Complementary Tastes

Complementary Tastes

If Brian Kinney were a vegetable, he would be an artichoke.

Generally, when I meet a person, one of the first things that comes to mind is the food that best symbolizes his personality. Most often, that food is a vegetable—which may seem odd when you consider that I was a pastry chef during my professional career. But for some reason, when it comes to people, plum puffs and frosted éclairs don't have the substance necessary to cover the human psyche. Only vegetables have the vivacity of color, variety of texture, and depth of taste to do the job right.

I've known Brian for many years—ever since he first set Michael's heart a-flutter. Poor Michael, I knew from the start that a tomato like him—soft and round-hearted and a little green on top—would never quite stand up to Brian's piercing exterior—at least on a romantic level. Their flavors and colors certainly complimented each other, though, and their lasting friendship was not a surprise to me.

Michael knew that Brian was more than he appeared to be on the surface. Yet, no matter how hard he tried, Michael was never able to break through Brian's tough skin. He didn't have the skill needed to pluck away the thick, thorny leaves of Brian's indifference or how to carefully peel off his delicate middle layers of uncertainty. He didn't know exactly how to take those leaves between his teeth, scrape the meat out—and appreciate the taste of that uncertainty. Like the artichoke, Brian wasn't prickly through to his core. But that core was not easily reached.

When I first met Justin, he seemed to me like a little yellow crookneck squash—bright and innocent with a smooth white interior and a sunny yellow glow on the outside; An early Spring offering trying to sway the world with a flirtatious little tilt of the head. I was sure that he did not know what he was getting himself into, following Brian night after night. I knew that it wouldn't be long before his golden flesh was impaled on Brian's barbs.

But, as the days rolled into weeks, I was surprised to realize that his skin was much thicker than I'd first assumed. In fact, as weeks turned into months, I saw Brian's tough exterior begin to loosen. I noticed how his eyes softened when he glanced at Justin over a plate of Sis's Rotini Bolognese or how a small awkward smile would form at the corner of his mouth when Justin would beam at a joke.

I soon realized that Justin was one of the few people I knew who I couldn't classify as a vegetable. Not a crookneck squash at all, he was something else entirely. He was a steaming pot of boiling water—vigorous and persistent—just the conditions Brian needed to be dropped into in order to weaken his tough outer leaves. He was the coarse salt sprinkled into the crevasses of Brian's bitter indifference. He was the pungent olive oil, poured over Brian's fears--glistening, flavorful, supple and warm textured. More than that, he was the patient hand that knew how to take Brian deftly between his fingers and, layer by layer, reveal the soft, savory heart only he could taste.