previous Run it! ch16
The warm San Francisco night was lit up like the fourth of July. This moment was a long time coming and I couldn’t be more excited. I stood with Prayikina awaiting our interview with the local news. There were several media outlets getting pictures of our newly completed restaurant. After all, when two of the hottest chefs open their dream eatery in one of the most expensive locations in California, it’s click-worthy news, to say the least.
The tall Asian woman in a bright red suit did her mic check. “You girls ready?”
My cousin answered for both of us, flashing her glamorous smile. “You know it!”
“We’re live in 5, 4, 3, 2-” The reporter signaled to her cameraman to start. “Hello, I am Dina Kwan for channel 5 news coming to you live from the much-anticipated grand opening of Spicy-Sweet here in San Francisco! Joining me are the owners, celebrity chefs, Prayikina June Nakiri-Hayama, and Elena Rose Nakiri-Moceanu. Is there anyone you want to give a shout out to?”
I stood silent. Her question shook me to the core. So much had changed in just the past five years. I found myself staring into the camera like a star-struck little girl, as Prayikina answered first, “Shout out to my parents who are cheering us on from Japan. My wonderful mom, Erica Nakari you always believed in me and I’m so grateful. My daddy, Akira Hayama you’ve always been my hero and greatest inspiration! And to my sweet baby brother, big sister Kiki is sending you kisses!”
Aunt Erica and Uncle Akira had a second child. This of course meant that my mom had to keep up. She went to a clinic and the next thing I knew Alicia Nakari-Moceanu had given birth to a baby using my dead father’s DNA. It was him that I pictured as the reporter shoved the microphone in my face. “How about you Elena Rose?”
“I want to say hi to my baby brother as well.” I had met the precious little miracle just after he was born. “Hi, little Leo I hope you’re watching from Denmark! I love you so much!” I could practically see his face; a perfect clone of my father. “Mom, thank you so much for believing in my dreams. And Grandma, thank you for giving us the money to open our restaurant. And to my father, the late Remy Moceanu I hope I’ve made you proud!”
Prayikina grabbed the mic, “And special thanks to our unofficial uncle Samuel Yukihira for taking a break from his travels to help us finalize our dishes.”
“Are you referring to the legendary Chef Samuel Yukihira?” the reporter asked. The name had become huge, rivaling even the biggest international stars.
To me, he was just uncle Sammy. “Sam Yukihira is like a father to both of us. He has been nothing but supportive of every student that he watched over during his time as principal of the academy.” It was the truth. He kept in touch with Gigi, Kyle, Moma and all of our friends.
The reporter asked another question, but my attention was diverted as a single seagull flew across the evening sky. I watched its path with great admiration. I knew where it was going. Jamie was unloading the seafood delivery, to be put into the stock room. As usual, the sight of exposed food drew in various birds, from seagulls to pigeons (something we would need to deal with in a more effective manner, at a later time.) Jamie was pretty fast, but just as he got inside, to the safety of the back kitchen, the seagull dropped a surprise attack. For Jamie, it was not a surprise but rather a daily recurrence. “What is it with these damn seagulls?”
I slipped away from the interview to meet up with the two most important men in my life. I crept around Jamie, wiping the poop off his shoulder with my sleeve. “Birds just love you. In some cultures it’s considered good luck.” I kissed his cheek as we entered the backroom together.
Former Principal Sam was in the kitchen with a wok, working on an idea I had suggested earlier in the day: a dessert stir-fry using pineapple, mango, and apples (or whatever seasonal fruits we managed to get a hold of.) Giving him creative free reign, he developed a masterpiece of aromas that seemed to paint the walls with a wash of warmth love and memories. I was truly grateful for him.
“Hey Mr. S,” Jamie said as he put down the boxes he was carrying.
“Hello Jamie, Elena. it’s been a while. How have you been? You must be very excited for tonight.”
“Yes sir, the girls worked so hard for all of this.”
“What will your role at the restaurant be?” Sam asked.
“I’m Elena’s Sioux chef. And I’m also head pastry chef,” Jamie replied. It was the truth. He had amazing ideas when it came to decadent sweets.
“You’ve taken an interest in desserts, like your father?”
I giggled at the notion. Slate Mimasaka had become the rock star master of all-American desserts, going viral with his own online series.
“Since I was one year ahead of Elena at the academy after I graduated, I spent a year in California with my dad. He taught me about desserts, mainly the European style desserts of Italy and France, but also the Asian techniques he learned from the academy. As well as the American, mainly deep-fried, creations he’s come across during his road trips.”
“I’m impressed,” Sam said with a nod. “I look forward to tasting your creations.”
“I still like to cook like my mom,” Jamie added, opening the fridge. “Which is why I’m not allowed to contribute to the main menu, not that it matters.”
I put my arms around him, sneaking in another kiss.
Jamie cracked open a beer. “Prayikina is in charge of the main menu, as she should be, given her superpowers. Elena is head chef, and I have (‘mastered’ is not the right word) I try my best to replicate to their standards.”
Sam chuckled, as he added more ingredients to his wok. “I feel a sudden need to set this on fire, do you have any cognac?”
“Here you go Mr.S,” Jamie said as he tossed the bottle from well over ten feet away.
Sam caught it mid-air. “Given how expensive some of these ingredients are I would have much preferred you hand it to me.”
“Oh, my bad,” Jamie said in his usual stoner, slacker tone.
I laughed like a typical teenage girl. That was what I loved about Jamie; he was child-like and fun, with a spirit that kept us both stress-free. He was my rock, and I had a feeling he always would be.
Sam added a splash of cognac to the hot wok. The flames roared, it was frightening, to say the least, considering how little he added. “That should do.” He plated up his dish arranging the jewel-like pieces. “As the head of desserts, what do you think would work well to accompany this fruit compote?”
I eagerly grabbed a spoonful. “Hot, hot, way too hot!” I took a few quick breaths. Once the heat settled, I was able to appreciate the complex flavors. “Oh, so good! I love the use of spice.”
And then Jamie took a taste. “Wow, this fruit compote is totally rad Mr. S.”
I could tell, whatever enthusiasm and respect Sam Yukihira had for the young man quickly dissipated. Much like in his teenage days, Jamie didn’t know when to quit having fun.
I needed to show Sam Yukihira that we were not a bunch of kids screwing around. “What would you suggest to elevate the idea of the dish?”
“I think a scoop of Prayikina’s pumpkin spice latte ice cream would pair well,” Jamie replied with a sense of academic maturity. “Despite the name it has a really mellow flavor, like a very floral vanilla.”
Sam nodded in approval. “That’s not a bad suggestion.”
Proud of my boyfriend, I gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I’m going to check out the bar. Be good.”
“I promise.” He cupped my face to kiss my lips.
I immediately turned and escaped into the nearby walk-in fridge. I crossed my arms over my chest. My heart was racing for so many reasons. This was everything I ever wanted, and I got to have it all with my best friend and my boyfriend at my side.
I was about to leave when, through the wall, Jamie suddenly said the words that would shake me to the core.
“I want to ask Elena to marry me.”
I assumed he was talking to Sam. I could barely hear the response, but it did not sound positive.
“What did you just say, Jamie?”
“Mr. S, I want to propose to Elena and as her godfather, I would really appreciate your blessing.”
“Not at this time,” Sam said calmly, as if he was trying not to laugh in Jamie’s face.
“What do you mean? I love Elena with all my heart. I stood by her all through school. From the moment I met her I knew my purpose in life was to make her dreams come true.”
“If that is truly how you feel then you will have no problem waiting a few more years.”
“Seriously man?” Jamie pleaded.
“This is not medieval Europe,” Sam explained, “if you ask Elena to marry you and she says yes there is nothing I can legally do. I believe you when you say you love her. But are you worthy of her? Not by a long shot.”
“Come on man, Mr. S, I worked my ass off.”
“Really? Jamie, you need to take a hard look at yourself.”
“What the F-?” Jamie coughed, stopping himself from swearing in front of our mentor. “How can you say that? I made it to graduation; something my parents never did.”
“You are correct,” Sam said in a matter-of-fact tone. I could hear the sound of him putting his dishes in the sink. He made sure to pause before turning on the water. He had a point to make. “Your mother started her company at the age of seventeen. She worked for years to impress investors, to convince them that her ideas were worth putting into every grocery store. She is now one of the 200 wealthiest female CEOs in the world.”
“I know,” Jamie said in a whimper. “I love my mom but I’m not her.”
“Because you lack her motivation. That I can understand, perhaps even overlook, but your father works in Hollywood.
“So, what does that mean?”
“Jamie, your father is one of the least professional people I’ve ever met. And yet even he managed to carve out a path all his own. When he’s not catering parties for the rich and famous, he’s going on talk shows to promote his latest book, blog or online series. He marketed himself and in doing so created his own brand.”
“Oh,” my boyfriend replied with a grunt.
“And Then there’s you, Jamie. You claim to be selflessly devoted to Elena’s success yet here you are slacking off before your shift as her employee.”
What did Sam mean by that? Was he shaming Jamie for working under me?
“I’m on my break!” Jamie shouted, clearly getting annoyed. “I’ve been unloading for hours!”
“And are you done?” Sam asked calmly.
“Well, no, but I’m all by myself here!”
“If this is how you behave in a professional kitchen, you are not ready to be the man Elena deserves.”
“Are you saying I’m not a man?” Jamie sounded angry. I was tempted to rush back to calm the situation, but that would have hurt Jamie’s pride even worse.
“Yes, because you’re acting like a child. You are nothing but a child who is choosing to anchor himself to the Nakiri family.”
“I’m a partner!” Jamie shouted, in an intimidating roar. “I’m helping my best friends build their brand.”
“Oh, yes, let’s talk about the direction you’ve taken their brand. You encouraged Elena and Prayikina to start a YouTube channel then an Instagram account. You shoot their cooking demos, their headshots. What else did you shoot?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw the photos in Maxim magazine. In the interview Elena gave, she said you were the one who gave her the ‘confidence’ to model.”
Now I wanted to stay inside the fridge forever.
“Elena did that shoot to promote her new book!” Jamie exclaimed. He was now clearly offended for both of us. “Elena was fully clothed the entire time!”
Even through the wall, I knew for a fact Sam Yukihira’s once gold-colored eyes were glowing red. During that photoshoot, I wanted to show off my marketability, creating several images that were borderline obscene. And I had a sick feeling I knew which image my mentor took issue with.
“Elena Rose was eating a popsicle while wearing a bikini!”
I knew it.
“That was her choice!” Jamie’s voice thundered. I could hear the sound of him throwing a chair. “I respect you and all, Mr. S. I mean Mr. Yukihira… Sir,” his voice trailed off, he was about to do something stupid. “No, screw this!”
I ran as fast as I could, arriving just in time to see Jamie take a swing at our former principal. “Stop!”
Sam Yukihira caught Jamie’s hand mid-air. He clenched down hard on Jamie’s fist, nearly breaking the boy’s fingers.
Before I could scream again, Sam picked up a foreign object. Then in (what looked like) one swift motion he landed attack after attack. I could hear blow after blow of the metal wok clanging against Jamie’s head, like something out of a video game.
Sam was clearly hitting him with the freshly cleaned wok but the strikes appeared to be coming from every possible direction.
Jamie’s head hit the ground hard. I rushed to his side somehow, he was unharmed (at least not physically.) “Jamie!”
“I think I have double vision,” he muttered, rubbing his temples.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He looked up, glancing in Sam Yukihira’s direction. “I see two of Mr. S.”
“Are you okay to work?” I asked.
Sam chuckled, with a sarcastic smirk. “Yes, Jamie, are you okay to work?”
Jamie blinked his eyes over and over as he got to his feet. “Yeah, totally. I’m fine.”
Sam stretched his back. “That certainly aroused my appetite, I think I’ll go sit down for a while, take in the ambiance of this beautiful city.” He grabbed the can of beer and crushed it with his hand causing an explosion all over the floor. “Jamie, you should probably clean that up.”
I found his tone to be rude, borderline offensive, even given the man’s professional level of seniority. However, I was too shocked to say anything in my boyfriend’s defense.
Once the door slammed, Jamie stood up and took a seat. “Wow, just wow.”
“Are you okay?” I asked, because I sure as hell wasn’t.
Jamie ran his fingers through his sweat covered hair. “I’m fine but that was really weird.”
“What was weird?” I asked as I went to the sink for a glass of water. I took a drink just to clear my head, before refilling the cup for Jamie.
“Mr. S, he didn’t actually attack me.”
“What do you mean he didn’t attack you?” I’d seen it with my own eyes.
“With the wok, he just caused a series of sounds and-” Jamie paused and shook his head. “This is going to sound crazy.”
I handed my boyfriend the water, taking a seat by his side. “You know you can tell me anything.”
“I’ll try,” Jamie took a sip of water, closing his eyes to concentrate. “When I blinked, or when I first opened my eyes. I couldn’t really tell. I just know I saw a vision of your father.” He sounded nervous, perplexed but not actually frightened.
“You saw my father?” The idea made me smile especially given the fact I’d heard their previous conversation.
“Yeah, except it wasn’t the Remy Moceanu that I actually met.” Jamie took another sip of water, finishing the cup. “What I saw wasn’t the sickly man who visited you freshman year. No offense.”
“No offense taken.” I gripped his hand hoping for more info. “What did you see?”
“You know, I’ve always been a fan of your dad, so maybe that’s where I got the vision from.” Jamie pursed his lips, taking a moment to choose his words. “What I saw was Remy Moceanu in his prime, standing tall with muscles that would put a pro-wrestler to shame.”
“With bright red eyes and wings made of fire.”
“That’s kind of cool.” The image did sound like my dad, the way I pictured him in heaven.
“When I blinked again the image was gone.”
I didn’t know what to think or even feel. I stared at Jamie in stunned silence, mouth agape, until he poked me in the forehead.
“Yo, Elena? You still there?”
“Um, yeah. I’m good.” I don’t know what the heck Sam did. Was it some kind of eastern holistic voodoo healing? Or maybe gypsy magic? My dad was a gypsy, which made me half gypsy. I suddenly felt a breeze caress my cheek. Looking for the source, I saw a small open window overlooking the beach. I stood up for a better look, but before I could take a single step I was treated to a melodic chorus of seagulls. The beautiful white birds were crying out, to the starry night sky. I couldn’t help but smile. My father was here. “Jamie, is it normal to see so many birds at this time of night?”
Jamie walked up to the window glancing at the sight. “I am the wrong person to ask. Should I close it? The window is too small for any birds to come in, but the noise is going to echo through the kitchen.”
“No, leave it open.”
next: Run it! ch18