Three long windows hung with bright, translucent curtains, whitewashed masonry top to bottom, two ceiling fans, poured-concrete floors, butcher-block countertop either side of a deep, single-bowl stainless steel sink with pull-down faucet, stainless steel dishwasher, three stainless steel prep tables topped with two-inch-thick Boos-brand cutting boards, a Vitamix, and a gunmetal KitchenAid stand mixer, mounted glass dry-erase board with various notes, artisan-made stone salt pigs for no fewer than three salts, floating walnut shelves supporting sets of ceramic dinnerware, stainless steel knife rack and assorted knives (cleaver, gyuto, bunka, ko-bunka, santoku, nakiri, boning, and petit), stainless steel speed racks holding stainless steel half-sheets and quarter-sheets, stainless steel oven with induction stovetop below a stainless steel pot rack, stainless steel pots, stainless steel pans, stainless steel refrigerator with pull-out freezer, stainless steel storage racks in an adjacent walk-in pantry filled in by foodservice-sized single-origin spice containers, specialty items — black garlic, chicatana ants, dried Japanese persimmons — jars of homemade vinegars, tinctures, and jams (guava and habanero, loquat, Campari and blood orange), bottles of spirits, delis stacked by size, aluminum catering trays, chafing dishes, food processor, sous vide apparatus and attendant vacuum sealer, industry-standard plastic wrap dispenser, industry-standard tinfoil dispenser, fire extinguisher, broom, dustpan, mop, bucket. “I’m not convinced anything in here has ever been used,” Gaby Scappatura said during a recent pick-up, and Emil Quagga said, “I use everything here,” and “I just clean it when I’m done,” and Scappatura said, “Hospitals aren’t this sterile,” then, “Would it kill you to make it look like this place could support life?” and so Quagga placed an order for several stone pots in earthtones, and upon arrival drove to a nearby nursery and picked up ornamental cacti — yellow, red — which, presently, he has potted and placed on the floating shelves, and a long, trailing hoya, set upon the pot rack, golden pothos for the windowsill, and a large snake plant — “a centerpiece,” the saleswoman had called it — to place in the corner on a prep table, and when he’s done he snaps a photograph of the kitchen on his iPhone (stainless steel, no case), deletes it, sweeps off a few remnant specks of potting soil from the tabletop, retakes the photograph, and sends it to Scappatura — what do u think??? — and awaits a reply — I think it looks good. I’m glad you found my advice useful. Plants give so much good energy to a space. Even with just a few it’s a night-and-day difference. If you want to bring in any more, I know a local who propagates really interesting species — and sends his own — what advice??? — and mutes the conversation, opens an omni-platform social media app, selects the photograph, adds text to it (Another day at “the office” and the praying-hands emoji, and Plants give so much good energy to a place, and Met a local who propagates interesting species, lmk if interested!!!), and posts it to his accounts.
On a stool at one of the stainless steel prep tables, Quagga’s got a green leatherbound notebook out, pen in hand, speakerphone beside him, saying, “What we have here is a good menu, very autumnal, a lot of high-quality farmers-market produce in this, a lot of those warm, roasted flavors you had mentioned wanting,” and the client — no name saved, just an out-of-state number — going, “No, I mean, it looks good,” and Quagga going, “And I want to clarify — because when people ask for mushroom dishes, they don’t expect local mushrooms — hey, it’s a desert, after all — but these are local mushrooms, the pioppinos, grown about an hour away, and these are old mushrooms — not these mushrooms, but these mushrooms in, like, history, like, Pliny the Elder wrote about them, Roman Empire cultivars,” and the client goes, “You come recommended,” and “I bet the mushrooms are good,” but “I can’t eat them,” and Quagga goes, “When we chatted, I asked you if you had any allergies,” and the client goes, “I wanted to know what kind of food you make,” and Quagga goes, “This kind,” and, pen scribbling, “Okay — now you know — so you can’t eat mushrooms, that’s okay: do you have any other allergies or dietary no-nos I should know about?” and the client says, “I can’t eat mushrooms, and I can’t eat gluten,” and Quagga goes, “That isn’t a problem,” and the client adds, “Also I can’t eat alliums,” and “Do you know what alliums are?” and Quagga says yes, and the client goes, “Alliums are garlic and onions,” and Quagga says he knows, and the client goes, “I would actually really like the menu as-is, but we would have to substitute the beets — I’m not allergic, I just don’t like them — and the onion vinaigrette, the mushrooms and the shallots, obviously, and I was thinking, ‘This is maybe too much dairy,’ so if we replace the yogurt and the panna cotta with something a little lighter, more easily digestible, then I think we’re close to good to go,” and Quagga goes, “That isn’t as-is,” and the client goes, “Are we sure figs are even in-season right now?” and Quagga says, “Yes, I bought some at the farmers market yesterday,” and “They’ll be available for another two weeks, the farmer said,” and the client goes, “Isn’t that cutting it a little close? My dinner is in a week,” and “I don’t know if I want to be served end-of-season produce, off-peak produce,” and Quagga goes, “I get it,” and “I’ll call you back,” and hangs up, and blocks the number, and pulls the page out of the notebook along its perforated line, and drops it into the recycling bin.
He’s driving west down Highway 62, Twentynine Palms to Joshua Tree, 95.5 KLOS-FM playing mid-90s alt-rock hits, two Smashing Pumpkins songs back-to-back — seemingly unintentionally, left unacknowledged by the deejays — and then ads for timeshare-cancelation services, Pepto-Bismol, upcoming events at a chain of casinos (concerts by tribute bands), craggy mountains at his left, expansive desert to his right, the community college, a field of blue solar panels that from a distance appears to be a very deep, generous oasis. At a stoplight, one of three along the route, he checks his phone: six more followers on Instagram, still shy of eight thousand, notifications of reactions to his posted story, DMs from local clients and clients-to-be, Airbnb partners, calendar reminders, a text message from Rich Patterson — Everything all right? I came by but you weren’t there — but then the stoplight turns green and soon he’s pulling into the parking lot of the farmers market, teeming with people walked by dogs, people crossing the highway going to or coming from a small breakfast joint famous for once serving Anthony Bourdain, tote bags, sun hats, old hippie at the entrance strumming a Willie Nelson tune on a vintage Martin dreadnought, stalls hawking baked goods under cottage licenses, array of microgreens, cut flowers, sustainably raised meat, honeys, ice cream and sorbet made of produce purchased at the very tables Quagga stands over now, persimmon in hand, going, “Did you sell out of the fuyu already, Sergi? I can’t use the hachiya,” and Sergi, an inscrutable man in polarized sunglasses, going, “We have the hachiya only,” and Quagga goes, “Well shit,” places the fruit back in its pile, moves to the next stall, and asks, “Hey. Hey. Hey. Hoa, you said the figs would be here for two weeks,” and “Do you think they might make it to three?” and Hoa, a young woman in braces, goes, “We’ll see,” and “I’m not sure if the weather will cooperate,” and a man beside him goes, “Big old bag of produce there,” and “You a chef?” and Quagga goes, “That I am,” produces a business card, and adds, “Emil Quagga,” and the man — band t-shirt, shorts, sandals, sideburns, says, “Right on, man,” and “I’m Glen, one n,” and Quagga goes, “Pleasure to meet you, Glen,” and Glen says, “I feel like I see a lot of private chefs out here these days,” and Quagga says, “The demand’s there,” and Glen says, “You cooking for any of the celebrities come out here?” and Quagga laughs and goes, “I’d love to tell you,” and “You know how it is, though,” and “I’m bound by NDAs,” and Glen goes, “Hey, brother, my lips are sealed,” and Quagga goes, “Well,” conspiratorially, “let me ask you: You watch wrestling, right? the pros?” and Glen goes, “Good guess,” and “Absolutely,” and “It’s the sideburns gave it away, right?” and Quagga says, “I just had a feeling,” and “Between me and you, I had Rich Patterson on the horn a little bit ago,” and Glen says, “No shit — Grendel?” and Quagga says, “Rich Patterson,” and “He’s in PRIME,” and Glen says, “No, I know,” and “I know he lives here,” and Quagga says, “In Wonder Valley,” and “He’s got a nice plot of land out there,” and “Anyway, I make sure he’s well fed,” and Glen goes, “That’s what’s up, man,” and “I’d keep an eye out for new clientele, though,” and Quagga goes, “Why’s that?” and Glen goes, “Your pal is messing with Paxton Ray these days,” and “Or — well — better to say he has interacted with Paxton Ray, but in any case — historically, I mean — that is a poor idea,” and Quagga goes, “Oh,” and “Well — look, I mean, wrestling isn’t my thing — but I think he’ll be all right,” and “He didn’t say he was wrestling Braxton Ray,” and Glen goes, “No, he’s wrestling Crash Jackson and Sage Pontiff next card,” and “Sage is from here also, by the way,” and Quagga says, “I should give him my card, too,” and Glen goes, “Nah, he’s not here anymore,” and “I don’t know where he is these days,” and “It’s not like he’d invite you in or anything,” and Quagga goes, “No, I wouldn’t just walk in uninvited,” and Glen goes, “No, like — Sage is a weird dude, man — like, David Koresh wasn’t going, like, ‘Yo, come check out what I’ve got going on,’ you feel me?” and Quagga says, “Ah, yeah,” and Glen goes, “What do you do for Patterson? like, what does he eat?” and Quagga says, “Meal-prep services, mainly,” and “He’s, like, veggie-heavy, ‘No fatty cuts,’ kind of hoity-toity about it,” and “Kind of boring,” and Glen says, “That tracks,” and Quagga goes, “No, totally,” and “I’d prefer to cook different menus, more expressive, but it isn’t for me,” and Glen says, “No, for sure, I understand that,” and “I’ll let you go, though, brother,” and “If you see Grendel, tell him I’m cheering for him,” and Quagga says he will, finishes his shopping, starts his car, and begins the drive home. In his rear-view mirror he watches a small electric car slowly t-bone a camper van trying to cross several lanes of traffic perpendicularly.
When he pulls into his property, he sees Rich Patterson’s white Subaru idling there, and then Patterson opens the driver’s-side door and steps out and meets Quagga as he’s parking, and says, “You look all right,” and “You had us worried,” and Quagga says, “Why wouldn’t I be all right?” and “I just finished talking with a fan of yours,” and Patterson, following Quagga into the house, says, “Where did you find a fan of mine?” and Quagga says, “At the market,” and “He called you something else, though — Gretel, maybe? Greco? — but he told me to tell you that he is wishing you well against Traction Ray, Sage something-or-other, and Crash something-or-other — Jackson?” and Patterson says, “Yes, I am wrestling all of those people,” and Quagga, pulling ingredients out of his bags and placing them on a stainless steel prep table, says, “It was a pleasant interaction,” and “You know, the other day — maybe a week ago — I was talking to a client, and I was, like, ‘Do you watch wrestling?’ and he said, ‘No, I’m an adult with a job,’ and I thought that was rude, like, I wanted to be short with him, like, ‘You are an adult with a job but you want me to cook you breakfast, lunch, and dinner,’ like, ‘How functional an adult can you be?’” and Patterson says, “It strikes me as an odd tack to ask clients who want you to cook them meals if they watch wrestling,” and Quagga says, “It was a misjudgment — I don’t usually get it wrong — but over the phone it’s different,” and “If they don’t look like they watch wrestling, I just tell them you’re a rock climber, but this wasn’t over FaceTime,” and Patterson says, “I think that’s something we should talk about,” and Quagga asks, “What?” and Patterson says, “You using me to promote your business,” and Quagga says, “Everyone loves a celebrity,” and Patterson says, “I am not a celebrity,” and Quagga says, “That’s not what your fan thinks,” and Patterson says, “That you found a fan of mine means you should head to the Arco and pick up a lottery stub,” and “Beyond that, though, I understand that the appeal of what I do for a living is not as broad as that of other sports,” and Quagga goes, “Yeah, it isn’t my thing,” and Patterson says, “Right — yes — but if you are using my career and in rare cases my name to promote what you do, it might be circumstantially beneficial to understand what I do, or at least be passingly familiar with my current goings-on, so that it seems to the untrained eye you are invested in your advertisable clientele and are not entirely mercenary,” and Quagga, finishing placing items in his stainless steel refrigerator, says, “What are your ‘current goings-on,’ then?” and Patterson says, “I am wrestling in what is called a triple-threat match against Crash Jackson and Sage Pontiff in Nashville,” and “Jackson is a dweeby try-hard, but it’s sort of endearing,” and “He’s going to be a nuisance in the ring,” and Quagga asks why, and Patterson says, “I can deal with speed merchants — and he is one — but given the choice, I’d rather not,” and “Pontiff is a megalomaniac with messianic delusions who uses the aesthetic and parlance of the modern bohemian to inflate his ego and sate his violence fetish,” and Quagga says, “I don’t know what that means,” and Patterson goes, “It means he’s from Joshua Tree,” and Quagga says, “Oh, Christ,” and “Yeah, be careful, then,” and “Your fan, by the way, seemed concerned for your wellbeing versus the other gentleman,” and Patterson says, “There’s nothing there,” and “I am embroiled with Paxton Ray, but at day’s end it’s nothing but a tiff,” and “I can ask Gaby to send you these rundowns so that you stay in the know, as it were,” and Quagga says, “Yeah, sure,” and Patterson says, “Speaking of Gaby, did you block his number?” and Quagga says, “No, I muted our text thread,” and Patterson asks why, and Quagga says, “He texts me too often,” and “It affects my productivity on days I need to be productive, like today,” and Patterson says, “I don’t want to state the obvious but we were due our meals yesterday,” and Quagga says, “I think that’s something we should talk about,” and Patterson says, “Deadlines?” and Quagga says, “No,” and “As of late, for certain reasons, I have been getting better paid by new clients,” and “So I need to prioritize them,” and Patterson says, “It sounds like what you’re saying is that because you have used me to promote your business I have been priced out of your services,” and Quagga says, “Those sound like your words,” and Patterson says, “What you could have done — and what you should still do — is tell us you needed to raise your prices,” and Quagga says, “I need to raise my prices,” and Patterson says, “That’s fine,” and Quagga says, “Unless,” and Patterson says, “Unless?” and Quagga says, “Uninformed as you think I am, I did watch your wrestling show,” and “What I noticed was that the craft-services table was pathetic — low-effort garbage that has no place in a sporting arena — like, does anyone enjoy what’s on offer?” and Patterson says, “It’s basic fare,” and Quagga says, “That’s what I’m saying,” and “To make things even — since I use you to promote this — what you could do is use me to promote yourself,” and Patterson goes, “I don’t think I’m following,” and Quagga says, “If I cater these events, you can take credit for improving the quality of the spread,” and “That’s clout,” and Patterson says, “I’m not going to do that,” and Quagga says, “Then I need to raise my prices,” and Patterson says, “That’s fine,” and “When should I expect delivery?” and Quagga says, “I’ll see you tomorrow,” and Patterson says, “Please unmute Gaby — Dan? — please?” and Quagga says, quietly, “Fine,” and “One question, though,” and Patterson says, “Which is?” and Quagga goes, “Do you know any local who’s propagating interesting species of houseplants?” and “I have people asking,” and Patterson says, “Why would people be asking you that?” and “You don’t have any interesting plants,” and Quagga says, “But they’re nice, aren’t they?” and Patterson says, “Yeah, they look good in here,” and after Patterson closes the door behind him and drives off of the property, Quagga pulls out a stainless steel half-sheet and lines it with parchment paper and places a stainless steel wire rack over it, and carefully lays out chicken thighs to dry-brine in salt — Morton’s coarse kosher — and removes the half-sheet to the stainless steel refrigerator, bottom rack, overnight, a day of loving work ahead.