The next day, instead of going to class, I called my instructor for a meeting. I tried to tell myself to just suck it up and go to class anyway, and I almost did. I was already on my way to the hall working up courage when I changed my mind. Mostly because the majority of the class, sans Jaime, was sitting out in the corridor waiting for Jackie to open the door. And when I started down the hall they all immediately looked at me. Some of them were smiling. Some of them were whispering. So I turned down the next hall and refused to go back. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t strong enough. I was a big giant wuss.
So I met with Jackie later in the day when class was over. I was already trying to hold back tears when I entered the empty classroom.
“Hey, Piper. What’s up?” she asked as she cleaned up her demonstration space.
“I just wanted to tell you that um—that I can’t finish out the semester.” She immediately stopped what she was doing and turned to me.
“What? Why?” she asked in a panicked tone.
“I just don’t think I belong here.” My voice had gone whiney, and I hated how stupid it sounded.
“But you’re so good at this. You can’t leave now. We have so much planned for the rest of term and next year is going to be even better. We haven’t even gotten to the good stuff.”
“It’s not the stuff that we’re learning or you or anything. I don’t know. I just feel like I can’t really be around people without ruining everything. I’m just going to go back home to my parents’ house and ask for my job back at Pe-Ennis’s.” I couldn’t outright tell her that I wanted to leave because I was still too mortified to show my face in class.
“Well, I’m sorry, Piper. But I can’t let you do this,” she said. I shook my head.
“I just can’t stay here. I don’t get along with anyone. I can’t switch my schedule. Maybe I’ll come back next year and start over again. But I just need to get out of here,” I explained. She sighed heavily and rubbed her forehead the same way that my mom did. Only she ended up leaving flour marks on her face.
“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to take you to lunch. I know this really great sandwich shop downtown. I’ll give you directions. I want you to meet me there at one o’ clock exactly so we can have a discussion about this, okay?” I sighed and decided just to nod.
“Okay, one o’ clock. I’ll be there.”
I really wasn’t looking forward to meeting her the next day because I kind of figured she was going to try and talk me into staying in class. But I went to meet her anyway. I showed up at exactly one o’ clock just like she said and found her sitting at some tables. It was strange to see her out of her chef’s uniform. She seemed so normal. But she got up and waved me over, so I stood in line beside her.
“Get the tuna. It’s to die for,” she told me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t like tuna. At least not the way other people made it.
“Alright, tuna it is then,” I replied.
When we got our sandwiches and drinks, she led me back to the tables to sit down. I was really anxious about her inevitable plan to keep me in class. But she took a moment to enjoy her sandwich before she got down to business.
“Okay,” she said, wiping her mouth on a napkin. “I don’t normally do this so you have to promise me that you won’t tell anyone.” I nodded slowly.
“Sure, I guess I won’t tell anyone.”
“My husband works for a publishing company that specializes in cookbooks. That’s actually how we met. When I published my cookbook. It was a flop, but either way, here we are nine years and two kids later, right?” I nodded. To be honest, I didn’t even know she had a husband and children. “Well, I see a lot of talented people come through my class. Some more than others. But you are definitely in my top three most talented kids. In fact, I think you might actually be number one.”
“What about Charlene? I thought she was your star?” She sighed.
“Charlene is talented. But she knows it. Charlene will never last in this business if she can’t accept constructive criticism and feedback. She needs to learn how to work in a team before she can build a team. Do you know what I mean?” I nodded.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“But you. You are my real star. You have this—knack—for everything that you do. You’ve got this adorable little cherub thing going on with your blonde curls and everything. And you work so well with others. You can follow directions from your leader and make something beautiful. You can take the lead and create something amazing. THAT is what makes a great chef. Not—bland talent—but star quality. So I got to thinking yesterday about how you wanted to leave. I really don’t want you to go. I think there’s a lot you can still learn from my class. But—Do you remember a few weeks ago when I asked the class to volunteer to make a few potluck meals for the faculty party?” I nodded.
“You were the only one to volunteer,” she continued. “Everyone else wanted me to pay them. And I didn’t give you any recipes to follow. I didn’t ask you what to make. But you gave me three dishes. Boneless ribs, a mashed potato bake, and cupcakes. All from scratch. All your own recipes. I brought my husband to the potluck and told him my student made the food. He was blown away. He said you showed great potential. So I spoke to him last night, and he agreed with me. If you are determined to leave my class this year, I’ll be okay with it.”
“You will?” I asked.
“On two conditions,” she replied. “My husband and I both agree that if you’re willing—he would like for you to write a cookbook. I can help you with designing recipes and everything. He can help you get it published and can send you an advance for materials and everything while you’re working on it. Once you hand the book in for editing, you’d get the rest of the check. And then once it’s published you’d get a cut of the royalty checks until you sold the rights. I mean—if it does well you’d be looking at a lot of money. But if it doesn’t—still—cookbooks are pretty easy to sell to things like libraries and stuff. My second condition is that you continue your classes next year.”
“You think I’m actually capable of writing a book? I haven’t even made it through one semester of school yet. Everything I know is from the Food Network and Penis’s Steakhouse.”
“You worked at a steakhouse called Penis’s?”
“What? Oh. No. It was called Ennis’s. But it was owned by a guy named Pete. Everyone just—never mind it was stupid.”
“Well anyway. The thing about you that stands out the most is your ability to make every recipe your own. Even when I had you guys make plain sugar cookies. You put vanilla in them because you thought they’d give it a hint of something special. And the quote from your summary. ‘Without taking away from the heart of the cookie.”
“I said that?” She nodded.
“Yes, and you’ve done that with every single recipe I’ve sent your way. THAT’S the kind of thing I like to see in my class. If I tell you to make me something you’ll bring me your own version of it the very next day. You’re already a chef, Piper. I want you in my class because I think it can help you grow as a chef, but I believe you've already got what it takes to make something amazing. I’ll assist you in every step of the way.” I picked at my sandwich for a minute. Even though I hated tuna, it was actually really good.
“Wow,” I said in a flat voice. “It’s almost too good to be true.”
“It’s really not anything special. My husband is always asking me to send cooks his way. Most cookbooks don’t get very far. Even hugely successful ones end up outdated or forgotten in just a few years. And you likely won’t make very much money, realistically. But it can help jumpstart your career and keep you busy until the start of next year.”
“You know why I want to leave, don’t you?”
“I have a suspicion. Just promise me you’ll take the job, okay? I know it’s new, and it’s scary. But if you’re not going to be in my class I want you to try something new. I can’t let you go back to Penis’s Steakhouse. Not for a whole year. I’ll get the information from my husband tonight, and I’ll get it to you. I’ll help you come up with recipes, and we’ll get them sent over to editing as soon as possible. Then all we have to do is get a photographer over to photograph your meals and boom. We’ve got a cookbook. Worst case scenario your family has something to brag about. Best case scenario you become a Food Network star.” I laughed and shook my head.
“I guess I can give it a shot.”
“Good. But only if you’re definitely not coming back to my class this semester.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“Then let’s make a cookbook.” She reached out to give my hand a squeeze.