The Big Rush
Griff strode through his kitchen like a colossus. That wasn’t his actual name, of course. A griffin called Griff? Don’t be ridiculous. He was given the somewhat uninspiring name “Gregory” at birth, but he changed it when he opened his first restaurant in Canterlot. A griffin-run restaurant in a city populated mostly by ponies was unusual enough to draw in a decent crowd, and Griff capitalized on that fact without hesitation. Not that he needed the help; at least not now that he was an established name in the culinary world. Novelty may have brought the punters in, but his skill as a chef kept them coming back for more.
He was a fairly typical griffin, the brown fur on his haunches giving way to white feathers on his chest and shoulders. He kept his head-feathers slicked back, under his toque, and tucked his powerful wings under his chef’s jacket to keep them out of the way. He had a proud, straight beak which seemed permanently locked in a cocky grin.
He was a bona fide celebrity these days, opening fine dining establishments in Londun, Hoofington, and Fillydephia. However, he spent most of his time in his flagship, La Gárgouille, located in a prime section of Canterlot’s restaurant district. He billed it as a classical French brasserie, although since ponies were almost exclusively vegetarian and French cuisine almost exclusively wasn’t, he relied on a good bit of fusion. It was a high-volume restaurant, and its large main kitchen was a maze of ovens, prep stations, storage shelves and gas stoves, all in gleaming stainless steel. It was here that he had made a name for himself, and he ran a tight ship.
“Sue, where in the living fuck are my dahlias?” Griff bellowed. Sue, a light grey unicorn, was Griff’s sous chef. By now, the staff knew that any jokes involving “sous-Sue-sudio” around her would result in a week behind a mop. She could have easily gone by her full name, Crepes Suzette, but it was nice to have something to haze the interns with.
“No dahlias, chef. Fils de putain supply truck driver left them at the goddamn greenhouse.” she said, matching his stride. As in every other fine restaurant in the universe, the cooks communicated in their own special combination of French, Spanish, English, and profanity. Mostly the latter. Griff not only allowed this, he encouraged it. The kitchen was far enough from the dining room that the customers wouldn’t hear it, and it was a great way for the cooks to blow off steam without resorting to thrown cutlery. Griff’s own swearing had taken on a surreal quality lately, as he kept trying to outdo his staffs’ creative use of vulgarity.
“Fuck-shitting piss-nutter.” he grumbled. “Then what are we putting in our arse-dicking salad?”
Sue shrugged. “Rose petals?” she suggested, uncertainly.
“Ech, no. This isn’t Grandma’s la-de-fucking-dah tea room.” He stopped walking momentarily, putting a claw against his temple in thought. “Use a combination of orchids and lotus blossoms. We’re kicking this bitch to Chinatown.”
“Oui, chef.” she replied with a curt nod. “I’ll have Christophe reprint the menus.” Griff sent her off with a curt nod of his own, turning to face the rest of his staff.
“Alright, you sorry sons of whores,” he addressed them, affectionately. “Twenty minutes ‘til we open. Now, we’ve got a double arse load of reservations tonight, so I want to see some sharp, focused work. You keep your hooves off each other’s nut-sacks long enough to get through this, and we’ll have ourselves a good goddamn day. Understood?”
“Oui, chef!” they replied in practiced unison.
“That’s what I like to hear!” he said, a proud grin spreading across his beak. “Onward, to motherfucking glory!”
Griff’s staff mostly consisted of ponies. He liked it that way, even though the general population of Canterlot gave him little choice in the matter. Their cutie marks, or “tramp stamps”, in a typical example of kitchen slang, were a good way of telling where a potential employee’s talents led. Sue, for example, had a chef’s toque on her flank, and sure enough, she was prime management material. Boo, the baker, had a grayish blob of a mark that he kept having to explain was a yeast cell, and he turned out tray after tray of baguettes so delicious it was a sin to give the things away for free. Griff relied heavily on his pâtissier, Butter Cream, an orange pegasus with a whisk-shaped mark, since he couldn’t stand sugary shit and she was able to handle the dessert side on her own. Chops, a steel grey unicorn with crossed chef’s knives for his mark, had the best knife skills of any garde manger Griff had ever hired. Another unicorn was Crispy, the pale-yellow friturier with a fryer basket mark, which was a little ironic since he could simply levitate the hot frites out of the oil, no basket necessary. Unicorns had a definite advantage in this respect, but earth ponies generally managed just fine. One of these was Sudsy Shine, who, God help him, had the image of a stack of dishes on his blue ass, though he seemed content enough in the dish room. The only non-pony was Bernard, a smug bastard of a zebra who was Griff’s best cook, and he knew it. He was the chef de partie, and kept the other line cooks, well, in line. The line cooks, a scraggly, overworked bunch, prepared the orders as they came in, doing the bulk of the à la minute cooking. The service staff were mostly pegasus, since they were quick, and the diners got a kick out of receiving their meals par avion.
Union regulations said he couldn’t discriminate based on a pony’s cutie mark, but the issue rarely came up. Professional restaurant work wasn’t for people without a passion for the job. Even when Griff employed blank flanks, usually as interns, they either gained an appropriate cutie mark within days, sometimes even hours, of starting, or they left soon enough on their own. The only exception, rather worryingly, was a little pink filly who had been interning for over six months without gaining any mark at all. He checked in on her during the lunch rush, while she was helping Chops prep a case of cucumbers.
“How’s it going, Pinks?” said Griff, toning down his language for the kid.
“Ah’m othay Thef.” she said through the knife handle in her mouth. Unfortunately, Griff could tell she wasn’t okay. Though she worked diligently, her cuts were getting sloppy, and her pile of finished slices wasn’t anywhere near as large as Chops’. The poor kid had tried every station in the kitchen, and didn’t seem to have the knack for any of them. She had some aptitude for pastry work, but Cream had to watch the girl like a hawk, since she apparently couldn’t tell when the baked goods were burnt beyond recognition. Griff continued giving her a chance, however, since everyone in the kitchen loved the hell out of her, thinking of her as the kitchen’s little mascot. Sue was especially fond of her, calling her “mon petit poney”. In spite of his macho bluster in front of the other cooks, Griff had a soft heart, and he genuinely wanted to see her succeed. Plus, he had to admit she looked adorable in her little white pillbox hat and chef’s jacket. As he was walking away, Pinkie gave a sudden, frightened squeak, dropping her knife and running up to him.
“Mr. Griff! Mr. Griff!” she said, pulling on the sleeves of his jacket.
“What’s wrong, Pinks? You cut yourself?”
“No, it’s my knee! It’s all pinchy!”
Griff blinked. “I’m not sure what you want me to do about that, Pinkie. C’mon, you’ve got work to do.” he said, turning to leave again.
“But it’s never been this bad before! Something…” She was interrupted as Christophe, the maître d’, came running into the kitchen at a full gallop.
“Problem, chef!” he said, panting.
“What is it now?” said Griff.
“Table for sixty just walked in, Sir.”
“So?” Griff scoffed. “I didn’t see a sixty-top in the reservations. Tell them to fuck off.”
“You don’t understand!” the pony wailed, “It’s Celestia’s retinue!” The kitchen suddenly went quiet.
“Madre de merde…” said Boo, the color somehow draining out of the unicorn’s already pure white face.
“God fucking dammit.” Griff swore, not at all under his breath. They couldn’t turn away Celestia, not even without a reservation. The main dining room was already full to capacity. Although this was the first time the princess had come to his restaurant, a surprise visit from royalty was always a possibility in Canterlot. He had a private lounge ready on the second floor for just such an event. “Have they ordered yet?” he asked.
“She said…” the maître d’ wept, “She said surprise her!”
Great, thought Griff, an omakase order on top of everything. “How are we for time?” he said.
“She said to take as long as you needed,” said Christophe, “But we can’t keep her waiting. She’s the princess!”
Griff didn’t hesitate. He would have to take care of this himself. A good executive chef (and Griff was nothing if not a good exec chef) rarely needed to cook anything personally. Sure, he decided on the menu and kept the place running smoothly, but all the practical work was handled by his staff. Still, he thought, it’ll be nice to get my claws dirty again. He pointed to Sue, Chops, and half a dozen of the line cooks who didn’t look too busy already.
“All of you, with me.” he said, “We’ll shake the cobwebs out of the upstairs event kitchen. The rest of you keep up with the main dining room. Bernard, you’re in charge down here.”
“What are we making?” said Sue, following him.
“I’m working on it.” said Griff, his mind working furiously. He’d have to pull out all the stops for the blue-bloods. “Just grab a little of everything and I’ll throw it together as we go. Chops,” he said, turning to the unicorn, “please tell me we have artichokes.”
“’Couple crates left in the walk-in, Boss,” said Chops, “should still be good.”
“Perfect.” said Griff, grinning. “Let’s show these party crashers what we’re made of.”
A few hours later, Griff and his chosen crew returned downstairs, tired but victorious.
“…can’t believe it.” Sue continued. “I mean, that politica del carciofo appetizer with the asparagus foam? That had no business tasting so good!”
“Dumb luck, really,” said Griff, blushing with pride, despite himself. “I just made it to buy us some time. Let ‘em fuck around with some artichokes while we get the main course ready.” Christophe was waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs.
“Christophe,” said Griff. “You better have good news for me or…” The maître d’ stopped him, putting a hoof to his lips, and then cleared his throat.
“It is my great honor to present to you,” he said, his voice quivering nervously. ”…the ruler of all Equestria, her highness, Princess Celestia.”
To the entire staffs’ shock, the swinging doors connecting the kitchen to the dining room opened by themselves and Celestia strode through, her wings majestically outstretched and her hair magically billowing in the still kitchen air. The ponies all bowed low at her entrance, but Griff boldly remained standing. There was an unspoken rule that griffins didn’t have to kowtow to the princess, and at the moment, Griff was unspeaking the hell out of it. As far as he was concerned, she was a visiting dignitary to his kingdom.
“There’s no need to be so formal,” she said with a good-natured chuckle. “I simply wanted to thank the chef personally for an exquisite meal. I would also like to apologize for not securing a reservation beforehand. I certainly hope my rather sudden arrival hasn’t caused too much trouble.”
“Not at all,” said Griff through a gritted beak. “Though, may I ask why you chose to dine here this afternoon? If it’s not an impolite question, of course.”
“My student.” Celestia replied, moving her left wing to reveal a young, purple unicorn had been hiding, no, full on cowering behind it. “She’s rather shy, as you can see. She spends too much time cooped up in her quarters with her nose in a book to socialize. I thought ‘what better place to learn how to do that than at the best restaurant in all of Equestria?’” The filly gave a timid wave to the Chef, but remained silent.
“Thank you very much for the compliment,” said Griff, “and for your patronage. You are welcome back any time. Although, in the future, a heads-up before your arrival would be greatly appreciated.”
“Of course.” she said with a graceful nod. “I’m sure you have much work to do, so I will take my leave.” She turned, her young student following her out the door. Griff stared at the door for a long moment after they were gone.
“Bitch needs fifty-eight people to take her student to lunch?” he said quietly, under his breath. This made his staff uncomfortable. Griff didn’t know whether it was blasphemy, sedition, or some combination of the two, but right now he didn’t care. Still, he thought, cute kid. Forgot to get her name. Couldn’t have been much older than…
“Pinkie…” he said, suddenly. She had been asking him for help with… something, Griff couldn’t remember what, and he had just abandoned her. He looked around the kitchen, but was unable to find her. “Bernard,” he said, walking over to the zebra. “Where’s Pinks?”
“Don’t know, chef.” said Bernard, not looking up from his work. “She went AWOL.”
“The fuck you just say?” said Griff, his anger rising.
“Hey, don’t blame me,” Bernard said, defensively. “She was slowing me down, so I just told her off a little, and she ran off. Not my fault if she couldn’t keep up with the line.”
“You put her on the goddamn line?” Griff said, exploding with rage.
“Hey, you took half my crew. The fuck was I suppose to do?”
“You listen to me, you smug fuck.” Griff said in a calm, quiet voice he knew terrified his crew more than any amount of shouting. “You may be able to handle the line. You may know how to cook. Hell, you’re probably better at it than I am. But you don’t know shit one about handling people.” The zebra fumed, but said nothing. Griff continued, “You asked me yesterday why I promoted Sue over you? Well, now you have your fucking answer.” That pissed him off, he thought, turning away from the stricken zebra. Good. Stupid shit. “Sue…?” he started.
“Already on it.” she said, dashing off with a worried look on her face. Griff addressed the rest of his staff, who had been staring, slack-jawed, at their comrade’s dressing-down. “Back to work. We still have dinner service coming up.” he said, before joining in Sue’s search for Pinkie.
They eventually found her curled up in the corner of the walk-in refrigerator. She was singing a song softly to herself, but Griff couldn’t make out the words.
Griff met up with Sue outside his office. She wasn’t wearing her jacket, having put it over Pinkie’s shoulders as she led her out of the walk-in. Pinkie herself was on the other side of the office door, waiting for him. “What do you think?” he said to Sue, unable to meet her gaze.
She screwed up her face. “Don’t make me say it.”
“I mean,” said Griff. “It would be cruel to keep her here, right?” Sue looked away, unwilling to answer. He sighed. “Fuck. I’ll just see how this goes.” He took a deep breath and pushed open the office door. He mustered up a confident, but concerned, face and shut the door, quietly, behind him. He had no idea what to say.
“Feeling any better, champ?” he tried, feeling stupid.
“Am I fired?” she said, looking up at him. Her big, dewy eyes twisted into Griff like a knife blade.
“No one’s firing anyone.” he said, looking away before the eyes could tear him to shreds. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. You gave us a scare back there.” He risked a look back at her. “You know everyone here likes you a lot, don’t you?”
She sniffed. “Bernie doesn’t like me.” she said.
“Bernie’s an asshole.” said Griff. Slight smile there, he thought. That was something.
“I just…” said Pinkie with a wavering voice. “I just want to be good at this so bad.”
Griff sighed inwardly. Lacking a better idea, he fell back on an old speech he gave everyone he employed at least once. He hoped she hadn’t already heard it. “Let me tell you a story.” he said. “When I was a little chick, no older than you, I went to my culinary school teachers with an idea I had for savory gourmet oatmeal. They took one look at me and you know what they said?” He chucked her gently on the shoulder in an attempt at playfulness. “They said, ‘Oatmeal, are you crazy?’ And maybe I was. But here it is, years later, and now people write books about my oatmeal. They say it’s better than the finest risotto. And that’s because I…”
“…you followed your passion.” she said. “You told me this the day I started my internship.”
“I meant it then, and I mean it now.” he said, recovering. “Look, Pinkie, let’s be honest with each other.” He sat down, lowering his face to her eye level. “This is a rough business. It’s got long hours, high stress, and low pay. People don’t work in restaurants to get rich, they do it because they have a passion for it. And ponies have a pretty big tell for what they’re passionate about. Your cutie mark hasn’t shown up for as long as you’ve worked here, and it never will if you keep working at a job that makes you miserable. What exactly is keeping you here?”
Pinkie mumbled something unintelligible.
“I’m sorry?” said Griff, leaning closer.
“I said, ‘You are!’” Fresh tears appeared on the filly’s face.
“I… what?” he stammered. “Pinkie, when did I ever say you had to keep working here?”
“It’s not like that!” she said, her voice dropping to barely above a whisper. “I… I like you. I didn’t want to leave because I didn’t want to leave you.”
Griff’s eyes went wide, his heart leaping into his throat. Fuck me, he thought, I didn’t see that coming.
“I know I’m too young…” she said, either not noticing or ignoring Griff’s reaction. “I didn’t expect you to… I mean, I thought, when I’m older…”
Griff started sweating, blood rushing to his face. This was all happening too fast for him to keep up with. “Look, Pinkie, I’m, I’m flattered…” he said, “Really, I am, but I… um, wow.” He gave a desperate laugh. “I mean, we aren’t even the same species…” Shit, that was the wrong thing to say, he thought. Now she looked worse than ever. He took a few more deep breaths, collecting himself.
“Pinkie, you can’t keep working a job you hate forever because of…” he stammered, “Well, because of that. I can’t let you do that to yourself.”
A thought occurred to him. It was a long shot, but he didn’t see many other ways out of this. “Listen, Pinks,” he said, “I have this friend, Carrot Cake, who lives in Ponyville. He and his wife run a little bake shop there. It’s just the two of them, so they could use an extra hoof or two. You could try it out, just for a few weeks, maybe. It’s much, much less stressful than working here, and if you don’t like it, you could come right back, if you want.” Pinkie didn’t say anything for a long moment. Griff tried a new tactic.
“They’re going to be catering the Spring Blossom festival that’s coming up in Ponyville.” he said, “That could be fun, right? Planning a big party?”
She sniffled. “If I go…” she said, “Could I write you, like, letters and stuff?”
Griff nodded. “Every day, if you want.”
“And…” she added, “Will you write back to me?”
“I promise.” he said, “But you don’t have to decide right away. Take the rest of the day off. Think about it. We can talk again tomorrow.” She seemed satisfied with this. He backed out of the office to give her a moment alone. On the way out, he almost ran into Sue, who had been standing with her ear pressed against the door. He clicked the door shut.
“So, you heard everything, I guess?” he said.
She nodded. “You handled it as best you could.” she said, “Mostly. Considering the circumstances.”
He shook his head incredulously. “I swear,” he said, “I had no idea she had a crush on me!” He made his way back to the kitchen, back to work. Sue looked at him as he left.
“You’re the only goddamn one who didn’t.” she said, quietly.
Pinkie never did end up returning to La Gárgouille, but that was a good thing. She did end up writing to Griff almost every day for years, telling him about her new friends, her job, and how happy she was to finally be doing what she loved. Griff kept his promise, too. He told her about the goings-on in the kitchen, like when Chops left to start his own restaurant, and how it made Griff feel like a proud father. Bernard kept working the same job, of course, knowing he couldn’t do better anywhere else. Griff took a certain sly satisfaction from that. Eventually, somewhat reluctantly, he told Pinkie about his engagement to Sue. She took it well. It had been years since she had left, and she had done a lot of growing up in the intervening time.
“Another one I didn’t see coming at first,” Griff wrote about his engagement. “I’m bad at this, aren’t I?”
Over the years, the letters slowed to a crawl, and eventually stopped coming altogether. That was a good thing, too. Her last letter was as light and casual as any of the others, leaving a lot of things unsaid. His reply was equally casual. He told her about the new bistro he was opening downtown, how excited he was to start something new. He only left out one detail. He had decided to call it Pink’s.