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  • One of our early restaurant specialties in 1980 was chicken breast in peanut sauce. There was a man in town that came in regularly just to enjoy this dish. Whenever I happened to be there, he assured me with the most flowery words that his meal had been delicious once again and that he never tired of it.

    “I truly admire how you always maintain the same quality,” he repeated with much admiration.

    But one night this client left a note with our cashier. He wrote that the peanut sauce had been absolutely terrible that day.

    After reading this message, my husband and I rushed into the kitchen to find out what had happened. Our main cook, now Doña Mati, stood over a huge pot with a wooden spoon in her hand, stirring its hidden contents.

    “One of our best clients comes in every week for chicken in peanut sauce. But he said today’s tasted so terrible that he could not finish it!” my husband fumed.

    Doña Mati let the spoon drop into the pot and turned around. Instead of looking at us, though, she bit her lip. Finally she snapped, “I did not make it! The cook from the morning shift ruined that sauce!”

    The incident kept boiling inside my husband. We had finally succeeded in establishing a good reputation for our restaurant and were beginning to make a profit. And now our own cooks were ruining our good name!

    The next day we made sure we were in the kitchen when the morning and afternoon shifts changed. The morning chef was Doña Trini. We confronted her and Doña Mati with the peanut sauce fiasco. At first both women stared stubbornly at the floor tiles. I thought their faces were much too red.

    Finally Doña Trini looked at my husband and burst out, “I asked Doña Mati yesterday if the peanut sauce was still okay and she said, ‘Yes’. That is why I did not prepare a fresh batch!”

    My husband scrutinized Doña Mati´s face with his angry eyes until she burst into tears. “Doña Trini tells my entire neighborhood that I am not a good cook,” she sobbed.

    Hearing this, Doña Trini´s eyes shone like a warrior’s. “And you, Doña Mati. You better stop looking at my husband the way you do! Maybe then you would concentrate better on your cooking!” she shouted.

    “That old drunk of a husband,” snapped Doña Mati right back. “How can you think I would flirt with somebody like that? I already have one like that at home!”

    Now both women were crying. My husband took them out of the kitchen, away from the eager eyes and ears of the rest of the kitchen staff.

    He was calm now.

    “I do not know,” he said, “Who flirts with whose husband. But both of you are very good cooks, otherwise I would not have you work here. You must stop gossiping and trading accusations or else everybody who works in the kitchen will suffer and, as we have seen, our clients will too!”

    I did not know if Doña Mati had actually flirted with Doña Trini´s husband. If she had, who knew (quien sabe) if she would stop now? We heard from others, though, that Doña Trini continued to tell their mutual neighbors that Doña Mati was a very bad cook and that she, Doña Trini, was Don Gabriel, my husband’s, favorite.

    One day Doña Mati broke down again in tears. She took her apron off, came to my husband and sobbed, “Don Gabriel, thank you very much, but I cannot keep working here. Doña Trini continues to talk terribly about me around my neighborhood. I cannot take it anymore!”

    My husband tried everything to change Doña Mati´s mind. She was a very good cook. We did not want to lose her, but she would not be moved.

    We hired a new afternoon chef. Two months later the new cook ended up in a similar row with Doña Trini. We discovered that she lived in Doña Trini’s neighborhood as well. Finally we had to pay Doña Trini off and let her go.

    Since then we always check that our kitchen chefs do not live in the same neighborhood.

    The client who loved chicken in peanut sauce did not return for a long time. Then one day we took it off the menu.

    This was so very many years ago.

    Later we had a cheff, who resembled – in my eyes – a huge teddy – bear. A young man, who cooked delicious meals, but always fought with the cooks, so we had to let him go. Soon after he was taken to prison, his nickname was “La mojarra” and he was a hit – man: he had killed the chief of police in Tapachula, the largest city in Chiapas.

    A couple of years ago a new waiter, who had entered working for us, suddenly did not appear at work one morning. Later that day we saw him in the news: dead. He had killed his wife and step – son in a rage of jealousy, but before dying the grown stepson had been able to also kill him. This was declared the worst crime of passion that the small Chiapanecan town of Ocosingo, where the man was from, had ever witnessed.

    Last year the lover of our cashier was taken to prison, a man from Honduras, who was a kidnapper and murderer of several women. The cashier found out opening the newspaper one morning. Her man had not returned home the night before. She could not believe it, she said, he had been such a good stepfather to her two children!

    Last night my employee in the gallery, right beside our restaurant, received a phone call: a man´s voice told her that in a few minutes a man would pass by and she was to hand over to him all the money in the cashier, otherwise they would cut her tongue! She hung up, went into a complete panic. We traced the call. It had been made from a prison in the north of Mexico, thousands of miles away…..

    I long for the kitchen – gossip of the old times, I tell you!

    __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Art by Kiki
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