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Gipsy Cafe

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The first thing Yancy says when he hangs up the phone is:

“I’m going to kill Jaz for this.”

“No you’re not,” Raleigh - all too sensibly - points out from his perch on the counter, hands wrapped around a mug of watery coffee. “She’s right. We need this.”

“They’re going to be here in like an hour! The producers didn’t give us any notice...”

“Course they didn’t. Probably want the walk-in to be a friggin’ mess so Chef Hansen can rip you a new one.” And Raleigh grins. “He’s pretty hot, bro.”

“Which one?” Yancy replies without thinking, still watching his oven like a hawk. It’s not great, a cast-off from downstairs, and he doesn’t trust it. Usually eyeballs everything he bakes in it.

“Well, technically Herc runs everything...”

“Younger Hansen’s still a chef,” Yancy grumbles. “Like, with the title and everything. The better chef between the, actually.”

“You’re a chef.”

“No, I’m not, and don’t you dare call me that in front of the cameras,” Yancy groans, and cracks the oven door to get a better look at the scones. Not one of Mama’s recipes - she’d raise hell if she caught Yancy baking American-style, when she took all that time in her last months to make sure he understood the proper French way of doing things - but he doesn’t always have time to make croissants. Especially not these days. Cheap and filling, that’s all he’s after. “Let’s not make this worse than it already is going to be.”

The tops look perfect. He gestures Raleigh away, reaching for a spatula.

“Come on bro,” Raleigh says, moving only a fraction of an inch to the side, “it’s reality TV, so it’s going to be real. No way we’re as incompetent as some of those people.”

The scone bottoms are a perfect pale gold, and he pulls the tray from the oven. They look pretty good, homemade jam swirled through clear to the outside, nice chunks of walnuts showing in the crust. Sam’s Club had some good deals on nuts last week. Since Mama died, all this household stuff’s fallen on his shoulders. Not like his dad is doing jack shit about them.

“I’d rather be incompetent than maliciously uncaring,” Yancy grumbles, and plunks breakfast down on the stove top. “You only get to be one or the other on that show.”

“They can’t paint us to be the bad guys,” Raleigh says earnestly. “Not after what happened.”

“I told you, we should have just closed the place,” Dad says, plunking down at the kitchen table, the bags under his eyes even more pronounced than usual.

Without any prompting at all, Raleigh pours him a cup of coffee; Yancy plates a scone. He hates the inversion of roles here. Right after the funeral, he didn’t mind taking care of his father so much, but now? It’s infuriating, is what it is.

“Why? Mama was proud of her roots and she didn’t see a problem with it.”

Yancy squints at his scones, wondering how badly this is going to go. Chefs Hansen and Hansen are going to positively destroy them today.

There’s no way the Hansens are going to like his cooking. Those two have twenty-five Michelin stars at ten restaurants spread between Sydney, London, New York and LA. Best he’s done was get a four-star review from the university paper back when it first opened, and oh, how things have changed since then. And he knows damn well he’s not living up to Mama’s standards. Nowhere close. He’s been so overwhelmed...

No excuses, he reminds himself. Last thing he wants to be is one of those fuckheads who keep insisting everything’s fine.

“You want me to double-check the walk-in?”

“Not a chance, Rals. You and Jaz need to get to school.” He risks a glance over at Dad, wondering if... but naw, the old man’s in no shape to be driving. Least it was their own bar stock he was into last night. “Can you take her today?”

Raleigh’s looking at Dad too. “I don’t have to go to class today,” he says quietly. “Might be better if I’m here. Let Dad sleep it off, have me to the interviews with you?”

“You know how many people put in for the show,” Yancy replies in kind, pitching his voice below - hopefully - what Dad’s fogged-up, hung-over brain can catch. “The producer I spoke to on the phone didn’t get into specifics, but Jaz had to tell them something to get us past the initial screening.”

“Then you really shouldn’t be dealing with this alone.”

“Mama would kill me if I let you drop out of college. Go get Jaz up, will ya?”

+++++

Everyone in the whole damn country knows the basic format of Restaurant Rescue. Herc Hansen, one of the most successful restauranteurs in the world, and his son Chuck, the youngest chef in history to receive a Michelin star, only fifteen, spend a week tearing crap restaurants apart in the hopes of saving them. Unlike that earlier predecessor, Kitchen Nightmares, more time is spent on the cooking and business end of things, less time given to the drama and the yelling and the rage and the family drama.

But it’s Herc and Chuck Hansen.

There’s always plenty of rage.

And family issues.

And yeah, Yancy's done his homework. When Jaz - beaming - had announced at dinner a couple weeks ago that she’s written into the show and they’d been selected, Yancy had done as much research as he could before (talking Dad into) accepting the offer.

A simple Internet search for THE CHEFS HANSEN turns up a wide number of articles about their restaurants, their TV shows, people bitching about their restaurants and TV shows, and the occasional celebrity rag profile piece. A more targeted search, however, brings up blog posts on everything from Scott Hansen’s arrest to that Rolling Stone article about Angela Hansen’s death in a house fire, along with some rumors about Herc and Chuck fucking. Fan-art of it.

Some of that fan-art is very good. Bad for Yancy’s horrifically neglected libido, but very nice art.

Really, though, he’s got no idea what to expect.

They need something though, if they’re going to save Gipsy Cafe. Besides, the chance to actually meet Herc Hansen, industry legend (and serious DILF), is too tempting to pass up.

On a normal day, Yancy will drag his ass out of bed around five am to open the cafe at six. Back when Mama was still alive, he’d get up at four to help her with all the baking. He doesn’t do as much of it anymore, especially since he can’t move the same volume of pastries, but he still tries to have a few things for the cases. This morning, however, the production company representative - Mako something - asked him if he could stay closed until lunch, for the chefs’ arrival.

“We need to do our preliminary interviews,” she’d told him on the phone.

Which is where he is right now, nervously fidgeting as a microphone is pinned to his shirt by that same woman. They don’t have him in front of a blue screen or anything, which he’s always wondered about. The backdrop is his cafe, the chair he’s sitting at one of his own, a steaming mug of his own coffee in front of him as a prop, and it should all settle him, but it doesn’t.

Dad already did his pre-lim interview. Mako hadn’t allowed Yancy in the room, and all Dad told him was you better be sure about this shit helping. Yancy could vomit, he’s so nervous. But this really is the last chance he has to save what’s left of his mama's legacy, and he’s not going to fucking lose out on this.

At least his walk-in is clean. He made damn sure of that.

“So, uhh, how does this work?”

“We ask and you answer,” the girl says, very matter-of-fact, a hint of British accent under the thick Japanese. It takes Yancy right back to that year the family spent in Nagasaki. It’s been very distracting during this whole preliminary process.

“Relax, Mister Becket,” the producer, a huge hunk of a Brit who’d introduced himself as Stacker Pentecost, says from behind the camera. “Just keep your eyes on me and talk as you normally would. We aren’t here to fuck you over. We all want to see you succeed.”

Somewhat reassured - the man just has a reassuring air about him - Yancy nods.

“Alright, now, Mister Becket, please tell me your name and your position here at this establishment, as well as a bit about yourself.”

Yancy clears his throat, shifting a little. “My name is Yancy Becket, and I’m co-owner of the Gipsy Cafe here in...”

“Since you are the chef here, would you please state that for us?”

“I’m just a cook,” he says honestly.

“We need you to say chef owner. It’s more descriptive.”

Gritting his teeth, he starts over. “My name is Yancy Becket, I’m twenty-three years old, and I own and operate the Gipsy Cafe in Anchorage, Alaska with my father. I also work here as the head chef.” God, that burns. With the shit product Dad makes him buy, it really is a miracle anything tastes even somewhat passable.

“Excellent.” Pentecost’s finger traces down his notebook. “Now, twenty-three is quite young to be head chef at your own restaurant, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been cooking since I was four. This is the only thing I’ve ever seen myself doing. I was so excited to have the opportunity to work here.”

“And you taught you to cook?”

“My Mama. This place was my mother’s dream, actually. We opened about five years ago, after Dad wanted us to come home to where he grew up,” he says. “She wanted to get away from fine dining and do something a little closer to her roots. Rustic, you know? She was back of the house, Dad was front, and everything just...” Yancy stops himself. He can’t let himself tear up on camera. “Everything was kind of perfect.”

“And was it successful at first?”

“We’re right around the corner from the university, so yeah, we were always busy. Mama loved it, knew all the student regulars by name...” Yancy trails off, staring down at his hands. “Everybody loved her.”

“And what happened to her?”

“She died.”

“And that’s when things started going downhill?”

“Sort of.”

+++++

Herc can already hear the voice-over he’ll be doing for this particular scene. The daughter of the owner reached out to me directly, asking if she could meet with Chuck ’n me before heading over to the cafe. She sounded pretty upset on the phone. At this point, I have to believe there’s more going on then just the restaurant.

He hates doing voice-overs. Talking’s never been his strong suit. It always sounds better in his head, but never comes out right on paper. Plus, Stacks insists the show follow some kind of narrative format, no matter how annoying that is. Anyway, Mako helps him write most of his lines. She’ll help him make it work.

“What’s this girl’s name?” Chuck asks. He doesn’t much care about the human side of the show - and Herc supposes it’s his fault that his boy’s so awkward with other people. He’s here because he’s a brilliant chef and brilliant on camera, and doesn’t take any shit off anybody. Makes the whole show work, really. But he is terrible one-on-one.

“Jazmin,” Herc supplies, and hands Chuck the dossier they got on the Becket family. Herc prefers going into these things cold, so the information is minimal. “She’s the youngest member of the family. The middle boy, Raleigh, is a student at the University of Anchorage, and the eldest, Yancy, is head chef at this place.”

Chuck snorts. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

“Don’t be too much of a dick. Lost their mum not so long ago.”

But his boy’s eyes just flatten. “Not an excuse for failure.”

Herc sighs, and is about to say something, but out the window, he sees somebody waving at him.

Game on.

She’s a cute girl, this Jazmin. Blonde and willowy, wrapped up in bright blue leggings that match her eyes and a charcoal scarf that looks hand-knitted, she puts Herc in mind of the girls from his Paris days. Beautiful and young, but hardly innocent. She’s still gangly though, coltish in a way, and since they’re picking her up in front of a high school, he guesses she can’t be much older than sixteen.

She’s at the door of the van before the driver can stop, and Chuck makes a little noise in the back of his throat.

“She’s makin’ eyes at you, Dad.”

“You do not need to protect my honor from some school-age sheila,” Herc warns him, and nods to his head cameraman. “Tendo, you good?”

“We’ll edit out that touching little exchange,” the American grins back.

Herc rolls his eyes, and opens the door.

When he signed on to do this damn show, he only agreed to it on two conditions; a minimal crew of his choosing, and Stacker Pentecost as his executive producer. Tendo follows him out of the van, camera at the ready, but that’s it. He’s got the clip-on mic in hand himself.

“Jazmin Becket, I presume?” he asks the young girl, who blushes a little and holds on her hands. Seppos, he thinks, and shakes back. “Herc Hansen. Nice to meet you.”

“Pleasure,” she replies, a bit breathless, and Herc can feel Chuck’s eyes drilling a hole in his back. Boy’s a jealous little shit. She steps back, hands jammed in her back pockets. “Thanks for meeting with me today.”

“Of course,” he replies, and holds up the mic. “So I need to get you kitted up, and then we can talk, eh?”

“Oh, right.”

“You mind if I...”

“No,” and she smiles. “Go ahead.”

It’s a bit awkward, pinning it on, but Jazmin’s a serious girl; other than the blushing, she doesn’t make it worse. Herc’s always wondered what kind of appeal he holds for younger women - eight years in choppers and the last twelve in a high-stress job hasn’t exactly left him looking like a magazine model, after all - but Mako seems to delight in getting sound bites of waitresses and female owners talking about how sexy he is. Jazmin doesn’t say anything like that, and when Tendo directs them over to a nearby picnic table for an “impromptu” discussion, she bursts into tears.

“I’m so sorry, Chef Hansen,” she sniffles, reaching for the tissue Tendo passes him, “I’m sorry, I had it all in my head about how serious I’d be...”

“No worries,” he tells her softly. “Just tell me what’s going on.”

She pulls a neatly folded piece of paper out of her messenger bag, passing it over as she wipes at her eyes. It’s a news article, printed out from what looks to be a local new website. “Mama was Roma. She had to leave France so she could study and work in good kitchens, so it, was, you know, real important to her that we be proud of our heritage.”

“Okay,” Herc says, scanning the article, trying to figure out where this is going. He’s worked in Europe, knows how difficult they can be about such things. “And?”

“So when she and my dad opened their own place, I suggested that we could call it the Gipsy Cafe. Different spelling and everything, just in case somebody wanted to be a jerk. But a couple weeks before she died...”

“And sorry, what did she die of?”

“Cancer,” Jaz says quietly, not looking him in the face. “But some jackass at the university put this article out, calling us racist for using the word gypsy and giving us this half-baked lecture about the discrimination the Roma face every day...”

“Which is a bit hypocritical, eh? Considering your mama was...”

“Exactly. But she was in hospice care and none of us were really thinking about it, but then...” and Jaz drops her head. “Our customers were all university people, cause we’re so close to it, and we started getting hate mail and death threats in our email...”

Herc frowns. “Just because of the word gypsy?”

“Yeah! It was awful. We lost most of our customers. I tried to get Yancy and Dad to say something, but then Dad started drinking and Yancy...” Jaz shakes her head. “Yancy’s a really good cook, Chef Hansen, and he’s trying so hard, but he can’t do this on his own.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but why not just change the name of the place?” Herc asks, taking a closer look at the article. The language is pretty inflammatory, comparing the term gypsy to nigger and calling Dominique Becket a perfect example of how upper class whites fetishize PoC while simultaneously whitewashing the vibrancy of their cultures. The whole thing’s a terrible mess of buzzwords, actually. Definitely written by a student journalist.

Mako, Herc thinks wryly, will not approve.

“It’s Mama’s place,” Jaz says simply.

They talk for a little while longer, a conversation that will no doubt be condensed down to another damned voice-over and a ninety-second segment. All Herc really gets out of it, beyond what was already in Jaz’s email, is that she’s a horrendously lonely girl, still struggling to get over the death of her mum. And she idolizes her older brother with the ferocity that only a little sister can muster.

Still, the way she talks about Yancy gets Herc very curious. Boy sounds like a bit of a prodigy, and even though it’s probably just little sister worship, Herc can’t help but wonder.

They part with a hug and Herc promising to help, and he climbs back in the van to see Chuck frowning, poking at his smart phone.

“You’re not actually supposed to look them up,” Herc says with a sigh. Boy was probably listening in on the mic feed.

“Yeah, well, this Dominique Becket was quite the chef,” Chuck says, and tosses the phone over as the van starts moving again. “I mean, look at this resume. Her last position, before coming up to this hellhole of a state, was Chef de Cuisine at...”

“L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Hong Kong.” Herc whistles, and nods. “Anything about her being Roma?”

“Not a damn thing,” Chuck says, and cocks his head. “Would that really be an issue for her, professionally?”

“Europe’s got a bit of a problem with the Roma,” Herc concedes. “But the Roma tend to be clannish themselves and have extremely traditional views of woman, from what I understand. I’d reckon her family was just as opposed to the idea of her going to culinary school as culinary school was.”

“Eh, really?”

“Possibly.” Herc has no idea how to handle this. He doesn’t know how Americans view it. Dominique probably spent her entire professional life hiding her ethnicity, and Herc’s not sure it’s his place, or the show’s, to reveal that. Not for the first time, he’s grateful he’s got Stacker as his producer. “Not our place to bring it up again, okay? Family’s choice how they want to handle it.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

Herc goes back through Becket’s resume, however, as they drive through the gray streets of Anchorage towards this Gipsy Cafe. Head chef at a three Michelin starred restaurant is no mean feat; she had a glowing twenty-six year career before falling ill.

If her son is a quarter of the chef she was... and her widower husband’s an alcoholic... well.

This is probably going to be a two-parter.