The Sushi Chef (A Novel)
Author: David De Bacco
Genre: LGBT; Contemporary Fiction
ebook MSRP: 7.79
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Available from Amazon Kindle
Trade paperback available from Amazon
Print ISBN: 978-1-937796-15-0
Print MSRP: 16.99
You pay: 12.99
Cover art: Les Byerley
“In order to receive love, we must first love ourselves.” Every self-help book on love and relationship tells us this basic principle. Intellectually we know it’s true, but what happens when one man embraces it with his heart and soul, attempting to make it a real, living force in his life?
Meet John Clute, an aspiring writer who supports his craft by working as a waiter in 1992, New York City when the gay revolution struggled with the AIDS epidemic, when advances in research meant that men stopped dying suddenly from the gay cancer and started to stay alive. Madonna had just released Erotica and Sex, her takes on sexuality through music, word and photography. To many, it was the relighting of this sexual culture that had been so damaged by the onset of the epidemic.
Clute works from paycheck to paycheck but in spite of all his efforts, an eviction notice is slapped on his apartment door. If only Clute wasn’t too proud to ask for help. The one person who could possibly help him is the man he fell in love with years ago, the sensual and handsome Toshio, a sushi chef, who has perfected the arts of both geisha-like sensuality and virtuosic Japanese cooking. However, Clute and Toshio’s on again-off again odd romance is plagued with secrets, stultifying cultural differences, and underlying fears fueled by years of not speaking the truth. Tired of this dead cycle, Clute seeks to make a change no matter what the risk, uncertain of Toshio’s ability to change and grow with him.
Told through the mind and heart of John Clute, The Sushi Chef by popular food columnist and restaurant connoisseur David De Bacco, intertwines the hero’s struggle of life and love with enchanting—and ironically quite symbolic—explanations of the art of sushi. The result is a novel with a message that has the power to touch lives. Many souls come to New York with a dream. Some find what they seek while others do not. But John Clute shows us with tender-hearted humor, openness, and a bit of RuPaul flair, that often it’s how one lives and not necessarily achieving the “dream” that makes a life worth living.
David De Bacco has worked in New York, London, Tokyo, Paris and Milan for some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs including Nora Pouillon, Chef “Nobu” Matsuhisa, Drew Nieporent, Iron Chef Masaharu “Morimoto” and actor, Robert De Niro. He also created MEGU, a modern Japanese restaurant in Manhattan for Japanese restaurateur, Koji Imai and Hollywood’s celebrity haunt, Geisha House for actor, Ashton Kutcher’s Dolce Group. David currently lives and celebrates life in Los Angles where he is a freelance writer for Edge Publications, AOL’s Patch.com and is the creator of Cookin’ with Mama, a foodie blog. The Sushi Chef is his first novel.
New York City – 1992
I’m not quite sure when I lost my sense of humor. I’m unable to recall the actual day, moment or place, but on this humid autumn night I knew that it was missing. Up until now, I can remember almost every other major episode that has occurred in my life. For these events, I can go as far as to tell you what I was wearing and what I could see, could hear, smell and touch. I used to find humor in the most mundane routines. I’d be the person in the movie theatre you could hear above all others. Actually, strangers used to tell me that they loved my laugh. My outburst would begin with a resonating gurgle from the bottom of my stomach and then it would gradually crescendo into a higher pitched squeal. If I really thought something was funny, this laughing shriek would echo until I ran out of breath, and then I would be forced to make a series of loud inhaling noises as I tried to refuel for my second wind. Perhaps some people in the audience would be annoyed by this scream, but I always imagined stand-up comics would have paid dearly to have my infectious laugh and me present for their special HBO tapings.
Is there such a thing as lost humor? Can a person actually find a vanished article such as this? Movie stars seem to find what’s missing in their lives in every Hollywood film. Within the first ten minutes, you discover the main character has a problem and you can bet a bag of popcorn he or she is going to solve it within the next ninety minutes. If only our problems could be solved within such a brief time limit.
I stood on the corner thinking, How could I have let this happen to me?
There is a deep sense of jubilation only a thirty-year old waiter working in a new bankrupt three-star restaurant can feel at the end of the night. I exited through the kitchen door, turned north on Broadway and stopped for a moment to look at the Flatiron Building.
I’ve done it. I’ve made it through another fucking night, I wanted to scream.
How could a restaurant receive glowing reviews from The Times, Gourmet and all the important magazines and still be deep in bankruptcy? Where was the money going? Customers were flocking to the restaurant, but none of the suppliers would deliver ingredients unless they were paid in cash. Payroll checks were constantly bouncing for the kitchen staff, and the servers were weeks behind in receiving the credit card tips. The chef was going to Balducci’s to buy wild mushrooms for his risotto. Anyone who lives in New York City knows you don’t go shopping at Balducci’s if there’s nothing left in the piggy bank.
As I was leaving tonight, word quickly spread on what I did. None of my co-workers said goodnight because they were either jealous or pissed at what I had done. I was personally owed almost five weeks in back pay, but luckily my last table for the evening paid in cash. It was a group of handsome Wall Street brokers who were celebrating the end of a profitable day in the market. I was constantly opening premium bottles of wine — Dom, Jordan Vineyard, 1979 cabernet sauvignon, 1981 Bordeaux. At the end of dinner, I capitalized on their success by selling assorted expensive after-dinner drinks, such as vintage ports and Armagnac. I moved the men into the bar area and suggested the last cigars left in the humidor.
Wall Street professionals usually pay with company credit cards, but this time they paid with cash. Their bill was a nice chunk of money, yet it still wasn’t close to what I was owed. I was so deep in debt that when I saw the cash my heart started to pump blood through my body at an alarming rate. I took a deep breath so I wouldn’t pass out because I knew what I had to do. With sweat on my brow, I closed the check on the computer, gave the paperwork to the cashier, but then put all the money in my pocket. I quickly grabbed my things and left the building. I had the feeling I wouldn’t be fired, but even if I was, it would be worth it because the rumor circulating around that week was that the restaurant was days away from being closed by the bank. We, the staff, knew this, but we kind of hung on because none of us really had any other place to go to.
I felt quite guilty, but I was also proud of how I handled the situation. The adrenaline was flowing through my body because the entire action happened so fast I just did it without really thinking of any consequences. This was so out of character for me. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if the owner was running after me, but he wasn’t. I lit a cigarette, inhaled and wondered at which fork in the road had I made the wrong turn with my life. Was I aware when I made this wrong turn, or was I so busy trying to control my destiny that I hadn’t even noticed?
I tried to gather my thoughts and decide what I was going to do when I got home. I took another drag from the cigarette and thought how hard it was trying to quit smoking them. Even though I had cut back to only five cigarettes a day from my usual full pack, the thick smell of smoke continued to seduce me. My head was spinning with a myriad of thoughts. I was thinking about some of the problems in the screenplay I was writing and trying to find solutions to correct them, but my plot line was interrupted by the subplot of my own current life.
“Write from your heart,” I could hear my writing teacher say at the Upper West Side-Y, “Always write what you know.”
“I am writing from my heart,” I whined.