"Hi. My name's Stiles Stilinski and I'm a sous chef for a Mediterranean cuisine bistro in Sacramento, Cali." Stiles freezes, his too-fake smile curling into a grimace as he realizes what he said and tacks on an awkward, "Fornia." Looking into the blinking red light on the camera, he feels a bead of sweat gather at his temple and whispers a heartfelt, "Fuck," ruining the take and causing the cameraman to wince and stop recording.
"Uh. Cut, I guess," the cameraman says, his lips hitching up into a little, apologetic smile.
Which makes Stiles feel like shit, because it's not this dude's fault that he's fucked up the first two takes of his intro.
"Maybe if you just say Sacramento?" the guy suggests helpfully. "I mean, I think most people watching the show will know you mean the one in California."
"Yeah, that... Okay, that sounds like a winning plan right there. Ugh." Dropping his head into his hands, Stiles breathes for a minute, then shakes his body all over, trying to get the jitters out. It doesn't really help, but at least this time when the cameraman holds up three fingers and slowly ticks them down to a closed fist, Stiles is able to hold onto a light grin and say, "Hi, I'm Stiles Stilinski, and I'm a sous chef for a Mediterranean cuisine bistro in Sacramento." He almost fucks up right then and there by forgetting to finish his intro. "When I win Cutthroat Kitchen," he tries not to wince, because the director had been pretty clear about them appearing to feel superior to their competition, even though Stiles has heard rumors that there's a Michelin freaking star chef competing today, "I'm going to use the money to help pay my dad's medical expenses."
The light on the camera turns off after a second and then the cameraman is stepping out from behind the camera and comes forward with a lopsided smile. "Hey man, that was great. We'll get a few more reaction shots from you during the competition, but for the most part it'll just be the cameras in the cooking area."
"Well, yeah," Stiles says, jazz-handing all over the place. "What kitchen doesn't have cameras these days, right?"
Anyone else's smile would turn wooden at Stiles' spastic sarcasm at this point, but instead the cameraman tosses his head with an honest laugh and claps Stiles on the shoulder. "Yeah, you're gonna do great. Just watch out for the foil challenge."
Stiles' eyes go wide. "Are they doing that one today?"
"No idea, dude. Mr. Brown doesn't tell us anything. Apparently, I'm 'untrustworthy' and 'too much of a pushover' to know the challenges in advance. I swear, you tell one chef about a Chicken In A Can challenge…"
Stiles can't help the bark of laughter that bursts from him and he finds himself offering his hand to the guy. "Hey, thanks, dude. I'm Stiles. You know, obviously." Rolling his eyes at himself, Stiles tacks on, "And here's something for the brand new information column: I also cook."
Taking his hand, the cameraman just grins brightly and says, "Scott McCall. I'm the camera dude by day, vet school student by night."
Stiles just blinks, unable to stop himself from blurting, "A vet school student who's okay with a cooking show?"
"I'm hoping to become a small animal vet, so until Mr. Brown starts throwing kulgogi into the challenge rotation, I just don't think too hard about the meat and where it comes from."
Glancing around frantically, Stiles hisses, "Don't say that so loud. He'll hear you."
Stiles bounces on the balls of his feet, twisting his neck a little to crack it, trying to work out the nerves before the producer gestures for him to start walking down the stairs and into the kitchen area. Blowing out a breath, Stiles pastes on a smirk and concentrates a little too hard on making sure his feet hit each step correctly.
Falling down the stairs on national television is not in his game plan for the day.
He's the last one down, so he takes a minute to size up the competition. And then he has to hide a wince, because it's beginning to look a lot like the Miss America talent competition in here -- if Miss America allowed men to compete. There are two stunningly gorgeous dudes and one quirky-cute girl who'd probably outshine the guys flanking her if she didn't look so down to earth and… well, and cute. Their name tags read Whittemore, Yukimura, and Hale, with Hale's station being closest to Stiles'.
Stiles shoves his hands in his pockets as he saunters to his station, remembering to call out a half-hearted, "Skill before beauty; looks like I'm the clear winner."
From behind one of the six cameras in the room, Scott's brow furrows like he's trying to figure out who exactly Stiles was really insulting there, the competition or himself.
Stiles is kinda wondering the same thing. Oh well. Hopefully that's the last bit of trash talk they'll ask him to do today because he sucks at it. He just wants to start cooking, honestly. Cooking is his jam. He can cook circles around these Toddlers and Tiaras wannabes.
...Dammit. That would have been the perfect trash talk.
At that moment, every thought goes flying out the window because Alton fucking Brown steps out and starts doing his opening spiel, and it's all Stiles can do not to squeal. Out loud, that is, because he's totally squealing internally. And not only because Alton Brown just opened a huge suitcase full of cash.
Okay, fake cash, but still. The cash in there represents financial freedom for Stiles' dad. When it's his turn, Stiles steps forward eagerly to pluck up the last two stacks of 'cash' from the case and makes a point of rubbing each under his armpits.
"That won't stop me from taking back all your money, Chef Stilinski," Alton says, playing off his antics beautifully.
Stiles does not swoon at being singled out for attention from Alton Brown. But if he has to steady himself against his workstation when he gets back behind it… eh. No one else has to know.
"For the first challenge," Alton announces, eyes narrowed in undisguised glee as he paces back in forth in front of them, "I'm thinking something… meaty. And ballsy. Meatballs!" He backs away, tucks himself behind his counter and grins wickedly as he says, "Contestants, you have one minute to get everything you need out of the Cutthroat Kitchen pantry. And… go!"
Basket in hand, Stiles races for the pantry door, getting beat out by the guy who'd been beside him -- Hale -- but getting caught shoulder-to-shoulder between the doors with Whittemore, the guy from station one. Yukimura barrels into them, calling out a breathless, "Sorry," as she sends them stumbling inside, each of them careening off a rack of dry goods.
With no time to waste, Stiles flings himself at the meats refrigerator and starts snatching up packages of sausage and beef before he sees, hidden away in the back, an assortment of seafoods. His recipe for the first challenge bursts into his brain at that moment, and without drawing any attention or putting anything back, he's plucking a package of fresh salmon out of the refrigerator.
Bread crumbs, salted butter, avocado, a variety of spices... and he can hear Alton's voice counting down their remaining seconds. Meeping, he sweeps through the vegetable shelf, and is almost free and clear when he realizes he forgot the eggs.
Another mad dash to the refrigerator nets him a carton of them, but by the time he makes it back to the pantry doors, Alton is slamming them shut… on his leg, making him yelp and jerk it back, locking him inside the pantry. Through the doors, he can see -- and hear -- Whittemore's mocking laughter, but Stiles doesn't have time for that right now.
Alton is demanding something from his basket.
Stiles' stomach half-clenches because Alton could really hurt him here, but he just tsks and shakes his head and plucks a bottle of cooking sherry out of Stiles basket before sliding the doors open once more and letting him free. Which is just fine with Stiles, because he honestly doesn't even remember grabbing cooking sherry.
Yukimura casts him a sympathetic look as he walks back to his station, but Thing 1 and Thing 2 -- Hale and Whittemore -- are obviously douchebags of the highest order, because they're both looking at him with varying degrees of you don't belong here in their expressions. Whittemore's muttered, "Loser," just makes Stiles remember exactly why he's here. Because yeah, he wants to pay off his dad's hospital debts, but he also really wants to show all the nay sayers that Stiles Stilinski can cook.
First, though, he has to get through the sabotages with his skin intact.
Stiles had planned out a strategy weeks ago when he first found out he was going to be a contestant on the show. He has to spend enough to win, but keep enough to make it worth losing three days of work and paying the enormous taxes on his winnings. The way he'd calculated it out, he could spend ten thousand dollars total. Less would be better, more would be stupid.
But he's also not going to leap at the stupid challenges, like the tin foil utensils. If worse comes to worst, he can use his hands to prepare his food. He's done it before.
The first item that comes down the dumbwaiter is a tiny little spatula. Alton plucks it up between two fingers before spinning back toward them, his pinky finger held aloft as he explains, "The first item up for auction is this itty, bitty, tiny, little, adorable spatula… and the proportionally-sized kitchen to go with it. Whoever wins this item can bestow upon a contestant of their choice this spatula and its little bitty brothers and sisters. Oh, and," he pauses dramatically, cackling gleefully into a camera that comes in for a close up, "the tiny little oven and workstation that goes with them." Two crew members come trotting out, lugging an oven that looks like something Stiles had seen once at a Toys R Us.
Okay… that's… not the end of the world. Unusual, to be sure, but Stiles can work with it if he has to. Eyeing his stack of money, he calls out a bid of $1,000 when Alton opens the bidding. Just because he doesn't necessarily want to win the auction doesn't mean he's not willing to make the others pay a little more for it. And sure enough, before it's all said and done, Yukimura wins with a bid of $5,200, edging out Hale, whose jaw is flexing like he's internally kicking himself for not raising the bid.
And then Yukimura startles a laugh out of Stiles when she smiles sweetly at Hale and says, "Since you wanted it so much, I thought I'd buy it for you."
If looks could kill, she'd be ash on the ground, holy shit. Not that the look isn't working for Hale, because dear mother of baby Jesus it so is. He's all dark, lowered eyebrows and fashionably maintained scruff with eyes that are some sort of light color that seems even paler with all the dark hair. Unf.
But no. Focus, Stiles. Shaking himself, Stiles forces himself to look away from Hale and get his mind back on the game.
After that first auction, things get a little heated, with Whittemore and Hale battling it out over a basket swap -- one item, thankfully, and they're driving the price so high on each other that Stiles doesn't feel the need to say anything. When Whittemore finally wins, Stiles catches the momentary gleam of triumph in Hale's eyes when Hale turns his head in Stiles' direction.
So Stiles isn't the only one driving up the bidding just to gouge the competition. Nice to know.
Whittemore, being a dick, saunters straight to Stiles' workstation and digs through his basket before pulling out Stiles' sausage. "Thanks, loser," Whittemore sneers, but Stiles just laughs out loud.
"Aww, sweetheart," Stiles says, batting his eyelashes as Whittemore begins to flush red with anger. "I'm flattered. Six grand for my…. sausage?" He laces the last word with enough innuendo that he's sure, by the time the episode airs, it'll have been edited out.
Or maybe not.
"Take it all," he adds with an exaggerated wink.
A tiny little snort -- of amusement? -- draws Stiles' attention to Hale, who's 'coughing' into his fist.
"And last, but not least," Alton says, and Stiles' gaze snaps to the front again to see… oh. A roll of aluminum foil. Hah. Looks like Scott was right.
Hale wins the auction and presents the roll of foil to Yukimura, who just accepts it gracefully. "Have fun playing with your toy kitchen," she calls out sweetly to Hale.
With the auctions over, Stiles breathes out a low sigh of relief. He's still got all his money and, to be perfectly honest, he's completely unaffected by the sabotages. He has everything he needs to make his meatballs…
Stiles is shaping his salmon balls and getting ready to put them in the oven when he hears Alton's voice call out, "I was thinking…"
There's something about the way he says it that has Stiles shoving the half-finished tray of meatballs in the pre-heated oven. He won't have as many to chose from when he presents his dish to the guest judge, but he'll have something.
"...and I think this round is going just a little too smoothly." Alton laughs right in the face of Hale's exasperated huff.
Looking over, he grins when he sees Hale, face flushed and hair sticking to his forehead, muttering and cursing as he tries to jam a mini-cookie sheet into his mini-oven. It's… well, it's cute.
No, it's fucking adorable.
Not as adorable as watching him mix things with a teensy little whisk inside a teensy little bowl, though. His huge hands dwarf everything, and he's made more of a mess than any actual food, Stiles is pretty sure. Though it's hard to tell, honestly, considering the fact that he's wearing a black chef's coat.
And seriously, if the man bends over any further, Stiles is going to consider it an invitation to defile that ass. Because holy shit. That ass.
When Hale bends over his tiny workstation to use his tiny knife to cut up his -- enormous, in proportion to the knife -- heirloom tomatoes, Stiles has to bite his fist to stifle a whimper. Forcibly dragging his gaze away, he looks straight up into Scott's knowing look… and sees that Scott's camera has caught every bit of his lustful stare. Narrowing his eyes, Stiles shoots Scott the finger and then redirects his attention to the front of the room where Alton has been going on for a little bit about something very non-specific.
Oh, wait, he's talking about time.
Glancing at the clock, Stiles notes that their initial thirty minutes has dwindled to fifteen and he feels his lungs seize up in his chest. If it's a time challenge, Stiles cannot end up with it. He still has to make his avocado sauce.
...It's totally a time challenge.
Fingering one of his stacks of cash, Stiles lets Kira Yukimura -- who'd introduced herself to the room at large while trying and failing to shape aluminum foil into utensils she could work with -- open the bidding at $1,500.
She doesn't even have a chance to breathe before Whittemore is shouting out, "Two thousand!"
And on it goes until Whittemore pushes the up and over seven grand, at which point Stiles backs out of the bidding, his gut clenching in fear as Alton bangs the gavel signifying that Whittemore is the winner of this round. As Whittemore counts out his cash, Alton says, "And whose cooking time will you be freezing this round?"
Stiles presses a hand to his chest, more to quell the panic that wants to rise up than anything else, and affects a pout for the cameras. Of course, he can't leave it at that. No, leaving scabs unpicked has never been his strong suit.
"Aww, Whittemore, if you wanted my attention, there are other ways to get it, darling."
"Shut your pie hole, loser, before I shut it for you," Whittemore hisses, his handsome face twisting up into something truly ugly as he turns toward Stiles.
It's bad enough, in fact, that Hale of all people takes a half step toward Stiles, putting himself in between the two men even though there's a good ten feet of kitchen space separating them as it is. "Why don't you let your food do your talking, Jackson?" Hale mutters, his voice soft enough that Stiles is pretty sure he's trying to make it so the cameras don't pick it up.
And either the two know each other or Stiles missed something while in the cooking zone, because Whittemore -- Jackson, apparently -- turns his sneer on Hale and scoffs. "Whatever, Derek."
Whittemore stomps back over to his station where he begins banging pots and pans around while Alton comes over to Stiles' station and outlines the basics of the sabotage. "All work stops for five minutes," is the gist of it, which… fucking sucks.
But really, once he thinks about it, it's not that bad. He'll have ten minutes remaining when his cooking freeze runs out. The first thing he'll have to do is pull his meatballs and flip them. He cannot afford to have burned balls to offer the judge.
Stiles has to literally stop himself a moment to have a chuckle over 'burned balls,' which has Hale shooting him a weird look from where he's frantically mixing something together at his station. And okay, yeah, it's probably a little odd that Stiles is laughing in the face of this challenge, but what the hell. Maybe he'll get some street cred for it or something.
After he flips his meatballs, he should have roughly nine minutes to make the avocado sauce, plate his meatballs, and put a perfect finish on his presentation. Nine minutes. Fuck.
There is no way the clock is moving at actual speed. It's ticking down so slowly that Stiles finally has to turn away from it to keep from going out of his goddamn mind.
As he turns, he sees Hale hovering over the burner on his stove top, tongs in hand as he puts a beautiful sear on some sort of light colored meatball. Stiles… actually has no idea what it is, but it looks delicious. Again, fuck.
Kira's making something that looks more traditional than what Stiles and Hale are doing -- which could either blow up in her face or work well for her. Stiles can't help but hope it's going to work for her. She's been a lot of fun.
Not that he won't stick one of his very own, very sharp knives in her back to win this thing. But he hopes she beats out Whittemore in the first round, anyway. Because Whittemore is a grade-A dick.
A dick who's shouting something at the camerawoman lingering closest to him.
"How could you let me forget the bread crumbs?!" Whittemore screams, hands balled up into fists at his sides.
The camerawoman, far from cowed, just grins evilly and snaps her gum at him with a shrug. "Yeah, sorry." She's obviously not. "We're not allowed to interfere."
Stiles barely manages to muffle his delighted cackling, especially when Hale… doesn't. He's snorting out loud and calling out something to Whittemore that Stiles doesn't hear, because he sees out of the corner of his eye that his clock has ticked down to eight seconds.
His palms instantly go damp with sweat as he readies himself to get everything done in half the time he was planning.
Alton shouts, "Go!" and Stiles, who'd been edging closer to it in the final few seconds, wrenches open the oven door, just remembering to grab oven mitts to keep himself from getting second degree burns on his fingers. The salmon balls roll easily, and they're actually a lovely color, which makes Stiles breathe just a bit easier. He slams the oven shut again and darts for his workstation, expertly cutting open an avocado and popping out the seed before scooping out the lovely meat. Sour cream and spices get blended into the avocado, then a little bit of melted butter just because.
A quick glance at the clock shows that he's down to six minutes remaining. Now it's just a waiting game: waiting on his meatballs, waiting on the time to tick down, waiting on the first round to end and… waiting to see if he even makes it to the next round.
His gut begins to churn in dread again and Stiles finds himself nervously shredding fresh cilantro, which is kind of hilarious because he doesn't really like the stuff himself. Oh well, most people do, and he needs to remember that.
With three minutes left, he grabs three square plates and rushes back to the oven, pulling it open to see that his salmon balls are fucking perfect. They're gorgeous and aromatic and fuck the judge if they don't like them. Stiles will be more than happy to eat his own balls.
He doesn't even realize he's saying most of this out loud -- interspersed with his usual baby talk -- as he plates his food and drizzles the avocado cream sauce on top until Scott's muffled laughter makes him look up. Right into the camera.
That's not at all disconcerting.
Shaking off the momentary alarm, Stiles steps back and looks at the clock. Forty five seconds left.
He glances down the row and sees that Hale's and Kira's plates are fucking beautiful, which makes his own look sparse in comparison. Grabbing a handful of the cilantro, Stiles holds it a few inches above his plates and lets it sprinkle down over his food, decorating the plate and the meatballs at once. It's… something.
"Time! Utensils down, step away from your plates. Good job, chefs." Alton sort of side-eyes their food before letting go a delicate little shudder and whispering out the side of his mouth, "I guess."
The guest chef is Simon Majumdar, and again Stiles has to remind himself not to swoon on national television. Alton goes through the song and dance about how Chef Simon doesn't give a fuck what challenges they faced while cooking, that he only cares about the food, yada yada.
Simon steps up to Whittemore's station first and though Stiles can't really see what's on Whittemore's plate, the look on Simon's face nearly makes Stiles sink to the floor in relief. It's a look that says it all: barring any major fuckups, Stiles will definitely be going to the second round.
"What do you have for us today, Chef Whittemore?" Alton says, and he's outright snickering. Seriously, the dude has become positively evil since this show started airing.
"It's a …" Stiles can hear Whittemore's teeth grinding from where he's standing. "It's a deconstructed sausage meatball, chef."
"You do realize," Simon says, scooping Whittemore's 'meatball' up with a bit of lettuce, "that the whole concept of a meatball be that it is… round? Has form?" Taking a bite, Simon purses his lips and nods slowly. "The meat is a bit overcooked, but your seasoning is spot on. You're lucky you used such a fatty meat, actually, or it'd be horribly dry."
Stiles' eyes swing back to his own plate, where his meatballs sit in all their possibly-dry glory. He can't believe he fucking forgot to taste his meatballs. Oh god, what if…
But Simon has moved on to Kira's plate. And it's… "Well done, darling. It's got the proper form," Simon says with a little quirk of a smile. Cutting one of her meatballs in half, he pops it into his mouth and chews. "Needs a bit more salt to bring out the flavors. Not the most inspiring meatball I've ever had, but certainly not the worst."
"Thank you, Chef," Kira says, which just kind of points out the glaring fact that Whittemore hadn't. And that's just one more thing for Stiles to worry about screwing up.
Hale's meatballs cut like butter, and they're so fucking beautiful Stiles wants to die. Apparently, they taste even better than they look because Simon takes a second bite and has nothing to say other than, "Well done."
Hale nods at the praise, and his, "thank you, Chef," seems almost an afterthought. Bastard.
Stiles is right back to hating him again.
And then his stomach is ready to launch itself out of his body because suddenly Chef Simon is right there and is looking at Stiles expectantly. "Oh! Um, it's a, uh."
"Anytime, Chef Stilinski."
Entire body breaking out in sweat, Stiles rushes to say, "I have a salmon meatball with an avocado cream sauce for you today, Chef."
"Is it the meatball's birthday?" Simon asks, cutting into the food.
"That's the only explanation I can think of for the confetti on the plate," he murmurs before taking a bite.
Stiles hates every single one of his life decisions.
"But," Simon says after swallowing, "it's got good flavor. A bit overzealous with the cilantro, but that's a personal preference, really. Good job, Chef."
Stiles just gapes like a fish, flushing a bit at the praise -- and kicking himself for the cilantro, he knew better -- and barely remembers to blurt out, "Thank you, Chef!"
It's not until Simon and Alton are back on their side of the main table that Stiles realizes the main cameras are zooming in on him and Whittemore. Fuck, that means the producers think he and Whittemore are the ones most likely to be cut.
Again with the sweaty palms.
"Well, Chef Simon," Alton says, leaning on the counter and turning toward Simon. "You've sampled our chef's balls… Now it's time to cut one. A chef, that is."
Stiles can't bring himself to find that even remotely funny now.
Simon stares at them all for a long, nerve wracking minute. "Well, chefs, you gave me a wide variety of choice, but there was one chef that just didn't make the cut. That chef is…"
And then some asshole is yelling, "Cut!" and the cameras are all zooming out and panning around the kitchen at large.
Jesus fucking Christ. Stiles forgot about the fucking commercial breaks.