Morte Cuisine by Kara Dalkey

“No! No! No!” Chef Galbadon Fleece beat back the aproned, toqued, zombified brigade-de-cuisine with a rolling pin. “The brains are not ready!”

“Braaaains!” intoned the apprentice kitchen staff gathered round the counter. They were drooling appreciatively at the glistening, gray hemisphere Chef Galbadon had just pulled from the oven.

“The honey glaze, you’ll notice, has just begun to settle and form a nice crust,” Chef Galbadon instructed them, “and only now is it ready for the cranberry compote, thusly.” From the stovetop behind him, Galbadon took a saucepan holding a reduction of cranberries mixed with sugar and a dash of Tokay wine. He poured this liberally over the brains and the result was, well, he would have thought it visually revolting back in his living days but now the presentation was absolutely perfect.

There had been many changes since the plague ravaged the world, changing eighty percent of its people into post-thanatotic humanity. Chef Galbadon was once a famous pop-culture gourmet followed around by television cameras as he harangued hapless would-be restaurateurs. Chef Galbadon, too, had died and was resurrected into rotting, ichorous flesh, but somehow his mind had stayed intact, more or less. He sometimes wondered if it was due to those rare herbs he’d sampled in Madagascar. Or perhaps it was his signature stubbornness that refused to succumb to undead stupor. So he continued to focus on his vocation of bringing good food to the masses. Even if the dishes were now almost entirely protein-based and he was preparing it for drooling, brain-dead cretins. Which, now that he thought on it, wasn’t so different from his living days.

But Chef Galbadon despaired of getting anything useful out of this crew. His sous-chef, Charles, reached a grasping hand toward the brain and Chef Galbadon had to slap it away. “Not yet! Our lesson is not over! Now, who can think of anything to add, an appropriate garnish to complete the dish?”

“Uhhh, eyes?” suggested the junior cook, Henrico.

“Eyes? Eyes? Have you lost your bloody mind?”

Henrico felt around his somewhat exposed skull and then blankly shook his head.

“Eyes would be entirely too garish a garnish,” Chef Galbadon explained, “not to mention their difficulty of procurement. They would have to be absolutely fresh. Which would drive up the price of the dish prohibitively.”

Indeed, just getting ingredients was becoming harder and harder, not least because his kind were in competition with the remaining livelies. To his chagrin, Chef Galbadon now wished more people had listened to his annoying TV competitor, Chef Jessica Greenleaf, and become vegetarians. “All right, anyone else?”

Clarissa, the soup cook, tentatively raised a hand. “Uhhh, bone meal?”

“Bone meal?” cried Chef Galbadon in dismay. “Dry, dusty, musty bone meal? Have you lost all sense of taste?”

Clarissa obligingly plucked her black and purple tongue out of her mouth and examined it. She shook her head attempted to put her tongue back in her mouth, but it wouldn’t stay and instead flopped onto the counter, dangerously close to the platter of brains. The tongue began to wriggle toward the dish like a fat worm.

“Get that off of there!” Chef Galbadon shrieked. He batted it off the counter with a spatula, which he then flung into the sink. “Do you want a visit from the health inspectors? I keep telling you and telling you, cleanliness is key, people!”

Clarissa looked down, ashamed, as Jimmy, the kitchen boy, dutifully swept up her tongue.

Knowing he could only push his people so far, especially given their current debased condition, Chef Galbadon threw his soup cook a bone. Literally. As she gnawed on it, he said, “Well, all right, a light dusting of bone meal mixed with powdered sugar over the top might have a place. But we don’t want too much sucrose in the dish and we already have the honey glaze. Modern cuisine must be healthy cuisine.” He realized the ridiculousness of that statement as he stared at the sagging, decaying faces before him, but why mess with a good motto.

There was a boom out in the dining room.

“We’re closed!” Chef Galbadon yelled. “Come back this evening! Henri, will you go send the customers away? Politely?”

Henri nodded and turned. The kitchen door banged open and two livelies stood there, one man aiming a shotgun, the other holding a fire axe at the ready.

“Ohmigod, Fred, we found a whole nest of ‘em!”

“This is not a nest!” Chef Galbadon shouted. “This is a cooking class, which you are rudely interrupting!”

“Who’s the mouthy one?” said axe-man.

“Dunno but you better get out of here, Mister, ’cause we’re about to clear this place out,” said the shotgun lively, waving his weapon around to prove his point.

“You will do no such thing!” protested Chef Galbadon. “Charles, will you please escort these gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, to the door!”

“Uurrrgh,” agreed Charles, and he turned, arms outstretched, toward the intruders.

The man with the shotgun fired, blowing Charles’s head off, spattering green and purple ichor all over the kitchen.

“You idiot, that was my sous-chef!” Chef Galbadon shrieked. “Do you know how hard it is to find a good sous-chef? You have to train them for years!”

“The talker must be one of them,” said axe-man. “Get him too.”

Chef Galbadon was hot-tempered but no fool. As Mr. Shotgun reloaded, he grabbed the enormous iron wok from the wall (thanking his undead condition for the required strength) and held it before him like a shield. “In no uncertain terms I demand that you leave or I shall direct my staff to be less than gentle with you!”

“Shut up,” said Mr. Shotgun as he fired. Not at the wok but at Chef Galbadon’s exposed legs. The chef and the wok dropped to the floor.

There was no pain. That was another gift of his undead existence. The only discomfort he felt as a zombie was a continuous, insatiable hunger, as though jagged rocks rolled around in his stomach. But frustration Chef Galbadon felt in abundance. He wailed, “You bastards! You shot off my legs! How am I supposed to reach the cupboards and countertops now?”

The kitchen staff stared wide-eyed at their chef-de-cuisine brought low.

“We told you to shut up,” said axe-man, raising his blade. But Mr. Shotgun still hadn’t gone past the doorway and the axe gouged his upper arm.

“Hey! Watch where you’re swinging that thing, Fred!”

The bright scent of fresh blood was as enticing as the nose of a fine port wine, and like the best of them, captured attention. It caused somnolent neurons to fire in the normally torpid kitchen staff, and they whirled into action. They grabbed kitchen knives and tenderizing mallets and descended on the intruders with a vengeance. Before Mr. Shotgun could get off another blast, he was surrounded by what amounted to an undead Cuisinart. Mr. Axe got no further than lopping off the pastry cook’s hand before he, too, was sucked into the vortex of cleavers and graters and tongs.

Chef Galbadon sighed at the opportunities lost, wallowing in self-pity to the soundtrack of the livelies screaming. He wondered what he would do now, with his movement so constrained. How could he keep up with his busy schedule? What matter, why bother anymore teaching those who couldn’t possibly learn?

But it was damned hard to off oneself once one had become zombified. Even now, the mostly headless remains of his sous-chef, empowered by some notochordal instinct, was crawling to join in the fray.

From habit, Chef Galbadon looked around for the cameraman, hoping he was catching the drama for the week’s show. But of course the cameraman was gone. They’d eaten him months ago.

Chef Galbadon was shaken out of his miasma of melancholy by the sudden silence and purposeful movement of his staff. To his amazement, before his eyes, a miracle unfolded. Over the next couple of hours, the apprentices worked in smooth, competent cooperation at the stoves and the grill and the mixing station. They picked up Chef Galbadon and reverently set him on a bar stool placed beside the central kitchen island counter. One by one, as if placing offerings before an idol, the cooks presented their chef with dishes carefully made from their would-be destroyers.

There was blood-marrow pudding with spiced rum icing; ligament linguine in a marinara sauce; bone chips with cheddar-cheese artichoke dip; brain chowder with potatoes and sweet corn; chargrilled flank steak with a sage-maple spice rub; fingers and toes in a light tempura batter stir-fried with onions and bell peppers; and even barbecued “urban oysters” with a kiwi fruit garnish. And, yes, Henrico had added their eyes to the top of the freshly baked, cranberry-glazed brains. It was perfect. Galbadon would have wept if his tear ducts still functioned. “Oh, well done, ladies and gents, well done. You see, fine cuisine is not dead, even if we are. I am so very proud of you all. You are all head of class. No offense, Charles. Now, let’s not let your excellent work go to waste. Everyone, please, dig in.”

The feeding frenzy that followed was magnificent.

Kara Dalkey is the author of sixteen historical and urban fantasy novels, and at least as many short-stories, both science fiction and fantasy.  Her most recent published novels were the Water Triology books, Ascension, Transformation and Reunion.  She has also published short stories in the Firebirds young adult anthologies.  She loves humorous writing and has fond childhood memories of bringing huge stacks of funny books home from the library to chuckle over.  

Although she was born and raised in Los Angeles, and honed her writing skills in Minneapolis, Kara now lives in the Pacific Northwest, along with a man, a boat and a very large pixie-bob cat.

Photo (c) Helen Meier

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