Of frosting and cake

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“Did you know that we have the most number of hotel bookings in Chennai, this week?”  

Harish Swaminathan tried his best to ignore the mellifluous tones of Maya Tharakan's voice. But just like her, the voice effortlessly broke through his concentration. Letting out a deep sigh, he put down the silicon spatula that he was using to smoothen the frosting and looked at her. As her midnight black eyes met his dull grey ones, she grinned - the top row of her perfect white teeth shining as her dusky pink lips parted and gently curved upwards.

 

“Is it?” he asked, trying to feign some interest in the conversation. "Mr. Sinha must be thrilled,“ he added, trying to avert his gaze, “After all, it isn’t every day that one of the leading mid-segment hotels in Chennai gets so many bookings.”

 

He smirked as the words left his mouth. Arun, the Front Office manager, had told him that the sudden surge in bookings had been because of a large wedding party, who had bulk booked almost the entire hotel.

 

“Oh, yes! I just spoke to Mr. Sinha." replied Maya, as she put on her chef-whites over the sunflower yellow frock she was wearing, "He’s been running around trying to rally up some of the part-time staff to do full shifts. It’s a wedding, after all. And we’re doing the cake!”.

 

Harish let out another loud sigh. His schedule was extremely packed and the last thing he'd wanted to sign up for was to create a three tier-wedding cake.

 

"You should have checked with me before committing, Maya." he moaned, shaking his head vehemently.

 

"And why is that? I'm the head. You report to me. Not the other way around. Plus, I think it's good exposure for us." stated Maya, whirling around to pick up her chef's hat from the table.

 

Harish couldn't help but notice her jet black tresses tumbling onto her shoulders, like waterfall cascading mildly over a rocky edge. As she turned back, their eyes met and he looked away, feeling embarrassed like a child who had been caught staring at the forbidden cookie jar. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. There was something about her. He loved the enthusiasm and passion that she brought to the kitchen and her strong work ethics. At the same time, he hated it when she took decisions without consulting him.

 

'But she's the boss!' muttered his inner voice, as he opened his eyes and faced her.

 

Paying no heed to his blushes, Maya picked up the spatula that he had left on the counter. "So, are we ready?" she asked, delicately scraping away the excess frosting from the cake he had been working on and gently smoothing the curves. She dipped her little finger into the surplus icing that she had removed and licked it.

 

“Mmmm…” she hummed, as Harish tried to make sense of her reaction. “Not bad, Mr. Sous-chef!” she said cheerfully, walking towards her station.

 

“That’s it? Not bad?" Harish could feel his temper starting to flare again. He took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself and turned around to face her. “It’s impressive, and you know that!” he stated, a sudden tone of arrogance creeping into this voice.

 

“It’s good. I mean, it’s a very elegant lemon thyme cake. And I love the alternating layers of lemon curd and vanilla buttercream. And that hint of chocolate in the sponge is a masterpiece. But there is this sort of tangy after taste to the frosting, that kind of throws it off-balance ever so slightly.  I can help fix it, if you want.” Maya replied slyly, as she walked across to the larder to check on the ingredients for the wedding cake.

 

“It's fine. I’ll figure it out!” Harish replied curtly, flinging his hat onto the counter and unbuttoning his  jacket that had chocolate and vanilla streaks across it. Rolling up the sleeves of his shirt, he stormed off towards the emergency exit. He badly needed a smoke.

 

************

 

 

As the strong fumes of tobacco engulfed his lungs, he felt calmer.

 

‘I must really give this up.’ he mused, as his eyes swept across the Chennai skyline from the 24th floor of the hotel. He glanced at the watch and smiled as he realised the significance of the date. He’d started here as line cook exactly a decade ago. Back then, the Golden Star was one amongst a few select boutique hotels in Chennai. His hard work and persistence had paid off and eventually he’d moved to their patisserie, where he had discovered his true calling. Within a few years, he was one of the most sought after pastry chefs in the city. That had been four years ago.

 

And then Maya Tharakan had arrived. Young, vivacious, bubbly and  gorgeous, she was as comfortable in the kitchen as she probably would have been on a fashion ramp. Harish had been completely undone by her beauty and he soon found himself drawn to her.

 

However Maya shot him down, citing her disinterest in dating anyone she worked with. Things soon started to become awkward between them. They tried to remain professional and courteous, but often went out of their way to avoid each other. Eventually when Maya was promoted over him as the Head Chef for the patisserie, Harish knew it was time to look else where.

 

But then something had happened.

 

“You done with your smoking? We need to discuss about the cake!”

 

Maya interrupted his thoughts, as she peeked out through the emergency door.

 

He glared at her, continuing to draw a deep whiff of the cigarette. The hot Chennai breeze blew through her curls, straightening them into waves that whipped about behind her, as she gently shook her head in disapproval.

 

Harish turned back to look at the skyline. ‘Can’t a man get some peace!’ he muttered as her heels gently clattered against the floor tiles.

 

“Harish..” Maya’s tone was subdued as she addressed him. “Look at me!” she continued, placing her hands on his.

 

Harish turned around to face her. He couldn’t help but notice a twinkle in her eyes. As their eyes met, her mouth twitched, as if she was trying to fight back a smile. Slowly, her lips curved upwards and two tiny dimples appeared on her cheeks as she broke into a smile. A smile that was warm, but with a hint of shyness.

 

Standing on her tiptoes, so that she could reach his face, Maya gently pinched his chubby cheeks.

 

“The cake was perfect - Rich yet light and fluffy, delectable, deliciously tangy, and more-ish," she said, playfully punching his arm, "just like you, my dear husband. Now let’s go make that wedding cake!."

**********


 

 

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