Onward Kitchen Soldiers by Rob Chirico



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What happens when a promising young New York chef, Charles Mitello, loses his job because he suddenly develops food allergies? He writes about it. In Charles' case, however, it is not as a cookbook author but as a promoter, in the frenzied world of cookbook public relations. 
 
Bombastic chef and author Victor Buzzone, his company’s biggest client—literally and figuratively—is seeking national media attention, but Charles is simply not coming through for him. Seemingly stuck, Charles discovers that a major network is planning to air their own over-the-top version of cooking competition: Gladiator Chef. Charles eventually manages to wrangle an interview for Buzzone to be one of the chefs on the show, no mean feat since the chef previously offended one of the network's producers. After Charles secures the interview, the less-than-joyous Buzzone sheepishly informs Charles that as a restaurateur, he has had only minimal cooking experience in the last decade. 
 
With the interview set for a week away, Charles scrambles to find the best teachers in New York to retrain him. A madcap five-day cooking spree ensues with Charles' choice “chefs”: a pork butcher on Ninth, a pasta maker from Astoria, a retired firefighter and his grandmother. Can this motley group turn a novice into a pro? Or, when the show finally airs, will it be a chaotic, culinary free-for-all?
 
Onward Kitchen Soldiers is a hilarious look inside the world of competitive cooking and TV chefs. Fans of Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain are sure to appreciate this no-holds-barred look behind the scenes of what really happens in the world of cooking.
 
EXCERPT:
 
“Vic, I’m waiting for a call back from Good Morning America. I should tell you, though, they usually don’t do two books by the same author so close together. But your new cookbook is so, so, different that there’s a chance they may want you again. Try to be open-minded.”
 
Charles knew this was a crock. His disillusioned predecessor, now sheering llamas somewhere up north in the wilds of Vermont, sneered right before he left that if you keep your mind sufficiently open, people will throw a lot of rubbish into it. Charles also knew that getting Buzzone a repeat on GMA was about as likely as winning the lottery without buying a ticket. Buzzone may have been a darling with the television audiences, but in the studio he was a bloviating bear—with intestinal gas. One would think he would be too busy cooking to be as annoying as conjunctivitis, but one would be wrong. Cooking shows are quite different from other programs that feature a short cooking spot. As is the norm for most authors, they may start to work through a recipe, but they rarely ever cook an entire dish in the short slot allotted to them. More likely, that is the job of the food stylist who has prepared and finished the dish behind the scenes ahead of time. The author’s job is to promote his book and then present the already assembled dish in all of its “ooh-aah” glory to the studio audience.
 
But impressing the studio audience was an ancillary. You needed to get into the studio first, and that was exactly what Buzzone had previously done his unpremeditated darnedest to prevent. Prior to the broadcast during his previous stint on GMA, he completely unnerved the ABC food stylist when he cavalierly tossed her first attempt at his recipe for caponata into the trash. Meanwhile, the fact that his wife had screamed that she’d seen more appetizing arrangements in her daughter’s diapers didn’t exactly endear either of them to the producer of one of the country’s most popular morning shows. Charles was not about to admit that Buzzone might be called back around the same time the Pope would perform a gay marriage ceremony at the feet of the Sphinx. No thanks to Buzzone, ABC had booked only one of his other authors since, and that was only because nobody else was representing a Kwanzaa cookbook last season.
 
“I’ll do my best, Vic. I promise,” he said. Irritation had dissipated, and he was now becoming so bored with the conversation that he unconsciously began taking the pens and pencils from their caddy and fanning them out in a radial pattern across his desk as if they were the setting for a climactic moment in a de Sica movie.
 
“Promise, pah! Look. Get me on Oprah! I want Oprah. I need Oprah,” he begged, his plea building to a Tantric chant.
 
Charles held the phone away from his ear. The conversation was clearly too animated, even for public relations, and Emily, Rob, and Norman looked up and offered him glances of sympathy from across the room.
 
“Tell you what, my friend,” Buzzone said, his voice warming up. “If you get me Oprah, I’ll send you a case of Zinfandel. Coppola makes it just for me. It’s only the best. It’s got a taste of black currants, Bing cherry, plum, and brambles.”
 
“Brambles. Sounds good,” Charles said, wondering why wine never just tasted like grapes.
 
“Stanna mabaych! Hey, look at the time, buddy,” Buzzone said. “I gotta get back to the convention. It’s so crazy here. I’ll call you Monday when I’m back in Frisco. Have a goddamn good weekend. And get me Oprah!”
 
Charles put down the receiver, imagining that the shadow of the twisted phone cord resembled that of a swaying noose. He unclipped the cord, straightened it, and plugged it back into the phone. Emily was chatting on the phone, but she was always chatting, on or off the phone, as if she was afraid her mouth would become immobilized if she ceased flapping her lips. 
 
“Woo-hoo!” she yipped and pumped her fist as she hung up her phone. “Jean said that since we’ve all been working so hard, she wants to buy us lunch. Who wants Chinese?”
 
“I’ve been eating so much takeout lately,” Charles frowned, “I’m actually learning Mandarin from the fortune cookies.”
 
“I smell a rat,” Rob said. “And not in the mu shu pork. She wants something. That’s the only time she ever springs for lunch.”
 
“She always wants something,” Norman agreed. “When she springs for lunch, it just means she wants a hell of a lot more.”
 
“By the way,” Charles asked Emily warily, “any news about how the convention is going? She’s meeting with my favorite client and executioner today.”
 
“Nope,” Emily said. “But no news is good news.”
 
“Well, sometimes no news just means that bad news hasn’t barreled into the station yet,” Charles replied.
 
“Charles, don’t be such a pessimist,” she chastised. “I should lend you a copy of a book I just read about bringing out the inner artist in all of us.”
 
“There aren’t enough straightjackets to go around.” Charles frowned.
 
“So,” Norman said, raising an eyebrow. “What’s the good word on Buzzone’s account?”
 
“The good word is success,” Charles said. “Unfortunately, I’m not able to use it in the same sentence with Buzzone unless there’s a ‘no’ in front of it. I thought I was going to make my mark in this business with Buzzone. But now it seems that everyone’s carrying an eraser.”
 
“It’s that bad?” Norman asked cautiously.
 
“Worse. I consider it a remarkable feat when you can elicit a porcine grunt and a subsequent guffaw of ‘That asshole!’ from the sedate chief food editor of The Times at the mere mention of someone’s name.”
 
“Wow! When did she say that?” Rob asked over his computer screen.
 
“This morning,” Charles replied sullenly. “I told her that Buzzone’s recipes would be perfect for the Sunday Magazine section, and perhaps she would like some time to reconsider.”
 
“And?” Norman asked.
 
“She said she would rather eat bees and hung up on me.”
 
“Well, to quote my favorite fortune cookie,” Norman said indifferently, returning to his copy editing, “hope for the best. But expect the worst.”
 
“Don’t worry,” Rob said. “You’ll figure something out. You always do. Remember, he who laughs last…”
 
“Usually doesn’t get it right away,” Norman interrupted.
 
Rob and Norman exchanged barbs, and Charles considered Norman’s quote from the vast library of fortune cookie wisdom: “Hope for the best… But expect the worst.” He leaned back and thought: At least anyone who expects the worst will never be disappointed.

  • Published by: Untreed Reads


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