There are two kinds of chefs in the world. There are those who create the most delicious, elegant, magnificent dishes ever to be enjoyed by the likes of man, and there is Chef Gray.
Let me tell you about the greatest meal I ever ate.
It was at a restaurant called the Magician’s Workshop, which didn’t look like anything spectacular from the outside. The inside decor lived up to its name with soft fantasy-themed paintings decorating the castle-esque gray stone walls.
Located in an average suburban American college town, the Magician’s Workshop was the first restaurant ever to be named “Best Restaurant in the World” by the esteemed Matchland Guide the same year it was opened.
The first course was called “BLT Dipping Leaf,” served in a wide flat bottomed ceramic Chinese spoon. The Dipping Leaf looked exactly like the chewing tobacco you find in the small round tins.
Nobody knows if Dan Gray actually has magical powers or not, especially since there is no other real evidence of magic in the world. This first course, however, gave significant evidence that he does.
It was recommended by the server to pinch the lump of moist black flakes with your fingers and place it between your lip and gums, just like a plug of chewing tobacco.
Once it was properly placed, it somehow turned into a perfect bite of BLT, smoky bacon, crisp lettuce, juicy tomato, creamy mayonnaise, and the warm crunch of whole wheat toast.
It wasn’t the flavor that was so impressive, though it did taste very good, it was the transformed, complete with all the flavors, textures and aromas associated with the sandwich.
The very best thing about the course was that it was only the first one, and there were twelve more to go.
Chef Gray’s first restaurant was called The Word Wise Bistro. He opened it with a childhood friend, who also happened to be a mildly successful writer. The Word Wise Bistro was prix fixe, and consisted of four courses: an amuse bouche, appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Price, appetizers, and reference to the de jure amuse bouche and desserts were listed on the middle page of the menu, and each of the two entrée choices had their own page printed on colorfully bordered paper and along with a 500 word narrative that described the dish with a fanciful little story to go along with it.
The Word Wise Bistro was eventually sold to one of the sous chefs, who, as part of the sales agreement, was taught the secrets of magical gastronomy.
The second course was called Bacon Cheeseburger Caviar. It consisted of a variety of differently colored and sized spherical liquids covered in a thin jell coating.
Perhaps twenty-years earlier this would have seemed magical, but any devout fan of the modern cooking shows knows of the process for making alginate caviar. Beef grease, bacon grease, onion juice, tomato juice, and lettuce water, all dropped into alginate solution for a few seconds. The caviar was then piled on top of a Parmesan Cracker. Every bite popped like the best Beluga Caviar, and tasted exactly like a Bacon Cheeseburger.
The kitchen looked like the sort of kitchen you might expect to find in some sort of high-end restaurant, provided that said high-end restaurant is located on a space colony six hundred years in the future. There is a booth inside the kitchen, which we unfortunately could not reserve. Whenever a new cook or server is hired, their first night on the job is spent at the chef’s table, eating every dish, before they are taught a single trick.
Chef Gray liked to cook with unusual ingredients; the main ingredient of this course, was Tobacco Leaf.
I know what you’re thinking: not only does this sound disgusting, but the main ingredient itself may make you vomit. Somehow Chef Gray found a way to remove or neutralize those elements of tobacco that make your body reject it, and on top of that the tobacco leaf is stewed in a garlic white wine sauce that is the epitome of savory.
Yes tobacco is bad for you, but as long as you don’t eat this meal every day – and good luck trying to make that many reservations – it won’t have any long-term side effects.
Chef Gray is largely self-taught mostly because he was kicked out of chef school on the first day of class. Evidently the instructor tasted one bite of his dish and said: “I will never be able to cook as well as you.”
The Instructor convinced Mr. Gray to take the money he was going to spend on college and use it to travel the world tasting the cuisine from a variety of cultures.
He learned the local dialects, and allegedly is able to speak a dozen languages. His favorite cuisine discovered in his travels was Vietnamese.
This course, called the Bamboo Box, takes the form of a small bento box, and provides a variety of four traditional Vietnamese dishes with non-traditional proteins. Banh beo topped with dried alligator, pho made with offal, a summer roll with rattle snake, and Vietnamese style crepe with Dungeness crab. The fifth and smallest of the segments in the box contained Chef Gray’s own special recipe fish sauce.
In the late-80’s, when Chef Gray was seven years old, his father took him to the mega-corporate fast food restaurant Ronald’s Old-Fashioned Burger Joint. His father, who was on a diet at the time, ordered the now defunct RoLean Burger.
The burger was known at the time for being 92% fat free, and allegedly good tasting. The fat had been replaced with water, and in order to hold the water in they used seaweed. The young Gray’s Father hated the burger and traded meals with his son, who for some unknown reason enjoyed it.
Apparently, when they went home the young Gray pulled out a marble notebook and transcribed the entirety of the ingredients, and the process for creating the RoLean Burger.
When the young Gray’s father found the notebook, he could not believe what his son had done, and figured his son was watching too many cooking shows and not enough cartoons. However when Chef Gray cooked the RoLean Burger in his parent’s kitchen, his dad was forced to admit that his seven-year-old son had somehow figured out a variety of corporate secrets by taste alone.
Our fifth course was another seemingly impossible culinary creation. Cob Salad Deviled Egg.
Finely chopped lettuce, Roquefort cheese crumbs, bacon bits, and a single gooseberry, all in the traditional mayonnaise egg yolk mixture. The catch being that all these ingredients were inside the hard-boiled egg, and the egg, was still inside its shell.
The server instructed us to eat it like a soft-boiled egg.
Chef Grey could have used a syringe to remove the yolk from the egg, then boil the whites in the shell, blended all the ingredients together to a very fine cream, and injected it back into the egg. That would work accept, there were relatively large chunks of cheese and bacon, and a fully intact gooseberry in the egg.
So how did he do it?
My guess: magic.
Another magical aspect of the Magician’s Workshop is its record. The restaurant has now been open for five years, and not once in that entire time has a customer complained of having eaten too much or too little. No one has ever choked. The experience is so amazing that it is extremely rare for a customer to complain about anything at all.
No one has ever had an allergic reaction to the food served, even though many diners knowingly ate foods they were allergic to. It’s right there on the menu: “You will not suffer any allergic reactions at this restaurant.” It is as if all allergies are turned off the moment someone crosses those enchanted doors. This is another deep secret that Chef Gray has not shared with the public, which annoys doctors considerably.
The sixth course was called “Daily Fog”. The flavor was black and blue berry. The Fog was served in a pint glass with a cardboard coaster over top of it. The contents of the glass looked like a cumulus cloud with robust fluffy edges in miniature inside the glass.
The instructions were to remove the coaster and inhale the contents of the glass.
There was a distinct taste of black and blue berries. I thought I was going to cough but never did, and the strangest thing was that when I blew it out, there was no taste. It wasn’t so much that I lost my sense of taste, but more like my pallet was cleansed more thoroughly than it ever had been before.
All that I knew of Chef Gray beforehand I had learned from his appearance on the TV show Chefs of Steel. The star ingredient for that particular episode was Canadian Whiskey. I’m sure he would have easily won no matter what the star ingredient was. His victory on the show catapulted him directly into legendary status.
The rules on “Chefs of Steel” are that each chef has one hour to prepare a minimum of five courses, all of which revolve around the star ingredient, which is unknown until the start of the competition.
Instead of doing the recommended five courses, Chef Gray did eight.
Instead of doing one plate for each of the three judges and the Steel Chef CEO, Chef Gray brought out two bento boxes, and made a sampling for the hosts, who almost never get to eat on the show.
After all this he still had several minutes to spare at the end of the competition.
The eight dishes he prepared were, and in order:
Black Hole with Canadian Whiskey Incense.
Polenta with Gold Flame Canadian Bacon and Oak Puree.
Tempura fried Philadelphia Sushi Roll with Whiskey Caviar.
Bar-B-Q Short Ribs with a Yam Tartlet.
Tempura Calamari with Brown Mustard Hot Ice Cream.
Whiskey Lime and Raspberry Fog.
Marinated Bear with Sour Mash Mashed Potatoes.
Baked Alaska with Liquid Nitrogen Coffee Ice Cream.
The secrets behind Magical Gastronomy are well guarded. When watching Chef Gray cook in Kitchen Coliseum there was a lot of smoke directly surrounding him, and a lot of strange colored liquids being added to dishes with an eyedropper, so not many secrets were revealed.
The judges, all of them food experts, were rendered speechless after just the second course. His opponent had been the only chef to come from the original Japanese version of the show, and his food was quite good as well. The opponent had a score of 57 points, which was his personal best from either show, and he would have won had Chef Gray not become the first chef ever to receive a perfect score of 60 points.
The eighth course was a tribute to that Chefs of Steel episode, Steel Chef Canadian Whisky Tempura Trio, and it was arguably the most beautifully plated of the thirteen courses.
In the center was a single piece of the Philadelphia Sushi Role, which was battered in the Canadian whiskey infused tempura and deep fried. Around the piece of sushi was an onion ring fried in the same tempura batter. Surrounding that was a ring of calamari again fried in the same batter. The whole thing was garnished with a few lines of spicy Canadian whiskey mayonnaise, and topped with a few pieces of the alginate Canadian whiskey caviar.
This dish wasn’t really brought out at all. The server walked up to us, took his two empty hands and held them out over the table as if he was casting a spell. When we looked down, the entire table had been covered by a thick fog, with just the tops of our glasses stuck out above the fog like some sort of iconic image of a mountain’s summit just above the clouds. The server then took his cape, yes the servers actually wear capes, and held it over his face Bela Lugosi style. When our attention was fully focused on his eyes, he threw the cape open and the blanket of fog quickly rolled away, and somehow there was our eighth course right in front of us.
The dish was called Wild Boar Micro Sliders. Sliders made out of ground Wild Boar, would be interesting enough, but of course Chef Gray had to go a few steps above anything else.
Three sliders served deconstructed, lettuce, tomato, onion, and five-year old Gouda. The wild boar patties were served sizzling on a hot rock, and each one was just about the size of a quarter. Everything else appeared to be reduced in size to accommodate the quarter dollar patties.
Since there were so many courses you couldn’t possibly have enough silverware for all of them when you first sat down. For each course the server brought out new and sometimes unusual utensils, and occasionally pictographic sweetish-self-assembly-furniture-esque instructions for eating as well.
This particular course had the most unusual utensils of all, a magnifying glass, and a pair of tweezers.
When you looked at the food through the magnifying glass, you could see three slices of tomato just about the same diameter as a quarter, same with the red onions, all of them perfectly proportioned, and with the same clearly-visible patterns typical for those fruits and vegetables. Exactly where he found onions and tomatoes that size, I have no idea.
He claims he magically shrunk them, and by the this course, there was little reason to doubt.
No one has ever gotten sick from Chef Gray’s food. However there is one tiny caveat that must accompany that statement.
As you can well imagine, food was the great joy in Chef Gray’s life, so by inverse logic what he hated most was hunger. The Magical Gastronomy techniques produced a fairly large amount of wasted food, so Chef Gray made a habit of donating all the edible leftovers to a nearby soup kitchen. The scraps alone were better than most two star restaurants.
One day a lawyer happened to catch wind that Chef Gray had been taking leftovers to the soup kitchen, and convinced a homeless man to claim he got food poisoning from the leftovers, so they could bring a lawsuit against Chef Gray.
Sadly Chef Gray lost the lawsuit, and a healthy amount of money.
The lawyer walked away with a big paycheck. The prices at the Magician’s Workshop went up slightly to compensate, and the restaurant’s popularity went down as well. The homeless gentleman who won the lawsuit took the money and drank himself to death in a motel room within a week of winning the trial.
The news of homeless people getting the leftovers made the whole experience less desirable to some of the more stuck up clientele, and the restaurant lost its “Best Restaurant in the World” status, sinking to number five on the list. The homeless shelter never received another donation from Chef Gray; and the homeless people never got to taste his food again.
The whole experience left Chef Gray bitter and misanthropic. He never gave so much as a single penny to a homeless person afterword. He claimed that they might try to eat the penny, choke on it, and then sue him again.
Perhaps by magic, the Magician’s Workshop bounced back. The food truly was so good, that the snobby rich folk were forced to put the entire incident out of their minds, and the restaurant was restored to its “Best Restaurant in the World” title the following year.
This story about the homeless man and the trial has no significance what so ever on the eighth course: Garbage Fries.
They tasted just like fries, but they looked and had the texture of spaghetti. They were then topped with a mixture of cheeses, foie gras, real (not alginate) caviar, and shredded Rocky Mountain oysters.
There are only two other Magical Gastronomy Restaurants in the world today. One is the Word Wise Bistro, which Chef Gray has no actual connection to anymore, the other is the Wonderland Tea Room.
According to legend, Chef Gray had a falling out with his sous chef, Raymond Mann, and in the aftermath Mann left to open his own competing restaurant. By all accounts the Wonderland Tea Room is also quite exquisite, but those lucky enough to have eaten at both restaurants, unanimously agree that the Magician’s Workshop is the better choice in every category.
There is a theory that the falling out was a hoax, and the two chefs remain friends. Some even speculated that they are lovers. According to the “hoax theory,” the Wonderland Tea Room was created to boost interest in the Magician’s Workshop after the whole homeless lawsuit incident. The feud got people talking, and the more people talked the more they wanted to go to the Magician’s Workshop and the Wonderland Tea Room to see what it was all about.
The tenth course was called the Ten Beast Roast. As you may expect this is a roast of ten different animals stuffed into one another, Turducken style. From smallest to largest: Quail, Duck, Chicken, Turkey, Buzzard, Pig, Lamb, Deer, Cow, and Buffalo. The assembly then goes through some sort of secret (and assumedly magical) process known as cold roasting, which requires two weeks in a special refrigerator.
Once it is finished the roast is expertly carved by a razor sharp sword into tissue thin slices several feet in diameter. Each slice is then folded, and folded, and folded until it is approximately the size of a jumbo scallop. It is then marked on a grill, and served on a giant parsley leaf.
The server warned us to take tiny bites. The texture was tender and bubbly. Apparently air bubbles are caught in the meat during the folding process. With each bite you could taste the subtle variations of each type of meat, roasted to absolute perfection.
The personality of Chef Gray is apparently quite bizarre. He is said to have almost zero social skills, and appears uneducated if you try to converse with him in any subject other than food. He speaks a dozen languages, but you couldn’t really say he is fluent in any of them, unless you’re talking to him about cooking.
Some say he’s a virgin, some say several women have “fallen in love” with him through their stomachs, and some say he’s gay. The truth is anyone’s guess.
One of the unexpected side effects caused by this uni-focused mentality is that he seems to be without emotions, and very rarely raises his voice. This is why the hoax theory on the Wonderland Tea Room is so prevalent. Anyone who has ever worked with him claims he is one of the kindest and calmest chefs they ever worked with in the kitchen, and outside the kitchen… well he’s very rarely outside the kitchen.
The next course was called Tin Duck and it lived up to its name. The duck was not so much tin, but silver colored, the inside of the meat was silver, and the skin was a slightly darker shade of silver.
It had a slightly acidic almost electric taste to it, and the skin was absolutely perfect. The course was not a full bird but just a dinner role sized square, served with an Earl Gray Tea Mousse.
Very close to the end of our meal, saving the best for (almost) last, his most mysterious, most infamous, most magical dish.
Chef Gray had coined the term Magical Gastronomy, stating that it was the next step in the progression of food preparation.
Molecular Gastronomy (the previous step) uses science, especially chemistry, to create very strange and unique cuisine. The most learned chemists are usually able to figure out how any given Molecular Gastronomy dish had been made by applying certain laws of science.
Magical Gastronomy on the other hand, is shrouded in mystery. The techniques are extremely closely-guarded. No one has been able to explain how they work, and even some of the most pragmatic scientists have argued in favor of the opinion that these dishes are in fact prepared with magic.
The twelfth course was Black Hole. It was evidently made out of soy bean, though you would never have been able to tell.
It was served in a crystal clear martini glass. In the center of the glass was a walnut sized black ball. The blackest of black you could possibly imagine as though it reflected no light what-so-ever, no sheen, no luster, and somehow looked two-dimensional from all angles, slightly bobbing up and down at the rim of the glass.
On the side of the glass was a lit saffron-flavored incense stick. The smoke from the incense floated, not up, but into the glass, making a few swirls around the ball before being sucked into it and out of sight, as though the ball were some sort of drain. We were all hypnotized by the unprecedented movement of the smoke. We probably would have sat there for hours staring, had our server not intervened, telling us how to eat it:
“Take the incense from its base and slowly moved the lit tip near the Black Hole. The ball will move, and attach itself to the incense stick. Eat it within a few seconds after the incense touches it or else it will consume the entire stick. Do not chew it or keep it in your mouth for more than a few seconds or else the texture will be lost.”
It was surprisingly cold, and I literally felt my own breath being sucked into the black ball as I swallowed. As it slid across my tongue it pulled on my taste buds, and I could taste flavors as though they were other flavors, salt was sweet, and so on.
A moment after I swallowed, it felt as if my stomach is slowly freezing from the inside out. Then the strange warp of taste and temperature disappeared and I was left with a fragrant aftertaste of Saffron.
Remember a variation of this dish was the first thing he served the Judges on Chefs of Steel. Small wonder he won.
Thirteenth & Final Course
…And then unfortunately the last course came out. The dessert course, called Key Line Pie, essentially it was key lime pie filling, graham cracker, and meringue, all in powder form, in three straight lines. The desert was served on an edible mirror, and we were given a tiny spoon and a razor blade for our utensils. We were instructed to scoop a little from each line onto the tiny spoon with the razor blade. Just like with the first course, when combined the powder would somehow turn into a perfect bite of key lime pie, right in your mouth. Once the lines were gone we ate the mirror, which was chewy and also tasted like key lime pie.
When the bill came the price was $492 for the four of us. There was a note right in the menu that said: “Tips are neither required nor expected.” Regardless we all chipped in another $20 each because the meal was just that good, and the server was an important part with his theatrics and instructions.
$123 per person is an expensive meal, I’m not going to lie, but it was so much more than just a meal. It would be the equivalent of somehow buying a ticket to go back in time to see the premier of Beethoven’s Fifth. What price can one put on something like that? When you look at it that way it’s almost amazing that the price is only $123.
The Magician’s Workshop is actually the cheapest of the “Top 10 Best Restaurants” in the Matchland Guide, so really all things considered it is a very reasonable.
I ate at the Magicians Workshop four months ago, and did not write a single note about my experience until now; yet I remembered every course, the order at which it was brought out, and every single factoid my fellow diners had told me of the legendary chef. It was just that good.
Zach is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and has been writing for more than a dozen years, struggling all the while with Dyslexia. His work has previously appeared in: Crack the Spine, Revolution John, Fast-Forward Festival, the Short Humor Site, and Schlock Magazine, among others. You can find out more about him at his Blog theobscuritysymposium.wordpress.com.