Betting on Bailey

By: Tara Crescent

The phone rings and silence falls over the room. I take a deep breath and answer. “Sebastian Ardalan?” the disembodied voice on the other end of the line asks.

“Yes.” Helen crosses her fingers, and my restaurant manager Katya is chewing on her nails.

“Congratulations, Chef Ardalan,” the voice continues. “I’m happy to inform you that we’ve decided to award Seb New York a second Michelin star.”

Yes! I give the room a thumbs-up and everyone erupts in cheers. Without waiting for me to hang up, Helen pops the cork open on one of the champagne bottles. The staff are cheering, laughing and congratulating each other. Juliette jumps up and down in excitement, dancing a duet with one of the line cooks. I utter some words of thanks and hang up, grinning at the scenes of celebration in the room. Everyone in this room has toiled for this moment, and they deserve every bit of attention they’ll get when the word gets out about the second star.

My phone beeps. It’s a text message from Daniel. ‘Congratulations.’

I laugh out aloud. I have no idea how Daniel already knows. I likely never will. If I ask, he’ll merely look mysterious and tell me it’s his job to know. I’ll never be able to tell if it is a lucky guess, or if he does have a source at Michelin.

That’s okay. The second star is mine. All the work has been worth it. The long hours, the personal sacrifices… it’s all paid off in this moment. If only my parents could see…

I smother that thought. My parents never cared. I was too much of a dreamer for them. Too interested in women’s work, as my father put it once. My teachers thought I’d end up broke and washed up, worse than useless. All my life, failure has been expected of me, and I had lived up to that potential, until the day I ran away from home, hoping for a fresh start.

Juliette ropes me into her dance, and I shake my head to wipe away thoughts of the past. Helen hands me a flute of champagne. “We thought about emptying a bottle over your head, Chef,” she grins. “But Colin wouldn’t let us.”

Colin, the wine sommelier, sniffs disapprovingly. “It’s Krug Grande Cuvée,” he says with a grimace. “It’s bloody expensive.”

I laugh. Juliette’s distracted by her phone again. I drink my champagne and circulate the room, shaking hands and exchanging high-fives. I’m chatting with Katya about the spike in reservations that’s going to result when the news becomes public knowledge when Juliette finds me again. “Sebastian,” she says, pulling me aside. “I’m already getting texts and emails. Now is the time to talk to investors who are pushing for a nationwide franchise. Think about it. A Sebastian Ardalan restaurant in every city in the country.”

We’ve talked before about this idea, but it’s remained the stuff of dreams. But with a second star? The world’s my oyster.

It’s tempting to want what Juliette’s offering. My restaurant makes a respectable amount of money, but the income from a nationwide franchise would dwarf what I make now. More than that, I want all the people who expected me to fail to see me succeed beyond their wildest dreams. The high school counselors who thought I’d amount to nothing. The teachers that called me stupid. Everyone in my small town, who sneered at me - I want them to see the restaurants and know, they were wrong.

My emotions run too close to the surface. My parents, the people whose approval I wanted the most, are dead. Yet I still crave fame, and I’m too swayed by past hurts and injustices.

I should be cautious. Yet when I open my mouth to answer Juliette, the words that emerge aren’t the ones I should utter. “Call them,” I tell her. “Let’s see what the offers are.”

I turn away from her and raise my glass to the room. Tomorrow, the phones will start ringing, with all of New York clamoring to eat at Michelin’s newest two-star restaurant. We will be sold out every single night. In a halo effect, Seb II will be busy as well, and Ben’s going to have to raise his game significantly in the face of that attention. Helen’s ready for the challenge, I know. Is Ben? I’m not sure.

So much work to be done, and this franchise idea could be a fatal distraction. I wonder what Daniel would think of it. I should really consult with him before I make too many commitments.

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