Hell’s Kitchen Part 1

This piece is lengthy but will make for light evening reading. It is based on a real life experience I had a year to the day; so grab a cup of whatever catches your fancy and enjoy.

Harried and flustered I dropped the children off at school and headed out to my meeting praying fervently that the merciless Lagos heat had not pulverised the brownies and chocolate chip cookies in the car.

It was a Friday, and the slow moving beast known as Lagos traffic had already started building up. Just as I was contemplating dumping the car and walking the rest of the way, my phone rang; I eyed it, loathe to answer it for fear of the Lagos State Transport Management Authorities a.k.a. LASTMA materialising out of thin air with the sole aim of making my life miserable; I wonder if they have ever considered joining a traveling circus. Their skillful appearing and disappearing act is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

I hastily answered the phone, put it on speaker and rested it on my laps. In my best, I-am-not-in-the-least-bit-flustered voice, I said,

 

Hello, good morning Nkem speaking, how may I help you’?”

“Good morning Nkem, my name is Krystal, I spoke to you last week about catering for my birthday”

“Oh hello Krystal, yes I remember, I sent the menu as agreed immediately after we spoke. Have you decided on what you would like?”

“Ummmmm, I never received it, that’s why I am calling”

WHAT? She never received it? What does she mean? I KNOW I sent it because I blind copied myself and THEN sent a text advising her to check her email.

 

“Oh dear, that’s weird……..I do remember sending it……could you please check your junk folder? I am on my way to a meeting at the moment so I can’t resend it for a few hours”.

“Alright, please hold on and let me check…….yes, I see it! You were right, it was redirected to junk”

“Excellent, why don’t you look through and let me know what your choices are”

“Oh, I don’t need to do that, everything looks perfect! I want it all. It is just the kind of food I love, fresh and colourful with a Mediterranean twist”

Overhead shot of spread resized 

She wants it all? She can’t want it ALL! There were 11 offerings on the menu! Nkem, don’t panic, reason with her; she sounds sensible.

“Don’t you think that it would be better to streamline it, so that we have a consistent theme running through from the starter to the dessert?”

“On the contrary, I would love my guests to have various options to play with”

Clearly, no one had ever told her not to play with her food. I was desperately trying to figure a way of pulling this feat off seeing as I am the sole employee of my company. Well, if her event is at least 2 weeks away, I could plan and prep for it so technically it is doable….

“Alright Krystal, it sounds like you know exactly what you want. When is your event scheduled to hold? Planning and prepping is essential for…

“Oh it’s on Sunday” she gushed cutting me off mid-sentence.

Lord! I barely have a week to prepare!!

“You mean it is just a week away?”

“No, no, I mean it is this Sunday”

 

Alarm bells are going off in my head. 2 days away. TWO DAYS AWAY? She must think that I am Houdini! Very calmly I ask,

 

“You mean it is just 2 days away? I am afraid that it’s very short notice”

“Please Nkem, I don’t have a plan B. You came very highly recommended by Lois”

“But I would have to work out a budget and payments have to be made…..”

“How much will it cost?” She cuts me off yet again.

I am not Houdini and I am also quite certain that I am not David Blaine! Does she expect me to pluck figures out of thin air? Or in this case out of thick traffic?

Evenly I say,

“It is not that simple, I need to crunch numbers and work out where to source produce and supplies”

Just give me a ball in the park figure and I will pay it immediately, then afterwards I will square you up. What will you need to make all your purchases and cover some expenses?”

 Aha! An escape route! Perhaps I could hurl a reckless figure at her that will send her fleeing and screaming in the other direction. So I ask,

“How many guests are you expecting?”

“Just 25 close friends; it’s like a girls’ day out; an informal lunch”

“And where is the event taking place?”

“Sofisticat Spa, I am sure you have heard of it”

“No I haven’t” I murmur.

“It is a world class spa and it is very popular”

 Yes, I am sure it is. Gosh! This means I probably have to do some of the cooking on location; the wheels in my head are turning furiously.

“Does the spa have a well equipped kitchen?”

“Of course it does. It is obvious you don’t know this place;. It is world standard,” she asserted.

Nkem, this is a challenge; face it head on! I took a deep breath and said,

“I will need an initial deposit of Three Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira so that I can commence shopping immediately. I will send a full invoice when I return to base.

 No screaming and certainly no fleeing….Instead she said,

“Perfect, I will make the transfer shortly.” And she clicked off.

 As I arrived at my meeting, I received a credit alert via SMS from my bank; she had made the payment. The panic buzzer was louder than ever in my head and I felt faint.

Mercifully, the meeting was short and they didn’t seem to mind in the least that the baked goods had been twice baked (by me and the sun).

 

I raced around Victoria Island and Ikoyi, shopping frantically for all the ingredients I needed. Who knew that it was possible to move so quickly around Lagos on a Friday? I had to be insane to have agreed to do this.

In no time it was time to pick up the children from school. The car was bursting at the seams from all the purchases and there was practically nowhere for them to sit. We made it home somehow, by which time the boys had gotten up close and personal with my shopping. Thankfully, children and shopping were in tact.

I called my cleaner and informed her to come do the weekly cleaning on Sunday not Saturday as usual. Of course I omitted to tell her that the house would probably look like the scene of a nuclear explosion but why would I want to ruin the surprise for her?

After I secured a baby sitter for the weekend, I sat down and looked at the menu again.

Starters

Mezze (tabbouleh, hummus, babaganoush, caprese skewers and vege-sushi rolls

RAP MEzze

Vertical Pear Salad

Vertical Pear Salad home

 

Main Course

  1. Thai Style Spicy Jollof Rice
  2. Shrimp Scampi (Linguine)
  3. Braciole
  4. Chicken Piglets
  5. Sautéed herbed potatoes
  6. Chicken Marsala
  7. Teriyaki Chicken

 

Dessert

  1. Chocolate Cake (covered in whipped cream and surrounded by a chocolate cage)
  2. Strawberry and Apple Rose Tart (filled with lemon pastry cream)
  3. Apple Rose Tartlets
  4. Lemon Cake

 

Convinced that I could pull this off single handedly, I prepared a detailed work plan and sent an email to Krystal with a checklist of my requirements for working out of the Sofisticat Kitchen. Top of the list was the need for a fully functional freezer, refrigerator, oven and range. I also requested that she confirms that the generators will be up and running (no use having the freezers and refrigerators if there is no electricity), I needed running clean water and cooking utensils. She responded by assuring me that everything will be in order and that her event planner would be responsible for sourcing the serving platters, flatware and silverware.

 

By 3 am, the made-from-scratch tart shell and the chocolate cake had been baked and the lemon pastry cream was chilling the refrigerator). After about 3 hours of sleep, I proceeded to marinade the chicken and make the tomato sauce for the braciole, I then realized that I needed some herbs and spices so I made a dash for the shops. My phone rang; again it was Krystal and she sounded worried.

 

“Hi Nkem, how is it going?”

“So far so good. What’s up?”

“My event planner says that she cannot get silverware and that you would have to source them yourself”

I close my eyes briefly and breathe deeply.

 

“I am on my way to the shops now, so I can sort that out”

“Oh thank you Nkem, you are a life saver!”

A life saver and a magician…..clearly I missed my calling.

 

“You’re welcome.” I say through gritted teeth. Oblivious to my consternation, she continued,

“You will love the platters we’re getting for the party, they will show off your beautifully presented meals perfectly”

“Oh that’s lovely, Krystal. See you tomorrow”

Purchases made, I dash back home and continue the prep work. Everything seemed to be going quite well, given that I was a one-man-band. The cake and tart were nicely decorated and resting in the refrigerator. The tomato sauce tasted just right and the chicken was emitting all the right aromas from the oven.

 

I had decided that the Shrimp Scampi, Sautéed Potatoes and Chicken Marsala would be prepared on the day from the Sofiscat kitchen. I had also decided that it would be absolute lunacy to embark on this venture without any form of assistance so I called a dear friend who, despite the short notice and late hour, graciously accepted to come along.

 

I was feeling relaxed and organized as I ticked off my to-do list; everything was going swimmingly. It was now 2am, I had brought out the sirloin steak from the freezer to defrost 2 hours prior, and was ready to prep it ahead of cooking the braciole later in the morning. As I peeled back the wrap off the second packet of meat, a foul odour hit me. I looked askance at the dustbin; I knew I had emptied it after the children went to bed. Then I looked down at the meat in my hands, it was a greenish-brown colour and oozing putrid liquid of the same hue. My heart stopped and the kitchen swam around me. It was rotten; the entire thing was off. I couldn’t believe it!

To be continued………

 

 

Please note that although this is a true life account, I have changed the names of some the characters and locations to preserve their privacy.

The featured image was pulled off the net and I claim no proprietary rights to it. All other pictures are mine

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6 thoughts on “Hell’s Kitchen Part 1

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