4thWrite Prize 2023: Back of House by Esther Okorocha

Back of House: “The Chef de Cuisine of The Mating Clinic”

The first thing that Bisi noticed as she walked through the doors of the Kensington branch of
The Mating Clinic was the smell. Her mother had told her that years ago, when the clinics were part of
the publicly funded healthcare system, they didn’t have enough staff to take care of the dead bodies.
They would pile up as the staff waited weeks for the mortician to come and take them away. The body,
Bisi found out after a quick Google search, begins to decompose immediately after death. As the
unattended corpses would build up, so too would the smells they produced. As the bodies decayed, the
smell of rotten eggs and faeces would permeate the building, spreading to all of the mating rooms. Mrs
Iseru recalled to Bisi how she remembered her father rushing out to buy candles and air fresheners for
their room because neither of them could get over the smell. When Mrs Iseru was giving birth to Bisi,
she nearly passed out. Not from the pain of pushing out Bisi’s head (which felt larger than it actually
was), but from the overwhelming stench of decaying flesh. But after the clinics became privatised, they
could afford to hire more workers to take care of the bodies themselves. Soon enough, the smell of rot
and decay was replaced with the sweet smell of freshly baked goods and Italian imported coffee.
As Bisi waited in line at the reception desk, she was hit with the smell of a fusion of spices –
cinnamon, ginger, and … limes? The aromas that flooded Bisi’s senses confused her. Not because she
couldn’t work out what the third scent was (although not being able to figure it out did frustrate her)
but it was the fact that she wasn’t expecting to smell these fragrances at all. Mrs Iseru had given birth to
Bisi at The Mating Clinic branch in Islington. In 1990, the Islington branch had offered Mrs Iseru the
difficult choice between the soup of the day (the flavour was always broccoli) or chips, cheese, and
gravy. Bisi thought that the Kensington branch, which usually welcomed the likes of celebrities and
politicians, would serve dishes like sous vide wood pigeon on a bed of red cabbage puree, served with
celeriac fondant and dressed in a mushroom sauce (Bisi had spent a lot of evenings drafting her columns
as MasterChef played in the background). So, she was pleasantly surprised by the distinct East Asian
flavours that she could smell wafting through the corridor.
After a few minutes of waiting in line, Bisi stepped up to the desk. She was greeted by a young,
cheery receptionist who she saw, from a quick glance at her name tag, was called Felicity.
“Good morning, welcome to The Mating Clinic. How can I help you?”
Bisi reached into her purse to show Felicity her press badge. “My name’s Bisi Iseru. I’m here to
interview Ms Tanaka for The Londoner.”
Suddenly, Felicity’s eyes lit up. “Of course, we’ve been expecting you!” Felicity giggled at her
own joke as she got up from the desk. “Just one moment, I’ll walk you to the kitchen.”
Bisi watched Felicity place a Back in 10 minutes sign on the desk as she waited for her to emerge
from the alcove. She followed Felicity through the corridors as they made their way to the kitchens. Bisi
was acutely aware of the fact that Felicity kept stealing exciting glances at her.
“You’ve caused quite a stir, you know?”
Bisi raised her eyebrows. “I have?”
“All of us have subscriptions to The Londoner. We can’t believe the Clinic is going to be
featured in the mag, it’s all so exciting. I love your articles, by the way. I thought the interview you had
with Gordon Ramsay was hilarious.”
The women arrived at the double doors. Bisi looked to Felicity expectantly.
“Oh, you can go ahead. Hitomi doesn’t let anyone through who isn’t kitchen staff.”
“I see. Thanks for walking me.”
“No problem.”
Bisi moved to go through the doors when Felicity spoke again.
“Would you sign my copy of The Londoner after the interview? My girlfriend would lose her
Bisi smiled. “Of course. I’ll come and find you after”
“Thank you so much.” Felicity smiled back, giving Bisi a little wave as she walked away.
Bisi took a breath before she entered the kitchen. It was spotless. Pots and pans were hung up
neatly on a shelf and the countertops were clear from clutter. Bisi took a seat at the island table and
took out her things – a pencil and pad, her phone, and a bottle of water. She was nervous, though she
wasn’t sure why – she had once interviewed a chef who liked to throw knives at the wall to test if they
were sharp enough. Perhaps it was because the Chef de Cuisine at The Mating Clinic: Kensington was
notoriously secretive. Hitomi Tanaka had never given an interview to anyone, nor would she let any of
her staff give one either. She didn’t release any of her recipes, no matter how often people begged her
to. No chef could replicate her dishes no after how hard they tried.
It wasn’t long before Hitomi strode through the doors. She was short, dressed head to toe in
her spot-free chef’s whites. Bisi stood as Hitomi approached her, hand outstretched. “Ms Iseru, lovely
to meet you.”
Bisi shook Hitomi’s hand. “Please, call me Bisi. It’s lovely to meet you as well, Ms Tanaka.
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me.”
Hitomi gave Bisi a small smile. “If we’re on a first-name basis then call me Hitomi. Ms Tanaka
reminds me of my mother.”
Bisi smiled as they both sat down. Hitomi reached into her pocket and produced a pack of
cigarettes and a light. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Not at all.”
Hitomi lit up a cigarette as Bisi began to record the interview on her phone. She took her pen
in her hand.

This is the first interview that you’ve agreed to give since the beginning of your career. I think I should
begin by asking why?

I’ve never really understood why people wanted me to give interviews. You can get a pretty good
picture of me by eating my food. But ever since I started at The Clinic, the questions have been
non-stop. So, hopefully, this interview will clear everything up. That, and my wife has a subscription to
The Londoner and told me that I’d be stupid not to.

Did you always have an interest in cooking from a young age?

I wouldn’t say that I took an interest in it so much as my mother would force to me stand in
the kitchen with her and watch as she made meals. She always said that “あなたはあなたの
ためにこれを行うために男に頼ることはできません.” [Translation: You can’t rely on a
man to do this for you].

So, it was more of a necessity than a hobby.

[takes a drag]. Yeah, for sure. I had hobbies in school, but they weren’t things that my mother thought
you could make money from. I did athletics from Year 7 until Year 13; I was pretty good. In terms of
subjects, maths and sciences were my strongest. I fucking hated English. Anyway, I got really into
gastronomy when I was doing my A-Levels. I just found it so cool to study food on a molecular level.
When I told by my mum I was going to be a chef, she was sceptical.

How did you convince her?

I argued that as long as there are people, there will always be mouths to feed.

Can you tell me a bit about where you worked before the Clinic?

[another drag] After I finished school I worked at the Nobu in London for a couple of years, which
was insane. Being introduced to all of these ingredients and combinations was like getting a child
jacked up on candy and then letting them loose in Hamleys. I wanted to get out of the UK for a while,
so I started sending my CV to some restauranteurs in Europe and America. To my surprise, the first
offer I heard back from was Anthony fucking Bourdain. It was a starting position as first commis at
Brasserie Les Halles in New York. I didn’t even have to think about it, I said yes straight away and
booked a flight the next day. I worked there until it closed in 2016.

You were the youngest person and the first woman to hold such a senior position at the restaurant if
I’m correct?

It’s crazy to think about it now. I don’t think I realised how big of a deal it was at the time. I was just
happy to be there.

You started working for The Mating Clinic after you left?


I wanted to come back to the UK, primarily to look after my mum, but also because I missed home. I
asked my then-girlfriend – we’re married now – to come with me. For some reason, she said yes. I started
working at the Clinic a few weeks later.

What made you want to work at The Mating Clinic?

I’m aware of how cliche and self-gratifying this sounds, but I liked the idea that I could use food to
help women through such a delicate time as pregnancy. I think that every woman should have the best
meals when they’re eating for two.

I hate to ask such a basic question, but I’m dying to know. Cooking with human organs must be
difficult, right? More than animal organs?

Surprisingly, no. Before I started, The Clinic had me do a training course to learn how to cook with
human organs. We cooked dishes with animal organs and replicated them with human ones. It didn’t
take long to learn the differences in preparation, cooking times, taste, and such.

I’ve heard you have been described as a seasonal chef. Is that correct?

Well, human organs never go out of season. [she smiles] But there are some patients who don’t want to
eat the organs, and there are some men who don’t want to donate them. In those cases, I only cook what’s in season because that’s more natural and healthier for the pregnancy. It all boils down to science, really.

As the interview came to a close, Bisi set her pen down and pressed stop on her phone. By the
time they finished, there were a few cigarette buts in the ashtray.
“That’s it?” Hitomi asked.
“That’s it,” confirmed Bisi.
“Oh. It went by so quickly. I thought it would be worse.”
“Well, I’m glad it wasn’t as painful as you thought.”
Hitomi watched Bisi as she began to pack her things away.
“Just out of curiosity, has your wife tried any of your food?” Bisi asked.
“Are you kidding? I test out all of my dishes on her, animal and human. She’s not squeamish
with any of that stuff, even now that she’s pregnant.”
“You’re having a baby? Congratulations.”
Hitomi smiled softly. “Thanks.”
“How far along?”
“Six months.”
Bisi, all packed, leant against the table. “Wow. You didn’t want to carry the baby?”
“Fuck no. There is no way in hell that I want something growing inside me for nine entire
months. Besides, Nicole was always excited about the whole ‘carrying the baby’ thing. She started crying
when she felt the first kick.”
Bisi laughed. “I guess the bump would be hard to manoeuvre around the kitchen anyway.”
“My point exactly.” Hitomi paused as she took a final drag of her cigarette. “Do you want
“Yeah. I’ve just been put on the waiting list, actually.”
“Congratulations to you, too. Which clinic?”
“My wife and I live in Soho, so we registered there.”
Hitomi nodded. “That’s a good one. I know the head chef there, she’s great.”
“She is?”
“But you should come here. If you give me your details I can get someone to set aside a room
for you. Did your guy register to donate his organs?”
Bisi nodded. “He did.”
“Awesome. I’d love to cook you up something nice. I can even make something for your wife.”
“That would be amazing, thank you.”
Hitomi shrugged off Bisi’s gratefulness. “It’s no problem.”
They shook hands and Bisi left the room. She made her way out of the Clinic, not forgetting to
sign an old copy of The Londoner for Felicity, who squealed with delight and hugged her as a thank
Bisi relayed her experience to her wife, Toni – who demanded she spared no detail – as they
relaxed with some jollof rice in the living room.
“I don’t know why you’re so surprised. Everyone and their mother reads The Londoner.”
“Oh? I didn’t know you spoke to everyone and their mothers to verify that.”
Toni rolled her eyes and waved her fork in the air as she talked. “You know what I mean. It’s a
big deal – you don’t have to be so bashful.”
“It’s not like I figured out the cure for cancer. It’s just an interview.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Let me be proud of you, please?”
Bisi smiled at Toni. “Fine.”
Bisi had felt drawn to Toni from the first time she met her. It did not surprise Bisi when she
later found out Toni was a Leo Sun. They hadn’t become friends until Year 9, and it wasn’t long before
Bisi developed a pretty serious crush. They started seeing each other in Year 12 – Toni, of course, made
the first move and asked Bisi to prom. When they made love for the first time, Bisi thought she had
died and gone to heaven. Initially, they hadn’t wanted any children. Bisi, a twenty-one-year-old
freelancer, was living paycheck to paycheck. And Toni, at twenty-three, was an aspiring fashion
designer with no line out yet. They neither had the time nor the money to care for a child. But then,
after they got married – a lowkey affair at city hall – they developed a desire to expand their family. Now
that Bisi, at thirty-two, was a staff editor at The Londoner and Toni was, at thirty-five, the head designer
of Fendi, the couple decided that they were finally ready (emotionally and financially) to have a baby.
“Is she really going get us a room or was she just being nice?” Toni asked as she finished off the
last of her food.
“She really meant it. We went to the front desk and got everything sorted.” Bisi put her plate
down as she snuggled up closer to Toni.
“Did you tell Femi?”
Toni snorted as Bisi sighed, heaving herself off the couch to get her phone from the kitchen
Before they found Femi, Bisi had thought it would take forever for her and Toni to decide on a
Mating Partner. Bisi, always one to avoid confrontation, spent endless nights putting together a list of
qualities that she thought were suitable. She thought that someone who was tall (in case they had a
daughter), attractive, had a relatively high IQ, and had no family history of any physical or mental
illnesses would do the job. Toni only had a few questions after combing through the list.
“It says that the Matee will need to start getting health checks as soon as possible,” said Toni.
“We haven’t really talked about who’s carrying.”
“Do you want to?”
“Not really. The thought of pushing a baby out of my vagina doesn’t really do it for me.”
Bisi rolled her eyes, kissing her teeth at Toni’s honesty. “Well, the thought doesn’t do it for me
either, thank you for asking.”
“I’ll make you a deal. If you push out the first, I’ll push out the second.” Toni stuck out her
hand. Bisi pretended to think about it for a moment.
They shook hands.
“What about his race?” Toni asked.
“What about it?”
“Well, it matters, right?”
Bisi shrugged. “Not to me.” She caught Toni rolling her eyes and gave her a look. “What? It
“Like hell, it doesn’t. You’re telling me that you didn’t have a preference before we started
dating? One of the things you liked about me was the fact that I was black.”
“That’s not true.”
“Oh? And how many white girls did you date before me? Or Asian girls? Or any girls that
weren’t black?”
Bisi, defeated, was quiet for a moment. “Is that wrong?” Bisi looked up at Toni, questioning.
“I mean, is that wrong of me if I want him to be black?”
Toni thought about it for a while. “I don’t know… I don’t think so.”
“I’m not trying to be – I’m not -”
“I know.”
“I just think that makes the most sense.”
“I agree.”
Bisi paused. “You do?”
“Well … yeah. I think it would be easier that way.”
“Ok.” Bisi checked the mark ‘Black/African/Caribbean – British’ on the form and they never
brought it up again.
A month or so after Bisi’s interview, she and Toni arrived at the Mating Clinic – Kensington
Branch for their appointment. The clinic was just as she remembered it – clean, busy, and smelling of
spices. Holding hands, the couple waited in line until they were greeted by none other than Felicity.
“Ms Iseru. What a pleasure to see you again. I hope you’ve been well?”
“I have, thank you. And you?”
“We’ve been super busy at the Clinic! Ever since your article was published, everyone has been
trying to book an appointment here. We’ve actually had to start turning people away because we just
don’t have the space. There’s a waiting list now.”
Toni looked at Bisi with a teasing glint in her eye. “I told you so.”
“Shut up.” Bisi turned back to Felicity, who spoke before Bisi could get a word in.
“And this must be your wife?”
Toni offered her hand to Felicity who shook it eagerly.
“How can I help you both today?”
“We’re here for the mating ritual.”
Felicity’s eyes went wide as she clasped her hands together in tender excitement. “Oh, how
wonderful! Congratulations. Let me show you both to your mating room.”
The mating room looked like a standard hospital room except that it had been decorated to
mimic a bedroom. A table against one side of the room displayed fruits, pastries, a radio, magazines
(including the latest issue of The Londoner), candles, sex toys, and Viagra. On the other side was a small
dining table and chairs. Toni let go of Bisi’s hand as she migrated towards the table in wonder.
“Please make yourself comfortable. The doctor will be in soon. So will your mating partner,
he’s just getting through some pre-mating checks. Have fun, I’ll see you both later.” said Felicity, as she
left the room.
Toni, thoroughly amused by the selection on the table, turned to her wife with a wide grin and
two different vibrators in hand. “Can you believe they give you a selection to choose from? Noor told
me that you have to bring your own stuff at the Lewisham clinic.”
She stopped when she noticed Bisi picking nervously at her nail polish. She immediately
dropped the vibrators and walked back over to her wife. Toni took Bisi’s hands. “Hey, what are you
“I … I don’t know.”
“Ok.” Toni squeezed Bisi’s hands in encouragement.
“It’s just that … I think I’m … nervous? I don’t know. I’m probably just being silly -”
“No, you’re not.”
Bisi studied Toni’s face with an uncertainty that was not reciprocated in her lover’s face. “Are
you sure?”
Toni squeezed her wife’s hands in reassurance. “If I had to have sex with a man I’d be terrified”.
What began as a snort from Bisi quickly turned into a giggle, which soon led to full-blown
laughter from the pair.
“How do you feel about it?” Bisi asked. She watched Toni shrug. She never really let things get
to her the way Bisi did.
“Obviously I’m not ecstatic at the thought of you having sex with someone that’s not me, but I
think I’ll get over it”.
Bisi rolled her eyes. She was about to reply when there was a knock at the door. Both women
turned as a nurse came in. Toni distracted Bisi with some talk about her new Spring collection as she
changed into a hospital gown. She tried, and succeeded, in making Bisi laugh as the nurse hooked up a
tube from her arm to the Mating Monitor. Only a few minutes after the nurse left did she return, this
time with Femi. Toni gave Bisi one last squeeze before she left, greeting Femi on her way out, leaving
them both in an air of awkwardness. Femi and Bisi said hi to each other at the same time, laughing at
their own nerves as they hugged each other.
“How are you?” Femi asked.
“Good, I’m good. And you?”
“I’m fine.” Femi looked to Bisi’s arm and then back to her. She follows his eyes. “Does it hurt?”
Bisi shook her head and gave Femi a reassuring smile. “I don’t feel a thing,” she said.
There was a knock at the door when their doctor, a middle-aged, stern-looking woman entered
the room. She approached Femi and Bisi, shaking both of their hands. “Good morning. I’m Dr Kalfe.
I’ll be overseeing your procedure today. How are you both feeling?”
Both Bisi and Femi assured her that they were fine.
“Nervous?” asked Dr Kalfe.
Femi and Bisi chuckled. “A little,” Femi replied.
“That’s to be expected. But there’s nothing to worry about. The procedure is straightforward –
I’m sure I don’t need to explain that to you. If you feel tired or need a little extra help, feel free to grab
something from the table. When you’re done, I’ll be here to guide you both through the next stages.”
Femi and Bisi nodded in understanding. With that, Dr Kalfe left the room.
“How do they know when it’s… you know?” Femi asked Bisi. She looked at him in confusion.
He tried again. “When it’s… done?”
Bisi raised the arm with the tube that was connected to the monitor. “The monitor will notify
us when we’ve been successful,” she explained.
“I read it in the brochure.”
Femi became nervous again and retreated to his nervous habit of picking his fingers. Noticing
his concern, Bisi took his hand into hers and squeezed it tight in an effort to provide him with some
“Are you ready?” she asked.
Unable to speak, Femi nodded. They began to take off their clothes as they walked back toward
the bed. Bisi lay down first leaving Femi to clamber on top. He hesitated before leaning down and
kissing her. It was a bit awkward. Mechanical, almost. Not at all how Bisi felt when kissing Toni. They
began to move slowly at first – technically, it was both their first time. After the initial pain subsided
(Femi paused to make sure Bisi was ok), their movements became more and more urgent until Femi
came. Suddenly drained of energy, Femi collapsed into Bisi’s shoulder. Femi was acutely aware of how
much he was panting, and how quiet Bisi was breathing, and tried to calm down. Bisi listened to the
sound of his breath until the Monitor blared out: FERTILISATION INCOMPLETE. PLEASE TRY
AGAIN. Bisi snorted. She tried her best to hold back her laughter, but she couldn’t help it. As Femi
rolled over to lie beside her, both were unable to contain their laughter. He covered his face with his
hands in embarrassment.
“God, I’m sorry. This is so embarrassing.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Bisi sighed. “On average it takes three tries for a successful
Femi removed his hands from his face in disbelief. “What, did you read that in the brochure
Bisi paused. “Would it make you feel better if I said I did?”
“Hey,” Femi whined. He nudged her gently as she giggled.
“I’m just kidding, it really does say that. Check the table.”
Femi reached over to look at the brochure. He snorted in disbelief – that statistic really was in
there. Femi put the brochure to the side. “Do you want something to eat?” he asked.
Bisi thought for a moment. “Could you grab me some fruit, please?”
“Sure.” Femi got out of bed and walked over to the table. He grabbed a plate and began to pick
out some fruit.
“Toni thinks I’m going to have twins.”
Femi glanced back at Bisi, who was twirling her braids in her hand absentmindedly.
“Oh, yeah?”
She nodded. “My mum did, my sister just did. It must be a genetic thing,” Bisi said, more to
herself than to Femi.
“Maybe.” Femi walked back over and got into bed. They both munched on some fruit.
“I’d love to have twins. Both of them girls, I think. Toni said she we couldn’t handle twins yet,
but I think we could.” Bisi paused as she took a bite out of a peach. “What would you like to have?” she
Femi took some time before answering. “I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it.”
Bisi, unaware of Femi’s dejected tone, finished off the last piece of fruit. “Should we go again?”
The second time didn’t last as long as the first. Bisi could tell Femi was trying, but he was tired,
so she offered to go on top. She had just climbed off of him when the Monitor blared out:
FERTILISATION COMPLETE. Panting, Femi and Bisi smiled at each other. In her haze, Bisi gave
him a peck on the lips.
“We did it,” she said.
He smiled. “We did it,” he replied.
Bisi watched as Femi’s smile began to falter. “Hey, are you ok?” she asked.
“I – I’m fine. Just a bit dizzy, I think,” he said. But his eyes were fluttering shut and his
breathing was starting to become laboured. She put a hand on his forehead, he felt warm, but that was
to be expected. It was happening now, she realised. He was starting to die.
“It’s ok.” she whispered, not knowing what else to say. “You’re going to be ok.”
Suddenly, the door opened, and two female nurses entered the room rolling in a bed. One of
the nurses told Femi that they were taking him to another room, but Femi was too out of it to respond.
Together, they hoisted Femi onto the bed. They let Bisi know that Dr Kalfe would be in soon and
wheeled him out of the room.
It wasn’t long before Dr Kalfe came back in and removed the tube from Bisi’s arm.
“How are you feeling?” asked Dr Kalfe as she checked the machine.
“Good,” Bisi replied.
“Any fatigue or dizziness?”
“No. I feel really awake, actually.” Bisi’s stomach rumbled. “And a little hungry.”
Both women laughed.
“Well, all your vitals are good, so I can get Toni back in so you can have some food. We’ll keep
you in overnight and do a check-up in the morning. If everything looks good then you’ll be free to go.”
explained Dr Kalfe.
“Amazing, thank you so much.”
Bisi had made her way to the dining table and was scrolling through her phone when Toni
walked through the door. Toni hugged Bisi tightly, reluctant to let go as she sat down at the table.
“Fuck. How was it?” Toni inquired.
“It –”
“Was it bad? Did he hurt you? Did it work?” Toni implored as she looked all over Bisi for any
signs of discomfort.
“Will you calm down? I’m fine, it was fine. And yes, it worked. Are you ok?” she asked,
confused at Toni’s frazzled state.
“Me? I’m fine. It was torture waiting for you and having no idea what was happening. I just
wanted to know that you were ok.”
“It was sex, T, not surgery.” Bisi teased.
“I know, I know. But still.” Toni replied.
“You were just worried that I was having the most mind-blowing sex of my life, weren’t you?”
Toni huffed. “What? No, I wasn’t.”
“Sure. Well, it wasn’t that great. He didn’t even make me come.”
“And I hope you know that nobody, and I mean nobody, could make me feel the way that you
Toni nodded, not wanting Bisi to see the relief that flooded her body. “I know that’s right. You
don’t have to tell me that.”
Bisi laughed as she kissed Toni. They were interrupted by a knock at the door. Bisi smiled as
Chef Tanaka walked through. She made her way to the table and hugged Bisi in greeting.
“And you must be Toni,” said Tanaka.
“I am, it’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you” Toni replied.
“Likewise,” and the pair also hugged. “How was it?” Hitomi asked Bisi.
Bisi smiled knowingly. “It was fine.”
Hitomi turned to Toni. “The waiting is torture though, right?”
“Yes! Exactly. I’m glad someone gets it.” Toni replied.
“Yeah, yeah, we’re both happy it’s over,” said Bisi, just as her stomach rumbled again. “And
hungry, too,” she added. The three women laughed.
“That’s good. I’m just waiting for the team to deliver the organs to the kitchen and then I’ll get
started. Someone will be in soon with some drinks. I hope you guys enjoy the menu[EO2] .”
“I’m sure we will, thank you,” Bisi replied.
Hitomi said goodbye to the ladies and left. It was quiet for a moment as Toni looked at her wife
in amazement.
“We’re having a baby,” she said. Bisi kissed Toni in delight before she replied.
“We are.”

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