The first sign of the impending apocalypse came in the form of a worldwide blueberry shortage. The cooks simply couldn’t believe it when their fruit supplier told them for the second week in a row he simply hadn’t been able to obtain blueberries at a reasonable price. He would have been able to get them at a unreasonable price (and as he was talking he started mumbling under his breath about price gouging, LL Bean wearing, berry hoarding mainers), but he knew, given the test kitchen’s budget, that wouldn’t go over too well. Of course the shortage came just as they had carved out a spot in the next issue of the magazine for “The Perfect Blueberry Buckle!” because Charlie had been trying to reinvent the blueberry buckle for over four months and he was this close - he just needed a few more pints of blueberries. Everyone veto’d paying the higher price because it never was just a few more pints (they were all cooking addicts in some form or another) so Charlie was forced to scrap his project. He decided to go for the perfect cranberry buckle instead, grumbling the entire time, and then taking it as his due when the final buckle turned out fluffy and light with the perfect tartness in the cranberries.
The second sign came in the form of Miss Marnie Wilson’s rottweilers digging up the test kitchen’s winter herb garden. No one was quite sure how they had gotten into the greenhouse, but boy did they ever wreak havoc. Basil was chewed and stomped on, perfect bushes of sage were eaten down to the nubs, thyme and rosemary were pulled from their pots and used in some sort of savage tug of war, unspeakable acts were committed on the tarragon, and no one even wanted to think about what happened to the marjoram. It took hours to clean up the mess and no one was sure any of the survivors would ever be the same again. If it was possible for chives to look horrified, the surviving chives certainly did.
The third sign was the odd man and his perky ginger companion who walked into the test kitchen one day by way of a blue box that just appeared in the parking lot. The man spoke a mile a minute, waved around a paper that said he was a director of global food health inspection and he was there to inspect the kitchens, and everyone should just call him the Doctor (which they all thought was an odd title for health inspector, but no one said anything while he was there.) In the course of the three days this “doctor” was “inspecting” (though no one actually ever saw him inspect anything), he managed to set the test kitchen set on fire, short out two computers in the front office, and somehow turn one of the cleaning staff into a Velociraptor. After he fixed poor Mark so that he wasn’t running around the test kitchens trying to eat everyone (and no one really understood how it happened, but just that there was some green goo in the boiler room; the Doctor just hand waved a lot and said it was toxic goo from Canada and for some reason everyone just accepted that explanation), the Doctor caused Frankie and Shelly to break into fits of vapors when he dared dip the fish and chips that Frankie had spent over a month perfecting into the custard that Shelly had poured hours and hours of patience and love into. He declared them both to be a grand success and snagged a bowl of each on his way out the door. By the time Shelly had regained the ability to speak and run after him, the blue box was gone from the parking lot and so was the Doctor.
After the Doctor’s visit things really started to deteriorate. The flans were bland, the souffles collapsed before they even even had a chance to live, the creme brulees didn’t caramelize properly, and nothing really went according to plan. The perfect chocolate chip cookies were no longer the perfect combination of chewy and crispy, the ginger snaps lacked snappiness, and there were loads of technical difficulties in the test kitchen. A few recipes came out well, but more were coming out bad than good. They actually had one test group tell Marcus that his profiteroles were heavy and salty. Seeing as Marcus used to be a french pastry chef he did not take kindly to the feedback. His pate a choux was legendary and having a bunch of “American hicks” (his words) criticize it did not go over well.
So no one was really surprised when Christopher came running in one day with an axe and a shotgun (the axe made sense, he was a part time Vermonter after all, but no one was really sure where he got the shotgun) yelling at everyone to bar the doors because zombies were coming. Though he was short of breath and running around attempting to push ovens and bakers racks in front of doors and windows, he managed to explain that he had been down at the local co-op picking up some groceries when he saw a group of zombies lumbering after a pack of runners and pulling red flags out of their waists in the town square. He had dropped his groceries in the parking lot and hightailed it back to the test kitchen as fast as his Subaru Outback could take him to save his friends . . . who had stopped moving the furniture around while he had been talking, and all appeared to be laughing at him. It was Susan who finally explained as she wiped the tears away from her eyes that the local running club was doing a “Run for Your Lives” 5k where runners ran an obstacle course while dodging zombies and whoever made it across the finish line with at least one of their flags left, successfully survived the zombie apocalypse.
Once they put the test kitchen back to rights and Christopher put the axe and this shotgun back in his car, the thought of the impending zombie apocalypse and the hilarity in realizing it wasn’t, seemed to be the kick start everyone needed to turn things around. Charlie immediately started whipping up a batch of champagne risotto and Katie left to perfect the snickerdoodle.
Things always went right and wrong in the test kitchen, but they always seemed to manage to have fun.