How it is: Chapter 15

It was Thursday, early in the afternoon. “Hey, how are you?” Janice and Mako looked at Valerie as she stepped into the kitchen. They could both tell that she looked exhausted and bothered. “I did not get a lot of sleep last night. One of my best friends who had a crush on me, he basically bullied me into trying to kill myself, and then he called me a skank in front of everyone I knew.” Valerie clammed up at that point. She felt like she spoke an uncharacteristically large amount, given how quiet and reserved she normally was at work. She felt her entire right arm convulsing with rage. It was one of the few times she wished she was a butcher at the restaurant. She could really use a cleaver on something at the moment, just to blow off some steam. Imagining that the pig or chicken carcass was Timmy, since both of those descriptions suited him at this very moment. “Here, come with me.” Janice pulled her aside. The executive chef looked greatly concerned at what she was hearing. “Wait, but I have prep to do-” Valerie tried to interject. “Mako, you’re in charge! Keep making sure that prep is going on schedule! It’s a Thursday, so we aren’t going to be as busy, so you guys should be fine without us for a little bit.” She shouted. “Alright, chef!” Mako called back as the two girls walked into the restaurant’s seating area. “We can’t have you going into service like this. We are going to talk a little bit.” Janice explained.

“Alright, so I just need a second here to unravel what’s going on. So you’re saying that you wanted to kill yourself?” Janice looked at her. “Yeah.” Valerie sighed. “Why?” “It happened around the time the finale aired. All of the comments, saying how I was an idiot, it was just coming back to haunt me. And it was because I made desserts only on that finale, and I make desserts here, so work was a constant trigger.” She started. “Okay, well that was you over a year ago, alright? You were a dumb 17 year-old. You’re going to make mistakes when you’re that young. Hell, I make mistakes now, and I’m 26!” Janice confessed. “What?” Valerie looked at her in surprise. “Yeah! A couple services ago, I accidentally look a ramekin full of sugar to the pass, and sprinkled sugar on the venison loin. I tasted it, because it did not feel like the malden salt, but at that point, I had already put it on the meat, and we had to re-fire it.” Janice rolled her eyes. “But in your situation, trust me, I know what it’s like. Yeah, I won my season, but the way I won it was too controversial. People kept on telling me that I did not deserve to win, and that I was a gimmick. I got eliminated fourth, and only got back in because of the Redemption Creativity Challenge in the last round. It sucked. But I just started to ignore that, worked my ass off, and that’s why I got a Michelin star.” Valerie nodded. It was surprising for her to actually have this time to speak with Janice on a one on one basis.

“So what exactly did your friend say that made you try to act on these thoughts?” “He said that I would go from being a joke to a has-been.” Valerie frowned. “Look, you will only be a joke if you let others get to you like that. You are a hardworking and determined young woman, and that’s exactly why I promoted you to executive pastry chef. And I know you probably think this, but I did not promote you so that you can copy and replace Namie. I wanted you to lead the pastry department with your own techniques and vision.” Hearing that was a huge relief. “Thank you, Janice.” Valerie smiled. “Stop thinking about what others say about you. I don’t know about your personal life or decisions, nor I should ask, since it’s not workplace appropriate, but if they want to call you a skank or whore, don’t listen to that. Even if you are promiscuous or whatever, your work ethic and passion for your industry, that’s what they should be focusing on. People who spread rumors, they have too much time and insecurities on their hands. Don’t stoop to their level. Don’t let what they say get to you. Confidence comes from working hard and gaining experience. Doubt comes from sitting around, being too sensitive and unproductive. You have so much experience already, I just want you to take that and own it.” What Janice said, it was eye-opening to Valerie. “You’re right. I need to. Thanks, Janice” Valerie nodded. The two got up and returned to the kitchen. “And that friend of yours, cut him off. He’s not worth your time or attention. He owes you an apology. Until he gives you that, just forget about him. Focus on other things, and honestly, don’t wait around, expecting an apology either. Do things with your time.”

“Hey, feeling better?” Jacky looked at Valerie as she walked up to the pass with her cherry dessert. Like they suggested, Valerie opted for a honey-goat milk-vanilla panna cotta instead of the yogurt, and it tasted phenomenal. “I’m feeling good. How about you? How have you been?” She smiled. “I’ve been alright. You know, living the chef life.” They chuckled together, as the two walked back to their respective stations. “Alright, so next order. Three ube doughnuts, followed by that, two olive oil cakes.” Valerie read off the checks. “Heard!” Daphne and Megan chimed in. For the first time in a while, Valerie felt in control. Orders were coming in, and being sent out with no issues. Megan, Daphne, and her, they were working together seamlessly. I got the doughnuts out of the frier, and I’m tossing them in the cinnamon-sesame sugar right now, chef! Give me 30 more seconds!” Daphne cried. “30 seconds, heard!” “Here, chef!” Daphne handed Valerie three bowls and the components to go into it, which the chef quickly plated up. “Daphne, bring these two the pass.” “Got it!” The cook walked down with the three bowls on a sheet tray. “Here’s the olive oil cake, chef.” Megan presented Valerie the two plates. The chef quickly finished the plating on those as well. “Alright, Megan, bring those up to the pass.” “Thanks, chef!” Megan smiled as she walked up with the two desserts.

“Man, that was probably one of the best services we had in a while!” Megan smiled. “Tell me about it.” Daphne grinned. The three were cleaning down their station, and celebrating a very successful dinner service. “It’s good to have the Valerie we know and love back.” They looked at her. “Thanks, you two. I wouldn’t be the chef I am without such amazing pastry cooks. Literally everything you two brought up for me was perfection.” She beamed at the two older women. It was remarkable to think about how Megan was 27 and Daphne was 43 with a son, that the two would give her, a 18 year-old, so much respect. When Valerie was first promoted to chef, she was nervous. Even though she worked there longer than Megan had, she felt that Daphne was deserving of the promotion. “Say, Daphne. How come you did not take the promotion to executive pastry chef?” She looked over the mother. “Well, Janice and Namie did ask me, but I rejected the offer. Yeah, the pay is nice and all, but I have a family to raise too. If I was the executive, then I would have to be too preoccupied with menu planning and coordinating with Janice. And then don’t get me started on those events in the summer. You’ll have to travel a lot and it’s going to be a major pain. I’d prefer to just stay in New York with my family.” She sighed. “Besides, Ben’s getting to a difficult age. He’s 12 and thinks that he’s the boss of everyone now. I’d rather be here, keeping him in his place.” Keeping him in his place, huh? Valerie thought to herself. We all have a place where we fit in and thrive…

How it is: Chapter 11

Sundays were typically a day of relaxation for Timmy, Tarou, and Valerie. For the former two’s case, they get brunch together, mostly because brunch meant that Timmy did not have to eat breakfast. But today was different. Timmy could not be around Tarou because he had work for the Asian Cultural Union. So Tarou ate alone that morning. “Man, this blows.” He sat alone in a cafe, reading a book to pass the time. “If I knew he was going to do this to me, I would’ve invited somebody else.” Meanwhile, Timmy was with the other newly elected officers, in the basement of an apartment. “So here’s your lists. Be back by 2PM.” Gary was handing everyone the papers. Their initiation involved a city-wide scavenger hunt for supplies, which would then be used to create posters for upcoming fundraisers and events. “Poster boards and sharpies.” Timmy’s list read. From there, they would have dinner, and finally, drink the night away. Timmy was excited. He was never a part of a club board before, so this was a very new experience for him. Tarou, on the other hand, was very concerned. He did not want Timmy to get another hangover, like in high school.

Valerie was still in her room at this point, feeling rather alone. Her only two close friends were Tarou and Timmy, but she never bothered to make too many other ones, mostly because she was so focused on her work. Suddenly, her phone started ringing. It was Tarou. “Hey, long time, no talk.” “Are you alright?” Tarou sounded worried. “I’m okay, why are you asking?” “Misaki told me about what happened. We’re both really worried.” The Japanese boy started. “Hold up, which ‘we?’” Valerie raised an eyebrow at that comment. “Me and Timmy! He’s been crying all night and he feels like shit about what happened.” “Honestly, Tarou, let’s not talk about Timmy right now.” The pastry chef sighed. The last thing she wanted to talk about was that very straw that broke the camel’s back. “Well, why did you do it?” Tarou started. He wanted to help Valerie get to the bottom of this. “I… felt stressed and trapped. Seeing how I lost on Warrior Chef, on national television, it was mortifying. And the comments, Tarou. Everyone thinks I’m this huge idiot. I feel like a joke whenever I’m cooking on the line.” She could feel tears starting to roll down her face. “Val, you’re an amazing pastry chef. You have always been such a passionate person about this industry. Those people, ignore them. They are just assholes who aren’t worth your time. You’ll prove them all wrong in the end. Remember how I was that fat, unattractive blob? Well, now I’m a model, 6’2”, and everyone else can suck my dick.” That comment got a laugh out of Valerie. “There’s the Val I know. You are a very driven and ambitious person, and I love that about you. But don’t forget to smile and laugh from time to time. I like it when you laugh and smile. It reminds me that you’re happy.”

A much younger Tarou was with Timmy, post prom their senior year. Timmy had taken too many shots on a dare, and was throwing up into a bag. “I swear, I will never drink again.” Timmy groaned as a gravely terrified Tarou helplessly held Timmy up. It was that very moment that made Tarou feel inclined to protect Timmy. He could not bear to see somebody he cared so much about in so much pain. He had to take care of the Taiwanese boy for the rest of the night, until his older brother, Henry, came to pick him up. Hearing that Timmy was going to be put through an initiation, Tarou already knew what to expect: drinking. And since Timmy was so young and impressionable, that was not going to end well. The Japanese boy could easily imagine his best friend, being peer pressured into drinking too much alcohol for his own good, and puking helplessly into somebody’s toilet yet again. It just started to stress him out as he waited anxiously in their room. As much as he tried to, Tarou knew that he could not fall asleep that night. Not until he knew that Timmy was safe. Luckily, Timmy did not drink much during his initiation, and returned having hardly consumed any alcohol.

“Hey, there’s going to be a video game convention coming up! Want to go together?” Tarou looked at Timmy excitedly. “Oh, sorry, I’m going with Gary and Alex from ACU.” Timmy frowned. “Well, there’s also an alternative spring break in Los Angeles! Want to do that?” “Sorry, I’m staying in New York to hang out with Alice and doing some event preparations for ACU.” As much as he tried to be a good sport about it, Tarou just felt hurt. Timmy was being insensitive about the fact that the Japanese model had been rejected by the very same club Timmy was prioritizing over him. In a lot of ways, it made Tarou feel replaced. It felt to Tarou as if ACU rejected him, so Timmy, being a part of the current board, also had to reject him. Tarou started to slowly doubt his own qualifications. “Um, well when will you be free then?” Tarou wondered, getting frustrated yet desperation stained his voice at this point. “I don’t know. Depends on when ACU needs me.” Timmy shrugged, completely indifferent to the Japanese boy’s feelings. The Taiwanese boy was not sure what else to really say in this situation. He just got into ACU, and he wanted to start off on a strong foot for the club that took a chance on him. But at the same time, his own best friend, they just salvaged their relationship, and it looks like it was being challenged yet again. But he felt like he made his bed, and it was high time to sleep in it.

Later that night, Valerie and Tarou were getting dinner together. “I haven’t had proper one on one time with you in so long!” Valerie smiled as the two hugged. “I know! It’s been forever.” He groaned. The two were at one of Valerie’s favorite restaurants, Prune. It was a small, intimate space, where the two sat cozily in the side of the entrance, tucked away from everyone else. “I’m glad that Misaki and Justin saved you though.” Tarou admitted. “But why didn’t you tell me earlier about this?” “I tried, but you were busy and never picked up my calls.” “Oh.” The model felt guilty. He had not been checking his phone recently, mostly because looking at it was stressing him out. The news of the elections, all of his events, and just seeing what felt like all of the Asian community quietly judging him, it was taking a toll on his emotional health. “At the end of the day, I’m just glad you’re here now, to talk to me. The one thing that really kept me from trying again was knowing that I had you as a friend.” Valerie admitted. “Oh.” Tarou did not know what to say to that. The model never had feelings for Valerie beyond platonic ones, and it sounded as if she was confessing to him. “I’m just glad you’re still alive. You’re an incredible person, Valerie, and I like spending time with you. It just reminds me how lucky I am to have such a talented and ambitious friend. Being around you, it makes me feel like I need to step up and do my best as well.” Valerie beamed at Tarou’s statement. Hearing that she had that kind of effect on him, that she essentially motivated him to try harder, it was refreshing to hear. “Anyways, what are your plans for spring break?” He looked at her. “Well, home is not that far away, but I’m planning to do some staging throughout the city.” She smiled.

Chic: dream 18

I was such an ugly kid. Overweight, acne-ridden, my own dad tried to avoid claiming me as his child. Yeah, that kind of ugly. But with exercise, confidence-building, and growing past puberty, I was able to really blossom into adulthood being comfortable in my own skin. Most people I know unfortunately aren’t as happy with how they look. One of my previous roommates would barge into my room when I was studying and ask me if she was fat; she wasn’t, but it got annoying to have to constantly reassure her that she was skinny. There was a point I questioned if she was doing that just to fish for compliments. Either way, I am not that type of person who would try to project my insecurities onto others. I know what I am capable of, as a human being and as myself specifically. That to me is what being chic is all about. Learning to be confident with who you are, and exuding that confidence. Even if you are overweight or acne-ridden, being confident will make those qualities melt away; granted in my case, they melted away already, but you should not let any other perceived flaws hold you back.

Take your style, and own it. For me, I love wearing lighter outfits; this is a more politically correct way of saying short sleeves and short legs. I hate jeans, I hate formal clothes. I feel like I am being suffocated in those. By wearing the clothes I like to wear, I am already projecting a sense of relaxation that most people would already be attracted to. Being able to remain calm and composed, showing some restraint in your emotion, all ways I managed to further exude that quality. However, if you are already comfortable with who you are beneath the clothes, you will be able to exude that confidence even if you are wearing things you hate wearing. For a lot of people with confidence issues, that might take some time to get used to. Being self-assured is not something that everyone is born with unfortunately. For me, it took practice. Maybe two years of trying out my style, learning how to take my personality, and have it drive me into being comfortable with myself and outwardly confident, but not arrogant or cocky.

Being chic comes naturally and effortlessly. It should not feel like you are pretending to be somebody you are not. You are just yourself, but with confidence and restraint. Those are two big key words in this. Doubting yourself and having anxiety, those are expected to happen to everyone. But you need to be self-assured to the point where those feelings go away quickly. You need for your self-confidence to be strong enough that nothing scares you or makes you feel inferior. Inferiority complexes are the last thing from chic. They are toxic to you being the best that you can be. Never make things a competition or go out of your way to compare yourself to others. Just be confident with who you are and what you are capable of. Each person can be chic in their own, specific and unique ways.