Love and Flowers
Photograph by Tim Smyth, Story by Helen Bridgett & Julian Edge
Lord it’s cold today, where did this gale come from? My mac starts blowing away as I try to get my blooming arms in and I catch a glimpse of myself in the café window. Why did I even bother trying to get presentable this morning? I look like I have a long haired guinea pig nesting on my head right now. I brush the hair out of my eyes and tuck it behind my ears hoping it’ll stay there for a few seconds at least, and as I do, I notice the café isn’t a café any more. It’s a bistro apparently, which means it’s the same size as a café but with a fancier menu. The café used to sell poached eggs on toast, this one’ll probably call them eggs hollandaise or some such. And they’ll be twice the price. It isn’t open but the menu is on the window so I move in to take a look. Hmm, they’ve got a guest chef in today and, oh dear lord, you are not going to believe this but I swear, it’s god’s honest truth, his speciality and I have no idea how you become a specialist in this, is Cauliflower Steaks – yep, you heard me right. I mean it’s either a cauliflower or a steak, it can’t be both. And you’ll never guess what this specialist is charging – eleven pounds fifty – when a whole cauli only costs seventy-nine pence. Jeez.
I’ve just come out of the kitchen and I’m drying my knife when I see her out front, looking at the menu. I’m thinking about my signature dish, and how everything depends on that first slice. I mean, I’m not saying the spices aren’t important, of course I’m not saying the spices aren’t important, and may all saints preserve us from those idiots who want to cook it in a frying pan, or serve it without capers, but that’s not the point, is it? The point is that first slice. That’s where you achieve what I like to call the integrity of the whole event. I could tell you the same thing about anything I cook; each dish has its integrity or it’s nothing and that integrity has its own specific location, whether that’s an ingredient, or a temperature, or a technique. For example — no never mind that, like I say: there she is.
There’s a bit of a wind and her hair’s all over the place. She’s half in and half out of her coat and she’s holding her scarf down with her chin. That puts the oddest expression on her face, but I can tell she’s giving the menu some serious consideration. As she should. But in the middle of all this, it’s that central core of her that takes my breath away. The sweep of her body, the gentle arc of it down through the centre of all that extraneous activity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about her, you know, figure — not that I don’t notice and not that it isn’t nice. Well, it’s very nice, in fact, but that’s not the point. The point is there’s a core to her that holds everything together in a way that goes beyond parts and beyond any idea of conscious design. She is just … so … centred.
I peer into the window to check out the décor, I’m dying to catch a glimpse of this guest chef and ask how on earth they think they can sell a slice of cauli for nearly twelve quid. I find myself wondering whether it comes with chips or mash. Either way, the plate isn’t going to look exactly appetising is it? A pasty pile of veg, not that it’ll be piled, it’ll be artfully arranged and he’ll most likely put chives in the mash or something, so it isn’t completely monochrome. Unless he likes white food, I think I once heard someone say that’s all they ate. You have to be a bit odd to dream up a dish like this, I mean where would you start?
That’s when I get the connection: the perfect cauliflower steak. It’s that first cut that gives you just enough (and no more) of the stalk to hold together all the branches and the flowerets that make up the whole. She is the living expression of my ideal. But better than I could ever slice. I know what they say about beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Well, that’s good enough for me. She is the one. The one I didn’t even know I was waiting for. And she has come along to open my very first residency. The spices are mixed, the herbs chopped, the capers rinsed, the finest white cauliflowers stripped of their leaves and the love of my life is waiting on the pavement outside.
Damn, there is someone in and I think he might have noticed me peering through his window. He’s coming this way. It has to be the chef, unless other people in this bistro wear aprons and carry big knives. He’s probably seen me looking at his menu. What if he asks what I think? He’s looking right at me now and seems quite normal actually. In fact, if I didn’t know he were so into his brassicas, I’d probably quite fancy him. There’s only a pane of glass between us as he reaches up then down to unfasten the bolts on the door. If chopping cauliflower gave him arms like that, I can suddenly see the appeal. As he stands to face me, I smooth down my hair and realise my heart is thumping like a tenderiser on a meat slab.
With a gentle, self-deprecating smile, I walk forward, flip the sign to OPEN and swing back the door.
‘Good morning,’ I say. ‘You are my first customer and I’d like to offer you lunch on the house.’
‘Why thank you,’ I reply coyly, ‘your cauliflower steaks do sound extremely tempting.’
Having failed miserably with every New Year's resolution that involved diets, one year, Helen Bridgett set herself a completely different goal - to write a novel and give it as a Christmas present. The Mercury Travel Club was born and the laugh-out-loud characters took on a life of their own resulting in the sequel, The Heat is On. Outside of writing feel good fiction, Helen loves being outdoors walking with the dog and enjoying banter with friends. You can follow Helen on twitter @Helen_Bridgett
Julian Edge's first novel, Satisfaction in Times of Anger, is set in a contemporary British context of race-hate, grooming and police underfunding. Nevertheless, the story leads to a hopeful outcome (for some). His second novel, In Spite of Hope, has not yet been published. It starts out positively enough on a trip to Sardinia, but there is a clue to outcomes in the title. He intends his next novel to be a feel-good romance. Probably no cauliflowers, but generous helpings of humour and passion.
Tim Smyth won the Hotshoe Student Award after graduating. Smyth’s work is held in several private collections as well as British Art Collection, Yale, Joan Flasch Collection (SAIC), Lafayette, MOMA, Tate Modern. Smyth also contributes to publications such as BJP, FT Magazine, Elephant Magazine and The Guardian. His debut publication Defective Carrots, (Bemojake 2013) was shortlisted for the PhotoEspaña Photo Book of the Year Award and Best Books 2014: John Gossage - Photo-Eye. Smyth's 2014 publication The al Assad Campaign 2008, (Bemojake, 2014) documents Syrian street scenes containing state propaganda prior to the Arab Spring and ongoing civil war, prints from this body of work were subsequently exhibited as part of the Publish / Curate, at TJ Boulting.