Autographed Copy

by Ali Berlow

She climbed into bed and snuggled in to read his cookbook. It was so large that she had to balance it between her knees with help from another pillow. The binding cracked as she turned page after page of seductive glossy food photographs and mouthwatering recipes. To her, each one was a romantic, short story with a happy ending and so night after night she fell asleep to fantasies of lobster poached in butter, trussed and roasted chickens, tenderly filleted fishes, delicate greens and warm-gooey chocolate desserts. And it wasn’t just that the pictures were so sensuous, this chef-author was a real writer…a glorious literate who drew her in with stories from his childhood, and tracing as he went, the narrative arc of his sensitivities towards food, cooking and eating.

He claimed that the cookbook was the culmination of his chef’s intuitive and spiritual self and that he was gifted with a generous ability to pass on his knowledge in such a way that she could understand. His said that his creations were for her. Or at least, for home cooks like her. The recipes were very approachable so there was no need to panic if she felt as if she was going beyond her ability because he’d be there, guiding her at every step along the way. He was the mentor and she, the willing student. ‘I know who you are’ he wrote ‘because you bought my book.’

His chapters went beyond the usual precious clucking and included pivotal, climactic moments such as accidentally cutting off his ring finger when he worked at a cannery and the first time he killed a chicken or when, as a prep cook at a three-star restaurant in France, he studied for weeks on end the skills of peeling, chopping, mincing, slicing and dicing, one vegetable—the onion—and this was even before he learned how to apply heat or fat to the complex and pungent bulb. When she read his words, this prose about conviction, determination and loyalty, she achingly believed with all her heart that she could taste those salty tears he had shed as she cried into her cup of chamomile tea
alone in her bedroom painted blue.

He was scheduled to appear on Thursday night at Barnes & Noble for a book signing. She could imagine him in the store sitting by poster size versions of the cover. He’d be seated at a big table with stacks of new, unbroken books on one side, a glass of bottled water on the other, a box of Altoids and a selection of handsome pens close at hand. Then he’d touch the very copy she sleeps with. He’d ask for the correct spelling of her name and from some simple clues– the tattered book jacket, her handwritten notes in the margins and the dried stains of lime juice and soy on his recipe for fried oysters with sesame seeds—he’d finally look up and see her, and how she was more than just another adoring fan of another famous chef. She was like him. Mistress and master—they were both cooks who could go beyond the superficial, the insincere, to distill and really taste what is lasting and elemental.

She’d gone to lots of book signings and met many cookbook authors before and none of them had looked like their photo and not one had been able to appreciate her. But he wasn’t going to be like all the others…she was sure that he was just going to melt when he tasted her meatloaf. And if he didn’t, the manager at that bookstore always appreciates a good home cooked meal.