Tales of food, sex and friendship




Season 3: Episode 10

August 9, 2011

On paper, it should have been a perfect day.

It started with a trip to the Victoria Markets, followed by a spectacular coffee and a warm, flaky croissant at Di Bella in North Melbourne; then home to bake sourdough bread and potter around the house, reading the paper and snacking on the delicious morsels that she had procured from the market – chillies stuffed with cream cheese, smoked trout and fresh cherries (which probably had a carbon footprint larger than that of most small countries given that it was the middle of winter, but she couldn’t resist the plump, red, fruity kisses on display).

Willow, however, was preoccupied and wasn’t enjoying one minute of it. The coffee had made her even more jittery than she already was and the pastry, through no fault of its own, had tasted like cardboard. The snacking was undertaken for something to do, rather than a need for sustenance. Even the beautiful cherries had been consumed without properly savouring the taste.

Willow had to do something this evening that she had been dreading all week. Tonight, Robert Fortescue was coming over and she was cooking him dinner.

She recalled the awful phone conversation that she had with him earlier in the week. He had been surprised to hear from her and had initially been genuinely lovely, much to Willow’s amazement. But then the arrogance kicked in again. He started rattling off the names of Melbourne’s top restaurants, telling her to pick any of them because he would get a reservation, no problem. He reeled off places that you needed to book weeks in advance to get a sitting on a Saturday evening and some that you couldn’t even make reservations. He assured her he could pull some strings. Willow didn’t doubt him for a second. You didn’t get to be like Robert Fortescue without trampling over a few people on the way to the top, but once you were there, there were plenty of people willing to kiss your arse. Some women would have found this display of testosterone and egotism exciting, but to Willow it was just plain patronising. If she’d wanted to go to any of these places, she would have taken herself there. She didn’t need a guy to take her out for a nice meal. The clincher had come when he was recommending a small, recently opened French restaurant, tucked away in Carlton.

“It’s quite phenomenal,” he had said. “The chef spent years living in provincial France learning culinary secrets that are hundreds of years old.”

Willow snorted into the phone. “That is such crap!”

“No, I assure you…”

Willow cut him off. “The chef is a mate of mine called Rob and he learnt everything from his wife’s grandmother, who has been living in Toorak for the last 25 odd years. The whole provincial thing was thought up by some spin doctor, who is apparently very good at their job.”

The silence on the other end of the phone had been stony.

“If it makes you feel any better, the grandmother did live in Paris for a number of years,” she said sweetly.

“Well, seeing as you’re not easily impressed, where would you like to go for dinner,” he had snapped back.

Now it was Willow’s turn to be haughty. “Quite frankly, I’d rather just stay home and eat a bowl of spag bol than go…”

She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence.

“You’re on.”

“Pardon?”

“You just offered to cook me spaghetti bolognaise at your house and I accepted,” Robert said, laughter twinkling in his voice. “Shall we say eight pm on Saturday?”

He hung up before she even had a chance to respond.

So, here she was, counting down the hours with dread until Robert Fortescue would come knocking on her door.

***

When it came, the knock was about an hour earlier than she’d expected it.

“It took less time to get here than I thought it would,” he said when she opened the door to him just before seven, although his eyes didn’t convey the apology.

He was resplendent in dark blue jeans and a checked white and blue shirt. His hair had been freshly washed and she could smell his shampoo when he leant forward and kissed her on the cheek. Although Willow wasn’t a wine connoisseur like Johnny, she knew the 2006 Penfolds Grange he handed her wasn’t you’re average coiffable red that generally accompanied spaghetti bolognaise.

“You may as well come in a make yourself useful then,” she mumbled, suddenly very conscious of her daggy black jeans and too-large jumper.

She led him into the kitchen where she had only just begun preparing dinner. He rolled up his sleeves and grinned at her, enjoying seeing the flush that spread across her perfect cheeks and nose.

“What can I do, chef?”

Willow clenched her jaw and took a deep breath. Only one night, she said to herself before directing him towards a board set up for chopping garlic.

He lifted the knife up and whacked it down on the chopping board, sending cloves of garlic flying in every direction.

“What the hell are you doing?” she yelled.

He looked at her, surprised. “I’m chopping garlic. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yes, but not like that!”

She grabbed the large chef’s knife from him and showed him how to shear wafer thin slices of garlic that would melt as soon as they hit the oil warming in the pan. He addressed the task with the concentration of a school child learning how to write. It took him five minutes to make it through one clove, but when he did, he looked as proud as punch. She couldn’t suppress the little smile that crept onto her lips.

“I think you might be able to graduate to onion,” she said, which caused him to flush bright red and puff his chest out a bit.

***

The cooking took about twice as long as it normally would, and they didn’t eat until about 11:00pm. Not that it mattered. Robert, despite his false start with the garlic, had proven a worthy and noble kitchen apprentice. He knew absolutely nothing about cooking – citing hotel living as the reason – but took to it like a duck to water. He wanted everything explained to him; from why carrots were chopped a certain way to how Willow made her own passata. Willow had bought some fresh linguine for the meal, but as soon as Robert found out she often made her own, he made her promise to teach him one day. She laughingly agreed, wondering how someone could have made it so far through their life without being able to dice a vegetable.

***

This has been a really fun night, thought Willow, surprised, as they cleaned up from the feast. Probably the most fun she’d ever had on a first date. The kitchen clock chimed one am and they both looked up, astonished that the time had passed so quickly. They locked eyes and Willow felt a tremor go through her body. He’s going to kiss me, she thought, her heart pounding wildly. What astonished her most was that she really wanted him to kiss her. She closed her eyes and leant towards him, terrified and excited at the same time. She felt his face draw closer and could feel his breath, feathery on her face. But just as she should have felt their lips together in a passionate embrace, he seemed to change his trajectory and she instead felt a soft brush on her cheek.

“Thanks for a lovely evening Willow. I should head off. I’ll show myself out,” he said gently.

Before she even had a chance to open her eyes, he was gone.

Willow clenched her jaw and squeezed her eyes shut to stop the tears that threatened to escape. I knew it, she chastised herself silently, furious that she’d let herself fall for him. He’s nothing but a selfish, conceited asshole.