My career had not been going as I might once have wished, back in those carefree days of my youth, when my every waking thought concerned UPS deliveries. In recent years, UPS delivery has become for me depressingly and irredeemably commercialized, all about the money and nothing about the artistry. Also, as I age, I find that I no longer look so dashing in brown shorts.
Last night, my wife having left for a week with her sister in Tucson, I found myself grasped --possessed -- by a strange and insuperable desire. Bypassing the seven casseroles she had left in the refrigerator for me to microwave for my dinners, I drew two eggs and a stick of butter from the refrigerator and proceeded to break the eggs into a bowl, beat them with a fork and drop the resulting frothy, viscous liquid into the pan heating on the stove, preceded by a pat of the butter. Imagine my thrill as they immediately formed tempting, indeed concupiscent, curds and, in the subsequent minutes, stiffened into the finest pan of scrambled eggs I had ever seen. I had, with my own hands, created food! As I gently plated the eggs onto our most elegant china, I regarded the dish, frowning, then went to the refrigerator and found a sprig of parsley nestled in the bottom of our vegetable crisper. Laying it beside and slightly atop the eggs, I felt an energy, a power such as I had never before experienced surging through me from my hands, those hands that had elevated mere food to art. I was, I felt, what I had always been meant to be: a celebrity chef. UPS delivery no longer meant a thing to me.
This morning I opened my first restaurant, a farm-to-table gastropub with communal tables capable of seating 320 customers and a coal-fired pizza oven that could develop temperatures well over 1,500 degrees. While our initial critical reception left much to be desired, and our wine supplier had, it seemed, taken to replacing our finest Left Bank Bordeaux with raspberry Kool-Aid, we managed to strike a chord with the dining populace. Before too long we achieved a turnover rate that allowed us to institute a no-reservations policy, ensuring that each and every customer would wait for at least an hour before being seated, three on weekends. Food Network and the Travel Channel both sent crews to tape their most famous celebrity chefs dining in our restaurant, and while I at first resisted -- the food was the important thing for me, I insisted, not the fame -- I soon acquiesced and allowed myself to be filmed. Over fennel-duck-blood sausage with a nage of yuzu, ouzo and kudzu, we discussed the latest trends in the culinary world; I decried the use of foams and molecular gastronomy in general, applauded on-site hog butchery. I began appearing as the host of a locally-produced PBS show, called FOOD! As if overnight, the show went national in syndication and could be seen in 252 markets. Several food-related reality shows requested my participation as a judge, and, despite the immense competing demands on my time, I graciously accepted. Young chefs begged to stage at my restaurant.
Not long thereafter, I had opened three other restaurants: a Michelin-starred bistro in LA featuring produce and meat that had been, since sprouting or weaning, treated to Thai massages and fed only Grey Goose vodka; a gourmet hamburger joint in San Francisco in which patrons were invited to grind and griddle their own burgers and bake their own buns; and a 7/11-themed restaurant, the drink-list of which prominently featured Slurpees, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Milk of Magnesia, meant to appeal to the hipster demographic of Austin. All proved fantastically successful, and the president of the United States was seen in animated conversation with his wife, children, advisors, cronies and pets in each of them, and was heard to remark that they were all his favorite restaurant. ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox and the CW collaborated to produce a show that highlighted my culinary sophistication (called My Culinary Sophistication!) and on Wednesday night from 8 to 9 mine was the only show that one could see on the broadcast networks. Most of the cable networks also picked up the show, except for the History Channel, which continued showing Ice Road Truckers.
But in the midst of all this abundance, a pestilence had sprung up. No, not in the Vancouver restaurant I'd opened where the chefs ground flour as needed from grain stored in massive silos on the roof, but in my soul. I started to view my vast empire with jaundiced eyes. I shied from the limelight, thinking back with an almost-parched longing on that first magnificent plate of scrambled eggs, now almost 24 hours in the past. I cancelled public appearances, stopped visiting the restaurants to which I had in an almost physical sense given birth and notified my producers that I would no longer be available to film episodes of my show, leaving food enthusiasts across the nation bereft. This evening, feeling alone and defeated, I retreated to my home and, seeking the safety of the familiar, donned the brown shorts I had once worn with such pride. I removed one of the casseroles my wife had left me before the start of the grand culinary adventure I had embarked upon with such hope, and set it in the microwave. Carefully placing it on the counter, I took a fork from the silverware drawer and removed the glass cover from the casserole. A roiled gust of steam and scent rose to my nostrils; I luxuriated in that dense, luscious fragrance, then, trembling only slightly, dipped the tines of the fork into the casserole and brought a bite of intermingled noodles, cream of mushroom soup, bread crumbs and chicken to my lips. I closed my eyes.
Ambrosia, I thought. Ambrosia.