Across the kitchen, the red team is already hard at work. Four small men are gathered around a small sink, taking turns to fill a small pan with cold water. This is then carried to a large pot on the iron hob behind them and slowly poured in, save for a small puddle of grainy water in the bottom of the pan. Each man then raises the pan to his lips and slurps the murky liquid before handing it to the next. One after the other, they repeat the process. A pile of potato skin lies next to the sink and with each slurp of the water, they begin to grab handfuls of the skin, which are thrown into the pot.
All four men are short and fat. The first in line has thick black sideburns and a bald head; the second has short blonde hair and an auburn goatee; the third has a bushy grey moustache and a thin combover masking eight irregular sized liver spots on his scalp; the fourth and final man is wearing a top hat pulled down to the brow of his small eyes.
After six minutes, the blue team grow tired of watching their rivals. They begin to clean down their workstation; eighteen large knives are plunged into a sinkful of hot soapy water, six glass bowls flaked with crusty flour and melted chocolate are stacked adjacent, three red plastic chopping boards stained red-wine red from cherry juices, and two large copper pans caked with brown mousse.
The two women fight for dominance at the sink. The short brunette elbows her teammate sharply in the ribs, the teammate kicks her in the shin. They scowl and hiss at each other. The short woman gets the upper hand when she pulls the long blonde hair of her rival and is quick to plunge both hands into the sink. She screams as her hands come out streaked in cherry juice.
A siren shrieks through the kitchen. The teams have thirty seconds left.
Both red and blue leap into action; the men huddle close, interweaving chef’s whites and red aprons around a may pole barber pole; the women straddle the oven and face each other down with the whites of their teeth; each open their ovens and plumes of grey and brown smoke fizz out and fill the kitchen; the fourth man’s top hat slides perilously down his sweaty nose; the men use their bare hands in unison to grab the peeled and roasted potatoes one at a time, grimacing from the heat, blisters forming on their palms; the women wrap their hands in tea-towels and reach for their individual trays of cherry chocolate puff pastry molten mousse.
A frail, thin child enters the kitchen. The teams gasp and hurry to the black marble countertop in front of him. Neither have used a plate, the food sits directly on the dusty surface. The smell of singed damp fabric hangs in the air. The child, his gaunt face pale and hollow, leans in to inhale the aromas. His lank hair falls onto his forehead and his nose wrinkles up pulling his lips with it – there are dark red stains on his gums.
Silence falls in the kitchen.