Peer Pressure Test

Kieran strode toward us and placed the enormous plate in the centre of the judge’s table, his proud smile showing off a row of perfect white teeth.

‘Wow – look at this dish,’ exclaimed Geoff, the show’s longest-serving judge, and unofficial host. ‘Now, this is what cooking is all about.’ He’d said this phrase at least once a show last season, consequently making it the title of his last cookbook.

Magnifique, it looks so sexy’ exclaimed Jean-Pierre, who never missed an opportunity to remind the audience he was French, or overtly sexualise the food to appeal to his largely female fanbase.

Everyone awaited my praise, but I couldn’t stop staring at the plate: Kieran had served us a ham and cheese sandwich. Sure, he’d removed the crusts from the bread, served it with a few twisted sprigs of rosemary and scattered some exotic micro-flowers over it, but at its core, it was still just a sandwich. Even the herbed butter, which he’d carefully served in a quenelle next to it, looked kind of lumpy.

‘You’ve certainly cooked us something to eat,’ I said cautiously, remembering my agent had specifically warned me against being the bitchy new judge who thought she was above adjudicating a reality TV cooking show. ‘So, tell us what inspired you today?’

‘Well, it was probably my nonna,’ said Kieran, his brown eyes shimmering with tears. ‘And even though she’s gone now, she still speaks to me when I’m cooking.’

As the other contestants in the background wiped tears from their eyes, I imagined the producers adding in the heartfelt piano music later, oblivious to the fact the other contestants were merely upset someone else had beaten them to playing the “dead grandmother card”.

‘Oh I’m so sorry, when did she pass?’ I asked gently.

‘Oh, no – she’s not dead,’ clarified Kieran, ‘she’s back in Cairns now, and just always calls me whenever I’m cooking.’

Nonna was alive – cue the uplifting piano music.

‘Well, let’s see how it tastes,’ I smiled, quite certain it would taste exactly like a ham and cheese sandwich.

Geoff did the honours, cutting the sandwich into three, the camera zooming in to capture our pensive faces as we ate.

‘Well?’ asked Geoff, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

Ooh, la, la,’ said Jean-Pierre. ‘I feel dizzy, the way good sex can make me feel, it’s dripping with flavour.’

‘I tasted it, and immediately thought – Bazingo – that’s tasty stuff,’ agreed Geoff,  thereby announcing the title of his next cookbook.

Everyone turned to me, the bright red light of the camera second only to the dazzling brightness of Kieran’s perfect teeth.

‘When I first saw it, I was a tiny bit concerned it was just a sandwich,’ I started, causing everyone to frown; my last 20 years as a food critique flashed before my eyes. ‘But Geoff and JP are right – this is a modern take on a classic, and I absolutely loved it. Bazingo!’

© Matthew S. Wilson, August 2020

This piece was written for August’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre, where entrants were given 55 hours to write a 500-word story, meeting the following criteria: The story had to be a comedy, and had to contain a sandwich.

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