‘Langoustines, three minutes, fifteen seconds. Rolling boil,’ the chef says to herself, as she starts a small timer. Langoustines. I blush at my stupidity and take a deep breath. I won’t last five minutes if I don’t keep my mouth shut.
‘Heather?’ James calls to me from the service area, where he is sorting through scribbled sheets of paper.
‘Hey. Jamie for short, is it?’
‘James actually,’ he says abruptly, before glancing at the floor. ‘Are you ready?’
‘Sure,’ I reply, painting on a face full of efficiency and confidence. He waves a piece of paper at me. ‘We’ve matches for the langoustine and hot-smoked salmon, but not the beetroot and pickled cabbage. We also need a pairing for the blade steak. I would have gone for a Cabernet, but there’s the spring greens and turnip foam to consider in the balance. What do you think?'
James puts the paper down and looks up at me, and for the first time I see his full face in the light. He’s definitely a looker, if you like that kind of accidentally handsome, full-lipped, furrowed-brow, forgot-to-shave-for-a-week kind of thing, which I most certainly do. Dark hair, chestnut eyes and cheeks flushed from the heat of the kitchen. And in those starched chef ’s whites too. I try hard not to stare.
Okay. I’m definitely staring.
I shake myself out of my daze and back to the job at hand.
‘Do you have any ideas what we could pair them with?’
‘What do you usually pair them with?’ I ask, hoping for a shortcut.
‘The menu changes all the time, with the season, so this is a new dish, I’m afraid. There’s normally something new needs pairing every day. As I said, we often pair the blade steak with the Cabernet, but I think the turnip . . .’
‘The menu changes all the time?’ I gulp.
James takes a breath. ‘Sorry. I know this is a lot to take in. Before each service we sit and discuss the pairings for the degustation menu. The sommelier and me. Then I run it past Chef.’
‘Chef? I thought you were the chef?’
‘No,’ he says, with a shy smile. ‘Russell Brooks, our new executive chef, will check over everything tonight. It has to be right first time,’ he says, somewhat apologetically.
‘Russell Brooks,’ I smile. ‘Sounds like an electrical appliance.’
My gag hangs in the air for a moment, then withers and dies.
‘He’s got two Michelin stars,’ James says, his eyes wide.
‘Oh yes,’ I say quickly.