Revenge Is A Dish Best Served In Ink
by SM CADMAN
Le Petit Oiseau de Paradis [Little Bird of Paradise] was a quaint café nestled between two larger boutique shops on Avenue du Parc in Montréal. It overlooked both Parc Jeanne-Mance & Monument à George-Étienne Cartier. Prime real estate for the budding restaurateur in Québec. Owner and proprietor Chef Philippe, strove to ensure his food was of the highest caliber but struggled to draw in new customers. But he knew why.
After shopping for fresh seafood at the St. Lawrence market, Philippe parked his burgundy Toyota Sienna behind the café. He carefully carried a large box of fresh seafood on ice to the back door when Sous-chef Alphonse stopped him. Alphonse flicked his du Maurier cigarette onto the asphalt and butted it out with the bottom of his shoe.
“Philippe! Attache ta tuque! [get ready]. Guess who’s back again? Inspecteur de la santé [Health Inspector] Monsieur Gérard.” Alphonse cried.
“That’s it. We’ll fix him. I bought fresh squid this morning. I have a surprise ingredient to punch up the flavor.”
“But he’ll underscore us again! After his last visit when we didn’t honor a free meal he graded us with a ‘B’. And boire comme un trou! [drinks a lot]. I’ll get the wine ready.”
“Oh but this time, the meal will be free. On the house. And hopefully out the backdoor too! Ville-Marie will be crying with laughter while plugging their noses!” Philippe chuckled.
They walked into the restaurant. Philippe took off his orange North Face backpack and reached into the bag, he pulled out a large rectangular box of chocolate flavoured Ex-Lax. He presented it to Alphonse. He nodded in agreement. Philippe peered out the glass portal window of the kitchen door then pushed through it. Seated by the window, Monsieur Gérard unfolded his grading inspection card. He approached him to take his order. Philippe glanced over at his server Chantal and waved her off to serve another customer. He would handle Monsieur Gérard personally.
He strode across the small café, his steps forceful and confident in his ability to persuade the inspector to order today’s special, the squid. The pungent, salty flavour of the black ink marinating the white squid rings would cover the sweetness of the chocolate laxative. It would be an early lunch he would never forget. Besides, he knew the inspector intended on visiting more restaurants that day. The effects wouldn’t kick in for another few hours. He would have no idea when and where he became so ill. After he gave him the free meal, Philippe would suggest an improved grade of “A” was needed.
“Monsieur Gérard! How lovely to see you again. Here for an early lunch?”
“Why yes.” He adjusted his round tortoise shell spectacles.
Philippe smiled while trying to contain his exuberance over the revenge plot he and Alphonse had cooked up.
“May I recommend our catch of the day? It’s a delicacy straight from our fair St. Lawrence Seaway. Hope you’re hungry!” He motioned for Chantal to come over with a bottle of white wine. “Here, let me pour you a fine glass of Niagara, Ontario Sauvignon blanc. Local Seyval blanc won’t be sweet enough for this dish.” Philippe carefully poured the white wine into the pristine glass.
“Très bon. But I was thinking of something lighter—” Philippe interjected with, “It’s not as if you’ve already eaten something heavy like Poutine already, is it?” He laughed.
Monsieur Gérard’s face turned red. He shuffled his health inspection card over the white linen table cloth. It made a slight ruffling sound as he moved it against the fibers of the fabric. He pursed his lips.
“Oh no. But at eleven in the morning? What is it Philippe?”
“It’s something very special. Squid in black ink sauce.”
Philippe glanced back at the kitchen door to see Alphonse snickering at the portal window of the door. He made a quick, small shooing gesture at him. Alphonse covered his mouth and retreated from the window.
“But, I—” Monsieur Gérard started.
“Really, it’s no trouble. I’ll have Alphonse start on the dish tout suite! And of course it’s on me today. Free.”
“Il n’y a pas de quoi! [it’s/it was nothing]. I’ll get some crusty bread rolls and Oka for you to nibble on while you wait. It goes nicely with the wine.”
Philippe hurried away before Inspecteur Gérard could rebuttal him again.
“Alphonse! He bought it. Prepare the squid!” Philippe said as walked back into the kitchen.
“I’ll chop up the tomatoes then mash them. We’ll add some of them to the ink broth. He’ll never know what’s in there. He should be experiencing the black death of fire shooting out of him by sundown!” He giggled.
Alphonse began on the dish, carefully stirring in the tomatoes, the white squid rings bobbed up in down in the hot inky black stew. He dipped his tasting spoon into the broth before adding the chocolate cubes of Ex-Lax. Philippe grated the laxative into a small dish. The medium sized copper pot bubbled and squeaked as the concoction simmered away. The aroma filled the small kitchen and wafted out into the small restaurant. A half-hour passed, Alphonse and Philippe stared at the small white dish with the finely grated Ex-lax.
“It’s done!” Alphonse exclaimed. “Time to add the special ingredient.”
He gave the broth one final stir before emptying the dish of grated laxative to the soupy mixture.
“C’est tiguidou! [it’s all good].” Philippe said while tapping his nose.
Alphonse took the pot off the stove and ladled some broth into a porcelain dish. He pushed the squid rings around the dish arranging them neatly. He wiped off the excess broth from around the edge on the bowl and garnished it with sprig of parsley on the side.
“Now we give it to him. I’ll take it out. Send Chantal out with a dish for another patron. Keep her occupied Alphonse.” Alphonse nodded to Philippe.
He put the dish on a brown circular tray lined with chestnut coloured corkboard and carried it out to Inspecteur Gérard.
“Voilà! Smell the aroma of this? C’est magnifique!”
Philippe gently waved his hand over the black soup and wafted the aroma up to his nostrils.
“Here, try it!”
He sat the tray on the table and put the dish in front of Monsieur Gérard. He grabbed his spoon and carefully dipped it in and ladled the soup away from himself. He managed to get a small squid ring on the spoon as well. He brought the salted inky broth to his lips, opened his mouth and chewed the squid a little before swallowing.
“Oh Philippe! You’ve out done yourself today. This is excellent! It’s salty but has a slightly sweet aftertaste to it. Very good.” Inspecteur Gérard remarked.
“I’ll leave you to it!” Philippe disappeared back into the kitchen.
Within ten minutes he had devoured the entire bowl. He patted his lips with the table napkin. Philippe and Alphonse watched through the portal of the kitchen door. They stepped back from the door and gave each other a high five.
“We did it! Now the sell. I will ask him to upgrade our “B” to an “A”. Philippe said.
Chantal walked into the kitchen as they were plotting how to best ask the Inspector for the better grade.
“Boys! The Inspector just told me his IBS was acting up. He seemed like he was in a rush he had to run but he left this for you.”
She said as she pulled a white card from behind her back.
“Think you’ll be pleased.” She smiled.
“What is it?” Dumbfounded Philippe and Alphonse stared at each other. She held up the current health inspection card with letter grade of “A+”.
“He also said the Département de la Santé had recently changed some rules. The grade is good for one year from this date. He said he was very pleased with the improvements you’ve made to both the quality of food and cleanliness of the café.” Chantal explained.
Alphonse grabbed the card from Chantal’s hand and ran to the front of the restaurant and tore down the “B” card. Philippe grabbed the packing tape and chased after him. They affixed the new sign to the front of the café window.
“We did it!” Philippe exclaimed. “Now let’s empty that pot and clean it well. There’s other customers to serve.”
The day wore on. Philippe and Alphonse worked diligently preparing and cooking the food. Eight o’clock in the evening came. They closed up shop and decided to grab some Poutine from Mathieu’s poutine truck on Rue Sanguinet. When they arrived they were also surprised to see a shining letter grade of, “A+” attached to the side of the chip truck.
“Philippe, Alphonse! How goes it? I just had the strangest call from Inspecteur Gérard. He asked me if anyone else had been ill today from my poutine. I said of course not!”
Philippe and Alphonse’s eyes widened. They looked at each other and started laughing.
“Why, what happened to him?” Alphonse inquired.
“Apparently he’s been on the toilet the entire afternoon and into the evening while lurching over his bathtub puking. He said it was like the seventh circle of hell! Black liquid coming out of every orifice of his body. Sounded horrible! Perhaps he’s been scoring too many free meals and someone got even with him.” Mathieu tapped his nose.
“Oh well. I’m happy. My letter grade of ‘A+’ is good for one year.” he pointed to the sign. “Not ben malcommode [to be rude] but maybe he deserved it. A box of poutine for you both? Free on the house.” Mathieu smiled.