Chrome Kitchen Crucible: A Parable on Criticism or on a Lack of a useful kind
I hate television.
I do not even like movies. Snow kept piling up outside, and my laptop can’t keep an honest charge anymore. I still don’t see the point in buying a tablet. This had been one tremendously boring snow day, and like an unpaid parking ticket, it just keeps getting worse. Time marched on, and I wished the snow away.
My place of employment had cancelled work. I’m thankful to have a good boss who understands that productivity will be nil if his employees come into work scared or fatigued from driving in the snow. I think I read my bookshelves from my home’s stem to stern. Time was only growing as the powder neared the sills of the windows. It hit me that turning the television on was going to happen.
Although I call it an addiction to many, it surely could provide me some ways to spend time until the next day. I flipped through the channels, a drone and then a staccato attracted my attention for a period longer than a second, the staccato was a mere measure of notes.
It was theme music on a dark screen
I’m a lover of any kind of music. The sense of urgency that surrounded this melody vacuumed me in. I couldn’t change the channel. I had arrived, and I wasn’t leaving.
A shadow appeared and some lighting was visible to me. A voice rose above the music.
“Seven will enter my kitchen. Three judges and four contestants, little time, little chance of winning, and high pressure; they are entering my domain, and my rules and judges will see that only the best of these chefs shall see my $20,000 dollar prize.”
His severe face and gaunt frame was clad in an older style tuxedo and he appeared to be a hybrid of servant and master with the attire and his mannerism. It contradicted his greeting and the next portion of his speech.
“Chrome Kitchen Crucible, where the strong chefs are made weak, and good chefs really discover who they are! They are nothing!! Those who are about to cook salute thee, audience. And, those who are about to cook will themselves be made a success or a failure in my crucible.!”
Jets of flames rose high above him as the background behind this host was illuminated. White tile walls were exposed. Left of the host had a dias and a table gilded with golden cloth. Three high backed chairs with mohair and leather upholstery were there as well. There was a tea kettle in the center of the table that seemed out of place.
My analysis of the table was interrupted again by the flames.
A set of kitchenettes with chrome fixtures from their ovens, pans, and ranges were visible to the host’s right. A large pantry with more chrome fixtures including: shelves, fridges, a blast chiller, and an ice cream machine. The place appeared as sterile as a hospital and as clean as fantastic as a sci-fi movie set.
The camera then panned to the host again.
“I’m Thad Williams your host. Now meet your judges.”
The camera panned back to the raised table.
“Your first judge is a man who needs no introduction.”
A man dressed in jeans, a collared shirt, and a blazer entered the room and took a seat at the table.
“Chef Sancho Gilbertez, Owner of the La Tapas Express: Restaurants and Catering Service. How are you today, Chef?”
“I’m fine, Thad.”
Sancho had a good crisp voice with diction that showed an education and a strong character.
“What’s new in your life today, Chef?”
“Thad, I’m working with FrozCorp to develop my own line of frozen meals. TV Tapas!”
“That is brilliant work, Chef! I know our viewers are hungry just hearing about that.”
“Thank you, Thad.”
“You are welcome, Chef.”
The camera returned to Thad’s position.
“Our next chef is very much the prima ballerina of the pastry world, and is the host of the web series Farrah’s Fixins: Chef Farrah Josi.
Chef Farrah appeared youthful with blonde locks and fishtail, and wore a quilted burgundy fleece Jacket over a red blouse. A mini skirt and boots complemented the rest of her attire. She took the seat to the far left of Sancho. The middle seat remained empty.
“Chef Farrah, it is so good to have you with us today. Anything new going on in your world?”
“Thank you, Thad. I’m looking forward to showing my Danish Do’s and Don’ts next week in a five part series.”
“Fabulous, Chef! Again, welcome to the show, and good luck.”
Thad’s face got intense at that moment, and jets of flames again appeared higher and higher.
“Now, a welcome to my Chief Judge, my center seat ringmaster, my talented goalkeeper, and the upholder of all sacred culinary laws: Chef Marion Stokely!!!”
The camera then turned to Marion Stokely, he was bald and dressed in a red and gold suit, and he had a moustache, and eyeglasses. He waved to Thad and the viewers.
“Chef Marion! It is an honor to be in your presence.”
“Likewise, Thad. There’s not any other place I’d rather be, than in the crucible. We’re here to see who will be deviled, and who’s going to be poached.”
Thad forced his laughter.
“Very funny, Chef Marion! I’m so glad you and the others are nested.”
The camera zoomed in on Thad’s face.
“It is time to meet your contestants.”
The cameraman then zoomed on an archway in the distance across from Thad and the judges by the pantry. Beneath the archway was a portcullis which raised to reveal a contestant dressed in a black chef coat with checkered culinarian pants. Like Farrah, he had a youthful appearance and his face exuded a confidence. He was the ubiquitous ‘man in the arena’ that Roosevelt talked about, the twenty-first century version commonplace in reality shows.
The screen split and I could see him walking to his station, and then the other screen was just his face pictured in a different room. Within this screen he began to speak.
“I am Pradeep N’Kinter. I am the Executive Chef of The Bluesman’s Curry in New York City. This restaurant represents my heritage, as I’m half black and half Indian.”
Footage of Pradeep playing an acoustic bass is shown. He is jamming. I want this guy to win already.
“I know I’m young, but my parents wanted me to do something that I love. I love cooking, and I became an executive chef only after being out of culinary school for three years. Then I left the hotel I was at and opened my own place.”
The screen became one and it showed him in the room he was filmed prior to his entrance.
“If I win the $20,000, I’ll expand my restaurant’s dining area, and hire underprivileged teens in my neighborhood. If I can teach them a work ethic, maybe someday they can work to improve the world. I love my city, and I love my country. America is a land anyone can be successful. I want to show how The American Dream is still alive.”
The dialogue with him ended and the camera showed Pradeep in front of his range and oven. The chrome was so clear you could see his face in the reflection. Thad came into view.
“Chef Pradeep, are you ready for The Crucible?”
“I am, Thad! Judges, thank you for having me today.”
The camera panned over to Marion.
“Don’t say that just yet. You’ve not been eliminated.”
I don’t know what my opinion is of Marion yet. I wasn’t expecting these judges to really be mean. But maybe he isn’t mean, and perhaps he just thinks he’s a cool guy and wise and stuff. Hard to tell.
The camera returned to the portcullis once more and a female chef dressed in the same garb appeared. She had brunette hair and smiled as she entered. She looked to be as old as Pradeep. The screen again split in two. She had been filmed in the same room as Pradeep.
“I am Chef Samantha Karpice of Franklin, Tennessee. I’m a former sous chef at Timms Gourmet Diner in Nashville, Tennessee. I left my last job do to me not getting along with my boss. “
A picture of her in chef garb was visible on the screen.
“I’m here today to win the $20,000 to help me move to a different city to find work, and if worse comes to worst, I’ll support myself on it. I’m also here to show that I’m talented, and I can hold my own with other talented chefs.”
She smiled coyly.
“If there’s a potential boss right now watching, you get to see how hard I’m willing to work.”
The screen again became one piece and Thad was in front of her to extend his greetings as well. This show was getting a pattern.
“Welcome, Chef Samantha!”
“Thank you, Thad. I’m honored to be here.”
“On to our next contestant please.”
Again the camera turned to the next contestant, Chondra Roberts. Chondra looked older and she was Asian. She wore a chef coat, but it looked like it wasn’t something she’d typically wear. She had to be a home chef.
The screen once more split into the two portions.
“I’m Chondra Roberts, and I’m a home chef. By day, I work as a Microwave saleswoman. By evening and night, I’m a gourmet!”
The screen showed her cooking in front of her husband and children. The kin crowd gathered around her seemed in awe of her flipping sausage patties and whipping up country gravy. Mrs. Roberts was Bengali, and her sons and husband seemed proud of her. Her parents were not.
“My parents wanted me to choose a sales career. I wanted to be a chef. I’m here to win the $20,000 so I can prove my parents wrong and show them my talent. I may be a home chef, but I’m a vicious competitor.”
The screen again showed Thad and the home chef, Chondra Roberts.
“Welcome to The Crucible, Chef.”
“Thank you, Thad. I’m happy to be here.”
The three judges in the distance didn’t say anything, but they smiled and waved towards her as if she was a child.
The camera zoomed in on Thad’s face and showed only his eyes. Was I watching a cooking show or a spaghetti western?
“The last of our four competitors will enter now.”
He was in the same garb as the others. He had a long beard that stretched down to his clavicle. It was covered by a net. Black plastic eye glasses corrected his vision, and his stride was long and open. The screen once more split in two and he introduced himself.
“I am Brent Love of LoveBSteaks in Evansville, Indiana. I’m here to represent the Midwest. I like to show my talents as a chef while cooking Chicago steakhouse fare and blending it with Southern comfort food.”
His confidence was present in his stride, body language, and diction.
“If I win that $20,000, I’m going to update my entire restaurant. The dining room is dated and the kitchen is fifteen years behind the times.”
He smiled from ear to ear.
“I’m in my groove, and I’m ready to move.”
The screen returned to the kitchen.
“Welcome, Chef Love.”
“Thanks, Thad. I’m so happy to be here today.”
Stokely chuckled in the distance.
“So am I.”
The camera returned to Thad as he moved near the judges’ area. He raised his hands up high and stretched around him.
“Judges, Chefs, welcome to my Crucible. We shall see who has the talent to survive all three rounds: appetizer, entrée, dessert and reign as champion. Those who fail will be molded and shaped into something they will not understand. Those who succeed will gain honor.”
He then turned to the contestants.
“Today you will be challenged by ingredients you’ve used before, and some you may have never touched. Today will be where you are heated by the stress of this environment, and then cold hammered with the criticism of our judging panel. The viewers at home cannot help you, and your experiences shall only pale with the trial before you today.”
Four orderlies in aprons entered the camera’s vision. They are carrying small crates towards the four contestants.
Thad watches as his henchmen place the crates on the chrome tables of the contestants. The chefs about to compete look nervous, and their complexions betray their anxiety further as the hives of stress unleash their droning bee-like symptoms of perspiration and heightened blood pressure. The wasps that are panic attacks are also buzzing near.
The hummingbird of serenity is nowhere to be found today.
“Open the crates and retrieve the ingredients inside.” Thad announced.
Each of them did so.
Thad spoke again as soon as the first ingredient was visible.
“For the appetizer round, you have Chinese lap cheong, Panko Bread Crumbs, Black Olives, and Clotted Cream.”
Love’s voice could be heard, as the screen transitioned to him.
“I’ve never used lap cheong, and I’ve never heard of clotted cream. I can’t fathom what I’m going to do.”
Brent Love’s words paled in comparison to Pradeep’s enthusiasm.
“I love lap cheong! It is a Chinese sausage, and it is one of my favorite meats. I’m stoked now!
Thad’s voice and flames could be heard again.
“Chefs, you have twenty minutes. Transform these ingredients. Time starts now.”
They were cooking for keeps.