Flash Fiction Friday: A Matter of Taste

Soup

Here’s another flash fiction that I submitted for the NFFC 2010. This got me through to the third round. I can’t remember the parameters for this one, but I think it had to do with making a political statement. Either way, enjoy!

A Matter of Taste

It had only been a few days since Sarah Baker had taken over as kitchen manager of Souped Up, and already she had thrown out the recipe cards sent down from corporate. “Soups are dynamic creations. Like liquid love,” she extolled to her kitchen staff as she dipped her spoon into Rich Overstreet’s vat of white chicken chili. The vein on his temple threatened to burst when Sarah wrinkled her nose and pinched more salt into the bubbling mixture. “Today’s bushel of tomatoes might be sweeter than the ones that come on the truck tomorrow. How will you know if your soup is balanced unless you taste it?” She stirred the salt into the soup, dragged the spoon across her tongue and smiled with satisfaction.

Rich fumed as his new boss moved on to her next victim. He had been making his chili the same exact way for years and never received a complaint. If you follow the recipe exactly, you get the same result every time. What was this nonsense about varying tastes of tomatoes? A tomato is a tomato, he thought to himself. Who is she to suggest otherwise?

Sarah’s face recoiled when she tasted Frankie King’s taco soup. “Your spices are way off here, Frankie. A little overpowering on the heat. Let’s add some peanut butter to tone it down.” Frankie crossed his arms and squared his shoulders, his arched eyebrow a direct challenge to Sarah’s assessment. Admittedly, he was a sloppy soup maker. He followed the recipe on the laminated card, but haphazardly measured out the ingredients, chopping wildly and never leveling the measuring spoons. It didn’t seem to matter; the taco soup was a customer favorite, trading top spots with the white chicken chili depending on the season.

“Oh yeah? Tell me, lady. How do you know so much about tacos? Are you some kind of taco specialist or something?” He shifted his weight between his legs and his clenched jaw loosened as his upper lip curled into a sneer. “Yeah…I bet you’re an expert in the stuffed tortilla, huh?”

“Let’s not get personal, Frankie,” Sarah said evenly, “we are talking about soup here.” Frankie snorted and rolled his eyes, miffed his words didn’t sear as expected.

The first sign of her softening was when the green split pea soup crossed her lips. Graham Douglass squeezed his thumbs nervously and shot a weak smile at Amy, who smiled back at him in support as she waited by her own tureen. They had secretly been off-roading from the corporate mandated recipe for a while now, ever since Amy had brought a jar of cumin from home and snuck it to him before the others had arrived. “It adds a smoky undertone that brings out the body and full flavor of the peas,” she had said. “Plus, legend has it that it keeps lovers from wandering,” she winked, folding the red powder into the soup until it disappeared in the sea of green peas and onions. She was a veritable enigma—a walking wikipedia with a sleeved out right arm—and Graham was amused by the random facts she seemed to pull out of thin air.

Graham started to relax only when an audible “mmm” escaped Sarah’s throat. “Nicely done. Add a bit more ham for texture and you’ve got yourself quite a tasty concoction there,” she said, accentuating the “quite” with a flick of her spoon. Frankie snorted again and Graham flinched self-consciously.

Sarah waltzed past the butcher block with the remnants of massacred vegetables littering the top from the morning’s prep. Amy gave her a friendly smile and stepped aside so she could taste the sweet and sour cabbage soup that was simmering in the pot at the final soup station. Sarah dipped the ladle and let the warm broth fill her mouth. “Excellent base,” she raved, returning for a heartier bite. “And the texture of the cabbage is perfect. Very impressive.”

Amy was pleased. She had faced resistance as the only female in the kitchen, earning nothing but scorn from Frankie and Rich since the day she arrived. Their constant criticism and mockery had shaken her at first, though she was undeterred and refused to let their ignorance stand in the way of her work. When they showed up one day sporting fake tattoos down their arms, she took them for the children that they were and brushed off any further insults with ease. The day Graham was hired and she saw the chef’s knife inked on his left forearm, she knew she’d found a kindred spirit and had actually started to look forward to work.

The lunch crowd picked up pace and remained relentless for the rest of the day. Each chef tended to their brews, filling and refilling the tureens as they were emptied by hungry customers. At times the heat was unbearable as the chefs worked feverishly to keep up with the heavier demand that came with the cooler temperatures. Rich was quieter than normal, working steadfastly from his recipe. When grease splatter popped and burned Frankie’s hand, he cursed loudly and angrily dumped his spices in willy nilly, mumbling that he’d make his soup however he damn pleased.

That night when all the pots were washed, the lights were out in the kitchen, and the door locked for the night, Amy and Graham shuffled to their cars, exhausted. “Long day,” Graham said. “Endless,” Amy agreed. They bid each other goodnight under the lamplight and Graham got into his car. Amy turned to open her door, but quickly turned back to knock on Graham’s window. The glass lowered and Amy poked her head into his car with a quick grin. “See you in the morning?” she asked. Graham smiled back, the fire still smoldering in his tired eyes. “Of course,” he said. “Goodnight, Amy.” She patted his roof and watched him drive away. Amy climbed into her car and cranked the music to help her make her own drive home.

******************************

I love you all, some more than others.

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