A Yurble stole my cinnamon roll! Circulation: 197,504,875 Issue: 982 | 5th day of Hunting, Y25
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Unsung Heroes: Behind the Scenes Neopians Part 3


by thebanditrocks

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Author’s Note: This is the third in a series of interviews conducted with a handful of Neopia’s unsung heroes – those who keep our world spinning (sometimes, quite literally!). From gardeners to engineers, these often thankless jobs are the backbone of the Neopian way of life. I have spent months travelling all across the globe, trying to convince many of these humble public servants to sit down with me for even a short while. While many were hesitant at first, all eventually opened up to me and shared wonderful stories, wisdom, and insights, which I hope I have captured adequately for all readers to enjoy.

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     In all my years spent travelling Neopia, there is one memory that stands tall above all the rest – my first dining experience at Kelp, the world-renowned fine dining establishment in Maraqua. I’ll never forget the first time I stepped into the unassuming round building with the frosted windows – one of many things that lend Kelp its sense of exclusivity, even after all this time. I have been chasing that dining experience since that day, sadly to no avail. That’s why I can feel my own heartbeat quicken as I walk up to the restaurant now. It’s late – an hour after the last diners of the evening have paid their checks and gone home – but I’ve been saving my appetite all day for this, and now that I’m standing at the door, waiting to be let inside, I can hardly believe it. I make a mental note to send the Breadmaster (another) thank you gift for arranging this meeting. Just then, the door to Kelp swings wide and I am facing the longstanding and famous-in-his-own-right Maître d ‘. He is a Maraquan Scorchio, with a slim build and a discerning brow. His suit jacket and cummerbund are clearly of fine quality and expertly tailored. He smiles politely and opens the door to usher me inside. Without a word, he escorts me to a small table in the centre of the restaurant. Then, he sits down to join me.

     Thebanditrocks: Thank you so much for agreeing to my interview, I have been looking forward to this for weeks now! I hope the late hour isn’t too much of a burden on you or the rest of the staff…

     The Maître d ‘: Not at all, miss. No one dining at Kelp is ever a burden – all of us here, this place is our passion. We live to see our guests happy and well-fed! And please, forgive my manners. It has been a long day, and I’ve forgotten myself. My name is Thomas, it is so nice to meet you. I’m told by the Breadmaster that you are quite the savvy interviewer!

     TBR: Oh, I don’t know about that! But it’s nice to meet you too, Thomas. Thank you again for agreeing to sit down with me. I can’t wait to hear all the best industry secrets!

     Thomas: I don’t think that I have many of those to share, but we shall see how it goes! I hope you came hungry – I had the chefs prepare a few dishes this evening in anticipation of your visit. I was actually hoping for your input – some of these items are brand new, and we’re looking for feedback before we add them to our permanent menu!

     TBR: That would be absolutely wonderful! There’s no finer food in Neopia than the food dished out here at Kelp.

     Just then, a waitress appears with two drinks on a tray. They seem to sparkle in the light, emitting a slight blue glow in the dim light of the dining room.

     Thomas: Thank you, Michelle, dear. This, my friend, is a new drink concoction we’re calling SparkleBerry Punch. It’s flashy, but I think you’ll find a depth of flavour that makes it clear this drink isn’t just for looks.

     I take a sip from the tall, stemmed glass, and can feel my taste buds explode with fruit juice and sparkling cider. I can’t think of a better way to begin this interview or meal.

     TBR: This is absolutely fabulous, Thomas! How inventive! Well, I hope you don’t mind if I jump right in to the actual interview – otherwise I am liable to forget the entire reason I’m here!

     Thomas: By all means, ask away!

     TBR: Well, let’s start at the beginning – how did you land the single most coveted job in all of Neopia’s dining scene?

     Thomas: Ah, that is a great question. The answer is really rather tedious, however. I simply worked my way here through determination and sheer force of will. I have had a passion for food my whole life, and my entire career has been a slow climb up the ladder of hospitality to arrive here today. My first job was actually serving room service to guests at the Mountain Lodge – I know, can you see me working in Happy Valley? I couldn’t either! After a short stint there, I moved to Neopia Central. There I tried my hand as a chef, working back-of-house at the Food Shop. It’s there that I met and befriended Massimo, the Breadmaster. I quickly learned that I was not cut out to be a chef, and that my skills were much more suited to front-of-house work. My experience in Neopia Central set me on the path of event planning and catering, where I began working for clients such as Fyora and King Hagan on events like royal banquets and state dinners. It was during that work that the owner of Kelp approached me about a new upscale dining establishment she was planning to open, and offered me the job as the Maître d ‘. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and I’ve been happily working here ever since.

     Michelle, the waitress, reappears with a collection of small plates for us to sample from. I am silently grateful for my audio recorder, because my focus on the interview is entirely lost as she begins to set the plates in front of us.

     Thomas: [to our waitress] Thank you again, Michelle. I appreciate you staying late this evening. [to me] I hope you’re hungry! These are all new dishes we’re thinking about adding to the menu. Your input on each will be greatly appreciated! Now, let’s see here. First, we have a new bacon-wrapped scallop appetizer, served with your choice of a lemon butter sauce or a fig pan-sauce. Next, a lobster macaroni and cheese topped with breadcrumbs brought in daily from Massimo’s bakery. For our new main courses, we have a mixed seafood lasagna. It’s made with scallops, shrimp, crab and lobster and is smothered in a delicious Alfredo sauce that is almost too decadent for words. And finally, my personal favourite new dish. I know it may not look fancy, but I think you’ll find this burger to be unparalleled in flavour and complexity. It is a premium waygu beef patty, topped with a thick slice of tart Arnapple, and a slice of the sharpest cheddar from the farms of Meridell. Sandwiched between two halves of a freshly baked ciabatta loaf, and smothered with a lemon chipotle aioli, I am not ashamed to say it is the best burger I have ever had! Please, dig in!

     Over the next 15 minutes, I try one heavenly bite after another. Everything is exquisite, I am once again lost in the experience and nearly forget that I have a job to do. I have to agree with Thomas – the burger is divine, and I implore each of you to try it as soon as you can!

     TBR: So, I believe you said earlier that you didn’t think you were “cut out” to be a chef, can you elaborate on that a bit?

     Thomas: Sure. It’s not that I am a bad cook, or that I didn’t enjoy the work, but I find what I enjoy most are the social aspects of my job. I love interacting with customers, seeing the smiles on their faces as they enjoy the dishes we have created. Chatting with them about their experiences, learning their preferences and doing my best to make them happy during their time with us. That is what I missed most when I was working the kitchen – I never got to interact with the customers I was cooking for. Maybe one day I will return to the kitchen, start my own small restaurant where the diners can all gather around and open kitchen and I can entertain them while I cook. That would be the dream!

     TBR: That sounds like it would be wonderful. Speaking of having your own restaurant, it seems like the owner of Kelp gives you a lot of autonomy over the menu. How does your relationship with her work, day-to-day?

     Thomas: Actually, the owner largely prefers to stay out of the limelight. After 18 years, I’m proud to say she trusts me implicitly to run Kelp as I see fit, and to make menu adjustments as needed. She is a dear friend to me, but a very private person, so I will respect her privacy and keep the details I give about her to a minimum, if that is alright.

     TBR: Oh, of course! My apologies, I didn’t mean to pry…

     Thomas: Not at all, not at all. You were not to have known! Ah, just in time to save us from an awkward pause in conversation, dessert!

     Michelle glides gracefully out of the kitchen, carrying two small ramekins on a tray. She sets them in front of us, producing a small blow-torch from a pocket hidden in her apron. Thomas smiles warmly at us both as she begins toasting what I now realize is crème brulee.

     Thomas: Sometimes, it’s best to stick to the simple pleasures. This raspberry crème brulee is a personal favourite dish of mine, and I thought it would be fun for our guests if we incorporated a tableside toasting element. Thank you again, Michelle!

     TBR: Yes, thank you so much! Actually, I believe you may have been my waitress the last time I dined here…

     Michelle: Probably so, dear. I’ve been here nearly as long as Thomas. It’s a fun place to work. I hope you’ve enjoyed your meal!

     TBR: Oh, it will be a meal I will never forget! So, Thomas, I have one last question for you. It’s already late and I don’t want to overstay my welcome.

     Thomas: No such thing! You are welcome here any time, any day!

     TBR: Well thank you, that means a lot to me. So, what secrets can you share about keeping a fine dining establishment so successful for so long? What keeps the lines long and the feel exclusive, even after all this time?

     Thomas: Oh, that’s an easy one. Exclusivity, and portion control! What we serve here can truly only be found under this roof. And we pride ourselves on making food so irresistible, that very few diners leave behind enough to take home! They have to keep coming back, they have no other choice!

     Thomas laughs heartily, and I can’t help but smile as I realize – he’s not wrong! I look at the pile of empty plates in front of us, and know I’ve found a new dining experience that I may now never be able to top.

     TBR: Thank you so much for your hospitality, Thomas. And please thank Michelle again for me, and the chef as well!

     Thomas: You’re welcome back any time, we always keep a special table in the back set aside for our friends. Have a lovely evening! We hope to see you soon!

 
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