Gusteau's has been teetering along for two years now. After Anton Ego's scathing review, the great chef had heart attack, which he only barely survived, and as he was recovering, fell dreadfully ill. It was a reoccurring illness that would sometimes keep him from his beloved kitchen for months, and as he stayed away more and more often, more and more control went to his sous chef, Henri Skinner. Gusteau was still officially the head chef, but in reality the head chef was often Skinner, with Lucien Horst as the de facto sous. The food was still good, but between Ego, the loss of two stars, and Gusteau's illness and lack of presence, attention was waning.
With his lack of presence came the dwindle of new dishes from his mind, as he rarely had the strength. Gusteau disapproved of Skinner's frozen foods, but didn't have the strength to fight them like he used to. Instead, when he was there, the chef focused on his other chefs, building them up.
Lucien Horst had been faithfully at his side since they had met in school, and the man was a great chef, though more inclined to follow Gusteau's lead. He was a like a brother to Gusteau, a loyal companion. Lalo Perrin was a brillient saucier, who came up with fresh ideas given encouragement, but rarely had the confidence to present them to be used at the restaurant. Gusteau regarded Lalo as he would a nephew. Jean Pompidou was the Pâtissier, and he had a way with dough like no other. Theo La Rousse had been his Chef Garde Manger since the beginning, though the man was closer with Horst than Gusteau. Both Theo and Jean were like cousins to Gusteau. Finally, there was Colette Tatou. The only woman in his kitchen, and she was a master, excelling in almost every area and striving to improve constantly. His only complaint was that she never deviated from the recipe unless prompted. Recreation was a valuable skill to have, yes, but in moderation. Part of recreation was adaptation, the slight edits, improvements, and refinements that came over time. Colette, she was like a daughter to him.
Gusteau was just getting over a bout of the illness that night when Horst and La Rousse went behind Skinner's back to hire a garbage boy. He had no idea that a soup had been wreaked in his kitchen by that new garbage boy and then saved by a rat, of all creatures, he merely wondered how they were doing tonight.
He wasn't there to join in the panic as that soup went out and was served to a critic, he simply was wondering when he would be able to join them again. Would it be another day until he felt well enough? Or maybe the day after? Or perhaps it would be another week away from his kitchen that he would be forced to endure.
He pondered the future of the restaurant as his sous threatened that new garbage boy to come back and recreate that soup. How long would this continue? His illness? The restaurant? Should he just close it and be done? Or let it drag on to a slow demise, where he too was headed?
At that same time that a young man, just nineteen and newly alone in the world, made a friend of a rat and took him home, Gusteau retired to bed, too tired to think any longer.
Gusteau awoke the next morning feeling better than he had last night. Perhaps he would be able to be at the restaurant tomorrow, perhaps even today!
He sat down, opening the paper. He had made it his habit to read the reviews, especially the food reviews. It was good to know what others thought of his restaurant, though rarely was it mentioned anymore, or of others. He loved to hear the details of someone's experience. He even read Anton Ego's when the man deigned to make a review. He found the man too harsh, but he read it anyways.
Today, however, held a surprise. His restaurant was in the reviews. The review was from Solena LeClaire.
"... Though I, like many other critics, had written off Gusteau's as irrelevant since the great Chef's illness and subsequent distance from the restaurant, the soup was a revelation, a spicy yet subtle taste experience. Against all odds, Gusteau's has recaptured our attention. Only time will tell if they deserve it."
Gusteau was stunned. He knew that soup, it was meant to be mild, and an orange- red colour, not creamy white. Someone in that kitchen had been daring. Oh, he was proud of them, whoever it was! His first instinct was that it was Colette, but she didn't experiment on customer's dishes. Horst never would have done it either. Soups weren't La Rousse's area, nor Pompidou's. It might had been Lalo, but he doubted it. Skinner never would have risked such an action, and Gusteau knew that Skinner actively discouraged experimentation. Which left Gusteau back at square one, with no idea who had done it.
He needed to go down there. He needed to know who had been the chef to take that risk, because he needed to encourage that spark before Skinner snuffed it out. He would go there tonight! He would meet the chef--!
Then a cough racked him.
The coughing fit went on, and he was reminded of how fragile this was. How fragile he was, and how he hated it. Hated not being there, doing what he loved! But he was alive, alive to see another day. If it was going to be like that today, he would have to wait till tomorrow, as painful as that was.
The next day was better. Gusteau felt good, and even more, he felt determined. He would make it to the restaurant today, and he would meet his daredevil chef.
It was afternoon by the time that he finally made it, but he made it for the first time in over two weeks. The entire kitchen came to a halt as he opened the door. Every head looked up, completely silent and completely still. Gusteau chuckled, "Is this how a kitchen is supposed to be? Frozen, only hours before the dinner rush?"
That cured the stiffness. Every one of his chef's had a smile on or was laughing at that.
"Good have you here!" La Rousse said.
"Good to be here!" Gusteau said, pulling his old friend into a bear hug.
Work resumed as he made his way around. The only ones he didn't talk to were Horst and Skinner, the former being deep in concentration that Gusteau knew better than to break and the latter shut in the office. He glanced around the kitchen for his youngest chef, Colette, and spotted a face that seemed familiar, but that he couldn't place...
"Hello, sir," Colette greeted.
"Colette, you know better than to call me that," he said with a smile.
Colette gave him a mild smile, and he frowned. Something was off with her today... he just didn't know what. Putting that aside for the moment, he turned to the red haired chef.
"I don't believe we've met, were you recently hired?" Gusteau asked.
"He was hired as the garbage boy, but he's now the newest chef. He was the one who changed the soup," Colette said.
"Linguini," the chef stumbled out, and Gusteau's attention turned back to him. "My name is Alfredo Linguini."
"Nice to meet you, Alfredo." With a last name like that, he had to be related to Renata.
"Uh, I prefer Linguini," the lad said shyly.
"Linguini. Thank you for letting me know," Gusteau said, smiling. "Are you helping him?" he asked Colette.
"Skinner assigned me to tutor him."
So that was what was getting to her, she probably felt that Skinner was trying to weigh her down... "He couldn't have a better chef for a mentor," Gusteau said honestly. She was the best of his kitchen.
"What did you add to the soup? It sounds like it had some major changes," he asked Linguini.
"Uh... mostly accidental things... I wasn't really meaning to..." Linguini stuttered.
"Skinner had him make another pot, we still have it," Colette offered.
"Well, it seems time to try it!" Gusteau exclaimed.
The soup was indeed excellent, and the lad turned more and more red under the compliments. Colette set the lad off with a task, and Gusteau put a hand on her shoulder.
"What do you think of him?" he asked.
"If he can follow a recipe as well as he changed that one, he's got talent. Instinctive talent, he's never been to a cooking school," Colette said.
"Good, teach him well."
With that, Gusteau finally made his way to his oldest friend.
"Good to have you here, Skinner sometimes forgets you're still alive," Horst said.
"I'm not dead yet," Gusteau said, frowning for the first time since entering the kitchen. "What do you know of the new lad?"
Horst glanced over his shoulder. "He's Renata's son."
Gusteau nodded slowly. "I figured as much, the last name's too rare for him not to be related. I can't believe she's gone..."
"Auguste," Horst put a hand on his shoulder, and Gusteau looked up at him. "I get it. The fact that she's gone is the reason that she sent him here, for a job."
"For a job?"
"Yes. Theo and I hired him without even mentioning it to Skinner. We needed a garbage boy, and a favour to an old friend. The fact that he's turned out to have talent for cooking is just a bonus."
"I'm surprised that Henri kept him on." After a stunt like that... Henri must have been furious.
"He wanted to fire him. Colette stood up for him, used your old motto..."
"Anyone can cook," Gusteau said with a grin.