By Pete McArdle

The director gives the audience some final instructions and then the studio goes dark. Into his mike he says, “Go live on my mark, on  five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one,” and then the curtains open, the orchestra breaks into the show’s familiar theme song, and Blink Carruthers strides into view, his dazzlingly-bright smile almost a light source unto itself. Dressed all in black, Blink waves at the audience as he stands in front of a set that looks like an old-time kitchen, your grandmother’s kitchen perhaps, with cheery patterned curtains, formica counter tops, and a selection of carving knives hanging from hooks on the wall.

“Good afternoon, Mil-wau-kee, the queen city of Lake Michigan!”

says Carruthers, flashing porcelain almost as white as the sink, “and welcome to Cooking With Chef Jeffrey. On today’s show, you’re going to learn how to turn those fridge-cluttering leftovers into a delicious, mouth-watering stew. So without further adieu, let me introduce to you the star of the show, the master of slice and dice, the chef that just won’t take no for an answer, Jeff-r-e-y Dah-mer!”

The crowd applauds and whistles as Chef Jeffrey strolls onstage wearing jeans, a buttoned-down collar shirt, and wire-rimmed aviator glasses. He takes a heavily-stained white apron off a hook, dons it, and faces the camera, the stove and burners in front of him, the sink at his back.

“Hi, everybody,” he says, nervously adjusting his glasses. “You ever have one of those days when you open the fridge and it’s just a mess, with leftovers and food you haven’t got around to using? You look at all the packages and containers jammed into every nook and cranny and you ask yourself, ‘How will I ever get a head?’”

The drummer hits the snare drum, “ba-ding!”, and Blink Carruthers cracks up.

“Well, on today’s show I’m gonna show you what I do when my fridge has gotten completely out of hands, er, hand. I call this dish the ’25th Street Bourbon Ragout’, and as you might guess from the name, it starts with a good bottle of bourbon.”

Blink appears at Dahmer’s elbow holding a two-liter bottle of Wild Stoat bourbon, the preferred beverage of street people everywhere.

Jeffrey unscrews the cap, hefts the bottle, and takes a prodigious swig of the cheap hooch. He coughs and hacks for a minute or two, spits in the sink, and says, “Smooth, real smooth!” After wiping his mouth on his sleeve, Chef Jeffrey opens a cabinet and takes out an immense cast-iron stock pot.

“Folks, the first thing you wanna do is make sure your pot’s clean, this is where it all happens, and I can see there’s a little something stuck on the bottom of this one.” Dahmer picks up a wire brush and rakes it violently against the bottom of the pot. Then he holds the pot upside down over a garbage pail and watches some papery debris flutter down into the trash.

“O.K., our stock pot’s ready, so now we set the flame on low and add some bourbon.” Jeffrey pours nearly a pint of whiskey into the pot and then takes a big gulp himself. “One for the sauce and one for the chef, that’s what I always say,” he says. Blink can only grin and shake his head.

“Let’s adjust the flame so the bourbon doesn’t evaporate—there, that’s perfect,” says Dahmer. “Now let’s look in the fridge and see what veggies we’ve got.”

Chef Jeffrey opens the refrigerator and pulls out a wilted head of lettuce, what looks like a turnip, and a bottle of green olives. As he tears off soggy lettuce leaves and drops them into the pot, he says, “A great ragout has to have balance and it looks like we’re in luck today. We’ve got our leafy greens, a nice root vegetable”—having finished with the lettuce, he drops the turnip in whole— “and some green olives. As you know, olives are rich in the mono-saturated fats that are so important for a healthy heart. And now we’ll get our frying pan ready to brown the meat.”

Jeffrey puts a high flame under a skillet and almost immediately a thick cloud of greasy smoke billows up from the pan. Disgusted, Blink makes a face but true professional that he is, his wide smile returns in an instant.

“I don’t really worry about whether my frying pan is clean,” says Jeffrey taking another belt of bourbon. “Whatever may be there burns off pretty quickly. And as soon as it does, I add some lard and my own secret stock to create my famous reduction a la Dahmer.”

Chef Jeffrey walks over to a couple of plastic vats in the corner and yanks the lids off. Blink catches a whiff of the contents,  makes a retching sound and hurries over to the sink.

Dahmer dips his hand into one of the vats and comes up with a thick, whitish substance which he throws in the frying pan where it immediately begins to sizzle. Then he takes a ladle and fills it with  yellow-green liquid from the other vat. He holds the ladle under his nose for a moment, smiles appreciatively, and pours the toxic-looking deliquescence into the pan.

“A good stock is the key to any reduction,” Chef Jeffrey says, stirring the contents of the pan and lowering the flame, “and I could tell you exactly what’s in my special stock”—he dips a finger in the reduction and tastes it—“but then I’d have to kill you!”

An ashen Carruthers leads the audience in raucous laughter.

“Seriously, folks,” says Dahmer, “I’ll give you one little hint: battery acid, ideally from a DieHard car battery. Dependable starting power for those cold Wisconsin winters, and the key to a flavorful stock, the DieHard battery is available at the Sears store nearest you.”

{Canned applause as they break for commercial}

“Welcome back, folks,” says Chef Jeffrey, his blonde hair glinting in the bright studio lights. “Our reduction’s finally ready and now it’s time to prepare the meat. For this you’re going to need some basic tools.”

Jeffrey takes down a shiny, well-honed butcher knife and waves it in the air causing Carruthers to take a step backward.

“Your knife,” says Jeffrey. “It’s gotta be sharp or you’ll never get through those pesky ligaments and tendons.” He puts down the knife and picks up a rusty ball-peen hammer. “Your tenderizer. You wanna break down all those collagen fibers, make the meat so soft you could eat it with a spoon. And last but not least, your rendering tool”—Dahmer holds up a Craftsman-brand power saw—“so important for accessing those tender organ meats, and also available at the Sears store nearest you. And don’t forget to keep an eye on your stew pot, right, Blink?” says Jeffrey, taking a pull on the half-empty bottle of bourbon.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” says Carruthers, sounding oddly sincere as he vigorously stirs the pot.

“So-o-o,” says Chef Jeffrey, “Why don’t we see what kind of meat’s in the fridge.” As the celebrity chef bops over to the refrigerator, Blink sneaks a slug of Old Stoat, the entire studio as quiet as a crypt except for the gurgling from the fry-pan.

Dahmer returns center stage with several Ziploc bags and a large  Tupperware container. Opening it, Chef Jeffrey says, “Here we have some leftover thighs, and by now they’re pretty tough.” He lays a large strip of gray meat on the wooden chopping board.

“So first we add a liberal dose of salt—I prefer Kosher salt myself, but really, any salt’ll do—-and then a dusting of garlic powder to cover up that annoying refrigerator smell . . . there, isn’t that nice? And lastly, we thoroughly tenderize the meat.” As Dahmer furiously pounds the meat with his hammer, a pair of nuns in the last row make the sign of the Cross and slip out the back.

“There, that’s just perfect,” says Chef Jeffrey, dropping the tenderized thigh in the frying pain. “Now we fry the meat until it’s a deep brown, we want to seal in all those natural juices.” The smoke from the searing meat wafts over Dahmer’s face, and his nostrils flare as he savors the aroma. Meanwhile, Carruthers takes a huge hit of bourbon, making no effort to conceal what he’s doing. Chef Jeffrey flips over the meat.

“See how nicely browned that is, can we get a camera shot of this?” A boom camera descends to within a foot of Dahmer’s head. “You simply have to be patient until it’s good and brown, unless you’re starting with dark meat, in which case I’d suggest you use a timer.”

After a minute, the chef turns the meat over and inspects it.

“Excellent, that looks well-sealed, so let’s add this to the stew and see what else we have.”

Chef Jeffrey opens a Ziploc bag and his eyes grow wide.

“Folks, we are in for a real treat: sweetbreads! Sweetbreads, of course, refer to the thymus or pancreas gland, or in some cultures,  the testicles. Now these”—-the chef holds up a translucent sac containing a pair of cylindrical organs—“would appear to be the latter.” He drops them into the frying pan, grins impishly at the audience and says, “Today, we’re gonna have a real ball!”

“Ba-ding!” from the drummer as Dahmer’s stricken sidekick staggers offstage.

As the sweetbreads begin to sizzle, Chef Jeffrey unwraps a foil package and holds up a long bone with small tags of flesh hanging from it. “Of course, we’re spoiled these days, folks. We eat the filet and throw the rest away.”

The drummer hits the snare but notices Chef Jeffrey glaring at him and quickly puts his sticks down.

“As I was saying, in the old days nothing went to waste. It was understood that bones were chock-full of marrow, an excellent source of the iron that’s so important for healthy red blood cells. Blink, would you hand me my hatchet?” Dahmer looks around at the empty stage, shrugs his shoulders, and says, “But really, any tool will do.”

A man in the first row wearing a white suit and a pink Mohawk bursts into laughter. Chef Jeffrey picks up his ball-peen and whales away at the bone, fragments of bone flying everywhere and blood spatter dotting his forehead.

“And there we are,” he says, using a spatula to transfer the whole sticky mess into the pot. Then he grabs the sweetbreads with a pair of tongs, causing the pink-haired fan to cringe, and plops them into the stew.

Chef Jeffrey wipes his forehead with the back of his sleeve, picks up the bottle of Old Stoat, and says, “While all this deliciousness simmers and coalesces into something fabulous, let’s take a moment for a word from our sponsors.”

{Canned applause as they break for commercial. While Chef Jeffrey guzzles whiskey, two men wearing bad suits and badges enter the studio and take the nuns’ seats}

“O.K., we’re back,” says Chef Jeffrey, covering a burp, “and our rich and tantalizing ragout is almost ready. Folks, I’m not kidding you—you serve this stew to your guests and I swear to God they’ll never leave!” The drummer raises his sticks but apparently thinks better of it and puts them down.

“As is our custom, Blink will pick out a lucky audience member to sample today’s dish. Blink?”

Carruthers smiles without showing any of his expensive dentistry and walks unsteadily to the edge of the stage. He points to the closest person, the man in the white suit, who hops to his feet and runs up the steps to the stage, resplendent in his matching maroon cravat and pocket square.

“And what’s your name, handsome?” says Dahmer, slurring quite a bit by this point.

“Ian,” says the man, “but all my friends call me Nancy.”

A tentative “ba-ding!” from the drummer as Blink kills the bottle of Old Stoat. Chef Jeffrey and his guest walk over to a little bistro table, stage left, and sit down. The table has been set for two with fine china, a white linen table-cloth, and a vase of Alstroemeria lilies in the middle.

While Blink fills two bowls with ragout, Chef Jeffrey smiles winningly at Ian and says, “Has anyone ever told you you have a nice head?”

Ian smiles coquettishly. “’Have’, no. ‘Give’, absolutely!”

The audience roars and the drummer follows up the “ba-ding!” with a “ta-cha!” on the hi-hat. Carruthers sets down bowls of steaming stew in front of the men and then lurches out of sight.

“Let’s let this cool down a little,” says Chef Jeffrey, licking his lips in anticipation. “Tell me, Ian—-or should I call you Nancy?—are you presently in a committed relationship?”

Ian bats his eyelashes and says, “Not at this very second, no.”  The audience titters and the drummer nails a burlesque riff on his tom-tom, nearly falling off his stool in the process.

“Well perhaps you could hang around after the show,” says Chef Jeffrey, slurring badly. “I’m certain I could find a permanent spot for you. But right now, it’s time to enjoy our ’25th Street Bourbon Ragout’.”

Raising a spoon full of stew, Dahmer blows on it, but before he can put it in his mouth, he notices the men with badges hurrying  down the side aisle towards the stage.

As the celebrity chef jumps to his feet, Ian swallows a mouthful of ragout and begins to clutch his throat and turn blue. It appears a sweetbread has occluded his airway.

“I’m afraid that’s all the time we have today, folks,” says Chef Jeffrey, grabbing the ball-peen hammer. “You’ve been a wonderful audience and be sure to tune in tomorrow when I’ll be making my signature dish, sausage and peepers. For Blink Carruthers and myself,  so long from Milwaukee and have a great day!”

As the orchestra belts out the Cooking With Chef Jeffrey theme,  Dahmer sprints offstage, Ian falls off his chair and goes into convulsions, and the two homicide detectives are swept away by the rapidly-departing crowd, undoubtedly anxious to get home in time for Oprah.