Faye pulled the lapels of her leather jacket together and took a long draw of her rollie. She felt its warmth on the tips of her fingers as she inhaled. The couple next to her shuffled several steps along the wall. She flicked her cigarette butt to the ground and shuffled along with them. She’d been queuing outside for an hour now, but guessed she was only another half an hour away from getting inside. A group ahead of her had grown impatient and left — a brave move considering how far everyone had travelled to get here. She’d been eavesdropping on the couple since she arrived. They had been talking excitedly about the evening ahead, with the occasional interjection from the group in front of them, who were bragging about how long they had waited for a table at Jervis’ last pop-up.
They were, of course, talking about Jervis Andersen — entrepreneur, restaurateur and darling of the London foodie scene. Grain Magazine had called him the brightest star in the city’s culinary vanguard, claiming that in the space of two years, his work had been so disruptive to the industry that he may have ‘single-handedly changed the restaurant game forever’.
Faye was now waiting with scores of other hungry punters outside Jervis’ fourth pop-up, Genesis. The blogs had hailed it as his most ambitious concept yet, although the concept itself was not entirely clear. Three months earlier, Jervis had launched a simple website to the public. The single-page site depicted a scratchy drawing of a chicken on a white background, overlaid with the words ‘You shall have dominion over the fowl of the air; to you it shall be for meat’. At the bottom of the page were some dates in March and a link to a ticket lottery for the event. The Scene had descended into a frenzy. Jervis had revealed on Twitter that he’d received almost 3,000 applications for 600 tickets.
Faye had not heard of Jervis until a month ago, when she was introduced to him at a friend’s party. Her friend had dragged her across the room to meet him before being whisked away in a cacophony of haven’t-seen-you-in-ages squeals, leaving the two of them exchanging pleasantries and picking at the labels on their beer bottles. Jervis had done most of the talking, but Faye had been happy to listen — he was intriguing and witty, and empty bottles piled up on the table next to them. They were drinking a local beer and Jervis had been talking about the head brewer, a friend of his. She’d told him that she thought it tasted like hot piss. He laughed and raised his bottle for a toast. By the end of the evening, he’d offered her a ticket to the opening night of his pop-up, followed by a drink — if she was interested.
She was now weighing up whether she would have enough time for another cigarette before getting inside. At some point since she’d last checked, the queue had disappeared around the corner a hundred metres or so behind her. Some poor sods would be having a very late dinner. At that moment, a sombre woman with severe lipstick opened the warehouse door and wordlessly ushered her in, along with the couple next to her.
The warehouse was dimly lit by antique light bulbs, which hung above six butcher-block countertops. Well-dressed diners perched around the tables, sipping from delicate cocktail glasses and talking in hushed tones. Waist-coated barmen wore frowns of concentration as they mixed drinks behind a bar, which had been constructed from what appeared to be chicken coops. Faye scanned the room for Jervis.
A svelte, bearded man slid up beside her with a cocktail menu. There were four options, none of which used any ingredients she recognised. She sheepishly pointed at the second cheapest option. The waiter nodded and slid away. Faye watched him glide behind the bar and lean into the barman’s ear with her order. He wore a firm frown and continued stirring the contents of the martini glass in front of him like it was the only thing left on earth.
She turned around — it was Jervis, dressed entirely in black with his arms wide open. He seemed taller than she remembered.
“Hey Jervis!” she said as they kissed cheeks, “How have you been?”
“Fantastic! Isn’t this great? I’m so pleased with how it’s all turned out. It feels like such a privilege to be able to share this with so many people”.
“Congratulations, it’s really impressive”, Faye said, looking around the room. “I have to admit though — I’m still not entirely sure what I’ve got myself in for”.
“Perfect”, he replied, “I want people to come here curious. Genesis is about reconnecting us to our roots through food, to eat like our ancestors did.”
Faye was aware of the couple from the queue, now sitting across the table trying to look like they weren’t listening to the conversation.
“It’s farm to table food in its purest sense”, Jervis continued. “I can’t create an experience like that with folks who aren’t curious. It means a lot to me that you’re here, Faye — that anyone is here for that matter”.
“Well it doesn’t sound like you had much trouble getting people to show up!”
Jervis grinned. “Yeah, I can’t deny that. Look, I ought to get back out to the dining room but let me take you through to the chamber now. The sooner you eat, the sooner we can get that drink”.
She decided that now wasn’t the time to ask what the chamber was and followed him through a door next to the bar. They walked down a long corridor lined with booths. Stark strip lights spilled out from each of them into the darkness of the corridor through translucent rubber butcher’s curtains. Tiny white and brown feathers were strewn across the floor. Jervis stopped at the last booth. She could hear a gentle cooing sound coming from inside.
“Right–looks like this one is available. Enjoy! Come and find me when you’re done”. Before she had a chance to reply, Jervis was marching back up the corridor and through a corrugated metal side door. A violent flapping noise echoed down the corridor. She took a deep breath, parted the strip curtain and stepped inside.
A young woman was waiting inside the booth.
“‘Welcome to Genesis. In front of you is a locally reared Nankin Bantam spring chicken. She is 25 days old. Her name is Maria, and she will be your dinner”. The woman was dressed in a crisp white shirt and tight black jeans rolled up just above the ankle. She seemed to be looking at a spot on the wall about a metre behind Faye’s head. “Please dispatch your chicken in the manner described on the wall. When you are done, ring the bell to your left for collection and preparation. Thank you, and enjoy”. She nodded her head and slipped out of the booth.
Maria was at Faye’s feet — a tiny, brown chicken with a tiny metal shackle around her leg. She bobbed her head and pecked at the floor. There were three highly stylised icons on the wall showing disembodied hands wrapping themselves around a chicken’s neck. No words accompanied the instructions. Faye looked around the booth — she had a vague and unshakeable sense that she was being watched. She stood for several minutes, trying to decipher the diagrams on the wall while Maria pottered around at her feet. She seemed happy enough; if only she knew. Faye thought about Jervis doing the rounds in the bar, everybody clambering for his attention. She’d come too far to back out now.
She took off her jacket and rolled up the sleeves of her shirt. Maria looked on in ignorance. Faye crouched down and placed her hands around the chicken’s body to gauge her reaction. She was docile, indifferent. It was easier to hear her cooing now that she was crouched on the ground. Glancing back up to the icons on the wall for reference, Faye picked the chicken up and held her across her thigh. She tentatively wrapped her fingers around Maria’s neck, wincing as she slowly tightened her grip. Maria started flapping violently and Faye’s body tensed in panic. She wrestled to keep the chicken under control, feathers flying in all directions. She checked the wall and looked back through the strip curtain as if help would magically appear, but no — she was on her own with the flapping, flapping, flapping, and then… snap.
The bird twitched briefly, then went limp. Faye stayed crouched, motionless for a moment, looking down at her hands clamped around Maria’s neck. She was sure she could hear the people at the bar when she first came into the booth, but it was silent now. She loosened her grip, laid the chicken gently on the floor and rang the bell.
The woman in the white shirt returned and hooked the strip curtain to one side.
“Please follow me”, she said.
Faye grabbed her jacket and glanced back down at her chicken as she followed the woman through the door where Jervis had disappeared earlier. Behind it was another dimly lit room with long, low wooden tables and benches. Other diners sat in small clusters, sharing benches with strangers and speaking quietly to one another. Waiting staff emerged through large kitchen doors at the end of the room, carving elegant lines around the tables, their arms loaded with plates. The sound of clanging pans and searing flesh followed them with each swing of the kitchen doors.
The woman seated Faye at the end of a bench and poured some water into a tiny glass.
“Please be patient as your chicken will need to be plucked and processed before cooking. This typically takes about twenty minutes, but I promise you the wait’s worth it. Thank you, your food will be with you as soon as possible”.
Faye nodded and the woman slipped away, leaving a carafe of water on the table. She sipped from her glass and willed her stomach to at least pretend to be hungry. She rummaged through her bag and pulled out her phone. No signal. She considered asking if there was wifi but a quick look around the room suggested that this was not a phones-at-the-table kind of event. The other diners seemed to be wholly engrossed in their meals. She put her phone away and stared longingly at the tobacco in her bag.
The couple from the queue outside were led into the dining room by the woman from the chamber and seated at the end of Faye’s table. The girlfriend was gushing as enthusiastically as she had been in the queue, while her boyfriend nodded silently, pale faced, with his eyes fixed forward. Faye fiddled with her napkin in an attempt to disguise her eavesdropping as the girl produced a small notebook and started scribbling notes as she talked. Despite the noise of the dining room, she was sure she heard her use the word ‘uncompromising’. The girl asked her boyfriend to remind her to take a photo when the food arrived and Faye concluded that she probably fell on the amateur food blogger end of the restaurant critic spectrum.
She watched the waiters rushing in and out of the kitchen. Each time they passed her table, she thought of Maria’s feathers being plucked, and her tiny body being chopped up and pan-seared in hot oil. Looking around, she guessed that there was thirty or so people waiting to eat in the dining room. She craned her neck to try and catch a glimpse of the kitchen through the round windows in its doors. There must have been a lot of kitchen staff to pluck and prepare that many chickens at the same time.
Twenty minutes later, as promised, a waiter placed a dish in front of her. He rotated the plate to a specific angle as he put it on the table.
“Seared breast of spring chicken with seasonal greens and sorrel jus. Just to let you know — you might find the chicken is a little tougher than you’re used to. This is caused by a hormonal release in the chicken’s body during slaughter. Industrial slaughter techniques have been developed over the years to eliminate this response, which means that the texture and flavour you’re about to experience is closer to the chicken our forefathers would have eaten in a pre-industrial food system”. The waiter smiled and placed a small card on the table. It was embossed with the same scratchy chicken drawing from the website. “Enjoy your meal”.
Faye thanked him and looked back down at her dish. The chicken had been plucked hastily — a few tiny feathers had been missed and fried flat and bronze to its puckered skin. In addition to two small chicken breasts, there was a little mound of pea shoots and a dark green sauce smeared purposefully across the remaining white space on the plate. She picked up the card and flipped it over. A handwritten note read: ‘Maria. Nankin Bantam. Waddingsworth Farm. 25 days’. How long did chickens normally live before they were slaughtered? She didn’t know, but 25 days seemed like an incredibly short life.
“OH…my GOD”. The couple’s food had arrived shortly after Faye’s and the girlfriend had taken her first mouthful. Her hands were now sprawled on the table in front of her and her head tilted back, eyes closed in ecstasy. “Oh my…GOD! Jervis what are you doing to me!”. The boyfriend shakily took a photo with his phone.
The doors to the kitchen swung open once more and Jervis emerged, followed by an older man dressed in a houndstooth jacket and white chinos — an ostentatious get-up, even for this crowd. They stopped just outside the kitchen door while Jervis spoke emphatically about the space. He spotted Faye and stepped to one side, gesturing for the man to take the lead between the rows of diners, past Faye and towards an empty table in the corner of the dining room. As they passed, Jervis leant in and whispered “Fergal from Time Out!”, giving her a surreptitious thumbs up as he walked away. Fergal was evidently a very serious man. He seemed impervious to Jervis’s enthusiasm as they sat down together in the corner — his brows appeared to be permanently furrowed, his eyes constantly in the process of narrowing. He pushed his tiny, round glasses up his nose as Jervis poured them both a glass of water.
Faye tried to focus on the food on her plate. How could this be so different from any other chicken dish she’d eaten before? And what was so special about the way people used to eat? She sliced a small piece of chicken from the bone. She could feel the fibrous structure of the meat as she cut into it — it felt exactly as she imagined it would to slice through a ball of elastic bands with a sharp knife. With a sideways look at the blogger, who was now dabbing the corners of her mouth with her napkin and slowly nodding her head, she took a tentative first bite. She was almost surprised to find it tasted like chicken. The meat itself didn’t appear to be seasoned in any way but the green sauce was tart and earthy, almost overpowering. She noted the absence of salt and pepper on the tables — a statement of intent if she’d ever seen one. As she pushed the food around her plate, Faye thought about the chicken stews her mother would make for Sunday lunches when she was a child. The smell of unidentifiable root vegetables bubbling in beige broth would permeate the whole house over the course of the morning. When they were called to the table, her mother would spoon out sinewy lumps of chicken from the stew into deep bowls, apologising, the steam from the slow cooker clouding her glasses as she worked. Her mother didn’t season food either.
Jervis was now standing. His meeting was winding down. She briefly caught his eye and he stifled a smile as he turned back to continue his conversation. Faye had just enough time to finish her plate before he came over. He slid onto the bench opposite her and tapped a passing waitress on the arm, who cleared the table.
“Fingers crossed for the Time Out piece, they can really make you or break you. Fergal’s a softie though, I think we’ll be alright”.
They sat in silence for a moment. Faye rolled the base of her glass on the table and allowed a smirk to creep on to her face.
Jervis laughed. “You’re killing me! What did you think?”
She let the silence hang for a second longer. “Phenomenal”. She whispered the word, holding his gaze and annunciating every syllable.
Jervis clapped his hands together. “I’m so pleased!”. He smiled widely and faint wrinkles formed from the edges of his eyes. “Right then, I think I owe you a drink. Shall we?”
“Definitely”, Faye nodded. They stood and Jervis headed back towards bar. As Faye picked up her things she looked back down at the embossed card next to her glass and slipped it into her bag. She followed Jervis back through the corrugated door, past the chambers, and thought about her cocktail from earlier, and how it had tasted just like lemon sherbert.