Chrome Kitchen Crucible by Brandon C. Hovey

Chrome Kitchen Crucible: A Parable on Criticism or on a Lack of a useful kind

                                                            By Brandon C. Hovey

            I hate television.

I do not even like movies.  Snow kept piling up outside, and my laptop can’t keep an honest charge anymore.  I still don’t see the point in buying a tablet.  This had been one tremendously boring snow day, and like an unpaid parking ticket, it just keeps getting worse.  Time marched on, and I wished the snow away.

My place of employment had cancelled work.  I’m thankful to have a good boss who understands that productivity will be nil if his employees come into work scared or fatigued from driving in the snow.  I think I read my bookshelves from my home’s stem to stern.  Time was only growing as the powder neared the sills of the windows.  It hit me that turning the television on was going to happen.

Although I call it an addiction to many, it surely could provide me some ways to spend time until the next day.   I flipped through the channels, a drone and then a staccato attracted my attention for a period longer than a second, the staccato was a mere measure of notes.

It was theme music on a dark screen

I’m a lover of any kind of music.  The sense of urgency that surrounded this melody vacuumed me in.  I couldn’t change the channel.  I had arrived, and I wasn’t leaving.

A shadow appeared and some lighting was visible to me.  A voice rose above the music.

“Seven will enter my kitchen.  Three judges and four contestants, little time, little chance of winning, and high pressure; they are entering my domain, and my rules and judges will see that only the best of these chefs shall see my $20,000 dollar prize.”

His severe face and gaunt frame was clad in an older style tuxedo and he appeared to be a hybrid of servant and master with the attire and his mannerism.  It contradicted his greeting and the next portion of his speech.

“Chrome Kitchen Crucible, where the strong chefs are made weak, and good chefs really discover who they are!  They are nothing!!  Those who are about to cook salute thee, audience.  And, those who are about to cook will themselves be made a success or a failure in my crucible.!”

Jets of flames rose high above him as the background behind this host was illuminated.  White tile walls were exposed.   Left of the host had a dias and a table gilded with golden cloth.  Three high backed chairs with mohair and leather upholstery were there as well.  There was a tea kettle in the center of the table that seemed out of place.

My analysis of the table was interrupted again by the flames.

A set of kitchenettes with chrome fixtures from their ovens, pans, and ranges were visible to the host’s right.  A large pantry with more chrome fixtures including: shelves, fridges, a blast chiller, and an ice cream machine.  The place appeared as sterile as a hospital and as clean as fantastic as a sci-fi movie set.

The camera then panned to the host again.

“I’m Thad Williams your host.  Now meet your judges.”

The camera panned back to the raised table.

“Your first judge is a man who needs no introduction.”

A man dressed in jeans, a collared shirt, and a blazer entered the room and took a seat at the table.

“Chef Sancho Gilbertez, Owner of the La Tapas Express: Restaurants and Catering Service.  How are you today, Chef?”

“I’m fine, Thad.”

Sancho had a good crisp voice with diction that showed an education and a strong character.

“What’s new in your life today, Chef?”

“Thad, I’m working with FrozCorp to develop my own line of frozen meals.  TV Tapas!”

“That is brilliant work, Chef! I know our viewers are hungry just hearing about that.”

“Thank you, Thad.”

“You are welcome, Chef.”

The camera returned to Thad’s position.

“Our next chef is very much the prima ballerina of the pastry world, and is the host of the web series Farrah’s Fixins: Chef Farrah Josi.

Chef Farrah appeared youthful with blonde locks and fishtail, and wore a quilted burgundy fleece Jacket over a red blouse.  A mini skirt and boots complemented the rest of her attire.  She took the seat to the far left of Sancho.  The middle seat remained empty.

“Chef Farrah, it is so good to have you with us today.  Anything new going on in your world?”

“Thank you, Thad.  I’m looking forward to showing my Danish Do’s and Don’ts next week in a five part series.”

“Fabulous, Chef!  Again, welcome to the show, and good luck.”

Thad’s face got intense at that moment, and jets of flames again appeared higher and higher.

“Now, a welcome to my Chief Judge, my center seat ringmaster, my talented goalkeeper, and the upholder of all sacred culinary laws: Chef Marion Stokely!!!”

The camera then turned to Marion Stokely, he was bald and dressed in a red  and gold suit, and he was bald, had a moustache, and eyeglasses.  He waved to Thad and the viewers.

“Chef Marion!  It is an honor to be in your presence.”

“Likewise, Thad.  There’s not any other place I’d rather be, than in the crucible.  We’re here to see who will be deviled, and who’s going to be poached.”

Thad forced his laughter.

“Very funny, Chef Marion!  I’m so glad you and the others are nested.”

The camera zoomed in on Thad’s face.

“It is time to meet your contestants.”

The cameraman then zoomed on an archway in the distance across from Thad and the judges by the pantry.  Beneath the archway was a portcullis which raised to reveal a contestant dressed in a black chef coat with checkered culinarian pants.  Like Farrah, he had a youthful appearance and his face exuded a confidence.  He was the ubiquitous ‘man in the arena’ that Roosevelt talked about, the twenty-first century version commonplace in reality shows.

The screen split and I could see him walking to his station, and then the other screen was just his face pictured in a different room.  Within this screen he began to speak.

“I am Pradeep N’Kinter.  I am the Executive Chef of The Bluesman’s Curry in New York City.  This restaurant represents my heritage, as I’m half black and half Indian.”

Footage of Pradeep playing an acoustic bass is shown.  He is jamming.  I want this guy to win already.

“I know I’m young, but my parents wanted me to do something that I love.  I love cooking, and I became an executive chef only after being out of culinary school for three years.  Then I left the hotel I was at and opened my own place.”

The screen became one and it showed him in the room he was filmed prior to his entrance.

“If I win the $20,000, I’ll expand my restaurant’s dining area, and hire underprivileged teens in my neighborhood.  If I can teach them a work ethic, maybe someday they can work to improve the world.  I love my city, and I love my country.  America is a land anyone can be successful.  I want to show how The American Dream is still alive.”

The dialogue with him ended and the camera showed Pradeep in front of his range and oven.  The chrome was so clear you could see his face in the reflection.  Thad came into view.

“Chef Pradeep, are you ready for The Crucible?”

“I am, Thad!  Judges, thank you for having me today.”

The camera panned over to Marion.

“Don’t say that just yet.  You’ve not been eliminated.”

I don’t know what my opinion is of Marion yet.  I wasn’t expecting these judges to really be mean.  But maybe he isn’t mean, and perhaps he just thinks he’s a cool guy and wise and stuff.  Hard to tell.

The camera returned to the portcullis once more and a female chef dressed in the same garb appeared.  She had brunette hair and smiled as she entered.  She looked to be as old as Pradeep.  The screen again split in two.  She had been filmed in the same room as Pradeep.

“I am Chef Samantha Karpice of Franklin, Tennessee.  I’m a former sous chef at Timms Gourmet Diner in Nashville, Tennessee.  I left my last job do to me not getting along with my boss. “

A picture of her in chef garb was visible on the screen.

“I’m here today to win the $20,000 to help me move to a different city to find work, and if worse comes to worst, I’ll support myself on it.  I’m also here to show that I’m talented, and I can hold my own with other talented chefs.”

She smiled coyly.

“If there’s a potential boss right now watching, you get to see how hard I’m willing to work.”

The screen again became one piece and Thad was in front of her to extend his greetings as well.  This show was getting a pattern.

“Welcome, Chef Samantha!”

“Thank you, Thad.  I’m honored to be here.”

“On to our next contestant please.”

Again the camera turned to the next contestant, Chondra Roberts.  Chondra looked older and she was Asian.  She wore a chef coat, but it looked like it wasn’t something she’d typically wear.  She had to be a home chef.

The screen once more split into the two portions.

“I’m Chondra Roberts, and I’m a home chef.  By day, I work as a Microwave saleswoman.  By evening and night, I’m a gourmet!”

The screen showed her cooking in front of her husband and children.  The kin crowd gathered around her seemed in awe of her flipping sausage patties and whipping up country gravy.  Mrs. Roberts was Bengali, and her sons and husband seemed proud of her.  Her parents were not.

“My parents wanted me to choose a sales career.  I wanted to be a chef.  I’m here to win the $20,000 so I can prove my parents wrong and show them my talent.  I may be a home chef, but I’m a vicious competitor.”

The screen again showed Thad and the home chef, Chondra Roberts.

“Welcome to The Crucible, Chef.”

“Thank you, Thad.  I’m happy to be here.”

The three judges in the distance didn’t say anything, but they smiled and waved towards her as if she was a child.

The camera zoomed in on Thad’s face and showed only his eyes.  Was I watching a cooking show or a spaghetti western?

“The last of our four competitors will enter now.”

He was in the same garb as the others.  He had a long beard that stretched down to his clavicle.  It was covered by a net.  Black plastic eye glasses corrected his vision, and his stride was long and open.  The screen once more split in two and he introduced himself.

“I am Brent Love of LoveBSteaks in Evansville, Indiana.  I’m here to represent the Midwest.  I like to show my talents as a chef while cooking Chicago steakhouse fare and blending it with Southern comfort food.”

His confidence was present in his stride, body language, and diction.

“If I win that $20,000, I’m going to update my entire restaurant.  The dining room is dated and the kitchen is fifteen years behind the times.”

He smiled from ear to ear.

“I’m in my groove, and I’m ready to move.”

The screen returned to the kitchen.

“Welcome, Chef Love.”

“Thanks, Thad.  I’m so happy to be here today.”

Stokely chuckled in the distance.

“So am I.”

The camera returned to Thad as he moved near the judges’ area.  He raised his hands up high and stretched around him.

“Judges, Chefs, welcome to my Crucible.  We shall see who has the talent to survive all three rounds: appetizer, entrée, dessert and reign as champion.  Those who fail will be molded and shaped into something they will not understand.  Those who succeed will gain honor.”

He then turned to the contestants.

“Today you will be challenged by ingredients you’ve used before, and some you may have never touched.  Today will be where you are heated by the stress of this environment, and then cold hammered with the criticism of our judging panel.  The viewers at home cannot help you, and your experiences shall only pale with the trial before you today.”

Four orderlies in aprons entered the camera’s vision.  They are carrying small crates towards the four contestants.

Thad watches as his henchmen place the crates on the chrome tables of the contestants.  The chefs about to compete look nervous, and their complexions betray their anxiety further as the hives of stress unleash their droning bee-like symptoms of perspiration and heightened blood pressure.  The wasps that are panic attacks are also buzzing near.

The hummingbird of serenity is nowhere to be found today.

“Open the crates and retrieve the ingredients inside.”  Thad announced.

Each of them did so.

Thad spoke again as soon as the first ingredient was visible.

“For the appetizer round, you have Chinese Lap Cheong, Panko Bread Crumbs, Black Olives, and Clotted Cream.”

A contestant’s voice could be heard, as the screen transitioned to him.

“I’ve never used lap cheong, and I’ve never heard of clotted cream.  I can’t fathom what I’m going to do.”

Brent Love’s words paled in comparison to Pradeep.

“I love Lap Cheong!  It is a Chinese sausage, and it is one of my favorite meats.  I’m stoked now!

Thad’s voice and flames could be heard again.

“Judges you have twenty minutes.  Transform these ingredients.  Time starts now.”

They were cooking for keeps.

Brent ran to the pantry with a panicked gait.  Samantha Karpice had a wide stride.  Chondra Roberts galloped, and Pradeep stormed towards the ingredients he desired.  Pradeep was the first back to his station.

He fired up the range and smiled as the pilot light ignited the gas stove.  The screen split in two and a brown background appeared in the screen opposite of his figure and his details were in white print on the orange background.

He spoke along with the text that was appearing on the orange background.

“I don’t want to be pompous or arrogant.” Pradeep said with a sheepish grin.

“I’m the only one here experienced with these ingredients.” He added with a more present smile and joyfully arched eyebrows.

“My plan is to take my heritage and incorporate that with the ingredients that I’m going to transform.  I’m making a lap cheong stir fry today!  I’m going to throw in some white fish to make a surf-and turf thing going on with it.  I’ll bread that with the panko.  My noodles will be udon, and I’m going to use the clotted cream as a cooling agent.   The spice shall be present after I use my curry sauce!”

Pradeep smiled as the screen became whole and he found himself whipping things together to craft a dish that may bring him victory for the first round.

I could tell that the other competitors were less than confident.

Chondra Roberts seemed confused, and she dropped pans and measuring cups.  She was appearing to be a farce.

Her confusion and obtuse movements were observed by the judges.  And, of course, Judge Marion Stokely injected a serum of disgust to incite the conversation amongst the judges.

“If that home cook wanted to spend a day as a stagiare, I’d tell her to keep being in microwave sales.   After all, that’s probably all she really does for being a home cook.  Heating up tv dinners like yours, Sancho!”

Judge Sancho Gilbertez chuckled.

“No comment, Marion.”

Judge Farrah cackled.

The camera panned over to Chondra Roberts, the lone home cook.

The screen split once more.  Chondra described her ‘plan’ in similar fashion to Pradeep.

“I’m going to do my best and show them what home cooks can do.  I’ve never really worked with any of these ingredients except lap cheong.”

Her countenance was fearful and her movements appeared to be hindered by invisible shackles that anchored her to her fear.

“I’m going to make an appetizer salad with kale, spinach, lap cheong, and I’ll thin out the clotted cream.  Ask me what I’ll do with the panko later.”

I fear for Chondra.  She is dwarfed by more experienced giants.

Samantha Karpice is doing things well it seems, she was already cooking and she was sweating profusely.  Her efforts were committed to win.

Her movements were deft and svelte.  She had the grace of a ballerina, but one wearing non-slip boots rather than pointe shoes.

“I’m going to make a charcuterie.  It’ll be fried lap cheong, sopressata for flavor contrast, and then a little bit of English bangers for another contrast point.  I’ll make a selection from the pantry later to choose a fruit to be used with the clotted cream, but since I don’t know clotted cream that well, I’m not sure what to do with it.”

I admired Samantha for her candor regarding her ignorance of the ingredient.  I also admired her confidence.  She was my age and she was already a skilled chef.

The panel of judges said nothing.  Perhaps that was a good thing.

Brent Love was already drenched in sweat and red in the face.  The screen split again to display his idea.

“Great minds think alike.  Sammy Karpice over there is frying her sausage, I’m frying thelap cheong as well.”  He frowned.

“I’ve no clue what to do with the clotted cream, but I’m going to use that as my pizzette sauce.  I figure a little appetizer pizza with the black olives will be perfect.”

He sprinted to the pantry and grabbed two packs of cheese: mozzarella and cheddar.

“I’m going to do my best.”

Stokely commented again.

“Tell me he’s not going to use cheddar cheese in his pizza.”

Farrah shook her head no.

“I wouldn’t lie to you, buddy.  He is.”

They all frowned as Stokely loosed another barb.

“Just goes to show you what they eat in that armpit of the world called the Midwest.”

I could tell even the judges were annoyed by Stokely.

Pradeep finished first, and he began plating his dish at the three-minute mark.  Samantha plated second at the two-and-a -half minute mark.

Brent Love sweated profusely and his face was now bright red.  He sliced the pizzette and put it on the plate as Thad cried out the two-minute warning.

Love raised his hands as he finished plating his first dish.

“Round One Complete!”

Farrah laughed again at the contestant.

I doubt the judges respect him.

Chondra Roberts plated within ten seconds of the timer ringing.  She panted and said nothing.

The appearance of her dish was the worst.  I was reminded of TV dinners, not of a quality home- cooked meal.

The judges already didn’t like her.  I had a feeling she was going to leave The Crucible.

“Time is up, Chefs, hands up and away from your stations.”

Thad’s announcement was met with the chefs standing back and away from their kitchenettes.  Orderlies in white chef coats entered and took the chefs’ plates away on carts.

Thad looked at the four contestants, as the camera zoomed in on his eyes again, in a spaghetti Western fashion.

“Chefs, it is time to see if you survived the first of your heat treatments today in The Crucible!  Approach and be judged.”

The camera then zooms out and brazen jets of flames, louder than before appeared behind Thad.

I’m glad I wasn’t there in person to see such a frightening effect.

Thad’s face and body were now visible once more.

“First up, Chef Samantha Karpice.  What did you prepare for us, Chef?”

Samantha stepped forward and introduced herself with an infectious enthusiasm and a quiet undertone of confidence.

“Today, Judges, I have prepared for you a charcuterie which you can eat in no particular order.  I’ll let you dig in, and let the work speak for itself.”

The three of them dug in without saying a word.

Silence.  Only smiles came from the judges.

Gilbertez spoke first.

“Chef Samantha, this is a solid dish.  You are setting the bar high for your competitors.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

Farrah Josi then chimed in.

“I appreciate the fact that you transformed the ingredients, but you also kept things under control since this is an appetizer.  I applaud you.”

“Thank you, Judge.”

Stokely now broke his silence.

“I agree this with my colleagues.  This is good.”

I knew the catch was coming.

“You’ve really surprised me.  Truthfully, I can’t see someone your age doing this.  But, you made the mistake in presentation.  There should be less space between each portion.”

“I understand, chef.”

“No, you don’t understand, Chef Karpice.  You’ve made a culinary error, and you’ve disrespected our craft, and you’ve disrespected me.”

“I’m watching you, Samantha.”

I’m not shocked by Stokely’s rudeness.  Samantha is holding back tears, I don’t think presentation is the highest factor of the overall score.

I’m also a layperson, so I can’t understand the error.

Samantha’s reply shows her respect for her craft and her deference for the judge.

“Yes, Chef, I will do better.”

Stokely does not reply.

“Samantha, what makes you think you can win Chrome Kitchen Crucible?”

Thad’s inquiry was met with a response that wasn’t forced.  It was genuine, but also not practiced.

“This is my chance to show my skills that I’ve developed practicing the culinary arts to prospective employers, and my skills are proficient enough to allow me to hold my own in this competition.”

Classy answer from a classy lady, I think.  Such eloquence and such charisma exude from Samantha Karpice, a chef-errant.

“Thank you, Chef Samantha,” Thad replied.  “Next, we have Chef Chondra Roberts.”

Chef Roberts stepped further forward than Samantha.

“Chef Roberts, what have you prepared for us?”

“I made a…”

Stokely took one bite and spat it out.

“You made a disaster that’s what.  This is not something I’d serve my dog, nor my garter snake.”

He pointed his finger and the odd liquid that just maybe was the clotted cream.

“This is a joke, woman.  You destroyed the clotted cream, you didn’t transform it.”

Stokely knocked the plate off of the table.

“Cleanup, please,” Thad said.

Two orderlies entered the room with a broom and dustpan.  They were on camera for a lone second.

Judge Sancho Gilbertez piped up next.

“The Lap Cheong was okay.  But, I’m not seeing panko on my plate.  Can you tell me where it is, please?”

Roberts’s befuddlement turned into a fear.

Farrah helped her find the words.

“Where is the panko, Chondra?”

She didn’t do it nicely.

“I forgot it.”

“Heh, heh, heh.”

Stokely belly laughed.

“I knew you were a home cook.”

Thad looked at Chondra Roberts for a moment, and I thought he was going to ask why she was competing like he did for Karpice.  But, he didn’t.

“Thank you, Chef Chondra.”  Thad then turned to Brent Love.

“Chef Brent Love, show us what you prepared for us today.”

Chondra sobbed as Brent stepped forward.

“Greetings, Judges.  I’ve prepared a delicious appetizer pizzette for you.”

“It looks nice,” Farrah said.

She took the first bite while her companions grimaced.

“It is good, but I don’t like the cheddar cheese.”

Gilbertez piped in.

“I agree.  Not bad, but your choice of cheese was a failure.”

Stokely exploded after Sancho’s comment.

“Good pizza, but you hurt your final score because of cheddar cheese.  Where’d you go to culinary school?”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, you did better than the home cook, but you’re only one step above her.”

He took his second bite of the pizza slice, and set it back on the plate.

“I’m done.”

Thad smiled with happiness as he didn’t have to worry about recalling his cleaning crew to the stage.

“Chef Pradeep, please show us what you made.”

“Judges, I made for you a stir-fry.  Like my fellow contestant Samantha, I shall let the dish speak for itself.”

“Very well, chef.”  Thad smiled.

Farrah took the first bite.

“Lovely!  Job well done on taste, texture, and appearance.”

Sancho popped in.

“I agree with my fellow judge.  This and Samantha’s are the best we’ve seen today.”

“Thank you, judges.”

Stokely as usual had the last word apparently.

“Best dish so far.  Gook work, Chef!  Thad, we’re already to judge.”

“Before the commercial break, Marion?  Really?”

Thad paused with a shrug.

“Okay, we have the results!  Who’s going home?”

Stokely stood up to render his verdict.

“Chef Chondra Roberts could not withstand the pressure of the crucible.  Your dish was a disaster, Chondra.  You failed miserably.  I only hope you cook in the microwaves you sell from now on.  If you have kids, you are torturing them with your cooking.  I pray no one has to suffer your culinary disasters ever again.”

Roberts tears erupted, and two orderlies in white chef coats escorted her out of the arena.

She had lost, the other three chefs remained.

The screen split, showing her seated and her face showed that she failed.

“I know I messed up.  Maybe I’m bad at cooking.  I can’t really tell.  Other people sure like my food.  I bring stuff into work all the time.  I don’t use my microwave then.”

She sobs again.

“I’ll never know.”

The camera turns to Thad.

“Chefs, it is time for the second round.  Return to your stations.”

Three orderlies came out with another set of ingredients in crates.  The crates were presented to the three contestants.

Thad turned to the judges, and the camera angle captured the area behind him to the three contestants at their stations.

“Open the crates.”

The contestants did so.

“Your ingredients are duck breast, cream cheese, chives, and plantains.  Time starts now.”

A commercial break began.  Now was the time to grab a beer.  On a winter’s night, a winter warmer or a stout would have been appropriate.  The show was too interesting to seek one of those out, though.  I needed something that would keep me cognizant of the competition.

I chose an Anchor Lager out of San Francisco, California.  You cannot beat a pre-Prohibition recipe when it comes to lager.  I poured it into a shaker pint, and as the head settled, I heard a knocking on the front door.

I adjourned, my preliminary head-settling hearing with my beer and approached the door.

“Who’s there?”

“United States Postal Service, Sir.  It’s Jim, your mail carrier.”

Through the peephole I confirmed it was Jim.

I opened the door and there he was covered in snow.  My Uncle Ted called it ‘God’s Dander.’  The postal blue of his parka and pants were blacked from the moisture of the snow.

“Greetings!  I’ve got your package.  Sign here please.”

He handed me a cardboard box to my left hand and with my right I made my mark on his touch screen tablet.

“Thanks.  Say, Jim, what are you doing out in this weather working today.”

“You must never have heard our motto at the post office: through snow, rain, sleet, and hail.”

“Thanks for what you do, Jim.”

“No problem. Take care.”

I returned to the kitchen, and I poured the rest of the can of the Anchor lager into my shaker. I took a sip.

Anchor Lager is a full-flavored pale beer that has a biscuity taste and a sharp finish.  Again, it is a pre-Prohibition recipe.  They don’t make straw-colored lagers like they used to.

I opened my package and I found my T.C. Boyle short story collection that I ordered from Amazon entitled Without a Hero.  I was at a crossroads.

“Book or TV?” I said aloud to an audience consisting only of myself and God.  But God knew what I was about to do, before I made my choice.

“My apologies, Mr. Boyle.”

I ran with my beer glass back to the television where I had arrived just in time.  The commercial had ended.

Pradeep was roasting his duck and preparing a sauce.  The screen split, showing him in action and him seated still in his chef coat.

“I’m taking a big risk.  I don’t have much time to roast the duck.   That’s why it immediately entered the oven.  This roast is going to have an incredible surprise to it.  While it is cooking, my sauce can have the attention it deserves.”

The screen became one again and Pradeep was pictured sweating over his range.

The camera then turned to Brent Love, and again the screen split.

“I don’t use duck often.  I grill, smoke, and fry: steaks, ribs, and pork shoulder all day long.  My limited repertoire is hurting me today.”  He frowned.  “I’m going to fry the duck, and worry about the other stuff in a bit.  I at least need to look like I’ve got the situation under control.”

I admire Brent’s courage, but it appears to me that he is being worn down each round.  It is hard to say though as the culinary arts are not my area.  Furthermore, I’ve never seen this show before, I’m not sure of how harshly they judge.

No matter what he made, it would surely be wrecked by Stokely’s deconstructive criticism.  I was still wondering why Chondra Roberts was adjudicated to leave other than the fact that Stokely doesn’t like home cooks.

The camera turned to Samantha Karpice.

She looked calm in both screens.

“I’m going to oven roast the duck like Pradeep.  I’m going to make this a savory dish and stay clear of the spicy side that my competitors seem to be favoring.

The screen rejoined from the split configuration it was in and Samantha could be seen cutting her plantains and putting them around her duck breast.  She had a grace about her like I mentioned earlier.

She was very much the prima ballerina of the competition, yet she was in a chef coat, not a tutu, and she had no dance partner she was joined with, only a Damascus blade with her initials inscribed on it.


I had unfortunately jinxed her.

Judge Farrah Josi recognized this too.

“Sam cut herself.”

Stokely smirked smugly.

“Rookie mistake, Farrah. I imagine that’s why she didn’t get along with her boss.”

“MEDIC!”  Farrah cried.

A paramedic in a red and blue golf shirt and khaki cargo pants appeared on camera.  He bandaged Sam’s wound and made a swift exit.

Judge Gilbertez then appeared on camera.

“At least she remembered to ask for a bandage unlike other contestants  in the past have done.”

“Indeed.” Thad said as the camera showed Karpice once more.

She had regained her stride and continued cutting the plantains and then she placed them into the hotel pan with the duck breast.  She opened the oven, placed the product on the center rack. and shut the hatch.

Samantha turned to her cream cheese and chives.

“I’ll balance the savory out with a mild cooling sauce.”

She thickened the cream cheese with some butter and sprinkled in the chives in a saucepan on top of her range.

The camera turned to Thad.

“Chefs, you have ten minutes.”

He faced the camera.

“We’re a little thrown off tonight, ladies and gentlemen in TV Land.  We’re going to have to go to a commercial break since we are slightly offset on our schedule.  When you return to us, you’ll see the clock have seven minutes left for this round.”

This is the perfect time to heat up some leftovers.   I left for the kitchen.

Once I heated up my leftover meatloaf, I sat down in front of the TV once more.  Two seconds later, the show was back on.

Thad’s face was centered in the camera, this time not too close to his eyes like before.

“Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  We have six minutes and fifty-six seconds on the clock.”

The camera then turned to Marion Stokely.

“If I was actually in charge, Thad, they’d only get twenty-five minutes to cook.  I could do it in less time.”

Thad smiled.

“I know you can, culinary goalkeeper of mine!”

The camera turned to Brent Love.  He was panicked at the sight of his fried duck.

“Oh man, oh man, I sure hope this works.”

The confidence in his voice was completely absent as he plated his food at his station.  His ego was a deflated balloon, halved by the weight and impact of this competition that had stretched his abilities and his imagination.

As he plated his last dish, he stepped back and the screen split.

“I hope it isn’t Waterloo for me today.”

The camera then turned to Samantha Karpice.  She had already plated her sauce with the cream cheese and chives that was thickened.  Then she heard her timer ring.

She opened her oven and stuck a thermometer in the now oven roasted duck breasts, all were done.   She tried the plantain.


Her screen split.

“I know I’ve transformed the ingredients.  Whether the chefs acknowledge that is up to them, but I know, and that’s what counts at this point.”

Samantha is confident and has self-awareness regarding her talent.

Thad’s voice was heard.

“Ninety seconds left, chefs!  Plate your dish now.”

As the screen became one, the camera panned over to Pradeep N’Kinter who was now plating his duck breast and ladling a curry sauce out over the duck the breast and plantains.  His screen split.

“I’m excited for the judges to try this.  I know Samantha and I are advancing.  I’m looking at Brent’s plate and I think he’s been out-maneuvered here.”

The camera turned over to his fried duck breast while Pradeep continued speaking.

“I think he used way too much breading.”

“Thirty seconds, Chefs!” Thad announced.

I agree with Pradeep.  The breading appears dense.  I have a good feeling that Samantha and Pradeep will advance and Brent Love will not withstand the heat of the crucible.

“I’m pleased they all finished before the very last minute.” Josi said.

“Agreed ! Only the good chefs are here right now, Farrah.”  Judge Gilbertez’s words, though, were not acknowledged fondly by Stokely.

“We’ll see about that.”

“Time is up, step away from your stations, chefs.  Servers, present to the judges.”

Thad looked at the judges and gave a thumbs up.

“Chef Brent, Chef Pradeep, and Chef Samantha, please approach the judging panel.”

Each of the contestants  looks fearful as they walk up to the judging panel from their stations where orderlies dressed in the same chef coats as earlier carry the prepared dishes to the panel.  The contestants saunter behind them slowly.

Chef Brent Love is on the right, in the center is Chef Samantha Karpice, and at the left is Chef Pradeep N’Kinter.

Thad stood in front of them.

“That concludes our entrée round, chefs.  Best of luck to each of you.”

Thad pointed to Pradeep.

“Chef Pradeep, what is the entrée you have prepared for us today?”

The orderlies placed a plate with Pradeep’s dish in front of the three judges alongside silverware wrapped in a gold and purple cloth napkin.

“Judges, I prepared for you a spicy duck breast with a red curry sauce to dress it.  With a couple of bites your palates should need some cleansing.  To tame the flames, I included a cream cheese and plantain yogurt with a little chive.”

He paused and watched the judges taste their first bites.

“As you can see, you have hot and spicy paired with cooling and savory.”

“Interesting take on the product for your entree, Chef Pradeep.  Judges, what are your thoughts?”

Thad’s inquiry was met by Gilbertez immediately.

“You are so right, Chef.  You need the cooling effect of the yogurt.  The duck breast is so spicy, but with the yogurt, it is balanced.  My one problem is the plantains seemed to be misused in the yogurt. They do not mesh.”

Josi stepped into the conversation.

“I agree with my colleague.  What we have here is a great meal!  However, your error with the plantains marred it to the point of where I can’t touch my yogurt.”

The camera showed the small silver cup of yogurt still full.

“My apologies, Ma’am,” Pradeep nodded as his confidence collapsed into a barely stoic demeanor.  His tone betrayed him.

“You are right to apologize, Chef.”  Stokely pointed at him before continuing his criticism.

“The curry sauce and duck breast are out of this world.  The plantains within the yogurt make me want to cry out in pain for the good farmers who grew them.  You abused them.”

Pradeep seemed ready to weep.  He stopped himself and decided to be proactive.

“Respectfully, Judge, I do use plantains in my restaurant occasionally and properly.  How would you have used them?”

The camera turned to Stokely and he threw up his arms in surprise.

“If you wanted to learn something, you’d be better going back to school, Sonny!  Maybe you shouldn’t be an executive chef, because you can’t handle or respect products provided to you.  I hope your restaurant owner is watching, you young man.”

“I am the owner, Sir.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you, Chef Pradeep.” Thad interrupted a quarrel in infancy.

Thad turned to Samantha Karpice.

“Chef Samantha, please tell us about your entrée.”

“Thank you, Thad.  Judges, I too oven roasted my duck breast, and I hope you enjoy a kaleidoscope of flavors.  I’ll let the dish to the rest of my talking.”

She was probably as eloquent as Pradeep.  Her tactic was appropriate, though.

“This rocks!”

Gilbertez’s face came in view after his exclamation.

“You transformed and correctly used all of the ingredients.  Well done.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

Josi became visible again.

“I agree with my colleague.  I have nothing to complain about.”

“Thank you as well, Judge.”

She seemed to be safe. All who was left to hear from was Stokely.

“You did a good job.  If you won, what would you do with the prize money?”

“I would use it to buy my own food truck and start up my business.”

“What did you do before?”

“I was a chef at The Larch and Pine  in…..”

“You worked for my pal, Billy Blane Kemp.  And you didn’t get along with him.  He must have seen something troublesome about you for you to not get along with him.”

Stokely seems to be focused on slander more than being a member of the show’s judiciary.

“Thank you, Chef Samantha.”

Once more, Thad, the host saves the day.  Stokely seems to be looking for trouble.  Although, he is the show’s ‘culinary goalkeeper’ it is apparent that there is no tact from him.

He is a strongman who seeks to torture with words.  He is not critical, he is hypercritical.  He is not provided constructive criticism; he is destroying the recipient with criticism.

“Last, but not least, Chef Brent Love.  Chef, please show us your dish.”

Brent struggled to speak.

“I don’t work with game meats often.  I decided to fry the duck breast and I made a sauce with the cream cheese, chives, and plantains.  I even threw in some Rye bread for snacking with it.”

I fear for him.  He is obviously going to be condemned like Chondra Roberts.

Gilbertez takes a bite, then Josi, and then Stokely.

Josi speaks first.

“The duck tastes okay.  But presentation leaves a lot to be desired, Chef Brent.”

“I admit I fell short there, Judge.”

The camera turns to Gilbertez.

“I enjoy fried duck and you did a good job with the meat, but you featured the breading.  This cornmeal you used to bread it was far too coarse.  Use something else.  I suggest…”

Stokely interrupts.

“It was so coarse.  I wouldn’t have offered this to my dog.  Do you serve food like this in your restaurant?”

“No, sir.  I don’t deal with duck ever.”

“Practice makes perfect, Chef Brent.  This is far from perfect, man.”

Stokely’s last comment was devastating.  Love probably would be the one to go.

“Thank you, Chef Brent.   Contestants, you can adjourn while the judges deliberate after our commercial break.”

I don’t have a DVR.  I spent the commercial break finishing my leftover meatloaf and cracking open my second Anchor Lager.

The camera pointed at the contestants in a chamber adjacent to the arena where the competition was going on.  Love was grimacing.  Karpice and N’Kinter were talking.

“Sounds like he wasn’t a bad boss, he was just the wrong boss for you.”

Karpice replied.

“I never had that perspective before, Pradeep.  Thanks for that.  He was a good chef, but I just did not mesh well with him.  Like Stokely he wants to be worshipped and not respected.”

Love interjected.

“You’re on air, honey.”

“Oops!” Karpice giggled.

The screen now showed the judging panel.

Gilbertez smiled.

“This was a harder decision, Thad.”

“We’ll spare you the details of it, Thad.  We need to stay moving.”

Josi said this as the contestants entered the room.

The camera zoomed in on Thad’s eyes.

“Chefs, you have competed in the entrée and appetizer round.  Now we get to see who remains in the Crucible for the final course.”

The camera zoomed out and Thad’s body turned towards the judges.

“Honorable Judges, please deliver this round’s verdict.”

Farrah Josi looked at Brent.

“Chef Brent, you did not survive the Crucible.”

Jets of flame roared.  The plumes almost touched the ceiling at the rendering of the verdict.   Josi continued speaking.

“Chef Brent, you did not have the appropriate technique or breading for this meal.  This is why you did not survive the Crucible.”

Brent nodded.

“Thanks for the opportunity, Thad.”

He shook the hands of his fellow contributors and all of the judges with the exception of Stokely.

“Good luck, guys!”

Brent Love said this as he exited the arena through the portcullis.  The camera turned to Thad.

“One round remains, and we have two contestants left to compete in the Crucible.  Chef Samantha Karpice and Chef Pradeep N’Kinter return to your stations.”

As they strolled back to their kitchenettes, two orderlies returned with two crates.  These were the last ingredients remaining in their battle.  These were the last products they had to transform.

The camera turned to Thad briefly.

“Chefs, open your crates.”

The camera turned to the duo now competing for the grand prize of $20,000.  They opened the crates before them.

“For the dessert round, you will have ricotta cheese, ligonberries, frozen crepes, and circus peanut candies.”

Samantha and Pradeep’s faces were blank.

This was going to be a challenge.

“Twenty minutes, chefs!  The clock is ticking.”

Thad’s voice faded out over the jets of flame.

Samantha ran to the pantry and Pradeep turned to his oven and began the preheating process.  The camera zoomed in on the timer and it would be ready in four minutes.

The screen split and Pradeep smiled.

“I’ve got a plan. I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

He winked.

The screen became one and the chef tossed the frozen crepe into a saucepan.  He heated the crepe and threw in his circus peanuts.

The camera turned to Samantha Karpice.  She had put her circus peanuts and frozen crepes into a blender.

She sprinted over to the ice cream machine and started it up.

The screen split.

“I’m going to make a ricotta-vanilla fried ice cream.  I’ll make the ligonberry sauce to drizzle on top of the ice cream.  But, first I need to get the machine running.”

And so she did, and Karpice sprinted back to her station.

The camera panned to Gilbertez.

“Chef Samantha knew what to do with that machine.  She must be adept at making ice cream.”

Josi added to the conversation.

“I think she’s confident in her abilities, and she knows what she’ll do with her ice cream.  Both of our chefs are skilled. We can’t deny that.”

Stokely said nothing.

The camera turned to Pradeep.

He smiled at the sight of his frozen crepes now being thawed.

He pounded them down with a meat tenderizer.

“Vigorous tenderization, but not too vigorous, my friends,” Pradeep said this as he struck the crepes for the last time.

He grabbed cups used for making soufflés and lined the insides with the ricotta cheese.  Then he tossed in the circus peanuts.  Finally, he added  the ligonberries.

The camera turned to Thad and the judges.

“It looks like Pradeep is going to grace us with a tart or a pastry.”

Josi replied.

“I agree, Thad.  This is looking very interesting.  This explains his silence earlier.”

“I concur, Farrah.”

It was Gilbertez.

“Chef Pradeep is already advancing towards some lofty goals in just twenty minutes.”

“That’s right.  We’ve only twelve minutes left.”

Thad pointed to his clock.

Samantha had completed her sauce.


I giggled at her statement as she took a single taste of her ligonberry sauce.

The ice cream machine rattled and hummed as she stepped close to it with a clear plastic carton.

“This is the moment of truth.”

She said this as she opened up the discharge gate from which the ice cream would travel out of and into her carton.

It did.

The ice cream was a gorgeous off-orange color.

The screen split again showing her feeding the ice cream into her carton and another showing her talking to the camera man.

“Once I get the carton filled, I’ll add the thawed frozen crepes in there and we’ll have fried ice cream at last!  I’m looking forward to seeing what the judges have to say about this.  I know I’m going to survive the Crucible.”

“You have seven minutes left,  chefs.  Wrap this up now.”

“Thanks, Thad,”  Pradeep and Samantha said this in unison as the two of them continued their projects.

Pradeep put the lids on his tarts and slid them into the oven and set the timer for five minutes.

His screen split.

“By now, everyone knows I’m making a tart.  This was ambitious and maybe overly ambitious for me to attempt.  Samantha may not have the respect of the judges, but I respect her as a chef and I know that she is a worthy adversary.”

He paused and appeared to think of what to say next for a moment.

“There are only good chefs remaining, and I need to put out my best dish and to take risks.  Twenty grand is on the line.  I need to expand my restaurant.”

The screen became one and the camera panned over to Samantha.

She was scooping the ice cream and rolling the thawed, pan-fried and fragmented frozen crepes in the ricotta, vanilla, and circus peanut-flavored ice cream.

I don’t find this appetizing.  But this is a culinary competition on television, and with this in mind there is going to be some avant-garde cooking and a blind eye will be given to convention in some forms.

Samantha spoke aloud as she assembled and plated the fried ice cream.

“I grew up eating this as a kid after volleyball games.  I love fried ice cream, and I think you cannot beat a new classic like I’ve made today.  I took a classic dish and remixed it with circus peanuts and ricotta cheese.  To top it off, old-world flair: lingonberry sauce!”

Chef Samantha ladled her sauce onto the fried ice cream, and her plating was finished.

The camera turned to the judges.

“Do you like ligonberries, Farrah?”

“I love them, Sancho!  Do you?”

“They’re great, Farrah!”

Sancho turned to Marion and Thad.

“Marion and Thad, do you like lingonberries?”

Thad nodded yes and flashed his teeth.

“I love them.”

Marion Stokely was silent.

Thad cried out the remaining time.

“Chefs, you now have two minutes.  Start plating now.”

At this moment, Pradeep pulled the tart out of the oven and drizzled his sauce onto the tart. Samantha was doing the same.

I’m not a gourmet. But I can say that is anyone’s competition at this point.

The screen split as Pradeep dished his final tart.

“This was a very hard competition.  I can’t believe it is coming to a close.  I enjoyed the exercise of my mind and my culinary muscles.  Now it is up to my dish in this final dessert round to argue for my case.  I know I performed well today.”

He nodded and closed his eyes once.

“My competition has been outstanding too!  Samantha has earned my respect today.  She is a skilled chef and a worthy adversary for me.  I’ve learned a lot from her, and I hope she has learned a lot from me.  I’d love to work with her in the future.”

The camera turned to Samantha, and the screen split as usual.

“I’m nervous.  Today has been a roller-coaster, and I’m hanging on tightly.  I’ve done a good job today.  So has Pradeep.  I’m proud and honored I’ve had this opportunity.  I learned today that I can run with the big dogs of the culinary world.”

The camera zoomed out showing the whole arena in one screen.

“Thirty seconds, chefs.”

The contestants finished plating their food, and Thad called out the time.

“Please step back from your stations.  Servers, present the dishes to the judging panel.”

Line-of-Fire-for-car-hood flames

The contestants were in tow of the servers.  The servers presented their dishes and disappeared from the camera’s view.

Jets of flame erupted.

“This is our final round.  First up we have Pradeep.  Chef, tell us about the dessert you have in front of the judges.”

“This is a classic tart with transformed ingredients, Judges.  I don’t like to talk about my work.  I like to let it speak for itself.  This time, though, I’ll humor you.  I used the frozen crepes as the shell, which was a considerable risk as they are thin.  Finally, I filled it up with the melted lingonberries, circus peanuts, and ricotta.”

Stokely broke his prolonged silence.

“I take one lousy bite of this, young man, and I see and taste an over-glorified jelly doughnut.  Again, I’m shocked you are a culinarian.”

“What would you have done differently, Judge?”

Pradeep’s response to Stokely had Thad looking alarmed.

“Not even shown up to cook here, young man.  Your talent is mediocre and your competency leaves much to be desired.  I’m surprised you made it to the last round along with this young lady here.”

“I think that’s enough.”

Gilbertez said this, and now Thad looked surprised.

“I like what you have done, and please disregard what my colleague said.  He’s being unprofessional tonight.”

Farrah Josi nodded as Gilbertez asserted his views on Stokely’s misconduct.

“Marion, please try to be objective.  I’m not seeing you giving any genuine feedback today.”

Josi’s words made a deep impact. Stokely turned red. If this was a cartoon instead of a cooking show, I would have expected steam to exit from his ears.

Thad intervened before Stokely could reply to Josi’s admonition.

“Chef Josi, what are your impressions of this dish?”

“Thad, I think it is brilliant!  This is a well-balanced dessert that is an outstanding example of both traditional comfort food and how to push the envelope when necessary.”

“Thank you, Chef.” Pradeep replied.

Thad pointed at Sancho Gilbertez.

“Chef Sancho, your thoughts?”

“My colleague said it best.  You pushed the envelope today.  You transformed the ingredients in a distinguished fashion.  I can visually see the difference.  My only criticism is that you may have needed to manage your time better with baking.  My tart is doughy, and it really deters me from the other flavors.”

“Thank you, Chef.”

Thad nodded

“We’ve tasted Chef Pradeep’s dessert now let’s taste Chef Samantha’s dessert.”  He turned to her.  “Please inform us of what your final offering to us is.”

“I made fried ice cream.  The ice cream is vanilla-ricotta and circus peanut and the coating of the ice cream is made from the frozen crepes.”

I was a little surprised she didn’t let her dish speak for itself this time.  But she was nervous and wanted the judges to understand her dish before they judged it.

Josi spoke first.

“This is okay.  You transformed the ingredients.  I like the texture.  Flavors don’t make sense though.  The cheese, the vanilla, and the circus peanuts are working against each other.”

Gilbertez popped in.

“I agree with my colleague on all points.”

Stokely of course fired the final insult.

“In this final round, we aren’t deciding whose dessert or cooking is better.  We are deciding whose incompetence is more tolerable.”

Farrah was recognizing the trend of verbal abuse Stokely spewed at each panel after a round.  She did Thad’s job.

“Chefs, thank you for your efforts today.  Excuse yourselves while we deliberate.”

Thad looked startled.

The two contestants walked away.  Pradeep became the focal point of the camera.

“Samantha may have screwed up her dessert, but this is still anyone’s competition.  I am still nervous.”

The camera panned over to Sam tailing behind Pradeep.

“I’m done for.  Pradeep is going to win this competition.”

The camera turned back to the three judges and Thad.

“Judges, you will be deliberating over the commercial break on who is the winner based on overall performance.”

“Indeed we will, Thad.” Josi said.

I imagine she is trying to prevent Stokely from making any more outbursts.

Thad replied quickly hoping to do the same.

“When we return, we’ll know who survived Chrome Kitchen Crucible.”

Over the commercial break, I brewed a cup of coffee with my Keurig.  I was in disbelief that I had sacrificed an hour of my life on the altar of popular culture: television.  I had ventured past the point of no return and now I was going to see this to the end.

I thankfully dodged a commercial for season tickets to my local NCAA Division II College’s graduate league football team.  I could care less about seeing all but dissertation doctoral students trying to reach an athletic end zone while their academic performance was somewhere in the fifty yard line.

As I took the first sip of my medium roast coffee, I heard Thad’s voice over the jets of flame as the camera captured the Crucible once again.

“After careful deliberation, our judges have reached a verdict.  The contestants are about to enter to hear the final decision.”

The portcullis rose and then Samantha and Pradeep entered the arena again.  They treaded lightly and all energy they had before was gone.  Their faces were now haggard.

They stood before the judicial panel.

Thad stood in between the contestants and judges and with the camera angle he was the focal point of the scene.

I could not see the faces of the judges.

Thad spoke.

“Our contestants have battled in three rounds: appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Now we shall finally see who will have survived the Chrome Kitchen Crucible.

At the sound of the show’s title, jets of flame erupted once more.

Thad resumed his duties.

“Judges, please inform us of your decision.”

Stokely started to speak.

“If I had my way I wouldn’t give your winnings to either of you.”

“That is not an option, Marion.”

This was Josi interrupting.

Gilbertez chimed in.

“Marion, you’ve not had anything constructive today.  Why don’t you take a break?”

“What do you mean?”  Stokely replied.

Gilbertez looked at Stokely as the camera zoomed in on the three judges.

“Just shut up.”

Stokely stormed out of the arena.

The camera zoomed out from the judicial panel.

Josi spoke.

“Only good chefs remain in front of us.  This is a challenge, and your skills were tested today in the Crucible. We decide that the winner will be…”

Harsh obscenities could be heard in the background.  Was it Stokely?

The frame froze for about five seconds.

“The winner is Pradeep N’Kinter!”

Pradeep smiled.  Samantha did not seem to be upset.

The jets of flame roared.

“Chef Samantha, you are leaving the Crucible.  Your dishes fell short at several places, and for this we have to forge you out.”

Samantha’s poise and grace again were visible.

“Judges, I’ve learned a lot today.  From this opportunity, I’ve rediscovered my talent in the culinary arts.  I’m proud of what I accomplished today.  I would like to thank you for this honor.”

“You are very welcome.” Gilbertez replied.

Karpice shook the hands of the judges and Pradeep N’Kinter the victor.  She then exited threw the portcullis and the jets of flame rose up again.

Thad turned to Pradeep as the camera zoomed in on both of them.

“Chef Pradeep, congrats!  You have survived the Chrome Kitchen Crucible, and you have won $20,000!  Thanks for competing with us today.”

“Thank you, Judges.” He replied with a smile that was as bright as the flames rising above Thad.  “I appreciate this opportunity to learn and improve my cooking.  You’ve given me a fresh perspective on the culinary arts.”

I wondered what that was.

The screen showed Pradeep and the camera zoomed in close.  His voice was audible.

“I’m ready to expand my restaurant.  And I know very well how I’m going to do that after today.”

The camera zoomed out from her, the judges, and Thad.  The screen turned dark and white letters appeared.

Please visit***** for a detailed explanation regarding events that happened from this episode.

“Huh?”  I said aloud.

I have been vacuumed into a reality show.  I suppose I’ll visit the net now.


I’ll read some of that T.C. Boyle short story collection and then see what happened.

            After reading the first story of T.C. Boyle’s Without A Hero entitled “Big Game,” I found myself eager to see the true ending of this episode of Chrome Kitchen Crucible.

Like “Big Game” I’m certain this is going to have a surprising ending.

I entered the url and was at YouTube in roughly under two seconds.

Before the episode began an ad for NutriLight Candles played.

Apparently, they are the world’s first weight- loss candle, and I’m not the first skeptic regarding their efficiency and effectiveness.

Thad appeared with a much younger man who had blaze orange hair and eyeglasses.

“Hello, Cyberspace!  This is Thad Williams host of Chrome Kitchen Crucible.  I am here with Jonnie Grunsteps, independent film-maker.”

Jonnie steps forward.  His dress contrasts with Thad’s and he speaks with a high voice.

“Greetings, ladies and gents.”

Thad smiles.

“Jonnie is going to take us on a journey to discover the end to the episode dated November 3, 2014.  Pradeep N’Kinter is the winner, but there’s more to the story than that.  Take her a way, Jonnie.”

“No problem, Thad!”  Jonnie gives a thumbs up.  He looks like a 1980s punk rocker.  He pulls up a chair for Thad and one for his own use.

“Roll the film.”

The screen fades to white and we see the front of Pradeep N’Kinter’s restaurant The Bluesman’s Curry.

I can see the interior of his restaurant now.  The camera shows a panorama of walls decked out with blues instruments ranging from acoustic guitars to washboards and harmonicas.  I can also see a multitude of satisfied diners with full plates quickly becoming emptied by ravenous appetites and epicurean desires.

A photo of that master bluesman Robert Johnson with a cigarette hangs above the door to the kitchen.

I imagine all the aromas within the restaurant’s interior, especially the kitchen.

This is where we find Pradeep N’Kinter.  Pradeep is busy as one would expect with a full kitchen and he proudly flambés a dish as the full frame of the camera captures him at work.

His voice can be heard as the camera points down into his pan watching the product become something new.

“Winning the show called Chrome Kitchen Crucible changed a lot. I renovated my dining room and kitchen.  Not as much as I wanted to as I realized a lot during the show.”

The voice over ended.

“Order up.” Pradeep called at the present time.

The voice over continued.

“I rekindled my love of what I do, and the competition made me better.  This restaurant is a better place than ever.  My parents are proud.”

The camera turns to a portrait of Pradeep’s parents hanging in his office with it’s open door just off the kitchen to the right of Pradeep’s range.

“I also learned the value of collaboration and I realized that with like-minded people and talented people you can accomplish anything.  I met a new friend on that show, and a new business partner.”

The camera turned to the server picking up the order and he walked out to serve a customer in the dining room.  The screen transitioned with a vertical line and a woman’s hands were visible.  She was offering a platter of something steaming hot!  It resembled a Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich).  The hands were none other than Samantha Karpice’s.  She waved to the camera and an engagement ring was on her finger.

“Hello again, America!”

Her enthusiasm had grown since I had seen her on the episode of Chrome Kitchen Crucible.

The camera zoomed out and I could see her food truck with The Bluesman’s Curry Logo emblazoned on the sides of it.  It sped away from the park it was positioned at and happy customers were chowing down on their lunches in the noonday sun.

Samantha’s voiceover was heard over the truck’s travels to its next destination.

“I didn’t win the prize on Chrome Kitchen Crucible.  But, I met a new business partner, and I met my new best friend, who’s now my business partner, and now my fiancée: Pradeep N’Kinter.  I am the new co-owner of The Bluesman’s Curry, and I’m the Co-Executive Chef.  My responsibility is mainly the food truck and I’m in charge of catering.”

The screen transitioned over to Samantha at the restraunt’s kitchen where she sliced up a prime rib roast.

“Working with Pradeep has taught me new things about cooking.  I can pursue what I want to because my passion for Asian cooking compliments Pradeep’s Soul-Indian fusion.  It’s a great life with him inside and outside the kitchen.

The camera then showed them both at their home.

“We’ve come a long way!  Thank you, Chrome Kitchen Crucible!!!”

The screen showed Thad and Jonnie back in their screening area.  The two of them swiveled towards me in their chairs.

“I love capturing happy endings, Thad.”

“I’m glad you do, Jonnie.”

Thad looked directly at the camera.

“Folks, you’ve gotten to see a winner leave with more than just winnings and a re-kindled passion for his trade.  You got to see Pradeep N’Kinter discover a newfound friend-for-life  and a business partner.  As Jonnie said, this is certainly a happy ending.”

“Indeed!” Jonnie interjected.

Thad’s tone changed in his next statement from enthusiastic to somber.

“The episode that Pradeep and Samantha were on was a turning point in my show’s history.  You may have heard some swearing in the background at this point.”

Footage of Stokely storming off was shown in the screen behind Jonnie and Thad.

“My former culinary goalkeeper was dismissed by his fellow judges: Farrah Josi and Sancho Gilbertez. They had been petitioning and begging our network executives to fire him for months.”

Stokely’s face appeared in the screen behind Thad and Jonnie.

“Farrah Josi can explain why this decision was made.” Jonnie said.

The screen transitioned to Jonnie and Farrah in the Chrome Kitchen Crucible studio.  Jonnie was in the attire he wore as I had seen him in earlier. Farrah was wearing a chef coat.

“Why didn’t you like working with Marion Stokely, Chef Farrah?”

“I’ve wanted to tell the world this for years, Jonnie.”  Farrah smiled as she prepared to tell her tale.

“I had the misfortune of hearing Marion Stokely berate and judge people since the inception and beginning of Chrome Kitchen Crucible.  The man would always tell contestants that their food is awful and they don’t have any talent.  Especially, if they had worked with his colleagues and they weren’t viewed well by them.”

Jonnie interrupted her.


Farrah smiled more.

“His perspective is flawed.  He’s a legend in his own mind.  And he holds himself on such a high pedestal he believes that no one can ever rise to his level of talent.”


Jonnie interrupted again.

“Farrah, wasn’t Stokely a culinary instructor for a while?”


Farrah and Jonnie disappeared and a beautiful college campus appeared.  In gold letters on the quad the identity of the school was given.

“Henise Culinary Academy”

A panorama of classrooms, buildings, and culinary equipment was visible.

A voiceover began.

“I’m Chef Samuel Wayne, President of the Henise Culinary Academy, I know I’m exposing myself to liability, but Marion Stokely was horribly rude to fellow faculty and our students.  Enrollment dropped by ten percent during his five-year period of employment.  We denied him tenure due to his rudeness and bellicose attitude and methodology while teaching.  Stokely plays the victim while victimizing others.”

The camera showed Thad alone back in their quasi-screening room.  He spun around in his swivel chair again.

“Interesting, huh  People don’t have nice words to say about Stokely.  Against the advice of our attorneys we contacted the man himself: Marion Stokely.  Jonnie interviewed him via skype.  Let’s go back to Jonnie.”

Jonnie appears and again he is in the same attire.  With the black leather jacket, he appears to be a Billy Idol impersonator.  Instead he is a filmmaker with the delicate task of interviewing a man whom Josi described as a ‘legend of his own mind’ or something of that sort. He is living a life on the cliffs of courage.

Jonnie’s voice cracks slightly as he begins his interview.

“Mr. Stokely, I’ll cut right to the chase.  You were fired from your past job by making some remarks that were obscene on national television.  Could you tell us how you feel and why you did that?”

Stokely has a blank stare.  His face doesn’t even crease with any wrinkles as he answers in a flat tone with a slight edge at the end of it.

“I was upset at how the host and the fellow judges were treating me.  They should respect me more.  I’ve learned a lot in the industry by being a chef and teaching people in the industry.”

Jonnie already has a question feeding up the ramp.

“According to my research you didn’t go to culinary school.  Am I right?”

Stokely has an answer.

“No.  I didn’t.  I went to the school of hard knocks, and I got a unique perspective because of it.”

“Okay, Mr. Stokely.  Can you tell us about your teaching approach?  The critiques you gave the contestants on Chrome Kitchen Crucible were so vague no one was sure what you were trying to teach them.  Frankly, some people would call them rude.”

“I don’t know what gives you the chutzpah to say things like that to me.  I criticize people the same way I was taught in the school of hard knocks and how my parents criticized me.  Let me tell you a story of how I was taught one day.”

“I’m all ears.” Jonnie said.

“When I was a young cook at Fido’s Burgers in Lebanon, Tennessee I made three Doghouse burgers.  That was the flagship burger of that restaurant.  I had forgotten to put on the right sauce.  And I was taught never to do it again even though I made the same mistake three times.”

Jonnie looked like he was locked in to Stokely’s tale.

“My boss tossed the burgers in the trash can and called it unacceptable. I learned from that.”

Jonnie just nodded and asked his next question.

“Do you think that mode of teaching works for everyone?”

“I don’t know.  I think some people are too sensitive or are just stupid.  These young chefs, especially on the last episode were just downright horrible.”

Jonnie kept nodding.

“Can you tell us what they could have done better, sir?”

A blank bit of time passed.  No words came from Stokely, and Jonnie tried again.

“Mr. Stokely, can you tell us anything regarding how they could have prepared their food better and how they would have improved their techniques?”

“I think they just should never had become chefs.”

“Why’s that, sir?”

“ Because I know this business and I know what it takes to be the best.”

“You’ve never really been in the business successfully, though.  Your restaurants have closed so many times over the years and you’ve never been able to keep employees…”

“This interview is over.  You just can’t understand someone who’s been taught from the school of hard knocks.  You see, I know the industry and I know talent.  Pradeep and Samantha are just going to fail.”

The screen returned to Thad and Jonnie.

Thad laughed.

“Jonnie excused himself and found Marion Stokely to be quite hostile.”

Thad turned his head to the left where Jonnie was standing.

“Jonnie, in your investigation did you find out what he’s doing now?”

“He’s currently working as a volunteer cooking teacher at a community organization in greater Chicago.”

Thad’s eyes lit up with horror and amusement.

“I’m sure they’ll benefit from his wealth of experience.”

Jonnie sheepishly grinned.

“Sure, Thad.”

The camera zoomed in on Thad’s head and shoulders.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.  We’re happy to see Pradeep N’Kinter and Samantha Karpice find success and love after the episode they appeared together in.  We are also very happy that Marion Stokely can provide his expertise and talent to a host of other people who need his tutelage.”

A techno song played as the screen faded to black, red letters appeared on the screen: “A GRUNSTEPS PRODUCTION © 2014 GRUNSTEPS ENTERPRISES”


I said this aloud as I found myself amazed and educated from following this story all from watched that silly reality show, that modern Roman arena called Chrome Kitchen Crucible.  Trump wasn’t there to say someone was fired, but Marion Stokely was there to only find fault.

I’m a former journalist, I’m used to constructive criticism.  Stokely’s wasn’t constructive at all: it was hypercritical, rude, and unnecessary.  I’ve heard that hard-knocks excuse before from other hypercritical people.  Now I am certain that approach worked in the 1930s to 1960s and was tolerated then.

Perhaps verbal abuse was tolerated in the earlier portions of the twentieth century?

However, societal changes in the 1980s to the present have created a more educated, emotionally intelligent society, and above all a more-sensitive one.  Stokely’s approach has as much use as a pair of swim trunks in that blustery and blistering cold outside my window.  His approach is antiquated and that hides any use one has for it.

I’d tell you he probably means well.

I’m not that gentle, though.

“Unless we are willing to help a person overcome his faults, there is little value in pointing them out.”

—        Robert J. Hastings

“How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.”

― Benjamin Disraeli



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