The sky had turned dark outside the only palazzo on the block with tall wooden doors and crimson painted floors.
The heavenly themed paintings at the reception area recasting the Renaissance era with soft ambience music to evoke intimate undertone in the air.
Damien stood out in his tall and athletic frame amongst the rest of the staff in a boisterous room where magic took place with steels and flames with the aroma of flowered essence lingered in every plate. Damien vowed that he would never settle for mediocre food, a promise he kept from growing up poor in a neighborhood of drug addicts, alcoholics and diabetics.
The low chatter from the staff brought him back to the boisterous room where precision and flawless execution would deliver the best epicurean experience to the crowd.
He cleared his throat loud enough to cease the chatter until there was only sounds of chopping and stirring in the room.
"Leave the main course on low" Damien instructed Ed, his assistant of three weeks.
To his right was Carla, the new sous chef with a heart shaped face and orange curls fighting their way out of her braided ends.
Carla wasn't his choice in the first place but Michael's, the sole owner of Palazzo, middle aged Romeo for big smiles and young bodies, who was on his way of acquiring wife number three from mail order bride service.
The new sous chef slanted him a grin just like she always did.
Sometimes she dropped not so subtle hints about the Celtic roots that they both had in common or if he went running in the morning before going to work.
But Damien never gave her more than a brisk nod or lingered in the same space in mere seconds, he wouldn't entertain the thought of a fling no matter how tempting the it could be.
Damien only cared to be the best and to own his restaurant before he turned 30 so he didn't have to work the art that he is passionate about under someone's rule.
A sudden arrival burst through the metal doors bringing Brenda and her exaggerated curves in full view. She stood carrying a leather folder embossed with Michael's logo in gold.
"Guys, Paul the critic is here. He's in a dark grey jacket with greasy hair at the special table. The bartender is fixing him with a light cocktail" she said with her jazzy voice invoking a trail of floral that was deemed unacceptable inside the kitchen.
He noted the stir of moods in the kitchen every time Brenda was on scene.
"Good luck everyone" she flashed her pearly whites, leaving a few seconds glance at the handsome and mysterious chef who'd been in her mind the day she started at Michael's.
But his reply was,
"Thank you Brenda, can you bring the servers for the special table and send them in to Ed please?"
He swiftly turned to his staff,
"Bring your A game, team, we will wow the crowd and the critic. tonight is the night when we will make history."he commanded.
After a cheerful applaud from Ed and the rest of the staff, two servers of his pick came through the door listening to Ed's instructions while Damien made his introduction to the man seated at the special table whose opinion would mark his stardom and Michael's.
The man called Paul Word rose from his seat, his greased hair was evident even under the soft glimmer of the ceiling lights.
He gave no room for small talk, but studying the dashing chef on his mental note just when a young server arrived carrying a bowl of soup in his right hand with precise move and grace. The liquid in the bowl stirred, its intoxicating scent tickled the man's senses as the first dish served on the menu card.
Damien was never prouder when he saw the gleam in the man's eyes when he described the craftsmanship behind the soup of creamed plants and flowered essence.
Despite how cold and aloof the critic appeared to be, Damien would give him the best five star dining experience to rave about.
After the first course, two servers came to take the empty bowl from the special table and placed a small plate of trimmed greens, caramelized onions and roasted nuts with a small cup of dressing on the side.
After dessert was served, Damien came back to find an empty chair and a cleared plate and traces of melted chocolate on the back of a spoon.
Damien waited for a figure to come out of the corner where a room with lavatory sign on wall. But his eyes only caught a shadow that disappeared into the dark corners of the wall.
Damien scanned the tables from corner to corner hoping to get a glimpse of the critic talking to a friend at a different table yet the only thing left was a trace of bad cologne circling under his nose.
Damien raced to the reception where Brenda looked up at knitted brow and the urgency in his voice.
"Did he leave?" He asked
Brenda heard the tremor in his voice and shook her head as she recalled all the faces that walked through the wooden doors.
"No, I've been here since he came in. I didn't see him leave. Did you check the men's room?"
Damien raced back to the main dining area and sprinted to the men's room and pushed the door in every stall.
A few minutes later, Brenda burst into the room,
"He's gone, Damien. No one saw him leave. Fuck, where could he be!!"
Damien walked out to the dining area to hear the dull roar of patrons talking, the clicking of glasses, and the music, all but a parade of nightmares in his ear.