Flame and smoke. Steam against the gleam of metal. The smell of frying onions popping in his ears, charred meats assaulting his nostrils with their delicious smells. Kuroo stood in the midst of it all, the chatter of the cooks calling times, the clatter of plates being brought back from the dishwasher and piled high at the pass to be sent right back out carrying his masterpieces to customers. He loved his kitchen. Raising his hands, he dictated the symphony, smiling to himself with his eyes closed and envisioning the—
“What are you doing, you weirdo?” Kai asked as he slipped past him to the meat station. He was the sous chef, but he and Kuroo had been working together since Paris, so many years ago, so it didn’t really matter who was technically the boss, Kai would always tell it to him straight.
Kuroo inhaled a long, enticing breath, smiled to himself, and rested his fists on his hips. “I’m setting my intentions.” He took a ticket from the pass and glanced at it, raised his voice and called, “Three covers table seven! One risotto, one lobster, one cauliflower puree.”
“Heard, chef!” Chorused back at him from his brigade.
Kuroo thought he should really take some of the items off the menu. Maybe take several dishes off. They were all received so well, though, and he hated to kill them. Every dish had been painstakingly created, often times by himself after a twelve hour shift when he was finally alone in the kitchen. No matter how much he loved the rush and chaos of the dinner service, being alone and creatively free in the early hours of the morning was what made him able to really savor the art of food.
Kai clicked his tongs in Kuroo’s face. “Chef, you get your head out of your ass, nous sommes dans la merde.”
“I know. So busy, and the night is so early still.” Kuroo smiled, waved a hand at him and turned to the pass as Yamamoto and Bokuto laid down their food for him. Kuroo dipped his tasting spoon in the first pot and scowled at it after tasting it.
“Bokuto, what’s this?” Kuroo snapped, showing him the creamy substance.
“Purée?” Bokuto told him, but hesitating.
“It’s trying to be, but it’s not. Season it a bit better, yeah?”
“Yeah.” Bokuto took it back. “Sorry, Chef.”
“Don’t worry about it, just do it right.” Kuroo grinned at him. He leaned over, curling the sliced aromatized radish around the meat, placing a perfect tiny spoonful of caviar just off center, wiping the plate and setting it in the pass as Bokuto brought him his finished purée. After a quick taste he said, “Perfect, my man,” and poured it into a dish. “Where’s my—thank you.” He plated the cauliflower purée and garnish then sent it, calling to the servers, “Go table seven.”
Kenma came into the kitchen, hair pulled back in his ponytail and looking miffed. “Kuroo,” he said, sticking his head through the stainless steel pass. “We’ve got a critic.”
Kuroo raised an eyebrow. “So? Just another customer.”
“He came to the bar to get a drink and he…” Kenma’s face shifted, going into his I hate all humans mode. “He was really intense.”
Kuroo laughed. “You say that about everyone.”
Kenma groaned and walked out, slipping past the servers and going back to his bar. Yaku had said it would be a bad idea to put a guy like Kenma as head of the bar, but Kuroo had found that he was able to keep the customers filled with enough alcohol and gentle words to coax extra tips out of them that Kenma used for his video games. If that wasn’t a reason for Kenma to work hard Kuroo didn’t know what was. He turned, just as someone screamed—his eyes casting about for the purpose—and saw one of the young commis chefs holding his hand to his chest. Kuroo moved immediately around the counter and reached for him. “What happened?”
The boy, young and just out of culinary school, whimpered, his face ashen as blood seeped through his fingers. Kuroo glanced at the cutting board and his stomach flipped, his own fingers jolted in remembered pain. The mandolin. Of course. Nearly every chef and cook in a hurry will suffer at the hands of the bladed instrument. Kuroo tugged Yuuki over to the sink and ran his hand under the water. The boy whimpered again, and Kuroo groaned softly. He called over his shoulder, “Someone find the tip of his finger.”
Kai was running the pass expertly in his absence, but he noticed that what Yuuki had been slicing was what they needed to refill the vegetable station. That would set them back ten minutes. One of the porters came to clear Yuuki’s station, and, with a disgusted face, dropped the detached piece of Yuuki’s finger into a cup of ice in case it could be reattached. Kuroo was unsure, the bleeding wouldn’t stop. It tinted the sink red even through the flow of water. He dug out his phone and called an ambulance then plopped Yuuki in the corner on a stool with a towel against his finger.
Bokuto looked over, the master of wounds, and shouted, “You’ll be fine lil’ dude!”
Yuuki didn’t even seem to hear him, his eyes glassy and far away as he clutched at his hand. Kuroo pulled another one of the apprentices and ordered him to begin remaking what Yuuki had been doing. “And don’t hurt yourself, for the love of God,” Kuroo told him sharply. The boy, Inuoka, always eager to please but not always quite knowing how, nodded and set to work.
When Kuroo got back to the pass he discovered, to his horror, that they were out of several things and each of those things were what the critic had ordered. He cursed himself… the prep was on the way, but it would take too long. The critic’s table would take almost half an hour and that was unacceptable. Unavoidable. Shit.