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Old 01-11-2010, 12:42 PM   #1
Big Beautiful Dreamer
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Default First You Make a Roux (in two parts)

~~WG, Both, Romance - A relationship develops during cooking school

Author's Note: Props to NemoVolo and Vader7476. It was in a dialogue between them on the Story Readers' Board that I first read of the idea of a culinary student, a long-distance romance, and cooking by proxy as a way to keep the love light shining.

Also, please do read the footnotes at the end. Thank you, and have a pleasant flight.
[/I]

First You Make a Roux
by Big Beautiful Dreamer


PART ONE

The First Year

I stirred flour into the melting butter, silently giving thanks for whoever came up with the idea of Bluetooth earpieces. If I’d tried cradling the phone to my ear and making a roux at the same time, either I would burn something or drop the phone into the bag of flour at my elbow.

“A what? Like a gravy?” Josie’s voice sounded clear as a bell in my ear from Ohio.

“They call it a roux. R-o-u-x. It’s a Cajun word, French. It’s the basis for an awful lot of dishes in the South. I thought since we’re moving into sauces I’d try to practice a little so I don’t make a complete fool of myself on this. Most of my classmates are from the South. I bet they can do this in their sleep.”

“About time they’re giving you something to do,” Josie grumbled. “You didn’t have to move halfway across the country to learn how to chop carrots and break an egg with one hand.”

“Jose. Come on. Charleston is not halfway across the country,” I said for the fiftieth time. The conversation continued with, to be fair, me only half listening, concentrating on the roux. This time it was better, but still not good enough. Although, I reflected as I washed up, if I could do this without help, I wouldn’t be shelling out a pile of money to Johnson & Wales to teach me how to be a chef.

My two sisters had zero interest in the kitchen, but one day when I was not even in kindergarten, I’d been playing trucks in the kitchen while my mother made cookies. She’d asked me to bring her an egg, then invited me to crack it and add it to the batter. Of course, telling a four-year-old boy to hit something was an engraved invitation.

And that’s all it had taken. I’d been a kitchen hound ever since. At fifteen I’d gotten a summer job preparing salads in a coffee shop (iceberg, spoonful of cheese, three cherry tomatoes, onion slice). The following summer had seen me promoted to grill. I continued part-time through the fall, and the summer after that had moved up to a restaurant with cloth napkins. By then, I’d persuaded my parents to let me go to school out of state, and Charleston looked a lot more appealing than Rhode Island.

I’d arrived in South Carolina, settled into a dorm room ... and found myself taking Nutrition and Sensory Analysis, Fundamentals of Food Service Production, Food Safety and Sanitation Management, Intro to Nutrition, and French 1. To be fair, that schedule was also balanced with freshman labs. Over and over and over again, we peeled, chopped, minced, julienned, the sort of kitchen work that you get good at only after peeling a million apples, chopping ten thousand eggs, mincing a mountain of mushrooms and julienning enough potatoes to fill Idaho. When the second semester started up, the day after next, I’d get Essentials of the Dining Room, Intro to Menu Planning and Cost Controls, and more French 1, but also Stocks, Sauces and Soups, and Skills of Meatcutting.

“I really think we’re going to actually be cooking some this semester,” I said, rinsing the measuring cups. “They’ve promised to let us turn on the stoves.”

Josie snorted. She was still put out because when we’d seen each other over Christmas break, I hadn’t learned any dazzling new techniques. I’d made brownies, chess pie tartlets, and four kinds of cookies for my family, my mom being pleased that she didn’t have to bake, but none of it was anything new.

My sisters had teased me a little that I was “getting fat,” but I wasn’t, really. I’d developed a little handful of belly from the constant snitching, tasting, and finger-scooping. We all were. “Wales Waist,” the students called it. Plus, living in the dorm with a bunch of other foodies and would-be chefs meant that unlike other college freshmen, we didn’t routinely survive on pizza and Chinese takeout. Most nights, three or four of us would each choose a portion of the meal and we’d cook and eat together. There was always plenty of food and always a good variety. And since some of the dormies were planning to major in Baking and Pastry Arts, there was always dessert. We’d eat well – too well – snitch fingerfuls while washing up, and then hit the books for the excitement of sanitation management.

Josie and I had been good friends since high school, and in our last year, our friendship had deepened considerably, enough to make me almost have second thoughts about heading South. Josie was at Oberlin now, planning to major in musical performance, her education partly funded by winning the Schoonover Piano Competition that summer. I missed her like an absent tooth and we both spent more time than we should have on the phone to each other. I’d promised to always have classical music on when I was in my room, and she’d promised to cook whatever I cooked in class, in solidarity with me. Of course, that was assuming they ever let us cook anything.

And they did. Finally. The very first day of Stocks, Sauces, and Soups class, we made a roux. I was biting my lip to keep from grinning because I’d had that practice time. What I produced wasn’t great, but didn’t actually burst into flames as some classmates’ efforts did. Over the course of the semester we covered Bearnaise, Bordelaise, Hollandaise, even homemade mayonnaise, gravies (basic and advanced), jellies, confits, bone marrow sauce, buerre blanc, ghee, salsa, reductions, and more. Chicken stock, lobster stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, and the basics of soups and stews. In the dorm through the spring, even as the weather warmed, we were practicing with French Onion Soup that took three days to make, thick lamb stews, beef tenderloin with bone marrow sauce, duck confit, Eggs Benedict, veal medallions with pear jelly, combining our burgeoning expertise in sauces with our newly acquired skills from Meatcutting class. Every day, I’d work my way through a new sauce and every evening I’d walk Josie through it. Out in Ohio, Josie would report on the lumpiness or not of the gravy, the surprisingly delicious zing of her homemade mayonnaise, how tasty freshly made Hollandaise sauce was over asparagus, how even her vegan roommate swooned over her homemade salsa and her peach chutney.

Of course, our expertise wasn’t the only thing burgeoning. The local Goodwill got some of my money, because all the shorts and lighter-weight trousers I’d brought back from Christmas break had to be donated and replaced with more forgiving waistbands. I was eating richly every night and tasting countless samples in class and the little handful of belly I’d picked up in the fall was steadily and visibly thickening along with everyone else’s. The rumor was that the average J&W weight gain was twenty-five the first year and another five to ten per year after that. Assuming you didn’t get one of the coveted final-semester internships in Paris.

I wasn’t the only one pudging up. True to my word, I’d been playing piano concertos around the clock, and true to her word, Josie’d been trying to duplicate my recipes. Of course, I had to talk her through them on the phone each evening, but she was gamely plowing through the same stuff I was, at least as much as she could manage and afford, and then happily savoring the results. I promised that when I made some stuff that could be shipped, I’d start sending her care packages.

“No, don’t,” she said with alarm.

“Why ever not?”

“Because.” Josie’s sigh snorted through the earpiece. “You’re making me fat.”

“Me? I am? How?”

“How do you think, genius. You’re making all this stuff in class – I’m making it here ... where I’m the only one to eat it. Sharon’s a vegan and besides, she eats like nothing but yogurt and wheat germ.”

“Yuck.”

“Anyway.” Josie sniffled. “I’ve had to buy three new black dresses, my old ones don’t fit anymore.”

“Are you wearing one now?” I hinted.

“No, you perv, I’m wearing a bra and sweatpants. And I’ve got a muffin top, thank you.”

“Banana or chocolate chip?”

She snorted. “Both together. Hey...” I could hear her rummaging in the pantry. “Darn you. Now I have to make banana chocolate chip muffins.”

“You don’t have to do this.”

“But when I do,” she said, over the clatter of mixing bowl, “it feels like you’re not so far away. It makes missing you easier.” Clang-slurp. She’d taken a little taste test of chocolate chip.

“So does this you.” I turned up the Pastorale symphony.

Slowly, missing Josie, chopping everything that stood still, stirring and tasting and experimenting, slowly the first year drained away. I returned to Ohio in May, twenty pounds heavier, only to find that Josie was spending the summer ... in Greensboro, North Carolina, at the prestigious Eastern Music Festival. By the time she’d known for sure, I’d already lined up an internship at an upscale hotel in Cleveland as assistant to the garde-manger, or cold-pantry manager.

My family wasted no time in teasing, chiding, and gently counseling me about “watching my weight,” but I kept telling myself I wasn’t fat, not really. Just a little more filled out. Kitchen work involves a lot of heavy lifting, and my pecs, shoulders, and biceps were sturdy and firm. True, there was a noticeably developing paunch swelling the palmetto and crescent moon on my T-shirt, but 190 pounds on a five-eleven frame isn’t fat. Besides, I volunteered to make dinner every night, eager to flaunt my developing skills. After salade composee, pan-seared beef medallions, matchstick vegetables, potatoes dauphinoise and deep-fried poached pears, I didn’t hear much from the peanut gallery. Or rather, the galerie de la cacahuete.

While Josie sweltered on the campus of Guilford College, I managed to keep perspiration to a fair minimum for kitchen work and did the prep work on salads, hors d’oeuvres and charcuterie. As the summer progressed, my supervisor let me help make sculptures for receptions out of ice, butter, and, twice (for bar mitzvahs), chopped liver. Really. By the time Josie returned, I was plating all the desserts, and she’d lost (she said) eight pounds of her thirteen-pound “Wales waist” by proxy.

She waited patiently for me in the lobby until I got off work, then flew into my arms, heedless of the water, salt, lard, salmon, salad dressing, and who knows what flecking my shirt. It felt like a long time before we came up for air. I took her into the dining room and fetched two slices of Black Forest Cake and two cups of coffee.

“You look great,” I said truthfully. Her chestnut hair was short and shining, and her heart-shaped face bore only a hint of fullness. Her chest was on display beneath a Guilford College T-shirt and her tanned calves stretched out long and luscious from the denim skirt. “God, how I’ve missed you.” I leaned over for a kiss, which she returned daintily. Her “we’re in public” kiss.

She pouted sweetly and licked a morsel of chocolate off her lip. “I’m still Miss Pudge.”

“No, I am – look.” I stood and patted my belly. Dishwater and perspiration made my shirt cling, and there was no mistaking the outline of my first-year “Wales Waist.” I knew my face was fuller, and I could feel the second chin developing. My apron strings seemed to be getting shorter, and my knees and elbows were beginning to dimple.

“Yeah – but you’re a chef.” She pushed her plate away.

“Jose, come on, I decorated this myself.” I forked up a bite. She opened her lips a tiny bit. I pushed. She nibbled, then made a production of very sexily licking the fork clean.

The next night, she didn’t say much about her own weight, just silently let me run a hand along her muffin-topped side or grab at her softening backside or nuzzle her growing chin while I made dinner for her parents. They were swoopingly complimentary and took seconds of everything, and ate all their dessert despite protestations of being stuffed.

“I don’t see how chefs stay thin,” Josie’s mom said, grunting a little as she loaded the dishwasher.

“Well, Josh seems to be managing okay,” her dad said, licking a spoon. He glanced over at me.

“Put on a little weight,” I said sheepishly.

“Oh, you look fine. Here, have some more coffee,” Josie’s mom chided.

“I’m the one putting on weight,” Josie grumbled, bringing over the last handful of silverware for the dishwasher. She pinched the modest muffin top pooching over her jeans. “Since Josh started at J&W, I’ve put on five pounds. That is, I put on thirteen pounds, then managed to lose eight over the summer.”

“You were too thin anyway,” Josie’s mom said, patting Josie’s backside. “Little birdie, that’s what you are.”

“Mom!” Josie yelped, blushing. “I don’t want to get fat,” she added. I tried to suck in my gut, but I was much too full and nothing moved; my stuffed stomach remained protruding firmly past my overworked waistband. If anyone in the room was fat, it was me, but I was learning to pick my times to discuss that particular topic with my sweetheart.

The Second Year

Josie and I spent as much time as we could before I had to head back to Charleston. That fall, she continued to tie her fingers in knots at the keyboard while I plunged headlong into Intro to Baking and Pastry along with the excitement of Principles of Beverage Service, Traditional European Cuisine, Purchasing and Product Identification, and more labs. The second year was traditionally the least food-oriented and the one where you got the boring requirements out of the way. I thoroughly enjoyed Baking and Pastry, though, and thought about taking a few electives along those lines whenever I came up for air.

“When do you get done with Baking and Pastry?” Josie asked me in October. I could hear the soft whoosh of her tossing apples through cinnamon, flour, and nutmeg.

“December, silly, why?” I didn’t tell her that I was hoping for a little Pies and Tarts or Plated Desserts down the road.

“I gained back those eight pounds ... and eight more plus the five I’d already put on. Josh, since you started down there, I’ve gone from one-twenty to one-forty-one. Those new dresses are already snug!”

I bit my lip, melting chocolate as we talked. It wouldn’t have been productive to mention that since I’d “started down there,” I’d gone from one-seventy to two-oh-five. My second chin was now fully developed and my strong pecs now sat under a layer of suet. My developing paunch was beginning to turn into a stack of spare tires and the only aprons with strings long enough were ones that hung almost to my ankles.

“Look, Jose,” I finally said. “It was your idea to make everything I made. You’ve been faithful from that first roux to salsa and lobster stock and all the way through ganache, okay?”

“But,” she gulped, “I miss you less when I make this stuff. I eat it in my little apartment in Oberlin and pretend you’re in the kitchen a few feet away.”

“And I love it,” I said truthfully. “I love that while I’m far away, I’m listening to these CDs and pretending they’re the latest from Josie Kirchenoff, and knowing that back in Ohio, my favorite pianist is licking her fork.”

A choked laugh. “That’s exactly what I was doing just that second.”

“See?” I teased. “Oh crap, my chocolate, gotta go, bye.”

Christmas break was much more fun that year. I made a buche de noel to go with a rack of lamb, the potatoes dauphinoise my sister liked, the creamed peas my father requested, homemade mint jelly (Mom’s favorite), along with hand-sauced cranberries, mince pie, lemon-almond Brussels sprouts, and a Christmas punch with only a little kick to it. Plus, Josie gave me three new custom-made aprons with longer ties and my name embroidered on each one.

And when the semester started up, I was able to breeze through the courses in Garde0-Manger and Advanced Dining Room Procedures thanks to my hotel job. Advanced Composition and Communication and French 2 were easy enough, and my suitemate Brian Ramello, an aspiring Cake Boss, helped me through the mathematics survey course.

“I swear, I know everyone gets Wales Waist,” Brian grumbled one evening. We were taking a break and noshing on homemade tortilla chips and some of my peach salsa. “But I’ve got it worse than anyone.”

“Ha, take a number.” I elbowed him in his well-padded ribs. Brian was about my height and I’d seen him pack on at least twenty pounds, but he’d probably started J&W at the two-ten or so I was hauling now. That would put him over two-thirty, so in truth, he might have been one of the heavier students, but a classmate a year ahead of us, a Baking and Pastry major with blond hair down to her bountiful backside, was probably close to three hundred, and there was a senior who was said to be pushing three-fifty, all dark hair and enormous arms and the ability to make a plateful of charcuterie in about thirty seconds. Rumor had it that he’d already been offered a job as garde-manger at the venerable Invergordon Resort on Pawley’s Island.

“My fiancee’s yapping at me that she’s gaining weight,” Brian added.

“Is she?” I asked, curious.

“A little. Ten or fifteen pounds, maybe, is what it looks like. She won’t tell me what the scale says.” Brian’s fiancee managed a medical-billing office. She came to our dorm dinners once a week or so, a tall woman with luscious curves.

“Josie too.” I told Brian how she was trying to share vicariously by making and eating some of what I was learning.

“Aw, that’s sweet,” Brian said, through a mouthful of chip and salsa.

The conversation stayed in my mind for a while, then melted under the second semester. I wearied of Garde-Manger and wondered how long, once college was over, I would have to work in the entry-level position before moving closer to the stoves. One could only fold-and-fan so many million pounds of thinly sliced ham and turkey, after all. Of course, for every pound sliced, some of the shreds wound up going down our throats, along with minced egg, olive, toast points, salads thick with dressings, countless stray spoonfuls of fondant and icing sugar, the odd sugared violet, the endless varieties of dips we tried out with our fruit and vegetable plates.

I tipped past two-fifteen on the scales sometime in March of that second year, meaning I’d clock in at the higher end of the average student weight gain. Aside from the occasional routine griping, none of my classmates seemed to mind. And when Josie talked about weight gain, she talked about hers, which was steadily marching toward the one-fifty mark.

Truth be told, I liked her with a little more to her. At one-twenty, she’d been too tiny for my taste, with a birdlike waist and arms and hands that looked too fragile for the demanding keyboard work she produced. I almost felt as though I could cup her in one hand. I was impatient for the semester to end so that I could cradle her in my arms again. I wanted to run my hands along her thickening waist and cup her bounteously softening backside, and I wanted to feel her warm against my steadily thickening midsection and leaning into my increasingly padded chest, my warm and protective arms curved around her softening frame.

Much as I liked it, though, I kept having to expend energy on reassuring Josie bout how much I liked it. Via phone calls and e-mails, she groused about how she was getting fat, how she was outgrowing her clothes, how her tummy stuck out even first thing in the morning, how (via one long and impassioned phone call) it had begun to actually fold. We were far apart and I could reassure her only with words. I longed to take her in my arms and cradle her from behind, nuzzling into her developing second chin, planting kisses along the crease in her neck, fondling her rosy and softening tummy right where it folded, hunting for that elusive navel of hers.

Summer couldn’t come soon enough.

That summer, I stayed in Charleston, working garde-manger (ugh) at one of the city’s many upscale restaurants, and Josie came South, where she’d been offered a staff position with Piccolo Spoleto. I moved into the tiny provided apartment and took over the kitchenette. The weeks flew by all too quickly. I made Eggs Benedict, pecan waffles, homemade sausages, turkey medallions, red-wine reductions, lemon jelly and drop biscuits, herbed toasted cheese sandwiches with homemade tomato soup from a chicken stock. It was a blast to cook whatever I wanted without a teacher hovering, without the sense of competition that wafted through the kitchens, to watch my girlfriend right in front of me moaning at how delicious everything was and filling the tiny flat with piano music every spare minute.

Somehow, once we were together her complaints tapered off. I supposed she was reassured when I didn’t gasp at the sight of her looking rather rounder than previously but instead grabbed her into a long and impassioned embrace, doing all the things I’d longed for that I could do in public. When I’d slid my hand up under her skirt as we drove toward the apartment, she’d said:

“Josh, don’t.”

“Why ever not?”

“I’m fat. Look at me!”

“I’ve been looking,” I said, a little too loudly. “You are beautiful. You’re gorgeous and womanly and rosy and full of life and I love every inch of you and I can’t wait to get you into bed.”

I patted her knee, and cut a glance at the infamous folded tummy beneath a too-snug T-shirt.

She sniffled.

“Besides,” I said with false cheer, “I’m getting to be a pretty big guy myself.” I slapped my round gut as hard as I could stand it, and it obligingly jiggled.

A small giggle. Then a poke. Then a hand laid in my lap.

I captured it, and said:

“You are the most beautiful and talented woman in the history of the world, Josie Kirchenoff. So there.”

As the summer progressed I delighted in seeing her clothing begin to cling even more, so that her skirts sweetly outlined a broadening heart of backside, dimpling thighs and roundly curving calves; her shirts grabbed at love handles and buttons tugged across a thickening tummy and clung to swelling breasts. I bought her a confection of a frock for the closing-night gala, thick velvet shoulder straps of crimson and a silver-sequined layer over a thin crimson swing dress that stopped just above the knees. I felt myself warm with arousal as I watched her in bra and panties holding the dress up to herself in front of the mirror. That sweet double curve of tummy padding, those bountiful hips! She floated it over her head and twirled into my arms.

I wore a new cream linen-blend suit, which, because it was new, actually fitted. If I do say so myself, I looked elegant, the jacket and shirt draping my broad, padded chest and my visibly rounded gut, skimming my paunch and minimizing my love handles. The trousers fit my thickening waistline and spreading backside. Together we looked rosy, prosperous, in love.

Last edited by Lou Grant; 07-16-2010 at 02:55 AM.
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Old 01-11-2010, 12:44 PM   #2
Big Beautiful Dreamer
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Default First You Make a Roux, continued

PART TWO
The Third Year

The only thing that made her departure for Ohio that August at all palatable was my third-year externship. I’d been made interim garde-manger at the Francis Marion House downtown, and they were tolerant of my hovering around the pastry chef picking up tips for the Introduction to Cakes course I’d chosen as an elective. Brian was taking both Cookies-and-Petits Fours and Viennoiserie as well as Artisan Bread Making, and he let me pore over his books and help when he experimented in the dorm kitchen.

“Josh, honestly,” Josie groaned that fall. “Bad enough that cake intro course. But you’re letting Brian walk you through three more carbo courses.” She paused to swallow a mouthful of a filled cooky. “I’m one-fifty-nine and gaining.”

“Josie. Dear heart. You really don’t even have to make the cakes, let alone the other stuff. Besides, I’m way past you, I’m closing in on two-thirty-five. I gained twelve pounds this summer just licking my fingers, I swear.”

“I know,” she groaned. “But those spritz cookies are addictive! And so are the petits fours. They’re so tiny and cute!” She had completely ignored my own complaint.

“So are you,” I said without thinking.

“Not tiny.” I could practically hear her pouting. “Fat.”

“Who cares?” Oops. “I mean – Josie –” She’d disconnected.

I sighed and padded into the bathroom, stripped to my underwear and took a good look in the mirror. I’d put on exactly sixty pounds as of that morning, and I was no one’s idea of an underwear model. Still, I thought I carried it well. My round face bore a healthy ruddiness, my muscles supported my broad chest and sturdy arms, and when I stood up straight I had a classically rounded belly instead of just an average spare tire. I padded into the bedroom and took up the framed photo of Josie I’d snapped in July at Fort Sumter. She’d been wearing a halter top and shorts. Tanned and with hair blowing in the breeze, she was carrying a straw visor and laughing at me. Her new second chin highlighted her dimples, her sweetly rounded arms begged for a hug, that halter clung and peeped temptingly around hillocks of sweet breasts and revealed a delectably soft tummy. Her hips described a luscious set of curves and below her shorts and above wedgie sandals, her calves were on deliciously plump display. She’d eased up on the griping, but now it seemed to be back on full force.

I pulled on a T-shirt, went back to the kitchen, and made a batch of blondies, which I boxed up and popped in the mail to Oberlin the next morning, shelling out for same-day delivery.

That evening, to my surprise, Josie was completely over her pout and in a cheerful mood. When she answered the phone, it was through a mouthful.

“These are so good!” Swallow. “I’ve already eaten four of them. What’d you put in them?”

“Umm, butterscotch chips and peanut butter chips and white chocolate chips.”

“Ohhhh. Mmmm.” Swallow. “No wonder!” Pause. Swallow. “Five. Oh, these are good. You’ll have to – mmff – shen’me-s’more.” Swallow.

“You are very, very cute, you know,” I said, taking advantage of her little blondie-induced silences.

“I’m fat,” she said through another mouthful. I could hear the tears starting up. “I’m over one-sixty and the needle on the scale keeps going up. The only dresses that will ever look good on me are tents.”

“All great artists embrace life,” I said, suddenly inspired.

A pause, a swallow, then a sniffle or two, another pause, then a tentative giggle. “So I’m not fat, I’m...”

“You’re zaftig,” I pronounced. “Embracing life.”

“Look out life, here comes Josie Kirchenoff,” she crowed.

“Exactly. And if you do really want more blondies, I’ll send them.”

“Mmf. Yeshpleesh.” Swallow. “Mmff. These won’t last very long,” she giggled. Mercurial? Yes. Delectably plump? I thought so. Talented? God, yes. Mine? I thought so. I certainly hoped so. The thought made me smile as I gathered the ingredients for another batch of blondies.

Brian let loose a string of expletives as he padded into the kitchen and perched on the stool. He wore a pair of sweatpants stretched snugly around his visibly ballooning waist and a Johnson & Wales T-shirt that might have fit him the first year. Like me – like everyone – Brian had packed it on, but he’d also started some forty pounds up on me. I thought he might be past two-fifty, but I wasn’t going to ask.

“My fiancee’s on a diet,” he grumbled. “And not just any diet. One of those effing package deals where they send everything to you. She refuses to let me cook for her.”

“For how long?” I asked curiously, nudging the bowl of candied walnuts his way.

He scooped out a handful. “She says she’s gained twenty-five pounds and she is determined to get rid of it. So for ever how long it takes. She swears she won’t be a fat bride.”

I grinned. “You’re going to be a pastry chef, you’re going to see your share of fat brides.”

The thought made him smile too. “See the wedding pictures in the Post & Courier?” We always looked at the wedding write-ups in case the photo featured the cake or the description mentioned the caterers.

“That one bride,” he added, “she was wider’n she was tall and the groom was about half her size.”

I nodded. I’d seen it. “Some guys like’m big. ‘The bigger the...’ how’s that go?”

“The bigger the cushion the better the pushin’,” Brian said. “Hey, how’s Josie?”

I shrugged. “I may have convinced her that she’s ... um ... zaftig and that’s a good thing.” I raised my eyebrows. “She’s scarfing down those blondies like there’s no tomorrow. Wants another batch.”

Without being asked, Brian washed his hands and started helping.

“Can you help me after this?” he asked. “I gotta put about six zillion icing flowers on that cake in the fridge.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah. Yeah.” I dusted my hands on my apron, feeling my protruding belly as I did. Christmas break was approaching and my family would no doubt give me all kinds of grief about the fact that I now carried two hundred and thirty pounds – a big jump from the 170 I’d started at when I’d been a freshman poring over sanitation basics.

And I was right. My sisters, as sisters will, merely carried on with lamentable immaturity – grabbing my belly for a pinch, making oinking noises if they saw me popping a brownie (which I had made) into my mouth, rolling their eyes when they saw me enjoying the gourmet Christmas dinner I had pulled off, complete with rack of lamb. My mother waited until she was helping with the dishes.

“You’re, um, you’re getting kinda ... healthy, there, sweetie.”

“Yeah, I know, Mom. Occupational hazard,” I said as lightly as I could. I stifled a belch and hoped that my position at the sink kept her from getting too close a look at my front view, with my sweater admittedly stretched tightly over a bloated and tender belly that was far too full of lamb, potatoes dauphinoise, creamed peas, pureed squash, cranberries, garlic cloverleaf rolls, pear salad, and wild rice. She gave my broadening backside a look as she went by with a container of leftovers, then dropped the subject. I finished rinsing the flatware and waddled off into the den to put my feet up and digest.

There, Pop decided to broach the subject. He waited while I cautiously lowered myself onto the sofa and rested my sock feet on the worn footstool, hands resting protectively on my aching stomach. My too-snug sweater had rucked up, letting the world see that I’d had to undo my jeans in self-defense, and an expanse of swollen and distended gut was palely visible.

“School okay?”

“Yup.” I stifled another belch. Too much garlic in those rolls, I thought.

“Looks ... ah ... your mom thinks you’re chunkin’ up a little there.”

“Expect so.” I hiccupped. “Occup–hic–occupational hazard,” I repeated. “Kind of goes with the territory.”

“Well, watch out for yourself there.”

“Yes, Pop. I will. Hic.”

Duty done, Pop slid a hand down the front of his trousers and half-dozed in front of the Ohio State game. My younger sister, Katy, padded in and sank down next to me.

“Hiya, Pig. Hic!”

“Hi yourself, Pig,” I replied intelligently. I poked her tummy, which was visibly round and firm below her sleeveless top.

“Hey,” she said defensively. “Hic. I’m not the two ton tessie in the house.”

I started to heave a deep sigh, the effectiveness undone by a large and painful hiccup. “Look. Hic. Ow. Look. Everyone gains weight at culinary school, you really can’t–hic–help it. Urp. Could you lay off, please, you and Rhonda? I’m getting it from everyone today. Urrp.”

Katy made a face. “Guess you have. Sorry.” She patted my stomach, temporarily hard as a drum. “I’ll, um, leave you and Pop to digest.” With a grunt, she got off the sofa and padded down the hall.

I lay flumped on the sofa, rubbing my grumbling stomach and thinking. Except for when my family got on my case, I really didn’t mind my growing girth, primarily because Josie had never complained, and her opinion was the one that mattered most to me. I hoped mine mattered to her. I really did love her ever-shifting bodily landscape. We were supposed to go out New Year’s Eve – I’d gotten free tickets to a hotel bash after their pastry chef had quit in a huff and I’d agreed to step in and make an ice sculpture and two three-tiered cakes. It was the hotel where I had worked two summers previously, and I was due to spend half of the 30th and all of the 31st helping the garde-manger make up for what we could in the pastry line. How quickly could I shoot cream into 500 eclairs, I wondered idly.

As it turned out, it was after 10 and the party was in full swing by the time I finally got up to the room. Josie was half dressed and let me in with a blush brush in one hand.

“Hurry up if you can, sweetie pie,” she said, dropping a kiss on my cheek and scurrying away. I grunted and huffed my way into my rented evening wear.

“Close your eyes and zip me up,” Josie commanded. Feeling stupid, I obeyed.

“Now.”

My mouth fell open. Josie stood in front of me in a purple strapless evening gown with gentle draping over her lusciously curvaceous hips. Her breasts peeped, pale and bounteous, over the top of the dress, and her softly cushioned shoulders led to sweetly dimpling elbows and heart-stopping curve of arms, plump wrists, soft and dovelike hands with those long, strong, talented fingers. Her chestnut hair, grown into a pageboy, framed a beautifully made up face with rosily dimpled cheeks and a cushion of a second chin that I longed to nuzzle.

I was feeling pretty good myself, in spite of the scale having informed me that morning that I was up to two hundred and thirty-six pounds. The jacket draped my backside and hung open, as it was meant to, in front; the cummerbund, even if it was the size of the equator, girdled my steadily thickening waist; the trousers fit, my shirt front was crisp and the collar only pinched a little.

“You look gorgeous,” I breathed, daring a kiss.

“All hundred and seventy-five pounds of me,” she said, a wobble in her voice.

“Zaftig,” I reminded her. “Look out world, here comes Josie Kirchenoff.” I took her arm and we glided, for the moment content in each other’s company, toward the party.

With the new year, Josie and I parted, reluctantly, and I headed back to Charleston, to New World Cuisine, French 3, Advanced Food Science and two Baking and Pastry electives – Hot and Cold Desserts and Chocolates and Confections. It was as well that I saved Hot and Cold Desserts for the spring semester, because there was an awful lot of ice cream making involved. Brian was in the same class, which meant there was always some interesting new ice cream taking up space in the freezer. Of course, in a dorm full of foodies, there were always those of us glad to finish up the odd cupful of ginger-almond ice cream, or cinnamon-butter pecan, or, later in the semester, eye-rolling good freshly churned peach ice cream with homemade vanilla bean extract, or even freshly crushed raspberries.

Was it any wonder that, when Josie came down to the staff position at Piccolo Spoleto again, she was greeted by a boyfriend who now carried a full two hundred and fifty pounds? I’m sure to the rest of the vacationers thronging the Charleston airport we looked like a couple of fatties embracing. But Josie took her time running her fingers along my frankly flabby sides, grabbing my thickening love handles and embracing the folds of fat along my back – and I got a good cuddle of her bountifully soft cotton-draped backside and reveled in the sensation of decadently velvety mounds of sweet bosom crushed to my own softened pecs.

“Gosh, do you ever look good. Absence and all that,” Josie said after coming up for air. She held me at arms’ length and eyed me up and down, the Johnson & Wales T-shirt clinging to my unabashedly protruding gut, my second-chin-plus and my full, ruddy face, my thick, burn-scarred forearms. I stared right back, drinking in my love’s prosperously rosy, heart-shaped face, dimpling delectably above her own cushiony chin; her plump, tanned bare arms; the tug of blouse across her chest and softly padded tummy, now visibly thickened into two rolls above her denim skirt; and below, her generously curvaceous calves, one leg kicked back as she tilted in for another kiss.

“Me now,” she said ruefully. “You’re hooked up to a ...”

I moved my hand from her delightfully cushy waist and pressed it over her mouth.

“To a zaftig rising superstar, the one and only Josie Kirchenoff, who is a featured soloist at this year’s Piccolo Spoleto, thank you,” I said firmly. “Wait till you see the cake I’m making for the gala after your thing.”

“Ohhh...” she groaned in half-dismay. Then, “Red velvet?”

“Red velvet. Three tiers. And some help from Brian, who’s working at 84 Queen this summer.”

“Mmmmm.” Josie snuggled against me and let me slide my hand up and down her arm as we strolled toward baggage claim. “I’ve got to lose weight,” she moaned, but to me it sounded like all form and no follow-through. “Tell me again how come you get to do the gala,” she added.

“Some girl I know...” I drawled cheerfully, “some girl I know knows some people who decided to hire me when they needed a new chef. Some girl who knows I could do garde-manger type stuff in my sleep.”

“And who knows you know how to make a three-tiered red velvet cake.”

“Yup.” I gave her a squeeze and she shivered happily.

The summer zipped by far too quickly, and Josie and I finally parted, although her delectably plump left third finger now bore a small but unmistakable engagement ring, which, she later reported gleefully, distracted her shamefully as her fingers flew along the keys.

The Fourth Year

Brian married his office manager, who had apparently lost thirty pounds on the mail-order-food diet and who, Brian later informed me, promptly gained five of it back on their honeymoon, which was spent on a cottage Brian’s dad and stepmom owned on Sullivan’s Island.

“I made three cakes in two weeks, and it was just the two of us, and believe me there were no leftovers,” Brian reported the first day of Advanced Patisserie, which all fourth-years took, so we were elbow-to-elbow along the counters. He patted his own belly placidly. “I gained eight.” He appeared to have come to grips with the inevitable. “Clocked in at two-eighty this morning. Um. How’s Josie?”

“The future Mrs.,” I said happily, grinning at the news.

“Hey, for real? Sweet! You going to make your own cake?”

“No way – I know this cat named Brian Ramello, he’s a real Cake Boss, he’ll put about six zillion flowers on it if I ask him to.”

Brian groaned, then cut it off as class started.

I did not return to Ohio for Christmas break. I couldn’t. I’d won one of the Paris internships and was taking an advanced French language cram course.

Josie absorbed the news with a long silence, then said, “So’m I.”

“Sweetie.” I misunderstood. “You don’t have to. You don’t even speak French very well to begin with.”

“Hey,” she said defensively. “And I don’t mean I want to because you are. I mean I’ve been assigned to. Because ... I won’t be at Oberlin this spring. I will be a student at the Conservatoire national superier de musique et de danse de Paris.

It took a minute for the news to sink in. Then I began hollering into my Bluetooth, pounding on the counter like a maniac. Holy crap. My fiancee and I would both be in the same city for the whole semester – and that city was Paris! While Josie toiled under the exacting eye of M. Jacques Rouvier, I would toil under the exacting eye of Chef Michel Roth at the Ritz on the Place Vendome.

“Toil,” as it turned out, was right. We devoted what would have seemed insanely long hours to our work, voluntarily going in before dawn and staying late into the night to perfect something or other. Too exhausted to prepare meals, we took advantage of Paris’ hundreds of restaurants, cafes and bistros, letting other people do the cooking and cleaning. Of course, we gained weight.

“I’m faaaat,” Josie wailed from the bathroom. “Look at me.” I did. She was naked in preparation for a bath. She was up to one hundred and eighty-nine pounds, at least that’s what she told me, and to my eyes (and hands) it was a significant improvement over the one hundred twenty she had fluttered around at when we had been college freshmen.

I embraced her from behind. “Cherie.” I nuzzled my several chins against the sweet cushion of flesh framing her plump and rosy cheeks. “Ma belle cherie.” I tiptoed my fingers down her padded ribcage and oh so gently pinched her rolls of tummy, fondling them where they lapped over her spreading hips. “I love your woman’s curves and your gorgeous breasts and your welcoming tummy and your bodacious hips and your irrepressible backside almost as much as I love your stupendously talented fingers, so will you please please take your bath and get dressed because I will starve if I don’t get to a bistro within an hour.” My own protruding belly, squashed against her back, obediently growled.

“All well for you,” Josie pouted as she drew water. (Dear God, that back view!) “Men can get away with it, and no one minds if a chef is fat. But that one woman manager I interviewed with said in so many words that I would “limit” my career by being “larger.”

“Limit, hell,” I said, pouring her a glass of Bordeaux. “You are Josie Kirchenoff, likely winner of the Prix Boulanger, rising superstar, and all audiences care about is what you make your fingers do on those keys, not how much space your fabulously beautiful backside takes up on the bench. Now please take your bath!”

“Bring me a little of that cheese that’s on the block in the kitchen,” Josie instructed, sinking into bubbles.

We talked about getting married in Paris, but that turned out to require a blizzard of logistics and paperwork, not to mention which freighting everyone over from Ohio, so we didn’t after all but settled on the first weekend in October, at Brian’s dad’s cottage on Sullivan’s Island. Josie had been offered a contract with a management agency based in New York, and to my surprise, I had actually wangled a position in the kitchens at Daniel, where the top chef was no less than Daniel Boulud. I had read his Letters to a Young Chef so many times that I’d worn out two paperback copies and was now wearing out a hardback edition. I’d memorized his “Chef’s Ten Commandments,” and to think that I might actually one evening have Chef Boulud at my elbow, watching to see how much pepper I added, made me catch my breath. Four years of endless hard work by both of us had paid off in spades, and I made my preparations for our wedding with a constantly accelerated heartbeat.

Brian and I went all out on the cake. Cakes, actually – two cakes, one a three-tiered classical wedding cake with great swags and huge flowers, topped with customized figurines – Josie at a tiny grand piano and me, in chef’s whites, whisk in hand. The other cake, technically the groom’s cake, was three squares, angled, and covered in fondant ribbons and bows to look like an enormous gift. Miniature chef figurines, some on ladders, were placed all around the sides, all with tiny trowels, paintbrushes, and knives, appearing to sculpt the cake.

There would also be miniature eclairs, cream puffs, petit fours, my signature Triple Threat Blondies, profiteroles, cannoli and fresh fruit tarts, all except the blondies made by Brian. I was responsible for ten plates of charcuterie, two hundred individual pear and walnut salads, crab tarts, salmon puffs, brie en croute, beef medallions with a red-wine reduction and vegetarian medallions with a white-wine reduction. That is, I was responsible for whatever of that could be done in advance of the day. Classmates were ridiculously easy to bribe; after all, we’d all sweated through from Basics of Meatcutting on through Cakes & Pies together, and I was offering a better hourly rate than the externships paid.

The day dawned sunny, but with a heaven-sent breeze that kept me from perspiring too much from nerves in my rented morning suit. It had had to be custom-ordered from the store’s affiliate in New York, because nothing in the store could accommodate my three hundred pounds. I was unmistakably, undeniably fat, yes, and no one in my family even bothered bringing it up anymore – but I was also tremendously strong, a fabulously well-trained – Paris-trained – up and coming chef, and I made sure my whites always fitted. My face beamed ruddily beneath my toque in the head shot I’d had made for my portfolio, chins framing my full cheeks, wisps of dark curls peeking out, a hint – just a hint – of shadow on my chins. The morning suit, which I was now finishing putting on, fit beautifully, to my relief, and it’s amazing what well-cut and well-fitting clothes will to on a big guy. Brian, who was even bigger than I was by now, stepped back.

“You look awesome,” he pronounced. I could feel the jacket draping my backside discreetly, the waistcoat fitting across my expanse of belly, round and solid, engirdled by the trousers waistband even if that waistband was a number I tried not to think about too often, and the knife-edge crease breaking just so over the instep of my shoes.

“Awesome” was not the word for what I beheld when Josie came down the wooden boardwalk draped with a runner.

The once-birdlike and anonymous Oberlin student was now unforgettably Josie Kirchenoff, Paris-trained concert pianist, winner not only of the Schoonover Competition but also of the Prix Boulanger, signed to a series of twenty-six concerts in major cities along the East Coast.

And birdlike no more. Josie carried two hundred pounds beautifully on her five-four figure. The dress was white, with halter straps and a square neckline, with an Empire band just below her magnificent bosom. The merest suggestion of drape floated over her bodaciously generous hips and backside, the skirt with (thank you!) a high slit up each leg so that as she walked I caught flashes of arc of calf and even hints of creamy, delectable thigh. The only drawback, if there was one, is that the Empire waist hid the beautiful soft pillows of her tummy, which when allowed proper display, padded softly one roll over the other between her breasts and her honey pot. I loved to lie in bed beside her and, saying nothing at all, massage her tummy, fondling great handfuls of love handle and finding her elusive belly button and resting my head between her fabulously generous breasts, swaddled in a great cushion of my love’s beautiful, bountiful belly.

The dress absolutely didn’t do her justice.

But then, I reflected, she didn’t know that I had laid out a red bikini on the honeymoon bed.


Notes: Johnson & Wales University, whose flagship campus is in Providence, RI, once also had campuses in Charleston and Norfolk, which were consolidated into a campus in Charlotte, NC. It has other campuses as well, but because Charleston also has Piccolo Spoleto, in my pretend universe there is still a Charleston campus of J&W. The curriculum followed by Josh, Brian and the other J&W students mostly but not entirely corresponds to the degree requirements of J&W’s Rhode Island campus.

I do research for my stories via Internet and somewhat on the fly and have no idea how J&W’s Paris internships actually work. Nor do I know if Oberlin University has Paris programs, particularly at the music school named. The Conservatoire national superier de musique et de danse de Paris is real and Jacques Rouvier is one of its professors of piano. The Ritz in Paris is on the Place Vendome and Michel Roth is named as its chef.

Both Piccolo Spoleto and the Eastern Music Festival are real. Neither one takes the entire summer, but again, for them to do so makes my story work better, so in my pretend world the talented and hard-working musicians, instructors, staff and students get to spend a little longer in the two cities that host them.
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Last edited by Lou Grant; 07-16-2010 at 02:58 AM.
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Old 01-11-2010, 07:39 PM   #3
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That wasy incredibly fast! I had no idea you'd be done so quickly. It was really good! Naturally I would have rather had more focus on Josie...

I really liked the touches you made with it. I could tell you research your stories. You knew a lot about architecture in The New Normal, as well, which impressed me since I majored in Arch at school for a while and worked on some incredibly small projects with people. Out of all I know for cooking, this one was really thoughtful as well! You're like a super human writer, ya know that?
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Old 01-12-2010, 06:12 AM   #4
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hmm, I can feel the gears grinding. Maybe after this one's had a while to marinate there might be a companion piece, "First He Makes a Roux," told from Josie's point of view.

Thanks for the compliments. I read a LOT, and a lot of trivia sticks. I know about hypocausts because of a reference in a Dick Francis mystery featuring an architect. The rest was a combination of winging, faking, and Internet quickie checks, or the "I'm tap dancing really fast" school of research. I love to write, but it also rubs me wrong when someone gets a little detail wrong. If I know the fix, I want to see it in there.

Plus, little touches, like the 30 seconds it took me to find out the name of the chef at the Paris Ritz, kinda make it look like I actually busted my buns. (Mmmm, buns.)
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Old 02-03-2010, 01:11 AM   #5
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This is totally awesome. It is way above what I was even thinking of doing. Just, wow.

Feel free to steal any of the plotbunnies anytime!
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