GOUTER – Bare Fruits (Excerpt 2)

“Well, the chef had a catering and food truck business ‘in town’ not too long ago. And his ‘kitchen help’ were kids who needed a second chance. Some came from juvie centers, I hear–you know how talk can be. And other kids from who knows where. From what I gather, this was the chef’s Triumph Kitchen. But he needed more stability than what the catering industry offered for those kids.”

The Hubbs paused. And looked down at his drink.

The cicadas faded. The wine leveled. And the dying sun buried it’s head in the grave of dusk.

Conversations like this, with kids and poor, but especially the two together, tend to slice the heart and then cut the throat. You get caught between love for human decency and the back door life filling in around it like a nest of hornets. You don’t know where those demonic buggers are hiding, even in your own damn yard, until one step takes you too close into their world. By then you’ve gotten stung. More than once. In one instance you’re gazing into the sunset of life and the next you’re swinging arms in battle. I admire the guy. But it’s understandably hard that I should have to like him for such a thing at all.

The Hubbs and I continue our conversation like the kids and dinner, bath and bed could take care of itself. It can’t. But that’s a lie we hold to a promise. Continuously. And hopeful.

“Well, aren’t you gonna tell me the name of this “new place on Government?” I asked.

“The name is kind of odd even for you Lou’siana folks. It’s one of those words that doesn’t look at all like it sounds. Y’all do that down here. I know. But this one is hard. Even for Lou’siana.”

“What’s the name of the damn restaurant?”

“Gouter. Like Goo-Tay.”

“That’s french, babe. Ain’t nothin’ uncanny, or too Lou’sianan about it. Straight french. And pretty smart. I like it.”

“You think people will get it?”

“No. But they’ll get the food if it’s good like you say. And then they’ll learn the name well enough. Lou’sianans aren’t big on particulars. Especially names. Did I ever tell you about my friend, Rooster? His name was Chris too. Only I never knew until we graduated. The announcer called his name for the diploma, ‘Christopher Duplichan.’ That was the first and the last I ever heard his real name. Even so, that man will always be Rooster–to me and everybody else in that small town.”

“Babe, get this, the chef has like eight–er wait–six kids of his own.”

“So he adopted some of these kids he’s trained?” I ask.

“No. That’s his kids. Little ones too. He and his wife together. Big-time family kind of man from what I hear.”

Large families aren’t a surprising point of conversation down here. Sometimes the Hubbs forgets this. He’s Texan, a different kind of south. And though the bottom boot of Lou’siana isn’t counted among the bible belt parts of the deep, that’d be about 110 miles north of here near Shreveport, we do like our families rather large. If we don’t have the babies ourselves, we gather up our aunts and uncles, all the first through damn near sixth cousins, and the adopted friends of the family into one big plot of land. We call them a village. I grew up near one of those things. Good people. But I’ll never forget the day I discovered that every person I knew in that village was kin folk to one another. That would be a whole story worth telling. Not now.

I smile and stand. It’s time to go inside and manage our kids and the end of the day things that define the limits of tired in the family home. But before we walk into the chaos of our neglect, I hear the Hubbs tell me we have a seat at Chef Chris’s Table for dinner “a few nights from now.”

There’d be eight of us. Privately served by the chef. Ten or so courses.

“If husbands truly knew the gift of a dinner and a night out to the mother’s of babes, there’d always be room for dessert even after ten courses,” I tell him.

I could feel the Hubbs warm at my words. I rested my hand on his shoulder. He faced the night. I shifted inside. Our sacred shared world made room for duty. The kids needed us.

Hearing his story, I figured the chef whose table I’d soon enjoy a seat at understood the gift of his tables and food and that place perfectly. I trusted the course spent under his care would bear fruit. Ripe. Succulent. Fruit.

GOUTER–The Remarkable Story of Chef Chris Wadsworth (Excerpt 1)

I recently learned of the remarkable story of Chef Chris Wadsworth one evening as my Hubbs came home sharing the story of his day’s lunch. My Hubbs’ friend, Dave, invited him to the “new place on Government Street.” He and Dave worked together ‘in town.’

And what I mean by ‘in town’ is the city of Baton Rouge, Lou’siana, which in decent traffic lies about thirty minutes south of my home in the rural void of any kind of social significance.

I miss being ‘in town.’ Four robberies and two shootings in our old neighborhood of eight years ‘in town’ provided the ammo for us and sent our family of five packin. I’ve spent the last four years trying to find a way back ‘in town.’ Living rural for four years and three months and two days this here September is a test of my endurance. Some like to say home is where your heart is. That’s all fine and good. But I like to believe home is where your people are. All of them. Even the ones you don’t like.

Evening talks in the deep south are simple. Afternoon coffee this far south begins at 2pm and goes on till 4pm. There’s an hour’s break before the whiskey and wine find their way into our glasses. At which point we offer ourselves to the drunken sun on the altar of a front porch somewhere. It doesn’t have to be our front porch. Chairs are optional. The drinks are not.

Knowing his Louisana wife well, my Hubbs began his story making sure I understood the food he enjoyed at “that new place on Government” was quite good. Possibly New Orleans good. Even better though, was the Hubbs account of the rare heart in which the experienced chef Chris served our community. From what I could gather between the sips of red and the hums of cicadas was that the chef’s entrepreneurial endeavors ran laps around his devotion to helping the underprivileged youth of our community. If the “new place on Government” and its potential were the earth, its sun had to be the faces and needs of those kids.

“Have you heard of Triumph Kitchen,” the Hubbs asks me.

“Of course not. How would I know about that?” I said that with a smile that faked the truer feelings resting on the brow of my eyes. Between motherhood and distance, that life of knowing the ins and outs of society had long forgotten to lay at my door. I may hold a grudge.