Monday, September 6, 2010

Pepper Mania

This short story was published in the South Carolina Writer's Workshop newsletter last week and thought I'd pass it along.

Anticipation was high for the S.C. Writer’s Conference in Myrtle Beach, October 2008. It was 150 miles, from Cape Carteret N.C., and I hoped to meet friendly people during the convention, maybe have someone to “pal around with”.

Thursday night, at the concierge desk, I met two writers, Martha and Amanda, looking for a restaurant; we talked and decided to go to Miyabi, a Japanese restaurant.

In the Tepinyaki room, we were seated at a table for eight. There was a family of four; mother, father and two young girls at one end, and Amanda, Martha and I at the other. Amanda ordered sushi, while Martha and I ordered the teriyaki chicken for the chef to cook.

The chef appeared with everything. He warmed a pile of rice, while bell peppers and onions grilled and then tapped a shaker of seasonings like a musical instrument on top of each pile of food.

“Wait. Is there any black pepper in that?” I said.

The chef replied, “All our seasonings have black pepper in it. Why?”

“I’m allergic to black pepper, so I need my dinner cooked without it.”

Immediately, the chef signals a waiter over and tells him to cook my dinner in the kitchen, on a clean cook top, without pepper.

“Thank you.” I said and he smiled.

The chef dumped a bowl of large shrimp on the center of the cook top and in a motion similar to a gun fighter twirling his gun, a holstered knife emerged to de-tail and cut the shrimp in a progressively fast pace until all were bite-size. The knife returned to the holster like a samurai’s sword. A spatula appeared to flip the shrimp and section them off into groups for each of us as an appetizer.

“Don’t fix any for me, I’m allergic to seafood,” I said.

With a look of amazement, he said, “Is there any other food you’re allergic to?”

“No, that’s it.”

Smiling, he said, “They will get your share of shrimp.” He scooped up the tails in his spatula and tossed them into a bowl sitting on his chef’s hat. The last batch of tails landed on my plate, “A present for you.”

“I’m glad they didn’t land in my Asahi.” Everyone laughed.

Amanda asked me in a low voice, “Why can’t you eat black pepper?”

“I had my gall bladder removed, so if I eat it, I will pay dearly for it later.”

The chef asked me why I couldn’t eat pepper; he got the same answer.

The chef from the next table came over and asked why I couldn’t eat pepper; I told him. Five minutes later, a waiter came over and asked me “Why can’t you eat pepper?”

“I’m allergic to it.”
He said “Aaahh…”

There was a gossip network in the kitchen. Every few minutes a chef or waiter stopped by my table to say that my dinner had double black pepper on it, and walked away laughing. I laughed too.

When dinner ended, a group of waiters and chefs silently gathered behind me. A waiter beat on a drum, and I jumped. He laughed and said “You funny”. I’m glad that I had been their source of entertainment for the entire evening.

The group paraded around the table to the opposite side, where the mother was celebrating her birthday. A ceremonial bowl of flowers holding a long, lit candle sat in front of her. Before we sang the birthday song, the chef asked her name. She said, “Pepper”.


Things always happen to me... Let me hear from you at aitken.helen@gmail.com
Have a "pepperless" day- I know I will.

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