Pride Goeth Before Dessert
by Dennis Hanley
Chef whirled and sputtered around the kitchen throwing off invectives, curses, praise, and urgency like sparks from an antique top – all in a mixture of French and English. In the moments between he spoke with his only ally, the produce man.
"A new ambassador, a child, is appointed, God knows why and suddenly my, MY menu isn't good enough. Mon Deux."
"How long did you work on that menu?" The produce man continued to unload his baskets and bundles of vegetables.
"Two months. I have prepared lavish dinners for kings, presidents and alien lords for decades. Political appointees, bah! You should see what he wants to force on those poor souls."
"So this isn't the typical political ambassadorial change? What makes this guy special? This dinner so different?"
"A Navy man, a Navy man. The ambassador is a former spaceship captain, his palate destroyed by galley food. Look at this menu he has written, he is about to destroy diplomatic relations before they get started over a damn menu." Chef flipped the laminated menu to the produce man and prepared to start spinning and swearing again when the kitchen doors swung open, and the ambassador and his assistant walked in.
"Good morning," the ambassador said. "How are preparations coming?" Aware of having interrupted a tense moment he continued, "I apologize for the sudden and no doubt inconvenient change, we have an indispensable opportunity to put the Leonidans at ease and perhaps gaining a valuable ally." He was tall and handsome in a wide-faced Midwestern American way. He was the most athletic man Chef had ever seen, standing a head taller and much broader across the shoulders and chest than Chef. The ambassador worked his way among the kitchen staff thanking each of them individually and moving on. His assistant stood with Chef and the produce man watching the big man charm everyone.
"He is very young." Chef said, almost softening to this impressive man.
"Barely thirty. And quite a life. I was at Annapolis with him – best quarterback the academy ever had. I also served with him when we made contact with the Leonidans. Chef I know it isn't pleasant or convenient, but he knows what he is doing."
"Yes, yes. He still has ruined the menu." Chef said waving his arms and resuming the maddening race around the kitchen. "I have a dinner to serve, on time. Go. Go." The ambassador's assistant and the produce man fled the hectic kitchen.
"So tell me a little about these Leonidans, I've never heard of them," said the produce man. Luckily they had retreated from the noise and chaos of Chef's kitchen to the quiet of the loading dock.
"Well, we were tasked with exploring a distant sector of space with an emphasis on first contact with advanced species. We encountered several sparsely populated worlds with primitive cultures. Each new species we encountered told stories of fearsome creatures from the heavens who feasted on their ancestors. After a dozen or so such encounters most of us were hesitant to continue but not the ambassador. We pressed on and eventually met the Leonidans. They had preyed on weaker species through the centuries, and the ambassador reminded us that 'we were not weak.'" Chef burst through the loading dock doors to urge the produce man to finish his delivery.
"So Chef, what is so bad about the menu?" The produce man finally lit the fuse, and Chef's Gallic temper exploded.
"Did you see this menu? Hideous! Monstrous! Grotesque! He is serving a potentially dangerous alien species the most awful food. Mon Deux! What is a bourbon dog? Every vegetable is cooked in lard, drizzled with bacon fat or smothered in cheese. The meat courses are enormous and either nearly raw or so processed as no longer to be meat. There is nothing subtle or delicate about any of these dishes. Not one scintilla of gastronomic subtlety. Travesty!" Chef stomped back to the kitchen complaining but making sure everything would be ready on time.
"Wait until he sees this." The produce man held out a large basket of green pod-like vegetables. The ambassador's assistant couldn't identify them. Chef, however, shouted from across the kitchen when he spotted the piles of green.
"NO, no, no, no! This is too much. More than a sane man can stand. He wants this disgusting pile served to them without any sauce and boiled. Chef could not conceal his disgust. "Boiled," had slipped between clenched jaws in a sepulchral tone. "DISASTER!! HORROR!!....." Chef's language suddenly disintegrated into the vilest string of obscenities, first in English, then French and finally a language that the two men, now stunned into silence, would later guess to be Romanian. He appeared to be on the verge of a breakdown.
All the assistant could say was, "The ambassador knows what he is doing."
"They are here, and you should see them," cried one of the servers as he retrieved the first tray of appetizers. The curious kitchen staff and the three conversationalists crowded into a barely opened kitchen door and gasped.
"Lions--they look like lions," someone whispered--and they did. They resembled nothing in the universe more than magnificent, athletic, sleek, tall, bipedal lions. The Leonidan Ambassador, Argraga of Lowenwelt, was as tall as and about fifty pounds heavier than the Earth Ambassador. After the laughing crowd of diplomats had taken their seats, the first vegetable course was served - asparagus spears wrapped in layer after layer of bacon and smothered in cheese. Chef glowered. The Earth people at the dinner picked at their plates, but the Leonidans and their ambassador ate heartily. When Ambassador Argraga spoke, he was loud and very plain spoken.
"This is a vegetable. Amazing. Delightful. I am eating a vegetable." He roared with laughter. "Until now only prey ate vegetables." Ambassador Argraga looked around the table with a glint in his eye. "I should tell my junior diplomatic staff not to get any ideas." He laughed, and the Earth Ambassador laughed with him. "I am pleased. This is good, but those tiny confections you served before, what were they called, oh, yes, hot dogs? Wonderful."
The ever-present state-dinner sycophants (who had better not let the lion-man know they were merely herd animals) all nodded with agreement and ate with feigned gusto. When the final course arrived, Chef turned ashen. It was the slippery, disgusting green pile he had boiled without even a hint of flavoring.
The lion-man sniffed it and took a small bite, spitting it out loudly, himself disgusted by it. That action was imitated all around the table until the Earth Ambassador himself spat it out loudly, looking as if he were about to vomit.
"Why? Why did he make me serve that?" Chef whined to his companions, nearly in tears.
"Disgusting," roared the Leonidan Ambassador.
"I agree," said Earth's Ambassador, wiping his mouth. "I just wanted you to know that Earth people do not like all vegetables."
Ambassador Argraga paused. "I am pleased; you are more like us than we had originally thought. It would disturb me to know that our new friends would graze on such as this." He pushed at the green mess with his fork. "This garbage fit only for prey animals."
The lion-man wrinkled his ample nose. "What was that vile stuff?"
"That disgusting stuff is called okra," said the smiling ambassador.