt, because c’mon, he knows his whiskey well enough.
And so, the two culinary geniuses (and also enemies) of Bon Fondant! ended up getting tanked on the bottle of overpriced whiskey, Alton’s plan working like a charm, because he hasn’t thought JaneJaneJane in minutes, hours maybe (until now), and is instead busy listening to Alton regaling tales of when he once went cross-country to find the best hamburger ever, only to realize it was a restaurant on the corner in Ypsilanti (wherever the hell that is).
"So much for soul-searching revelations," Alton told him. "I was hoping it’d be somewhere further away too. But seriously, like Papua New Guinea has many burger joints to choose from." He laughs heartily, and downs the last of their whiskey, only temporarily looking at the empty bottle with longing before pulling down a bottle of cooking sherry from what Bobby can only assume is thin air.
“I used to be a part-time magician too,” Alton explains with a wink, eyeing Bobby’s baffled expression and passing the cooking sherry to him. “Can’t make a living cooking everywhere, especially when you aren't setting up shop.”
Bobby just nods and takes a generous swig as response.
“This is over somebody, right?” Alton asks, and Bobby replies by taking another gulp and handing the bottle back. “Well, the way I look at it,” Alton says, after a moment, clearing his throat and wagging a finger at Bobby, “I think you should tell that person. I think you should tell him, because you never know when someone could leave your life. And what if they go on never knowing how you felt about them?”
Bobby coughs at the implication of what he just heard, spitting out a fair portion of his last swig of sherry, as he splutters in response. “I didn’t say the person was a him,” he finally says, shaking his head. The room spins a little with every movement, and that just might be okay too. “Jane’s engaged to that reporter guy.”
“The one she fancied in type ever so, until finding out he was a bastard in real life?” Alton asks, waiving it off and raising an eyebrow in mild shock. “Interesting development.”
Bobby nods, holding his hand out for the sherry.
“And this is the cause of your horrible cooking funk?”
“Perhaps,” Bobby sighs. “Or maybe I am just losing my touch after all.”
“Well that’s a pity because I’m getting terribly bored here and was thinking about opening my own restaurant,” Alton says with a mischievous smirk. “But there’s a slight problem. I believe I am, the executive chef, lacking a pastry chef. Actually it’s going to be a hole-in-the-wall for a while, so said pastry chef would really be my sous-chef. But in time, my friend, in time...”
Bobby frowns for a moment, tries to clear his mind from the haze of alcohol and wrap it around what he thinks Alton just asked him.
“I think we'd make a good team. The competition makes for interesting creations. Would you like to come along?” Alton asks in earnest, setting the sherry down on the tile floor. “Think of it as a fresh start. Get away from all those frilly cakes and crazy people taking life oaths and whatnot. Do something crazy, like make ridiculously overpriced texmex or we could travel in search of how to make the perfect jambalaya.”
He stands up, and holds out his hand to help Bobby up. “Whaddya say?”
"You drive a hard bargain there, Mr. Brown. But yeah, okay. Let's do this," Bobby replies, taking the offered hand with a smile.
yeah, stumble til you crawl,
sinking into sweet uncertainty