Sweet Haven Excerpt – Dean Hodel

Sweet Haven

Only pastry chefs could make mana—food from God. Proteins like chicken, beef, and pig could be cooked by anyone. It was great when flavor and seasoning were added to them, but at the end of the day, hunger would make a person eat anything. 

Pastries were gifts. They had to be prepared right or customers would throw them out. Liliane Sanders, or Lili as everyone called her, walked into her kitchen to get the fixings for the pastry crust.  

Every week she had a theme, and she prepared her pastries in front of the customers.  She worked at a three-star restaurant called “The Superior Palate.”  People came far and wide to watch her make desserts. The supply was limited, and people paid for them before they were even done baking.

She walked into the kitchen and noticed the mess. All of her supplies were bunched upon several tables. Her face reflected the horror she felt at seeing all of her tools gathered on the other station tables in the kitchen. She was preparing to bring all of her 235 pounds and five feet four inches down with the wrath of a deity upon somebody.  

“Okay, move that into the middle of the dining room,” Peter Casaway, the restaurant owner, said to a couple of laborers. Beside him stood a slender woman in a chef coat. Her hair was piled upon her head as she agreed with Peter’s directions.

One of the laborers called out, “Do you want us to make the semi-circle wider?”

The woman smiled and waved him off with her hand.  “No, I won’t need that much space.”

The laborers smiled at her, nodded, and continued on.

The semi-circle they were moving was hers.  Every night for the last three years, she had stood behind that circle and created her confections.  Lili had poured her heart into her pastries, and she had been embraced by the customers. Looking at her station being dismantled was like finding out she had been evicted without notice.

The slender woman spotted Lili and then tapped Peter’s shoulder.  Peter turned and sighed as he walked to Lili.

“Lili, you didn’t get the message to not come in today?”

Looking around the main dining room, Lili shook her head numbly.

“No, I didn’t,” she murmured.

Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he ushered her into the back room.

Lili sat on the couch in his office and waited.

Peter steepled his fingers and stared at Lili.

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“Did you?”

“The restaurant needs to stay competitive.  We don’t offer farm to table desserts and meals. To make sure we stay ahead of the game, we will start introducing these items to the menu.”

“Okay? I can create some of those. I’ll—”

“Wait, Lili. I think if we are going to present a healthier menu, we need to change how we present altogether.”

“What does that mean?”

Peter signed and sat back in his chair.  “You know I have never lied to you, so it will be with this as well. I think you should take a vacation. You deserve the time off.”

“Who will cook the pastries while I’m on my vacation?  Or did I meet my replacement in the dining room!”

He held his hands up in defense.  “Listen, no matter what, you will have a job. What I am testing is if we should have a different face in the dining room.”

“A different face?”

Throwing his hands up in the air, he huffed. “Listen, you are a beautiful, full woman. If we are going to sell a healthier palate, that means healthier desserts, and it means the image should change.”

Peter’s words slammed into her, and for a moment she was a kid in school being picked on for her weight. She was the young chef in the pastry class that other chefs joked about, saying she ate every dessert she made.

“So what are we saying, Peter? Full women aren’t healthy?”

“Never, Lili!  What I’m saying is, if this goes well, you will still have a job, but we will just reorganize the stations.”

Lili could feel the pit of her stomach fall. She wanted to roll out in the middle of the floor and begin to cry. Like most challenges in her life, she had to keep herself together and hide her feelings.

“Reorganization?”

“It means we will try Claudia in the front on the island, but you will still have the title of head pastry chef.”

The depth of what was being taken from her made Lili enunciate each syllable.

“So I would be hidden in the back.”

“It’s not about images, it’s about marketing.”

“So she makes her desserts in the front, and people have to order them from the menu if they want mine.”

“Well, the way we decided to organize it is to have all the desserts served from the island. She would just put the garnish on the desserts.”

“She not only steals my station, but I also have to give her my work?”

“No, Lili—”

Betrayal wasn’t the word. She couldn’t quantify the emotion. Lili’s cooking was her safe haven. She was better than good at it.  She thought she had been building up a home base, a family. All of that was crumbling around her. Lili stood up and brushed away the make-believe lint from her skirt.  

“I’m taking the vacation. I’m going to give you something you didn’t give me: notice.”


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