Joseph Liebgott has only ever had three major loves in his life: family, friends, and food. It all he’s ever wanted and needed. He runs a successful restaurant and it’s popularity is growing everyday. He hasn’t been worried about a possible setback since he opened. He knows that the plates he puts out are the best because he’s doing what he does best. However, there are critics. Critics who specifically seek out places like his and look for any and every reason to destroy his life. One critic in particular, known as The Shark because of a shark pin the guy wears on his lapel, apparently has his sights set on Joe’s place and he’ll be damned if this Ivy League prick finds anything wrong with his cooking.
Joe discovered his love of cooking when his mom had to work a double or else she’d be fired. So, Joe makes dinner for his little brothers and sisters with what’s in the fridge, and when he’s sees their faces light up when they take their first hesitant bite and then devour the rest, he thinks he might have some talent. He starts to cook more often when his mom has to take more and more shifts at work. Each time is something new or different that he thought of or wanted to try. Then he starts doing the grocery shopping after school. Then his siblings start requesting dishes or newfound favorites. Then, on Joe’s birthday when he finishes making his own three-tiered birthday cake, his whole family calls him into the living room. When they hand him a sealed white envelope he doesn’t know what to expect. He opens it to find an acceptance letter to the culinary arts academy he wanted to apply to.
“We applied for you.” His mother says when he just stares at the paper.
“T-they needed a demonstration, transcripts, and a bunch of other shit, how?”
“Believe it or not, your leftovers are better than a lot of fresh meals, I got you transcripts and you had several glowing recommendations sent in.”
Joe smiles and blinks back his tears.
“Time for cake.”
Three years later and Joe has his own restaurant, backed by his family and large group of friends.
Joe puts his heart and soul into his cooking and loves the joy and happiness that he’s able to bring to strangers through his life’s work.
On an ordinary Tuesday night, Grant burst into the kitchen from the front of the house and whistles for Joe’s attention.
“What is it Chuckie? I’m a little busy here. Tal! Garnish and send it out!”
“I told you to stop calling me that Lieb and I think he’s here.”
Joe’s head shot up. The most renowned critic in all of San Francisco was possibly about to dine in his restaurant. He could make or break any establishment and Joe had worked too long and too hard for some college boy to ruin him.
“He wearin’ the pin?”
Grant nodded his head. No one really knew what the critic looked like, only that he wore a shark pin to the restaurants he reviewed.
“Alright, make sure you serve him. Be nice, but not too much. That pretentious prick hates when servers are too pushy.”
“You got it.” Grant said before he left.
Joe turned to his staff, “Alright boys, one customer ain’t gonna ruin us. Let’s go! Tal get started on those apps! Skip, how are the desserts? Babe, get moving on those steaks! Come on people, this ain’t opening night!”
There’s a resounding chorus of, “Yes chef!”, and Lieb smiles.
David Webster didn’t necessarily enjoy being a food critic. Yes, he got paid to eat food, but sometimes he felt less than accomplished, void of purpose, no matter how popular his blog was. So when he’s told several hundred times to try Easy Company, he looks into it. Owned by one Joseph Liebgott, it’s been open for three years and it’s kept steady business but has been gaining traction since a featured spot on a Food Network show. There’s no specific cuisine set and it’s the first thing that grabs his attention.
No pictures, that’s…interesting.
A new menu each night.
Tricky and expensive, but impressive.
Friendly and attentive staff.
Always a plus, given the industry.
Lastly, from the plethora of online reviews, it’s worth the heftier price tag.
He stares at the blank page of his novel and sighs.
Now’s as good a time as any.
Web sighs as he pushes himself away from his desk, places his pin on his lapel, and makes a reservation for late that night.
The true testament of a great restaurant is the experience an hour right before they close.
The restaurant is nice and surprises him when he walks in. He’s seated immediately and given the day’s menu before the waiter leaves him for kitchen. Probably to tell the chef that he’s here so they can wine and dine him literally.
He’s not left waiting for long.
“Have you had enough time to look over the menu?”
“Yes, I’ll have the special of the night and a scotch, neat, please.”
“Right away, sir.”
Web pulls out his phone and starts the live posting of the night, determined to do his best to find any fault or exceptionality.
Joe hates critics. He doesn’t understand the reason they even have a job. How does someone else’s experience of a place determine what your own was going to be like? What kind of indecisive person lets some stranger’s opinion stop them from enjoying something amazing? Also, why was this fuck in his restaurant?
“He wants the special and a scotch, neat.” Grant tells him as his puts in the order.
“Neat? Who is this asshole?” Joe laughs as starts the order.
Babe jumps in as he plates a perfectly cooked steak, “He’s a Harvard grad, got a degree in literature. He hasn’t published anything yet, but is working on book about sharks. Name’s David Webster and he’s actually pretty nice once you get to know him.”
Half the kitchen stops and looks at Babe.
“How the hell you know all that?” Joe asks.
“He’s friends with Gene. I didn’t know that’s who you were talking about until you mentioned the pin.”
Babe goes back to cooking like he didn’t just drop a bomb full of knowledge on them.
There’s a crash at the bar and Grant runs back out to the front of the house.
“How was everything, sir?”
Web was surprised, the food was remarkable and he’s never had such a profound response to any other meal he’s eaten. Now he understood why people fell in love with food, why people chose this career for a living, why a good meal could bring a unique happiness to someone’s life.
“Would it be possible to speak with the chef?”
The waiter’s, Charles as his embroidered shirt states, eyes widen and then give him a polite smile.
“Let me go check for you.”
“Yo Lieb, he, uh, wants to talk to you.”
“What the fuck for?”
“I didn’t ask, you said to be nice.”
Joe sighs and wipes the sweat from his forehead.
“Yeah, thanks for that.”
Joe takes a deep breath before pushing open the kitchen door.
“You asked to see me?”
Web looks up from his final review post he was writing and looks up to see a rather annoyed looking chef looking down at him.
“Yes, I did.”
“I wanted to say that I love your food.”
Lieb folded his arms, attempting to look unimpressed but still appreciating the praise from someone so well-known.
“Yes, I can see why you do what you do. I can see why you love it. I mean, my potatoes were a little over seasoned, but it didn’t ruin my meal.”
Joe looked at the handsome – wait, no, pretentious – face of the critic and was so not entranced by the sharp blue eyes.
Web looked around the restaurant where some other guests were looking at them and then back at the chef.
“Yes? Like I said, it didn’t ruin the meal. I want t—.”
“Look Harvard, I don’t care what you want. You know what I want? I want you to leave. I don’t care what you post on your little website or shit, I don’t care. Just leave and don’t come back.”
Web narrowed his eyes, anger boiling inside him, and moved to get up in front of the chef.
Joe caught the scent of the critic as he stood up in front of him and it reminded him of a day at the beach. It was soothing in a way that immediately annoyed him because of the man it was attached to.
It was only then that Web caught onto the Harvard comment.
“Wait, how do you know I went to Harvard?”
That caught Joe off-guard, he didn’t catch that he let that slip.
Playing dumb had worked for him many times before.
“Harvard. You called me Harvard. How did you know?”
“You got that look about you, shark boy.”
Son of a bitch.
Sometimes Joe should learn when to shut his mouth.
Web grabbed Joe’s arm and pulled him outside the restaurant much to Joe’s loud and vulgar protests.
“How do you know who I am?”
“I have my sources.”
Web gave him an exasperated look.
“Please, you do not have sources. How do you know?”
Joe licked his lips and Web’s eye couldn’t help but follow the movement for some reason.
“My friend Babe’s boyfriend, Gene, is a friend of yours.”
“Wait, this is where Edward works?”
“Edward? Jesus, Web, only his ma calls him that.”
David flinched at the nickname.
“Please don’t call me that.”
He didn’t flinch this time but narrowed his eyes again.
“You’d rather be called Harvard or shark boy?”
“I’d rather be called David.”
“Well, Web, this has been nice and all but I’ve gotta get back. So not nice seeing ya.”
Web grabbed his arm again before he reached the door.
“You know my name, can I at least know yours?”
“It’s Joe, Joe Liebgott.”
Web’s mouth opens and closes for half a minute.
“You okay there?”
“Y-yeah, I just didn’t know you were the head chef as well as the owner.”
“Yeah, I’m a regular Renaissance Man.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Lieb.”
Joe smiled as looked back at Web to see a mixed expression of enjoyment, annoyance, and longing? on the taller man’s face and it made him stop and do something stupid.
“Did you have dessert?”
It was worth asking just to see the confused look on Web’s face.
“I said did you have dessert? Do they teach you to listen at Harvard?”
“No I didn’t and no, they don’t.”
“Well you can’t write a proper review if you don’t have dessert, right?”
Web smiled, “I guess I can’t. Is that an invitation?”
“It’s a demand.”
“Lead the way then, sir.”
Neither of them missed the hitch in Joe’s breath as they entered the restaurant.
Joe had Web sit at a chair in the kitchen while the rest of the staff finished the closing of the restaurant.
“You all can go home, I’ll finish here. We’re closed tomorrow anyway.”
The handful of staff still there shouted out quick thanks before running out of the door.
“So what do you want Web?”
Joe handed over a menu and finished cleaning the counters while Web decided.
“I haven’t had a strawberry shortcake since I was a kid. I’m a bit nervous though, what makes it ‘adult’?”
“The strawberries are soaked in an almond liqueur and the sauce in made with strawberry vodka.”
“That’s sounds perfect.”
Web’s phone rang and it was the ringtone of his editor.
“Sorry, I have to get this.”
Joe didn’t even answer, already focused on making the dessert.
He stepped through the door of the kitchen and watched Joe through the window.
“What’s taking so long for the final review?”
“I haven’t finished yet.”
Web watched the dance that Joe was performing effortlessly while he cooked.
“What do you mean? The restaurant closed twenty minutes ago. You’re on thin ice already Webster.”
The nasally voice from Sobel was grating on Web’s nerves.
He ran a hand through his hair and sighed.
“I know, sir. I’ll get in it, right away.”
“You better, or you’re done.”
His boss hung up before he could respond.
He went back into the kitchen and sat down with a long sigh.
“Boss that bad, huh?”
“Something like that.”
Joe watched the pound cake bake then started the sauce.
“So how does a Harvard grad, with a degree in literature, become a food critic?”
Web smiled, “Believe it or not, it’s very difficult to do what you really want.”
“Not for me.” Joe laughs and if Web wasn’t so fascinated by the man, he might’ve been angry.
“Well, I really want to write, but I’d also like to not be homeless, so I do this.”
“Nah, you can’t do that Web. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you haven’t written anything substantial about sharks since you started this job?”
Web looked shocked for a minute before he nodded.
“See, doing something you hate hinders your creativity, so now you can’t focus on what you want to do.”
“So what do you suggest I do?”
Web laughs loudly, “Just like that? I’m into debt up to my ears and I can barely afford my what I have.”
“What? Parents didn’t pay for college?”
“Not when I told them I was majoring in Literature instead of Law like everyone expected me to.”
“So you paid for it by yourself?”
“I got help from the government and scholarships, but yeah. They still refuse to talk to me.”
Joe made a noise of consideration.
“You’re not what I expected Web.”
Web looked up and met Lieb’s eyes.
“I could say the same thing to you, Joe. Not many chefs or owners would be doing what you are now.”
Lieb winked, “I’m not most chefs.”
He came around the counter and placed the dessert in front of Web.
Something about Joe commanded attention and David couldn’t look away, not even at the impeccable dessert he was bound to rave about.
Lieb leaned in a little too close, but he may have snuck some shots of vodka while Web took his call. He was a little too attracted to Web, a critic for pete’s sake, and it shook him.
“And this is not most desserts.”
In that moment, nothing could have pulled Web away from Joe.
ASSHOLE CALLING. ASSHOLE CALLING. THERE’S AN ASSHOLE AND HE’S CALLING.
Unless, of course, your boss calls you.
Web pulls back, swears, and answers roughly, “What is it now?”
“Webster, that is not the way you address your boss.”
Web pulls the phone away from his ear while Sobel yells.
Joe’s laughing, but looks like he just missed something great, as he pulls a large bite of the dessert onto a spoon and lift it towards David’s mouth.
Web’s mouth opened in surprise and Joe smiled as he gently fed the dessert to the other man.
The noise that ripped out of Web’s throat could, at the very least, be described as pornographic.
Joe’s eyes widened and the spoon clattered onto the counter.
Joe slid off the stool and into Web’s space, just as Web had started the raise the phone back to his ear, his boss still screaming.
Joe’s hands were slowly reaching toward Web.
The phone reached Web’s ear and he came to a conclusion.
He threw his phone down on the table and met Lieb’s lips with his own. It was a little off since they were both smiling, but it was perfect.
They eventually pulled away and rested their heads against one another.
Joe whispered gently, “How was that?”
David laughed and looked into Joe’s eyes before saying, “It was a little too sweet for my taste. I like something with a little more heat.”
Joe’s eyes darkened, “I can fix that for you, David.,” and tried to capture the critic’s lips once again, but Web pulled back with a laugh.
“No, seriously Joe, put a little chili powder on this or something.”
Lieb pushed Web playfully and went to clean the last of the dishes.
“Fuck you, Web.”
David shrugged as he took another bite, “Okay, but somewhere else. You have to think of the health code violations Joe.”
The dishes crashed in the back of the kitchen and Web laughed harder.
Web took the last bite of the dessert as Joe pulled him out of the seat, “It’s a good thing I live upstairs.”