Jeff Phillips: Chef Worship

We at DWWP love to use writing prompts to jump start new work. This story is based on the prompt “the fool and the cosmos.” April 1st, 2018 was host to two holidays that are quite different from one another: April Fools Day and Easter. Though contrasting at first glance, the pieces in this series seek to explore their common ground.

teddy-kelley-76880-unsplash
Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

Churchgoers didn’t take kindly to Chubb Champo when he began pitching in at their annual Thanksgiving supper. It wasn’t like he was spouting anything straight up sacrilegious, or had tattoos of Satan. He had angels wrapped around his biceps, but no one could see these sweet cherubs, they were covered up by the billowy chef garb. The churchgoers didn’t think his intentions were pure. Visibly, he was a tremendous glutton. He bopped around the church kitchen like he was appointed by the high heavens, to grace them with his presence, and spread the miracle of his cooking. And the selfies he took were nauseating, he’d grin as though he were some celebrity, courageous enough to shake hands with people well beneath his rank.

When it came down to it, he was only some chef at an underground supper club on the West Side of Chicago, at a ramshackle dump of an abandonment called The Belly. A warehouse most likely not up to code. For all they knew, he put on feasts for ruthless gang members; who else would venture to that part of town for a meal. And here he was, showing up at their church to fill up the plates of the homeless, guffawing with bottom feeders. Maybe his “service” was only a diversion so he could deliver some dope to a shady friend, picking this place because he believed the cops wouldn’t dare pull off a sting in the Lord’s house.

Two ladies on the church council indulged the guy and this led to Chubb Champo taking over the kitchen the following Thanksgiving, and the rest of the congregation didn’t have the heart to tell Delores and Blanch there’d be no Rosemary Cilantro with Blood Orange and Bone Marrow Barleywine Marinated Turkey.

Then he showed up at the Easter breakfast and hijacked Billy Earl’s pancake duties. Billy Earl bowed down much too quick, suddenly meek to the earth-shaking wake of this fat, ego-maniacal intruder, and then good ol’ buttermilk pancakes became Red Velvet with Coconut and Mocha Chunk Flapjacks with a Cactus Honey Glaze.

The kids flocked to Chubb Champo and this made his being there so much worse for the congregation. He told stories to impress upon them that what he did was the end-all-be-all. He’d direct their imaginations back to the beginning of time, when:

“Cavemen foraged among plants and sometimes took down big game to claw apart, to eat raw. This was to fill their bellies, to suppress the pangs that echoed of a reminder that everything around them could whither, including their own tissue, if the pangs weren’t kept at bay. Leaves, berries, seeds and flesh. You only put such tasteless grit into your mouth if you have to. It was all about diminishing that frightening emergence of pang. And when that pang was quenched, every cell in a man’s body would relax for a tiny moment, a brief dismissal from the heavy workload of having to earn it all again.”

Chubb droned on and on about the discovery of fire, how it crisped and caramelized the fallen mammoth. How wispy plantstoo insubstantial to nosh on as its own courseand colorful peppers were used to garnish the meat and everyone went gaga and stopped celebrating the hunters. Whoever prepared meals for the tribe would be seen as some sort of sorcerer, casting spells to make dinnertime less and less about the chore of sustenance. “The tongue deserves a carnival too!”

What a crock of shit, the churchgoers thought as Chubb’s oration wandered into the territory of ice ages, natural cycles forcing inventiveness through the preservation of foodstuffs for the long winter. Pickling and fermenting and pressing oils “blew the field wide open.” Who talks like that? Terrorists do, and the congregation was expected to trust him with their food?

Then evolution, blah blah blah, all these superfluous jobs, for most a day no longer revolves around going out and getting food anymore, at least directly. But we all still need to eat. We do things so we can collect cash to redeem for the food that some still labor over, and those that can make “the stuff on our plates sexy are seen for the heroes they are, and they WILL get the girls.” He’s lucky he still has teeth. “A good chef can orchestrate the pleasure center of your brain into such a grand swell that all you can do after is plop down and have the best dreams of your damn life.” Somehow he connected this rant to the joys of cotton sheets and being able to rest cozy because of the advent of locks, barring away beasts in the dark of night, and locksmiths deserve to be considered rock stars too, “but it’s not the locks that are remembered when a burp accentuates just how good it all felt when the saliva was gushing.”

These were the the tall tales, the propaganda that Chubb Champo dished up alongside a second helping as he pumped himself up into a more prominent figure than Jesus Christ, who died on the goddamn cross for us, the entire reason everyone was gathered in the first place. HELL NO would they worship this Chubb Champo because he can work “wonders” in the kitchen. They’d just as soon tell the man they’d settle for green beans with soggy french fried onions, lumpy potatoes, an overcooked hunk of white meat. A blueberry bran muffin that was individually packaged, scrambled eggs, even if they were rubbery, and ham, diced into tiny cubes, served cold. If it meant he wasn’t there to warp the minds of young children who think everything is worthy of a “cool” they’d gladly eat casseroles best described as “turned out okay.” A mob was at the ready to mince him into the meatloaf for the next bingo fundraiser

Then the pastor tried Chubb Champo’s Poached Egg and Pork Belly Dumplings on Open-faced Chive and Goat Milk Buttered English Muffins and found that what he really wanted to do on Sundays was go to the guy’s house and eat them fresh off the stove. It was clear his mind was elsewhere, his sermons became shorter and more to the point, usually referenced some sort of food; stuffed olives and zucchini bread when the disciples’ meals in a Bible story could be made more appetizing from a revisionist standpoint. It was no longer “teach a man to fish.” It was, “make sure he knows how to make a mean Mustard Seed Crusted Sea Bass.” And slowly but surely the holdouts, the ringleaders among the cranks, prepared themselves to swallow defeat and follow the pastor wherever his gut was telling him to go.

 

The story above is also an inspired spin-off of the novella “Probiotic Hot Sauce” by the same author, published in Zizobotchi Papers: volume 1, winter, 2015. To read more about the culinary warehouse world of Fats Hugo and Chubb Champo, please visit the link below to order a paperback or Kindle copy of the publication:

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