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July 15, 2024

Cooking with Chef Jeffrey

By Pete McArdle

The silver-haired director gives the audience some final instructions and then the studio goes dark. Into his mike, the director says, "Go live on my mark, on five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one," and then the curtains part, the orchestra breaks into the show's familiar theme song, and Blink Carruthers strides into view, his dazzlingly-bright smile almost a light source unto itself. Dressed all in black, Blink waves at the audience as he stands in front of a set that looks like an old-time kitchen, your grandmother's kitchen perhaps, with cheery patterned curtains, formica counter tops, and a selection of carving knives hanging from hooks on the wall.

"Good afternoon, Mil-wau-kee, the queen city of Lake Michigan!" says Carruthers, flashing porcelain almost as white as the sink, "and welcome to Cooking With Chef Jeffrey. On today's show, you're going to learn how to turn those fridge-cluttering leftovers into a delicious, mouth-watering stew. So without further ado, let me introduce to you: the star of the show, the master of slice and dice, the chef that just won't take no for an answer, Jeff-r-e-y Dah-mer!"

The crowd applauds and whistles as Chef Jeffrey strolls onstage wearing jeans, a button-down collar shirt, and wire-rimmed aviator glasses. He takes a heavily-stained white apron off a hook, dons it, and faces the camera, the stove and burners in front of him, the sink at his back.

"Hi, everybody," he says, nervously adjusting his glasses. "You ever have one of those days where you open the fridge and it's just a mess, overflowing with food and leftovers you haven't got around to using? You look at all the storage bags and containers jammed into every nook and cranny, and you ask yourself, how will I ever get a head?"

The drummer hits the snare drum, ba-ding! and Blink Carruthers cracks up.

"Well, on today's show I'm gonna show you what I do when my refrigerator's gotten completely out of hands, er . . . hand. I call this dish 'The 25th Street Bourbon Ragout,' and as you might guess from the name, it all starts with a good bottle of bourbon."

Blink appears at Jeffrey's elbow holding a two-liter bottle of Old Stoat bourbon, the preferred beverage of street people everywhere.

Dahmer unscrew the cap, hefts the bottle and takes a prodigious swig of the cheap hooch. He coughs and hacks for a minute or two, spits in the sink and says, "Smooth, real smooth!"

After wiping his mouth on his sleeve, Chef Jeffrey opens a cabinet and takes out an immense cast-iron stock pot.

"Now the first thing you wanna do, folks, is make sure your pot's clean, this is where it all happens, and I can see there's a little something on the bottom of this one." Dahmer picks up a wire brush and rakes it violently against the bottom of the pot. Then he holds the pot upside down over a garbage pail and watches some papery debris float down into the trash.

"O.K., our stock pot's ready, so now we set the flame on low and add some bourbon." Jeffrey pours close to a pint of amber liquid into the pot and then takes a big gulp himself. "One for the sauce and one for the chef, that's what I always say," he says. Blink can only grin and shake his head.

"Let's adjust the flame so the bourbon doesn't evaporate -- there, that's perfect," says Dahmer. "Now let's take a look in the fridge and see what veggies we've got."

Chef Jeffrey opens the refrigerator and pulls out a wilted head of lettuce, what likes like a turnip, and a bottle of green olives. As he tears off soggy lettuce leaves and drops them into the pot, he says, "A great ragout has to have balance and it looks like we're in luck today. We've got our leafy greens, a nice root vegetable -- (having finished with the lettuce, he drops the turnip in whole) -- and some green olives. As you know, olives are rich in the mono-saturated fats that are so important for a healthy heart. And now, let's get our frying pan ready to brown the meat."

Dahmer puts a high flame under a skillet and almost immediately, a thick cloud of greasy smoke billows up from the pan. Blink makes a face, but true professional that he is, his wide smile returns in an instant.

"I don't really worry about whether my frying pan is clean," says Chef Jeffrey, taking another belt of bourbon. "Whatever may be there burns off pretty quickly. And as soon as it does, I add a little lard and my own secret stock to create my famous reduction a la Dahmer."

The celebrity chef walks over to a couple of plastic vats in the corner and yanks the lids off. Blink catches a whiff of the contents, makes a retching sound and hurries over to the sink.

Dahmer dips his hand into one of the vats and comes up with a thick whitish substance which he throws into the frying pan, where it immediately begins to sizzle. Then he takes a ladle and fills it with yellow-green liquid from the other vat. He holds the ladle under his nose for a moment, smiles appreciatively, and pours the toxic-looking deliquescence into the pan.

"A good stock is the key to any reduction," Chef Jeffrey says, stirring the contents of the pan and lowering the flame. "And I could tell you exactly what's in my special stock -- (he dips a finger in the reduction and tastes it) -- but then I'd have to kill you!"

A somewhat blanched Blink Carruthers leads the audience in raucous laughter.

"Seriously, folks," says Dahmer, "I'll give you one little hint: battery acid, ideally from a DieHard car battery. Dependable starting power for those cold Wisconsin nights, and the key to a flavorful stock, the DieHard battery is available at the Sears store nearest you."

{Canned applause as they break to commercial}

"Welcome back, folks," says Chef Jeffrey, his blonde hair glinting in the bright studio lights. "Our reduction's finally ready and now it's time to prepare the meat. For this you're going to need some basic tools."

Jeffrey takes down a shiny, well-honed butcher knife and waves it in the air, causing Carruthers to take a step backwards.

"Your knife," says Jeffrey. "It's gotta be sharp or you'll never get through those pesky ligaments and tendons." He puts down the knife and picks up a rusty ball-peen hammer.

"Your tenderizer. You wanna break down all those collagen fibers, make the meat so soft and tender you could eat it with a spoon. And last, but not least, your rendering tool -- (Dahmer holds up a Craftsman-brand power saw) -- so important for accessing those tender organ meats, and also available at the Sears store nearest you. And folks, don't forget to keep an eye on your stew-pot, right, Blink?" says Jeffrey, taking a pull on the half-empty bottle of bourbon.

"I wouldn't dream of it," says Carruthers, sounding oddly sincere as he vigorously stirs the pot.

"So-o-o," says Chef Jeffrey, "Why don't we mosey over and see what kind of meat's in the fridge." While the star of the show heads for the fridge, Blink sneaks a slug of Old Stoat, the entire studio as quiet as a crypt except for the gurgling of the fry-pan.

Dahmer returns center stage with several Ziploc bags and a large Tupperware container. He flips open the Tupperware container, peeks inside and says, "Here we have some leftover thighs, and by now they're pretty tough." Chef Jeffrey lays a large strip of gray meat on the wooden chopping board.

"So first we sprinkle on a liberal dose of salt -- I prefer Kosher salt myself, but really, any salt'll do -- and then a dusting of garlic powder to cover up that annoying refrigerator smell . . . there, isn't that nice? And lastly, we thoroughly tenderize the meat."

As Dahmer furiously pounds the meat with his ball-peen hammer, a nun in the last row makes the Sign of the Cross and slips out the back.

"There, that's just perfect," says Chef Jeffrey, dropping the tenderized thigh in the frying pan. "Now we fry the meat until it's a deep brown, we want to seal in all those natural juices." The smoke from the searing meat wafts over Dahmer's face and his nostrils flare as he savors the heady aroma. Carruthers, meanwhile, takes a huge hit of bourbon, making no effort whatsoever to conceal what he's doing. Chef Jeffrey flips over the meat.

"See how nicely browned that is? Can we get a camera shot of this?"

A boom camera descends to within a foot of Dahmer's head.

"You simply have to be patient until it's good and brown," he says, "Unless you're starting with dark meat, in which case I'd suggest you use a timer."

After a few minutes, the chef turns the meat over and inspects it. "Excellent, that looks well-sealed, so let's add this to the stew -- (Jeffrey plops the seared flesh into the stew pot) -- and see what else we have."

Chef Jeffrey opens a Ziploc bag and as he looks inside, his eyes grow wide. "Folks, we are in for a real treat: sweetbreads! Sweetbreads, as you know, refer to the thymus or pancreas gland, or in some cultures, the testicles. Now these -- (Chef Jeffrey holds up a translucent sac containing a pair of egg-shaped organs) -- would appear to be the latter." He drops the sweetbreads in the frying pan, grins impishly at the audience and says, "Today, we're gonna have a real ball!"

Ba-ding! from the drummer as Dahmer's stricken sidekick staggers offstage.

As the sweetbreads begin to sizzle, Chef Jeffrey unwraps a foil package and holds up a long bone with small tags of flesh hanging from it. "Of course, these days we're spoiled, folks. We eat the filet and throw the rest away."

The drummer hits the snare but notices Dahmer glaring at him, and quickly puts down his sticks.

"As I was say-ing . . . in the old days, nothing went to waste. It was understood that bones were chock-full of marrow, an excellent source of the iron that's so important for healthy red blood cells. Blink, would you hand me my hatchet?" Chef Jeffrey looks around at the empty stage, shrugs his shoulders and says, "But really, any tool will do."

A man in the first row wearing a white suit and a pink cravat bursts into laughter.

Chef Jeffrey picks up his ball-peen and whales away at the bone, fragments of bone flying everywhere and blood spatter dotting his forehead.

"And there we are," he says, using a spatula to transfer the whole sticky mess into the pot. Then he grabs the sweetbreads with a pair of tongs -- eliciting a low groan from the male members of the audience -- and drops them into the stew.

Dahmer wipes his forehead with the back of his sleeve, picks up the bottle of Old Stoat, and says, "While all this deliciousness simmers and coalesces into something fabulous, let's take a moment for a word from our sponsors."

{Canned applause as they break for commercial. Dahmer sits on a stool and guzzles whiskey, a pained-looking Carruthers returns to the stage, and a tall, angular man wearing a badly-wrinkled suit and a badge slips into the studio and takes the nun's vacated seat}

"O.K., we're back," says Chef Jeffrey, covering a burp, "and our rich, tantalizing ragout is almost ready. Folks, I'm not kidding you, you serve this stew to your guests and I swear to God they'll never leave!" The drummer raises his sticks but thinks better of it and puts them down.

"As is our custom, Blink will pick out a lucky member of the audience to sample today's dish. Blink?"

Carruthers smiles without showing any of his expensive dentistry and walks unsteadily to the edge of the stage. He points to the closest person, the man with the pink cravat, who hops to his feet and sprints up the steps to the stage.

"And what's your name, handsome?" says Dahmer, slurring quite a bit by this point.

"Ian," says the man, "but all my friends call me Nancy."

The drummer follows up his "ba-ding!" with a "ta-cha!" on the hi-hat, while Blink kills the bottle of Old Stoat. Chef Jeffrey and his guest walk over to a small bistro table, stage left, and sit down. The table has been set for two with fine china, a white linen table-cloth, and a vase of Calla lilies in the middle.

While his sidekick ladles ragout into two bowls, Chef Jeffrey smiles at his guest and says, "Has anyone ever told you you have a nice head?"

Ian smiles coquettishly. "Have? No. Give? Absolutely!"

The audience roars with laughter as Blink sets down bowls of steaming stew in front of the men, and then lurches out of sight.

"We'd better let this cool down a little bit," says Dahmer, wiping the steam off his glasses. "So tell me, Ian -- or should I call you Nancy -- are you presently in a committed relationship?"

Ian bats his eyelashes and says, "Not at this very moment, no."

The audience titters and the drummer nails a burlesque riff on his tom-tom, almost falling off his stool in the process.

"Well perhaps you could hang around after the show," says Chef Jeffrey, grinning devilishly. "I'm sure I could find a permanent spot for you. But right now, my friend, let's enjoy our '25th Street Bourbon Ragout'!"

Dahmer dips a spoon in the stew, raises it to his lips, and blows on it. But before he can enjoy his latest culinary creation, he notices the man with the badge coming down a side aisle towards the stage.

As the celebrity chef lunges to his feet, Ian swallows a mouthful of ragout and immediately clutches his throat and begins to turn blue. A sweetbread, it appears, has occluded his airway.

"I'm afraid that's all the time we have today, folks," says Chef Jeffrey, swaying badly. "You've been a wonderful audience and be sure to tune in tomorrow when I'll be making my signature dish, 'Sausage and Peepers ' For Blink Carruthers and myself, so long from Milwaukee and have a great day!"

As the orchestra bursts into the Cooking With Chef Jeffrey theme, Dahmer sprints backstage, Ian falls off his chair and goes into convulsions, and the rumpled detective is swept away by the rapidly-departing crowd, undoubtedly anxious to get home in time for Oprah.

Originally published in 69 Flavors of Paranoia magazine.

Article © Pete McArdle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-06-17
1 Reader Comments
12:44:12 AM
This is a sick story (in both senses) love to hear more from this guy
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