Educating the Cooks
The kitchen was cleaned thoroughly over the course of several days so that it was usable for handling food . While that happened, I had cooking utensils and tableware delivered and had firewood and raw ingredients brought, bit by bit, into the cellar . Also, through Benno, I managed to arrange for cooks to come to my kitchen to work .
Starting from the day I saw the kitchen, I started work at home to cultivate natural yeast . If I’m going to have professional cooks baking for me, then I want to eat fluffy bread .
With Benno’s guidance, I went to a store that deals in glassware and bought a container that I could put a lid on, thinking that I could make natural yeast from lutebelles, which are currently in season .
I first sterilized the bottle by boiling it . Then, I washed and roughly cut up several lutebelles, put them in the bottle along with some water and sugar, and sealed them in . Over the next few days, I shook the bottle thoroughly once a day, opening the lid briefly to let outside air in, waiting for the day when I could use it as liquid yeast .
It took about five days to finally finish fermenting, but now that I’ve filtered it out, I’m left with a liquid that’s full of usable yeast . If I mix this together with whole-wheat flour and water and let it rest, I should be able to make a bread starter .
It seems like fluffy bread is rare even in noble houses . At the guild master’s house, I had some bread made solely of white flour, but even that wasn’t as soft and fluffy as the bread I’ve been craving . If I properly ferment natural yeasts and can use them to make a truly fluffy bread, I think it’ll have a strong appeal . On top of that, if I can keep control of the knowledge of how to ferment natural yeasts and make bread starters, then bread will be the one thing that will be my restaurant’s forte, that few people will be able to quickly copy .
Whether or not this will actually go according to plan is another matter, though .
As soon as I let Benno know that the bread starter is finished, he immediately mobilizes the cooks and brings them to my rooms at the temple . He brings two people: a young man, not even twenty years old, and a ten year old girl who is clearly his apprentice . If these two can learn the recipes to a reasonable degree, then we’ll be able to bring more people in .
“Hugo,” says Benno, very politely, “here you will be able to learn recipes used by the nobility . Please do your best to learn them well . …Madam Maïne, allow me to introduce to you Hugo, a cook from my establishment, and his assistant and apprentice, Ella . ”
As Benno just introduced his cooks to me, I really would like to introduce myself to them in return, but instead I stay silent, nodding once, and let Fran reply for me . After all, I am a blue-robed priestess, so I need to behave like a noble .
“Hugo and Ella, is it?” he replies . “Now then, I shall lead you to the kitchen immediately . ”
I’ve been told that even instructing the cooks should be left to Fran, so he will be reading cooking directions off of wooden boards that I’ve written recipes on . Gil can’t read yet, so I have to entirely entrust Fran with dealing with the cooks .
“The first thing that you must learn is hygienic discipline . Your cookware and utensils must be kept clean and sanitary . This kitchen must be kept in the polished condition that it is now . Before coming here, you must ensure your bodies are clean and your clothes are washed; if you arrive dirty in figure or dress, you will not be allowed into the kitchen . Do you understand thus far?”
If we can beat proper hygienic practices into their heads here, then when they’re told to do the same things in the Italian restaurant, they won’t put up much resistance there .
In the Italian restaurant I’m making, we won’t be serving food on hard slices of bread . We won’t be dropping unwanted food on the ground, and we won’t have a dog running around to eat it up . I’ve heard that that’s unfortunately just the culture around here, but in a high-class restaurant where food fit for the nobility is served, I have no use for such a culture .
What I really want to get these two started on is consommé, but Benno said that he wanted them to be able to finish making something for him to eat in time for lunch, so I’m going to leave making consommé, which takes a considerably long time, for tomorrow . Today, in order to use the oven for the first time, I want to start by making pizza . Or, more accurately, I want to eat pizza .
“Now then,” says Fran, “today we will be making pizza . To begin, please light the oven . ”
“Yes, sir . ”
At Fran’s direction, the two cooks retrieve firewood from the cellar and fire up the oven . Since a wood-fired oven takes a fairly long time to heat up, starting the fire has to be the first step . Lighting the oven here isn’t much different than anywhere else, so the two of them are able to get it going quickly .
“Before handling the ingredients, please wash your hands . ”
As Benno and I, seated at the table in the room used for servants, look on, they start working on making the dough for the pizza . Since Fran and I had already gotten all of the ingredients ready and set them out on the counter, it feels like I’m watching a cooking show . Into a bowl of flour, they mix in some of the natural yeast that I’d brought, then some salt, then some sugar, and finally some lukewarm water, before kneading it thoroughly and setting it aside to rise .
Hugo looks up, letting out a heavy sigh . “This takes just as much work as making bread,” he says .
“It would not be unwise to consider this to be essentially the same sort of thing . Now, after kneading, you must leave it alone for some time to let the dough ferment . In the meantime, we shall make pommé sauce, then chop the ingredients for the pizza and the soup . ”
They blanch and peel the yellow pommé fruits that we are using in place of tomatoes, cut them down to size, set them to simmer over a low flame, and then start to chop up the vegetables .
“Mister Hugo,” says Ella, “I’ll handle prepping the liga . ”
“Please do,” he replies .
She skillfully wields the large kitchen knife, one that I still can’t even hold, and quickly prepares the small white radishes with the garlicky smell . Hugo, as instructed, chops up some bacon, some onion-like lanierres, some carrot-like mellens, and a variety of different kinds of mushrooms . His knife technique is just as fast and precise as you’d expect out of a professional chef . I let out a sigh of admiration .
“Master Benno,” I say, “these cooks are even more excellent than I had expected . ”
The instant I speak, Hugo and Ella turn to look at me, startled . I’d been trying to praise them, but when I see how stiff and frozen they’ve become, I realize that saying anything had been a mistake .
“Your praise is most gracious, Madam Maïne,” says Benno . “…You two, she thinks well of you . ”
Benno’s follow-through thaws the frozen atmosphere . Hugo and Ella both look visibly relieved, and after telling me how gracious my praise is, they return to their chopping, a serious look in their eyes . Benno glares slightly at me, making a gesture to indicate that I should shut my mouth . I nod emphatically .
I’m really sorry . I had no idea that words of praise would cause that kind of reaction .
After they finish chopping the vegetables, Hugo starts preparing the chicken meat next, slicing breast meat into thin strips and soaking them in oil . Ella works on readying some herbs that would taste good with the meat .
“Next, we will be making soup,” says Fran .
The recipe I’ve written down is for a salty vegetable soup that’s boiled together with slices of sausage to bring out a rich savoriness . I want to know if thoroughly boiling the vegetables will actually bring out all of their umami .
“Please boil the soup like so . We will not be discarding the broth . ”
“You want us to leave it like that?”
The two cooks look at Fran with dubious expressions on their faces . Despite that, even though they look bothered by it, they still can’t go against the instructions of a noble, so they continue cooking with sour expressions on their faces . My mother made the same face as I watched her try my kind of soup-making .
“Ella, please skim the lye from the soup . Hugo, the pommé sauce has boiled down, so please thoroughly mix that liga and some of that oil into it . That will finish up the sauce . Ah, and it seems that this is excellent timing for the dough . ”
Hugo, given direction after direction, punches down the dough to let out the gas, divides it in half, and starts to stretch it out .
“After spreading the dough into a circle, coat it with pommé sauce, then top it with these ingredients . ”
As Fran requests, Hugo spreads pommé sauce over the surface of the dough, then tops it with bacon, onions, and mushrooms . On the other piece of the dough, he spreads the sauce, then adds chicken breast, onions, and herbs . Then, he sprinkles a generous amount of cheese over both pizzas, and puts them in the oven .
I notice that Ella has been staring at Hugo as he works, watching with great interest . She’s wearing the same expression as Tuuli when she’s talking with Corinna about sewing and as Ilse when she’s looking at a new recipe . When I see how closely she’s watching, full of an aspiration to better her skills, I can’t help but cheer her on in my mind .
Since we have some time, I want them to make mayonnaise and use that, since we can’t make potato salad, to make kalfe salad, but since this is the first time they’ve been in this kitchen and are making food they’ve never made before while a noble is watching them, they’re obviously very stressed, so I don’t have any choice but to cut that short . I stealthily signal to Fran to cut back on the number of dishes, and he nods slightly at me .
“As the soup has now been thoroughly boiled, please test its flavor in order to adjust its saltiness . ”
Hugo spoons a small amount of soup into a small dish, then timidly raises it to his mouth . As soon as he takes a sip, he freezes, his eyes flying open wide . It takes him a while to swallow, as if he spent extra time letting the flavors roll around his tongue .
“…What is this?” he murmurs, sampling it again .
And again . As soon as I realize that there’s not going to be much soup left if he keeps sampling so enthusiastically, Ella slaps Hugo smartly on the back .
“Mister Hugo, you’re eating too much! How’s the seasoning?”
“Huh?! …Ah, right . ”
Hugo frowns sharply, looking between his tasting dish and the pot . I’m guessing that this is the first time tasting anything like this . Figuring out what to add to that flavor must be very difficult .
“Just a little bit . Just the tiniest bit of salt will do . ”
Trembling with stress, he hesitantly adds a single pinch of salt, stirs it in, then takes another sip .
“Perfect,” he says .
“Let me try too, please,” says Ella .
When I see her pick up another small dish, looking like a dog that’s waiting for her dinner, I have to fight back a giggle . If I start cracking up now, I’m going to ruin the mood again .
Hugo spoons a little soup into her dish, and she drinks a mouthful of it . Her face immediately lights up brilliantly .
“Whoa?! What’s this?! This is really good! That’s the vegetables I’m tasting, right? It’s got some sweetness to it, and the taste of the sausage has disappeared into the rest of the soup… I can’t believe you can make a soup this good with so little salt!”
“Calm down, Ella!”
Hugo tries to restrain Ella as she, speaking very quickly, excitedly describes how delicious the soup is . He glances briefly at me, then back to her, trying to convey a warning with his eyes, but it does not reach Ella at all through her excitement at discovering a new flavor .
“I can’t calm down! This is a huge discovery, isn’t it?!”
“Please, I’m begging you, calm down . You’re before nobility . ”
All the blood drains from Ella’s face as she looks at me . I didn’t even say anything this time, but everything’s frozen up again . I really just want to say that it’s okay to be so excited, and that she should keep trying hard, but what exactly would a noble say at a time like this?
Fran comes near, and I whisper to him . “Could you please tell them that I’m thankful to have cooks with such enthusiasm for their job, and that I’m looking forward to what they’ll be cooking for me?”
He nods . “Understood . Sister Maïne, Master Benno, your meal is nearly ready . If I may, I would like to ask you to please be seated at the table in the other room . ”
Fran motions towards the door . As he does so, Gil, who has been standing there, quickly opens it for us . I get down from my chair, trying not to mope over how I’m being kicked out of the kitchen before everything’s done, and Benno reaches out as if to provide me an escort .
Since Fran is giving directions, he can’t leave the kitchen, so Gil is the one to show us to my room . He closes the kitchen door behind us, following closely behind me . I try not to smile when I see the triumphant expression he’s wearing, as if he’s trying to say “look at me, I’m doing my job . ”
Just like I had asked, the table in my room has been set with a vase full of flowers, place mats, and cutlery, as well as a pitcher of juice to quench our thirst . All of this was put together by Gil while the rest of us were busy in the kitchen, observing the cooks as they worked .
“Thank you, Gil,” I say .
Grinning, he gets down on one knee . Over the past few days, we’ve developed something of an unspoken agreement that, when it’s time for praise, he takes this stance . “You did a great job,” I say, patting his head . “Thanks for your hard work . ” He smiles widely back at me .
Yesterday, he used rinsham on his hair so he could look presentable for the cooks that were coming in from outside the temple today, so his hair is silky smooth . It really does feel good to the touch .
I reach the table, take a drink, and let out a tired sigh . As a powerful awareness of my own heritage sets in, I slump my shoulders exhaustedly .
“Being a rich girl is exhausting . I want to talk with them! I just really want to help them cook…”
“Give it up,” says Benno . “To those two, they’re in a noble kitchen, cooking noble food, in an environment full of nobles . Everything they’re doing is to study . And while they’re here to practice cooking, you’re here to practice how to carry yourself like a noble . Don’t let your guard down when you’re in the temple, idiot . ”
“Urgh… I’ll do my best . ”
I take a deep breath, straightening up in my chair . At about the time I put some energy back into my rich girl act, I hear the kitchen door open from downstairs . As Fran brings our food upstairs, Gil quickly moves to stand by the wall .
“Fran,” I say, “for dessert, I believe I would like a lutebelle . ”
“Of course, Sister,” he replies .
The sugar in the kitchen here is sugar that I had to bring from my own stash at home . Benno hasn’t managed to acquire any yet . Until he manages to secure a route through which he can get a supply, our pastry is being held back . Unlike during the winter, right now fruits are sufficiently delicious to serve as dessert, but I very much hope that we can procure sugar by the time the restaurant is ready .
Fran sets the two types of pizza and bowls of soup down on the table . The pizza looks like it may have been baked for just a little too long . There are a few burn marks on the crust, and the steam gently rising off of each pizza carries with it the faint smell of burnt cheese . The faint sound of the bacon still crackling reaches my ears, and I can see the oil glistening on the surface of the chicken . Both of the pizzas look like they’d be delicious . The smell of the cheese is enrapturing . Benno, sitting across from me, looks with great anticipation at the pizzas, his eyes glimmering .
“To the supreme gods who rule over all in the high, lofty skies, to the great gods who rule over all in the wide, vast earth, to all the gods who grant sustenance to the thousands upon tens of thousands of lives of creation, we offer this heartfelt prayer of thanks for this meal . ”
I recite the blessing that I’ve spent the past few days memorizing, then just Benno and I begin to eat . The other two people in the room can’t eat until they are granted food as the gods’ blessings . Even though I want to eat with them, and even if the concept of granting someone food isn’t really something I’m comfortable with, this is what it means to be a blue-robed priestess, and I can’t work against that .
With Fran by my side, serving as my waiter, I eat my soup . The savoriness of the mean and the sweetness of the vegetables are tied together by a faint saltiness to form a gentle flavor that matches the soup I make at home . I’d personally prefer if it were a little bit saltier, but that’s something I can hope for next time .
“…This is pretty tasty,” says Benno .
“The flavor of the vegetables has truly been highlighted, has it not?” I say . “Even Ilse expressed much curiosity about this . ”
“Hmm? Is it truly so rare a thing?”
When I obliquely hint that this soup isn’t something found in noble recipes, he responds like he understands, staring fixedly at the soup .
“This is pizza . Please think of it as something like a bread . ”
I pick up a slice of pizza, using a fork to cut off the thick, goopy strands of cheese that come along with it, and then try a bite . Benno matches me, taking a slice of the bacon pizza, and has a bite as well .
“Does it suit your tastes?” I ask .
“…This tastes even better than what I was expecting . ”
I take another slice for myself, and Benno slides two onto his plate . Then, I look up at Fran .
“Fran, I give you the gods’ blessings . Please, take your leave until it is time for dessert . ”
“I am truly thankful,” he says .
If I say things like that, then the cooks and my attendants will be able to eat while it’s still warm . Fran and Gil pick up the leftover food, heading downstairs, and after a moment I hear the sound of a door closing . A moment later, Ella squeals in delight, her voice echoing up the stairs . It seems like they started sampling everything right away . I can hear the faint sound of a fun, lively conversation happening downstairs .
While the others are busy being enthusiastic about their cooking, now is the perfect time for a private conversation .
“Mister Benno,” I say around a mouthful of pizza, “do you think this pizza and this soup will sell?”
Benno nods, swallowing . “It will . This is the first time I’m having it, but it’s delicious . …I feel like this pizza is more tender than the bread I ate when I dined with nobles, though . ”
“It’s thanks to my wonderful little yeasts,” I reply .
“What do you mean by that?”
“It’s something that means that other shops can’t get ahead of us on this . …Like, even if the cooks that we’ve trained get hired away by someone else, this is a secret that will make sure we’re still on top of the market . ”
This Italian restaurant is going to be something I’m going to be able to get some money out of . If it isn’t profitable, then I’m going to be in some trouble .
“Since the soup only really brings out the flavor of the vegetables, if someone really wanted to copy it, I think it wouldn’t be hard for them to do so . Once they start copying us, then we’re going to fight by having a variety of different flavors of soup . ”
“Huh… We don’t have many cooks, though . How’s that going to work?”
“If we offer courses whose flavors match the season, then even if we don’t have very many cooks, I think we should still be okay . ”
When I answer, Benno groans, scratching roughly at his head .
“…Man, I feel like an idiot for worrying about things all by myself . Using you to solve some of my mountain of problems would really clear things up . ”
“What problems are you having?”
“Let’s not talk about it here . Stop by my shop . ”
The two of us finish eating, and I ring the bell that’s been left on the table for us . Shortly thereafter, Fran and Gil come up the stairs bearing our desserts . They tidy up our used tableware, then set our dessert plates in front of us .
“Fran,” I say, “did you find the taste to be satisfactory?”
Out of all of us, the person who understands noble cuisine the most is Fran . All I’m doing is making the food that I want to eat, so it’s still going to be different from actual noble cooking .
“…It was very delicious,” he replies . “It was not traditional cuisine, but I believe that the flavor is such that any noble who has an interest in novel foods would find it appealing . ”
“I see,” I reply, nodding .
“The cooks have taken a profound interest in this as well, and have expressed a burning desire to try again after reviewing what they have made so far, so I believe that they will continue to work hard from tomorrow on . ”
I’m very happy to hear that everything is coming along nicely . On the other hand, though, I suddenly feel like I’ve forgotten something important .
“Does something seem to be the matter, Sister Maïne?” asks Fran .
“…I think that there may be something that I am forgetting about . Fran, might you have any ideas?”
“Something… you’re forgetting about?”
“Yes, something about the temple . I can’t quite put my finger on it…”
As Benno eats his dessert, and Fran and I contemplate, a huge crash sounds from downstairs as the front door is flung violently open .
“Everything is all your fault!!”
Ah! I remember . I forgot about Delia .