The Interviews
        by  E.P. Lande
The day of Dan's interview arrived — and so did a catering van with NEKCI emblazoned on its doors. Two people — obviously students of the institute — stepped out, dressed in black uniforms, also with the NEKCI emblem emblazoned on the breast pockets of their chef's coats, and wearing black chef's hats. They proceeded to unload several large trays laden with dishes, steam rising from their belled covers.
“Hi,” a man greeted them as he descended from the rear door of the van. “Hi,” he repeated, a smile of anticipation of the meal he was about to present. “I'm Dan.”
Dan was, perhaps, in his late 30s. He appeared to be a whole lot thinner than the average American, but it could have been the outfit he was wearing, for he had belted the black chef's coat firmly around his waist. Instead of the chef's hat his assistants wore, Dan had on a black bandanna — also with the NEKCI emblem across the front.
“These are my assistants,” he explained, gesturing to the two students who had preceded him. “They're here to help,” he explained, but Aaron, the innkeeper, was wondering, why?
“Where can they set down the trays and begin serving the meal?” Dan asked. “I brought tablecloths and serviettes and cutlery, and, oh yes, some wines, you know, to complement my food,” he told them.
“What a production,” Aaron said to Bob, his newly hired general manager. “I thought he was supposed to prepare the meal here, not bring it already prepared from the institute?” 
“Beats me,” Bob said, in an undertone. 
 “Let's see what he's going to serve us,” Jeanne, Aaron’s wife, said. “I hope he kept in mind that his meal should reflect the kind of food we want to serve at the inn, that it'll be mostly Americans who'll be eating here.”
Once the students from the institute had set the table — complete with a bouquet of exotic flowers reminiscent of south-east Asia — Aaron, Jeanne, and Bob sat down, with great expectations and excellent appetites — for Aaron had gone without his usual breakfast in anticipation of this meal.
“As an appetizer, I prepared moules à la crème,” Dan announced.
“Oy vey,” Aaron muttered to himself, remembering the fiasco at Ferme Saint Siméon years before where he ordered — and ate — three courses dripping in cream sauces, one being moules à la crème.
“And, to accompany the moules, a 2016 Domaine Romanée Conti,” Dan declared.
Turning to Bob, Aaron asked in a subdued tone, “Do you know the cost of this wine? I bet it's more than $500 a bottle. Don't you think that's a tad over the top?” 
But they all drank the wine — and picked at the moules, because, as Aaron explained to Bob afterward, since his meal in Honfleur, he hadn't been able to even look at moules without feeling nauseous — and he wanted to enjoy the Romanée Conti.
But Aaron's lack of enthusiasm didn't affect Bob's appetite. He vacuumed up his portion of the moules, then, while Dan's back was turned, placed his now empty plate in front of Aaron, taking Aaron's and proceeded to sweep it clean — using the French baguette to sop up the sauce from both plates. Aaron's eyes were riveted on what was happening. 
“And now, my pièce de résistance,” Dan proudly declared, as one of his assistants took the belled cover off a platter of pieds de cochon — pig's feet — swimming in a beurre blanc sauce. The other assistant brought another covered platter from which they were offered creamed mashed potatoes, the center of which held a pool of melted garlic and parsley butter.
Aaron excused himself — and left to use the bathroom.
“Is anything wrong with Aaron?” Bob asked Jeanne.
“I hope not, Bob,” she said. “It's just … well, pig's feet aren't his favorite entrée — nor mine. I think I'll pass.”
After Aaron returned and the meal resumed, he explained that, while he would have loved to participate in the main course, he thought it best to leave it to Jeanne and Bob, and for them to give him their opinions — later.
“I thought a 1995 Gevrey Chambertin would be a splendid accompaniment to the pieds de cochon,” Dan told them and had one of his assistants uncork a bottle.
“This meal is going to cost him a year's salary,” Aaron said in a low voice.
“No, Aaron, it's going to cost the institute in their bottom line,” Bob corrected.
Bob ate with gusto, as though he was starving and hadn't eaten a meal — decent or otherwise — in over a week, humming while the pig's feet rolled around in his mouth, his eyes blurred by the tears that pooled with every morsel.
And this, after scarfing down two portions of moules, Aaron thought. “I feel we're on the set of La Grande Bouffe,” Aaron whispered to Jeanne, while Bob wiped the drool that was cascading out of both sides of his mouth, barely catching it before it was about to drop onto his lap.
Jeanne picked at the pieds de cochon, covering most of it with what she dared not eat of the mashed potatoes, while Aaron stared at his plate, numbed into silence, praying no one would ask his opinion.
“For dessert — after a hearty, but nonetheless, light meal — I thought a triple chocolate mousse would be just the right touch ....”
“Yeah, for a trip to the closest emergency clinic,” Aaron muttered.
“... and to lighten it, I added a scoop of brandied cherries ....” And my father criticized me for my meal at Ferme Saint Simeon? Aaron said to himself.
“As a wine, I chose my favorite, a Château d'Yquem 1990. I hope you like it,” the chef told them — and waited so that he could watch the expressions on their faces as they dipped their spoons into his mousse.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked, his arms folded in a professionally chef-like manner. “This,” he said, spreading his arms over the table as if in a benediction, “is the typical meal I would highly recommend you present in the dining room at Edson Hill Manor, and I would be proud to prepare similar dishes — if you do me the great honor of hiring me as your chef of chefs.” 
“Does he mean that he expects to have other chefs under him?” Aaron muttered to Bob.
“Beats me,” Bob answered, also sub voce.
“I tell you what, Jim … I mean, Dan,” Aaron said, as he tried to get up from the table, but the pain in his stomach forced him to remain seated. “We — the three of us — have another interview scheduled for tomorrow, after which we'll meet to come to a decision. You've obviously put in a huge effort, and we appreciate it, really, we do.” He then excused himself, as he needed to use the bathroom, again.
After Dan left — with the leftovers, including the partially finished bottles of wines — Aaron suggested that the three of them sit down and have a chat.
“I'm not sure if I can go through with another meal tomorrow,” he told them. “I think — no, I know — I'll need at least a week to recover.”
“But you didn't eat the pig's feet,” Jeanne reminded him, “and Bob ate your moules.”
“Please, don't ever mention that dish to me again,” he told her. “Not even at a three-star restaurant in Paris would I eat such a dish. I'm beginning to empathize with anyone who's kosher.” 
The following day — after a sleepless night — they again met with Bob at Edson Hill Manor. Aaron had fortified his stomach with a goodly quantity of papaya extract pills he had been advised were guaranteed to protect him from anticipated acid indigestion.
Precisely at noon, a car of ancient vintage and a California plate pulled up, and a man, a head taller than Aaron, wearing a starched white chef's coat and a baseball cap — turned at an angle — stepped out of the driver's side. A woman a few years younger, wearing a housewife's dress without its belt, stepped out of the passenger's side.
“Howdy,” the man greeted them. “I'm Matt, and this here is Carole, my wife.” 
As Matt explained, he brought Carole along to assist him in the preparation of the lunch. While Aaron showed Carole the kitchen, Matt brought in a cooler, which, he explained, contained all he needed for the meal.
“It'll take us about an hour; is that okay with youse guys?” he asked.
Left in the living room, Aaron asked Jeanne and Bob what they thought; he wanted to know their first impressions.
“Matt looks a bit young, to me,” Jeanne said. “When did he graduate from the CIA?”
“Actually, he's almost thirty, but I agree, he looks somewhat younger,” Aaron told them. “He's been working with Bradley Ogden for the past ten years, so he has experience. I just hope his food is as good as the reputation of the Lark Creek Inn.”
“Well, it can't be worse than yesterday's meal,” Bob added.
What is Bob talking about? He ate enough for three — and never once said he disliked the food, Aaron said to himself.
“Please, do not mention that experience in my presence,” Aaron told him. “The mere thought turns my stomach.” 
They continued discussing what Aaron had in mind for changing the inn, and after an hour, Carole came to tell them that Matt was ready.
“The first course is something I think your clientele will really like: butternut squash ravioli,” Matt announced, as he placed a platter of nice-sized ravioli in front of them. “The sauce is something I've been playing with in California. I won't reveal its ingredients; tell me what you think.”
As they spooned the ravioli onto their plates, Matt said, “I almost forgot the wine. It's a rather ordinary California Sauvignon Blanc. I hope you don't mind.”
“Wow,” Jeanne said, as she chewed the second ravioli on which she had added a good amount of Matt's sauce. “This is delicious!” And she helped herself to several more ravioli from the fast- diminishing quantity Matt had prepared. What appeared to have been sufficient ravioli for seven people, within ten minutes there weren't any left on the platter — nor was there any of the sauce in the sauce boat.
“Matt,” Jeanne turned to the chef, “I'm not going to be like my mother-in-law and ask for the recipe, but the ravioli ....”
“And your sauce,” Aaron added.
“Yes; your sauce. Matt, this is nothing but sublime. Aaron and I have eaten in some of the best restaurants in France and never have we had anything so flavorful. Their texture is like velvet.”
“They're as light as air,” Aaron added. “I would add to Jeanne's praise that your ravioli are smooth to the palate. I won't ask what's in your sauce, but it blends so well with the creamed butternut squash inside the ravioli. I can tell you, Matt, we would be proud to serve this to our guests.”
“Do you add a touch of cloves in your sauce?” Jeanne asked, looking at Matt. When she noticed a smile spreading across Matt’s face, Jeanne knew.
“The principal course today is a little different from how I normally prepare it, but given the time limitation, I thought this would be just as good,” Matt told them, and he placed a platter of roast chicken, quartered, surrounded by Brussels sprouts.
“It's usually presented as a whole chicken ....”
“It's looks good enough to eat as it is,” Bob exclaimed, as he forked a thigh with the leg attached onto his plate, forgetting that Jeanne was present. “Sorry, Jeanne,” and he placed a breast with the wing on her plate.
“In preparation, I dry marinate the chicken ....”
“What is dry marinate?” Bob asked.
“After I wash the chicken, I lightly coat it with kosher salt and leave it, uncovered, in the refrigerator for up to two days,” Matt explained. “When it is to be cooked, I cover the bird with olive oil, crack whole black pepper, and sprinkle granulated raw brown sugar and herbs de Provence all over it. I then roast it at 400 degrees. I hope you don't mind if you drink the same wine, the Sauvignon Blanc?” he asked, setting the wine on the table for them to serve themselves.
“I've never eaten such a marvelous chicken,” Jeanne told him as she tasted her first bit. “Matt, this is amazing. The meat is moist, but the skin is so flavorful. I must discuss with you the dry-marinating.”
“I agree with Jeanne,” Aaron said, “and Jeanne makes a great chicken,” hoping his wife didn't mind the backhanded compliment.
“The Brussels sprouts are actually … eatable,” Aaron remarked. “I have to tell you Matt, up to this minute, I've loathed Brussels sprouts — but now, I might be a convert.” 
“I'm shocked,” Jeanne said, as she watched her husband ladle a second spoonful of the Brussels sprouts onto his plate. “Matt, these are delicious. I have no doubt guests will be clamoring for your recipe. They're delicately sautéed, with just the right amount of butter and seasoning. I love them.”
While Matt was in the kitchen, Aaron told Jeanne and Bob, “I can't wait for his dessert ....”
“I thought you didn't have an appetite, that after — I won't mention it — you needed a week to recover?” Jeanne reminded him.
At that moment, Carole brought in a large soufflé dish and placed it on the table.
“This is something I've been creating in California over the last few years. It's a butterscotch bread pudding,” Matt told them, looking at the dessert tenderly. “We serve it with many different accompaniments — like vanilla ice cream, or crème fraiche — but I thought it would be better for you to eat it, just as it is.”
“Oh, Matt, this is even better than the ravioli,” Jeanne exclaimed, after she had eaten two spoonfuls, her eyelids closing as she spoke.
“Our guests will be salivating,” Aaron hoped.
“But they'll be returning,” Jeanne said. “I told you before, I'm not going to be like my mother-in-law and ask for the recipe — but what is it?” she asked, helping herself to another small spoonful.
Matt looked at her and grinned. “Hire me and it's yours.” 

E.P. Lande was born in Montreal, but has lived most of his life in the south of France and Vermont, where he now lives with his partner, writing and caring for more than 100 animals, many of which are rescues. Previously, he taught at l’Université d’Ottawa where he served as Vice-Dean of his faculty, and he has owned and managed country inns and free-standing restaurants. Since submitting less than two years ago, 38 of his stories have been accepted by publications in countries on five continents.

      by Dan Keeble

The door is open when I arrive home. I figure I hadn’t tugged it hard enough when I left for work. It needs a good pull. I open it further. A chilly wind brushes my beard. Maybe I had left a window open. The breeze is too strong for that. Then my nostrils tighten. That darn cat, I think, then remember we put the poor thing down last year.


Inside, I screw my face against the smell. The back door is wide open. The view to it through the hallway needs a moment to take in. I’m drawn to the kitchen floor at the far end. It’s strewn with the contents of caddies from the counter. Coffee, tea bags, brown and white sugar, in mounds on the chequered tiles, topped with the contents of cereal containers. It’s a TV cliché.


I stretch a step, avoiding most of the mess on the floor. Anxiously, I leap into the garden. A rapid glance satisfies me I am alone. Back in the kitchen, someone had rifled through cabinet drawers.

Lights glow from open doors of the fridge and freezer. They groan and hum, illuminating the scene. Food packets are ripped apart. The house has age. Whoever created the chaos likely assumed it was an older person’s property. Money possibly hidden in the bottom of the tea caddy, or in one of those unconvincing fake margarine tub safes that are marketed to oldies.


I’m shaking. But not from fear. With all the doors open, whoever did it was well gone. As a tidy guy, the unfamiliarity of the scene is too surreal to adjust to.


I enter the lounge. A curtain is dancing and flapping about a wide opened window. The smell in the room causes me to gag. The buff carpet and sofa have been urinated on. On the mirror scribbled in lipstick is THANKS JOD & SPANK. No, not professional burglars. Just dust heads needing anything for quick cash. But why the immature damage?


Surveying the room, I notice the laptop is gone. The rest is just a clean-up and insurance irritation. Then, anger rises in me. My body stiffens, and I bite my clenched fists. I back up my computer on a separate drive for safety, but always leave it connected to the computer. Theft never occurred to me. The last pictures of daughter Angela are backed up on that drive. I took them a day before the party. The one where the lad who drove her home had been snorting.


Damn them, I yelled, damn those damn drugs!


Bio: Dan Keeble hails from the furthest point East in the UK,  and has enjoyed many successes with online and print publications of poetry, short stories, humour, and more serious articles. He has appeared in Fiction on the Web, Everyday Fiction, Turnpike Magazine, Scribble, Flash Fiction Magazine, Agape Review, and many others on a long journey to a stubby pencil.