Stiles sighs and tries his best to mask his utter boredom. “And what do you have for me here today, chef?”
The chef makes a grandiose gesture and uncovers Stiles’ plate.
Ten years ago Stiles would have been utterly excited to eat… whatever this is. He probably would have listened very intently to the description that the chef is making now, something about liquid nitrogen and this new innovative flavor and Stiles really, really has no idea what is on his plate. It’s some sort of teal blob, shiny and wobbling like jello, surrounded by a cloud of brownish green vapor. Ah, the wonders of molecular gastronomy.
See, the thing is, Stiles didn’t set out to be a food critic. He was just trying to help Scott out, who had just started his own restaurant. Scott’s a great chef, good at handling the pressure and responsibility of the kitchen team and the dishes, but not so much with the marketing. Stiles had the great idea to do a series of food videos— he already had a Youtube channel where he reviewed random things, why not food? Stiles had started by comparing all the grilled cheese sandwiches in town (”You can’t just say mine’s the best, Stiles, we should give the others a chance!”) and somehow it had gotten weirdly popular. Stiles doing the reviews, that was.
At first it was exciting, being an overnight sensation— people liked his videos for his honest attitude and funny comments, and it was great. Stiles has his own cooking show on Food Network now, and hosts a few competitions occasionally, and is rather a Big Deal in the restaurant industry. A Stiles Stilinski review can make or break your restaurant, and everyone knows it.
The problem is this. Stiles likes food. Stiles is also twenty-nine years old, lives alone, travels way too much, doesn’t know when the last time he had a home cooked meal where no one was trying to impress anyone, and he’s just tired of all the fancy bullshit. His face is too recognizable; he can’t even attempt to try a new restaurant without the chef requesting the honor of plating something special just for him.
And right now? Stiles really just wants some chicken nuggets.
He sighs, picking up his fork and delicately poking the teal blob. He spins some of the wispy things around it and eats it slowly.
The blob tastes like peas, and the wispy things have a hint of saffron. A waste of the spice, in Stiles’ opinion, deconstructed and reconstructed into this form. This kind of food can be cool, but honestly if Stiles knew that the series of excited videos of himself playing with liquid nitrogen in the early days of his Youtube channel meant that years later, chefs and competitors looking to get an edge on the others would take to understand that Stiles loves molecular gastronomy and therefore only serve him that, ever, he wouldn't have filmed so many videos on the subject. It's just sometimes Stiles gets stuck in a research spiral and at the time that was his thing. Now? Not so much.
Stiles nods at the chef, who scampers off excitedly, whispering to the other staff.
Stiles puts his jacket back on and leaves, his stomach growling.
He wanders around town for a bit, and contemplates finding another restaurant to eat at— it is his night off, he should be able to just have a good meal. At the second restaurant he lingers in the doorway of, some of the waiters start whispering excitedly, and when he hears Stiles Stilinski, you know, the food critic? Stiles walks away in a hurry.
He wanders around Central Park for awhile, lost in his thoughts, meanwhile getting hungrier and hungrier.
Technically Stiles lives in New York. He has an apartment, but he’s hardly ever there. He thinks about Scott and his cozy married life and his friends back in Beacon Hills and then about the cold, empty apartment that’s waiting for him.
Stiles walks, and finds himself in a neighborhood he hasn’t been before. There are a number of people gathered round outside, talking excitedly, the scent of alcohol filling the air. There’s music coming from a few clubs, people spilling out of them, laughing, kissing, holding hands.
There’s one crowd that seems to have a purpose, and Stiles gets swept up in them. They’re young, college-age, talking excitedly about food and this place and hoping that it’s still open.
Stiles surreptitiously undoes his tie and tucks it into his suit pocket, hoping to look more casual.
The club-goers lead him to a little hole in the wall that Stiles swears he’s probably walked past before; it’s an nondescript door with a simple sign, a picture of a milkshake, and it’s incredibly easy to miss.
Inside the restaurant is cramped but homey, and a ding of a bell announces a new order.
The man behind the counter is a masterpiece. He’s wearing a tank top that does little to hide the broad expanse of his chest and his muscled arms. He works the grill with quick precision, flipping burgers and hot dogs while managing to do neatly turn a perfect omelet. His tight jeans leave little to the imagination, and Stiles just stands there for awhile.
“Hey, are you ordering?”
Stiles shakes his head and moves out of the way so the guy behind him can order, watching the man cook.
It’s clear after a few minutes that he loves it— every ingredient is treated with care, and he’s got skill too, cracking eggs with one hand and using a few Cordon Bleu techniques, but mostly the man just seems to genuinely enjoy cooking the diner fare, presenting each plate to the patrons with a nod, watching them eat. Occasionally he glances at Stiles curiously, but mostly his attention is on the food.
The woman working the counter has similar heavy eyebrows, dark hair, and rolls her eyes at the man occasionally as they talk; the two of them work easily around each other, in tandem, like they’ve known each other forever.
Stiles doesn’t realize he’s the last one in the restaurant until the woman starts talking directly to him.
“We’re about to close,” she says. Her nametag reads Laura. “You want food or not?”
“I— chicken nuggets?” Stiles blurts out, and then inwardly cringes. He hadn’t even been looking at the menu, what if they didn’t have that?
Laura huffs. “We don’t—”
The man steps up, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I can make chicken nuggets,” he says, looking Stiles over.
Laura glances at Stiles, and then back at him, chuckling. “You do that, Derek, and you can close up. I’ll see you later.”
Derek gets to work, but his cutting board is behind the sign; Stiles can’t see what he’s doing.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” Derek says. “We don’t really get a lot of Wall-Street types here.”
“Ah— I— I’ve been away on business a lot. Don’t really get a lot of time to explore my own city,” Stiles admits, although he’s wondering what it is about his outfit that screams Wall Street. “I think I’ve passed you by before, during the day? And you guys weren’t open?”
Derek tosses a few pieces of breaded chicken in a fryer. “During the day we cook food for the local homeless shelters; at night we serve the club crowd.”
“Oh,” Stiles says.
Derek comes out from behind the counter with a little cardboard tray with chicken nuggets and curly fries; it smells heavenly, and he sets it down in front of Stiles, along with a little container of ketchup. The ketchup is a deep, rich red and thick when Stiles dunks a curly fry in it.
He groans, letting the taste linger in his mouth.
“We make our own ketchup,” Derek says. He spins the chair across from Stiles and sits down in it, backwards, watching Stiles eat with interest.
Stiles goes for the chicken nugget next— it’s fried a rich, golden brown, the breading savory and delicious, meat juicy and succulent. It’s even more amazing with the ketchup, and Stiles lets out a contented sigh. “This is delicious,” he says. “What’s in it?”
“Chicken. Flour. Oil. Egg. Salt and pepper.”
“That can’t— that can’t be it,” Stiles says. “It tastes so good, I just—?”
Derek laughs, a deep throaty thing that Stiles wants to hear more of. “No, it’s not. The ketchup is good, though. I stand by my ketchup.” He dips a finger in the container and licks it, and Stiles can’t look away.
“It is that good,” Stiles says.
“Now you’re just saying that to get in my pants,” Derek says, eyes twinkling mischievously.
“I—” Yes, it’s occurred to Stiles that Derek’s attractive, but he’s a food critic and he knows his palate, okay.
“Don’t worry, it’s working,” Derek says, leaning closer a little.
“I’m a food critic,” Stiles blurts out. “I really do like these chicken nuggets, I’m not just saying that—”
“I live upstairs, if you want dessert.”
Stiles learns later that Derek fucks like how he cooks— passionately and with precision, and he falls sated into Derek’s arms, the sounds of New York busily hustling around them. Dawn is rising through Derek’s curtains, and Stiles nuzzles closer, happily contemplating this turn of events as Derek cards his fingers through his hair.
“I like you, Wall Street,” Derek says sleepily. “Stay, I’ll make you breakfast in the morning.”
“It is morning,” Stiles mumbles.
“Mmmm, it’s morning when we wake up,” Derek says, throwing his leg over Stiles’ body.
“I have to go to work, I’m sorry. I do want to stay, though!”
“We’re really close to the Seventh line, you can get to work easy, let’s sleep in,” Derek says, cuddling Stiles.
“I have to catch a flight, really sorry, I have this judging gig in Paris I need to get to,” Stiles says sheepishly. “I told you, I’m a food critic!”
Derek opens his eyes. “You could have just said you didn’t want to stay,” he says sourly, and flops over, staring at the wall.
Stiles looks at the bare line of Derek’s back, all his hopes and dreams for this lovely new potential relationship going down the drain.
Paris is fine; the Food Network runs him ragged, though, and this new show they have is really intense. Filming takes three weeks, and then Stiles is off to California to write a few articles about Napa Valley, and since he’s in California he goes off to Beacon Hills to visit his dad and Scott and everyone.
It isn’t until the spring when Stiles gets back to New York, this time with an official hiatus from Food Network. He’s trying to write a book, part memoir and part recipes and mostly sass, but writing is hard. He takes to wandering, trying to get the writing juices going, but mostly ends up wasting time in Central Park and trying not to get recognized when he goes out to eat.
Stiles even attempts to date, although he’s never really forgotten Derek. He can’t seem to move on, even though it was only one night. He passes by Derek’s restaurant sometimes, never going in.
Late one night Stiles has just left his blind date; they didn’t have any chemistry, and he’s tired and hungry and wants a snack before he goes home. He finds himself in front of a little door with a milkshake sign and thinks, why not? Derek’s probably moved on by now.
Stiles opens it, looking around the place. They’ve remodeled, Stiles notices. It looks nice, cheerful new coats of paint, new murals of milkshakes and omelettes and burgers dancing all over the walls. There’s an info board talking about the homeless food program and how people can donate, and— okay, all the furniture is new too?
Stiles looks around and that’s when he sees it, the framed article from Bon Appetit, and that’s definitely Stiles’ picture and byline but he didn’t write this article— fuck, he drunkenly rambled this to Lydia months ago, and she printed it?
Hale’s is an experience, open to the public only during the witching hour. During the day, their staff cook for three different homeless shelters throughout NYC…
…their food is simple but hearty and delicious, and I can honestly say that both the food and the company was the best I ever had. — Stiles Stilinski
Stiles turns around to see Derek, his mouth falling open.
“Hey,” Stiles says. “I just uh, I wanted to come by and see, ah… your… new menu.”
“Right,” Derek says faintly. “It’s mostly the same.”
“Cool,” Stiles says, and pretends to read the menu and still look at Derek at the same time.
There’s a moment of awkward pause and then they both try to speak at the same time.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you were a food critic, I’m not a morning person at all and I really thought you just wanted the sex and that’s all—”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call I didn’t have your number and I didn’t know if you wanted to see me—”
Stiles takes a deep breath, trying to calm down his rapidly beating heart. “So I didn’t come down to see your new menu. I just wanted to see you.”
Derek smiles, and it lights up his entire face. “You don’t have an early flight tomorrow or anything, right?”
Stiles shakes his head.
Derek crooks his finger and beckons Stiles closer, like he wants to tell Stiles something. Stiles leans over the counter, expecting Derek to whisper something but instead Derek cups his chin and pulls him in for a soft kiss. Stiles sighs into it, losing himself in the sweet taste of Derek’s lips.
“Is that— is that on the menu?” A few night clubbers are staring at them, wide eyed.
Derek laughs. “Only for my boyfriend.” He looks at Stiles. “If that’s okay.”
“Yeah, that’s more than okay, I — yeah,” Stiles says, dazed and happy.
“You know how I said the menu was mostly the same?” Derek asks. “This is the most popular item now. I mean, we couldn’t not have it on the menu, not after your review.” He gestures to the sign behind him.
Stiles’ Chicken Nuggets.