“Okay, let’s see. Dashi broth is done. Bok choy is roasting; shrimp are a’poachin’. Gluten free as far as the eye can see,” I told myself, leaning on the stainless steel counter in the most beautiful kitchen ever created. If you liked midcentury California modern. And who didn’t? Miles and miles of stainless steel and poured polished concrete.
Countless appliances and chefs’ tools sat against the herringbone subway tiles, shiny and untouched by their owner’s hand. Touched only by my hand— private chef and banisher of the evil gluten in this land of blond and trendy. Specifically, Hollywood. Specifically, Bel Air. Specifically, the home of Mitzi St. Renee, wife of a famous producer and chaser of that most elusive of brass rings . . . never-ending youth.
And at thirty-two (who would have thought that someone only five years older than me could talk down to me like it was her job), in a town where thirty was the benchmark for older men marrying for the love of tits, Mitzi was obviously concerned about her age. Holding a honeydew, I paused to consider said tits. Said tits were attached to a beautiful woman. Said tits were attached to a not-very-nice woman. Said tits were attached to an asshole, truth be told.
I shook my head to clear it, and started to cut up the melon. One-inch cubes with crisp edges; no rounded corners here. Next up were cantaloupe balls, rounded and plump. No ragged hollows; simply perfect balls. I heard how that sounded in my head, snorted, and moved on to the watermelon triangles. Acute. Obtuse. Did Mitzi appreciate the knife skills that went into her fruit bowl? Doubtful. Did she notice the culinary geometry that composed her a.m. energy burst? Probably not. No one noticed the perfection of my melons—but everyone sure noticed hers.
My inner dialogue and I moved on to assembling Mitzi’s plate—she liked her dinner served at exactly 6:30 p.m. Some people hired private chefs just to do the cooking. Some even took the credit, while the chefs were hidden in the kitchen. And others assumed that because I worked in a kitchen and was paid for cooking, I also was a butler of sorts. But with the kind of money Mitzi paid me, I was okay serving her trendy Asian-fusion, low-calorie-but-high-in-taste dinner on a tray in her dining room.
As I was pulling the bok choy from the oven my phone suddenly rang, surprising me and causing me to bump my hand on the inside edge of the oven. Hissing in pain, I set the pan down on top of the range. When I saw who the caller was I quickly pressed decline, then gave the bok choy a once-over. Selecting the greenest and the most pristine, I carefully placed it in the center of a white porcelain bowl, creating a tiny green tower just as the egg timer went off, alerting me to my shrimp.
Poached in a court bouillon with the faintest hint of Thai chili and cinnamon, they were pink and perfect. Stacking three on top of the bok choy trio (symmetry, always symmetry), I then sprinkled bias-cut scallion, pickled garlic, and shallots that had been ever so slightly browned in peanut oil (a secret that would never be disclosed to Miss Fat Gram Counter) all around. Setting the bowl onto an enameled tortoiseshell tray, I then poured the dashi broth into a white porcelain pitcher, and put exactly three-fourths of a cup of kaffir lime–scented jasmine rice in a matching bowl. Portion control is essential to maintaining a size zero lifestyle in a size zero town. Just as I was gathering up the tray to take into the dining room, my phone rang again. I hit Decline once more, noticed the time, and internally cursed myself for letting it get to 6:32 without noticing.
In the dining room, my client was perched at the head of the table, eating alone as usual. Her husband was always working, though whatever momentary soft spot I might have had for her disappeared when she made a show of looking at her watch.
“So sorry it’s a little late; the bok choy needed just a bit extra tonight,” I chirped, setting down the tray and serving her from the left.
“Why, Roxie, what’s four minutes? I mean, four minutes here, seven minutes there, let’s just relax all the rules, shall we?” she chirped back as I poured the broth from the pitcher, circling around the center.
She pays you well. Very well.
Gritting my teeth, I smiled at her Botoxed forehead and whisked away the empty pitcher. Why, Roxie indeed.
I headed back into the kitchen to finish up her “dessert” and her coffee, box up her breakfast and lunch for tomorrow, and clean up. Dessert had giant neon quotation marks around it inside my head, since it was hard to visualize such a lovely word applied to sugar-free carob-based wafer cookies set just so into shaved lemon ice. I wasn’t opposed to the lemon ice, or the “cookies”—which, let’s face it, also needed the quotation treatment. But they were not so much dessert.
The one thing I could get on board with was the way Mitzi took her coffee. Kona blend, dark roast, with one—and only one—tablespoon of full-fat, honest-to-goodness homemade whipped cream. She let herself indulge in this one treat, each and every day. Hey, it’s not up to me to tell anyone where to spend their “cheat calories.” Wow, lots of quotations tonight.
I fired up the stainless steel artisan KitchenAid mixer, retrieved the bowl from the freezer, and poured in a little over half a cup of fresh heavy cream. The bottle was almost empty; I’d have to add that to her market list. I made a shopping list for her each week, then came over several days to prepare meals that she could have on hand. Twice a week I cooked for her.
Adding a teaspoon of Madagascar vanilla and exactly two teaspoons of sugar to the cream, I let it whip while I tidied up the kitchen, ignoring the beep coming from my phone from the two calls I’d missed while on dashi duty.
Keeping one eye on the whipped cream and one ear toward the dining room, I tamped the coffee down, readying it to brew exactl