August 22, 2019

Birth of The Unabaker

For years, the Chef resisted all of McDoo's entreaties and cajoling. The pleading and rationalizing, the gentler persuasions, as well, the occasional conversation ending throwaway commentary about hard headedness, willfulness, and "stubbornosity" (a classic McDooism). All efforts of his longtime friend waved away with only bare considerations given. But, McDoo, stranger he was not to the old Chef's grumpy self assurance, persisted. Eventually, even boulders crumble, he reasoned.

"Dammit Baker! What a pity? What luminous dumbness? What selfishness? How grossly inconsiderate, this hardness of heart! Damn your stoic intransigence! A pall upon kindness and duty! What about History, Philosophy, Art? What of Science, Aesthetics? How does Gastronomy carry on? Your place in the pantheon? What point be our petty lives if we cannot be remembered? If we cannot relinquish what we've learned?" McDoo's been known on occasions to put on grand airs; a flair for the dramatic.

He was just warming up. His voice rising mid exhortation, a righteous whine that can scrub the crust from even the darkest soul. Like the grinding stone turning upon his old friend's patience, a commodity which Mcdoo has observed can sometimes be missing from Chef's pantry of virtues. Now, the normal cheer of his voice having give way to crackle and squeal, pained rasp and falsetto urgency, he has tempered, but mildly, for fear of ridding the cupboard bare.

"So, you think I'm selfish, eh? Parsimonious about sharing knowledge do you? Insensitive to the arts, to the advance of clear thinking? The sweet science of cooking untouched by my efforts? No acolytes to sally onward spreading the word? In short, you judge me a mere dilettante waster. What a fine friend you are McDoo!" In truth, Baker could be a bit airy as well.

"Perhaps you've fabricated too grand an appreciation of what's really just a story of 40 years toil, my tour of duty in the food and beverage wars. I can name a hundred chefs like me, better than me, but for some reason you believe, despite all their words finely written, more yet required. What is there left of importance to add that's not been hashed to inglorious death already?"

These two old sparring partners, reluctant to land the telling blow, would stifle their anger, typically just return to their corners, miffed perhaps, but more regretful for the unhappy parting than anything else. Days, even weeks could pass without a word, and then, as if naught had occurred, a reemergence. Usually, it'd be McDoo, always the more easy going, perhaps kinder of heart as well, whisky in hand, and often times a book, the other.

"I was in that old shop, the one we like, down by the old rail yard. Odd place for a bookshop isn't it?... but as it's riverside and quiet, I s'pose there's its charm. Out on the crooked deck, a jar or two of whisky, bit of chess, sharing the same old lies. Hardly ever anyone there it seems. A shame it is, but who goes to book shops anymore anyway, especially one's that smell of cigars, must and leather; selling only such dusty old stuff?"

"I suppose just dusty old men" said Chef.
Missing the jibe, McDoo adds, "indeed, and not even so very many of them, truth be told."
"Sure it's so", says Chef. "And, we can be sure, as time plods on, fewer and fewer..."
"Isn't it so, isn't it so" nodded McDoo.
Survivors of the nuns at St. Bridget's, yet unscathed by their superstitions, they nevertheless crossed themselves in sync at the thought.

"Speaking of buckets kicked, I heard Kindy had passed recently, down in the islands, and wasn't it just last year, that Valiani bid us farewell? He passed too soon!"
"Thats true, he sure did, and I'll never forget what he said made him so damn rich..."
"Oh, I remember that one too!...made a killing trading in lobster belly futures on the Newfoundland exchange." [wistful chuckling]
"A grand and wonderful, fat old liar he was!"
"But a fine, fine Chef. Energy and talent and charisma. Such a loss too...the lobster 'bacon', shaved truffle and foie gras Monte Cristo...one of the finest things ever to bless a plate!" [signs of the cross made again].

"DiStefano, gone" adds McDoo, continuing the grim inventory. "As robust and decent a fellow as we shall likely e'r meet again, and wasn't he one of your first apprentices?"
"Indeed, and, if a listener had time, I could tell a hundred tales of his good cheer, hard work, our toils together...a fine fine fellow, creative as the day is long" says Chef.
"Dear old Caldwell, deceased...his broiled crab roe toast, and crackling corn salad, went with him, lost to Gastronomy now", notes McDoo.
"And Dos Santos, the best damn oysters I've eaten; keeled over in her kitch. Like the captain, lashed to her mast on a sinking ship" says Chef.

"Well, says Pinky [a childhood nickname], there ain't never been a chef yet that didn't die"...and, unruly eyebrows arching, McDoo casts a what-do-you-make-of-that glance chefward.

"Well everyone dies", says Chef..."and what's that look for?"

"Our old pal Gerloff" says McDoo..."gone these past 10 years already... damn how I miss him [signs of the cross]...it's not like we're gonna be any differ'nt. The circle only gets smaller, right?...and, isn't it so, 'twas Gerloff who told you near 20 years ago to get it all writ down?... yet here we are, still waiting ye to begin the doing", says McDoo. "It's a shame on his memory, a memory that I know you honor, yet still be dancing around his kindly meant urging...you're the odd one Baker."

"Ok, Ok, enough of the ontological inventory Pinky!...this roll call of our dead pals, what's it all about? I ain't heard a word from you for near a month, an' suddenly you show up like a bad penny."

McDoo draws a bit closer, and installs a fat palm upon Baker's shoulder. "It's winter time for us old friend...our ginger youth but a lingering memory. And, you've got stories to tell, culinary studies to share, you've got time tested how-to-do-itiveness, hundreds of recipes and formulae, philosophical inquiries, dissertations, lies to tell about your travels, epistles, poetry...and you know, I've kept every last bit you've sent me from the time you first started to scribble, and..."

"Dammit Pinky, give it a rest will ya? Our 'ginger youth'...for Pete's sake, aren't you the grand one! What's the whisky for, and what's the book you're toting...give me a look see?...good grief, for crying bloody tears out loud!....Death Becomes The Chef...you are the rare friend!...better you pour me a chalice full of that stuff, an' I'll make some coffee"
"Jesus Baker!...it's barely 9."
"Pinky, is it for drinking, or just a showpiece?"
 "It's for drinking of course, a gift!"
"Well, then I recommend we inspect the contents, gift accepted. Now pour me one, and let's make some breakfast."  

Persist he did, and perhaps it was this foreboding chat, or maybe the whisky fueled conversation, who knows, but by the end of the evening, the old Chef had sorta, kinda, tentatively agreed to give it a go.

"So, if I agree, and I ain't saying yes quite yet, but if so, there's conditions to it."

McDoo, quiet, head tilts, eyebrows raise inquisitively, restrains a smile, hints the Chef please continue.

"First of all, I'm no editor, I'm a cook. I won't be sitting around posting missives, an' carrying on with all that technical stuff. I got no idea about that sort of thing. You, on the other hand, are a born diddler. Fiddling and diddling, it's in your blood. It's all on you McDoo to handle it."

Chef pours a top up to Pinky's jar, and slides it back across. McDoo puts it in him. "Ok, so, what's second?"

"Second is, we ain't about making money, or trying to neither. It's just gonna be pure and simple a library of stuff so to speak, a compendium of wit, reminiscence, lies told, and tall tales of kitchen life...baking, bread making, how to do it, and you can put all that creative writing stuff there as well, or not at all. I don't care, but whatever it becomes, it's meant as modest heritage for the acolytes. Something to remember me by, or possibly regret! You can make of it what you think best. I rely on you."

McDoo gazes to the bottom of his jar, and takes a whiff. "Ok, anything else?"
"Yep, there is." Chef reaches across, dosing McDoo's goblet again.
"Pray tell."
"We're not on any time schedule. I'm done with schedules forever, and whatever we come up with, it's just gonna have to be here and there, depending on things. We ain't gonna be lashed to our masts, and I ain't ready for any sinking quite yet...we mighta lost the ginger as you say, but there's life left. A sea breeze blows, it's far from gale force, but there's enough to billow the sails and be underway. Let's not forget it."

McDoo, feeling a warm, welling sense of anticipation and vindication, eases back into the Chef's old chair. He smiles. And, taking a final sip, nods his agreement. Baker and McDoo, together again!

"What do we call it?" says Chef.
"Let's call it The Unabaker Speaks" says Pinky.
"But I ain't no baker, I'm just a cook. Everyone just calls me Chef. I wonder sometimes if folks even know my damn name."
"Well, that's true enough, except you started out a baker and pastry man, and in any case, you're baker at heart, and baker indeed...and why was it you think Gerloff told you to write?"
"I reckon he was worried I was adrift, and as I recall, he wanted a piece about oysters for a magazine he was doing...he needed content...that's as how I remember it."

"Yeah, he did...he could never get over how you regaled him over wine and crabs that chilly day we was riverside...knew every last one of them by the latin, and a dozen ways to make 'em taste good... but he also loved your stories and your ideas, and believed in you. Remember he was the one that told you you oughta write the Kitchen Catechism, homage as it were, both to our misspent parochial youth, and the faux glory of being Chef, that little demigod, and he knew that you were the man who could write it!"

..."And, you was hiding out in that little hut of yours, mountainside, like kaczynski, tinkering away inside, all alone, damn hermit like, wouldn't venture out sometimes for days. And, sending stuff you baked in the mail to folks, signed 'from The Unabaker'...with advice to open while fresh...good grief!...but that's the true story of how The Unabaker was born, pathetic as it is."

"Except for I won't making any bombs, I was making boules and millefeuille, studying and practicing. And, I won't alone neither, I had the acolytes...stopping by, the seekers, restless for the word. And of course, a side yard full of creditors! How they make money hanging outside my place, I used t'wonder?... the barking waking me up....'get up! get a job!' they chant. Ha!"

"Well, 'twas dark times then, sure, but adrift?...only in so far as I was going with the flow, waiting it out, and doing what I could to keep my head down, chin up...my little monk's cottage won't no danger to anyone. Smells of bread and pastry, butter and vanilla. There won't no black powder and gun oil. I was prolific!"

"Listen old Chef, you got the monk in you, sure. Prone to it since you was in shorts, and except for the whisky and women, maybe you could be, but what you really are is Unabaker. You have the knack. Squirreling yourself away in some godforsaken rustic hermitage, out of the way of things, but always doing and writing and thinking, and always, always baking, making bread for those unsuspecting 'victims' as you used to call em. Tinkering away, but monk, dear pal, you are not...The Unabaker you are."

And so, fisticuffs averted, whisky near done, agreement reached, a toast was made. A final pour to the memory of Gerloff and Kindy, and to DiStefano, and Valiani, to Dos Santos and Duran, and to Fure and Buck, and to the others that toiled along side him.

"We remember you well."
                                                                   
                                                                       *****

It was just as described above. Haven't made a bit of it up. Were it not for McDoo and his supplications, maybe the whisky too, well, I'd be perfectly content to drift away, quietly. Of course, I'd still be baking, and writing, and looking out my cottage window at the sea below, and wondering about it all. Doing the best I can, and whatever happens, as long as I can do it, I'll be making up stories to amuse the acolytes. May they always be well, and know they are loved.

Thus spake the Unabaker.


1 comment:

  1. Chef - I love it - keep it going!

    Your friend the dried cherry provider.

    ReplyDelete