Men from around the world flock to her humble restaurant for a taste of her special ragù.
They called her La Bouchère, even though her specialty was ragù with fresh pasta, and not anything French. Her restaurant was called Bouch, simply because it was on Bouch Street. Maybe that played a part in her nickname.
It was a restaurant for men only, which drew backlash but not from men. Men loved exclusivity and they loved that it was only open three nights a week, Fridays to Sundays. And men, well — they loved meat! More, more, more, they’d say.
La Bouchère had a way with men. Oh, how they loved her so. Just last night, when she was walking home alone, a car full of men drove past. With their windows rolled down, they shouted hey, gorgeous and then honked. She had never heard such poetry before. When she didn’t respond, they called her a bitch and they laughed among each other. As they drove away, she took note of their license plate in case she wanted to hear some more poetry.
Despite Bouch’s growing popularity, she did everything here by herself from start to finish. She needed full control of the process. Her perfectionist tendencies got international food critics flocking to her humble restaurant. Still, it was a maximum of 30 seats each night. The menu was very small. Entree: crostini with anchovies topped with buffalo mozzarella. Main: her famous ragù with fresh pasta. Dessert: orange olive oil cake with tea. Entree and dessert didn’t matter — it was the ragù they were after. It warmed her to hear men tell her how they travelled here especially for her and it was worth it for something so scrumptious.
She often started her work day around 12pm. She started off skinning the carcass on the butcher block with her skinning knife. With a cleaver, she cut up the carcass into pieces: the rump, the flank, the brisket etc. She set the bones aside to make stock, which she would make another day. It thrilled her to see the different compartments of the carcasses. They could look so different before the skinning but afterwards, they were all the same — shiny red muscle with a semi-opaque layer of elastin. And sometimes — oh, it was so sneaky, but sometimes, she sneaked in a bite or two and gnawed at the raw flesh.
After hacking away at the meat and placing them in bags into the walk-in refrigerator, she prepared her sauce. Every night the men asked her: what is the special ingredient, what do you put in the sauce besides the meat? She didn’t put anything special aside from the meat. She did what she’d learnt since the first time she made ragù. There was onion, carrot, celery, red wine, stock, tomato — what else did you need? Ragù was a sauce requiring simplicity to shine. It was about the fresh, organic produce and the heart one put into it.
While that cooked on low heat, she prepared the pasta. She used 3kg of tipo 00 flour and 30 pasture eggs for the dough. She did these in batches so there were several perfect round balls of dough on the wooden bench when she was done kneading. The first time she made pasta was with an ex-boyfriend. He showed her every step of the way and loved the role of teacher when she was pupil. He let her roll the dough through the pasta machine, congratulating her on the result like she was a little girl. Later that night, he wanted sex and wouldn’t take no for an answer. What else could she do but oblige?
For her cake, she zested the orange and mixed it in with the flour, egg, baking powder, butter, Greek yoghurt, all that jazz. How she loved the way it smelled. She imagined heaven smelling like this, like citrusy sugary goodness. Maybe she could make her dining room smell like that all the time so that when the men entered, it’d be like entering heaven. But, maybe it was better to keep that smell to herself. Men had a way of taking things away from her against her wishes. But what could she do? That was the way they were. They couldn’t control themselves.
On the small TV in the kitchen, there was news of a celebrity chef gone missing. William McShaw. William was known for his hit TV show, The Gastronomical, but he was also known to get caught up in assaulting his ex-wives. Well, they were his wives at the time.
He was here the other night. He came with two other cronies. After he had one taste of the ragù, he appeared astonished, sitting still in his chair like his life had changed. When she served him dessert, he gave her a look of you’ve changed my life and I need to know how. Among chefs, it was easy for them to fall in love with each other through food. Love at first taste.
After she got most of the preparation ready, she got herself ready. She had to look good for these men. Their ravenous appetites weren’t only for her food but for her too. They enjoyed the food more because of her appearance. She didn’t do anything excessive, just foundation, bronzer, blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, fake eyelashes, eyebrow powder, lip liner, lipstick, and lip gloss. A simple look.
At 6.30pm, she opened the wooden doors and the line of men waiting outside filed in, their deep voices pushing the silence out of the dining room and onto the street.
It was a regular night at Bouch, same as any other. She served the entree first by walking out with a trolley of the crostini. Everyone ate it within minutes. She poured wine into the glasses. The wine was called Le Sang Des Collines and it bore a great resemblance to blood. So great that someone asked if she was sure this was not real blood. And she said to them of course it wasn’t, she wasn’t a barbarian, no, the colour was from the infusion with maraschino cherries.
She went back to the kitchen to prepare the ragù for plating. Even though the aroma of the ragù was familiar to her, her mouth still salivated at the promise of tantalising flavour. This dish also came out on her trolley. The excitement in the air was palpable as she entered the dining room with the main meal. This was the dish, what they’d been waiting for, what they’d been dreaming of ever since they made a booking, which was like getting a ticket for a Beyonce concert (or so she had overheard, once). She set down the dishes in front of each patron and went off to sit in the kitchen by the swinging door so she could listen. The sounds of their munching, smacking lips, and murmurs had replaced the chatter.
She usually gave them fifteen minutes before re-entering the room under the pretence of topping up their glasses with more of the bloody looking wine. Is everything okay? she asked.
One man started to speak and then they all spoke over one another, like discordant notes on the piano. This was amazing, absolutely delicious, what’s your secret, can I have seconds? She smiled and thanked everyone while topping up their glasses. One man enquired about the meat she used, said the texture was so delightful and the flavour so rich, they never had meat like this before. And she told him that she got the premium meat, it was all about getting top tier. With a glint in his eye, he asked if the meat was from wild animals. No, no, she said, they weren’t wild but they could roam free, go as far as they wanted, and they were as organic as they could be.
When dessert and tea came, the chatter resumed among them. The ragù had lifted the spirits of everyone there and they laughed as they talked, their faces ruddy from the wine. She joined them and they talked her ear off, blabbing on about things as though they were the centre of the universe and she cared about everything they had to say. She nodded and smiled because men needed to be placated when they talked like this otherwise their mood could take a turn. Of course, of course, not all men.
Around 9pm, she started clearing the tables of the dessert plates and teacups. She topped up the wine glasses of whomever asked. One man touched her butt as she filled his glass and he slurred his words as he said he wished she was his wife instead of the woman back home.
In the kitchen, she rinsed the crockery with the hose attached to the faucet before putting them into an industrial dishwashing machine. The call bell rang from the dining room and she plastered a smile on her face before she swung through the doors. A group of men wanted to pay so could they pay? Yes, they could, the total would come to 300 — could they pay separately? Yes they could do that. The total would come to 50 each. They tapped their cards on the side of the reader. She thanked them for coming and they said they would be back if they could get a spot.
It was a constant back and forth between the kitchen and the front counter until there was only one man left sitting at the table looking at her.
She asked if everything was okay.
He said yes.
She went back into the kitchen to clear some more dishes and she only got through two loads when the call bell rang. When she came out, he stared at her. When she held out the EFTPOS machine, he tapped his card on the side and then brushed his hand against hers.
You’re so sexy, he said.
Oh, thank you, she said.
I saw the way you were looking at me, he said.
He was another one of those men who must have been so starving for attention that he mistook her friendliness as sexual interest rather than customer service. There was only one way to deal with this.
Okay, she said. Let me lock the front door.
He grinned like a wolf as she turned the key and turned off the dining room lights.
Follow me, she said. He followed her into the kitchen and she told him to stand between the butcher block and the dishwasher.
We’ll do it here.
You’re a kinky one, he said.
She got up close to him until she could see his pores and heard his heavy breathing. She stabbed her carving knife straight into his chest, straight into where his heart would be. She pulled it out and then stabbed it into him again, a few centimetres away from the other spot. He shook and writhed as she held onto her knife. Blood oozed down his top, staining the white cotton. During this process, she often liked to stare into their eyes as their life faded away and tonight was no different.
After she got his body to lie on the butcher block, she got to work with her skinning knife. He would join the other disassembled men in the walk-in refrigerator.