Chapter 1: Classroom One
“I’m sorry Mr. Unwin, we didn’t have enough people sign up for the class and we have to cancel.”
He folded his arms in front of him, trying not to unleash his annoyance on the woman. She was simply the bearer of bad news. “This is a fucking community center, ain’t you guys supposed to help the community by teaching skills and shit?” It had taken him weeks to skulk in and actually sign up for the class in the first place, and he’d dropped a hundred quid on the course. “I already paid for this shit!”
“I understand our dilemma Mr. Unwin, and we’ve been working to find a solution for you. Are you willing to travel at all?”
He slouched down even further in his chair but finally nodded. “Yeah I can take the bloody tube. If it’s at night.”
“Brilliant!” She sounded a bit more cheerful at that. “This is actually an excellent opportunity for you. Kingsman is one of the most elite cooking schools in London, and they so rarely offer evening courses like this. The fact that they were willing to work with us and allow you to attend is a miracle.”
“It’s basic though, yeah?” Basic was what he needed. He just needed to learn enough so that Deanna wasn’t eating frozen pizza or chicken nuggets every meal, and his mum wasn’t exactly in the mood to cook most days. Cooking had always been his dad’s thing, he’d been about to trade up from a sous chef to a full chef when his accident had happened.
Sure, Eggsy could eat junk all day long if he had to, but his half-sister deserved better. He could give her better. Plus cooking classes would keep him away from Dean in the evenings, so he really couldn’t see a downside.
“They said it was fine for a beginner to attend, they don’t expect professionals. Here, I’ll print out the address and directions for you. Classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00. Good luck!”
She beamed at him and he managed something that might have been a grimace before snatching the paper and walking toward the door. It was only after he’d made it to the hallway that he actually looked at where the class was and swore under his breath. Looked like he’d be heading to a swankier part of town then his usual haunts then.
“Ready for a new batch of recruits?”
Harry didn’t bother looking up, motioning Merlin into his office while he shuffled through the applications. “I noticed one of these wasn’t on one of our forms,” he mentioned casually and the other man nodded as he perched on the edge of the desk.
“Yeah, we had a community outreach program give us a call. Seems they’ve got a lad that signed up for a cooking class and they had to cancel it. She said he was the type she worried about, thought it might be good for him to have an activity off the streets you know.”
“Do you know anything about him?” He placed the form between the two of them, tracing the lines of the young man’s name with his eyes.
“Just what you know.” There was a moment of silence before Merlin sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know Harry. Same last name, same part of London, maybe the right age, but I just don’t know. Thought it might be worth it to take a chance on him. If he doesn’t work out we’ll figure something out.”
“I’m sure I can handle a single student, no matter how difficult. But did you have to make the classes a Tuesday/Thursday one? You know I prefer to dine out on Tuesdays.”
“Mr. King insisted his godson be included in this course. Do you really want to deal with him three days a week? Trust me, it’s not too late to change things.” He moved as if to change something in his iPad and it was all Harry could do not to lunge at him.
Or reach for the chef’s knife on display behind him and throw it.
“No, it’s fine, I’ll just change my reservations.” It never really paid to get on Merlin’s bad side. He kept things running smoothly, ordering supplies and offering opinions when they needed a second palate involved.
“I thought so,” Merlin added smugly, finally sliding off the desk and returning to his actual work.
Eggsy refused to let himself be daunted by a fucking building. Just walking up to the front, the windows proudly spelling out Kingsman with another line in smaller print adding “cooking academy,” made him feel slightly self-conscious, and going inside only added to that. Everything seemed perfect. Perfectly placed, perfectly clean, perfectly organized. He let himself saunter up to the counter where a bald man was waiting, refusing to even hint at the fact that he felt out of place.
“I got a class in a few minutes, yeah?
"Actually your class is starting now," the man replied. "Lucky for you Chef Hart is almost always late, but I'd hurry if I were you. He doesn't like to be kept waiting. Classroom one to your right."
He nodded, tucking his hands into his pockets and moving toward the room in question.
Walking in made him want to turn around and leave. The room was small but filled with toffs, and walking in late meant that all eyes were on him almost instantly.
Instead he just jerked his chin into the air and added a bit more swagger to his step, trying to figure out where to even go.
"There's an empty spot at my station."
The words came from a young woman who was smiling at him, sticking out her hand when he started toward her. "Roxanne Morton, you can call me Roxy."
He clasped her palm, nodding. "Eggsy."
“Eggy?” There was a scoff behind him, and he wanted to ignore them but instinct had him turning, needing to face the threat if there was one.
He knew these types. Rich pricks that didn’t have nothing better to do, and while he would stand up for himself there was no point in trying to prove anything to them. Nothing would sink into skulls as thick as theirs.
“You know you don’t need to attend a school like this to work for McDonald’s, right?” Another one asked, the trio laughing at the joke.
His retort dried in his throat when the rest of the room fell silent, moving back to their stations. The stations were arranged in a u-shape, a demonstration area at the front, and the man approaching the main area looked every inch a chef. His coat was pristine, the edges of his apron crisp, and he looked completely at ease.
“Good evening class. As you may have guessed, I am Chef Hart. After selling my first restaurant I chose to focus on a dual career as a culinary instructor and food critic. In a few moments I’ll begin walking around to meet you each personally, but we’ll hold class introductions until you all present your first dish.
“For now we’ll be jumping straight into the cooking. This is to show me what techniques you have already mastered, a bit of your personal taste, and above all, what you can actually put on a plate. For this reason everyone will be making me an omelette. You have thirty minutes and may begin now.”
There was a moment of near silence before the scrambling began. Suddenly the carton of eggs at their station made sense, but all Eggsy could really do was look around to see what other people were doing. Grabbing ingredients it looked like, so he trailed after them. He knew what an omelette was of course. He’d had them once or twice, and from what he remembered they just had stuff in them. Ham maybe? Or peppers? Cheese? He wasn’t sure, grabbing a bit here or there, not really sure what he was taking but moving it all to his station nonetheless. He could deal with the rest when he got there.
People were getting pans from the back and he followed them back, grabbing one at random, seeing it was black inside and deciding that was familiar enough before going back to stare at his ingredients.
Right. He had to do something with these.
Eggsy knew you were supposed to rinse shit off, so he ran the pepper under the water before shaking it somewhat dry and setting it on the board before him and grabbing a knife.
Hacking into it seemed the best option, and he went to it with gusto. He didn’t really remember the seed things, so he tried to separate them a bit, not sure quite how to but then working on making them more roughly bite-size.
Smells of cooking already permeated around him, so he had a feeling he didn’t have time to watch indefinitely. He knew no one would really want a chunk of raw pepper, and other people seemed to be cooking, so he turned on the stove and went ahead and threw the peppers in the pan. They were just starting to sizzle when he finished cutting the ham up and that went on top of the eggs.
The common technique around the room seemed to be cracking them into a bowl and mixing it so he copied, not entirely sure when to pour the eggs in. One man in the group was already finished, fussing at his presentation, but that was just the one man. Most people seemed to be waiting, though for what he wasn’t sure.
He shifted the peppers and ham in the pan, thinking that they looked cooked enough to be something he'd eat. With a shrug, mostly to himself, he snagged one out of the pan and popped it into his mouth. Perfect. He scraped the filling out of the pan, belatedly realizing the chef was standing by their station, talking with Roxy.
At that moment Chef Hart turned, eyes finding his. "Gary Unwin I presume?"
"Yeah," he said, trying not to sound like he was entirely out of his element. "I go by Eggsy though."
"Eggsy. By any chance are you related to Lee Unwin?"
He wasn't expecting the question, eyes narrowing as he tried to figure out how Harry knew to ask about him. "My dad's Lee," he confirmed, continuing to watch the chef for some sort of reaction.
He simply nodded, not showing a hint of surprise. "Lee showed excellent promised when he worked for me. Welcome to Kingsman, Eggsy."
He moved on to the next table and Eggsy tried not to just stare after him. Instead he looked over, realizing Roxy had already put her eggs in the skillet and swearing.
Just pouring the eggs in he knew something was wrong. There was a thin layer, and it wasn't enough egg. It was too late to do anything now so he just started sprinkling on the cheese and dumping the peppers and ham back on, hoping he'd figure out when it was finished.
It didn't look burnt, nor was it oozing on the plate as he set the plate out, moments before their time was up.
Harry surveyed the plates in front of his students and tried not to be relieved that at least they all resembled omelettes. Sure, some were a bit browned, a couple were overstuffed, and at least one was falling apart, but they were somewhat all the proper shape.
There were different combinations of flavors, none terribly adventurous, but none that he was actually tempted to spit out when he tasted them. Still, every single one had at least a small flaw, and for now he simply critiqued.
Finally it was Lee's son's turn, the young man glancing down at his plate before focusing on a spot behind Harry as he introduced himself and his dish to the class. "I'm Eggsy, first time taking a class. This is," he glanced down at his dish. "Well it's a fucking omelette I guess. It's got peppers, the green kind, yeah? And ham and cheese." He didn't seem too disturbed by his presentation, jerking his chin up a bit higher almost as an overcompensation for not being entirely sure.
Harry knew before he cut into it the omelette had issues. The pan used had been too large and it was too thin, not nearly as fluffy as necessary, and he feared the worst as he cut a bite from the middle and bit into it.
He set down his utensils and wiped his mouth, just as he had with each of the others. A short nod followed before he spoke. "Obviously for a fluffier omelette it needed to be in a smaller pan. Be cautious when you're only cooking with two eggs, the 8" pan is large enough. Also, the eggs themselves need salted. That said the flavor combination was well balanced and worked quite nicely."
Nothing he couldn't work with. "Watching you work and tasting your final products has been very informative. Now I'll be doing a demonstration so I would like you all to gather around my station."
He didn't wait on them, simply moving back to the station and working on setting out all of the materials he would need.
"As most of you realized, the majority of fillings need to be cooked before being added to the omelette unless you desire them to taste raw. For the sake of time I will be making a basic cheese omelette, so I won't be prepping any fillings.
"You'll want to start with two to three eggs. Whisk them together until the color is consistent. If you can still discern between the whites and the yolk you've done a shitty job. When your egg is starting to froth you should add salt and pepper, though you can add other herbs and seasonings if you so desire." While he spoke he took a pinch of salt from a bowl, sprinkling it in before adding the pepper and giving it another quick whisk.
"Melt your butter in the pan," he intoned as he let the pat liquefy. "Then add your eggs. You'll notice I haven't added cream or water, they aren't necessary to a fluffy omelette. At this stage, if your pan is too hot the eggs brown too much on the bottom and remain runny in the center, so keep the pan on medium.
"When the eggs are mostly set you can move your pan like so to give your omelette lacey edges, or you can simply add your ingredients." He took the time to simply grate the cheese directly onto the egg before loosening up the edges with his spatula and folding it in half.
"Do you see the light golden color on the egg?" he asked, moving the pan away from the burner and holding it out for them to see as he turned the fire off. He let them observe, not missing which ones merely glanced and which ones studied the color, trying not to be relieved that Lee's son was among the later. "This is what you're looking for."
He slid the finished product onto a plate and quickly cut into it before setting a handful of forks in front of them. "Bon appétit."
Eggsy didn't know that a bite could be a revelation. Especially not something as simple as a cheese omelette. He had watched the man cook, knew how few ingredients has been involved, yet the eggs sat fluffy on his tongue, the cheese a decadent and gooey luxury with a hint of boldness that didn't overwhelm the other flavors.
It was almost confusing that food could taste that good.
No one else around him seemed stunned, just eating the bite and moving on, but he couldn’t help but give the chef another look, this one with a bit more respect.
“Today we will simply be perfecting this dish. It’s a basic one, but one you can almost always fall back on. We’ll have forty five minutes this time, but I also will be challenging you to use diverse ingredients.” The chef spoke with ease, commanding the room without raising his voice, even if a few people seemed annoyed by the repetition. “To the left of the pantry you’ll find several items laid out. Choose at least two to utilize in your dish.”
There was no dramatic go, just the chef turning to his station and starting to clean up. It was clear that everyone was going to the left at the same time, so Eggsy stayed at his station for a moment, taking the time to locate the correct pan for his dish and setting aside his eggs before heading back to the chaos.
There were still plenty of items to choose from as apparently there had been multiples of each, but that didn’t mean he knew what each one was. There were various cheeses, mushrooms, meat that he didn’t immediately recognize, and a variety of vegetables.
One of the cheeses was riddled with holes and bits of blue, and he’d at least had blue cheese dressing before. It wasn’t really his favorite thing, but he could figure it out. He wasn’t really sure why it was labeled as Roquefort, but figured it wasn’t doing him much good either way. Then he grabbed a few medium sized “field” mushrooms (whatever that meant), knowing that he’d seen something on menus about mushrooms and cheese. But both mushrooms and cheese were pretty dense flavor wise, so while he was still in the pantry he managed to find the spinach.
At least last time he’d managed to figure out to cook his ingredients before, and from the comments Chef Hart had made it clear that he wanted them to cook their omelettes at the end so they’d still be fresh for the tasting.
The very first thing he did though was open the cheese, unwrapping it and sniffing it, not needing to get too close before the smell of it reached his nostrils. He wasn’t sure about it, and there was really only one way to learn. He cut off a small piece with a knife and popped it into his mouth, letting it rest on his tongue as he tried to discern all of the flavors. Salty, creamy, almost tangy really. So he probably shouldn’t add too much salt to his mushrooms, and he’d just have to hope for the best.
He started the water running and gathered up his mushrooms only to hear Roxy clear her throat. “You might not want to do that.”
“Huh?” He paused, glancing at her, and she looked over.
“Don’t directly put mushrooms in water, they absorb it. Get a damp towel and wipe the dirt off instead.”
“You taking the fucking piss? You clean these with a towel?” Still, he was already setting them down and turning off the water to find the paper towels at their station.
“If you want them done properly, yes.”
“Alright.” He got the paper towel wet and set to work on the first mushroom. “Thanks for the heads up.”
It was easy enough to get lost in the work, carefully slicing up the mushrooms, not quite able to keep the slices even but just going with it. He was pretty sure putting them in a completely empty pan would be stupid so he used a bit of butter, melting it before dropping in the pieces, wondering if he should have made up more but knowing what their instructor would say if the omelette was overfilled.
He felt comfortable enough washing the spinach, and Roxy didn’t say anything, setting some of the leaves in a pile on a new paper towel to dry before remembering the mushrooms and frantically searching for something to stir them with.
They had a touch of brown on them when he got them stirred, but they seemed fine, so he left them to start breaking apart the cheese. It crumbled easily enough onto his cutting board, and he still had some time when he thought the mushrooms were done.
He was about to spear a mushroom out to try when he thought better of it, grabbing a piece of spinach and cupping it to add a slice and a few bits of cheese before popping it all into his mouth. Actually, it worked. It was pretty fucking good, and with a grin he added a pinch of salt to his pan before transferring the mushrooms into a small bowl to set aside. Since he had time this time he worked on cleaning his two pans and setting out a plate for his omelette, waiting until the last ten minutes to work on the actual omelette.
Actually cooking was still a bit clumsy, but it helped now that he knew what he was doing. Sure, he still had to fish out a bit of eggshell from his bowl, but only from one egg this time. Then he was mixing his eggs until they were beat together well, adding the butter to the pan to melt before putting in the pinches of salt and pepper that the eggs needed.
Simply by adding the mixture to the pan it was easy to see that this one should turn out better. The eggs weren’t stretched out too thin, and as the egg started to cook he began adding the ingredients. Spinach down, then the mushrooms spread out, and finally he was sprinkling the cheese over it all liberally. He edged around the omelette, flipping one half over and trying not to seem too relieved when the eggs had a nice touch of golden brown.
This time, standing at his station, omelette displayed in front of him, Eggsy looked more confident of himself and his dish did look like a well cooked omelette. Harry had paid attention to all of his students, he had made certain of that, but he may have found himself watching the young man a touch more frequently than the others.
His basic skills were abysmal. It was clear he wasn’t accustomed to working in a kitchen, as shaky as a newborn colt, but he was managing, and the basic skills could come with time and practice. What was more impressive was that he had actually taken the time to taste and adjust, sampling ingredients he wasn’t sure of. There was hope for him.
The omelettes were better across the board in construction, though a few flavor combinations reaffirmed the need for something to cleanse his palate. He had forgotten that this time, he wouldn’t again. After a prosciutto and parmesan pairing he was desperate for water, taking a break before continuing and trying not to rush to the end.
He looked expectantly at the young man, giving him a small nod to tell him to begin.
“Right, well, what you’ve got here is a uh, spinach and field mushroom omelette with some,” he hesitated slightly “Roquefort cheese.”
There was tittering, the pronunciation of ro-queue-fort not going missed by the class, and Harry could tell the boy was embarrassed while trying to hide it. Instead he just cut a bite and lifted it to his mouth before dabbing at his lips with a napkin.
“Exquisite combination, you’ve balanced the flavors nicely. You didn’t oversalt so the Roquefort accentuates the mushrooms nicely while the spinach adds some texture.” He said the cheese’s name correctly but otherwise made no comment, having a feeling that Eggsy would remember. “My only critique is that the eggs are not quite set in the middle. You may need to adjust your pan to a slightly lower temperature to ensure that they cook through, especially when adding a raw ingredient like spinach to the omelette or wanting cheese to melt.”
It truly was good though, and out of any of them this was the one that he was tempted to take a second bite of, or at least recreate at home. With a final nod Harry returned to the front of the room. “That will be all for today. We’ll be meeting again at the same time on Thursday. Before you leave you are expected to clean up your stations, which means that you do your own dishes, but it is fine to leave them in the drying racks. The progress made today was promising.”
One last time he surveyed the group, glad that for once it seemed like the group would be relatively simple. Of course there were the ones that felt they knew what he was going to teach, but they didn’t seem too obnoxious. All of them had taken at least something in his demonstration to heart. He was going to enjoy this class.
Now all he had to do was figure out how Lee’s son fit into the equation, unable to resist comparing the two of them. Raw talent. That was what Lee had had, but by the time he had met Lee the young man was already cooking up a storm whenever he could. Self-trained, but with firm foundations. Eggsy was completely untrained raw talent, but Harry knew what he could become. He had seen it before, and his only regret was that no one had developed his talent sooner.
There was much to consider before his next class, and he left the room while his students cleaned up, slipping off to find Merlin.
“Hey, thanks for helping me out earlier.” He was in the middle of drying off one of his pans, fully determined to actually put everything away (if he could remember where it all went) before he left, but Roxy was cleaning her station thoroughly as well so they were some of the last ones in the room.
“It wasn’t a big deal, I just wasn’t sure if you knew.” She flashed him a smile, and it felt sincere.
“Nah, this was my first time cooking something not in a box.”
“What? Really?” She had stopped working, fully facing him, and he couldn’t lie to her.
“Nah, chicken nuggets come in bags, and I made them before. And put together shit like sandwiches.”
“That’s, wow I would have, I had no idea. If you ever have a question about something feel free to ask me.” She rinsed out her washcloth, wringing it mostly dry and then laying it out as he finished putting away his final pan.
“You don’t mind helping?” Suspicion crept into his voice but she just laughed, a light, joyful sound that was an actual pleasure to listen to.
“This isn’t a competition. If it were you’d already be begging for mercy.” There was a gleam of fire in her eye, enough that he was pretty sure she was at least partially right.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Hey, which way you heading?” He waited as she pulled on her jacket, trying not to think about how it had probably cost more than his entire outfit, including his 110s.
“Green Park station.”
“Ain’t you going to catch a cab? It’s getting late out there,” he shoved his hands into his pocket, heading with her toward the door, reaching out to flip off the light and shut the door before they left.
“Of course not, I’ve lived in London my entire life, I know how to handle myself. That and extensive self-defense lessons.”
“Yeah? I always meant to take something like that, me and my mates been in some scrapes though so I guess we’ve had some lessons. Think I could tag along to the station? I’d feel safer with you. Promise you I’ll try to trip you and run first sign of trouble.”
“How could I say no to that. Fine, I’ll protect you, but for a price. I’m dying to know why you’re taking cooking classes here of all places. Kingsman isn’t exactly a place for complete beginners.”
“They said it was basic, I thought that meant, you know, fucking basic. How to hold a knife and shit. Today wasn’t so bad though. As for why? I got me a sister you see, name’s Deanna. Figured she ought to eat more than chicken nuggets and take out growing up.”
“You might have a point,” Roxy admitted as they strolled down the sidewalk together. “So what’s she like?”
“You’re going to regret asking that,” he grinned at her, pulling out his mobile and swiping open to the album of pictures just of her. “She’s the cutest fucking thing you’ve ever seen.”
Tesco was still open, so on his way home he made a quick stop, snagging eggs, cheese, and butter. After a moment he headed back and got a skillet and spatula too, not actually sure what they had at home, but it was out of his own money and there wasn’t much no one could say about it.
He was lucky Dean sometimes left the house and the next morning the man was gone to take care of some business, business Eggsy had learned a long time ago that he wanted no part of. His mum was still fast asleep in the other room, Deanna happily stacking blocks in her pack and play.
The hard part was forcing himself not to rush, a satisfied smile finally creeping across his face when he managed to plate a fucking decent looking omelette with relatively little problems. Maybe a bit of a deeper gold than planned, but good enough.
“Come on Dee, time for breakfast.”
She cooed at him happily, patting his cheek with a sticky hand (he wasn’t even going to ask why it was sticky), and sat on his lap at the table easily enough.
The hard part came when she saw the plate in front of them had something different than her normal cereal, her tiny face scrunching up into a frown. “Cheerios?”
“We’re having an omelette today. I made it for you.” He smiled at her, and she just gave him a look filled with betrayal.
“Cheerios Eggsy.” Then, as if he might not be understand her, she repeated herself. “Cheerios.”
He tried not to sigh, knowing that this wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t used to trying new things. “Try it, please? For me? It’s got cheese.” That seemed to grab her attention at least, and he cut it open in the middle, showing her the orange layer in the center. “See? Cheese. Here, let’s blow on it so it ain’t too hot. You want me to do the airplane?”
He blew diligently as she clapped her hands together. “Airplane!”
The bite firmly speared onto the fork, he diligently lifted the fork into the air, zooming it toward her mouth as she giggled and finally opened her mouth. There was a moment where he wasn’t sure if she would spit it out or not, then she seemed to actually taste it and she began chewing.
I think that this one and the next chapter will be more "technical" in terms of lots of cooking, but then as the routine and such is established that will probably start taking a bit of a backseat. I just want to get things established! And it is way too easy for me to go off about cooking things...
Unless you guys really like that for some reason idk~
Chapter 3: Vinaigrette
Sorry for the delayed update, I need to stop getting distracted with drabbles! I meant to update last night and then got too exhausted to edit and decided to leave that for when I had a clear head (and it gave my beta time to take a look at it).
Harry liked to keep his students on their toes, and surveying his class, on time, was telling. There were those who were early, surprised to see him already waiting, and of those some went straight to gossiping and others made sure their stations were in order. Roxy he had seen enter a few minutes early, unpacking her own set of knives before turning to the person at the station next to her.
He was almost disappointed in Eggsy, the young man barely skating in on time, but he had managed to greet his station partner by the time the proverbial bell had rung. No, it was Digby who arrived late, trailing in without a care in the world, laughing with his mate while Harry waited for everyone’s attention.
Only when it was perfectly silent did he start. “This evening we will be working on a fairly simple meal in terms of execution, but a meal which every chef should know how to make: a steak dinner.”
That caught their attention he noted with satisfaction, trying not to think about the notes of panic he’d seen on some faces. By the time he was through with them they would know what to do.
“We’ll start with something simple for a warm-up, a salad with a vinaigrette.” As he spoke he moved to his station, knowing that all eyes were on him without looking, no one foolish enough to speak when he had control of the room. “Your salads can be whatever you choose to put in them, and the same goes for your dressing. However, certain things must stay consistent.
“At your station you will find that you all have a small jar. This is to make your dressing in. It will contain three parts of some sort of oil and one part acid.” He let his hands select a bottle seemingly at random, a high quality sesame oil, pouring into the jar as he spoke before trading it for some peanut oil. “The acid can be whatever you choose. Vinegar is a common choice, or citrus, just try to find something complimentary. From there you always add a pinch each of salt and pepper.” Rice wine vinegar was his choice for this, then his pepper, but he paused before he added the salt.
“For this dressing I am clearly going for something with an Asian flair. Therefore I'll be utilizing soy sauce instead of pure salt." He screwed the cap onto the jar, shaking it quickly. "And now you have a vinaigrette. A simple one certainly, but a vinaigrette. At this stage you can add other herbs or thickeners to the dressing such as yogurt or Dijon." He opened the lid as he spoke then reached for one of his choice, drizzling in a measure of honey and then adding a bit of minced ginger.
"It really is that simple," the jar was once again sealed and shaken. "All we lack is dressing the salad, which you do not want to do too far in advance. Pour to coat, do not saturate, and then toss with your hands."
He tossed the dressing with a bowl of greens, sliced radishes, and julienned cucumbers he had ready, loving the feel of just digging his hands into it, hands slick and shiny as he turned on the water with a tap of his wrist and cleaned them. "Come have a taste and then get to work, all of the greens and vegetables laid out have already been washed."
The students came forward to taste before moving for the pantry, but Lee's son lingered behind, eying the bowl after he'd tasted it. "That crunchy bit is cucumbers, innit?"
"Correct, but your salad doesn't have to include those, Eggsy. I recommend adding some elements other than lettuce however, as they add contrasting textures and flavors to keep the salad from becoming dull."
After a moment the boy nodded, contemplating, and Harry found himself giving him permission to do something he normally never allowed. Waste.
"Feel free to take some ingredients back to your station and try them there. If you don't use them just set them to the side."
In return he got a quick flash of a smile. "Thanks guvner.”
His eyes tracked the figure back toward the pantry before he forced himself to return his focus to the various other students in the room. Chester’s godson was comfortable with the task he noticed, the young man foregoing the jar to whisk his dressing in a bowl, a fairly simple balsamic and olive oil combination. The greens were standard, the tomato and onion basic, but it would probably taste perfectly fine. Ordinary, but fine.
Amelia, well, he wasn’t sure what Amelia was doing. She was concentrating, but she seemed to be developing a cocktail of various juices to add to her oil, and he wasn’t sure that that would be the best route to take. Still, he couldn’t say he had tried it, and it would be good to find out her results. Probably a painful thing to find out, but it would start a discussion. He could picture her from last week, and at least this time she didn’t look like she was drowning in the work, though he’d be surprised if she lasted a full month. Some people simply weren’t cut out for the kitchen, and it wasn’t his job to coddle them.
Still, he forced himself over, fishing out a spoon from her station and dipping it into the juice, features carefully schooled so that he didn’t cringe. “Make sure you add sugar,” he murmured, “and taste along the way.” It was the kindest warning he could give, and he surreptitiously snuck a shred of carrot to help cleanse his mouth. He made his tour of the room, making it over to the final pair only to see Roxy finalizing her dressing, salad simply waiting to be dressed. Quite efficient really, almost professional.
“Would you like a taste, sir?”
She was the first one brazen enough to offer, and he appreciated the boldness. “Yes, what have you decided to go with today?”
“The base is a basic balsamic and olive oil, but I’ve added a coarse, whole-grain mustard and fresh thyme.” She handed over the spoon, tucking her hands behind her back expectantly.
“Very nice. Robust but the thyme helps keep it from being too heavy. My only comment is that you may want to add a touch more salt. It is fine now, but when added to the salad it will need to season the vegetables as well, so having the dressing be on the salty side is actually ideal.”
“Thank you, sir.” He could see his advice was actually being taken to heart as she immediately pulled out another spoon to test what he was saying, and with a nod of approval he turned toward her station partner.
The station wasn’t really a mess, but there were ingredients scattered all over the cutting board. There were awkward chunks out of the middle of radishes and carrots, opened containers of olives, torn apart sprigs of herbs, several hunks of cheese with corners carved away. That was just part of the chaos. But the bowl was half filled with a variety of items, some cut in ways he’d never really seen them presented before, not professionally at least. Long strips of zucchini and wedges of radish, creating a maelstrom of ingredients in the bowl that he was trying not to just shake his head at.
“Make sure when you cut the ingredients that they will fit in someone’s mouth,” he suggested, and Eggsy jerked his head up from whatever it was he was doing to that poor, innocent crown of broccoli.
“Yeah, yeah I got it.”
“And at least clear off your cutting board before you begin to work on your dressing. A clean station is essential for the modern chef.” He was trying not to cringe as Eggsy started just shoving things to the side, honestly debating massaging his temples in the middle of the classroom, when Eggsy just looked up and beamed at him.
“You got it, bruv.”
He tried not to watch, tried to simply turn away until he gave them the instruction to mix their salads and bring them to his station. This time they all sampled, though he wished he had warned them about Amelia’s. He managed to swallow, though not everyone did, the woman rather seeming to expect it and not seeming all that embarrassed really. It was fairly simple, so he expected everyone to do a decent job, and he wasn’t disappointed. There were even a few hints at creativity and flavor.
Then they got to Eggsy, and he could hear the judgment before anyone took a bite, the hesitation as he went first, spearing a bit of lettuce and getting a shave of parmesan, a sliver of almond, and what was possibly carrot in the process.
He knew from his observations to expect lemon. He'd watched the boy tasting his concoction over and over, fiddling with it almost until the end, but he still wasn't prepared.
The flavor burst into life on his tongue. Sharp and tangy but mellowed with what had to be honey mustard, fresh herbs lifting and accenting the citrus and yet he could still sense the barest hint of olives from the oil utilized. For a moment he was speechless, staring down at the bowl of vegetables with the light dressing clinging perfectly to each leaf, slice, and sliver.
"Try it," he directed still savoring the aftertaste as the rest of the class took bites, the approving murmurs starting almost immediately.
Critique. He needed to offer something constructive. "Very nicely done.” If he had put that into one of his columns he would have raked himself over the coals for the understatement of it all. “You may want to try toasting your almonds next time. The flavor would be more robust and it would add additional crunch. Just sprinkle them lightly in a foiled pan and bake them."
The young man looked confused for a moment and Harry cleared his throat. "As for the vinaigrette, I would only recommend that you write down the recipe. You'll want to repeat that one if possible."
Chef Hart hadn’t told a single soul something even remotely close to that. The only problem was that Eggsy wasn’t actually sure what all he’d put into the dressing. Sure, he knew what green things had gone in, a pinch of that and a smash of that, but he wasn’t exactly sure what those green things were. It wasn’t something he could actually admit, so he just cleared off his station as they all prepared to watch Chef Hart demonstrate what they would be doing once more.
Once again the format was different, this time the Chef having them all work together as he demonstrated from his station, quickly having them quarter red potatoes to roast. Rosemary, he was pretty sure that had been one of the herbs he’d used.
Eggsy was busy watching the man at work, eyes focused on hands that knew precisely what they were doing, so he missed the looks that were shot in his direction. There was simply too much to learn to be worried about other people.
He was starting to adjust to working with his hands, not at all surprised when they ended up tossing their potatoes in the olive oil by hand, enjoying the slight grit of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, the short tips of rosemary that they simply pulled off the stalk in one smooth movement. He spread his carefully over the tray as shown, popping them into the oven and really it wasn’t that bad. At least the potatoes weren’t fried, and if the rosemary was too overpowering he could at leave it out to roast some potatoes for Dee. She’d probably eat them with ketchup. She’d eat almost anything with ketchup.
It seemed like this olive oil stuff was an essential in the kitchen, and he was probably going to need to pick some up. Maybe see about getting one of them little pots you could stick in the windowsill and get an herb to put in it. Let Deanna watch it grow and it would brighten up the place too.
He popped the tray into the oven, following the rest of the class to the back to grab a steak, trying not to marvel at the sheer size of them. He was about to just grab the closest one when he noticed Roxy was hesitating, looking over the selection before seeming to choose one at random.
“Oi, Rox, what’s the difference.” He kept his voice low and she glanced over before leaning close, her own voice barely reaching him.
“Try to get one with fat spread through it. It’s called marbling. They have better flavor.” She disappeared, moving through the small group with ease and he turned back to the dwindling selection.
He thought one looked promising, reaching for it only to have it snatched up at the last section. Eggsy jerked his head up, Charlie smirking at him while trying to act innocent. “Oh sorry, did you want this one?”
His hand opening was almost in slow motion, and Eggsy dropped into a squat, half lunging and managing to catch it before it hit the floor. “Fuck you, dickhead,” he spit, getting back to his feet. “Don’t waste food.”
“And going to you is better than hitting the ground?” His voice was silky smooth, a low and satisfied tone that dripped satisfaction before he seemed to straighten up. “Good catch. You can keep that one, I’ll get a fresh cut.”
Chef Hart was moving over, obviously the cause of the change of heart, and Eggsy simply stood, moving back to his station and trying not to dwell on the words. The guy was a prick, plain and simple. He wasn’t worth getting upset over. Eggsy was here for a reason, and no toff with a silver spoon up his arse was going to keep him from it.
Chapter 4: Porterhouse
Life update: So today the drain at my house got backed up while doing laundry, so I spent the entire afternoon working on moving things in the garage, entryway, and closet, only to later discover that there was also water on the carpet of the spare room and it had backed up the shower in the master bathroom (the cats bathroom) and I was left with a sludge of litter to clean up (Fabio kicks litter EVERYWHERE). Needless to say it’s been crazy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry knew something had happened in the back of the room but so long as his kitchen wasn’t affected he had long since learned to leave well enough alone. People were people, and he wasn’t going to waste his life dealing with their nonsense. Not when there were ingredients to be cooked and dishes to be savored.
Once the potatoes were all turned in their pans he launched into a lecture on the cut of meat he’d chosen, and what he expected to see. “What you have in front of you is a Porterhouse steak. As you can see, it has the familiar t-bone in it, but it is cut farther back on the tenderloin, leaving a larger fillet on the side.” He held up the slab of meat, gesturing to the portion he was talking about. “On the other side, this is a strip sirloin.
“As you can see, the Porterhouse is thick, so to cook it thoroughly it needs to be at room temperature. That accounts for why I’ve already had you move it to your station. However, you will not begin cooking until the potatoes have been turned for the last time. When it is time you will need to turn your broilers on to heat.”
He was in his element, settling into the routine easily, the hardest part reminding himself to keep talking through his steps and not just losing himself to the food. The steak was delightfully fresh this evening, and he couldn’t help but be inspired by the ingredients. “We’ll be cooking with cast iron this evening, which will take longer to warm through. Go ahead and put it on medium-high while you work on seasoning your steak. The seasoning is simple. Salt and pepper. That's all you truly need for a decent grade steak."
He grabbed the piece he was using and slapped it on the cutting board in front of him. "Generously sprinkle the salt and pepper on both sides, this will help form the crust when you cook it.. To your pan add just a tablespoon of vegetable oil, and wait for it to begin smoking. Add the meat to the pan, always dropping things away from you when working with hot oil, and then leave it for four minutes.” He looked up at his class, meeting each pair of eyes. “I mean leave it. Don’t lift the corners, don’t swirl it around. Leave it alone.”
Inefficiency was a chef’s worst nightmare, so he took the time to tidy his station, not minding in the least that he had ten pairs of eyes on him as he put away his salt and pepper to the side. They would need to learn, and if they couldn’t figure out what he was doing without instructions than they were wasting his time and theirs.
It was easy for him to see when his meat was as done as he wanted it, and he reached for a pair of tongs and removed the meat. “Place the raw side down on your cutting board, so you should be able to see the nicely browned side of your Porterhouse. Now you’ll take your knife and work the meat off the bone. Cut as close to the bone as possible and remove it entirely.” With easy precision he separated them, leaving barely a sliver of meat clinging to the bone.
“Now you’ll cut the pieces you’ve removed into one inch strips. Keep all of your pieces formed, because you’ll be moving them back into the pan. as soon as you’re finished.” He modeled that as well, placing the meat carefully back into the pan. and then reaching for the butter. “Your butter you will also want at room temperature. We’ll be using three tablespoons today," he mentioned as he put three chunks on the meat, leaving a bit of space between them, "then pop it all into the broiler for a final four minutes."
With the pan safely tucked away he began cleaning his cutting board, once again refusing to waste time. "Again, don't start this until after your potatoes have been flipped the second time. They'll need about twenty minutes, and your steak needs only eight minutes of cooking time. You may want to figure out how you'll be playing your dish before you decide to start cooking."
Harry was content to not talk for a moment while he waited for the meat to come to its optimal temperature, checking in on it once just to make certain it was working properly. When it was time he pulled it out, smiling to himself in satisfaction.
"As you can see the butter has melted and oozed into the cuts. That ensures that the steak will be tender and moist, as well as having plenty of fat. However, much of the flavor will be in the juices that have run out of the steak. Tilt the pan and then spoon the juices back onto the steak, making sure you don't miss an area." He demonstrated before setting down the pan and pulling a plate to him.
It took a moment to rearrange the bone and slices into the shape of a steak on the plate, wiping up a stray drop on the side with a towel. "After it is plated you can spoon a bit more juice over it, don't overdo it or your plate will look like shit.” His tone was entirely matter of fact, and he didn’t care if his bluntness offended or shocked. In fact, some of his students could probably use the truth presented in such a manner.
“Resume your work.” The instruction hung in the air for a moment before activity truly resumed, the students checking their potatoes and turning them one last time and digging out cast iron pans. He moved between the stations, correcting here, redirecting there, occasionally simply observing. This part was basic. It was a simple matter of following his instructions and letting the ingredients speak for themselves.
The students began separating themselves out as they began to carve the meat off of the bone. He arrived too late to see a girl destroying the beautiful cut of meat by hacking away at it, and he took over, demonstrating again to try to save at least the strip sirloin and trying not to mourn the loss of the fillet.
He was already tense when he came around to the far side of the room again, lips pursing as he watched Lee’s son slowly try to remove the meat from the bone. At least it wasn’t utterly mangled, but it was taking forever. “Longer strokes of the blade,” he said shortly, then turning sharply when he heard something clanging from the far side of the room.
The tasting went as expected. Almost everything tasted the same, the direct instruction causing some uniformity. There were obvious errors to be commented on, suggestion to fix them for the next time quickly following. Slightly charred potatoes, undercooked potatoes, plating atrocities. For the most part everything was fairly well, and if he was disappointed in a lack of creative flair he had no right to be. He had been the one demanding a set recipe, and the fact that he had actually hoped for something unexpected worried him.
“Clean up your stations before you go,” he instructed, and left the room to meander up to Merlin’s desk.
Riffling through the drawers attracted Roxy’s attention, who just watched him with a bemused look on her face as he tried to reach behind the foil to fish around for something. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for a resealable, yeah? Figure I might as well take this shit home.” He’d tried a bit, and it really was good. Probably a difference in the type of meat it was. But he couldn’t justify just sitting there and feasting on it when his mum and Deanna were at home, eating whatever they’d picked up. He could probably make it work for breakfast, maybe make a steak omelette to get Dee to eat it, try the potatoes on her with the ketchup as planned.
“Right. Hm, I think I saw them in the next drawer down, there might only be the large size though. If you want you can have the rest of mine, I wasn’t planning on taking it home and I’m stuffed.”
“Fuck yes,” he grinned at her, finally locating the plastic bags and quickly loading the potatoes into one, the steak into the other. “You headed to Green Park again after this?”
“You’re not planning on using me for protection again are you?” She crossed her arms as she spoke, but she was clearly trying to hold back a laugh.
“You bet your arse I am. I saw the way that bastard backed away when you shot him a look last time. You’ve got to teach me that look.”
“I’m afraid it comes naturally. Oh, did you make an omelette for your sister?”
Eggsy straightened up, starting to work on cleaning up his utensils and pans. “Yeah.” Just thinking about her had his face brightening. “Actually, she liked it. I was thinking I might try another one tomorrow with some of this beef.”
“Wait!” He paused, frozen in place, and she shook her head quickly. “Don’t put the cast iron into soapy water. Cast irons get seasoned, and then you should only clean them with water, salt if you have to scrub something out. Here, watch me.” They worked on their pans side by side, wiping out the interior with a paper towel and then scrubbing it lightly with a clean sponge and hot water before drying.
When they were finally finished, all of the pieces of vegetables he hadn’t used earlier stored and put away, dishes done, they were able to leave. Once again they were the last ones out of the room, not that he really minded. There wasn’t much of a reason to hurry home, his only real desire being that Dean was either out with his little pack or passed out when he did get back. So they strolled leisurely toward the station, Eggsy filling her in on cooking for Deanna.
It was easy to talk to her, going from talking about Dee to hearing about her family. Her mum and dad wanted her to drop by on the weekends so they could all make brunch together, the reason why she was so invested in furthering her skills. Apparently they had had porridge a few times too often. It was easy to find themselves talking about class again, pace slowing as they neared the station and the conversation drew out.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see Chef Hart speechless,” Roxy smirked, jostling him with her shoulder. “You do know you’re supposed to wait to pull things like that until at least the second week of class, right? Now he’s going to expect you to be that good every week.”
“Good luck with that, yeah? I ain’t even sure what I did tonight.”
“Whatever it was you just need to do it again. That vinaigrette was genius.” She gave a throaty hum in remembrance. “I think I’m going to enjoy working next to you if you make more things like that for me to try.”
“We’ll see I guess.” He couldn’t keep the edge of frustration from leaking into his voice as he thought about the class. “Class is great and all, but I ain’t seeing how this is helpful. You think I’m going to go buy a fucking Porterhouse? Omelettes, yeah, them was fine. Anyone can buy a thing of eggs and some cheese or something, but I ain’t spending a week of grocery money on one item. When the fuck did they decide that steak dinner was a basic? What about some some vegetables and roasting something like chicken? Rice?”
He hated the outburst as soon as the words were out of his mouth, immediately regretting it by the way that their conversation was awkwardly quiet for a moment. “I think the theory was just something simple.” Roxy added carefully, and he could tell she was probably trying to be diplomatic in her answer. “Really, it wasn’t too difficult. Who knows what we’ll make Tuesday, it might be prawns, it might be a steak and kidney pie. I rather like not knowing what’s coming up. I’m sure you could use these techniques on other items though. A different cut of steak perhaps?”
They were approaching the entrance to the underground now, and Eggsy let his pace return to normal, not wanting to drag this out any longer. Disliking the fact that he had been the one to bring up how he wasn’t well off enough to afford the shit they were making. “You got a point,” he admitted as they started down the stairs, and hoped they could just leave it at that.
Luckily he had managed to find a place in the fridge where the leftovers weren’t easy to see, tucked away behind Dean’s beer. The next morning his mum woke him up to ask him to watch Deanna while she went to have her hair done, and he agreed readily enough, stumbling into the kitchen with a jaw popping yawn to fix his sister’s breakfast.
“Morning sunshine,” he managed as he got the eggs out of the carton, setting them on the counter before fishing around for the cheese and leftovers.
When he turned around she was watching him, eyes round and inquisitive as she stood up in the pack and play, peering over the rim. “Cheese?” she asked.
“Yeah love, cheese. I’m going to make another omelette, you liked that, yeah? Eggs and cheese?”
“Like Eggsy and cheese,” she replied with a grin, legs bending almost in a jump as she practically shook with excitement.
Laughter was in the air before he realized it had come from him, and that was a sound that their flat sorely missed. “Eggs love, eggs and cheese. And how about some beef, yeah?”
Her expression faltered slightly and he tried not to wince. “I made it,” he told her, swearing to himself he’d find a piece he’d cooked rather than Roxy so it wouldn’t be a lie. “And potatoes? With ketchup?”
“Ketchup.” The way she said it was almost worshipful, a hungry gleam in her eye that he honestly wasn’t surprised by.
“Anything for you princess,” he promised, reaching to get out a bowl to mix the eggs in.
I picture Deanna saying "Ketchup" in the same way that Anna and Elsa say "chocolate."
Chapter 5: Beurre Blanc
After the first two classes Harry was understandably a touch excited to see what the next week would bring. Ordinarily the basic classes were the worst to teach, and he’d pawn it off on a younger instructor. Unfortunately James had needed to take a break, the pull of trying to run his own restaurant and teach at the same time close to splitting him in half before he admitted defeat and took a semester off.
Yet here he was, facing the possibility that he had a prodigy on his hands. Nothing else really accounted for that dressing the other day, and considering his skill set he had done rather well with even the basics.
So the fact that Harry, for the second class in a row, was clenching his jaw, staring at Eggsy’s station. “What are you doing?” A statement rather than a question, his voice flat, completely unimpressed, and he didn’t miss that the boy was trying not to cringe.
“I was just wondering if it made a difference if I used a different fish.” By the defensive tone of his voice Harry knew that he had thought about what he was doing. Thought about it, and chosen to do whatever he felt like doing, just like he had during the previous class.
Tuesday it had been the creme brulee that he had made with vanilla extract. With vanilla extract while the vanilla beans were sitting, plain as day, on his station. When in his instructions Harry had told the class to use vanilla beans. There hadn’t even been an explanation then, just a stubborn set to his jaw followed by a terse apology.
“So you assumed that because there were enough fillets of halibut for each student to have their own that I wanted you to experiment with flounder?” Anger laced his voice, reined in but barely, and the classroom was silent. “I expect my students to follow my instructions, not to deliberately disobey them.”
Then he smiled, and it was not a particularly pleasant expression. “As you would like to compare the two, I will allow you to continue. However, you will also provide the correct dish, as I have asked for it, when the time is up. I believe that is in fifteen minutes.” He blinked almost innocently before turning away, knowing the fish would need almost twelve minutes in the pan alone.
Behind him he heard a curse, and scrambling, and he didn’t turn. The boy was lucky he hadn’t kicked him out of class for purposefully going against him. But he was aggravated. The only thing worse than raw talent was raw talent that refused to be taught. There was a time for experimenting, but not in his classroom.
The worst part of it all was the fact that the flounder would probably be delicious, a perfect substitute for the halibut, and the lesson about following directions would probably be half in the tasting of the two.
More than anything, Eggsy felt embarrassed. Being singled out was hard, and while Chef Hart hadn’t had everyone stop to mock him publically it had still been painful. Not quite as bad as the disappointment that he had seen when the chef had first walked up, the look of almost confusion that had twisted into anger.
So now he was determined to make both dishes perfect, and knew he barely had time for one. At least the asparagus was already in the oven, and that was an easy thing to make. Bit of olive oil (there it was again), salt and pepper, garlic, and if you wanted a bit of red pepper as well. Apparently it also worked on broccoli, and if it tasted as decent as it smelled he’d be making it at home with whatever vegetable was on sale.
And the beurre blanc sauce, well the wine was still reducing, and hopefully it’d make enough for both dishes. What he needed was to get the other fish on, putting on a new pan to warm while he sawed the large fillet in half, sprinkling on the salt and pepper that would flavor it. Amazed by how many things apparently just craved that mineral and spice.
If he had learned anything from the class it was that turning up the heat didn’t just mean that things cooked faster. There was more to it, and a guy had almost been in tears on Tuesday over that fact. So he just put in the olive oil as soon as he could, letting it warm before putting in the fish and relieved to hear it sizzle.
It was time for the sauce, and that was the most stressful part, including trying to keep his eye on two pans of fish. The reduced wine was drained away from the shallots, thyme, and peppercorns and into a fresh pan for the next stage, the cream. That part was easy enough to whisk in, but Chef Hart had spoke of stability, of sauces breaking. His butter was as prepared as it was going to be, diced into small cubes and quickly chilled back down in the freezer, and he just gave it another moment so he could flip his flounder, which also allowed the acidity of the wine to further temper the fat of the cream.
Despite using the proper spatula the skin stuck a bit on the first piece, a few shreds of flesh left on the pan as he flipped it, but it wasn’t horrible and the second piece came up okay. Then he returned to the sauce, as it was the most demanding of it all.
He whisked with one hand, dropping in the cubes of butter one at a time, getting a few in there at a time and then waiting to add more until they were half gone. He tried to keep stirring as he checked on his asparagus, then attempted to give his attention back to the butter sauce as he reached to turn the oven off.
“Is the asparagus almost ready?”
Roxy’s voice was quiet, and he nodded. “Think so, I just can’t pull it out. “
“I’ll get it.”
“You’re the fucking best,” he breathed, lifting the small saucepan off of the heat for a bit as it seemed to be heating through faster than he thought it was supposed to. He set it down again to add the last of the butter, turning off the heat entirely as he tried to eye the halibut, looking for the white line through the meat that would show how far it had cooked.
The sauce simply had to wait as he took the flounder off the heat and moved the halibut closer to him, setting out two plates before flipping the fish. The skin hadn’t crisped up quite as nicely as the flounder’s but it looked like it would work.
He plated in the final minute, dropping the asparagus haphazardly onto the plates, laying the best looking piece of fish from each batch over the vegetable, and then slopping the beurre blanc over both and watching it run down and drip onto the plates in unattractive puddles.
Chef Hart wasn’t going to like that.
At least he was right about that. A feeling that was quickly overshadowed by the fact that the chef simply passed over his flounder, not even bothering to try it before moving on, lecturing the class about sauces breaking if not properly tempered as three of them had apparently separated.
It was hard not to demand the chef try it out, to admit that perhaps it was okay to use the fish that could be found wherever you shopped. But he managed to keep his mouth shut, jaw clenched, but shut.
After the chef swept out of the room he tasted his own dishes, and honestly, they were both good. The flounder was a touch sweeter, the halibut more firm, holding up a bit better under the thyme and sauce.
So yeah, he could taste the difference, but it wasn’t like his flounder had been shit. He’d made it work.
He was still annoyed when he finished cleaning, noticing that Roxy was taking her time. “Need help with something?”
“I’ve got it, almost done. Actually, I’ve got to stay and talk to Mr. Merlin about a weekend course coming up though, so you may want to go on ahead without me.”
“I can wait,” he said with a shrug.
She shook her head, “if I do sign up the paperwork will take a bit, and if I don’t I might be looking at some of the other courses. I’ll see you Tuesday though?”
He nodded, trying not to be annoyed with her for having something else to do, but wishing it hadn’t been today of all days. It would have been nice to blow off a bit of steam with her.
On the other hand, it wasn’t her fault, and if he held it against her he’d be a right prick. “Tuesday then. I’ll try to play by the rules next week.” He grinned at her as she shook her head, and then shoved his hands in his pockets as he headed outside.
Harry wasn’t really sure why he had an office, but he did, and it was a decent place to relax in with a few fingers of whisky swirling in a crystal tumbler. He wasn’t expecting a knock at his door, calling for whoever it was to enter as he took his feet off the desk and tried to look professional, even though it was probably just Merlin.
When it opened to reveal one of his students he was glad he’d taken the time to at least plant his feet on the ground, looking up to give the young lady an appraising look. “Ms. Morton, did you have a question?”
“No,” she answered quickly, entering the room and letting the door shut behind her. “But I thought I might be able to answer one of yours.”
There was little doubt in his mind why she was here, but he wasn’t sure of the specifics. “Interesting, I don’t recall asking a question.”
She was clearly uninterested in how obtuse he was pretending to be, cutting to the chase easily. “He’s not trying to disobey you or whatever you’re upset about. Do you know why Eggsy is taking your class?”
“His community center didn’t have anyone else sign up.” It was a simple statement, but she shook her head.
“Not why he’s here, but why he’s taking a class at all. No? He’s taking it for his sister. He’s trying to figure out what to cook for her, stuff to make at home. But he doesn’t really have money to do that. He’s trying to find cheaper alternatives, things he can actually afford. A Porterhouse or actual vanilla beans aren’t really in his budget sir. It’s not rebellious, there’s a reason, but he’s too proud to admit it.”
It made sense, and he hated that she was the one pointing it out, but it wasn’t good enough. “He can still learn the techniques here, and play around at home. I teach what I do for a reason, and I teach it the way that I do for a reason. Being able to cook with the finest ingredients is part of what makes Kingsman Kingsman.”
“I understand that sir, but I don’t think he’s able to work on his own very much. If you haven’t noticed he lacks many of the basic skills. His knife work is atrocious, and it’s a minor miracle he hasn’t cut himself yet.”
“I can see that you’re concerned Ms. Morton,” he said carefully. “I’ll take this under advisement. For now might I suggest that you remind Mr. Unwin to follow the recipes during class?” It was a dismissal, and thankfully she picked up on it.
“Have a good evening Chef Hart,” she said with a nod in his direction before turning to leave.
Long after she had left he sat in his office, sipping at his drink and thinking about his lesson plans.
It was getting late, but he was far from the only person at Tesco. He'd gotten off the tube a stop before his normal one so he could go to a full store rather than an express, and now he was meandering, getting suspicious looks the longer he looked at the bottles of olive oil.
He wasn't sure what the differences were, or how something could be extra virgin, but it seemed like he remembered that being important. Or at least he’d heard someone say it before. He finally settled on the cheapest brand but the type that said it was first press and tried not to think about the fact that he'd spent ten minutes making a decision about fucking oil.
Problem was that it cut into his budget, and he was going to have to be thrifty with the rest of his choices. They had salt and pepper, so he settled on some cheap vegetables. Broccoli was cheaper than asparagus, plus he could tell Dee they were trees. Potatoes were on special for 69p, so that was a no-brainer. Garlic wasn't too bad either, but the fresh herbs were a lot considering it was just for a few sprigs.
That was how he found himself wandering the spice aisle. He could figure out how to make dried thyme or rosemary work, they couldn't taste that different. Not that he really knew what all was what, and they had seals on them, but he could take a pretty good guess from trying to smell them, looking for any that someone else had already opened and adding in a few that he definitely knew the taste of like cinnamon and, well, pretty much just cinnamon. The rest in his basket were things he knew people spoke about, things like oregano and parsley.
He was about to leave, calculating the cost of what was in his basket in his head, when he noticed the fish. Pre-packaged fillets, and the scent of fish hung in the air, not a good sign. Regardless he found himself turning toward the cold display, looking at the packages carefully until he came across the ones labeled flounder.
Chef Hart had told them smell was important, so he found himself lifting up the different packages to smell them, trying to find ones that didn’t reek of fish in hopes that he could get a fairly fresh catch.
He didn’t have white wine, or shallots, or a ton of butter to waste really. So maybe he wasn't going to make a beurre blanc sauce. That wasn’t going to stop him from figuring out a way to make the stupid fillet he was squandering the last of his money on taste fucking amazing.
The next time he sat a plate of flounder in front of the chef he wouldn't be able to resist it.
Chapter 6: Stir Fry
Courgette = zucchini (the more you know!). Sorry about the delay on this, as I posted on tumblr I had a lot of comp issues last night (thankfully those are fixed) but I just wasn't awake enough to edit after that!
Hesitating outside of Merlin’s office made him feel like an unruly schoolboy, and Harry refused to let himself be that foolish. He squared his shoulders and knocked, knowing it was time for Merlin’s customary late afternoon break before his assistant left and he was the only one around to man the front desk.
The knock was a simple courtesy, by now he could pretty much charge in whenever he pleased, but manners were never wasted. His hand was already twisting the handle when the bald man’s voice rang out, telling him to enter, and he strolled in before taking his customary seat. “Good evening, Merlin.”
"Harry. You're early." Merlin sat down his tablet, a calculative look on his face, and Harry simply cocked his head slightly.
"I need your advice," Harry said bluntly, not wanting to mince words. "You're aware of my student named Eggsy?"
"Am I aware of him?," Merlin scoffed. "All I've heard you complain about recently is how you can't recreate his dressing. I've seen you eating salads multiple days in a row. You hate eating the same dish multiple days in a row."
"You don't understand," Harry found himself saying quickly, trying to justify his actions before he even realized what he was doing. He stopped, but it was too late, Merlin already giving him a knowing look.
"The boy has potential. Raw talent that has never been tapped. But he knows shit about the basics."
"You teach the basics."
"I teach simple recipes," Harry argued. "There is an expectation that my students will arrive knowing how to dice a tomato or sauté some onions. You know as well as I that there is no easier class for him to take at Kingsman."
"If he's not working out we can always kick him out."
He could tell that Merlin was saying it to purposefully be obtuse. "Nonsense. His plates are decent, bordering on genius at times, but they're a mess. Uneven dices, shoddy slicing. He's the type of student that could thrive with proper training."
There was silence, and it was obvious Merlin was waiting for him to go on.
"I'm thinking about offering him private lessons."
Merlin let out a slow breath before nodding. "Are you sure you want to invest that much in him? It was a vinaigrette Harry. I'm sure there were other signs, but are you really ready to make that big of a decision based on salad dressing?"
Merlin had a point, but Harry couldn't ignore his instincts. "Come see for yourself. You can help critique the dishes tonight."
After a moment of hesitation Merlin replied. "I'll come in towards the end. Is everything else going okay though?"
"Interesting. So the fact that a student left your class and moved all the way to Berlin has nothing to do with your teaching?"
There was a smirk on Merlin's face, and it was entirely disturbing. "So I only need materials for eight," Harry mused, refusing to give him the satisfaction of a strong reaction. "Who was it?"
"Amelia will no longer be joining us."
Harry nodded. "Very well. I'll see you in a few hours." He left to return to his office and the salad that awaited him, the vinaigrette woefully imperfect.
The kitchen was almost eerily quiet, the only noises the sound of people hard at work, barely any words being spoken other than “behind.” It made Eggsy’s fingers itch for noise until he finally gave in, fishing his earbuds out of his pocket and setting his music on shuffle, letting Bonkers drown out the silence.
Chef Hart had done that thing again where he gave them some basic instructions and then left them to their own devices. However, unlike the vinaigrette, he didn’t give them set measurements. No, he gave them a demonstration and a basic idea, and pretty much was leaving the rest to them.
At least Eggsy knew what a stir fry was, and what to expect. He was probably the only one who didn’t know how to cook rice, so he was grateful when the chef had bothered to put on a batch, mentally taking notes. Then the chef began his lecture, talking about balancing acidity, of the basic essentials: soy sauce, vinegar, oil, a sweetener, cornstarch. The flavors to boost it, garlic and ginger, pepper and citrus. Endless combinations, and no set recipe for them to follow.
Everyone was stressed, but he was actually kind of enjoying it. It was like making a vinaigrette with less precise measurements, and Chef Hart had already showed them that. He didn't want his to taste the exact same as the other chef’s dressing, but at least he had an idea of what ingredients to utilize. Soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, a mixture of sesame and peanut oil, ginger, garlic, and a bit of honey.
But he wasn't finished, reaching for an orange to slice in half. That he squeezed into a second bowl, cursing softly when he realize there were seeds floating around and fishing them out with his fingertips. That was what he added his cornstarch to, whisking until all the limbs were gone and he just had a smooth mixture. Then he combined it with the base he had made.
A quick taste confirmed that it didn't have enough orange flavor, so he went to grab a second from the pantry. "Ain't there a way to use the outside," he hissed under his breath to Roxy, popping out his earbud.
"Hm? Oh, the zest. Make sure you've washed the orange then use the Microplane in the top drawer. It's the thin grater. Don't go into the white though, you just want the colored part or it'll get bitter."
"I fucking owe you," he said with a grin, and she just nodded.
"Oh I know. I've been keeping track of your protection fees as well."
"I should've known, ain't nothing free." With that he returned his earbud to his ear, fishing around for the tool and grating in a bit of the orange peel. That, plus the juice from the fruit, gave it the amount of orange he was looking for.
It was a great balance of sweet and tart, but it was lackluster, and if that was it he knew he would quickly grow tired of eating the dish. Not with everything coated in the sauce. He recognized the red bottle, knew from dares and restaurants how spicy it was, so he added in some of the siracha. He used it sparingly, tasting multiple times until it had the right amount of heat, and then started to break down his vegetables and chicken.
It all just took time, and it was frustrating. The onions stung his eyes and slid on his board, losing any chance of a standardized size. The peppers he'd at least worked with before, and the courgette was a bit haphazard but not atrocious.
He glanced up when Roxy nudged him with her elbow, pulling out his headphones once again. "I accidentally julienned too many carrots. Do you want some?"
There truly was an impressive pile in front of her on the cutting board. "If you're sure," he mumbled, "thanks."
It was enough that he moved on to his chicken as the pan heated, leaving his tunes off as he put in a bit of oil and started to sear his protein.
Fast, that was the goal. The bite sized pieces finished soon enough and he scraped them into a pan, turning off his rice to let it sit while he cooked the vegetables.
Those seared up quickly as well, the onions and peppers going in first, as they'd take longer, then the thin strips of carrots and finally the zucchini. He tossed the chicken in at the end, pouring the sauce over it and tossing it lightly. He made sure it was all coated by stirring it around with his serving spoon, then dashed off to grab a bowl to dish it up in.
Harry moved almost in unison with Merlin as they toured the room, taking a step back and letting Merlin critique first before adding his own commentary if necessary.
When they reached Eggsy he wasn't surprised in the least to look at his bowl. Sauce splattered the inside unattractively, no form at all to the rice, and no garnish.
Still, the food would speak for itself. Roxy's dish had been quite good, and his would have to measure up.
He carefully pushed a bite onto the back of his fork, taking the bite neatly and efficiently.
The burst of flavor in his mouth was immediate. Bold. The perfect blend of sweet and tangy, but followed up with a slow heat that smouldered but didn't burn, the taste was still vibrant. It begged for another bite, sweetness to soothe the heat, and he noticed that Merlin had already gone for one without thinking and had to hide a smirk.
Pure, raw talent. The young man had it in spades. It didn't really matter what Merlin said, so he didn't truly bother to listen, focusing instead on the almost surprised look that Eggsy had when he received words of approval. It was a genuine expression, as if he truly didn't know how good he was, and Roxy beside him just seemed smug as the bald man tried not to sing the boy's praises and failed.
He waited until they had left the room and made their way to his office, closing the door before turning to his friend.
"Your recommendation?" he asked mildly.
“If you don’t give him private lessons I bloody well will.”
The problem, Eggsy realized, was that he needed a chunk of money to get his pantry started. The stir fry the other day was something he could definitely make at home, and individually none of the ingredients cost all that much. Things like the rice wine vinegar and soy sauce he would be able to use over and over again, but he had to have them all in the first place.
At least with these chicken tenders he would really just have to worry about buying the panko breadcrumbs and parmesan. Not that he had money for that and chicken, but his mum kept flour and now eggs in stock. She hadn't said anything about his cooking, but he didn't miss things like that, and Dee didn't exactly keep secrets when she shrieked for omelettes in the morning instead of cereal.
And at least there is a decent chance that Deanna would enjoy eating these. She is used to shitty frozen chicken nuggets, so a baked chicken strip made with actual ingredients would be ace. Combine that with the fact that it went with ketchup, and this was perfect.
With those breaded and in the oven he was able to focus on the simple pasta they were making. It was just spaghetti with a little bit of olive oil, parmesan, and herbs often used in Italian cuisine apparently. It was all just tossed together and somehow managed to come out tasting rather amazing considering how simple it was.
Roxy was using his cutting board to show him how to twist the herbs together to finely slice them when Chef Hart appeared, looming over their station. "Eggsy. I'd like a word after class, please come to my office when you've finished cleaning up."
It was all very ominous really, and he found himself staring after the chef as he walked away, more than slightly confused. Roxy just shrugged when he looked at her and looked slightly baffled as well.
The rest of his time cooking he was slightly worried but refused to let it affect the food. It was good, though perhaps because of how he was raised he still liked the deep-fried ones better. At least these ones were healthier, and Deanna deserved something that was better for her. She was going to live forever if he had anything to do with it.
It was hard to focus during the tasting, barely registering whose chicken was over or under done. His was fine but if anything that worried him more. There is no telling why Chef Hart wanted to meet with him. Eggsy knew he had played by the rules this week.
The only way he let his nerves bleed through was in how quickly he cleaned up, for once one of this first finished. He told Roxy bye without a hint of concern, jauntily strolling down the hall with his head lifted high as made his way to the chef's office.
The door was open so he moved into the doorway. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes Eggsy. Come on in and shut the door."
He did as directed, taking a seat without being asked and just waiting. He'd done this before, the Head of his school had liked to wait to see if people would give away shit thinking she already knew.
"You've been doing rather well in class."
It wasn't what he expected, and he straightened up slightly. "Thanks."
"However, it is becoming apparent that there are certain skills that you lack. Basic things that everyone else already knows and I do not feel comfortable holding them back simply to instruct one student. Things such as basic knife skills and proper techniques utilized in a variety of dishes."
He couldn't deny that he lacked the skills but it still stung to hear someone else say it. "Ain't all of us lucky enough to take courses for a basic class," he shot back, feeling slightly contrite when the older man gave him a measured look.
"I am fully aware of that fact. Which is why I've decided to offer you private lessons. This is not something I do ordinarily but when I look at you I see potential. Your father had the makings of a great chef and I believe you do as well."
For a moment he was simply stunned, then finally the words caught up with him. It was all he could do to focus on even part of what he had just been told. "I ain't sure what you been told, but I'm a fucking charity case, yeah? I can't afford no private lessons."
"Then I suppose it's a good thing that I'm not asking for money." The chef seemed fully at ease, but Eggsy wasn't satisfied with that.
"Bullshit. Everyone wants something, that's just a fucking fact."
It was almost a relief to hear that, the admission that he was being used at least causing things to make sense. Suspicion filled his voice as he spoke again. "What do you bloody want?"
"I've already said you have potential. I want to see that develop. I want to taste those developments. I live for food, it's my passion and my career. If I teach you I will get to eat more of your cooking, will be able to hone your instincts into something truly remarkable."
That didn't seem like enough, and the suspicion was back. "You some sort of Hannibal type?"
"Really, do you know how filthy people are? If I was going to eat one they would have to be specially farmed." He really did seem disturbed by the idea, but had also put just a touch too much thought into it. "Just give it a chance. Monday, 7:00, our normal classroom. We'll try it and see what happens."
"It'll be here?" He found himself nodding before he’d given it too much thought. "Alright. One lesson can't hurt too much."
Chapter 7: Coriander
Sorry that the first...two thirds or so are pretty technical/cooking heavy. I feel that it’s kindof necessary with the slow build to show that the emphasis at this point is still very much on the food. Thanks for sticking with me QQ
The carrot and coriander soup recipe is this one. When I wound up making it (after writing this part of the fic!) we used part vegetable stock and part chicken stock. I've ready you can use either one, though for vegetarian you'd obviously want to use pure veggie stock!
Being in a kitchen put him at ease. Harry loved being in his element, and as he set up the usual station that Eggsy utilized he felt relaxed. The sort of feeling one has when they know, without a doubt, that they are doing the right thing.
Training Lee's son was the right thing to do.
It was telling that he had gotten there early to prep the station, several vegetables and herbs lined up between the cutting boards, carefully washed and ready for use. The chef knives had been carefully sharpened, and while he hated to wait at least the boy was on time. A couple of minutes before seven actually.
“Eggsy, come on in.”
He looked a bit out of his element, and he was probably trying not to show it. Harry didn’t care how cockily he strutted across the room, and he didn’t care about his attitude in the slightest. All he cared about was the food, and if Lee’s son would take that seriously they would get along fine.
There was a moment of silence as his hat and jacket were hung up, traded for an apron, and then the boy approached.
“That’s a lot of veg,” he pointed out unnecessarily, and Harry simply nodded.
“You need lots of practice, and this is the easiest way to get it. Today we’ll be making two types of soup, both of which will be pureed. This means that your cutting skills don’t have to be perfect, but it also means there is much to be diced and you can certainly work on your knife skills.”
“I was making do,” Eggsy insisted, and Harry gave him a look.
“Having proper technique is crucial. It will allow you to work faster and have more uniformity. That is key in cooking, as it ensures that your ingredients will cook through at the same rate and you won’t have some mushy bites while others are still half raw.”
He reached for a chef’s knife, holding it comfortably. “Improper technique can also cause you to become tired or even develop carpal tunnel. For now I’d just like you to observe. First of all, never hold your knife with your pointer finger going down the blade. It is unstable, and one of the ways that people wind up hurting themselves. Instead, if you would like to put a finger on the blade, you can use your thumb. I personally don’t find this very convenient, but some like it.”
As he spoke he demonstrated the grips, turning his hand so Eggsy could see the different angles. “I prefer to just simply grip the handle. It’s natural to me, but not to everyone. Others prefer to grip the blade with their forefinger and thumb, saying it helps with stability. Any of those are valid options, so I would like you to test them all today to see what feels comfortable and natural. The key is to find a method and stick with it.”
“Ain’t there one that’s better than the others?”
He appreciated that the boy actually seemed interested, alert as he watched his hands move. “Not necessarily. All give control and none will stress your muscles. Once you’ve built up to it you could chop vegetables for hours without growing weary. But it’s not just your knife hand that you need to be worried about, it’s your other hand as well.”
He placed his hand on the board, fingers tucked under his knuckles. “As you can see, my fingers aren’t spread out. If you move your hand like this it will help you not to cut your fingers. It’s important to learn this when you are going slow, as when you are going fast there is no time to think about it. It needs to be muscle memory by then. If you can’t see your fingers it’s difficult to slice them.”
“I can manage that,” Eggsy insisted,mimicking him on the other cutting board.
“Then the final thing is the motion of the cuts. You won’t actually lift your knife. Keep the end on the cutting board, and you’re going to roll the knife in a circular motion.” He demonstrated slowly, watching a few stumbled attempts before he got the rhythm right, and he set down his knife.
“Good. Now you’ll have a chance to practice those skills. Have you ever peeled a carrot?”
Eggsy was shaking his head, staring down at the vegetable as if it offended him.
“Curious then how you julienned yours the other day,” Harry mused aloud, knowing Roxy had given hers to him and just watch the boy duck his head.
“Very well. You need a vegetable peeler then. They aren’t too expensive, and they’re worth it. We’ll also use it with our potatoes later on. Now as you can see the peeler has two blades. What you’ll want to do is pick up your carrot like so and place the small end on the cutting board.” He didn’t mind demonstrating with one, as there would still be three left to do, and it would speed up the process. “As you’re sliding the peeler back and forth just rotate the carrot. You can peel them with a knife in a pinch, but you lose more of your ingredient.”
It was a matter of seconds before he was finished and he handed over the peeler, watching Eggsy try to work it. There were a couple of times when he started to go too fast and slipped, but all in all it was decent work and before too long all four carrots were lined up on the cutting board.
“This ain’t too bad,” Eggsy muttered, and Harry found himself mentally agreeing. Normally teaching things that were this basic was annoying, but a quick study helped, and at least he wasn’t trying to keep an entire class on track.
“Just keep them lined up and slice off the ends,” he directed. “You’ll want these in small chunks, nothing too thin but still something that will cook quickly. I would slice these in half lengthwise, quarters if you had a truly monstrous one, and then slice.”
As Eggsy worked he measured out the vegetable stock for later, trying to keep busy in the silence that filled the room when there were only two chefs.
“Next will be half a large onion.” Harry went ahead and started that part, slicing off the top and bottom before cutting it in half. “After the papery layers you’ll need to peel off at least two more, perhaps three. Simply use your judgment on that. The other half will keep for up to a week in the fridge, so you’ll have plenty of time to use it.”
He set the peeled half on Eggsy’s cutting board. “Just chunks on this one, so you can cut small wedges or do a large dice. While you do that I’ll be putting a tablespoon of olive oil into this large saucepan to start heating it.
“Fuck, these sting.” Water was filling the boy’s eyes, but it was simply because he wasn’t used to it.
“If an onion is too strong you can soak it in water, sometimes something acidic, to remove a bit of the strength of it, but this one is fine. Go ahead and add it all to the pan, we’re going to let those sauté for a few minutes while we work on our coriander.”
“That one of them green things?” Eggsy asked as he scraped the contents of his board into his pan, and Harry tried not to cringe.
“Yes, it’s one of those green things, also known as an herb. We’ll be using it to give the soup a fresh flavor so it’s not too earthy. Now then, there are two ways to go about this. If we were leaving it whole you wouldn’t want to include the stems, but as we’ll be blending this it won’t hurt to have some for the flavor. I’ve already washed these and trimmed the base of the stems, so we’ll just twist the stems up and we’re ready to dice. Go ahead and run your knife through that.”
He had him run his knife through once more, mostly for the practice.
"Okay, do you see how the onion is starting to turn translucent? We're ready to move on. This is vegetable stock though if you wanted to you could use chicken stock instead. You're going to add that and the coriander at the same time and then bring it to a boil for about 10 minutes."
He kept talking as he added he ingredients, outlining the rest of the steps. Letting it cool then blending it, it was truly that simple.
He would've thought that having something cooking on the stove would mean you could have a small break. Not so with Chef Hart.
Already he was having him break down a small onion, shifting it over to the side of the cutting board along side a clove of garlic, showing him how to smash it to release the flavors before dicing.
The older man was once more measuring out stock, chicken this time, and then getting out another large saucepan.
He had the potatoes peeled at least by the time they turned off the first soup, and while he started dicing then he started to get into a sort of rhythm. The cubes were by no means perfect, but they were all close to the same size at least. The chef nodded approvingly, then had him take a break to blend the carrot and coriander soup.
It was rather amazing to see it all come together, a smooth shade of orange that looked like a perfect feast for a winter day and smelled phenomenal.
“Now then, we need to work on your presentation skills before we go on.”
“Why?” It was a genuine question, and he could sense that the older man wasn’t pleased with it. “I’m eating it, so why does it got to look special. It’s all going to the same fucking place.”
“Because you should take pride in your work. If you’re going to bother to put time into something, you should be proud of it. Anyone can slop something into a bowl Eggsy, but anyone could also take the extra few seconds to carefully ladle it, drizzle a touch of cream to decorate, and garnish with a leftover sprig of coriander.
As he spoke the chef made the additions he spoke about, transforming a humble bowl into something that closer resembled a work of art. Yeah, Eggsy could understand that, seeing the differences a miniscule amount of effort made. “Of course if you don’t have cream handy you could just use a bit of coriander, but the lusciousness is a delight when you add it. Go ahead and fix yourself a bowl.”
He was starving, and it was a chance to eat, so he wasn’t about to pass it up. His first bite he carefully scooped up a bit without cream, testing it without the addition, and with his next he made sure to include some. Chef Hart was right of course, and he stirred until the cream was blended in, halfway through wolfing down the bowl when he remembered to look up.
Chef Hart was taking small bites with utter precision, savoring the soup thoughtfully as if he hadn’t already taken several bites, and watching him with a raised eyebrow. “It’s good,” he said with a shrug, not really apologizing for his atrocious manners but at least waiting until he’d swallowed his current mouthful.
“It is,” the man said after a moment. “Was there anything you had a question about?”
He thought for a moment, then his eyebrows furrowed slightly. “We didn’t add no salt or pepper.”
“The vegetable stock has salt in it, and unless you go for a low sodium variety or make your own it is often enough to salt your entire dish. Pepper could be added to taste of course.” He set aside his bowl and straightened the sleeves of his chef’s jacket. “Lets go ahead and get this started, there will be plenty of time while this one is cooking to finish eating or have a second bowl. I didn’t clean the leeks yet, I thought it would be a good lesson for you.”
“They different or something?”
“Oh yes, leeks are grown in sandy soil and have many layers, so they need to be cleaned carefully. We’ll be using chopped leeks, so we’ll actually chop them before cleaning. Go ahead and remove the dark green tops, we can clean those and save them for vegetable stock. If you don’t intend to use them right away they can always be frozen.”
“So you don’t eat the tops, yeah?”
“They’re much too fibrous. Now you’ll want to cut off the roots at the base and slice them in half. Lay them flat side down and chop them up.”
There was another long moment of silence as he worked and Chef Hart got out a bowl of cold water, starting to scoop the leeks he was finished with into it and then working the bowl with his fingers. “The dirt will go to the bottom of the bowl, so you’ll want to scoop out the leeks with your hands and put them in the strainer, otherwise you’re just pouring the dirt back on top of them. I just leave them in the strainer as I start the base. I’m just going to drop two ounces of butter into our saucepan to get started while you finish moving the leeks over.
“We just going to dump it all in again?”
“Of course not. The garlic and onions need a bit of time to work, and will infuse the butter with their flavor to ensure it is spread throughout. As soon as the butter is melted you can add those in to begin sautéing, then we’ll work on our herbs.
With those scraped into the pan Chef Hart handed him a bunch of a different herb. “With this parsley you’ll want to just chop off the leaves. Leave the stems on and it will help you keep them all together to chop, and we’ll be using the stems in a different way.”
When those were finished he looked up to see the chef with a small length of twine, giving the garlic and onions a quick stir. “Ordinary white, you wouldn’t want to do something foolish such as dye your soup blue. What we’re going to do is tie together a few herbs so we’ll be able to fish them out later. You just want the flavor in the soup, not lasting hunks. We call this bouquet garni. Traditionally it will have parsley, stalks or whole, a bay leaf, and thyme. I’ve kept out a piece of leek to tie them with, though you could easily use celery if you had that on hand. Naturally if your recipe needs another herb you could add that instead.”
He tied the bundle neatly, every move the model of efficiency. “Now then, go ahead and add in everything you’ve chopped up and a bit of salt and pepper. We’ll also need a cube of vegetable bullion.”
The only problem about soup was that once it was cooking there was little left to do. For a few minutes they cleaned up the cutting boards, but there weren’t many dishes to do, and even after packing up the rest of their soup they had twenty minutes left where all they actually needed to do was stir the simmering pot occasionally.
“So, uh,” the boy was hesitating, and Harry just looked at him, nodding his head as if to tell him to go on. “My dad worked for you?”
It wasn’t entirely unexpected that the boy would be asking about his father. Harry simply nodded. “When I still worked in my own restaurant. He was my saucier, though my sous chef was planning to move and I intended for him to take over that position. Did you know that he originally started off as my dishwasher?”
The boy looked startled at that and shook his head. “Mum don’t talk about him much no more. She used to before she got remarried.” From the way he shut his mouth almost abruptly Harry could guess that he didn’t really mean to give that much away and chose to focus instead on the boy’s father.
“Lee was a good man. Honest, and I admire that in a person. He also wanted to learn. I taught him how to use a knife as well, one night when I caught him there well after he should have been gone, polishing the silverware of all things. He started to help out with the prep work before there were dishes to be cleaned, and he started moving up from there. He proved that if you’re willing to adapt and learn, you can transform. I believe you could do the same. I owe it to your father to do anything in my power to see that you have that opportunity, but only you can decide if you want to make something of it.”
“What’ve I got to lose?”
The words may have sounded almost flippant but he could almost see the calculation in the boy’s eyes, knew that he had his attention and he was thinking about it.
“So that’s why you’re doing this? For my dad?”
“Initially we agreed to let you take lessons here in hopes that you might have some relationship to him, but this?” He gestured to the simmering pot of soup. “This is you. Your potential is the reason I’m willing to be here on a Monday night. I only ask that you be serious about learning, even if you only cook one night a week at home I believe you have a talent worthy of being developed. But enough of this, your soup needs stirred, and it’s almost time to blend this one. We’ll leave a few chunks in this one however, a bit more rustic.”
For the entirety of his walk home Eggsy couldn’t stop thinking about his father. Picturing the young man framed in his room working for Chef Hart. His dishwasher, he’d started off as a fucking dishwasher. And if he was right a sous chef was a pretty important job. The main helper or some shit. His dad would have been promoted that high from a dishwasher? And he hadn’t been old when he died neither, so it couldn’t have taken him long to rise through the ranks.
It didn’t take him long to reach his flat, and the door closed behind him softly as he made his way to the fridge. The containers he sat down on the counter as he opened up the fridge to find a place to store the leftovers. It took a minute to shift everything and then he was straightening up.
“Where the fuck you been?”
He froze, immediately noting the slightly slurred speech, the venom in the voice barely reined in.
“Out,” he said, aiming for casual.
“Cocky little shit,” Dean growled, and Eggsy knew then that tonight was one of those nights where nothing would have been the right answer.
Chapter 8: Crumble
Just a couple of heads up since I seem to be slow this week. A) I have Avengers plans so I doubt there will be another chapter until at least Saturday, sorry! B) Life update: I just applied for a transfer at work (same town, different position) so I’m going to be freaking out about those implications as I go into the interview process and such in the next week or so. IDK if that will affect writing or anything, but just throwing it out there.
7:00 had bothered Harry. People keeping him waiting displeased him.
7:05 had angered him. Not a lot, somewhere between mild irritation and peeved.
7:10 was when he started to question it. The longer the class went on and still Eggsy didn't show up the more worried he became. What was even more worrisome was that the young lady that shared a station with Eggsy also seemed disturbed by his failure to show up.
It made it hard to focus on the curry he was teaching, but thankfully it was a recipe he could outline in his sleep.
He most certainly was not stalking around his own classroom, and if he lingered near the boy's station then it was merely coincidence.
Coincidence met with knowing eyes from Roxy.
Still she didn't call him out on it, and when he asked her to meet him in his office after class she just nodded, the only sign that she was also concerned the way that she bit her lip, an entirely unconscious action.
It helped him to focus on the rest of the class. The tasting was fine, all good curries but nothing truly outstanding. Nothing inspired. Certainly nothing to go home and recreate.
He then retired to his office, double checking his dining arrangements for the next evening before there was the expected knock at his door. "Enter."
"You wanted to see me sir?"
Yes, thank you for stopping by Roxy. I simply wanted to ask if you knew where your station partner was. I hadn't heard he would not be joining us today."
"I haven't heard anything either sir. I sent him a text earlier," she flushed and he could only assume she meant during class, "but I haven't heard back."
"Very well, thank you for your time."
He waited until she left to sink back into his chair. It was hard to tell what was more worrisome, that something unexpected had happened causing the boy not to show up or the strange coincidence that it was the day immediately following their private lesson.
Nothing came to mind when he tried to think of why Eggsy might want to avoid him. Nothing unusual had happened the previous evening. But that left a more serious issue, and it wasn't a thought that Harry liked to entertain.
Just from the look on Roxy's face he could tell that she didn't really believe the excuse he'd made via text. Or, not so much that she didn't believe him, but that she didn't believe it should have kept him from responding before 11:00 that night.
But he sure as hell wasn't going to tell her that he wasn't watching Deanna unexpectedly but he'd been drinking at Jamal's and trying not to move but had forgotten his phone charger at home, and he had only went home when his mum had texted to tell him Dean was passed out and Deanna had been asking for him.
So instead he just flashed her an easy smile, a teasing tone to his voice. "Upset you ain't collecting no protection fees for Tuesday?"
It was enough to make her roll her eyes, the nonsense keeping the mood light. This is the sort of thing he excelled at. Making other people believe that everything was okay. He'd had years of practice after all.
"I was worried," she pointed out, not entirely able to let it drop. "Chef Hart was too. Do you know what it’s like to get called out by him?” Her eyes narrowed. “Wait. You do. You never told me what happened last week. You said you’d explain in person.”
He glanced toward the door, but it was still a minute before 7:00 so their instructor hadn’t arrived. “Alright.” His voice dropped so she’d be the only one to hear. “Don’t say nothing though. I’m getting some private lessons now. Just some shit to help me with things like cutting and the basics, yeah? Ain’t nothing no one needs to fucking know about.”
It was hard to pin down precisely why he didn’t want anyone else to know, a mixture perhaps of not wanting people to know that he needed help on something that they all knew, letting them know how behind he was, and also not sure how they’d take knowing he was getting extra help. Might not seem fair or something.
“Private lessons?” Roxy’s eyes were wide, startled perhaps. “I didn’t--Chef Hart gives private lessons?”
At least she remember to keep her voice down, and all he did was nod. “Guess so. He offered didn’t he?”
“I suppose so,” she murmured as the chef in question strode into the room.
The older man didn’t waste any time as he moved to his station, expecting the room to be silent when he began. It was. “Today we’ll be working on dessert. A classic pairing, rhubarb crumble and custard.”
The students had been set loose to work on their crumbles, it would be easy enough to let those sit for a bit while they prepared the custard, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt the dish. Plus the time for the bake would give him enough time for another demo, one of the several reasons he had gone for a larger pan rather than having them sort out their portions into ramekins.
It was a simple task he had given them, outlining the crumble recipe, showing them how to mix the basic filling before moving on to the topping. All it really required was just combining cubes of butter with flour and sugar with their fingers before they added in the oats and sliced almonds to give it some crunch and texture.
The only ingenuity he required was that they add another ingredient to their crumble. Another flavor to complement their rhubarb, be it a fruit or a spice. He wasn’t surprised to see several going for strawberries, though Charlie had opted for blueberries and Roxy was speedily pitting cherries over at her station.
Then there was Eggsy. Eggsy who was opening up a jar of stem ginger and tasting the contents with a spoon that he then dropped into his sink. Harry couldn’t just watch him, but he managed to catch sight of the orange being zested into the concoction, the quick toss of ingredients before the crumble was spread over the contents of the baking dish and it was all put into the oven.
Most dishes were already in the oven as he set his milk and cream on to warm and called them around, watching the final two scramble to get their crumbles in the oven as he sprinkled in a touch of sugar.
“The trickiest part of your custards will be the egg yolks. As you can see here I’ve already separated out a half dozen egg yolks, but you’ll need a total of eight. Simply crack the egg into your palm and let the white ooze through your fingers into a bowl, then drop the yolk into the bowl.” He demonstrated, going back and repeating the process to give them a good idea of the technique.
“I recommend preparing the yolks before you turn your milk on. If you’re unsure of cracking the egg in one hand I would crack them over a third bowl with your fingers closed, and if the yolk is broken drop it in there to utilize later for scrambled eggs or omelets as for our purposes it is ruined.
“When you’re finished set your egg whites to the side, later you can use them to make a classic mousse or meringue biscuits. As for the yolks, we’re now going to add the rest of the sugar and whisk until the color is light and smooth.” The movement was rhythmic, cathartic in a way.
“The next step is to slowly add the milk to the eggs. It is imperative that this is done slowly and that you continue whisking. If you’re uncomfortable pouring with one hand then ladle instead. If you cease to stir the mixture, or if you dump the eggs into the warm milk, they will begin to cook and curdle.” He didn’t exactly hide his sneer, whisking in the milk before transferring it all back to the pot, never ceasing as he continued to stir.
“Many of you may already have some experience with custards,” he mentioned as he reached with one hand for a vanilla pod. Only then did he stop stirring long enough to slice open the dried bean and scrape out the seeds with his knife. “But let me assure you that while you can make a decent vanilla custard simply by utilizing vanilla extract, there is nothing like using a whole bean. This will go directly into your custard, bean and all, and it will infuse the milk and therefore work it’s flavor throughout the custard.
“Stir until it’s thickened, but don’t turn up the heat or you’ll risk scorching it. Once it’s done remove the hull of the vanilla bean and put the custard into a bowl. Now then, get to work on your egg yolks.”
It would take them a while, time to give him a chance to debate inviting Merlin in for the taste test, but mostly time to watch as Eggsy worked, slowly, cursing when he broke an egg, but he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Perhaps in their private lesson he would show him the trick with the cleaned out plastic bottle, but it was good for his students to know how to do things by hand first.
After the fourth broken yolk he watched as Roxy cracked an egg into the young man’s hand for him, and he didn’t say anything about it.
Eggsy bent down to pull his crumble out of the oven, unable to contain a short hiss from the ache in his ribs, but no one seemed to notice. He’d just started the milk warming for his custard, and after the initial rush of getting the eggs added to the mixture there was plenty of time to stand next to Roxy and talk, filling their time with tales of Deanna, keeping the mood light.
His custard at least looked smooth when he finally poured it into the bowl. The fact that it was almost the same color as Roxy's was also reaffirming.
How they had managed to pick the side of the room that was always judged last was beyond him, but for the first time he was starting to wonder if it was because Chef Hart like to end with their dishes. He could see why, Roxy's smelled amazing and apparently his food was normally good.
Their instructor was halfway around the room when the bald man that normally worked the front desk appeared in the room as if by magic, scanning the room before making his way over to where Digby was currently being critiqued.
Then he stayed, tasting alongside Chef Hart.
Roxy received nothing but compliments, and as soon as it was time to clean up he was going to ask for a taste. Then they were both dishing up portions of his own crumble.
Chef Hart what's judging the components separately, first trying just crumble with no custard.
"Mm, is that orange in the filling?" Merlin asked, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "It helps cut through the stem ginger nicely and keeps it fresh."
"It could have benefited from a bit more of the stem ginger syrup," his teacher added, dipping his spoon back in and just shaving off a bit of the topping. "Did you add cinnamon to the crumble?"
"Yeah, figured it wouldn't hurt none to season that shit as well. Stuff. Sorry." He wasn't used to being critiqued negatively, the comment about it needing more syrup setting him on edge.
"Well it works, and the custard is spot on. Smooth. All in all I would call this a successful dish."
He grinned a little at the verdict, but when he glanced up it was to see Charlie glowering at him from across the room.
"Class is dismissed," the chef called, and noise filled the air as people began to put away their dishes.
"Eggsy." The chef's voice was low but commanded attention. "I expect to be notified if and when one of my students is missing a class. This is my business card. Take it. Use it if you have to. Tuesday was unacceptable."
The card was held out and he snatched it, ears burning. "Sorry guvner, won't let it happen again."
"Very good. Was--Is everything alright?" There seemed to be actual concern from the chef and Eggsy nodded quickly.
"Yeah everything's brilliant. Everything’ll be back to normal next week."
"I'll see you on Monday then." The last part was barely audible as the chef turned to leave, and Eggsy tried not to breathe too big of a sigh of relief. At least the lessons were still on then.
Chapter 9: Risotto
Hopefully this week settles down slightly! I've just started chapter 10 and I'm going to try to get back on track updating wise.
Routine kept his life in order. It meant that each day passed by as expected, that one week marched into the next. Or at least, it had.
Harry’s routine hadn’t drastically changed. The only addition was that he spent a few extra hours at Kingsman each week following his advanced course that focused solely on fish. A few extra hours with a young man that was starting to develop into chef.
Yet somehow that rather minute change seemed to make time move inconsistently. Speeding through the week, weekends dragging on as he willed Monday to arrive sooner. It was not something he enjoyed, he enjoyed order. But it didn’t mean he was willing to change anything.
Their class had whittled down to a mere six students, a couple of young men deciding that perhaps cooking resembled work more than they wanted it to. He preferred the smaller classes though. Some of the students had chosen to spread out and take full stations, and he spent more time at their stations, correcting techniques, sampling and tasting as they went, developing their sensitivities to seasoning and actually turning these individuals into people he wouldn’t be embarrassed to say had gone through his program.
If he spent a bit more time at Eggsy and Roxy’s station, well, there were two of them there.
He wasn’t ignorant. Students were upset, noticing as Eggsy started to pull ahead of the class, but that wasn’t a problem in his eyes. In their private lessons they never went over a recipe he would be teaching in class, and the trio that seemed the most concerned could well afford a private tutor if they wished.
So he didn’t step in, simply ensuring that nothing outright happened during class. Safety was important, and sabotage childish. Thankfully it hadn’t seemed to progress farther than snide comments, and that he was confident Eggsy could handle. The world of food was a harsh one, and dealing with snotty comments was something that anyone who cooked for others would need to deal with at some point or another. In it’s own way it was almost training for the future.
The smell of risotto must have wafted down the hall, because Merlin had appeared a moment earlier, a full five minutes before tasting would likely begin, making his own rounds to “check progress” and somehow managing to sample both Roxy and Eggsy’s dishes.
Eggsy was finished, and there were still bustling movements from other stations, so Harry approached the station. He kept his voice quiet, not wanting to draw attention to their conversation but not particularly caring if Roxy overheard. He had a feeling Eggsy would just tell her regardless.
“Eggsy. A word? It seems as though Chef Percival will be utilizing this classroom for his pastry course starting this coming Monday. I would like to discuss alternates with you after class.”
“Yeah? Be there soon as I clean up,” Eggsy said with a nod. By the time Harry beganto turn away he had started to work on getting his station in order.
The tasting went quickly. Rufus had been unable to wait for his rice to turn translucent early on, rushing enough that there were obvious structural issues with his dish, but otherwise the dishes presented were at least decent. If he had to be fair Roxy and Charlie’s dishes actually showed promise.
There was a reason he waited to try Eggsy’s dish last now, because otherwise the other dishes would be compared to the typically inspired dishes the young man produced. This time it was a simple parmesan risotto bolstered by the peas and prosciutto he’d integrated in. The perfect smooth and creamy texture Harry was looking for. It would have been easy to polish off the dish, and he could tell that Merlin agreed, but he forced himself to set down his tasting bowl, commenting simply that the dish would nicely pair with a simple grilled chicken breast.
Merlin stayed with him as he headed to his office, waiting until they had cleared the area to speak. “Are you certain you didn’t tell him to pair those flavors?”
The man’s voice was almost pleading, and Harry couldn’t help but smirk slightly. “I didn’t even suggest the parsley.”
“Damn. Do you realize the course is over halfway over?”
“I’m aware.” He was, he just hadn’t given it much thought until now, but Merlin’s words cautioned him slightly.
“I think I’ll teach an intermediate course next term,” Merlin muttered, mostly to himself. “Offer a scholarship.” They were lingering outside the door to Harry’s office as he turned to regard the man.
“Back in the classroom? I’m sure this in no way has anything to do with the fact that you’d need to sample everything. And surely you wouldn’t be teaching odd recipes from your childhood just to get Eggsy to cook them for you.”
Merlin didn’t have the decency to look embarrassed. “It’s as good a reason as any. You can’t just keep him all to yourself, and you’ve already got your private lessons. I still haven’t forgiven you for not keeping any of his curry from Monday. And hadn’t you already taught curry?”
“He missed that class, and he takes his leftovers home. You could have stayed late.”
Merlin just gave him a look. “Have you figured out what you’re going to do for your lessons yet? Gwaine’s sugar art class is in Classroom Two on Monday nights and Tristan uses Classroom Three for has his couples date night course.”
“I’ve got some ideas,” Harry said shortly, not willing to get into it with Merlin right now. “Oh look, is that Chester by the front desk?”
Merlin had to return to the front and Harry was relieved, not really wanting to talk about his plan. It seemed absurd to his own ears, and he would already need to convince Eggsy that there was nothing strange about it. Merlin would just be obnoxious
Still, he was entirely calm by the time Eggsy made it to his office, shutting the door and having a seat with a certain measure of confidence that hinted that he was comfortable being here. Good, that was a start.
“So, we’re getting the shaft.”
“We never officially had the classroom,” Harry pointed out. “So yes, we’ll have to relocate.”
“It’s still shitty,” Eggsy pointed out. “What’s the plan. Different night? Different classroom?”
“The other classrooms are taken up as well, my next several Wednesday evenings are booked, and my weekends are typically filled with writing and other courses. Monday is the best day for these lessons.” He spoke in a matter of fact manner, laying out the issues as he saw them.
“We’re fu--buggered then.”
“Not quite. There is still another kitchen available to me.”
“Know a restaurant closed on Monday or something?”
Harry shook his head, aiming for completely casual. “I was thinking of something closer to home.” He waited until he could see the realization dawning. “My house is not far from here, easily walkable, and I have a fairly nice set up there as well. Perhaps not all of the professional equipment, but more than enough to suit our purposes. But it’s entirely up to you Eggsy, and if you want to think about it before deciding that’s perfectly fine. I can look into other venues.”
The reply was faster than he expected, and when he looked sharply at Eggsy as the young man just shrugged. “What’ve I got to lose? So, how do I get there?”
His reassurances were on the tip of his tongue and now he was almost at a loss, taking a second to answer. “I’ll write down my address, and my mobile number as well in case you have any problems or something comes up as I won’t be here at Kingsman.”
“Brilliant idea, here, just tell me your number and I’ll send you a text so you got mine.”
Dee didn’t even wait for him to tell her what the risotto was. She at least recognized the peas, and there was a spoonful in her mouth almost as soon as he set the plate down in front of her. The beam lighting her face was more than worth the obnoxious amount of stirring and layering he’d had to do yesterday, and he grinned at her while she devoured the leftovers.
A grin that faltered when he heard a key in the lock.
It was Friday, and that meant he was normally alone with Deanna for the majority of the day. A good time to demolish leftovers without being questioned where they came from. He pushed himself away from the counter he’d been leaning on, setting down his own bowl and bracing himself for whatever was to come.
Most of his apprehension faded when it was his mum, and her alone, that came in. “Didn’t think you’d be back this early.”
“There was a queue to get my nails done so I decided to wait until next week.” She seemed fairly unconcerned. “Hey Deanna, what’ve you got there?”
“Sotto!” Another bite disappeared as his sister grinned.
“Just some rice and peas,” Eggsy said quickly, trying not to sound too suspicious but apparently failing judging by the look his mum gave him.
A look that changed, softening slightly before she spoke quietly, her voice still somehow managing to fill the air. “Lee used to make me seafood risotto on our anniversary.”
Eggsy swallowed, “yeah?”
“I haven’t had it in a long time,” she murmured “He always put more lobster in it than anything else because he knew I’d pick through it to find the lobster otherwise.”
For a moment there was silence, broken when Dee looked up, eyes big. “More sotto?”
“Here,” Eggsy saidly quickly, spooning some out of his own bowl and onto her plate. “Careful, it’s hot.”
“Hot,” she agreed seriously, bending over to blow on the rice before promptly shoving another bite into her mouth.
“So,” his mum said, watching them both. “Is this from those cooking classes we haven’t been talking about?” When he nodded she simply gave a small, almost melancholy smile. “You’re going to stick with it?”
“It’s hard to explain,” he replied. “It’s just--It’s easy. This cooking shit just makes sense.”
“He’d be so happy to hear that.” For a moment they were just staring at each other, neither commenting on the way that her eyes had misted up. “Look, if you want to cook a bit at home you can take some of the take-away money out of the jar for groceries.”
“You sure?” It was impossible not to think about Dean’s reaction, something they hadn’t spoken about and maybe she didn’t know, but Dean would notice if groceries started filtering into the fridge where he kept his beer.
“It’ll be okay, babe. But I want to try your cooking too. Dee was turning her nose up at her dinner last night.” She shook her head, expression both fond and exasperated, and he couldn’t help grin.
“Ain’t nothing I did,” he insisted.
“Oh really.” His mum’s voice sounded teasing, and it was a good thing to hear, a sound he’d missed for far too long. “So when she pushed away her chicken nuggets and shrieked that she wanted you and then broke down sobbing for omelettes and trees it was just a coincidence?”
“Bloody coincidence.” He said solemnly, basking in the laughter that filled the house, Dee joining in simply because something was supposed to be funny.
It was unusual for his phone to chime. It would occasionally ring, typically due to a call from the school or his editor, but rarely chime. Yet in the scant couple of days that Eggsy had had his number it chimed more than it typically did in a few weeks. Messages to establish that he had the right number, messages to ask for advice on what essential spices he should buy for his pantry, messages just to make sure that Harry was still okay with the lesson at his house.
What he had quickly decided was that the speech to text feature on his phone was worthless, and also that he really didn’t mind texts. It was effective, and even though he didn’t always reach for his phone immediately (any message could wait until after he’d finished creating a perfect cheese souffle) it was still relatively speedy.
So as unusual as the noise was it was still somewhat expected on Monday evening as he finished the rest of the paper.
just passed kingsman
There was nothing that needed responded to so he just read it and set the phone back down, finishing his article before setting it all aside and going the kitchen to make sure everything was laid out. He set the butter out to let it start to raise to room temperature, nodding with satisfaction that he had everything and waiting for the expected knock at the door.
He’d told Eggsy it was set away from the street, and apparently he had no trouble finding him as the noise sounded throughout the house. “Good evening, Eggsy.” The greeting fell from his lips easily as he swung open the door, but for a moment the young man in question was quiet, eyes darting down quickly. It was almost expected. It was the first time he’d been seen outside of Kingsman. At home he tended to wear comfortable cardigans rather than a chef’s coat, a striped apron waiting for him in the kitchen. “Come in.”
It was only until he’d moved slightly that Eggsy seemed to snap to attention. “Thanks,” he muttered, stepping into the house. “I mean it, it’s fucking ace that you’re letting me be here.”
“It won’t be all fun and games,” Harry warned. “The kitchen is just in here. Tonight’s dish won’t be tremendously time consuming, but it would be best if we got started sooner rather than later as I’ve decided to add to the prep work.”
“Add to it?” Eggsy’s voice didn’t sound terribly excited, and that was fine.
“If you’re going to do this, you may as well do it properly. Tonight we’ll be making prawns nestled on a bed of linguini and tossed in a garlic and butter sauce. However, you might as well learn to peel and devein the prawns while you’re here.”
As he spoke he put his apron on, wrapping the ties around his back and tying it in front of his waist before handing a spare apron he kept on hand (just in case one was in the wash) over to Eggsy.
“Mum likes seafood,” Eggsy remarked, and Harry had to nod.
“Yes, Lee used to make a lovely seafood risotto for her.”
“She was just saying that!” There was a bit more enthusiasm now as Harry directed him to a cutting board. They were on either side of the sink, space limited now that there was more than one person in the small kitchen, but it would have to do.
“I’ve already rinsed off the prawns with cold water, so they’re ready to go,” Harry mentioned as he plucked one from a bowl resting in the otherwise empty sink. They would have to take advantage of space now, and put things where they would be in easy reach of both of them. “Watch me for this first one. What you’ll want to do is simple grab the head and twist.”
He demonstrated, the prawn’s head popping off easily, and when he bothered to glance up Eggsy’s attention was riveted on his hands. “The head and shells you’ll want to keep,” he added as he tossed the head into a clean bowl on his countertop. “They can be used to make an excellent stock as they contain a lot of flavor. Now then, with the tail you have two options.”
His hands kept busy, stripping away the peel until just a single section remained on the end of the tail. “Depending on your goal you may leave this on, or you may completely remove it. I prefer to not be excessively messy when I eat so I remove the entire shell. Grip it with your thumb and forefinger, squeeze, and pull.” The shell popped off and he tossed the shell into his bowl with the head.
“That ain’t so bad.”
“It’s easy,” Harry agreed. “Prawns by the pound are cheaper with the shells on as they require more labor and the shells do take up some of the weight. However, we are not finished, we still need to devein them.
“What we’ll actually be removing isn’t the vein though,” he added. “It’s actually the digestive tract. You can leave it in, it’s edible, but oftentimes it can be gritty or crunchy, and it’s not particularly pleasant.”
“No, I mean, that’s rank.”
“I quite agree, which is why we’ll be removing it. Using a good paring knife you’ll make an incision down the back of the tail to expose the digestive tract. Then, using the edge of your knife you’ll want to bring it up. All you have to do after that is pull it out. This is the only part we’ll trash outright. Rinse the prawn in a bit of cold water and then put it in your other clean bowl.”
“Still ain’t too bad,” Eggsy said with a shrug, already reaching in for one of the prawns, and Harry set down his knife to watch him at work while almost absentmindedly washing his hands and reaching over to turn on some water to boil.
Naturally it took longer than if he’d been doing it himself. Eggsy didn’t have the experience that he did, but it was still fairly efficient. The prawn had to be sliced twice, the first cut not quite deep enough, but the overall result was satisfactory. “I’ll help with a few more of these,” Harry offered, and for a couple of prawns they worked in a comfortable silence.
It wasn’t meant to last, Eggsy settling into the rhythm quickly and then needing something else to occupy his mind. “So what did my dad like to cook? Or eat? Like, did he ever make up his own shit or did he like recipes?”
“Lee enjoyed making just about everything. He tended to be slightly reckless if given free rein, but when the time came for it he’d follow a recipe readily enough. Mostly he enjoyed cooking new things actually.” Harry couldn’t help but smile, remembering one evening when a critic had shown up out of the blue.
“He made up some sauce and cooked it for Christmas dinner to go on the goose when you must have been a toddler. Lee raved about it for weeks until I finally agreed to let him put it on the menus for a Chef’s special one evening. Of course, it was late, we didn’t have time to roast goose for it, not properly, so he decided to serve it with duck instead. Our first customer ended up being a food critic, and he naturally ordered the duck.”
A smile had stolen across his face as he talked but his hands never stilled as they continued to break down the prawns.
“Was it any good?” The question almost seemed to burst from the young man and Harry nodded.
“Lee was in a frenzy to get it done properly. He knocked a pitcher of cream onto half of our desserts for the evening but the dish went over well. It wound up being a plate we featured for a fortnight.”
Eggsy was grinning, and Harry let him scoop out the last prawn before nudging the water on with his wrist and washing up. “As for what he liked to eat? Everything. But he loved going to smaller restaurants and food stalls and just getting whatever they recommended or telling them to surprise him.”
It was easy to see that the young man was drinking in the words, apparently not hearing enough about his father from anyone else, but that wasn’t why Harry was here, no matter how infectious his grin was. “Now then, we’ll need to dry out the prawns. Drain what you can from the bowl, and then we’ll use paper towels for the rest. Just lay a few down on a plate and spread them out.”
“What about you?” When Harry turned and gave him a look Eggsy elaborated. “What do you like?”
“There’s no particular dish or cuisine,” Harry admitted. “Primarily I appreciate things that surprise me. I’ve sampled a lot of food during my life and I like things that are different.”
“So me and my dad, our food is different?” There was a hopeful gleam in his eye, but Harry had to think about it.
“Yes, you show a certain unorthodox approach that I also saw in your father, but you’re also different from each other. It’s probably due to the different approaches to your education, but it’s not a bad thing. I don’t find myself comparing the two of you all that often any longer.” Then he shuddered. “Lee had the worst tendency to try to find the next great fusion food. There was a Middle Eastern inspired meat pie that thankfully exploded in the oven before I had to come up with an excuse to leave the restaurant for the staff’s pre-opening meal.”
The tidbit was accepted and Eggsy seemed content. “So what now, we going to cook these bastards?”
“Certainly not, they’d be cold by the time we were ready for them. No, you’ll need to start dicing the shallots and mincing the garlic. Also, if you noticed, a few minutes ago I put a pot of water on to boil for our pasta.”
“You got any tips for pasta I should know about?”
“Always salt your water, wait until it’s at a boil or you’ll risk pitting your pan, which can cause rust.” The tip rolled off his tongue easily, as he started the burner and then waited for a moment for Eggsy to finish his task. “Now then, we’ll be using equal parts butter and olive oil here, and let that warm in the pan until the the butter is melted in. Then add your shallots and garlic. We’ll just saute them for a few minutes until translucent. I also add in a pinch of red pepper flakes. It’s optional but adds a bit more depth to the sauce.”
Eggsy scraped up the ingredients onto his knife and into the pan, and just weeks ago he would have been slightly awkward as he tried to maneuver the ingredients. Now it seemed almost natural, efficient in a way that he could be proud of. Then he sprinkled in the flakes of pepper and it was time to focus on something else.
“The water should be ready for the pasta, is it at a good boil?”
“Yeah. Don’t I got to add salt?”
Harry nodded. “Be fairly generous, but I wouldn’t take the time to measure it out. There, that should do it. Now then, add in your linguini and I’ll give it a stir to make sure it doesn’t clump together while you season your prawns.”
“Don’t tell me, salt and pepper the bloody things?”
“What else?” There was a wry smile on his face as Harry made sure all the pasta had made it down into the water, giving it a quick stir. “The pasta will only take about seven minutes, and the prawns will cook quickly.”
Eggsy moved in behind him, peering around to his pan. “They’re starting to turn clear, yeah? So is it time?”
Harry gave the pasta a last stir and stepped to the side. “Yes. Add them quickly, by the time you get them all situated you’ll probably need to start turning some of them. As soon as they turn pink they’re ready to go.”
He forced himself to look away, letting Eggsy cook them and only clearing his throat once. Eggsy handling the rubber tipped tongs well as he kept everything cooking evenly by shifting the ones from the middle of the pan to the edges. “Alright. Now you’ll be taking them out with the tongs to put the prawns in a bowl. Don’t just tip the pan and scrape, we’re not finished with the sauce.”
“That what the wine is for?” Eggsy asked, and Harry was simply glad he’d paid attention.
“Yes. You need a dry white wine for this, we’ll be using chardonnay tonight. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, but it is a good rule to only cook with a wine you would drink. If you don’t like it on it’s own, you’re not going to enjoy it lacing through the dish you made containing it.
“Eight ounces is what I’ll be putting in, and while I’m working on that I need you to get the lemon. Roll it a couple of times on the cutting board to get the juices flowing and then cut it in half. You’ll be juicing it into the pan. I would squeeze it into your hand so you can collect the seeds before they fall in.”
Before Eggsy could start that Harry was handing over a strand of pasta to test, pulling off the pan now that the young man had an example of how he wanted it cooked and draining it while Eggsy worked on the lemon. “How long?”
“After it comes to a boil we’ll add the rest of the butter and some olive oil,” Harry replied. “Then while that’s melting down you’ll need to chop up some parsley.”
The butter had finished melting by the time the parsley was chopped, and Harry had to admit it was good timing. It was all tossed together with a bit more salt and pepper, and mostly he was trying to keep his stomach from growling as he got out his plates. “The silverware is in the drawer to your right.”
Cooking in Chef Hart’s house had honestly not felt all that weird. No, it was now, sitting down at the Chef’s dining room table with a glass of water and a goblet of wine both in easy reach, that it felt odd.
The chef passing him shaved parmesan to sprinkle over his plate wasn’t what did it, no it was what he said as he passed it over. “If we’re going to be sitting at my table eating dinner then you may as well call me Harry. Here that is, in class I’ll still expect Chef Hart.”
“Guess it’s different than standing around tasting it,” he conceded, and then took a bite. “Fuck me.”
It was a bold dish, the garlic clearly present with the undertones of wine. Yet the parsley was what took it to a different level, the herb, bright and fresh, keeping the dish from becoming too laden down by the butter and oil used in the dish. The pasta had absorbed some of the sauce nicely, and as he chewed he was already cutting into one of the prawns, spearing it and barely managing not to shove it into his mouth while it was still half full.
Several bites later he looked up to see Chef Ha--Harry watching him with a touch of amusement, and Eggsy didn’t want to stop eating long enough to be more polite.
Halfway through the pile on his plate (probably Harry’s fourth or fifth bite if he had to estimate) Eggsy stopped wolfing down his food long enough to ask a question that had been lingering on his mind. “So why ain’t you got a restaurant no more?”
Harry put down his fork to answer. If the chef kept going at this pace it’d be a bloody long time before dinner was over with, but there wasn’t a chance in hell that Eggsy was going to try to rush him. “Having a restaurant consumes you,” the older man admitted. “When it’s your passion it’s something you don’t mind, and I didn’t mind the sometimes fourteen or sixteen hour days.”
The older man took a sip of his wine. “After your father’s death I had to train up different staff members, and I discovered I enjoyed it. When an acquaintance of mine approached me about Kingsman I had to make the decision. Did I want to create food, or did I want to create chefs? I decided to risk it, so I sold my restaurant and joined Kingsman.”
“Your old restaurant still around?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact part of my contract means that I have a meal at Galahad’s once a year. It’s changed, but it’s still exquisite.”
“Course it is,” Eggsy muttered quietly around a mouthful of pasta. “Ain’t you got another job though?”
“I’m a food critic as well. That happened about a year into my job at Kingsman. I’m one of the few relatively faceless food critics that writes for a paper. I write for The Sun, you’ll know it’s drivel if you’ve ever read it, but my food column is considered to be one of the more influential ones in London.”
“Get any perks with that?” Eggsy was grinning until he realized his plate was almost empty, torn between going for seconds and having leftovers to take home.
“Faceless,” Harry reminded him mildly. “However, the job does pay for my meals, and what better way to experience fine dining than when it’s free?”
“Fair enough,” Eggsy said with a nod.
“By the way, prawns don’t reheat terribly well. If you’re thinking about eating more I’d do it now.”
“Yeah?” There was a split second of hesitations before he was standing up and making his way into the kitchen for another helping. “If you insist.”
The recipe used in this chapter is Tyler Florence's shrimp scampi with linguini. I've made it multiple times, and I enjoy it. It's not the heavy shrimp scampi with cream and tons of butter, but my family likes it. We've made it without the fresh parsley but it really does make a huge difference to the overall freshness factor of the dish!
Chapter 11: Boeuf Bourguignon
Sorry for the slower updates, a lot has been happening this week. It looks like I’ll have a new job this fall, the interview on Thursday went well, I got offered a job (I didn’t even apply for that position) on Friday and I accepted today. Busy times ahead! Thank you for all the well wishes about that!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The scent of Burgundy wine filled his house, and Harry couldn't be happier. The beef was tender enough that it barely held together if he prodded it with a fork, the mushrooms and onions soaking up the sauce as he basted them almost absentmindedly.
His potatoes were mashed and in a covered dish to keep warm, haricots verts tossed in herb butter finished, and his dish ready to be served up as soon as Eggsy was at his door. Which shouldn't be long now, he'd received a text a few minutes prior.
The table was set, silverware gleaming, bottles of sparkling water next to the glasses on the table. All he lacked was his protégé.
Almost on cue there was a knock at the door and he turned off the stove before going to answer it. He was amused at the way that Eggsy seemed caught off guard by the smells that must have wafted toward him when the door opened. "Dinner is ready," he said in lieu of a greeting. "Just give me a moment to plate it."
"Ain't we going to cook nothing?"
"Patience, Eggsy." He shut the door, moving back toward the kitchen and expecting Eggsy to follow. "I'll explain while we eat, but for now let's talk plating."
As he spoke he pulled out two plates and took the lid off the potatoes. "Tonight we're having boeuf bourguignon with mashed potatoes and haricots verts. You could easily serve this with boiled potatoes instead, which is more traditional, or a plain pasta. Even rice is a decent accompaniment.
"This is one of the well know French dishes, a slow cooked beef stew, and it is arguably better as leftovers the next day. To plate it you can put the stew on a bed of potatoes, centering it. I prefer to offset dishes. Purposefully done it's easier to have an elegant result and it's certainly better than an ill-attempt at perfection. Then simply place your haricots verts on the side."
"Them is just green beans," Eggsy pointed out, and Harry tried not to cringe.
"They are a variety of green beans from France," he corrected as he took the plates and set them on the table. "This particular type is longer and skinnier."
Eggsy took a seat before he could say anything, but at least he waited until Harry himself was seated to dig in. Shockingly enough it was the vegetable that he started off with, sloppily shoving an haricot vert into his mouth. “Cut them first,” Harry said with a sigh, starting into his own.
“They do taste a bit different,” Eggsy acknowledged, and Harry raised an eyebrow at him. “I mean, the bloody haricot vert itself. That butter sauce is fucking brilliant.”
“Simply done,” Harry acknowledged. “You simply blend the butter with the herbs so when you add the hot haircots verts they melt the butter and coat themselves while you toss them.”
“It’s got parsley in it and was them shallots?”
“Very good. The other herb?”
“Lemo--no that don’t count. Ain’t an herb. I tasted something like liquorice?"
"That would be tarragon, an aromatic that has some similarity to aniseed or liquorice. It's a major herb utilized in French cooking, including its use in Béarnaise sauce."
"The way you said that I'm guessing it's something bloody important. The sauce that is."
Harry tilted his head in thought. "It's an offshoot of a Hollandaise sauce, and I suppose you could call it important in the realm of French cuisine. I wouldn't particularly call it vital."
Eggsy seemed to mull that over for a moment before taking another bite, and Harry tried not to be disappointed that it once again was of the haricots verts. The stew was fantastic, a dish he'd crafted many times before but he'd paid special attention to it tonight, using one of his better bottles of Burgundy, and Eggsy was concentrating on the side dish, practically an after thought in the scheme of things.
“This is fucking ridiculous,” Eggsy replied as he set down his fork, staring down at his plate, and Harry tried not to frown. “They’re bloody green beans basically, and yet they taste this good?” He actually sounded confused. “I don’t even really like green beans.”
“Well they’re certainly not canned. Did you eat them first to try to clear them off your plate?” The question was entirely to satisfy his own curiosity, and it would help him reconcile Eggsy not immediately going for his boeuf bourguignon.
“Pretty much,” Eggsy muttered, looking slightly sheepish. Then he was starting to load up his fork with a mouthful of beef, and Harry was barely cognizant of the fact that he’d yet to actually start eating as he waited for the reaction. It had been a while since he’d cooked specifically for one person, and actually cooking to impress in a way, because he wanted to prove to Eggsy that he was right to put his trust in him as his instructor. That he could be the one to develop him into a fine chef.
From the way Eggsy’s eyes widened slightly when the flavored registered, then drifted shut in contentment, Harry knew he’d done his job. He tried not to smirk, covering the expression with a bite of his own, mushroom and mashed potato blending in his mouth.
“Fuck me.” Eggsy was staring down at his plate now. “This is fucking brilliant.” He didn’t say any more than that, already shoving another bite into his mouth, but that was just fine. In it’s own way that said as much as Harry needed it to, and finally he was able to focus on his own dinner, pleasantly relaxed as he cut apart his haricots verts.
“Now there is a reason that I chose to cook tonight, and I did promise an explanation.” He took a bite and set down his fork and knife, dabbing at his lips with a napkin. “Tonight we’ll be making another traditional French dish, coq au vin, which has many similarities in it’s preparation and technique to the dish that we are currently eating. I prefer to let my coq au vin marinate overnight, which is the traditional method, so I simply wanted to have something to eat this evening before we got started.”
“Coq au vin? Ain’t vin like wine or something?”
“Excellent. Coq means rooster, so rooster with wine would be the literal translation. An older rooster would be tougher, and would benefit from the lengthy marinating time, though now most simply cook the dish with chicken.”
“If it’s half as good as this shit it’s going to be delicious,” Eggsy decided, and for perhaps the first time in his life Harry didn’t even mind that one of his dishes was being referred to as shit.
Pulling the onions out of the boiling water and sliding them out of their skin was kind of fun Eggsy realized, but it wasn’t distracting enough to keep him from noticing the amount of ingredients Harry was prepping for the dish. That, and there were over two dozen of the stupid things, so by the time he was halfway through with peeling the pearl onions it wasn’t exactly fun anymore.
Those were all set aside in a bowl, and there wasn’t a moment to waste apparently. “Next we’ll deal with the lardons.” Harry was opening a pack he’d gotten out of the freezer, a block of what looked like fat with barely a trace of meat in it.
“What’s that?” The question was out of his mouth before he could think about it, impatient even though he knew Harry would give him the answer given enough time, and Harry replied with a look.
“Patience,” he reminded, and Eggsy tried not to get too antsy. “This is salt pork. You want as much fat as possible, and we’ll be slicing these into cubes. Cut slices about a quarter of an inch thick, and then cut those in half lengthwise. Those strips will be cut into thirds.” As Eggsy started working he continued to speak. “You’ll notice it slices fairly easily. That’s why I had it in the freezer, when it is chilled it slices better as the fat retains its shape easier.”
“What do you want with all this fat though?”
“Flavor of course. We’ll be cooking it over a medium heat so it doesn’t burn but rather melts. To ensure it doesn’t burn we’ll also put in just a small amount of water.” The chef added the water to the pan, turning the heat on as Eggsy started to drop the cubes into the pan. “This we’ll cover and heat for a few minutes while we work on the chicken.
“You can use an entire chicken for this dish, but the dark meat is better as it has more flavor. There are four legs and thighs each, and you’ll need to season them.”
“Salt and pepper?” Eggsy cut in with a knowing smirk, and Harry’s lips twitched, as much of a smile as he was likely to get.
“Indeed. And then we’ll be coating it with flour. For that you just put a bit of flour into a large resealable then put in a few pieces of chicken at a time. Make sure it’s sealed good and then shake it until the pieces are coated. Remove those onto a cooling rack. The air will dry them slightly and cause the flour to adhere to the chicken.”
“Seems easy enough,” Eggsy boasted, and Harry just stepped back and let him do it.
It was easy enough, but by the fourth and final bag of chicken he was ready to stop shaking it, glad to put the final pieces on the rack and flushing slightly when he caught Harry looking at his watch. Surely it hadn’t taken him that long.
“Now we’ll take the lid off of the lardon. Do you see how the pieces have shrunk and there is a coating of fat with the water? That’s good. But you don’t want to leave the water in there. Uncover the pan and the water will cook out, leaving just the fat behind. This will also give the remaining chunks a chance to crisp up.”
“If we’re crisping them does that mean they get eaten?”
“Yes, but their size will have been reduced significantly by that point. You’ll need a container ready when they come out as they won’t be added back in until tomorrow. When they seem to be crisping up you’ll want to give them a stir or a toss so that all of the sides have a chance to crisp up. Otherwise, while you’re waiting for it to cook is as good a time as any to work on cleaning your mushrooms.”
That was how he found himself side by side with Harry, keeping an eye on the lardons and wiping dirt off of mushrooms until the chef finally glanced over at the pan and told him they were done.
“Make sure you just scrape the lardons out, you want to leave the fat in the pan,” he cautioned, watching to make sure it was done properly. “Good, now add your pearl onions to the pan with a bit of salt and pepper. Those need to move frequently, at least half the time they’re in the pan, until they’ve browned nicely. While you’re watching those I’m just going to quarter these mushrooms so they’re ready to go.”
The silence was comfortable enough, but the onions had barely been in the pan a minute before he was breaking it. “So why all this French shit? Was you trained in France?”
“As a matter of fact I did train in France for a time. Their schools are highly competitive, but their techniques are well worth learning. There is a reason that they have such a reputation for the culinary arts.”
He tossed a grin over his shoulder at the man. “So can you speak French?”
“Bien sûr. I sometimes go on holiday in France as well, which has helped me to practice the language and not forget it all. Do you speak another language?”
He shook his head. “We didn’t have much at school. We had to take something and we had a teacher from Wales, so our Head just told them to teach us a bit for the first couple years of secondary. Wasn’t nobody that fucking cared and when it wasn’t required no more we all stopped taking it. Only useful thing from it is that I can say a bloody long name of some village and it got me a free pint once.”
“Welsh was your foreign language.” Harry’s voice was slightly flat, and he just shrugged.
“You work with what you got. Our school only had one foreign language teacher and they didn’t have time for all the classes. Why teach a bunch of fucking nobodies that weren’t going to do nothing with their lives when you could teach a few classes of kids that wanted to learn and a few hours here and there to the classes that didn’t have teachers that knew enough to scrape by?”
It was matter of fact, but he could tell Harry was annoyed. “It is what it is where I come from,” he reminded the man. “Ain’t a big deal. Class down the hall made some poor bastard that knew French teach their class each week. He had his mum transfer him to a new school the next year.”
“That’s life,” Eggsy countered. “Are these done yet?”
It was a distraction but Harry accepted it. “Another moment, then you’ll be adding those to the container with the lardons. The heat will stay on medium and we’ll begin browning our chicken. By using the same fat and pan we’re creating several layers of flavor and ensuring that they all meld together.”
Harry only let him cook three pieces in the pan at a time, and it took a good thirty minutes just to get it all browned properly, the smell of cooking chicken tantalizing. It should have been boring, but Harry kept them working, quartering an onion and cutting celery and carrots into hunks to add to what he kept calling a dutch oven. As his first batch of chicken finished it went directly on top of them before he started the next batch. This batch meant that he had time to add crushed garlic to the pan and make a quick bouquet garni of a bay leaf and several sprigs of thyme.
But it was all fairly simple, if fast paced, so he was able to keep up a fairly steady stream of conversation with the older man, moving on to quartering his mushrooms as the last batch browned. “Do you make this sort of thing often?”
“Not typically. I would consider these more for an intimate dinner party or a special occasion. I don’t imagine you’ll be cooking these frequently, but it’s still good to have the techniques down and to see some of the common flavor profiles used. When you have the foundations it is easier to build off of them, and create something unique. The food you’ve produced has been quite lovely, but you tend to fall back on flavors you know. Pairings you know. At this stage that’s nice, but it’s also good to expand. To see how garlic works in French dishes when you already know how it fits with Italian and Asian cuisines.”
“Makes sense,” Eggsy murmured as he turned the chicken in the pan. “But you made the boeuf bourguignon for just us?” He was slightly confused, knowing Harry had just said it was basically for special occasions, and a cooking lesson didn’t seem to merit that.
“If you’re going to taste it to try to learn from it, you may as well have it done correctly.” Harry said, sounding either annoyed or defensive, Eggsy wasn’t sure. “Now then, we’ve served a dual purpose by cooking the chicken with the flour, as the flour will help thicken the sauce later on.”
The shift in topic was obvious, but Eggsy let him have it, not entirely sure why he was switching it in the first place. “For the moment we’ll leave our chicken to cool in the dutch oven. Now you’ll see that there isn’t much fat left in the pan, so we’re going to add a pat of butter and give it a moment to melt before we put in our mushrooms.”
“Does it matter if you cook the onions first or the mushrooms?”
“It does. The mushrooms will absorb the flavors, and also soak up some of the fat which means there wouldn’t be enough left to cook the chicken. We’re just going to cook these for about five minutes then they’ll be joining the lardons and onions.”
The conversation was just a few questions back and forth now as the mushrooms finished, and then were added to the container. “Let it cool for a few minutes before adding it to the refrigerator. Now then, we’re going to pour off the excess fat onto a paper towel to throw it away. You don’t want to pour grease down the drain. When it cools it can clog up the pipes and it simply isn’t worth it. What we want is what’s left in the pan.”
Harry turned the heat off before he reached for a bottle of wine he’d left on the counter, opening it and then pouring in a cup without measuring. “This technique is called deglazing. You’ll notice I pulled the pan away from the heat, that’s because the alcohol will react with the flames and flare up otherwise. We don’t need to burn the alcohol off, it will cook off on it’s own, and while certain dishes need that flair up we don’t need it with this one.”
“So what kind of wine is this?’
“This is a Burgundy, so the same type as what I made the boeuf bourguignon with. Any pinot noir could work, but Burgundy is where these dishes originated.”
“Makes sense,” he muttered, taking a whisk as Harry handed it to him.
“You’ll see that the wine is starting to reduce slightly and there is no longer anything stuck to the bottom of the pan. Now we’ll whisk in the tomato paste to ensure that it integrates throughout and we’ll pour that over our chicken. Now we’ll add in a couple of cups of chicken stock and the rest of this bottle of wine.”
The liquid wasn’t quite halfway up the pan, but it was getting closer. “Ordinarily you would add in the second bottle as well, but if you do that you’ll never get it home without spilling it.” Harry explained, and Eggsy gave him a look.
“Take it home?”
“Of course. I told you it had to marinate overnight so the flavors can come together. I think we’ll just put the container with the other ingredients and the second bottle into a bag and you can probably manage both of those together, though I’ll get you a cab to make sure. I also have some egg noodles for you to take, as it is often served on a bed of them.”
“I’m taking this whole thing home.” He was stuck on that, and Harry just gave him a look.
“Do you really think I’d have you cook something and not have you taste the finished result? Now pay attention and take notes if you need to so you’ll know how to finish this tomorrow, though I suppose you can text me if you have any questions. When you get home, pour in the other bottle of wine and refrigerate all of this. When you’re ready to bake turn the oven on 160 and bake for at least two hours, maybe a bit longer. Check on it hourly though to make sure the chicken pieces all stay under the liquid. Do you have a strainer at home?”
“Good. When you take out the pan you’ll need to wrap your chicken in foil and leave it in the oven to keep warm, but turn the oven off. Strain the liquid into a pan and as for the vegetables in the pan, that can be thrown away. The sauce you’ll need to bring to a boil and reduce until a third of it is gone. To that you’ll add your container with the mushrooms in it, and cook for another fifteen minutes. To serve get a plate of noodles, put on a piece or two of chicken, and spoon the sauce over that. Is everything clear?”
“I think I’ve got it. You sure you don’t mind me taking all this with me?”
“If I did I wouldn’t have chosen to teach you the dish. Now stop worrying and let me call a cab.”
The recipe I referenced for the coq au vin is Alton Brown's (you can find his Good Eats ep on youtube).
I was specifically looking for something that would marinate overnight though. There are shorter recipes that don't call for overnight marinating such as Julia Child's recipe! Hope that helps! Julia also has a class boeuf bourguinon recipe too.
Chapter 12: Bruschetta
I now have a nephew :D
Merlin’s office door was open but Harry still knocked on the frame before stepping into the room, holding up a container. “Have you eaten lunch yet?”
The bald man looked up and blinked, clearly having been in here too long staring at his computer. “Harry. No?” Then, slowly he seemed to process what it was that Harry was asking, eyes lighting up. “Is that from last night?”
“It is,” Harry confirmed. “I’ve got enough for two here.”
“I take back one of those times I called you a selfish jerk.” Merlin said as he stood, joining him as he walked down to one of the empty classrooms that they could use to reheat the dish. “So, what did you have him make?”
“Coq au vin,” Harry said easily, watching as confusion passed over his friend’s face.
“Did you teach him a version with a shortcut? Or did you have him over Sunday as well?”
“No, just last night,” Harry said as he opened up his container to to replace the lid with foil and slide it into the oven.
“That’s not coq au vin.”
Merlin’s voice was flat and Harry smiled, a cocky and not entirely pleasant expression. “Of course not. I made boeuf bourguignon so we’d have something to eat.”
“You’re a bastard.” Merlin said with a scowl, but he still sat down on a stool near the station.
“I think this is the first time you’ve been upset to have my boeuf bourguignon,” Harry remarked, chuckling as he moved out of reach when Merlin swung his clipboard at him.
“It smells delicious, babe.” His mum was smiling at him as he finished draining the noodles. “I’m glad work cancelled on me now. You want any help?”
“I’ve got it,” he said determinedly, “can you get Dee though?”
“Sure thing, love.”
He put a few noodles on a brightly colored plate, cutting apart some chicken and spooning the sauce over it, making sure to get a couple of mushrooms. He had already snuck a few bites from the pan, the sauce flavorful and rich, the mushrooms saturated with the lusciousness.
So when he set the plate in front of Dee, and she wrinkled her nose, he wasn’t expecting it. “Stinky,” she pronounced. “Don’t like it.”
“You ain’t even tried it.”
His argument fell on deaf ears as she frowned. “Want trees,” she whined. “Don’t like it.”
“Just try a bite?” He was trying not to beg, but from the adamant look on her face she wasn’t going to budge. “It’s got mushrooms. You love mushrooms.”
“No like mushrooms.” It was a lie, a filthy lie, but she would probably stand by it for the rest of her life if he pushed her.
“It’s good!” his mum chimed in, reaching for the fork. “See, Mum’s going to eat it. Eggsy made it.” She took a bite, rehearsed mmm changing into an actual delighted moan. “This is brilliant, babe. You made this?”
“Yeah.” He ducked his head slightly, grinning slightly in pleasure. “Had to finish it up today.”
It didn’t matter what they said or did, Deanna refused to try the dish. After a while they managed to get her to eat some plain noodles, but then she was begging for something else and by the time he sat down to eat his own meal he’d made an omelet for her, and had mentally struck coq au vin off the list of things that he would probably make in the future. Even though it had been absolutely scrumptious.
Merlin had been so offended by Harry getting his hopes up that he’d managed to convince him to make quick appetizers and party foods for the night’s class, popping in and out frequently to taste the bruschetta, stuffed mushrooms, caprese skewers, and chicken satays that the students were making.
He was shameless, and Harry could tell that even the students were noticing. The ruse of jotting things down on his clipboard was just that, even more apparent when he lost his pen and realized it was two stations over. Even with his interference (and frequent, lingering stops at Eggsy and Roxy’s table) there was enough for the class to have a miniature party, going around to the different stations and sampling everyone’s work.
There were a few weak dishes here or there, Digby and Hugo completely missing the mark on the satays, and Harry couldn’t help but notice how Charlie and his friends seemed to look for the tiniest things to critique Eggsy’s dishes on, despite them clearly being superior in flavor.
Eggsy didn’t seem too upset, giving them honest feedback and ripping into actual flaws in a way that more than retaliated to their imagined critiques. Harry just let the boys bicker about it, noticing that Roxy was doing the same as they both polished off the rest of Eggsy’s bruschetta and started dividing up the mushroom caps between them.
He finally excused himself with instructions to clean up, and when he returned it was only Roxy and Eggsy left, absentmindedly cleaning utensils they hadn’t even used as they chatted, apparently mocking the other students if their expressions were anything to go by.
After a moment he cleared his throat, both of them jolting almost guiltily. “Sorry Chef Hart, we’ll be out of here in a minute,” Roxy said quickly.
“You’re fine, though if you’re looking for things to clean I’m sure the refrigerator could handle a good scrubbing down. I’m not here about that though, I was actually just going to ask how the coq au vin went?”
He looked at Eggsy and Eggsy put down his towel. “It was amazing, but I don’t know if it’s the right dish for me.”
“Yeah. Dee wouldn’t even try it, said it was stinky, so I’m guessing wine ain’t for her.”
“It is a strong flavor, and one you have to learn to appreciate. The chicken does little to mask it. In a few years she may be willing to try it, but I can understand your dilemma.”
“I used to hate coq au vin,” Roxy offered. “You might try giving her the chicken and noodles without extra sauce. It’ll still taste like wine but it won’t be quite so pungent or strong of a flavor.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Eggsy promised. “Mum fucking loved it though. Said if I kept making shit like that she’d gain a couple stone, and if she does that she’s liable to kill me.”
“It’s probably more healthy than if she’d gotten takeaway,” Harry remarked. “But she might. Perhaps you should make her a salad next time? Maybe after class on Thursday you could recreate that lemon dressing to take home for her.”
“I don’t know how to make that,” Eggsy admitted, and Harry tried not to let his disappointment show on his face as Roxy gave him a knowing (and judging) look.
He was starting to wonder if Merlin was giving her lessons as he bid them goodnight and excused himself.
He was about to start up the steps to his flat when Eggsy felt something crunch underfoot. It was probably a bottle, but when Eggsy looked down it was to something painted with a bold gradient orange on it, and his stomach dropped. He looked around, more shards, splattered bits of sauce and food surrounding the area, and there, the pan itself.
It must have been dropped both stories, for a pan that heavy to break, landing on the cement and busting, spilling the leftovers from lunch all over the surrounding area. He wasn’t thinking as he ran up the stairs, furious, opening the door with a bang as if there was something he could do about it.
Standing in the doorway meant Dean was looking up at him from the sofa, eyes cold, a shitty little smirk resting on his face. “Muggsy, you decided to show your face again after all.”
“What the fuck did you do?”
It was the wrong thing to say, Dean didn’t tolerate being spoken to like that, but Eggsy didn’t care.
“What the fuck did I do? I got your fucking junk out of my flat. I come back to my place smelling like a fucking wino and you think you’ve go the bollocks to talk to me like that?” Dean was on his feet, and his mum appeared in the doorway of their bedroom as he stalked forward.
“Just drop it Eggsy,” she said, a plea in her voice, but this wasn’t something he could just drop. This wasn’t something of his that Dean had ruined, he was used to that. This was Harry’s. Dean had ruined something of Harry’s.
“Better than smelling like your piss.” The words were out of his mouth before he really thought about them, and then there was a hand on his face.
Open palmed. It was always open palmed on his face. That left a red mark but wouldn’t bruise, stuff like that could be explained away. No, the closed fist blows would be where his clothing could hide them, the knee to his stomach that had him retching as Dean laughed and his mother begged him to stopped, pulling at his arm and trying to separate them. An injury that no one would ever need to see.
It was late before he was able to get to sleep, Dean finally backing off from where he was kneeling on the kitchen floor, but not before stepping on his back to push him down into the mess on the floor, ordering him to clean up before getting out of his sight as bile rose in his throat, hatred coursing through him.
Even after he’d showered the rest of the mess off and was lying in his bed, curled on his side to try to take the strain off of his abdomen, it was hard to sleep. Not because of the pain, he’d learned to take a pill and sleep with aches years ago, but because he knew that he’d have to tell Harry about that pan, have to admit that he couldn’t even take care of something that Harry had let him borrow.
Irresponsible. Worthless. Nothing.
Words he’d heard for years working their way to the front of his brain and keeping him awake long into the night.
Chapter 13: Secret Sauce
His phone sat unmoving and silent on his desk, and Harry tried to ignore it. Tried to ignore the way that his eyes kept flicking over to it, refusing to fret over why he hadn’t gotten a single text message in over a day. It was ridiculous. He’d gone weeks without a message before and he’d been fine, it was silly to fret over a mere day. Well, two days really, if it didn’t buzz in the next twenty minutes.
Thankfully a knock at the door jarred him out of his thinking. “Come in.”
Harry set aside his lesson plans, or in this case, recipe book, and looked up, unsure who would be walking through the door. The knock had been soft, hesitant, and it didn’t belong to anyone that he recognized.
Except it did.
He tried not to show his confusion when it was Eggsy that stepped in, shutting the door behind him and standing at the door. No, not standing. Fidgeting.
The young man was clearly antsy and Harry reached up to push his glasses up on his nose, a pointless gesture but giving him a moment to study Eggsy.
“Did you need something Eggsy? Why don’t you have a seat.”
Teeth were worrying at Eggsy’s lip as he shifted, almost looking like he was going to actually take the seat but when he approached it was just to stand, and something looked off. Eggsy looked off.
He looked, well, Harry wasn’t exactly sure what he looked like, but if he had to pin it down then Eggsy looked scared. Almost sick. Worst still was that he wasn’t meeting his eyes. “Eggsy?”
“I’ll replace it.”
The words were blurted out, and they didn’t make sense, Harry completely left behind and looking at the young man in confusion. Then Eggsy was pulling a hand out of his pocket, and something was dropped onto his desk, Harry’s eyes drawn to the large orange shard.
“It was an accident,” Eggsy added, and there was a touch of a plea to his voice, “Swear I’ll make it right Chef Hart. I ain’t sure where to get something like that though, figure it’s got to be a special place or some shit.”
Harry managed to drag his eyes away from the fragment, looking up to see the blotchy red flushing Eggsy’s skin. An accident? With a cast iron Le Creuset? No, there was something more, because something like this couldn’t be a mere accident.
Eggsy was lying to him.
It bothered him that he didn’t know why, but there was something else churning under the service.
It couldn’t have been an accident.
Eggsy never would have done something like this on purpose.
Those two facts ate at him, and it was all he could do to keep a carefully neutral expression on his face as he looked directly at Eggsy.
“Don’t worry about it.”
He watched Eggsy’s shoulders twitch, head jerking up to meet his eyes with a certain amount of confusion. “I’m good for it Chef Hart,” he swore, “I’ll make it right.”
“Harry,” the chef reminded the younger man casually. “You’ve seen my kitchen, Eggsy, I have plenty of pots and pans, and precious little room to put them. That certainly wasn’t my favorite dutch oven, or even one that I frequently use. That one would be the one the boeuf bourguignon was prepared in. So don’t worry about it.”
He could see his words had thrown Eggsy off his game, unexpected, and they were almost unexpected to himself. Eggsy didn’t have hundreds of pounds to spare for cast iron, and whatever was going on Harry wasn’t going to punish him for it. “Did you have anything else you wanted to discuss?”
“No?” Eggsy was confused, and in a split second Harry was making a decision for something he’d barely even considered, a silly notion he’d entertained a mere time or two.
“Well I do,” he confessed, watching as Eggys’s eyebrows knitted closer while Harry simply leaned back in his chair, observing.
“I’m afraid I have other plans Monday night that I can’t avoid, so I won’t be able to enjoy our usual lesson.”
The look of resignation on Eggsy’s face wasn’t what he’d been aiming for, and he didn’t keep the young man in misery for long. “However, it is something you could help me with if you’re free. I’ll need you to be at my house twenty minutes early, and make sure that you’re dressed well. I’m afraid hats are off the table.”
It seemed as though he was going to keep Eggsy on his toes, but after a long moment of hesitation the young man nodded. “Whatever you need,” he vowed.
He was used to seeing Harry in an apron. At school Chef Hart wore his chef’s jacket and had an apron around his waist. At home he seemed to favor button downs and soft cardigans, full aprons protecting them from the worst of the splatters.
So when Harry opened the door and was standing there in a pinstripe suit, complete with a tie, Eggsy wasn’t expecting it. “Fuck, I’m underdressed.”
He’d worn his nicer stuff. His Jeremy Scott jacket with the golden plaques he’d saved up forever to get, his winged Adidas that were a birthday present he tended to break out for special occasions. “Why didn’t you say you meant a bloody penguin suit?”
“You’re fine,” Harry assured him, and instead of standing aside to let him into the house the older man was grabbing an umbrella off the hook by his door and stepping out to lock up the house. “The cab is waiting.”
Harry’s stride ate the ground under his feet and Eggsy had to work to keep up, wondering how Harry managed to seem so smooth and graceful with something as simple as walking.
“We’re taking a cab?”
“Yes, our reservations are for 7:15 and it’s the most convenient way to get there.”
He hated parroting Harry but he was lost. “Indeed. We’re going to a restaurant I’m critiquing for the paper.
“You needed help going to a restaurant?”
“Even I sometimes prefer to dine with company, Eggsy,” Harry chided, opening the door of the cab and motioning Eggsy in. He was about to scoot over when the door shut, Harry moving to the far side of the cab to enter, and he frowned.
“There are a few rules though,” Harry added after he’d rattled off an address to the driver. “We’ll have to order different items from the menu. I’ll need to to sample whatever it is that you do order to properly write my article. The last one is the fun one though. This is paid for by the paper, so while we can’t order everything off the menu it’s entirely acceptable to get just about anything on there. Pick what sounds the best and get as many courses as you’d like.”
“Your job just pays for you to take people out to eat.” He couldn’t keep the incredulousness out of his own voice, turned the question into a statement but Harry still nodded in response. It sounded ridiculous. “How’d you a swing a job like this?”
“The editor at the paper was a frequent customer at Galahad’s. I couldn’t have the job as a restaurant owner and chef, conflict of interest and all that, but after moving to a culinary school I was distanced enough that she approached me with an offer not long after that.”
“You like it?”
“The pay is practically nothing but it lets me try new restaurants every week, and it’s hardly difficult unless I can’t get reservations until late in the week. I prefer weeknights mostly, which is why I typically go on Wednesdays. My reservation worked out for Monday this week though, and it could be a good learning experience for you.”
Eggsy could feel his eyebrows raise and didn’t try to fight it. “So now it’s a learning experience?”
“Why shouldn’t it be?”
It was easy to talk to Harry like this, and it seemed like no time at all had passed when they were pulling up the restaurant, Harry paying while Eggsy got out of the cab and stared into the large windows.
The name was boldly splashed on the windows. On the surface, bright colors drew attention to the place while inside it looked fairly formal. Wood tables with pristine tablecloths, modern looking sculptures breaking up the restaurant while people in their finery were sitting with perfect posture and taking prim nibbles of their food. The walls were bedecked with huge canvases of panda paintings, and while it was all eclectic, it had another feel to it.
It wasn’t the sort of place he belonged in but Harry was at his side. Harry was the one that moved past him and expected him to follow along, and he was in motion before he thought about it, ducking his head slightly when he realized that Harry had reached the door first and was holding it open for him.
“Thanks,” he muttered, walking in and trying not to shove his hands in his pockets. Trying and failing as he stared at the hostess in front of him.
“I’m afraid we’re full this evening,” she murmured, dark eyes sweeping over him from his collar to his winged Adidas, not even bothering to give Harry a second glance as she barely concealed her distaste for him.
“I have a reservation under Hart,” Harry cut in smoothly. “For 7:15.”
There was a sneer on her face as she flipped through a book, mouth drawing tight. “I see. If you’ll follow me then.”
She wound them through the restaurant until they were at a table as close to the kitchen door as possible, leaving them with their menus and not another word. Eggsy tried not to think about it, tried to ignore the eyes that had followed them (him) to their seat and the whispered conversations as people glanced at him and went back to murmuring.
For a while there was silence, both of them looking over the menu, broken up when the door to the back opened and closed, and it was seriously annoying. Even more annoying when he thought about the multiple tables they had passed by that were empty, that would have put them in a better place and not being forced to notice each staff member as they went to and fro from the back.
It also just made it more apparent that their server was giving them the shaft, and he was pretty much done with the menu when the guy finally stopped by to get their drink order. “Just water for now,” Harry informed him. “I’ll order wine when I’ve finalized my dinner selection. Still please.”
Eggsy had only managed to open his mouth when the waiter turned and left, leaving him staring after him, mouth still gaped open, and when he glanced over Harry looked furious.
He hadn’t seen him like that since Rufus had improperly handled a knife, pretending like he was swordfighting. “This is entirely unprofessional,” was all that Harry actually said, though there was a bit of venom in his voice.
“Ain’t nothing I ain’t seen before,” Eggsy answered truthfully. He’d been treated worse for how he dressed, and while this gnawed at him, ashamed him in a way, it was mostly because he was embarrassing Harry. “I don’t give a fuck about these people, they can think what they like. Ain’t no love lost between us.”
He shrugged, but he could feel Harry’s gaze on him, knew that the older man didn’t quite believe him. There wasn’t much he could do about that though. Sure, he could tell him that the only opinion that mattered to him here was Harry’s, but it wasn’t something that he really wanted to admit.
Finally the older man sighed. “If this wasn’t for work I’d walk out right now. If you want to leave we can still do so.”
“It’s work,” Eggsy insisted. “And as bloody unfortunate as it sounds I kind of want to try Valentine’s secret sauce.”
“If you change your mind the offer is still on the table,” Harry remarked, glancing back down at the menu. “Ah yes, the secret sauce, it is what they’re famous for. Apparently no one can figure out the recipe, and they use it in quite a few of their dishes.”
The service, if anything, got worse. Harry’s water was poured for him, Eggsy got a cup and bottle clunked down on the table for him. The waiter didn’t turn to him for his order, even when Harry wisely had him order first. Yet not even all of the rudeness was directed at him. Sure, he got the brunt of it, but Harry was treated with the bare minimum of courtesy as well. Apparently the suit and tie meant he got basic manners, but by the time the sommelier made it to their table to see what wine he might like, they’d already finished their appetizers.
Really, the only enjoyable part of the evening was watching as Harry went from furious to a cold, fuming anger. Eggsy had never seen him with his phone out at the table, or really when they had any sort of conversation, but Harry kept drawing his out, tapping out notes furiously with rather alarming speed. Apparently, just because Harry didn’t text didn’t mean he was slow with using his phone. Good to know.
Well, watching Harry, and eating. Because parts of the food really were scrumptious, or he thought they were. The spring roll he started with was fantastic, with a peanut dipping sauce that he found brilliant, which Harry called flat and uninspired. It lead to a rousing discussion about what was missing, and after a minute Eggsy was admitting that some spice actually would make it better, just a low heat, wistfully imagining what it would taste like if he could doctor it up a bit.
Harry showed him how to tell that his trout was overcooked, the trick of dousing it in sauce that the kitchen had used to try to cover up that the meat was dry. He found himself with a (cold) lamb chop on his plate, Harry breaking down how it was made, telling him what he would have done differently, what seasonings and herbs should have been tweaked to balance it in a different way.
Of course there was the secret sauce. It was delicious, and yeah, Eggsy had no idea how to make it.
At least he didn’t until Harry walked him through breaking it down, having him identify flavors that he knew, isolating factors that he wasn’t sure about and then tasting the sauce again specifically to try to narrow down that aspect of it.
If anyone had been paying attention they probably would have been pissed off by what they were doing, but they had been done with their plates for twenty minutes before anyone cleared them, and the restaurant was dangerously close to being empty before their desserts were brought out.
The molten lava cake was a solid cake, nothing oozing from it, Harry showing him how they’d used sauce and powdered sugar to try to mask the flaws in the construction. Harry’s tart was fairly decent, but it was a tart. It should have been ready in minutes to bring out.
About the only thing that came quickly was the bill.
He waited until they were inside the cab to say it, stomach still churning in anger as he thought about their disastrous dining experience. It had been shameful. Shameful that he’d picked such a place to take Eggsy to, trying to show him what a fine restaurant could be like. Because it shouldn’t be just about food, it should be about the experience. The pleasant and efficient staff, the atmosphere, the relaxed nature of the evening out.
Instead he’d taken him to a place that openly judged the young man, had given them the worst that the kitchen had to offer, and blatantly ignored them.
“You don’t need to apologize for pricks like that. Ain’t your fault.”
“Then I’m sorry for not making a scene for how they were behaving. It was abysmal behavior. However, I would like to explain my actions.”
“I don’t need no knight in shining armor,” Eggsy countered, and he was missing the point.
“People need to address elitist views like that, regardless of who they are directed at. I apologized because it is something that should have been done, and it appears that I did not do anything. However, that is not the end of the story.”
Eggsy was focused on him now, and Harry drew out his phone, swiping at the screen a couple of times before passing it over. “As you recall, we were there tonight for my job. What I have to say to them will be said, but it will be said on Sunday, and it will reach thousands of people. That right there,” he said, nodding to the recipe he’d constructed on his phone, “will not be published in the paper, but I have a blog that my more loyal readers follow, and it will also be posted on Sunday.”
Eggsy was staring at him, and Harry wasn’t entirely sure he realized the impact. “That sauce is the reason why people go to that restaurant Eggsy. With a scathing review from a very well known critic in a very well known paper, combined with the release of their top secret recipe, it is doubtful that they will stay in business. I was appalled by our dinner this evening, and I hope you will accept that as an apology.”
“It could really put them out of business?” Shock and surprise laced Eggsy’s voice as Harry nodded. “That’s brutal.”
The words may have hurt if it were not for the touch of awe in the young man’s voice, followed by one last word. “Thanks.”
“You’re quite welcome, Eggsy.”
He couldn’t resist buying the paper.
His mates gave him a look when he made them stop by to pick it up, Eggsy flipping through the pages as Ryan and Jamal devoured Cornettos. There it was, as promised, and his eyes flicked over the page greedily, drinking in the words.
The review was as sharp as any of Harry’s knives, and on point as well. He broke down the flaws in each dish, tore apart their service, and ended with a bold proclamation that he would never return to the restaurant, even if the owner himself paid for their meal and rolled out a red carpet.
Throughout it all though, it was Harry. He could hear Harry’s voice saying the words, passionate as he systematically tore into them, and when he was done he kept out the page with just the review, folding it up and slipping it into his pocket before tossing the rest and pulling out his phone.
It was just a minute to pull up the blog Harry had mentioned in his article, and there it was, the recipe with a couple of minute changes that Harry must have made after testing it that week, the comments on it grateful and several saying that it was the only reason they’d gone to the restaurant, and with this recipe they wouldn’t be going back.
He was grinning when he looked up, and while his friends were giving him judgmental looks he simply didn’t give a shit, looping his arms around their shoulders and steering them towards their favorite parkour spot.
Chapter 14: Gremolata
A bit of a short chapter, I'm going to try to write some tonight...I'm so looking forward to summer so I can have more time to work on this/writing in general.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
With Sunday’s article published, the recipe posted, and another successful private lesson with Eggsy completed, Harry felt rather at ease with his next class. It was simple, baked chicken, the haricots verts recipe he’d made for Eggsy, a five minute tomato and feta salad, and couscous tossed in a gremolata. Basic building block recipes that could be mixed and matched with other dishes in all sorts of combinations.
He had wandered over to Eggsy’s station without really thinking about it, watching as he cut through the parsley with skills any professional would be impressed by. The lemon he grated with ease, quickly yet not digging into the white that would turn the dish bitter. The garlic was also grated, the lemon juiced, salt sprinkled liberally, and Harry watched as he mixed it all together while slowly drizzling in olive oil. He didn’t say a word, watching as Eggsy stopped with the perfect amount of oil added, and all Harry could do was nod his approval before moving on, tempted to taste but knowing he should wait until the couscous had been tossed in.
The distraction was costly. By the time he made it to Hugo’s station the young man was already pouring in his “gremolata,” the mixture much to thin and there was little Harry could do. There was an oily sheen to the couscous that was rather unappealing and the chef rolled up his sleeves barking orders to start over as he put a fresh pot of water on the stove.
But this? This was familiar now. His small class of beginners that were all honestly decent cooks. Rufus tended to rush, and Harry had to direct him to put his chicken back in to finish cooking not once but twice. Hugo and Digby that sometimes made wonderful dishes, and sometimes just flew under the radar but didn’t always make something worth eating. Charlie, who was smug and assured, and at least he had a bit of a reason. Chester had obviously made sure he knew what he was doing, and there was natural talent there, when he bothered to follow instructions.
Roxy easily could have been top of the class. In terms of straight technique and her abilities to follow a recipe she was the best of his students. But it was Eggsy with the way that he thought on his feet, readjusting within the parameters set (no more substitutions of cheap items), and natural instincts that made things exciting.
Of course he would never admit to Merlin how much he’d grown to enjoy a class of beginners. After this he was going for strictly intermediate and up, his fingers itching to teach them to filet fish and make finicky soufflés.
Instead he forced himself to watch as they plated, grumbling at Eggsy to keep his couscous together and to wipe off the bits that had landed on the edge of the plate, suggesting to Roxy that she might not want to try to center the chicken perfectly.
What did annoy him with his group was the tasting process. With their small group they had gotten to the point where they were all tasting each other’s dishes, comparing them, deciding what had went right or wrong, how it should be fixed.
Yet week after week some of the students banded together, refusing to truly critique each other and saving up their complaints to dish out on the rest. It was unprofessional and showed a certain lack of integrity, but occasionally they hit on a true issue. Occasionally they were right.
So Harry kept them in check, demanded respect, and at the end of the night excused himself to his office to plan his next lesson.
But not before taking an extra bowl of Eggsy’s couscous with him. There was still plenty left, and the balance was perfect, the lemon and parsley making the grain light and fresh, a perfect snack to munch on while he worked.
Eggsy was finishing packing up the leftovers, chatting with Roxy, when really he should have been paying attention to his surroundings. Ordinarily it was just the two of them by the end, wrapping up by putting away anything that was used by the whole class and not necessarily designated to anyone to put away.
So the bucket of water splashing over him, splattering on his already cleaned and dry dishes, took him by surprise. He gasped in shock while the icy water soaked his shirt, turning to face his assailant.
“Sorry Eggy, hand slipped.” Charlie was smirking at him, flanked by his cronies, though Hugo was still back at his station, looking on.
“Fuck you,” Eggsy spit.
“Well isn’t this a surprise, Eggy once again making Chef Hart’s favorite dish of the night.” Charlie’s voice was a drawl but his eyes were sharp and narrowed, focused on him.
Eggsy felt himself straighten, taking a step forward and feeling Roxy put a hand on his shoulder. “Fuck off Charlie.” The idiots made hooting noises, and Roxy ignored them, turning to face him. “They’re not worth it,” she told him, and he knew she was right. Knew that these pricks weren’t worth risking what he had here.
But maybe he was okay if he got himself in trouble. What he couldn’t put up with was Charlie saying Harry’s name, insinuating something. “Maybe if you’d cook something decent people would want to eat the shit you make. Who you know is only going to get you so far.”
“Yet you don’t know anyone.” There was a gleam in Charlie’s eye, his mouth twisting into an ugly smile. “All this supposed skill of yours for what? A job at McDonald’s?”
Eggsy clenched his fists, the jab somehow even worse now than it had been the first time they’d met, but the other man kept going. “When this class is finished you’ll be back where you belong. You didn’t deserve to be here in the first place.”
It would have been easier to snap out a retort if Charlie had been wrong, but there was every possibility that he was right. Eggsy shouldn’t have been here.
But he was.
He was here and Harry found him deserving enough to waste his time on him. “You’re wrong.” The words being out there made it more real, and he repeated himself, voice more confident. “You’re fucking wrong, but you ain’t worth wasting my breath.” He sneered, and there was a minute of tension before there was a noise from the doorway.
“Is Chef Hart here?”
Merlin’s interruption cut through the tension, Charlie turning toward his station with one last glare as Roxy answered. “He’s already left sir.”
The bald man scanned the room still, eyes lingering on Eggsy’s station before he turned and left, leaving the room in an awkward silence. No one wanted to stay for long it seemed, and while Eggsy and Roxy were still the last two out it was only by a few minutes as they started toward the station.
“He’s just jealous you know.”
They were already halfway to the station when Roxy broke the silence, and Eggsy shrugged. “Yeah. Plus he’s a dickhead.”
“No really, Eggsy, I don’t think you realize how good you are. Chef Hart doesn’t seem like the sort to just randomly hand out private lessons, I think he just realized before everyone else how brilliant you are.”
“What do you want?” he asked her, eyes narrowing slightly as she gave him a look. “No really. A beer? A new pair of shoes?”
She shoved into him with her shoulder, but she was laughing as she did so. “Stop being an arse.” Then a thoughtful look crossed her face and he had a sinking feeling that he was going to regret what he’d just said. “But if you’re offering, well, I could use some help with brunch Saturday. My parents have a meeting and they’re dropping by my flat afterwards so I’ve got to make everything. I could use another pair of hands.”
“I see how it is, you think you can say a few fancy words and get a free sous chef out of the deal.”
“Pretty much,” she was grinning at him though, and he wasn’t actually annoyed by the offer.
“Alright, you’ve got yourself another pair of hands. Text me your bloody address, yeah?”
“Don’t worry Eggsy, I won’t tell Chef Hart you were cooking with someone else.” There was a mischievous gleam in her eyes as he shot her a questioning look and then changed the subject, not sure why he felt slightly flustered at the idea.
Harry glanced down at his phone and felt his blood run cold, fingers clamping down as another buzz vibrated his hand.
Dee's bday is tuesday and she just said she wants me to make her cake
She says she don't want one from a store
I ain't got a clue how to bake a cake
The messages came in rapidly as Harry tried to regain some sense of calm. Everything was fine, nothing to worry about. A cake. Eggsy simply needed assistance with a cake.
I can teach you on Monday. With baking and decorating to be done you may want to arrive early. Would you be able to arrive by 6:00?
It had taken him a minute to compose the message, and then he was waiting, staring at his phone for an eternity while his mind raced, thinking of options.
A few seconds later his phone buzzed again, then a second time.
Cya at 6
Gremolata recipe is below. I made it on Mother’s day and it was really refreshing. My parents enjoyed it as well! Very simple. I love couscous though, I need to make it more and it’s so fast!
Chapter 15: Prinsesstarta
I posted this on tumblr but in ~two weeks I'll be at AKON in Dallas, Friday only. Is anyone going? Also I'll be working Tokyo in Tulsa in July and people should go to that. If anyone attends either of those you should let me know!
So I was doing research/fact checking on Thursday night when I wrote a chunk of this and I went by my parents after work on Friday. My mom had just bought something that I'd been looking into, and we talked about another component of the recipe in a completely unrelated manner. I was dying. It was a sign.
Harry looked around his kitchen, and it was hard to ignore the fact that there was a recipe out. It seemed unprofessional, and he’d basically memorized it over the weekend. Friday night had been devoted to picking the perfect recipe, in between copious texts from Eggsy as he kept asking for brunch ideas of all things, finally admitting he’d offered to help Roxy. There had been no reason for him to suddenly not give Eggsy assistance, so the fact that it had crossed his mind was troublesome.
The fact that Eggsy had followed up that text with another one, complaining about how he was pretty sure Roxy was just friends with him for his food, and that the text had comforted him was even more worrisome.
It had all culminated in a frantic phone call Saturday morning, right as Harry had been about to head to one of his classes. They’d planned the frittata and Roxy had put herself in charge of lamb chops. There was a lovely fruit salad that he’d detailed the recipe for, as well as a duet of stuffed peppers and mushroom caps.
Apparently no one had accounted for a dish with any sort of bread or grain, and he’d found himself walking Eggsy through a quick waffle batter with a bananas foster. He’d been giving the last instructions when a student had come to find him as he was already ten minutes late, and he didn’t admit that he had simply forgotten the class completely.
If anyone had caught him checking his phone in class while they were working to debone their quail they were wise enough not to say anything.
Now he was standing in his kitchen, trying not to think of which ingredients he’d had to make a specific trip to get. Surely he’d find another use for green food colouring paste.
Absentmindedly he straightened the kitchen needlessly, wiping over surfaces with a damp cloth and sorting the ingredients by the component they’d go in. There wasn’t much he could do without taking away from Eggsy’s education, the raspberries washed, and it was pointless to check the time. He did it regardless, trying not to sigh when it was still a quarter til.
He was setting out another apron, a last minute thing he’d almost forgotten when there was a knock at the door, and he caught himself smiling slightly as he moved toward the door, feeling only more satisfied when it was indeed Eggsy, several minutes early.
“Ain’t too early am I? Managed to catch the right train.”
“Perfect timing,” Harry insisted, ushering him in and gesturing wordlessly to the apron laid out for him. “The cake we’ll be making has several components so it won’t hurt to start early.”
“Sorry for putting you through all this trouble, I probably could’ve just bought some bloody mix and made do but shit makes more sense when you explain it to me.”
“Heavens no, it’s your sister’s birthday. That’s not the time for storebought shit, not if you have the time to make one properly. It won’t be any trouble.”
“What’re we making anyway?”
“A prinsesstarta, or a Swedish Princess cake. Layers of custard, cream and sponge with a hint of jam, adorned with a lovely green marzipan.”
“A princess cake?” Eggsy sounded slightly incredulous, but he was smiling, and Harry had known that it would be the right sort of thing for his beloved sister.
“Yes. Now then, the first thing we’ll be making is the custard so it has time to chill, so I want you to split a vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds while I put the milk on to simmer.”
The nice thing about making a custard was that it was something they’d done before. It was easy to just fall into the rhythm of it, separating out the yolks as Harry weighed out the sugar and cornflour. “Thanks for your help with brunch, it would’ve been a fucking disaster without you.”
“You’re welcome, Eggsy. I was glad to hear that it had went well.”
He remembered the waffles and groaned. “I didn’t know bananas could taste like that,” he confessed. “Only problem is her parents want us to take over cooking. When I said no they offered to pay me.” He snorted, knowing it was ridiculous, and then looked over in confusion when Harry merely hummed under his breath.
“It could be a good opportunity. If they’re anything like Roxy then they probably have fairly refined palates. You could have a few more critics to offer their opinions and at the very least you could make them pay for the pricier ingredients that would ordinarily be splurges.”
“That’s a fucking brilliant idea,” Eggsy had to admit. “Maybe not every weekend, but here and there? I could maybe see if you could come. Give you a chance to just relax and eat for once?”
“I’ve got a class during that time, but the offer is much appreciated.”
It took him a minute as he took the mixture off of the stove, stirring in the butter for the final step, but finally what Harry said caught up with him.
“Shit. Was you in a fucking class when I called?”
Harry didn’t answer right away, instead placing a large bowl in front of him for him to scrape the custard into, then covering it up with clingfilm before setting it aside. “It wasn’t a big deal, I hadn’t gone in yet or I probably would have missed the call. Now, then, when we’ve finished the jam we’ll put that in the fridge. We’ll need 175 grams of jam sugar, so weigh that out while I put our raspberries and two tablespoons of water into our pan. It will need to cook over a low temperature and be stirred occasionally, though it’s a good time to get your pan ready for the sponge.”
As he kept an eye on the jam the older man began washing up a few of the dishes they’d already used, glancing over his shoulder to offer advice on how much longer it would take, and how to make sure the springform pan was lined properly with the baking parchment.
It might have been a boring stage, the jam not needing too much attention, but instead he told Harry about what he’d been cooking at home, carefully leaving out his floundering experiments and tending to tell him only about the successes, once in a while talking about the dishes Deanna balked at, acting out her faces and exaggerating what he’d done to get her to try the sauce for her satay rather than just using ketchup until the chef was actually grinning, chuckling occasionally at the tales before smoothly interjecting about the jam being finished.
It had been transferred to it’s own bowl to cool, the custard making it’s way into the fridge, and it was time for the main event. Harry turned on the oven to warm, then nodded to the eggs. “When baking, always use room temperature eggs. Room temperature eggs will help your cake be light and fluffy as the yolk and white of the egg blend easier. Cold eggs can make your cake dense. This is of course if you’re using the whole egg, for recipes that call for the white or yolk only you may want to separate them while the egg is still cold.”
“I like it when you get to put the egg in first,” he found himself saying. “Makes it easier to fish it out if you get some shell in, yeah?”
“And to think I was going to show you how to crack them one handed,” Harry mused, smirking when he protested and adding in the sugar. “Now this will need to be mixed for approximately five minutes until the batter leaves a trail when you lift it, but keep the whisk in the bowl while on so it doesn’t fling it everywhere.” Harry passed over the mixer, entrusting it to him while he measured out the baking powder, cornflour, and flour, making sure to indicate how much of each as Eggsy did little but watch, running the mixer until the eggs and sugar paled and thickened.
It seemed like ages before Harry stopped him, showing him how to tell that the mixture was ready by the trail it left from the beater, then teaching him to sift in the dry ingredients so there were no clumps going in. He wasn’t done mixing, folding in the ingredients while Harry melted the butter and then slowly tipped that in to be folded in as well.
Pouring it into the pan and placing it in the oven felt like a victory, like there would finally be a chance to breathe, and he was starting to relax before he saw Harry pull out a pale pink bit of something.
“This is marzipan, that I've dyed pink, which traditionally was utilized for decorative purposes. Today we’ll be making a rose to adorn the top of our cake, so I’ll need you to roll small pieces until we have ten altogether.”
He was there, he was taking part, but he still couldn’t believe how it all came together under Harry’s hands. The small balls of pink marzipan being rolled out into circles, one of those rolled up fairly tightly, and somehow from there it became a rose. An actual work of art when Harry took the basic shape and tweaked it here or there, adding gentle curves and making it realistic above all else.
And it seemed like there wasn’t any time to relax. With that done and set aside to dry they were beginning to set out their cooling racks and the serving platter, and he didn’t even need to ask anymore where things were as they moved in tandem throughout the kitchen.
“See how the sponge has just started to move away from the pan and is golden brown? It’s ready to come out.” He moved aside to let Eggsy get it out of the oven. “Now then, this will need to cool for a few minutes before we remove it, but it shouldn’t cool completely. It will finish on the rack before we slice into it.”
“So what do we work on while we wait?”
“You sound confident that there is more to be done.”
“I’m right ain’t I?”
“You are. We can go ahead and make our marzipan now so it’s ready for later. Get out the mixer, and you’ll be attaching the dough hook while I measure out the ground almonds and sugar.”
It was easy to incorporate the two, and he felt slightly foolish that both of them were standing around watching it come together as he had Eggsy add in the almond extract and the eggs. Then he had him knead it with his hands, watching the dough come together. “We’ll color it when we’re ready to use it, but for now just wrap it tightly in clingfilm. I think we can risk the cake.”
He tried not to breathe a sigh of relief when it released from the pan, still needing to cool before he was willing to slice into it. “This next step will take a bit of time,’ he admitted, turning away from the cooling cake to face the younger man. “After it is done we’ll have a good hour before we can put the marzipan on it and finish the decorating. It requires time to set up. While that does give us time to clean up if we wish I thought we might want something to eat. There’s an Indian place not far that delivers if you’re hungry?”
“I’m fucking starving.”
It amused him how Eggsy was willing to just lay it out in the open, and he covered it by raising an eyebrow at him. “Do you have any preferences or would you like to try some different dishes?”
“I think I’d bloody well eat about anything right now.”
“Very well.” He moved to the dining room to place the call, not wanting to rudely talk on the phone in front of him, and when the restaurant answered he rattled off a list of things he liked, aiming for a mix of vegetarian and meat options, making sure to have different degrees of spiciness represented, and trying not to feel too judged when the woman on the other line asked him if he was having a party before apologizing that it might take a bit longer than usual considering the amount.
He hung up his phone and glanced toward the kitchen, seeing Eggsy starting to wash up the items used for the marzipan, and not for the first time he wondered what he was doing. Ordering that much food for the two of them was ridiculous, there would doubtlessly be leftovers. But there was another part of him that was simply curious. That wanted to know if Eggsy would prefer the saag paneer or the chickpea curry. To see if he would devour a large portion of something or taste a bit of everything. If there would be a dish he would ask Harry to teach him to make.
Yet as active as his mind was it was several moments before he realized he was still just watching the young man work. With a slight shake of his head he joined him, drying off dishes and handing them back to Eggsy when they were dry so he could put them away.
They’d managed to clean most of the kitchen by the time the cake was ready to cut, and Harry selected his serrated knife. “Now for this you’ll want to score the cake around the edges. We’ll want three layers of sponge, so two cuts.” He made the grooves himself, trusting Eggsy but at the same time wanting to ensure it was done properly before passing the knife, letting Eggsy actually saw into it to create the layers.
The layers weren’t perfect, he could admit that. But they were good, they hadn’t broken apart or split and even if they were slightly uneven most of that would be covered up by the filling.
Instead he focused on centering the bottom layer and fetching out the custard. “Alright, now on this cake we’re going to put the thinnest layer of custard that we can on the bottom here.” He did that himself as Eggsy finished up, then started putting a bit more custard into a piping bag. “This will go in a ring around the edge to hold in our jam. It doesn’t need to be pristine, just twist the end and make sure it always has pressure on it and it will keep the custard moving.”
He stepped back, watching carefully as the custard piled on top of the sponge before getting the jam, letting Eggsy add it into the ring and spread it about while he fetched the next couple of ingredients.
“Alright, for this next part we’re going to need some whipped cream to add in to our custard. You’ll want to use double cream, and it needs to be cold. Hand whisking will just take a few minutes at most and allows for the most control over the air being added in.” He opened the freezer, removing a copper pan that had been in there to cool, then selected a balloon whisk from his utensils.
The double cream went into the bowl, and that he passed off to Eggsy to let him whisk, fairly certain his muscles could handle the repetitious movements. “When you see peaks forming it will be time to add half of this to our custard.”
It was time to back off, and for the next several minutes he simply watched, It was probably foolish to feel pride at a student expertly folding whipped cream into custard, but he didn’t really mind. “Just a third onto the jam,” he murmured, and Eggsy complied.
Before long the next layer of sponge, then the rest of the custard cream, then the third sponge graced the top. The remainder of the whipped cream smoothed over the sides and domed up on top gracefully, and the hardest part seemed to be finding somewhere in the refrigerator for the whole concoction.
“Back to the waiting game, yeah?”
“Until the food gets here, yes.”
“Alright. So tell me, what made you decide on this cake? There’s got to be easier cakes.”
“Of course there are. Do other cakes teach you to make both jam and whipped cream though? And ordinarily you wouldn’t make the cake in one go like this. The jam, marzipan, and custard could all be made earlier in the day or even the day before, that way you could focus on other projects if you needed to rather than waiting about.”
“I thought you was going to say it was delicious or something.” Eggsy had a smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth, laughter dancing in his eyes, and Harry let a bit of his own mirth show through with a small smile.
“It’s a cake with double cream in it, how bad could it be?” As he spoke he turned to get out proper silverware, moving to set the table.
“You don’t just use the plastic shit they bring?”
“Definitely not. If actual silverware is available why would you use that? You’re right when you call it shit.”
“Don’t tell me, you eat it on actual plates too.”
“Now that depends on the day. As there should be opportunities to sample this evening I believe that’s wise.”
Eggsy shook his head. “I fucking knew it.”
There was a knock at the door and Harry moved toward the entryway before calling over his shoulder. “Get out the plates please, Eggsy.”
It was easy enough to take care of the delivery man, giving him a generous tip in exchange for the bags in his hands, trying not to think of how much the bags contained.
On the other hand, he’d seen Eggsy eat. This would hopefully be more than enough even for him.
Laying it all out revealed the feast that they had. He hadn’t bothered with all of the basics. Eggsy had probably had them all, and so the basics that were ordered were simply because Harry wanted them. “They have the best samosas I’ve ever had,” Harry admitted, spearing one for his plate and then cutting into it, distracted as he watched Eggsy pluck one up with his fingers and simply bite into it, eyes widening as he polished it off and licked his fingers clean.
His own bite managed to make it into his mouth, and he waited until he’d swallowed before speaking. “I’ll take it you agree with me.”
“Fuck yeah.” The next one was already on the way to his mouth, and next time Harry was going to have to get two orders of them. For now he just nudged the container a bit closer to him as he reached for the rice, trying to decide what he wanted to get next.
He was starting to get full when Eggsy switched topics on him. “So you normally get food from them?”
“If I’m in the mood for takeaway,” Harry admitted. “Their food is delicious. I’ve been in, and they use quality ingredients, and you can tell. The fact that I can get it delivered is a bonus.”
‘You ever wrote about them?”
Harry shook his head. “No, the paper sends me to fine dining restaurants, and that’s what my readers are used to.”
“Bollocks. You cook fucking amazing things and you’ve been to all the posh places. If you like it, why wouldn’t your readers? Sometimes you don’t want to bother putting on trainers or trousers and even toffs get sick. Good takeaway or delivery is something people like to know about.”
“I suppose I haven’t looked at it that way.” He didn’t miss the satisfied look that crossed Eggsy’s face at that, the purposefully raised eyebrows as he smirked. Entirely too smug. “I’ll consider it,” he offered, not making promises but his mind already racing with what he would highlight. The samosas of course, and the fact that most of their ingredients were locally sourced. He’d gathered tidbits about the owners over the couple of years that he’d eaten there or had it delivered so it would be easy to do a column about the restaurant.
His reservations for Wednesday could stand and he could just write about that meal the following week. Or even get two columns done and have a rare week off. Then next Wednesday they could do something different. Perhaps go to Galahad’s. It had been several months since his last visit, and he could ensure that Eggsy was treated properly. He was always treated like a king, the staff knowing precisely who he was, and no one would dare to treat Eggsy as the staff at Valentine’s had.
It took him a minute to realize that Eggsy was waiting on a response and he gave him a startled glance. “My apologies Eggsy.”
“Welcome back.” Eggsy was smirking at him again, and Harry ignored him in favor of his water. “You want anymore chickpeas?”
“It’s all yours.”
It was amazing how a tiny amount of food colouring paste could brighten the entire batch of marzipan. The swirls of white and medium green finally melded together into a light, bright color that would surely capture Deanna’s eye, and he could picture her face clearly as he formed it back into a fairly round ball.
“We’ll need to roll out a fairly large circle,” Harry remarked, “larger than a pizza really. Make sure you have the surface well dusted with icing sugar, then when you roll it, don’t roll all the way to the edge. If you roll it all the way it will taper the ends and we don’t want that.”
He was standing just behind his shoulder, watching, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. By now it felt normal, soft murmurs guiding him until the thin circle formed under his rolling pin.
“Now is the tricky part. You don’t want the marzipan to stretch and tear as you transfer it over to the cake. You can actually use the rolling pin to help the transition. It should drape over the edges and we’ll need to trim it, so if it’s not absolutely perfectly centered we should be okay.”
He let Harry show him how to roll the marzipan partially onto the pin and then move it, draping it over the cake and cursing when it bunched up on one side.
By the time they were finished shaping it with their hands the crease was barely noticeable and Harry left him to trim the edges while he whipped up a small about of double cream.
“You know plating ain’t my thing, yeah?” He had to ask as Harry handed him the pastry bag to pipe around the edges after demonstrating a couple of stars.
“It’s for your sister, wouldn’t she prefer to have it done by you?”
“That ain’t fair,” he complained, looking away before he could see Harry roll his eyes, but knowing that was what he had earned.
Harry was melting a bit of chocolate for him when he broke the silence, crowing. “I told you so. This looks fucking horrible.”
“I’m sure it--” When he looked up there was an almost baffled look on the older man’s face. “It was just piping a bit of an edge.”
“Making shit pretty ain’t for me,” Eggsy tried, and realized it was the wrong thing when a determined look crossed Harry’s face.
“We’ll work more on plating later then. For now I’ll do the chocolate, this is for your sister after all.”
It seemed like once the chef began the swirls of chocolate rolled out of the piping bag in perfect lines. He even managed to write “Happy birthday Deanna” around the edge of the serving platter.
“The chocolate will need a moment to set, and it will be easier to deal with if you wait to put the rose on it.
“I certainly hope so. Don’t worry though, there’s plenty of cleanup.”
It didn’t take them long to settle into a rhythm, the dishes done and put away in short order, the cake resting in the refrigerator until all signs that they had been cooking had vanished. It was time to go, and there was no reason to delay, even if he found himself taking his time folding up his apron, fiddling with the ties.
“Are you sure you can get that home?”
“Yes. I hadn’t realized how large it would be.
“Well,” he hesitated, imagining the things that could happen to the cake in the apartment, knowing that not even a cab could help with that.
“I don’t think it’s worth the risk. Where will her birthday be at?”
“Actually it’ll just be us,” Eggsy admitted. “Mum has to work til 6:00. Thought about taking her to the park, she likes being outside.”
That didn’t mean Dean wouldn’t see the cake though. He tried not to cringe, ashamed that he was about to ask Harry to use his refrigerator, when the older man spoke up.
“A picnic sounds like a marvelous idea. If it wouldn’t be too much of a bother I could deliver it to the park? Would you be able to manage the leftovers do you think?”
“Maybe on her stroller? Wait, you would be willing to do that?”
“We’ve gone through too much now. The least I could do is drop it off for you.”
“Pretty sure you’re past the bloody minimum. You could join us, you know? If you don’t mind eating with a three year old who’s going to be on a sugar high?”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
“Fuck that, you wouldn’t be intruding. It’ll be fun. Dee’s shy around strangers but she’ll probably like having someone other than me around. Plus I think you deserve to try this thing after everything we’ve done.”
“That’s a fair point. So, where were you thinking about going?”
“Ain’t sure where or when exactly yet. I can text you when I see how our day is shaping up?”
“That sounds like a plan.”
Chapter 16: Picnic
Welp, today is one of those "you just can't win" days for me. So here's a short chapter, and there are notes at the end that contain spoilers/explanations?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Harry Hart had absolutely every reason to feel ridiculous. Here he was strolling through a park in a suit, carrying around a rather large box with a cake in it, while a small, brightly spotted gift bag dangled from his wrist. He’d woken up an hour before he normally did, heart pounding, with the realization that he didn’t have a present for a girl he’d never met. The sheer panic he’d felt had been entirely uncalled for.
Yet for the first time, in more time than he could count, he had found himself at a store that had nothing to do with cooking, clothing, or household necessities, and he remembered why it was something he normally avoided. Now he was in a similar situation, strolling through an unfamiliar park while looking for the spot Eggsy had described. East of the swing set there would be a bit of a hill and a tree perched on top.
At least it had turned out to be a gorgeous day. Sunny and breezy without a rain cloud in sight, and it was still early enough (and during the week) that while the park was certainly occupied it wasn’t terribly busy. He’d had to take a cab to get here, and it was slightly out of his way, but he could hardly consider it a nuisance when he finally spotted his protégé.
His pace didn’t quicken, but he was purposeful as he strolled forward, Eggsy turning to a small child at his side and pointing his way, probably telling her who he was. She seemed to shrink into Eggsy’s side as he approached, but Eggsy seemed unperturbed.
“Glad you found us. Here, let me get that.” He passed the cake on before gingerly lowering himself onto the large blanket that Eggsy had spread out, a spot clearly left open for him, clearing his throat as he did so.
“Good afternoon Eggsy. Miss Deanna.” He nodded to each of them in turn, trying to remember the last time he’d sat on the ground, blanket or no.
“Say hello to Mr. Hart,” Eggsy hissed to his sister, and she just stared at him.
“Harry is fine,” he found himself insisting, then he was moving the bag off of his wrist, holding it out to her. “I heard it was your birthday.”
“Present?” The small girl’s eyes darted over to her brother, seeking reassurance, but there was a somewhat familiar gleam there. Excitement that Harry recognized.
“Well go get it from him,” Eggsy told her, giving her a nudge.
He could see caution and excitement warring on her face, the reassurance from her brother and desire for a gift winning out as she scooted closer
The sense of foolishness returned as she opened it up to the small tiara a saleswoman had helped him pick out, and words were falling from his lips as he scrambled to explain. “I thought since we made a princess cake it might be appropriate?”
Even though it was his own reasoning it sounded pathetic in his ears and he watched her mostly so he couldn’t see the look he was sure Eggsy was giving him. The girl was staring at it, mouth parted slightly in an entirely familiar way.
Then she was jamming it onto her head, looking up with a delighted grin. “I’mma princess!”
She was absolutely beaming as she got up, jumping enthusiastically in a circle before running smack into him, latching onto his suit in a way that was sure to wrinkle it terribly, hands clutching at him. “Thanks Mister Harry!”
He was smiling before he knew it, patting her back slightly awkwardly, not all that accustomed to small children. “You’re quite welcome Miss--Princess Deanna.”
Deanna’s reaction to the cake had been everything he’d hoped for and more, but what was surprising was what was happening now. She was eating her cake, carefully stabbing at the bites with her fork, obviously trying to imitate Harry’s etiquette as she squished herself against him, occasionally looking up to give him adoring glances.
He’d never seen her take to anyone that quickly, she still refused to speak directly to Ryan or Jamal most of the time, but here she was babbling away at Harry, and it was all he could do to keep her from telling on him. Because there were cooking attempts that Harry never needed to know about, and Dee was the only one who’d seen him actually scrape food into the trash it was so bad.
For the most part though she was content with eating her cake, custard and cream getting on her cheeks and even her nose, and telling Harry about her shoes and her dress and everything she had to show off.
It was actually more fun to watch Harry. It was clear he was out of his element, but it was also apparent that he was trying. The gift had been both unexpected and perfect, but sometimes he just looked baffled. The older man moved as if he thought he might break her, but he was patient, even when she accidentally flung a bite at him and the cream coated blob smeared down his jacket. Eggsy had held his breath then, imagining snatches of yelled words, thinking of the reaction that would get from her own father, though he’d never lift more than his voice at her. Eggsy would have been the one to get backhanded for not paying enough attention to her to keep her from doing it.
But Harry didn’t really seem fazed, dabbing off the worst with a handkerchief that probably cost more than any number of items in his closet.
He was halfway through his cake before he realized that he didn’t even give a shit that he was all but forgotten. He was content that Harry and Dee were getting along, and now that he was relaxed he realized how tense he had been. How important it had been that they got along. Because he needed Dee and his mum to like Harry.
It was a stray thought, but it took him off guard because he realized that he needed their approval, and it was the why that he had to ponder. It wasn’t something that took long, the reason coming easily now that he was searching for it. Because he wanted Harry around his family, and not just because he was teaching him about food. Because what he felt for Harry was as strong as what he felt for his mum and Dee, but it was different.
He felt his face burning as the realization sunk in and he tried to conceal it by taking a gulp of the tea he’d brought, grateful that Harry was busy showing Dee his watch and the two were distracted.
He was a fucking idiot. Falling for the chef who was taking him under his wing practically spelled disaster. He finally had something good in his life and he’d managed to figure out a way to ruin it.
Well, he could only ruin it if he acted on it. He hadn’t done anything too stupid, not yet. It didn’t seem like Harry had even noticed that he had been acting a bit weird the past couple of minutes, so he forced aside the feelings and questions, knowing exactly how to conceal whatever he didn’t want to show. It was enough to train under Harry, to spend time with him, and he wasn’t going to jeopardize that.
The downside to being distracted was that when he finally starting paying attention again it was in time to hear Dee say “I got princess knickers for my birthday” as she started to lift up her dress, proud to show them off.
She turned to him, dress pulled up to her waist, a look of confusion on her face. “We don’t show off our knickers to people,” he told her, trying to keep his face calm and hoping against hopes that it wasn’t as flushed as he feared it was.
“But they got princesses on them.”
“They’re special because no one else gets to see them,” Harry offered, and Eggsy watched as Deanna turned to him, eyes wide and trusting, dropping her dress down and drinking in his words. “They’re your princesses.”
She was smiling happily, adoration clearly written on her face. If he looked at Harry and was half as besotted? He would be buggered.
The rest of their time sped by, and he’d gorged on two slices of cake while watching Dee force Harry to read a book to her, stopping him when he didn’t have the right rhythm down for Monkey and Me and finally just “reading” it to him, Harry looking on with a bemused but somewhat fond expression, glancing up now and again as if to confirm that this was real. Well, and probably to make sure that Eggsy hadn’t abandoned him.
Then he had to glance at his phone, groaning at the time. “Shit, it’s getting late. I’ve got to get Dee home and get everything cleaned up before heading to class.”
“Right.” Harry started passing him things to clean up, both of them keeping an eye on Deanna, and it took very little time until they were ready to go. For Harry Deanna even got into her stroller willingly, and ordinarily he would have made a joke about taking Harry home with him but for now it was too new. Too close to being real.
“I believe you have your hands full, so why don’t I take the cake with me and I’ll bring you the leftovers tonight? You can pick them up after class.”
“Yeah, that’ll work. Maybe give a piece to Merlin? I got a feeling if he heard about it he’d never leave it be.”
“You have a point there,” Harry mused, a smile ghosting the corners of his mouth. “I’ll see you tonight Eggsy.” Then he crouched down, getting to Deanna’s eye level. “Have a pleasant evening Princess Deanna, and happy birthday.”
She waved frantically at him as they started away, and Eggsy had to smile. “Bye Mister Harry!”
It shouldn’t have been hard walking away when he was going to see the older man in a few hours, so Eggsy decided to blame it on pushing the stroller over the grass instead of his reluctance to leave.
Just as a general explanation: in my head I see Harry as very much the slower realization, signs leading up to it, it all seeming very natural. Eggsy I think would be a bit more sudden in his revelation, hence what happened in this chapter!
Chapter 17: Yorkshire pudding
So yesterday my computer decided that it wasn’t content sending me low memory notices and freezing up constantly. A screw randomly fell out of it, and considering the one corner was already damaged...it was really starting to fall apart. That said, this chapter is posted from my brand new laptop, aptly named Merlin :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The time constraints on their lessons were restricting, and Harry did his best not to be annoyed by it. Still, there was only so much he could do, and he could hardly keep Eggsy until all hours just so they could do something properly. So today he’d had to start his roast on his own, sending Eggsy pictures of the process with instructions, which meant that they had time to at least focus on the sides.
Potatoes were soon roasting alongside the meat, components of a salad waiting to be dressed, and it was time to focus on their Yorkshire puddings. “Four eggs go into a medium to large bowl,” he directed as Eggsy began cracking them. “A larger bowl means there’s plenty of room to whisk and you can ensure to incorporate a good amount of air into the batter.”
“I think I remember seeing my dad make these,” Eggsy admitted as he finished cracking them and reached for the whisk. “It’s that thing with the hot oil, yeah?”
“Indeed, putting the batter into a very hot oil is one of the essentials for the recipe. Keep whisking, I’m going to pour in the milk.” Eggsy seemed tense today, just slightly odd in how he held his shoulders, and Harry couldn’t help but think about his stepfather. Wondering if something had happened, if there was a reason Eggsy had been slightly more reserved.
“You’ll want to sift in your flour. Yorkshire puddings aren’t something that should have lumps, then continue whisking while you add a pinch of salt.” He moved to the oven, barely glancing at the potatoes before wandering back to glance at the batter.
“That looks smooth, but you’ll want to check it with a spoon. It should thinly coat it and you shouldn’t see lumps.”
Eggsy pulled out a drawer to snag a spoon, testing the batter and peering at it suspiciously. “I ain’t seeing no lumps.”
“Very good. Now it won’t hurt the batter to rest, but you’ll want to put it into something that pours easily for when we add it to the pan.” He moved a large liquid measuring cup closer to him and let Eggsy scrape it into the container while he fetched the muffin tin.
“What kind of oil is that? Don’t look like the normal one.”
“Sunflower. For these you need the oil to be hot, so you have to use an oil that can handle the heat and has a high smoke point. You’ll just want a centimeter in the bottom of each one, so I’ll let you add that. Then it goes into the oven to heat.”
The oven door shut behind him as he started in on the dishes that had thus far accumulated in the sink. “I can get those for you,” Eggsy offered, and he shook his head.
“The potatoes probably need turned by now. Go ahead and get that done first.”
It was quiet as they both worked, but it was pleasant as well. Relaxing. There was nothing he’d rather be doing than drying his dishes and putting them away.
Still, he kept his eye on the clock as they worked until it had been fifteen minutes. “It’s time for the batter to go in the pan. Remember how you normally nag me about having two ovens? This is when it comes in useful. With these you don’t want to open the oven until you’re positive they’re done. Just like a soufflé if you open the oven early they could collapse.”
“Just admit it, two ovens is a bit ridiculous for one person.” Eggsy’s voice was light though, and Harry chose to ignore the jab.
“You’ll need to pour these into the pan quickly. Take care not to overfill them, and you don’t want to let any batter drip on the pan. The easy way to do that is to hold a spoon in your left hand and use it to catch any drips.”
He forced himself to take a step back to let Eggsy do it, the young man’s movements sure and confident, even if he did run out of batter by the time he reached the last one. “Oh fuck.”
“Don’t worry about it, we didn’t need twelve for just the two of us. Now put them back in the oven and we’re not going to even look at them for the next twenty minutes, maybe a couple more until they’re golden and crispy on the outside.”
The thing was, Harry didn’t act any different. He was still calm and collected, and everything seemed to be about the food. In a way it helped, kept him focused and allowed him to relax while they finished making dinner and set the table.
It wasn’t until they were sitting down next to each other, activity fading and leaving them to their conversations that he began to quietly freak out. It wasn’t like he hadn’t kept secrets from Harry before, from everyone really, but he didn’t actively like it. And feelings were harder to hide than a bruise.
So he babbled. There wasn’t really another word for it. He asked questions about the food, asking if there was a reason you couldn’t use thyme or if there was a point where you could put herbs in too early. Asking if there was any real benefit to leaving some of the skins on the potatoes before mashing them. Harry just answered them one at a time, occasionally turning the questions back on him and making him piece together an answer with what he knew about food and cooking, offering different suggestions instead.
At a certain point he forgot what he was really doing, caught up in the conversation, waving his fork around until a bite of beef was precariously close to falling off his fork and then flushing before settling down a bit.
It wasn’t until his glass was empty, as was the carafe on the table, that he realized how long the must have been talking, glancing down at his phone and swearing. “I’ve got to get home,” he explained, shoving his phone in his pocket.
“My apologies Eggsy, I hadn’t realized the time.”
He picked up his plate, ready to clear the table, and Harry stood, shaking his head. “I kept you too long, don’t worry about it. I’ll clean up.”
“You sure? I don’t mind, won’t make much of a difference anyway.”
“Quite sure. Let me see you to the door though, I had a question for you and forgot to mention it. Seeing as how my column this week is already written, my Wednesday night is free. I made plans to go to my old restaurant instead for a nice meal, and I was wondering if you would join me. I thought you might like to visit where your father used to work.”
Another one of Harry’s fancy places, and the idea of that almost made his skin crawl. But it was Harry’s old place, and where his Dad used to work, and between the two he couldn’t find a reason not to go. Plus there were far too many reasons he did want to go. “You got a tie I can borrow?”
“Just come as you are, it’ll be fine. The staff at Galahad’s have actually been trained, unlike those cretins at Valentine’s.”
By now he was out the door, Harry standing at the doorway as he turned to face him, shoving his hands in his pockets and trying to act like he wasn’t ridiculously excited about this. About seeing where his Dad learned to cook and going to dinner with Harry. “Yeah, alright. We meeting here or there?”
“Here would probably be easiest. 6:30?” When he nodded Harry’s mouth twitched into his version of a smile. “Good night, Eggsy. Stay safe.”
“Night,” he mumbled, turning and strolling away.
This was what he had intended their dining experiences to be like.
Eggsy had actually shown up in something other than jeans, looking slightly uncomfortable in his pair of khakis and without a jacket, almost self-conscious in just his polo. Really, his normal clothing would have been fine. Harry had been around enough that he still knew most of the staff (though few had actually worked for him) and could silence half of those with a look.
If anything Daphne looked delighted when he walked in with someone next to him, or at least, someone different. “Chef Hart! It’s always a pleasure, sir. And who may I ask is this?”
“Good evening Daphne. Daphne, this is Eggsy Unwin. His father used to work here many years ago. Eggsy, Daphne. She started working here approximately six years ago as a waitress, and has spent the last year as a hostess.”
“It’s good to meet you Eggsy, is this your first time here? Trust me, you’ll love it.” She gathered two menus and handed them to someone else, murmuring a table number at them. “I hope you two have a marvelous evening. Mr. Dashwood will be sorry he missed you sir.”
Eggsy seemed almost bewildered by their welcome as he trailed along to the table.
"Ian will be your waiter this evening, can I get you something to drink to get you started with?"
Harry took it as a good sign when the man looked expectantly at Eggsy for his order, disappearing to fetch their drinks.
Only to be replaced seconds later by a waiter.
"Good evening gentlemen. Welcome back, sir.” He nodded in Harry’s direction before continuing. “Our seasonal menu is in front of you, and in honor of your visit the soup du jour is oxtail soup. The other soup is a chilled strawberry with a balsamic glaze drizzled in. Tonight’s special is a lovely fillet of wild salmon crusted with rosemary and an apple cider glaze. It’s served on a bed of rice pilaf with slivers of almonds with a refreshing side of sauteed swiss chard. I’ll be back in a few moments to take your order, or to see if you have any questions.”
With a flashed smile he was gone, their water making its way to the table and poured before they were finally left to the menu.
“Is veal piccata any good?” Eggsy was staring at the menu seriously before he glanced up. “Can’t decide between trying that or the lobster ther--the lobster.”
“Thermidor. Both are classics really, but I can teach you to make the veal in about fifteen or twenty minutes if you’d like, so you may consider the lobster.”
“Classics? So I can get the same shit anywhere?”
“Classics done right I should say. Yes, you can get the dishes elsewhere though. I recommend getting what sounds good. If you want to push your culinary boundaries you can always try a different appetizer. I do recommend the oxtail soup. It’s delicious and they tend to make it if they know I’m coming.”
“Alright, but why the fuck do they have strawberry soup?”
“Chilled soups are quite scrumptious really. Honestly you might want to try both. They’ll be quite different, and there’s nothing to say you can’t have two soup courses.”
“You sure? I guess I will if you do it with me. I don’t want to be sitting here eating an extra course when you ain’t got nothing.”
Harry smiled indulgently. “If that’s what it takes. We’ll just have to make sure we save room for dessert. They make all their ice creams and sorbets in house, and I always order at least one dish along with another dessert. I’m afraid it’s a weakness of mine.”
Harry had been right about the soups. The oxtail soup was surprisingly luxurious considering how brothy it was, and the strawberry had been completely different. Thick and creamy, with a dollop of crème fraîche on top, adorned with a mint leaf. Now he was halfway through devouring his lobster, having already tried a bite of Harry’s salmon, and he was trying not to freak out.
Because this felt more like a fucking date than any actual date that he’d ever been on, and Harry seemed oblivious. He set his knife down long enough to take a sip from his wine, forcing himself not to gulp down the glass like it was the cheap shit he was used to, forcing himself to think about the way the sommelier had described it, focusing on trying to find the fruity undertones that had been described before daring to glance up.
Harry was primly eating his salmon but he glanced up perfectly in time to catch his eye. “Are you still fine with your decision?”
“It’s bloody incredible,” he admitted. “I ain’t really used to eating lobster but I get why people love it so much.”
“Excellent.” Harry took a drink of his wine, and before he could catch himself he realized he was watching the older man’s throat work as he swallowed. His cheeks burned, and suddenly he was immensely thankful for the dim lighting in the restaurant.
“Eggsy.” When Harry spoke again the chef’s voice had a slightly more serious edge to it, the older man actually setting down his knife and fork before dabbing at his mouth with a napkin. “Actually, I wanted to speak to you about something tonight, and I thought this might be the location to have this conversation.”
He could feel his blood starting to run cold, frantically trying to think of the past week to see if he had let anything slip.
“I’ll cut to the chase, Eggsy. I think you could make a career out of being a chef.”
His eyebrows drew together, and at the same time he felt relieved and tense in an entirely new way. “Me? I ain’t chef material. I’m just learning to cook a bit for Dee. I was afraid she was going to grow up without knowing what fresh food even looked like.”
“I understand that’s why you began taking courses, but you have a gift Eggsy. You’re a natural in the kitchen, and it’s not just me who thinks so. Merlin has acknowledged it as well, and I believe the Morton’s would also agree.”
“Are you just saying this shit because of my dad?” The lingering flavour in his mouth turned to ash with the thought. “That why you brought me here?”
“Of course not.”
Harry’s tone was vehemently opposed to that, his expression appalled, and Eggsy knew he believed him.
“I might have given you a chance in my classroom because I thought you were related to him, but everything you’ve done has proven that you belong. You’re your own man, and your own chef. This is about you, Eggsy, and about the opportunities I would like to help you with if you’re interested. I have a feeling I could get you a job with Kingsman, and if not then under one of the chef’s associated with Kingsman. Lancelot’s could give you an opportunity to work with a chef that firmly believes in shocking his customers with explosive flavors. Percival’s is renowned for creating subtle and sleek dishes. I’m close with both of their owners and head chef’s. I would be honoured to put in a good word for you.”
For a moment he couldn’t speak, mulling over what Harry had just told him. Him. Working at a restaurant as a chef. And not just some shithole but a restaurant like this. Or working with Harry. He was in this just to feed Deanna, took additional lessons because he enjoyed it. Because he enjoyed being with Harry. It wasn’t because he wanted to make a career out of this.
But he could imagine it. Imagine having a job where maybe he could put aside some money for Deanna. Give her a chance at a better life. Have enough that she could go to university if she wanted, or a trade school if she was interested in something else.
But if he had a job, a real job, he wouldn’t be around to take care of Dee. And that meant either she’d get sent to some daycare, or worse. Dean wouldn’t want to spend the money and would either watch her himself or have one of his muppets do it.
Right now Deanna was blood, and it was easier for Dean to take his anger out on him. If he wasn’t around?
“I can’t.” He didn’t expect Harry to understand, but he owed him the truth. Or at least part of it.
“I can’t leave my mum and Dee. She needs me to look after her. They got to have me around.”
“Eggsy,” Harry’s voice sounded almost cautious, hesitant. “If you or your family needed something, I would be happy to assist you. I don’t want to assume anything, but if you needed a place to stay I do have space at my home. I would extend that offer to your mother and sister as well.”
The way he was talking meant Harry had to know, or at least suspect, and it frightened Eggsy. He wasn’t a kid anymore, no one could take him from his mum, but if something happened because of him he was sure Dean would follow through on some of the threats he’d made.
“I ain’t going to take advantage of you. Me and my family get on okay, we can fucking take care of ourselves.” His voice was stiff, a bit of stubborn pride leaking into it.
“I don’t mean to suggest that you can’t, Eggsy, I just want to let you know that there are other options. I’m not going to press you into one of those, but the offer stands. Now then, you’ll want to finish your lobster before it gets cold.”
It was clearly a shift in topics, but he needed it, his head a maelstrom of thoughts. Dreams and what ifs, fears and worries. The realization that having Harry help him become a chef was probably the best opportunity that would ever come his way paired with the knowledge that he couldn’t take him up on it.
Harry kept the rest of the conversation almost purposefully light, but he found it harder to smile, harder to enjoy the world that he was so close to, and yet couldn’t quite touch.
Chapter 18: Veal Piccata
So I *think* this is going to wrap up at 23 chapters. Still tentative but that's how it looks like it's shaping up!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was difficult not to bring up the topic they’d discuss at Galahad’s but Harry managed to refrain. He couldn’t force someone into making a career choice that could alter their life, and all he could do was continue to be supporting, to try to develop that talent that would verge on criminal to waste.
For the first couple of classes Eggsy had seemed perturbed and oddly reserved, ducking his head when Harry came around, actually overcooking his spinach until it was bitter and unpalatable that first night. He seemed to settle back into routine well enough. Which was good, because for their final class Harry had decided to teach them the dish Eggsy had been so interested in.
“To showcase what you’ve all learned throughout this course you will be choosing your own sides to accompany the veal piccata that we’ll be making this evening. I’m going to demo that for you now, though you’ll probably want to wait until closer to the end of your time to prepare it.”
He waited to let the students gather round, measuring out a bit of flour and mixing in a touch of pepper. “You can either salt your flour, or you can directly salt your cutlets before you dredge them,” he informed them, assuming he had their attention by now as he liberally sprinkled salt over the thin pieces.
“Go ahead and turn your heat on before you dredge them. You just need a bit of oil to coat the pan, and it needs to be hot to add in the cutlets. To dredge them is simple, but make sure you shake them to knock off any excess flour. What is on there will help thicken the flour, but you don’t want to risk it being lumpy.” He paused for a minute, letting the heat catch up to him before demonstrating, dropping the pieces away from him to keep his apron clean from splatters.
“Do not crowd your pan. If you need to cook in batches so be it. These will cook quickly, about a minute per side.” He began flipping the pieces to demonstrate as he spoke, then moved a plate a bit closer to himself. “Veal is a very lean type of meat and you don’t want to see it dried out. Alternatively you can use other types of protein with this recipe, such as chicken or pork.”
The veal was pulled out onto the plate, piled up to keep warm. “There’s no real need to cover this unless you are cooking in batches. Deglaze the pan with a cup of wine, which will keep that lovely veal flavor in the dish.” He worked at the pan with his spoon until small bits that had stuck to the pan came loose.
As he worked he kept calm, not letting himself look up, knowing he’d only seek a certain pair of eyes, and knowing that pair of eyes would be the one most likely trained on him. “Once this has been reduced by half you’ll add in the rest of the ingredients. One clove of chopped garlic, half a cup of chicken stock, the juice of a lemon, and capers. Drained, naturally.
“This will need to cook down,” he said, finally looking up from his dish. “When it does you’ll add in butter and chopped garlic. I would do that off the heat, and as soon as the butter is melted add your veal back in for a minute to get it back up to temperature. Then you serve.”
As he spoke he worked on clearing his station somewhat. “Now then, go plan your menus, and come up in a few minutes when it’s ready to sample.
It was pleasant to see them all go back to their own stations, a couple already heading back to the pantry to start gathering ingredients. There was the tiniest chance that he was going to miss teaching the beginner’s course.
On the menu the veal had been served with linguini, so it was a sure bet that pasta would go with the dish. That didn’t mean he was just going to boil it up. He washed up a few herbs, oregano and basil, setting them aside to dry while he gathered together the butter, parmesan, and oil that would finish off the dish.
Just a simply dressed dish then, nothing major or as complex as even a pesto. That would have to be done fairly last minute, he could probably chop the herbs while the sauce was reducing, give it a quick toss just before serving.
So that was something filling, but it certainly wasn’t a meal. Thankfully he knew exactly what to make for the other sides.
In a bowl he quickly stirred some cream cheese until it was smooth and pliable. A squeeze of lemon, some finely chopped dill, and some freshly grated horseradish for a bite finished it off. Then he thinly sliced several pieces of bread, brushing them with olive oil before putting them in the oven to get hard and crusty. Served with the dip it would be great, with salmon it would be something Harry would approve of. A quick appetizer to kick off the meal, and he was still doing perfectly fine on time. With the oven already at work it was a good time to put in a pan of sliced almonds, strewn about on foil, before he worked on the other tasks.
Next he dealt with his vegetables, breaking down a crown of broccoli, cutting up radishes into wedges, slicing into a carrot. There was zucchini to cut into strips and lettuce to chop into manageable pieces. Then he went to work on the dressing.
He tried not to draw attention to what he was working on, tried to concentrate even less on how many times he’d made this the past few weeks to try to get it right as he tasted the mixture constantly until it was perfect.
There was a bit of a lull as he tried to wait for time to wind down slightly, setting a pot of water on to boil for the pasta before getting out his plates. He arranged the slices of bread on a platter for the appetizer, a pile of smoked salmon rested next to the spread filling a black bowl for contrast, a sprig of dill adorning the top to hint at what was inside. His other plates merely waited to be filled, the salad waiting to be dressed, and still he waited for a couple of minutes, washing up what he could and wishing their last class would move slower, that time would stand still for once.
Too soon it was time to start the pasta, then the veal. There was scant time while the meat cooked for him to run his knife through the herbs for the pasta, and as the sauce thickened he managed to shave some parmesan into his salad and grate more into a pile to add to his pasta.
The pasta he drained before adding the cutlets back to the sauce to bring up to temperature, then he tossed in the olive oil, butter, herbs, and cheese before turning off the piccata. It was easy to plate, a simple bed of pasta with the veal on top, sauce spooned over the top to soak in before he gave the salad a quick toss. That went into a large bowl to serve and he was ready with just a minute or two to spare. Perfectly timed.
In the last few minutes Merlin had wandered in, though no one in the class showed any surprise. He glanced over, giving Roxy’s plate a look and then frowning. “That ain’t rice is it?”
“No, it’s orzo. It’s a pasta that’s roughly shaped like rice. It’s easy to cook it evenly for a casserole and people use it in soups a lot because it’s easy to eat with a spoon. Is that the same salad you made for our first class?”
“I fucking hope so.”
“You’re a bloody idiot.” She was telling the truth, but her words were fond as she jostled him with her shoulder and he couldn’t help but grin a bit.
“You ain’t the first to say that. Look at you, making soup that fast. Vegetable?”
“Yes. I boiled the potatoes separately to try to get them to cook faster instead of trying to get it all done in the same pot. Ah, looks like we’re starting at Hugo’s station.”
From Merlin’s expression he could see that the man agreed with him on Eggsy’s food. Far too often there were set recipes to be followed, and he didn’t get to see what the young man would come up with on his own. But here he was, picking apart the ingredients in a cream cheese spread that had him wanting to lick a smear that had somehow gotten onto his finger, despite how unsanitary that would be.
He was tempted.
Instead he forced himself to focus on how full he was after sampling from five other stations, still managing to polish off the entire serving as Eggsy explained what he’d done to the pasta while he passed the plates around to everyone.
The veal piccata would have been enough, but on the other hand, the noodles could have been served separately as well. Both were individually good, and they complemented each other well enough without being too busy.
He wasn’t surprised when Eggsy brought out the salad, he’d seen him working on the vegetables at his station, but it was when he saw it all together, the myriad of ingredients, that he understood, eyes flying up to search Eggsy’s face only to have the young man refuse to look up, resolutely focused on serving up small plates from the family-style bowl he’d put it in.
He forced himself not to snatch up the plate, forcing himself to face reality. It was a salad. Dressings were finicky and hard to duplicate unless carefully measured, and Eggsy had been next to clueless the first time he’d made it. There was simply a miniscule chance it would be the same, and more than likely it would be good but disappointing, just like all of Harry’s attempts.
Except it wasn’t.
The flavor exploded in his mouth exactly as it had the first time and he closed his eyes, savoring the experience. To the side he heard a moan, and he knew it was Merlin standing there.
In fact, the only thing different about the salad were the almonds, and his mind raced back to that first class. His one critique, and now the almonds were toasted to perfection.
He was never making salad again.
After everyone had made their comments, and Merlin had shamelessly gone for a second plate (Harry had simply copied him so it wouldn’t be awkward) he waited until people had drifted back to their own stations before speaking softly to Eggsy. “Please stop by my office before you head out,” he requested, turning to find Merlin, eager to watch him go through the same experience he had the first time he’d had the dressing.
Their last class was over, and he really wasn’t sure what Harry wanted to talk to him about. Probably wishing him luck with whatever he decided to do after this, and the thought made his stomach clench painfully.
Still he cleaned up, Roxy telling him she’d wait in the foyer so they could walk to the station again together, and then made his way to Harry’s office, trying not to drag his feet before knocking on the door.
“Come in,” Harry called, and he opened the door, slipping into the office quietly. “Eggsy, thank you for stopping by.”
“Did you need something?”
“Actually no, this could have waited until Monday,” the older man looked slightly chagrinned. “I had planned to tell you about it then, but after tasting that lovely dressing this evening I wanted to bring it up immediately.”
“Monday?” He tried to keep the hope out of his voice. “You still want to give me lessons?”
“Of course,” Harry was looking at him like he was an idiot. “Did you honestly think that because class was over I’d just leave you to learn everything on your own? Don’t be daft Eggsy, of course I expect to see you Monday evening. But that wasn’t the matter I wanted to discuss.”
“Yeah?” It was all he could say and still manage to keep his emotions in check, the thrill that this wasn’t the end washing over him.
“I was going to let you know that in a fortnight I’ll be starting a new course. It’s an intermediate level course, and here at Kingsman we don’t accept just anyone into our other courses. However, if you’d like to apply I’ll see to it that you make it into the class. It will be at the same time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but we will also meet from 9:00 to 3:00 one Saturday a month to have a chance to make some more complex and time consuming dishes.”
He hesitated, and Harry seemed to take that into account before speaking up again. “I’m still not trying to pressure you Eggsy, but it would give you a chance to further your culinary education if you don’t want to go directly into the field.”
“It ain’t that,” he admitted, and with the words already out of his mouth he knew he’d have to explain. “I’m only here because Kingsman took pity on me and the community center worked out a deal.” He hated saying it aloud, hated talking about how out of his league this all was, and Harry just sat there, unfazed.
“Eggsy, I can easily see that it’s taken care of. I do work here you know, they’ll listen to my recommendations, and I believe it’s safe to say that you’ve impressed Merlin as well.”
“I ain’t no fucking charity case though.” The words burst out of him, and he knew that that wasn’t why Harry was doing this. Knew that for whatever reason Harry truly did want him to continue to grow as a chef, but it was hard to not at least think about the fact that really, he was relying on them to supply everything. There was only so much one could take without being expected to give something back, and he’d learned that before.
“Nor do we see you as such.” Harry’s voice was firm as he spoke, but then his expression softened slightly. “Perhaps we can check your schedule and see if there are some times you’re free where you could help out. There are always things to be cleaned and polished, errands to be run, ingredients to be picked out by someone who knows food. If you’ll allow me I can check into that for you.”
The ball was in his court, Harry asking his permission, and after a moment of struggle he nodded. It was hard to ignore that he’d do almost anything to spend more time with the older man. Swallowing his pride would just have to be one of those things. “Yeah, I could help out around here if you need it. Free most evenings and sometimes on the weekend cause I watch Deanna during the day.”
“You can pick up an application from Merlin on your way out. Your friend Roxy would also be a good candidate for additional lessons.” It seemed like a pointed suggestion and he nodded.
“Thanks Harry,” he muttered, shoving one hand into his pocket before turning toward the door.
“Oh, and Eggsy?” He stopped, looking over his shoulder to see what Harry wanted. “That salad was perhaps the best I’ve ever had. Bloody well done.”
He snapped his head around quickly before making his escape, cheeks flooded with color as he tried to somewhat contain his pleasure at the acknowledgement, a grin breaking out regardless.
What I used for references: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/veal-piccata-recipe.html + https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjJRGz_EJr8
Chapter 19: Chicken Cordon Bleu
Whoo! Heading to AKON tomorrow!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Last week’s lesson hadn’t really seemed odd. They’d just had class the week before, so everything had moved on as normal. This time a full week had gone by since he’d last seen Eggsy, and he’d had more than enough free time with his vacation. He’d managed to make time to go to the country for a few days of relaxation and rustic dining, but he’d been anxious to get back, happy enough to be home and to plan out his next few lessons.
It was easy to come up with new ideas, slightly more difficult to narrow down what he wanted to teach Eggsy versus what he wanted to save for the class. Merlin had let him know when Eggsy and Roxy had submitted their applications, several more students applying that had taken the beginners course before or were coming in from other schools or from other recommendations.
The only other one that had applied from their class had been Charlie, and he simply hadn’t made the cut. Not even Arthur had vouched for him, everyone finally realizing that he did well enough during training but ultimately was uninspired and limited in what he could do unless he was willing to devote himself to the craft, and he clearly didn’t want to give his all.
Harry wasn’t precisely torn up about denying him, preferring the small group that it looked like he would have as he finished prepping his kitchen for the evening ahead.
The knock at the door was expected, Harry having received a text when Eggsy neared the station, but for the briefest of moments he wished he’d just given Eggsy a key instead. It would have been a good transition before just offering up his home seemingly out of the blue, showing the young man that he trusted him. Then he dismissed the thought entirely. It was foolish to be so trusting, he’d known Eggsy less than a year, and while his offer was genuine he didn’t just need to be handing out keys to his home.
So he ushered Eggsy in with a smile and a “good evening,” instead and then, with some confusion, he took the container Eggsy held out for him.
“Hey so uh, Dee wanted me to bring you some Welsh cakes we made this morning. Some have currants and some don’t because she threw a fucking fit when she saw I was going to put them in. I only put jam on a couple because I wasn’t sure if you’d like it or not and it was just some basic shit and you probably have stuff here from some place I never heard of or you’ve got some you made yourself and--”
He spoke softly, but simply saying the young man’s name had him cutting back on his rambling, looking slightly mortified. “Thank you,” he went on to say. “I very much look forward to trying them. So you and Miss Deanna made them on your own?”
“Yeah,” Eggsy said, offering him a hint of a smile. “I looked up a recipe on my phone, I thought they tasted pretty nice but I did change the batter a bit. Added in a bit of orange zest actually. And let’s just say the first batch went straight to a trash can, I really need to see how things are done.”
“That does sound like a nice touch,” Harry admitted, glossing over the failed batch while secretly delighted that Eggsy had actually told him about it. “Shall we save them for pudding? I’ve decided to go with a menu that would be good for a busy day, all things you can put together with ease and in about forty-five minutes.”
If that meant they’d have plenty of time to sit down and enjoy their dinner when all was said and done, and perhaps have a nice conversation afterwards, well, there were some advantages to quick meals.
“For our entrée we’ll be making chicken cordon bleu with an accompaniment of steamed vegetables,” he informed him as he carefully placed the container on the table, giving Eggsy time to put on his apron.
“That French or something?”
“It’s often mistaken for such, though it’s actually American. Shocking, I know. What it really is is a roulade made with chicken, prosciutto or ham, and cheese. Simple to make but depending on how it’s prepared and served it can look fairly elegant.”
“It sounds good,” Eggsy admitted, trailing him to the kitchen and immediately washing his hands.
“Now then, the first step is to pound the meat out flat, and as we’re working with chicken we’ll want to reduce the risk of contamination. What we have are four chicken breasts, so we’re going to lay them individually between bits of clingfilm. This will keep anything from splattering when we use the meat cleaver. Now you’ll want to use the flat side, start in the middle and work your way out.”
Harry demonstrated with the first one, knowing that would help Eggsy more than anything, before passing over the meat cleaver. “It’s also a remarkable way to work out aggression,” he remarked, startling a laugh out of Eggsy.
“You seem like you’ve got a lot of that,” Eggsy replied with a cheeky grin. “So what’ve you got for us today, ham or prosciutto?”
His grin only seemed to widen at the look Harry gave him. “Prosciutto of course, with a nice bit of Gruyere, though if you needed to use a more subtle cheese you can always go with a nice swiss. While you work on those others I’ll start layering these.”
Eggsy was shaking, one arm firmly wrapped around Deanna’s waist and clutching her to him, her stroller next to him with his bag resting where his sister would normally sit. He glanced over to his mum, rage coursing through him once more as he caught sight of her black eye.
He’d been in high spirits on his way home. They’d finished the chicken and veggies, relaxing at the table, cleaning up only to sit back down and enjoy a cuppa as Harry brought out the Welsh cakes he’d brought.
And Harry had liked them. Had reached for another as soon as he was finished with the first, time flying by until it was time for him to head home, despite dinner taking well less than an hour to make.
But then he’d actually made it home, opening the door to the sound of Deanna sobbing uncontrollably, his mum clutching a bag of frozen peas to her face, and all he saw was red.
The miracle was that Dean had actually stormed out and wasn’t around when he got there. He’d picked Dee up and hadn’t let her down since, the three year old clinging to him almost as hard as he was clutching her, though by now her sobs had waned to upset sniffles now and then. Still, he couldn’t get his mum’s words out of his head.
It’s no big deal Eggsy, it’s not that bad. It’s my fault, I got in the way.
What do you mean in the way? There ain’t no excuse for this!
I think he was going to hit her.
He could see her face as she said it, the horror there, the realization that not even Dean’s flesh and blood was safe, that the one they had assumed was protected, that they’d stayed for, was also at risk.
We can’t stay here. He don’t care who he fucks up, we’ve got to be gone when he comes back. Go pack your stuff.
There’s no where to go, Eggsy.
I know a place. Just get your shit together as fast as you can.
He didn’t know what he was doing, dragging half of his stuff with him and his mum and Dee, unable to grab his phone with how his mum was clutching at his hand now that he wasn’t managing the stroller with one hand, Deanna in the other.
This was probably foolish but he didn’t have much choice. Just for a day or two he told himself as they got off the train, making their way to the lift to get to street level and then making their way down the street, mostly deserted in this area at this time of night, quiet in a way his neighborhood never seemed to be.
He didn’t know what time it was, but he knew it had to be late when they turned down the side road, the house in front of them almost dark but for a light upstairs.
Hopefully it was a good sign, that he was still up, and Eggsy swallowed down the shreds of fear that he still had left before letting go of the stroller and raising his hand to knock on the door, almost cringing as the noise echoed through the house.
Dee jerked in his arms, and Eggsy stroked her back, trying to be calm despite the emotions seething just below the surface. “Hey, it’s okay, yeah? We’re at Uncle Harry’s house. You like Uncle Harry, yeah? Bet he’ll be excited to see you.” The words felt false in his own mouth. Harry would probably take one look at them on his doorstep and close the door in their face. Sure, he’d made an offer for them to stay before, but that had been a stray thought, Eggsy was sure of it. He’d probably never meant for Eggsy to actually show up at his house.
This was a mistake, but it wasn’t too late to turn around. Yeah, that would be the best thing to do, leave before Harry knew he’d even been here, but even as the words passed through his head the door was pulled open, Harry standing there in a robe looking utterly bewildered as their eyes met.
Then Harry’s eyes flickered over to his mum and he could see a bit of understanding settle on the older man’s face. “Princess Deanna, did you bring your family for a visit?” he asked, voice as casual as if he was asking her what she wanted in her tea. “And of course you’re Mrs. Unw--Eggsy’s mother. It’s been some time since we’ve last seen each other. Please, come in, I’ll put the kettle on. Eggsy, can you show them to the living room?”
He did, finally getting Dee to let his mum hold her before moving to the kitchen, Harry busy getting out cups, a small pitcher of cream sitting out on the counter while the electric kettle burbled away.
“I’m so fucking sorry.”
“Whatever for?” Harry turned to regard him, speaking again when Eggsy couldn’t find the words to answer him. “I’m sure that you’re all here for a reason. It would probably be best to talk about it tomorrow, I have a feeling the events of this evening have been exciting enough. Now then, I just have one spare room, so I’m afraid someone is going to need to sleep on the sofa down here. The good news is that it’s actually fairly comfortable, and you’re young so it probably won’t aggravate your back too badly.”
“You don’t have to do this.”
He wasn’t sure what was possessing him. It wasn’t like he could really turn down an offer, he needed whatever he could get.
“The difference is that I would like to help. Now then, rather than having an argument at all hours of the night why don’t you take this into the other room while I find a package of biscuits, I think I have some with chocolate somewhere.”
He’d finally managed to get everyone settled, Eggsy clearly unsettled, Deanna still shaken up but having cried herself out to the point of exhaustion, and Michelle almost in a state of shock.
But instead of heading back to his room he made his way to the office, slipping into the room and shutting the door behind him.
This was his sanctuary. The lighting kept it fairly dim, the hint of darkness accenting the room nicely. Scattered over the red walls were news articles. Nothing he’d written, and few bothering to mention him, but all with the same theme.
Restaurants he’d put on the chopping block himself with scathing reviews.
The newest addition always went directly across from his desk, and he sat down, for a minute doing nothing but observing it.
Cupid Missed His Mark
The headline wasn’t the best, but the content was what he adored, the satisfaction of knowing that Valentine’s would never open it’s doors again appeasing a part of him that no one but Merlin really knew about, and Merlin never really understood it.
After a moment to steady himself he opened his laptop, pulling up his extensive contact list. Galahad’s had done more than allow him to create a wildly successful restaurant, he also had rubbed shoulders with many of the elite and wealthy. Men and women that had since become judges, politicians, various public officers in many different sectors.
Some that had offered him favors for tables last minute. Favors that he’d never cashed in on, and really hadn’t intended to.
They came in perfectly for times such as these, when he knew that his protogé would only bring his mum and sister here if his stepfather had done something worse than normal.
It took some time and several emails before he was ready for bed, but when he went he fell asleep quickly and slept deeply, completely at ease.
I didn't really finish the recipe but here you go!
Chapter 20: Egg Muffins
At least his kitchen was well stocked. Harry wasn’t sure what time his visitors typically rose, but Michelle at least seemed to work semi-normal hours, and it was likely she would be up early. The thought made him rise earlier than usual, dressing in a comfortable pair of slacks and a button down, forgoing a cardigan for now and rolling up his sleeves as he made his way to the kitchen.
Without knowing when they’d wake it was hard to determine what to cook, and with Eggsy asleep in the living room Harry didn’t want to risk running the blender to make a crepe batter. He settled for turning on the oven then getting out the remaining prosciutto and Gruyere from the night before. It was a simple feat to line a muffin tin with the meat before scrambling some eggs with a dash of cream, mixing in some of the cheese, shredded, and a bit of fresh spinach along with his seasonings.
The mixture he poured into the tins, popping them into the oven. They’d keep better than scrambled eggs, and the baking gave him ample time to start on some simple parfaits.
He washed up a few blueberries to put as the bottom layer in some ice cream dishes, layering on a bit of greek yogurt. A drizzle of honey and some sliced strawberries made up the middle, then there was more yogurt, granola set out in a dish to be added on top so it wouldn’t turn to mush.
There was a yawn from the doorway and he turned to see Eggsy cover his mouth belatedly, hair and clothing rumpled after his night on the sofa. “You need help with something?” he asked, still blinking blearily, and Harry shook his head, trying to hide his amusement.
“This is almost ready if you want to come back in a minute. I’ll start the kettle unless you’d prefer coffee?”
“Either sounds fucking amazing, I’ll be back in a second.”
He turned, wandering off toward the wc, and by the time he was back, hair at least somewhat tamed and eyes a bit brighter, Harry had a cup of tea ready for him, already sweetened.
He was busy pushing slices of bread into the toaster, so he didn’t turn to look as Eggsy slurped at the tea. “If you wouldn’t mind I’d appreciate the table being set. The marmalade and butter could be fetched from the fridge as well.”
Eggsy hummed his response before yawning, muffling it once again with his hand as he set his cup down on the counter, reaching around him to get to the drawer with the silverware, Harry shifting to the side.
There was a small stack of toast on the plate when the eggs finished and they both sat at the table, Eggsy seeming fairly quiet in the mornings as they both tucked into breakfast. Harry didn’t mind, the silence was normal. Ordinarily he’d probably still be in bed actually, and with breakfast he’d read his paper, but this was pleasant in it’s own way. Even better once Eggsy had moved on to his second cuppa and had woken up enough to talk a bit more.
“Sorry to put you in this position,” he said quietly, spooning granola over his yogurt, and Harry continued buttering his toast until there was an even layer to moisten the bread.
“I’ve told you before it’s okay.”
“It really ain’t. Harry this is a lot, I didn’t even give you a fucking call. My arms was full and it was all so sudden, but that ain’t no excuse.”
“It was unexpected,” he admitted, “but of course I would not turn you away. That’s not something that a friend would do.” He paused, realizing he’d crossed a line, from mentor to claiming friendship, and glanced up. “That is, I have come to consider you as being among my friends. I quite understand if you feel this should be kept strictly professional.”
There was an odd look on Eggsy’s face, but it passed quickly enough. “Yeah no, that’s fine,” Eggsy responded, breaking a bite off of his muffin and looking at it. “I was a just thinking about your offer but I didn’t mean to impose. I mean, I ain’t going to hold you to some off-handed remark, we can figure out something and be out of your hair when mum gets up.”
“There’s no rush.” The words were out of his mouth before he thought of them, but even if he had considered the situation he would have said the same thing. “The spare room is rarely used, and if you can manage on the sofa then you’re welcome to stay until you make other arrangements. Jumping into other arrangements are rarely a good idea so you’re welcome to stay here for the time being.”
“You say that to all the people that show up on your doorstep?”
“Of course not. Normally I don’t bother enough to open the door.” He took a sip of his coffee, watching as Eggsy shook his head.
“You’re fucking impossible. I’ll talk to mum about it later though.”
From upstairs he could hear a door opening, then there was a flurry of sound as a child worked her way down the stairs.
Eggsy was on his feet before she made it to the living room, scooping her up into the air while she giggled. “Morning Dee! Where’d you leave mum?”
“I’m not that slow,” Michelle answered, and Harry tried not to feel too much like he was imposing by watching them. Instead he stood, making his way back to the kitchen to fuss with the kettle, coming back to find Eggsy seated once more but with Dee in his lap.
“Good morning,” he murmured as he set a cup down next to Eggsy’s mother before sitting. “I hope you slept well.”
“Yes, thank you for having us. I’m sorry that--”
Deanna interrupted, and she didn’t seem to care that she suddenly had the attention of all three adults on her. “Why’re there dead bugs on the loo walls?”
“Deanna!” Michelle sounded scandalized and Eggsy’s face had tinged pink but all Harry could do was try to keep from laughing.
Somehow it was already Friday and he had no plans to go anywhere else. His mum was at work which left him and Dee with Harry during the day. As for Harry? Dee had him completely wrapped around her finger. She’d begged for cake yesterday so he’d made her one after breakfast this morning, and now he was teaching her how to hold her cup like a princess while they had tea. The older man had been doomed as soon as Deanna had started calling him Uncle Harry.
It wouldn’t have been nearly as problematic if this wasn’t their third teatime today alone.
He cleared his throat and Harry glanced up, face completely straight as if he wasn’t sitting next to a stuffed animal, and annoyingly enough his heart seemed to skip a beat. “You need something done around here? Vacuuming? Dusting? Something to help out?”
“Hm? Oh, certainly not, I have someone that comes around every week, she normally comes on Saturday when I have classes.”
“Sit down,” Deanna cut in, patting the seat next to her, and Eggsy just raised his eyebrows at her until she added, “please.”
He did, accepting his cup of tea from Harry, and shook his head. “You’re spoiling her,” he chastised lightly, and Harry didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed.
“I don’t believe that Miss Deanna minds, do you?”
“Uncle Harry made me a cake,” she pointed out, and Eggsy had to nod.
“Yes, and this is your third piece today.” For that Harry got a look full of judgment and for once the chef did look slightly ashamed.
“They were small pieces,” Harry pointed out quickly. “Plus there are lots of berries, and blueberries are high in antioxidants.”
“So, now it’s a health cake?” He couldn’t keep the teasing tone out of his voice and he was rewarded with Harry looking away, unable to meet his eyes.
“It’s healthy?” Deanna was looking at her plate with a bit of suspicion, as if that were a bad word and had somehow infected the cake she’d been devouring.
Harry was vain enough that he liked looking at his own columns in the Sunday paper. Breakfast was over, Eggsy surprising him by being awake and in the kitchen before he’d come down, ingredients laid out for omelets, which Deanna had been enthusiastic about.
Now he was sitting in his chair, flipping through the paper leisurely, when a particularly loud string of giggles had him lowering his paper, glancing over the top to where Eggsy and Deanna were playing.
Eggsy had her stuffed dog out, bobbing it about as he mimicked some sort of accent that Harry supposed was meant to be the dog. The plot seemed to be that the dog was ordering Eggsy to tickle Deanna, and at times he would give in, fingers darting over her sides as she squirmed and shrieked happily
He found himself smiling as he watched, not just a curve in the corners of his mouth but an open grin, paper all but forgotten until Michelle walked in, shaking her head. “Those two,” she murmured, half to her herself before realizing Harry was there.
“Sorry about my kids, Harry. I was looking for a place yesterday, I promise we’ll be out of your hair soon.”
The thought had his heart squeezing almost painfully, words falling from his lips without him bothering to think about them. “I don’t mind you all staying here. In fact the last week has been quite enjoyable. Please don’t pressure yourself.”
“You’re too kind,” she murmured. “Lee always had good things to say about you. You’ve done so much for us, I know he’d be appreciative.”
He almost spoke without thinking, barely keeping the words to himself. He hadn’t thought about Lee in more than a passing manner in months, unless it was to share a memory, and none of this was for him.
No, it was all for the young man in front of him, currently laying on his back and begging for mercy from a three year old who had decided to tickle back, attacking his side with nimble fingers.
This was for him.
That was when he realized that the reason he kept telling them not to rush was because he didn’t want them to leave. He didn’t want him to leave. The realization astounded him. He’d been so utterly blind, an utter fool really, thinking that he was simply fond of Eggsy and his cooking, had wanted him to succeed because of his potential alone. It had been entirely too long since he’d last looked at anyone that way, his career much more important to him than any mere relationship, and now that it was staring him in the face he wasn’t quite sure what to do with the knowledge.
Or that he could do anything at all. Eggsy was relying on him after all. His family was relying on him. He couldn’t do anything about whatever he was feeling when Eggsy was depending on him for shelter, one of his basic needs.
Thankfully Michelle was still watching her children play with a fond smile, not paying any attention to the man even older than she who had just realized his feelings for her son. So Harry folded the paper and stood, trying to keep his voice level. “I just remembered I need to send an email to my editor. I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.”
He was a grown man, one that had been happily married to his career for years, and he was refusing to read into anything. It helped when he simply reminded himself harshly that Eggsy probably considered him an old man, stopping daydreams by reminding himself about the issues he was starting to face with becoming older. Past his prime, while Eggsy hadn’t even entered his.
That part wasn’t difficult. No, the part that was troublesome was the ease with which he relaxed around the young man, how utterly natural it felt to leave the house with Deanna between them, insisting on them both holding her hands to swing her on and off the curbs.
All he needed to do was act as though everything was normal, not allowing himself to glance over too often, glad for the chaperone that Deanna was unknowingly.
What he had discovered was that if he left the silence alone too long his thoughts strayed, and it was easier to fill the void than try to claw his way out of nonsense thoughts. “This would have been the perfect evening for samosas and biryani,” he grumbled, knowing perfectly well Eggsy would be able to hear him.
“Oh? We could have gotten takeaway if you’d rather have that. Dee ain’t had much Indian food.”
“Didn’t you know? Ever since I published that review the restaurant has been flooded. Sometimes even by tourists.” He tried to repress a shudder and failed. “The wait times are atrocious and I’m afraid the owners have been somewhat overwhelmed.”
“So? Just tell them you’re the one that wrote the fucking review, tell them they’re welcome for the publicity, and ask if they’ll rush your order.”
He glanced over, appalled, and Eggsy met his gaze evenly for a moment before his face broke into a grin. “What, ain’t that one of the perks of the job? Cause if it ain’t it bloody well should be.”
“I’m not going to abuse my position simply for takeaway. Besides, revealing my identity could spread, and I hardly need the world of fine dining to begin associating Harry Hart with Mr. Devere.”
“Fair enough,” Eggsy replied after a moment. “Might be worth it if they give you the samosas for free. I’m just saying, you should think about it.”
He was still smirking when Harry glanced over a moment later, and Harry shook his head. Impossible.
Eggsy still looked amused when they made it to the door of the bakery, the scent of baked goods permeating the air around the shoppe.
"Someday we'll have to make bread properly,” he mused aloud. “It’s a good workout,” he remarked casually, rewarded with a quirk of Eggsy’s lips as they both moved forward to open the door.
There was a moment of slight awkwardness, but Eggsy was on the right, and in a better spot to actually open the door, so Harry tried to act natural as he escorted Deanna into the small bakery. Her excitement was amusing, and while they waited for Eggsy to make it through the door he watched her eyes grow large as she looked around, tugging him toward the case with the sweets as soon as she noticed them.
Harry turned, noting the way that Eggsy was also looking around with somewhat wide eyes, keeping a smile to himself. “Why don’t you have a look around and I’ll keep Deanna company,” he suggested, turning his attention solely onto the three year old when Eggsy nodded and muttered an affirmation.
It turned out to be a bad decision. He found himself ordering several biscuits from the case, much to the baker’s amusement who had known him for years, and he was almost desperate for Eggsy to stop examining everything when he came back over. “So was we just here for biscuits or was you looking for something else?”
“I actually hadn’t planned on buying biscuits at all,” he admitted, immediately regretting it when he saw Eggsy’s rather knowing grin. “I was actually going to get a lovely loaf of ciabatta, and perhaps some brioche for the morning. Ciabatta is a firm Italian bread, good for dipping or making paninis and other sandwiches, and brioche contains a high amount of butter and eggs, so it makes exceptionally good french toast.”
He redirected his attention to Deanna, trying to keep her engaged so she wouldn’t go darting off. “Do you like bananas?”
She nodded her head vigorously and he smiled. “Then we’ll make bananas fosters for on top. It has a small amount of rum in it but that will cook out.”
“Just thinking about this is going to make me gain weight,” Eggsy complained, and Harry found himself shrugging.
“We all have to make sacrifices for the finer things in life.”
It took them a bit to meander back to Harry’s, Deanna needing to stop to eat a biscuit and then Harry having them stop by the butcher’s on the way back to pick up something he’d forgotten earlier when he’d went for groceries. Still, they made it back by late afternoon, so walking in to find his mum already home instantly had him on edge.
She was just waiting for them as they walked in, looking not necessarily bad but certainly like she’d had a peculiar day. It was a slight relief when she told them “good afternoon,” not starting off with a warning or by telling them to sit down, but it wasn’t enough to make him settle.
“What you doing home so early?” he asked, genuinely curious, not really sure why Harry was suddenly a bit fidgety as soon as the words left his mouth.
“I had a visit from a legal bloke actually. He came to see me at work.” She sounded almost baffled, but there was a slight smile as she took a moment, probably recalling the conversation.
“Apparently Dean and several of his friends was arrested for drug trafficking. The lawyer told me that they’d figured out Dean was in charge and was going to get prosecuted harder than the rest. I guess they want to make a bloody example out of him.”
There was a gleam in her eye and it took him a moment to place it, unsure when he’d seen it last.
“He said they’ve got a couple of witnesses willing to testify against Dean. That there would be a trial, and nothing was certain yet, but he guessed that Dean would be away for a long time. A very long time.”
She sounded almost uncertain about it still, as if she didn’t quite want to believe the words coming out of her mouth, and he couldn’t quite believe them either. He wanted to, but there was just too much at stake to take her words lightly.
“What the fuck did he want with you?” He was tense, worried as to why some lawyer was chasing them down. Chasing her down.
“He just wanted a statement Eggsy, a standard procedure I guess. Said I might have to go to court to testify but also to see if I wanted to add to the charges. Gave me his card, told me to call him if I had any questions and said he’d be in touch if anything changed.”
She looked up, meeting his eyes and holding them. “I think he was sincere.”
A weight he hadn’t known was on him seemed to lift off his shoulders, and a strange feeling started to flood through him. Despite the fact that he’d just seen it in her eyes it took a moment for him to place it. Hope. He was actually feeling hope.
“So, what we making tonight?”
Deanna was happily drawing at the dining room table, one of his newspapers underneath her paper in case she scribbled off the page, but there was no telling how long that would last, and how long it would be before one of them would have to take a break to keep her entertained and out of trouble, though they did always have Peppa Pig to distract her if they needed to.
“Actually I had Deanna pick out what she wanted to eat tonight.”
“She got to choose?” Eggsy looked as if he was a touch jealous, but he was also glancing over to Deanna, a smile playing across his lips, and Harry couldn’t tear his eyes off of him. It had been a good decision then to seek her opinion, Eggsy appreciated it, and the look on his face was more than worth it.
Still he only allowed himself a moment of indulgence, and it was a moment too long as Eggsy’s eyes slid back to him, catching him staring. For a brief, heart-stuttering moment Harry wasn’t sure what to do, but he was more than used to dealing with all sorts of circumstances. Redirect, there was no reason he shouldn’t have been looking after all. “Deanna, would you like to tell Eggsy what we’ll be having this evening?”
She barely glanced up from where she was hard at work on her artwork. “Pasketti and meatballs.”
“You like spaghetti and meatballs?” Eggsy was a bit taken aback, and Harry answered for her.
“I gave her a few suggestions and that’s what she chose. Pasketti and meatballs it is.”
When he heard Harry pronouncing it as she had a smile blossomed on his face, and this was why Harry probably needed to put some distance between them. There was too much of a temptation here, and the only solution for now was to force his attention elsewhere. “We’ll start with the meatballs of course,” he said, trying to keep his focus as he moved toward the kitchen.
“I picked up some ground beef this morning, along with a bit of veal. Some people will insist that you need to use two kinds of meat for texture, and I prefer it, though you can just use ground beef. However, if you use veal you’ll need to use a meat with a bit of fat to combine with it.” He set out half a pound each from the fridge, along with some fresh spinach he’d washed up and several sprigs each of basil and Italian oregano.
“Those are already washed up, so if you want to pull the leaves of the basil and oregano off I’ll get the rest of the ingredients out.”
“You want me to leave them whole?” Eggsy asked as he set out the egg he needed and then went for his gold, nonstick cookie sheet.
“No, you’ll need to chiffonade those herbs.” He set the tray up on the counter and turned to look, pleased to see Eggsy rolling up all the smaller leaves with the biggest one of basil, proud to know he’d taught him the skill and that Eggsy had remembered. Eggsy had talent, and that wasn’t just him making things up because he liked the young man.
"A good alternative to utilizing fresh herbs is to use pesto instead. It's much better than using dried herbs, which as you know have lost a lot of their flavor."
The thin slices he was making along the roll had the herbs unwinding as he went, small strips that he had Eggsy run his knife through again in the opposite direction so they would incorporate throughout the mix easier than large chunks.
“Good, now then, for the spinach you’ll want to cut a good handful in the same way as the herbs. Meatballs are a wonderful way to disguise a vegetable for children, even though Deanna would probably eat spinach on it’s own. You can also utilize frozen spinach, but make sure you squeeze out as much water as possible before using it.”
As he spoke he put the meat into a large bowl, putting in some salt, pepper, and both garlic and onion powders while explaining what he was doing. Then Eggsy dumped in the greenery and they added the breadcrumbs and a single egg. “The egg isn’t moisture into the dish,” Harry informed him while Eggsy cracked it then threw away the shell. “It’s actually the binder for the meat and everything else. You’ll always want to mix with your hands to keep it light, try not to mash it too much. Just mix to combine.”
“So you got out that pan, we going to bake them?”
“You can sear them in a pan, but baking works just as well. You always want to cook them before putting them with your sauce to pull more of the flavor from the meat. I find this easier. Now then, lets get a dab of oil on your hands, this will help when you roll them.”
He poured a couple of drops of olive oil onto one of Eggsy’s palms before doing the same to his own, rubbing his hands together until his palms and fingers glistened. Then he roughly divided the meat in the bowl, sectioning it off before grabbing a hunk of the mixture and lightly rolling it in his hands. “These should be about two inches in diameter. Don’t press down on them too much, and if they’re oddly sized we can fix it before they bake.”
It was easy to work, and once it might have been in silence. But now, now that they had been cooking together for months, now that Eggsy and his family were living with him, Eggsy kept up a stream of conversation, and Harry found himself joining him. It was too easy to get lost in these sorts of conversations, finding himself appalled at the fact that Deanna had only been out of London once, and that was to visit family, and Eggsy had only been out a few times himself. Most of that on a training base for the marines but he hadn’t been out of the town they’d had him in really, he hadn’t had time before he left the service, and that was a story Harry hadn’t been expecting to hear.
When all of the meatballs were rolled they gave them another quick once over, this time coating them in olive oil so they’d brown. By the time all of the meatballs were arranged on the cookie sheet, ready for the oven, he found himself promising Eggsy that they’d take an overnight trip soon, when they could all get their schedules worked out, to Cardiff perhaps or somewhere else where the train ride wouldn’t be too long for Deanna. Perhaps they could even find a way to go to Paris, or find someone to help Michelle with Deanna for even the two of them to go. His mind was beginning to wander, thinking of the restaurants they could go to, the delicacies he would want to introduce to Eggsy, and he knew he should stop daydreaming. Shouldn’t even let himself think of this being anything other than a family outing for the Unwins. Educational. Nothing more.
So he said nothing of his thoughts, instead getting a pot of water on to boil as Eggsy popped the tray into the oven, then fetching out a freezer bag he’d left in the fridge to defrost. “I just made this a couple of months ago,” he explained as he added it to a braising pan. “It’s easier to make up sauce in batches sometimes, and convenient for times such as this. We’ll make some together on another day.”
“Works for me,” Eggsy replied, a grin gracing his face.
Harry had had him turn the meatballs over once to brown on another side, and for the rest of it the older man just kept an eye on the sauce reheating and waiting for the pasta water to boil. It gave him a few minutes to check on Deanna, looking down to see a scribbled picture of a house that he could only assume was Harry’s. Next to it was probably his mum since there were spikes coming from her feet, hopefully heels, and holding onto her hand was a much shorter person. Deanna then, and holding onto another hand. That was him, and that was all a familiar scene.
What was different was the other person on the other side, someone she was still working on but with glasses and an apron on, holding hands with him in the picture, and Eggsy found himself blushing. Blushing at a fucking children’s picture.
She had them all holding hands he reminded himself, imagining this up on the fridge, with magnets that Harry would undoubtedly pull out of thin air despite the fact that he allowed nothing in the kitchen that could be considered clutter.
He’d still put it up.
Deanna was intent on coloring in Harry’s legs when he made his way to the kitchen again, Harry adding in the spaghetti to the water while he pulled the meatballs out of the oven. It was slightly cramped working in the small space, Eggsy adding the meatballs to the braising pan while Harry moved to the other side to get out the fresh parmesan and a microplane. The front door opened, his mum calling out a greeting that they both responded to, and then Harry was giving the pasta a quick stir.
He drained while Eggsy made sure all the meatballs were coated with the slowly bubbling sauce, tipping the pasta into the large pan and then reaching around Eggsy to grab the tongs from him to show him how to toss it more effectively, leaving him to finish combining the two while he got out large but shallow bowls to serve pasta in, and a regular bowl for Dee.
Plating was mindless, Eggsy knowing that Harry would want the pasta on the bottom to create a bed for them, putting three meatballs in the bowl so it would be an uneven number and therefore not look too wrong if they weren’t perfectly lined up, Harry moving around him to grate fresh Parmesan over their creation. So instead of talking about that they spoke of the class starting the next week, Eggsy trying (and failing) to get Harry to reveal what their first class would be over.
He was still pleading with him, Harry smirking down at him and feigning ignorance, when there was a light cough at the doorway. They both snapped their heads in that direction as Michelle’s eyes lingered on them for a moment.
“I was going to let you know that with Dean out of the flat we should be able to get out of your hair soon Harry, though now I’m not sure it’s much of an imposition.” She was giving them a pointed look, her implication clear, and while he wanted to deny it the words were sticking in his throat. From the way his face felt like it was on fire he knew he had to be a fucking brilliant shade of red.
He couldn’t bear to look at Harry, couldn’t bear to know that the silence was because the older man was disgusted at the idea of it, but his mum wasn’t finished digging his grave.
“Really, it’s not that big of a deal, you’re certainly old enough to make your own bloody decisions. I just wish you’d told me. And if you’d just said something you wouldn’t have had to sleep on the sofa all this time, I know it must be wreaking havoc on your back. So, how long have the two of you been dating?”
“Mum.” His voice finally managed to come out, sounding half strangled, but at least he’d found his words as he stood there, serving tongs slowly dripping sauce onto the floor. “We ain’t together.”
Okay I don't have a precise recipe for the meatballs, mostly because I watch/help my sister make them and she just sort of throws things in a bowl. She's also the one that gave me the pesto tip. However I did look up some tips on meatballs in general so while it's not recipe specific it's something to keep in mind if you look up a recipe to try!
And you really can't taste the spinach.
Chapter 22: Entrée
Sorry for the wait! This one fought me a bit :
Michelle was just standing in the doorway, looking unconvinced, and Harry felt trapped. “I would never impose my feelings on someone half my age,” he said, voice slightly stiff, back straight as he tried to retain his pride.
He could almost feel Eggsy’s head snapping toward him, but he didn’t dare to look. “Wait, your feelings?”
Eggsy’s voice was incredulous, and this was where it happened. This was where he lost the first person he’d cared for in two decades. Less than a week after he’d realized his feelings.
Well, he’d fucked this up royally.
It was the only word that seemed fitting at the moment, and fit it did. “I apologize Eggsy, but please believe me when I say that that is not the reason I invited you to stay here.” He wasn’t sure how this could get any more mortifying, not with Michelle standing in the doorway and Deanna right behind her, his stomach churning worse than the time he’d gotten food poisoning from judging a competition.
The pair of tongs clattered to the floor. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Oh right, that was how it could get worse. At the words he was closing his eyes, trying to remind himself to breathe. He was going to lose him. The best thing in his life in years and he was going to lose him because he couldn’t hide his feelings for even a week.
“You fucking bastard!”
He opened his eyes, forcing himself to deal with the consequences of his actions, and Eggsy was staring up at him. “You think I give a fuck how old you are? I’m a fucking nobody, Harry, you’re the one that’s bloody brilliant. Who in their right fucking mind would want to be with me?”
“Now that simply isn’t true.” There was a frustrated bite to his words, eyes narrowing slightly. “You’re incredibly talented, Eggsy, and quite young. You may not be aware of it yet but if you chose to you could have the world. You’re just getting started.”
“Not without you.”
He’d been preparing for Eggsy to argue, to make some claim doubtlessly founded in the verbal abuse he’d received from Dean over the year, about being worthless or something else utterly ridiculous, so the young man’s actual words left him floundering.
“I think Dee and I will take a walk,” Michelle said from the doorway, the sound of them leaving providing a moment of distraction that helped him to reform his thoughts.
“Well, yes, I can help you with opportunities that you may not have available to you on your own but--”
“Fuck that, that ain’t what I meant. Was you always this difficult?” Eggsy scrubbed a hand over his face and Harry glanced over, unable to not track the movement. “I mean I don’t care about none of that shit. Cause it don’t mean shit without you.”
“I don’t think we should be having this conversation right now, Eggsy. You’re staying with me, your family is staying with me. I don’t want you to say something now that you’ll regret later.”
“Trust me, your sofa ain’t seducing no one.” Then Eggsy took a more serious tone, inching toward him. “Harry. This ain’t new for me. This ain’t because of being here. I’ve known how I felt about you since that bloody picnic for Dee’s birthday.”
It took him a moment to think back to how long ago that seemed, trying to process weeks in the course of seconds. That was before he’d even taken Eggsy to Galahad’s. Then Eggsy had brought him the Welsh cakes. Had somehow figured out how to recreate that fantastic vinaigrette. Eggsy coming to him for assistance, trusting him with not just himself but his mum and sister. Deanna, whose safety probably meant more to Eggsy than his own. “It seems I’ve been the fool,” he murmured, mostly to himself.
“Does that mean you’re ready to stop being ridiculous? Cause if we both feel the same way then I’m really not sure why the fuck you ain’t kissing me right now.”
“Well, we haven’t even been on a date,” Harry started to say, and all Eggsy did was raise his eyebrows, giving him an entirely unimpressed look. “Not a proper one,” he amended, because looking back on it he could see how a few things could give the wrong impression.
“You’re impossible,” Eggsy replied with a shake of his head, but there was a certain fondness in his voice. “Fine, you get a bottle of wine, I’ll go find a few candles.”
He didn’t even wait for a response, already turning for the dining room, and this was utterly ridiculous.
Utterly ridiculous, and yet he felt more alive than he had in years as he put away the wine he’d set out and went to look for something more appropriate.
Harry Hart was a suave bastard, and he felt completely out of his element. By the time they’d sat down in their usual places, with the exact same plates they would have eaten from earlier, Harry had seemingly processed what had just taken place. He’d barely had time to reply to a quick message from his mum saying that she’d taken Deanna out to dinner and to find the candles before they sat down, and now he was the one floundering, trying to sort through everything.
Maybe it was just the lighting, the small, flickering flames from candlesticks it looked like Harry had never used. Or perhaps the wine, something delicious and with a year on the bottle old enough that Eggsy felt guilty doing anything more than taking a sip here or there. Either way, Harry was suave when he put his mind to it, and if he’d done this the first time they’d eaten together he’d never have survived the night.
So he tried to ignore the butterflies in his stomach, his sweaty palms, the flush that was refusing to dissipate. The conversation wasn’t even all that different. They were still talking about Kingsman, about Roxy and his plans to help out with brunch on Saturday, Harry suggesting that perhaps on a weekend when they didn’t have class that they host a brunch here.
What made it different was the small things really. The way that Harry’s eyes seemed to linger, drinking his fill now that he knew he was allowed. The tiny compliments he showered about freely. He thought he’d had Harry’s full attention before, but now it was somehow on a different level.
The older man was also offering up more tidbits of his personal life than he normally did, and as he told an anecdote of his time in culinary school Eggsy found himself relaxing.
“Back then Ector was new to Kingsman, and almost every dish he taught us was brown. Absolutely uninspired brown. Not brown accompanied with something else, just brown with perhaps a different shade of brown gravy to mask anything that could potentially accent the plate.
“Yeah, what’d you do?”
There was a flash of something slightly dark, a curl of a smile in the corner of Harry’s mouth. “Why nothing of course. Not personally. Now you’ll have to understand that this was an expert level course, and we all rather viewed it as a competition. We knew that Arthur was scouting our class for someone to give an internship to. You also have to understand that I got stuck at a station with an absolute prick.”
He had leaned forward without realizing it, putting his elbows on the table and cupping his chin with one hand, but Harry didn’t seem to mind. “Let me guess, you did everything with the best of intentions.”
“The best,” Harry assured him. “I had merely been explaining the health benefits of purple carrots in some detail, and I hadn’t realized that he would use them of course. Or that he’d be so enamoured by the colour that he’d highlight them off to the side without even a ladleful of gravy. It was actually a nice touch, and for anyone but Ector it might have worked. It was the only time in that course that Ector refused to touch a dish.”
“And let me guess, you got the internship.”
“I got the internship.” Harry lifted his goblet to his mouth, taking a small drink, and this time he was the one to let his eyes drink their fill, lingering on Harry’s throat as he swallowed.
For a few moments there was silence, but it was comfortable. Natural even. There was nothing extraordinary about it, talking about Merlin’s poorly disguised attempts to get his food and what all Harry had had to do to actually get the intermediate class. That was when he learned that Harry had promised away some of the food he made, Merlin’s fee in a way.
When they were finished it was like any other night, except Harry reached out to take his plate before he could stop him, so he had to trail him to the kitchen to help with the dishes.
“Quite the gentleman ain’t you? If only I’d known you was holding out on me.” He managed to glance over in time to see a hint of red on Harry’s cheeks, eyes widening when he realized he’d been the one to embarrass the man. Then he jostled Harry with his shoulder. “Probably a good thing, don’t think I’d have been able to hide it if you’d been any more perfect.”
“I hardly think that’s an accurate description,” Harry insisted as he took the last spoon from him, drying it. “I’m quite certain Merlin would disagree with that assessment.”
“So? Merlin ain’t the one dating you.” The words were out before he really thought about them, and as soon as they left his mouth he regretted them. He should be trying to keep things simple, to convince Harry that this was a good thing, not take it too fast and risk everything.
“Thankfully he’s not,” Harry conceded as he finished drying and put the spoon in the drawer, turning back to him. “I certainly prefer my present company.”
He was trying to think of a witty response before he realized Harry was taking a step closer, a hand coming up to rest on the side of his neck. Anything he’d been thinking about fled his mind as Harry leaned in, pausing with his lips so close that he could almost imagine them brushing against his own, and that wasn’t something he wanted to imagine. He wanted to feel.
So he closed the distance between them, pressing their lips together a bit clumsily, tilting his head slightly to try to avoid mashing their noses together. Then Harry moved slightly, changing the angle until it worked, backing off slightly before pressing against his lips hungrily.
Feeling Harry’s hand on his neck, knowing how much he seemed to want this, settled something in him. He relaxed, reminding himself he knew what to do, parting his lips slightly in an invitation that Harry took after a split second of hesitation. The older man’s tongue swept across his lower lip, the touch slow and lingering, almost as if Harry was trying to memorize everything about this, and knowing him that was a possibility.
When they finally broke apart it was because he needed to breathe, chest tight and pupil’s blown as he stared at Harry, trying to process everything, trying to remember everything so he’d have it to think about later.
“We could’ve been doing that for months,” he realized aloud, and Harry let out a huff of laughter, leaning back in to press a chaste kiss to his lips.
“We’ll have plenty of time to make up for it,” Harry promised, and that right there was worth the wait. “Now then, why don’t you let your mother know that everything has been sorted out as they’ve been gone on a rather long walk, and I’ll figure out some sort of pudding so Deanna won’t be too upset that she got taken away during dinner time.”
“There you go being perfect again,” he muttered, knowing fully well that Harry could hear him, but a ridiculously fond grin had spread across his face and he didn’t know how to stop it. He didn’t want to stop it.
“Deanna, we need to leave now or else we’ll be late.”
“But Uncle Harry, JB is going to be sad if he’s left here all alone.”
Harry tried not to cringe, looking at the dog and wondering what had possessed him to tell Eggsy about having a dog as a boy, and what a great responsibility it was. Perhaps a puppy would keep Deanna company. So soon after their trip to Paris they’d found themselves the owners of a pug, a pug that was absolutely loyal to Eggsy and refused to sleep anywhere but at the foot of his bed. Their bed.
Plus he was a staring sort, so Harry could never quite get comfortable around him.
But Eggsy loved him and Deanna adored him, so they had a dog.
“We’re going to a culinary school,” Harry reminded her. “Dogs can’t be in the kitchens.”
“Don’t you have an office Uncle Harry? He could stay there for us! Please please please please please?”
He could already feel his resistance cracking, and if Eggsy were here he would never hear the end of it. Even without Eggsy being here he would probably never hear the end of it.
“Mr. Merlin won’t mind.” She had perfected a begging look and, with her eyes as wide as they were, he found himself agreeing.
Of course it was an utter nuisance to get the dog to the school. Deanna wanted to hold his leash but she was prone to dropping it when she got distracted, and if the dog truly wanted to he could pull away from her grip.
Thankfully they had discovered that when they were altogether, and Eggsy had had the privilege of chasing after the pup. It had actually been a rather amusing afternoon.
So he was the one holding the leash as the dog strained to sniff every single thing in their path, even though with Eggsy JB was fully capable of trotting along with no issues whatsoever.
It was a relief in more ways than one when they made it to Kingsman, Deanna’s eyes wide as this was only her third time going to the school, Michelle looking around appreciatively. It was odd that Merlin greeted them, it was a holiday and the school was closed for classes, but it was convenient enough to leave him with the dog as the made their way to Classroom One.
He had tried to convince Eggsy to use one of the other rooms, one of the places with a convenient table perhaps, but Eggsy had insisted on meeting in this room. He’d turned the center island into a makeshift table with an actual table cloth, and already there appeared to be an appetizer waiting for them. Macaroni and cheese by the looks of it.
“Sorry if we’re a bit late, we brought JB along and he tends to prefer his own pace.” It was an explanation and an excuse in one, and Eggsy just waved it off with one hand.
“Ain’t a big deal, just got this plated up, yeah? Come on Dee, I’ll help you get onto one of these stools. Had to take one from a different room to get one with a back on it.”
Eggsy got her settled in time to pull back the stool meant for Harry, leaning in to brush a kiss across his cheek before turning his attention to the table, a slightly more serious expression on his face.
“Well then, since I was making dinner for all of you I thought I’d make a course for each of you. So this one is Dee’s mac and cheese. Made it extra cheesy, just the way you like it. Bon appétit.”
He winked at his sister and she giggled, and perhaps it wasn’t the classiest of dishes for something as special as this, Eggsy cooking solo for all of them and apparently making a big deal out of it, but Harry couldn’t imagine having anything else. Or enjoying it half as much.
He’d made a salad with walnuts and bleu cheese for his mum and to keep the others occupied as he finished the main course, wanting to serve the food at the proper temperature. Still, Eggsy wasn’t even surprised when Merlin showed up in the doorway, apparently just to make sure everything was going okay, so he waved him in, revealing an additional ramekin of macaroni and cheese. “Thought you’d stop by,” he murmured before returning his attention to plating their entrées. “I’ve got extra if you want to pull up a seat.”
Which was how they ended up with one more at their table as he finished plating. Sautéed flounder on a bed of seasoned wild rice with currants and chopped almonds, topped with a spoon of a browned butter and lemon sauce. To the side was a medley of vegetables with a hint of spice to them, a good juxtaposition to the brightness of the lemon.
More importantly it was all cooked to perfection, and while it took a couple of trips to the table there was a soon an elegant plate in front of each oth them, Merlin barely containing his glee.
He waited to eat until the others had tried theirs, Merlin devouring his in quick bites, Dee half mangling the fish but determined to do it on her own, his mum closing her eyes in delight before smiling at him.
It was Harry’s reaction he was the most anxious for though, waiting with his plate untouched for the man to announce his verdict.
The older man met his eyes before giving a small nod. “Simply marvelous. The sauce has layered well, and the luscious, nutty flavour of the is perfectly paired with the acidity of the lemon.”
He found himself grinning at him as he finally took a bite, an edge of smugness to his expression that Harry caught on to, eyes narrowing slightly.
“You certainly seem satisfied,” he remarked before taking a sip of his wine.
“Ain’t nothing really. Just had something to prove to myself.”
There was a moment where everyone seemed busy eating, Deanna breaking the silence to ask Merlin if she would have good luck if she rubbed his head, and Eggsy had almost moved on when Harry spoke again.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with the time you cooked flounder in class, does it?”
There was enough exasperation in his voice that proved that Harry had assumed the connection and Eggsy wasn’t going to lie. He would have withheld the information, but he wouldn’t outright lie.
“Just told myself that the next time I put flounder in front of you, you wouldn’t be able to resist it.”
“You’re a bloody idiot,” Harry informed him, but there was a fondness in his voice that was mirrored by the expression in his eyes as he leaned in for a kiss.
Sitting there, surrounded by most of the people he cared about, his mum and sister both happy and safe and with a fucking incredible boyfriend sitting next to him, it was easy to imagine that this was some fairy tale happily ever after, the kind that wasn’t supposed to happen to real people.
What was hard to believe was that this was really all just the beginning, and that there was still so much more to come.
And this concludes Bon Appétit! *A* Thank you all for joining me on this adventure!