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I. Secret Diaries of a Bad-Boy Chef

Pity the poor bad boy. His boyhood is forever even if his reign is but a Zeitgeist blip.

The ’80s in America brought on a cavalcade of “bad boys” in the arts and business. We had showdowns between international choreographers (Mark Morris, 1; Michael Clark, 0); we had nervy young traders with their Polo shirts, stupid yellow ties, and big, swinging bad-boy accouterments; and we had many American artists whose talent was questionable enough to warrant the term—creating an entire bad-boy universe, if you will, of smashed crockery and kitschy pink poodles. But since England is on the blunt side of the cutting edge, still exhausted from inventing Carnaby Street and the Sex boutique, it’s only beginning to democratize the infamous aristocrat cad. Birthed from the lower classes—the lower the better—and looped on class resentment, swank drugs, and foie gras, these sausage-fingered rascals are running riot across London, palpating unsuitable women and mincing fennel.

Earlier this month, The New Yorker’s “Europe” issue profiled Marco Pierre White, a shapeless, pouting scoundrel whose b-boy credentials could fill a page: inspirer of ludicrously poetic and fawning prose in the gastronomy press; creator of scary French dishes, heavy on the stomach caul, sheep’s bladder, and other daunting meaty bits; famous chucker-outer of patrons who order steaks well done or otherwise irk the man in the toque.

White is not alone among chefs in his ruthless disdain for the gourmand class. God only knows what drives these epicurean desperadoes, but recently, the diary of one mysteriously washed ashore into my in-box:

May 1. Am considering May Day menu in honor of brave Communist marchers. Bloody Escoffier bears no mention of gastronomic qualities of worker bees—fricassee, perhaps? Look into plating possibilities: architectural structure of tiny wings in hammer-and-sickle formation, stingers in red aspic. Fired certain jumped-up sous chef who did not know his place. Denis, the impudent pup, took it upon himself to make “executive decision”—serving flounder à l’intestine without eyes! The upside is, now have freezer full of flounder eyes. Float in tomorrow’s soup?

May 4. Weather warming up. Rang Gill from the Sunday Times to call him a “fat, ugly bastard”; he pronounced my sheep’s kidneys in urine cream “like a sonnet written by Dashiell Hammett—pure poetry with a socko twist.” Had Charmaine send over a case of rotten prawns. Denis hangs around the back kitchen, mooing apologies.

May 28. Chucked Serena Linley the hell out the door today at lunch. Her table of poxy royals picked at my Froot Loops in goat cheese fondue and refused to order wine. Don’t they understand that the crisp sweetness of the cereal demands the melting sting of chevre? Now the dish lingers on the lunch menu, seldom ordered. I shall return to my canvas, cursing the fools who thwart me. Calls from Denis becoming positively unbearable.

June 14. Unveiled tendons cheval au sang last night with great success. Had Meades wingeing like a servant girl in the Times: “It is the veritable taste of memory—a forgotten whiff recalled, a summer’s evening fondly mused, a woman’s warm touch sprung from oblivion.” Idiot. Chucked him out and had his kneecaps broken. Charmaine knows some people.

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June 20. Am experimenting with lighter menu, but the loam avec baby earthworm potage fights me at every turn. Shift pH? Mysterious silence from Denis.

June 30. Charmaine’s wet husband screaming bloody murder over tedious groping episode in fish closet—hardly worth the bother of shoving my prize asparagus server up his nose. Still, adrenaline had me in frenzy of creation: medallions de disappointment a masterwork—two small udders blanched, stuffed part way with foie gras and lemon peel, napped lightly in Chanel No. 22.

July 6. Nothing ever changes. Where is my inspiration? Meades out of traction, Fergie chucked for being a fat, loudmouthed sow, my cold tongue petit fours in marrow fondant made cover of Hello! magazine with Gill blurb: “Decadent, indecent, even depraved, they whisper sinisterly of disreputable dance halls and Apaches forcing women out of their favors in the street.” Hear Denis is looking at the old Singing Kettle space across the street. Is there any truth to the rumor?

July 17. Philistines! Morons! Denis’ imminent disaster The Phoenix (a name fully befitting his bankrupt imagination!) makes color cover of Observer. I am relegated to Page 7, with brief mention of pâte de geoduck in seawater coulis. Seduced his girlfriend and hired her as hostess. Chucked out the entire Saturday night dinner crowd but heart still heavy. Must think about vegetables.

Sept. 30. Too distraught to write, much less create. Le tout London is flocking to the Phoenix for Denis’ execrable confit de canard. The man is a mental midget! Caught sight of Meades almost certainly skulking in side door. Lamb foetus au sauce naturel unmentioned in national papers. Thank goodness I shall have some respite in Bermuda this weekend, if Fergie free. Many delightful plans to abandon her on volcanic island, if only I had the energy to enjoy it.

II. One Day in the Park with George

Often the signs of our culture’s demise are elusive, furtive, blurry around the edges. Once in a while, however, the evidence crystallizes in the light of day. Case in point: the “personalized romance novel,” for which the consumer enters all the vital data—names (yours and his); name of pet; favorite drink and food; eye colors of hero (choose from “piercing blue” and “penetrating black,” among other shades) and heroine (“enticing green” or “alluring hazel”)—and Personal Passions will cobble together Emerald Seduction, a potboiler with that same plot you’ve been enjoying in a hundred other romance novels, only starring you, him, Muffy, fettucine alfredo, and the Land Rover. The bankruptcy of literary imagination that this implies is not of interest to us, really, but the Victorian assumptions—that is to say, the bankruptcy of romantic imagination—are. It’s a given that this product is for women whose primary sexual interest is in males, and we wonder how long it will be before this world catches up with such a ponderous vision of love. At any rate, I only know about this phenomenon from another errant arrival in my in-box, which suggested, at the very least, new voluptuary turns on the genre:

Dear Mr. Panayiotou:

We here at Isn’t It Romantic are thrilled that you have chosen to join our family of romance-fiction “stars”—and now your fiction can become reality! On the printed page, at least. Enclosed is the manuscript you requested, a passionate REAL-LIFE ROMANCE featuring you, GEORGE PANAYIOTOU, IRV, ______, ______, and OFFICER HARDWICK in TEAROOM ANGELS.

Some amendments our editors would like to suggest:

Setting: We’ve taken the liberty of relocating your exciting cast of characters from the original suggestion, “Will Rogers Park, a deserted hillside above Los Angeles,” to the glamorous birthplace of fellow scribe Will Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon, England.

Specifics: We agree your idea that the hero, “Michael,” be a successful pop star is a tad “modern” and, frankly, unbelievable. We offer this counter-suggestion: the Earl of Sommerville, who believes that he has been disinherited by his crotchety late great-uncle but has actually been swindled by his no-good half-brother, Andrew. Also: We’ve changed “cocksman” to “falconer” throughout.

Characters: It is conceivable that you somehow did not receive our latest request that you submit the names of your partners in passion. Although your descriptions were very useful, please keep in mind that we must have full names if we are to weave IRV, ______, and ______ into the splendid tapestry of romance that is TEAROOM ANGELS. So far we have “Irv, 50ish, wearing the uniform of a municipal plumber, no underwear. ______, 20, very hot, runs inside bathroom to splash face with cold water while playing Frisbee with ______, also early 20s and totally hot. No underwear.”

Style amendments: We have replaced “flaming Greek shish kebab” with “yearning manhood”; “groaning like a wounded bear” with “whispering foolish endearments”; “gripped the piss-scarred porcelain” with “passed Irv one of his rare celebratory cigars”; and “Like what you see, Daddy?” with “Well, hullo Trent; back from the Regatta already?”

Finally, rather than use your suggested final line, “Michael was panting and sore, but as the sun began to sink behind the Santa Monica mountains, he heard gritty footsteps on the tile and feverishly slicked it up for one last lucky caller,” we moved another line from earlier in your proposal: “Taking care not to bump into the mahogany armoire that had been the cause of so much pain between them, Michael crept into the bedroom and neatly placed the note that, so brief, yet containing all his heart, read ‘Wake me up before [illegible].’”

III. Antiques and Collectors Anonymous

“I was in control, but very soon after that the little critters got to me.”—comment on Beanie Babies’ pen pal Web site

“Is it a disease? In a way, yes. Does it have recognizable symptoms so you can diagnose it?”—notes on collecting, Antique Center Web site

A DANGEROUS ADDICTION IS SWEEPING THE NATION!

According to a recent bulletin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, antiques addiction, so long a shadowy malady, has become a national scourge. Those in its grip have been driven to bankruptcy, their health ruined, their basements and attics bulging, their families destroyed, all under the veil of crippling moral shame! YES antiques addiction is a disease and YES YOU CAN get help. And you should, if any of these pernicious symptoms apply to you, a loved one, family member or co-worker:

Do you antique alone?

Do you ever need to antique first thing in the morning, to stop the shaking or “clear your head?”

Do you pick up the occasional sterling silver epergne during your lunch hour and figure no one at work will notice?

Do you make excuses for your antiquing—e.g., if I buy this Grande Baroque cold meat fork, I’ll actually be saving money by not buying the Hepplewhite highboy? or, I’m under a great deal of stress at home, and therefore deserve a 19th-century chiffonier?

Do you tell yourself you need that set of six Limoges oyster plates because you’ve had a hard day at work?

Have you ever switched from one kind of antique to another—say, easy-to-find and relatively cheap coin-spot glass to walnut church pews salvaged from Glasgow’s “Great Fire” of 1832—in an effort to “cut down”?

Do you wish people would stop interfering in your antiquing, suggesting you’ve “had enough” tortoise-shell boar-bristle brushes or flamingo cocktail shakers?

Have you ever sought out a partner or mate solely because he or she can keep up with your antiquing; conversely, have you ever ended a relationship because of that person’s inability to recognize an Ispahan carpet or secrètaire à abattant or for calling an open court cupboard a “buffet”?

After everyone else has bought some Fire King luncheon plates or sepia-toned postcards and headed for home, do you stick around for “just one more” Victorian button-back settee or crawl off to another store for a Goofus compote in “Aztec” design “for the road”?

Are you inherently suspicious of ostensibly excellent japanning?

If you answered YES to more than three of these questions, please call Antiques and Collectors Anonymous (ACA) today at the number listed on our home page.

You can stop. It’s not your fault. You are not alone.—Arion Berger