“You’re going to like working for Chez Auguste,” Paula, the human resources lady, said as she escorted several prospective employees through the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans. They had just left the restaurant employment office over on Canal Street. It was such a beautiful day that Paula decided to take them on the scenic tour instead of driving them over. Their little group had already gone through the initial interview and selection process, and they just needed the owner to make the final decision to place them.
Mikael Badeaux marveled at the activity surrounding them. He’d been down to the Quarter a couple of times before to hang out with his brothers in one of the nightclubs, but it never ceased to amaze him how lively the tourists were as they went in and out of the little shops and bars that stretched from North Rampart Street to Decatur. Of course, seeing half-naked ladies and guys walking around with snakes around their necks, or painted in silver, never happened in the small town of Lafitte where he lived. They were famous for seafood, but not much else.
Paula took them past Café Du Monde. The aromatic scent of coffee, chicory, and beignets mixed with the ever-present savory smell of beer from the local clubs intrigued him. They neared the Saint Louis Cathedral. Right outside the gates of the historical church, sidewalk buskers—artists, fortune tellers, and street vendors—hawked their wares to anyone within hearing distance. Mule-drawn carriage drivers waited at the curb for fares, while their animals swatted flies with their tails. The others drank water from cement watering troughs. A Lucky Dog salesman handed foot-long hotdogs to a couple of customers, and several kids tap danced and entertained for tips. A couple of older kids zoomed by them on skateboards. Mikael didn’t think there was any other place in the world that could boast such a wide variety of things for tourists to do and see. He sighed, alive with contentment.
“Be aware of your surroundings,” his Grand’Mere Elisabeth warned him after he told her about the interview. “New Orleans is a lovely place, but it can be dangerous at nightfall.”
Even though he had just passed his twenty-fourth birthday, his mother and grandmother still treated him like a child. Being the youngest of four boys had its disadvantages at times. His grandmother still couldn’t understand why he wanted to move away from Lafitte to work in the big city. He tried to explain to her that he’d grown restless just sitting around the bayou wasting time. Mikael wanted to experience life, have some adventure, and of course cook a lot of delicious food. He craved a little excitement and he thought New Orleans could satisfy his itch. He’d just graduated from culinary school and he wanted to tests his dishes on others besides those who frequented their family restaurant.
Monsieur Pierre, the master chef he’d had trained under for the last three years, gave him a glowing recommendation when Mikael announced he’d like to apply for a position at the famous French restaurant. “You are going to do well, Monsieur Badeaux,” the hardy French-Cajun said to him. “Remember the trick to creating delicious dishes is the seasoning. If you get this right the rest will fall in place.”
Paula finally stopped in front of a building on a narrow street. “Welcome to Chez Auguste,” she said to them.
Mikael liked the look of the place as he peeped in through the plate glass window. The main dining room was huge and already had a lot of activity going on inside. Waiters and waitresses dressed the tables in red linen and napkins, while others walked behind them adding glasses and silverware.
“Right this way,” Paula said as she held the door open for them.
Delicious aromas filled the air, making Mikael’s stomach growl since all he’d eaten for breakfast was a raisin bagel and a cup of coffee offered by the hotel where he and his friend Marquis would be staying until they could find an apartment. Marquis had come down to New Orleans with him to apply for the position of fry chef.
Canned music filtered out from hidden speakers as the applicants followed Paula through the dining room. Several current employees looked up from what they were doing to smile or stare in curiosity. Most of them were around his age, maybe a bit younger, and they were all dressed in black pants and vests, white shirts, and had well-groomed hair.
Grand’Mere Elisabeth nearly cried when Mikael had the stylist lob off his long curls and give him a more professional appearance. He knew if he wanted to be respected and treated like an adult he had to look the part. Mikael had also invested some of his savings into a new wardrobe. Jeans and tees were fine for rural living and working, but in New Orleans where presidents and other dignitaries dined at restaurants, Mikael wanted to look his best even as he walked down the street. No one would hire a chef with a filthy outward appearance or dirty nails. Mikael was not embarrassed to let it be known that he enjoyed a manicure and a pedicure every two weeks since cleanliness was next to godliness.
“What is the master chef like?” one of the other applicants asked as Paula took them into a large room off of one of the kitchens.
“Mr. Carrier is a bit of a perfectionist and he expects no less from those in his employ.”
Mikael put this to memory. He also liked things clean and orderly.
“Have a seat,” Paula said to them. “Mr. Carrier will be with you in a moment.” She placed a stack of folders on a desk that faced the waiting area and then left.
Mikael heard her heels beating a tune on the ceramic floor as she departed. He looked around the room noting a television set, a refrigerator, and a trash can.
Something heavy and metal hit the floor outside the room. The sound startled Mikael. This was followed by a deep man’s voice screaming obscenities in both English and French, while a softer male voice begged for forgiveness. He and the other applicants in the room looked at each other in terror.
Marquis squeezed his hand. “Don’t panic. Think of it as Friday night in Lafitte.”
Mikael nodded at his gorgeous African-American friend. His grandfather Marcel was quite the tyrant, too, back home at the family restaurant. If anyone dropped something in the kitchen there would be hell to pay.
The door to the room flew open and in walked two large guys dressed in black and white chef uniforms. The taller of the two, a blond with big hands and even bigger booming voice, argued in French with the dark-haired, neatly dressed, slightly shorter guy. Both men had amazing good looks to go with their fiery attitudes. They stopped arguing once they noticed they had an audience. One of them glared in his direction. It was the blond one with the big hands and the startling green eyes.
Mikael pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and tried to look unaffected.
The man rudely ran his gaze all over him from head to toe before sitting down at the desk.
Mikael moved around nervously in his seat, feeling like he’d been scanned and strip-searched. The guy had bushy blond eyebrows and long lashes that dusted his cheeks when he stopped staring and looked down at the stack of files in front of him. Mr. Meany looked like a total babe once he relaxed his face.
“Good morning,” he said in English. “My name is Auguste Carrier, and this is Chandler Dennis, the master baker of Chez Auguste.”
Auguste Carrier had a nice voice once it stopped threatening. The other guy, Chandler, sat down next to Auguste. He, too, glared at Mikael like he knew him.
Mikael lifted his gaze and looked up at the ceiling just as Auguste Carrier opened the first folder. Mikael looked forward again and the brown-haired baker smiled at him.
Mikael shyly averted the man’s outward perusal of him while Auguste flipped through and continued reading the first folder.
“Which one of you is Joel Legree?” Auguste asked.
A sandy-blond haired applicant rose to his feet. “Me, sir,” he said nervously.
Joel had hair down his back and he came dressed in a pair of black dress slacks and a long-sleeved, white dress shirt.
“He’s applying for a waiter’s position,” Auguste said to Chandler. He slid the folder over to him.
“Have you ever worked in a restaurant before?” Chandler asked, looking down into the folder.
“Yes, I worked at Carl’s Restaurant on Bourbon Street for two years until it went out of business.”
Mikael had never heard of the restaurant, but he did know Bourbon Street. His older brother Butch had taken him to a strip club for his twenty-first birthday present. Butch got drunk and Mikael got a lap dance from a guy with a very big cock. Sometime around two in the morning the club was raided and he and Butch had to sneak out the back door with the dancer rather than get arrested. Mikael smirked. He still called the stripper from time to time but they never did hook up.
“You have to do something with your hair,” Auguste said rudely to Joel. “It’s much too long to work around food.”
“Is wearing a net acceptable?” Joel asked.
“Yes,” Auguste answered. “Just as long as it looks neat.”
Chandler put a checkmark on the folder and moved it to the front of the desk. “Welcome to Chez Auguste,” he said to Joel. “Can you start working today?”
“Good, report to Pascal Simon. He’s the maître d’. He is in the office next door on the right.”
“Thank you,” Joel said, smiling. He left the room.
The interviews went on for about an hour when Mikael’s name finally got called.
“Mikael Badeaux, front and center.”
Mikael rose and approached the desk. Chandler looked him over from head to toe. Mikael’s face heated. The man didn’t even try to hide his interest in him.
“Parlez-vous français?” Auguste asked him.
“Oui, monsieur. I speak French.”
Auguste pushed his file over to Chandler. “He comes with a recommendation from his culinary school teacher.”
“Delightful,” Chandler said as he smiled at him. “Have you ever cooked for a large group of people, or is all your experience through school?”
“My family owns a restaurant in Lafitte. I’ve worked there for the past eight years.”
“Your family owns a restaurant?” Chandler asked.
“Oui, monsieur, a seafood restaurant and bar.”
“Then why are you applying here?”
“I need a change of scenery and a challenge, monsieur,” Mikael answered.
Chandler turned to Auguste. “I like him.”
Auguste scowled. “You would, but we need an experienced seafood chef.” He put his attention on Mikael. “When can you start?”
“Today,” Mikael answered.
“Report to Emile Fontaine. He’s the sous chef. You can find him in the kitchen next door.”
“Merci,” Mikael said, trying to get out of range of Chandler’s glance. He left the room to find his new supervisor, wondering why he found his new boss downright handsome.