Matteo has always had an interest in cooking.
It started when he was young and his grandmother used to cook with him every Saturday when he and his parents visited, waking up before everyone else to cook pasta, risotto, focaccia, or any other concoction of Italian food you could possibly think of. It was one of his happiest memories of his childhood; before the stability began to crumble, the arguments became an often occurrence, before those happy memories were overshadowed by divorce and breakdowns.
After that, the first time Matteo properly cooked was a few months into moving into the flatshare, when Hans wanted to have a ‘flat bonding session’ and forced the others to cook with him.
It was the most fun he had had in a long time. It was the first time that someone had told him his cooking was actually any good. It was the first time he began to consider cooking as something that he could keep doing, not just as a hobby, but as a genuine career.
He continued cooking each week after Jonas decided to buy him weed and a cookbook for his 17th birthday. After going through every recipe, he began to create his own. His flatmates found random scribbles on paper in the kitchen where Matteo had begun to write down a new recipe before getting distracted and added random spices to what he was cooking.
That’s how he found himself, 18 months later, with an apprenticeship at an Italian restaurant, ‘il posto dell'Italia’. It was a cosy, family-owned place, with an open kitchen and bar in the centre, with lunch seating surrounding it, and other tables in the rest of the room for the busy evenings. Matteo was surprised that they offered him an apprenticeship, but they had apparently found something in him and wanted to train him to be the best that he could be.
He wasn’t one to believe that, but his friends rallied against him to take the job anyway. It was hard work, and there were days Matteo felt like he couldn’t get out of bed to even go in, but his bosses understood and told him that his job was still there when he was feeling better. He felt guilty and pushed himself to go in regardless, even when his friends told him to stay home.
Even so, walking into work to prepare for the day ahead was not what he wanted to do today. He and the boys had been out late the night before, and Matteo was still feeling the effects of the evening. Shaking his head in a failed attempt to clear the cloudy feeling he had, he shoved his hand through his hair to try and fix it, before opening the door to the restaurant.
Placing a smile on his face, Matteo shouts into the back into the restaurant, announcing his arrival.
“Matteo! Ciao,” Giovanni, his boss, the owner of the place, and an amazing chef who Matteo looks up to more than anyone else, even if he never says it out loud, replies to his shout. “You know, if you get to work now, I’m not even going to mention the thirty minutes we’ve been waiting for you.”
Matteo grins and places his hands together in a prayer motion. “Thank you,” he says, walking towards his boss. “It’s Wednesday, right?”
“Yep, student lunch day,” Giovanni says, “More work for all of us, but hey, students need feeding.”
“Dude, I love you and this restaurant, but why did you make this a weekly thing?” Matteo replies, leaning onto the counter with one arm as he runs his hand through his hair, unconsciously messing up what he had just tried to fix.
“You might not believe, with me being so old and all that, but I was a student once,” he pauses, turning the tap to wash his hands. “That shit’s hard. Emma and I saving you from being one was your blessing in disguise,” he finishes, talking over the water to face Matteo.
“What’s Matteo’s blessing in disguise?” Emma says, shuffling through the door to the back, and carrying a stack of menus.
Giovanni strolls up to her, opening his arms wide. “Here’s my beautiful wife,” he says, pressing a kiss to Emma’s cheek. “We were just talking about how we saved this kid from a life of student debt and misery,” he jokes, taking the menus from his wife and placing them on the counter.
Emma smiles and nods, “Oh, of course, we did.” She walks away from Giovanni and plants a kiss on Matteo’s cheek and tries to fix up his hair. “The twins are in the back, sorting out deliveries. They’ll be out to help you set up soon.”
Matteo wants to say something serious about how much they have actually helped him, but he feels as if moment has passed, so he instead stops leaning on the counter and jokingly salutes, before settling back down in his space he found on the counter whilst Giovanni and Emma walk away to talk about some issue that he isn’t interested in. He tries to clear his head again for a second, before moving to sort out the ingredients.
A few hours into his shift, and an hour into the lunch rush, Matteo sighs and wipes his forehead, feeling overwhelmed and needing a smoke. He looks to Emma longingly, who is standing on the other side of the counters, serving drink orders. She catches his eye and seems to realise exactly what he wants, as she smiles and nods towards the back, silently giving her permission for him to go out and have five minutes to himself.
Wiping his hands on his apron, he hurries out of the kitchen and towards the back, not wanting to be stopped by a customer before he makes his escape. He opens the door to the delivery courtyard out the back, shared by a few other businesses, and grabs a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket. Lighting the cigarette, he leans back onto the wall and rests his head on the brick, closing his eyes for a second as he gathers himself. He takes a drag from his cigarette and holds the smoke in his mouth before inhaling and blowing it out.
He sweeps his eyes over the courtyard, focusing on the window into a business that shared the courtyard, what he thinks is an art shop, and watches as the employee serves a guy in a beanie, who Matteo secretly names ‘beanie boy’. He can’t make out facial expressions from how far away he is but watches as ‘Beanie boy’ hands over a pack of paintbrushes and chats to the employee as he waits. He looks as if he’s almost finished in the shop, but Matteo finishes his cigarette before he leaves, and decides to go back to work before Emma kills him.
Before entering the main room, Matteo pauses at the door and blows out a final breath, sighs, and opens the door. The room is loud, hot and overwhelming, and Matteo has to work in the middle of it for four more hours, but he quickly gets back to work, washing his hands at the sink before getting back to his station and catching up with the twins on what orders had piled up whilst he was in the courtyard.
Today Matteo was manning the pizza oven, meaning he took over all the pizza orders that had piled up, as well as took and served anyone who came by the oven to take pizza away. It certainly wasn’t the busiest job in the restaurant, and Matteo loved making pizza. It reminded him of when Jonas joined Matteo to visit his Grandma in Italy and they made tried to make pizza together to surprise his grandparents. It didn’t go so well, the dough ending up on the floor, along with Matteo and Jonas, curled up laughing at the result of pizza making-turned-food fight, with flour somehow getting all over them.
It was the last time Matteo visited his Grandma. The last time Matteo felt that his family was somehow still holding itself together. He was so glad that cooking was the one thing from that part of his life that he felt so safe and secure in.
Shaking out of his thoughts, he began to prepare the couple pizzas that had been ordered when he was on his break, stretching out the dough, placing on the toppings, before placing them into the pizza oven, one after another. When they were done, he looked around to yell at Emma or Giovanni to tell them that they were ready. He scans the room, which was starting to quieten now. His eyes fall on Emma talking to someone, a customer probably, and shouts to get her attention. She spins around to look at Matteo and nods her head, walking over to where he put the pizzas.
Before he turns back to the oven, he caught a glimpse of who Emma was talking to.
It was beanie boy.
Beanie boy was walking towards the pizza oven.
Matteo busied himself to try to make it not so obvious that he was staring at him. He grabbed some dough and began to stretch it.
“Hello,” a voice came from in front of the counter. It was obnoxiously pretty. “Is this where to order pizza for takeaway?”
Matteo looks up, becoming face to face with beanie boy. He was obnoxiously pretty.
“Yeah, just, uh, let me finish with preparing this pizza, if that's okay,” Matteo replies, dusting off his hands.
Beanie boy smiles and nods, “Want me to just sit down here?”
“Yeah, sure.” Matteo quickly finished placing the toppings on the pizza he was making, glancing at beanie boy as he smiles at his phone. He puts the pizza in the oven, and makes his way over to him.
“So, what sort of pizza were you wanting?” Matteo asks, leaning slightly on the counter.
Beanie boy puts his phone down. “Ooh, can I get the student two-for-one pizza deal?” He says, and Matteo nods. “Cool,” He glances at the board above him, looking at the pizzas available. “Can I get a Margherita, and-” he pauses, thinking for a second, “What does the chef recommend?” He finishes, grinning slightly.
Matteo is caught off guard by the question, even though it was just a simple one. He quickly recovers, though. “Well, ‘Pizza Napoli’ is a personal favourite of mine; ‘Pizza de Prosciutto y arugula’ if you’re not feeling anchovies.”
“Pizza de Prosciutto y Arugula, then,” Beanie boy says, the Italian rusty on his tongue. It makes Matteo smile.
“That will be €12.50,” Matteo punches the number into the till, “And will take around 10 minutes. You can wait here, or come back then.”
“I’ll wait here,” He says, almost too confidentially, handing cash to Matteo. Matteo quickly gets the right amount of change and hands it back, their hands grazing as he hands the change to him.
“I’ll just go and make them, then,” Before Matteo can turn, a hand quickly extends over the counter.
“I’m David,” David says.
Matteo shakes David’s hand. “Matteo.” The boys share a smile, and if the handshake is a little longer than usual, Matteo didn’t realise.
Matteo blinks, remembering where he is, and releases David’s hand. He stumbles back to the side of the counter where the dough and toppings are kept and busies himself with making the pizzas. He dares to glance in David’s direction as he places the toppings on the pizza’s, watching as he smiles at his phone.
David looks up, catching Matteo’s eye in the process. David smirks with the right side of his mouth at him for a second before looking back down at his phone. Matteo concentrates back on the pizzas as soon as he catches David’s eye, blushing slightly at getting caught staring. He places both of the pizzas on the peel and puts them in the oven. He wipes his hands on his apron and watches the pizzas cook, focusing on not looking back over his shoulder at David.
The pizzas are done quickly and so Matteo pulls the peel out of the oven, placing it on the counter. He finally glances back at David, and this time he catches David staring at him.
Instead of looking away, though, David speaks.
“These pizzas sure do look good, huh.” He says, leaning his elbows on the counter, his head in his hands, with a smirk that never seems to leave his face.
“Thanks. I mean, this is my job,” Matteo replies before glancing away from the eye contact, placing the finished pizzas into takeout boxes.
“Yeah, but they don’t just look good,” David leans forward more as if he’s about to tell Matteo a secret. “They look amazing.”
Matteo’s hands still before he closes the boxes, and looks back at David. “You think?”
“Yep. They smell pretty amazing, too. Can’t wait to get back home and eat these.”
Matteo blushes slightly, a common occurence when faced with compliments. He closes the boxes and hands them to David.
“I hope they taste as good as you think they look,” Matteo says as David takes the boxes.
David holds the boxes in one hand and adjusts his beanie with the other as he gets up off the chair. “I’m sure they will. I’ve seen your expertise now, you see.” He says before leaving the restaurant, waving over his shoulder as he goes.
Matteo bites his lip and smiles. He really wasn’t expecting that today.