SANF October 2008 : 102

Chapter 3: Salt and battery With a famous chef stillmissing, food writer David Tuckwall has a violent encounter with the angry vegan behind the crime. BY ROBERT BERINGELA | ILLUSTRATION BY NATHAN FOX B ound, gagged, and covered in goose feathers, Jock Rapini lay on the cold fl oor of his cage. Butcher’s twine ate into his wrists and ankles. Gas pains stretched his belly like a carnival balloon. A rooster crowed outside, the same damnable creature that had awakened him at daybreak, delivering the chef from fi tful sleep into foggy recognition of his waking nightmare. “Hmmmf,” he groaned. He strained against his tethers, painful proof that his plight was real. For all the agony of his physical condition, the rope burns and the bloating caused him less distress than the anxious thoughts that racked his addled brain. It had all happened so fast, Rapini could hardly wrap his head around it. Kidnapped, incarcerated, force-fed by gavage. The whirlwind of events had played out at the warp speed of reality TV, transforming him from a hotshot chef to a humiliated captive in the time it took to cut back from a commercial break. In answer to his fusillade of questions, Rapini could only muster wild conjecture. What would happen next? His nameless captor—a sallow, frightful figure with an orange Don King hairdo—was mum on his intentions, though the torture he’d selected so far suggested to Rapini that the prospects weren’t good. On that fi rst dark and fateful night, subdued by a cattle prod and stuffed into a car outside his rest aurant, the chef had suspected Bo and Marvin Mercer as the architects of his abduction, but he’d since given up that theory. The Central Valley ranchers were many things—savvy marketers, shady businessmen—but they weren’t rural sadists. In the near distance, beyond the walls of the barn, a car engine coughed. The grinding of wheels on gravel was followed by the leaden fall of footsteps. LAST MONTH IN DEAD MEAT: Tuckwall received a tanta lizing lead on the disappear- ance of a celebrity chef. Catch up at sanfranmag.com. 102 SAN FRANCISCO OCTOBER 2008 FOODNOIR

Food Noir

Robert Beringela

Bound, gagged, and covered in goose feathers, Jock Rapini lay on the cold fl oor of his cage.Butcher’s twine ate into his wrists and ankles. Gas pains stretched his belly like a carnival balloon.<br /> <br /> A rooster crowed outside, the same damnable creature that had awakened him at daybreak, delivering the chef from fi tful sleep into foggy recognition of his waking nightmare.<br /> <br /> “Hmmmf,” he groaned. He strained against his tethers, painful proof that his plight was real.For all the agony of his physical condition, the rope burns and the bloating caused him less distress than the anxious thoughts that racked his addled brain. It had all happened so fast, Rapini could hardly wrap his head around it. Kidnapped, incarcerated, force-fed by gavage. The whirlwind of events had played out at the warp speed of reality TV, transforming him from a hotshot chef to a humiliated captive in the time it took to cut back from a commercial break.<br /> <br /> In answer to his fusillade of questions, Rapini could only muster wild conjecture. What would happen next? His nameless captor—a sallow, frightful fi gure with an orange Don King hairdo—was mum on his intentions, though the torture he’d selected so far suggested to Rapini that the prospects weren’t good.<br /> <br /> On that fi rst dark and fateful night, subdued by a cattle prod and stuffed into a car outside his rest aurant, the chef had suspected Bo and Marvin Mercer as the architects of his abduction, but he’d since given up that theory. The Central Valley ranchers were many things—savvy marketers, shady businessmen—but they weren’t rural sadists. In the near distance, beyond the walls of the barn, a car engine coughed. The grinding of wheels on gravel was followed by the leaden fall of footsteps<br /> <br /> The barn door creaked open, and in stepped Alfi e Falfa, brandishing a funnel and a plastic tube.<br /> <br /> “Breakfast time, little birdie!” he called out. “Rise and shine!” “HE WANTS WHAT?” asked Rupert Hunt.<br /> <br /> The beefy editor stood beside David Tuckwall’s desk, his suspenders strained over his distended belly, his hands resting on his double-wide hips.<br /> <br /> “He wants us to stop eating meat,” Tuckwall said.<br /> <br /> “Ha!” Hunt blurted out. His cheeks purpled with amusement.<br /> <br /> “And fi sh,” Tuckwall added. “And eggs. And cheese.” Hunt chuckled softly.<br /> <br /> Across the Courier newsroom, a fax machine whirred, disgorging press releases. A siren Dopplerwarbled along Mission Street.<br /> <br /> “Who is this guy?” “Dunno,” Tuckwall said. “Says he’s the cofounder of HOOF: Humans Opposed to Objectionable Foods.” “Never heard of ’em,” Hunt said, which meant nothing. He hadn’t heard of NAFTA, either.<br /> <br /> “They’ve got a manifesto,” Tuckwall said.<br /> <br /> He held up 12 hand-printed pages of furious prose, punctuated with a graphic photo, that had been delivered with the morning’s mail.<br /> <br /> “He wants us to publish it.” “Or what? He’ll unleash his green fury?” “Like the Incredible Hulk.” “Pshaw!” Hunt said. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” “I don’t think he wants to negotiate.” “But he is a terrorist...a vege-terrorist.” Hunt paused signifi cantly, pleased with his wordplay. “That’s what we’ll call him,” the editor continued.<br /> <br /> “What?” “The Vege-Terrorist.” “You’re kidding.” “Kidding, my ass. All these guys need a name.” Tuckwall swallowed. “Seems like we should play this one straight,” he said.<br /> <br /> “The Vege-Terrorist,” Hunt said. “The Turnipinator. Something like that.” Tuckwall knew better than to argue the point. “Osama Bean Laden?” he asked, despondently.<br /> <br /> Hunt looked startled. “That’s not bad! Not bad at all.” Tuckwall spun back to his computer.<br /> <br /> “Don’t worry about the name,” Hunt said over his shoulder. “Just write the damn story.” The editor ambled back to his offi ce. For a few quiet moments, Tuckwall stared at a blank screen. Then he picked up his phone and dialed a number.<br /> <br /> Edie Brandt’s voicemail answered. Again.<br /> <br /> WHEN THE SUN BROKE THE NEXT DAY over San Francisco, David Tuckwall’s world remained unchanged in three fundamental ways: Jock Rapini was still missing; the woman he loved still hadn’t returned his calls; and the Benign Addiction was still drawing more fanatics than the latest iPhone release.<br /> <br /> A line of customers spilled from the Mission district café and onto the sidewalk of Valencia Street.<br /> <br /> Tuckwall stood at the end of it, peering through the window at a chalkboard menu that read like a United Nations roll call: Rwandan Buremera, Salvadoran Matalapa, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Each variety of bean was accompanied by a fl orid description, its fl avor profi le fl eshed out in exotic detail, its genealogy traced with an obsessiveness rarely seen outside the Mormon Church.<br /> <br /> Back in the day, Tuckwall would have found it astounding. But little in the city surprised him anymore.<br /> <br /> The quest for feel-good food, long an endearing local interest, had escalated into a fervent mission that permeated every nook of San Francisco life. No avenue was too narrow for epicurean exploration, no culinary niche too obscure to colonize. Where once there was mere salt, the search had turned up volcanic rock salt. Where once there was milk chocolate, pioneers had unearthed artisanal truffl es heated with hand-harvested Peruvian chilies. Mixed greens had given way to mâche and purslane. Bathtub booze had become boutique gin.<br /> <br /> And so it was with coffee. While barbarians drank Starbucks and misguided sophisticates patronized Peet’s, the cognoscenti got their fi x from single-origin espresso sourced from Javanese cloud forests.<br /> <br /> Triple shot of Sumatra fi nally in hand, Tuckwall made his way to the back of the café, where he found Marty Copeland in his usual spot. The retired detective was reading the newspaper, sipping something muddy, and looking like he’d slept under a freeway overpass.<br /> <br /> “Top of the morning,” Tuckwall said.<br /> <br /> Copeland glanced up as the reporter took a seat.<br /> <br /> “The Unavegan!” he exclaimed. “Nice touch.” <br /> <br /> He jabbed his index fi nger into the front page, as if Tuckwall hadn’t already seen it: above-the-fold treatment of his Jock Rapini story, paired with the shock-and-awe photo of the captive chef.<br /> <br /> “CHEF’S GOOSE COOKED?” read the banner headline. “Rapini Barred, Feathered; Unavegan Makes Demands in Exchange for His Release.” <br /> <br /> “I was pushing for the Great Seitan,” Tuckwall said.<br /> <br /> Copeland’s mouth twitched upward, his version of convulsive laughter. For all the grating aspects of the local food scene, it pleased Tuckwall to reside in a city where even an ex-cop got his gluten jokes. Not that Copeland was an ordinary cop. There weren’t many on the beat who could best Robert Parker in a blind Bordeaux tasting, and who detested doughnuts but adored beignets.<br /> <br /> “I gotta say,” said Copeland, “I don’t completely disagree with the guy.” Tuckwall shot his friend a dubious look. “He says he’s going to start making chef carpaccio.” <br /> <br /> “Yeah,” Copeland said. “His methods are a tad extreme. But if you think about what he’s saying, it makes some sense.” <br /> <br /> Tuckwall shrugged in lukewarm accord.Distilled to its essence in a few column inches, the HOOF manifesto contained elements of reason. It condemned the twisted ethics of commercial food production, screaming bloody murder at every evil cog in a corporate machine. It railed against hog farms and sprawling poultry plants. It decried the costs—economic, environmental, and, of course, karmic—of raising steer for the slaughterhouse. The arguments weren’t exactly new. But the document itself, with its gory threats and outlandish demands, was clearly the work of an activist unhinged.<br /> <br /> <br /> Unlikely anywhere—and impossible in San Francisco, where self-described foodies talked a good green game, but only if it came without personal restrictions. Even the city’s most eco-conscious citizens would gladly eat the ocean’s last sea urchin, provided it had been caught by indigenous divers and prepared by a chef who once tossed a salad at Chez Panisse.<br /> <br /> “Anyway,” said Copeland, “per your request.” <br /> <br /> He reached into a weathered leather briefcase and handed Tuckwall a manila folder.<br /> <br /> “I’m a lowlife,” Copeland said. “But I’ve got friends in high places.” <br /> Tuckwall opened the folder. Inside was a dossier of FBI fi les on “eco-radicals” and campus rabblerousers from across the state. Tuckwall recognized the usual suspects—PETA leaders and Earth First activists—but other, lesser names also rang a bell: Hillary Luck, a veterinarian turned vegan pamphleteer, was doing a cushy stint up county for paintballing fur shoppers outside Nordstrom. Dante Monroe, a fallen literature professor, had earned the tabloid moniker of Monkey Man for donning a chimp suit and assaulting a groundskeeper at the Oakland Zoo.<br /> <br /> If nothing else, the reports testifi ed to the ornate imaginations of those in the fi ght for animal rights.Tuckwall got a chuckle from the paintball stunt, but he’d ranted to Edie about the “fascists” who’d set the South Bay wildfi re as a diversion, all the better to infi ltrate a Stanford laboratory and liberate 10,000 pink-eyed rats.<br /> <br /> “There’s nothing here on HOOF,” Tuckwall said when he fi nished fl ipping through the pages.<br /> <br /> “Not surprising,” Copeland replied. “These groups are like fruit fl ies. One is born every second, and most die a few days later.” <br /> <br /> “HOOF is still around. Just ask Jock Rapini.” <br /> <br /> “Maybe,” Copeland said. “But I’m going to have to go with the lone gunman theory.” <br /> <br /> Tuckwall sipped the Sumatra, tasting hints of jicama and sweet tobacco, just like the menu told him to.<br /> <br /> “HOOF is just one person?” <br /> <br /> “Fits the profi le,” Copeland said. “Probably some guy living with his mother in Novato. The looniest of the loonies always work alone.” <br /> <br /> “And he’s a he, not a she?” <br /> <br /> “Guaranteed. Only a guy would do something this stupid.” “Sexist!” <br /> <br /> “Shhh,” Copeland said, scanning the café in mock alarm<br /> <br /> ON THE BART TRAIN HEADING DOWNTOWN, <br /> <br /> Tuckwall kept the folder pressed under his arm, but he couldn’t stop pondering its contents. It had been a while since a story had hooked him like this, since his enquiring mind had really wanted to know.<br /> <br /> He thought of Edie. Edie, who was drawn to all things food-related, who served earth-friendly everything at the Teeny Panini, who handpicked ingredients at open-air markets and had half a dozen friends working at organic farms. The tale of Jock Rapini would have made good pillow talk.<br /> <br /> The train trilled to a stop. Tuckwall dug out his cell phone. It was worth a shot.<br /> <br /> To his surprise, his phone chirped back. What’s he serving?<br /> <br /> Throngs of out-of-towners had surrounded a cable car at the base of Powell Street, a Rice-a-Roni crowd destined for the trinket shops and tourist trap restaurants of Fisherman’s Wharf. Tuckwall weaved through them, his heart galloping several paces ahead.<br /> <br /> Vietnamese, he texted back.<br /> <br /> Pause. The synaptic delay of electronic romance. I had Vietnamese for lunch.<br /> <br /> So did 85 million Vietnamese, Tuckwall replied.<br /> <br /> Thump, went his heart. Ticktock, went the second hand in his head.<br /> <br /> Edie sent back a smile.<br /> <br /> I’ll take that as a yes!<br /> <br /> He switched off his phone, unwilling to accept any other reply.<br /> <br /> Pedestrian gridlock clogged the sidewalk, so Tuckwall cut a crow’s path across Union Square and hustled up Grant Street into Chinatown. He found his favorite storefront, its window adorned with dangling Peking ducks, and stepped into a market that he’d frequented for years without ever managing to learn its name. He grabbed garlic, scallions, and ginger. He selected a live sea bass, fi shed from its tank and handed over to him in a clear plastic bag shimmering with water. He nodded at the merchant and hurried home.<br /> <br /> Tuckwall’s third-fl oor apartment sat in the Tendernob on a block known for pho houses and happy endings. He was within walking distance of numerous narcotics. The neighborhood was changing, though: In a retro-chic “speakeasy” on the corner, sidecars and celery gimlets were among the drugs now legally on sale.<br /> <br /> His kitchen allowed room for a cooking team of one. Tuckwall placed the bass on a green tile counter.Its eyes bulged, and its mouth glurped in a dwindling oxygen supply. Tuckwall felt a pang of pity. He always did. But with steamed fi sh, there was no substitute for freshness.<br /> <br /> He slivered scallions, julienned ginger, minced garlic. He placed them all in a bowl, eyeballing his proportions of soy, rice-wine vinegar, and sesame oil. Then he hopped into the shower while the fl avors steeped.<br /> <br /> Groans resonated from the prehistoric plumbing as Tuckwall waited for hot water. When the temperature was just shy of scalding, he let the water pound his back and echoed the old pipes with sighs of his own.<br /> <br /> It was late afternoon, and by all accounts, it had been a decent day. A compelling story to hold his interest. The fl edgling promise, however distant, of a rekindled relationship.<br /> <br /> Tuckwall toweled off and lathered up to shave. Steam clouded the bathroom mirror. He rubbed the glass for a clearer view.<br /> <br /> A foggy refl ection gazed back at him: raccoon eyes, dry skin, fl ecks of gray around the temples. He looked like hell—but not as bad as the other face staring over his right shoulder.<br /> <br /> Tuckwall turned. There stood a towering, surreal fi gure: red-haired, rodent-lipped, with the hooded eyes of a reptile, its head nearly scraping the bathroom ceiling. It looked like Carrot Top with a pit - uit ary problem.<br /> <br /> Held aloft in his right hand was an oversize butternut squash, wielded like a medieval mace.Tuckwall looked at the intruder. He looked at the squash.<br /> <br /> “Those are out of season,” he declared, before the giant gourd crashed against his skull, and his already dim world went completely dark.<br />

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