The new chef created a stir. A pony-tailed young spunk in a leather motorcycle jacket, wide-shouldered and long legged, with eyes like chips of blue ice. He raised a nonchalant eyebrow in greeting and the kitchen froze, absolutely spellbound. With the exception of myself, the crew were all gay men. Eyes and nostrils widened, knives paused over chopping boards. The breathless silence was broken by someone going, “Oooooh-wee!”
This cry of admiration made the new boy blush and hearts melted or thumped harder. He wasn't just a beautifully carved chunk of masculinity - he was sensitive too! His look of confusion, the bright red flush on his face, was one of the only two times I ever saw him lose his cool.
The new boy was good, fast and precise, and for three months he worked with us at the catering kitchen, prepping and going out on gigs. Each morning the rumble of a Triumph motorbike heralded his arrival and he would enter the kitchen to a silent hum of appreciation. If he bent or squatted at work, his fine lines thrown into muscular relief, then the cheeky younger ones would purse their lips appreciatively and roll their eyes in mock ecstasy. The Head Chef, who hated any sort of vulgarity, would irritably gesture at them to bloody well focus on the task at hand.
The new chef played it cool, but he knew damn well he was making more steam in the kitchen than a Hobart 10 tray Combi Plus ever could. Moving with a measured grace, avoiding eye contact and casual conversation, he exuded a rock hard machismo. The boys fucking loved it.
As time went by his smouldering persona did not change and I sensed his sex appeal was a big part of who he was. He'd polished this gift and any moment in his shift could have been a photograph. Standing with his hands on his hips thinking. Setting his lightly stubbled jaw in concentration. Working in a deft, unhurried way, his jacket sleeves rolled up, his strong forearms all suntan, tatts and blonde hair.
Then suddenly, he'd look up and destroy one of the lads with an unknowable look from his baby blues. It was like Paul Newman reincarnated as a panther. This rare and highly desired phenomena became known as 'Blue Platinum'.
The uncharitable might have said he was a posey wanker, but he was a little deeper than that, navigating a perfect mix of unconscious cool and blinding narcissism. The knock-out punch was the frisson of danger he gave off. He was definitely a bad boy. It wasn't just the tattoos and motorbike - it was his whole demeanour. Just on the right side of surly he'd rather nod than speak. When he did speak his accent was suburban rough. Obviously he was capable of holding his own in a punch-on and God knows what he got up to on that bike.
The new chef, now known behind his back as The Spunk, quickly worked out that I was the other straight boy in the place and in a quiet moment said, “Hey, um . . . the chefs here are all . . .y'know . . .”
I agreed and asked him if that was a problem. A slight frown marred his easy shake of the head. The lusty admiration he was inspiring appeared to be something new to him. He was straight in more ways the one, but if he had any bogan or redneck tendencies regarding sexual orientation - it never showed. He kept his cool, pretending ignorance of the effect he was having, and day after day the show went on.
Christmas was coming up and The Spunk asked me if I'd work with him on a Christmas lunch he had on outside of work. I had no bookings and I agreed. It was six hours prep on the 24th and then four hours cooking and serving lunch. On the appointed day I made my way to one of the oldest R.S.L clubs in the country. The menu was classic Christmas fare - enough for eighty - and we prepped it up real good. The next day travelling through empty streets, the only passenger on the bus, I made conversation with the driver, a laughing Maori guy in a Santa hat who refused to take my fare. Lunch went down well and The Spunk and I had a knock off beer. We hadn't talked money and when he gave me eight hundred bucks for ten hours work I was most pleased.
As we sat in a darkened back room of the R.S.L. he passed me a newspaper clipping. It told of a high speed chase through central Sydney and into the suburbs. The police, on motorbikes, in cars and a chopper, had pursued an unregistered motorcyclist for nearly two hours - only to lose their quarry somewhere near Bankstown. I didn't have to ask him who this lunatic daredevil was. He gave me a faint grin, carefully refolded the clipping and slipped it back into his wallet.
Dangerous outlaw behaviour is really not to be admired, but I liked this rebel tale told without words, and the roll of fifties too. So, with my heterosexuality intact, I also fell under The Spunks' spell. Having this daring character in the kitchen was pretty damn cool and I told friends about the Mad Max meets the Chippendales dude at work. As time went by his presence added to the kitchen's good morale and we all felt damn lucky to have him.
One day The Spunk and I did a gig at a vineyard out of town- a lunch for forty. Our two waiting staff were both attractive and confident young women, totally adept at flirting in a knowing, sometimes predatory way. They immediately latched onto the Spunk, leaning over the pass, their amused eyes competing with their cleavages. Gorgeous smiles, cheeky quips and languid husky laughter enveloped our boy.
He went into overdrive, darting, stretching and pirouetting like a Nijinsky in steel-cap boots. Here was a real audience, not a mob of leery work-mates in the prep kitchen, but good looking women bubbling with the same sexual confidence that he had. Of course he totally ignored them, intent on winning this sexually charged skirmish with moves not words, and the waitresses went all out with a barrage of amused pouts, saucy asides and cheek-to-cheek girl hugging.
With a triple hit of pheromones and many double entendres flying around, the entrees went out. Soon the mains were ready and the Salmon Coulibiac, whole fillets baked in crepes and brioche, and the Saddle of Spring Lamb stuffed with baby spinach and macadamia nuts needed to come out of the ovens to be sliced. I got out my carving knife and looked around for my colleague. He was nowhere to be seen. Neither were the waitresses. With a mix of irritation and jealousy I wondered if an impromptu menage a trois was happening in a store-room. Then the two waitresses brought some dirty cutlery into the kitchen from the dining room and I went looking for The Spunk.
I found him hiding in the staff toilet in complete red-faced disarray. Laconic at the best of times he was now mute. I pressed him, gently but firmly, super-aware of the lamb and salmon in the ovens, and finally got to the bottom of it. During one of his head-turning moves for the girls he'd ripped his tight chef's pants. Bad? I asked and he turned in the cubicle, throwing a wide-eyed look over his shoulder like a calf being hog-tied. Oh dear - the crutch of his pants was totally open. He was basically wearing chaps attached to the waistband, and even worse - he had no underwear on! No wonder he was freaking. Then I saw a flash of bright red . . . up there, and with startled relief I realised that he was rocking a g-string.
The poor bastard, cowering defeated in the toilet stall and looking utterly uncool, was extremely reluctant to come out. I felt sympathy, and dismay at seeing him like this, but I couldn't do the service on my own. I needed a solution - and fast.
Like me he was wearing a short waist-apron that didn't quite cover the goods and if he wore my apron as well, put on backwards, it would cover his bum . . . halfway. This would accentuate, not hide the problem. With an encouraging laugh I suggested he just ditch the pants and do the service in full hilarious boots and thong glory - give the waitresses a thrill and laugh too. Strangely he didn't go for that so I made him put on my apron, dashed back to kitchen and grabbed some tea towels. We tucked them into the aprons strings all around his waist creating a kind of sarong. It looked very silly but it gave The Spunk enough confidence to do the service.
The two waitresses took the mains out before they cottoned on to the implications of The Spunk's weird garb and his newly demure manner. They guessed in an instant and their flirting turned into downright harassment. Every time they brought plates and glasses into the kitchen they tried to yank a tea towel away, crowing with laughter at The Spunk's embarrassment. What absolute rotters they were.
The Spunk's poise was now dashed and being trampled on. He skittered nervously around the kitchen; zipping out the back every time his giggling tormentors appeared. The Battle of the Sexies had become a rout. I had to step in, pointing a finger and raising my voice, and the girls retreated out front with a triumphant gleam in their eyes.
The two hour drive back to the catering kitchen went by in troubled silence. As we arrived at the prep kitchen car park The Spunk asked me in almost begging tones if I could grab his bike jacket from the staff room and then unload the van on my own. He wanted to just get on his bike, cover his shame with his leathers and go home. That was fine I told him. No problems at all. He looked very grateful, gave my shoulder a manly squeeze and then painfully asked me one more favour. He nodded at the kitchen door. “You won't tell them about what happened will you?”
I assured him I wouldn't, but I did. After he'd left us and gone on to another job though. The boys fucking loved it.