Jo Minjoon didn’t like crawfish. More specifically, he didn’t dislike the flavor, but how it looked because it looked like an insect. That’s why, when peeling off the shell of the tail of the half-cooked langostino, the Norway lobster, his hands couldn’t be fast. Joanne looked at him and smirked.
“You are quite the scaredy cat?”
“What disgusting? Look how cute it is.”
Joanne raised the sautéed langostino with a calm face. Then, she peeled off the shell with skillful movements, and took out the meat.
“See? It’s this easy.”
“Get accustomed to it quickly before the finals.”
At Joanne’s words, Jo Minjoon let out a sigh for a moment and started to handle it with determination. He didn’t want to look like coward. After taking out the meat and refrigerating it, it was the time of the secondary ingredients. And that was the reason Jo Minjoon got in charge of the langostino, which he didn’t even like. Because there were many things that was easy to change the flavor, just like purée, foam, etc.
Sauce. It wasn’t only one kind of it. In the sauce field like carrot purée, buttermilk purée, and buttermilk foam, Jo Minjoon could perform it the most perfectly. He followed the normal recipe that was Kaya’s, but they were free to change the density according to their judgments.
‘I can make purée better than anyone.’
But of course, taking into account the whole world, there would be a lot people that did it better than him, but at least it was like that on this competition. He was confident on being able to beat Anderson and Kaya on giving flavor to sauces.
It was also about time he got confident. His cooking level was 7. His comprehension towards French cuisine, American cuisine, etc. had risen quite a lot. He was confident on harmonising the flavor an ingredient had with the flavor of the sauce, and knew what dishes were delicious when cooked. He could know understand at times the meaning it had when he cooked.
That’s why Jo Minjoon was certain. He believed that Kaya could win. No, that he would bring victory towards Kaya. That he could prove himself.
The dish Kaya got in charge was gazpacho. Since gazpacho was a cold dish, it didn’t matter if they made it ahead of time. It was much better to prepare that and check the condition of the dishes of the others.
Originally, that was what a head chef was. It didn’t happen that they grabbed the pan or knife themselves, except if it was a small restaurant. It wasn’t because of the awareness of superiority. Leading a kitchen was a much more difficult of a job than doing their own dish perfectly.
Just looking at Alan’s case was like that. His cooking level was 8. Of course, even if he and Kaya were the same level 8, there would be some differences. But regardless of being level 8, he was running a Michelin star restaurant. That was because, aside of cooking skills, his strength for leading the kitchen was certain.
And on Jo Minjoon’s eyes, Kaya was quite a fine head chef because she had her sense of taste. Jo Minjoon could know the cooking score at a glance with the strength of the system, but Kaya could completely understand the state of the dish with just slightly tasting the sauce. But it wasn’t that she only depended on her taste. She could know how well it was cooked just by looking at the external colour, and on those cases, she even sent it back without hesitating.
‘I shouldn’t need to worry.’
Jo Minjoon’s plating was simple but luxurious. He poured the purée on the plate as if he was drawing, and he placed the seared carrots with duck fat and sauteed langostinos. Next to the langostinos, he placed a sage leaf as if it was a tree, he put breadcrumbs with particles as thick as a railroad. He ended the plating after putting buttermilk foam above the langostino meat. And like that, the five dishes were made. Kaya pierced the langostino with a chopstick and nodded.
“Good. It’s done well.”
“Almost? Even so, the feeling is delicately different. For it to be the same recipe, but to change according on the hands of the cook, it is marvelous.”
“There was no time I didn’t have confidence. I was just worried that my pride became arrogance.”
But he decided to not do that anymore. The gauge was simple. After Kaya’s fight, Jo Minjoon thought of a lot of things. And now, lowering himself became difficult. He needed a distraction. If Kaya was really depending on him, he would become the pillar for her to depend on. That kind of thought.
Jo Minjoon looked at his dish. The carrot purée, that seemed like melted orange juice, was drawn in a straight line and next to that the buttermilk purée was showing its small and round shape like some macarons. It wasn’t that he just made the shapes to be fine. The flavor was also recognized by Kaya.
“I won’t…..fall back anymore. The road I have to walk on is clear, and the place I’m looking at is also clear. The thing I have to do is only one. To walk to the front.”
“Right. I like that side of you better.”
Kaya said while putting a proud expression. Rather than the wondering Jo Minjoon, she liked the bold Jo Minjoon that came out this much better.
The dishes started to be placed on the table one by one. There were five seat around the table filled with dishes. Marco just touched his fork as if he was wondering what kind of expression he had to show.
“It just feels like a buffet when it’s a course cooking. No, should I say that it is a party?”
“What was the order again?”
“Gazpacho, langostino, pasta, turkey, and then sorbet and tarte tatin.”
Excluding the gazpacho and pasta, they were all 8 points. The one who made the pasta was no other than Joanne. However, it was unavoidable. First, the score of the recipe of the pasta wasn’t even 8. And even if that was the case, Joanne didn’t have the skills to easily make 8-point dishes. If Kaya directed her on every point, it would be different……. But there was no guarantee that she would do well without any mistakes in front of 50 customers.
But even if it was 7 points, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t delicious. For example, thinking of samgyeopsal was like that. Even if it was grilled on good fire, it was impossible for the cooking score to pass 7 points. But no one would be able to say that it wasn’t delicious. The pasta Joanne made, the tortellini was like that. It wasn’t a particularly outstanding dish. However, the ingredients on the dumpling were all alive, and on the seared pumpkin, a fresh sweet flavor was on it.
It was a clear and delicious, a good dish. So much that if she went just like this, there wouldn’t be any problems.
And the other dishes were also the same. The turkey Chloe cooked had a dense aroma just like foie gras, and when eaten along artichoke gazpacho, you could feel the fibres of it and felt that you were eating duck meat wrapped in radish. And of course, the flavor was much more luxurious.
There was nothing to say about Marco’s tarte tatin, sorbet, and before-meal bread. It was a bread that made you feel why Marco was Marco.
Actually, when normal people went to a luxurious restaurant, the thing they felt the biggest difference with normal restaurants was the bread. It would be weird to look at a secondary thing when you went to eat a dish, but it was unavoidable. Most of the luxurious restaurants couldn’t help but to pay a lot of attention to the bread, and a just baked bread was a basic. The result of the bread’s texture was that it turned out soft and that it maximized the aroma of butter and grains.
And right now, Jo Minjoon was feeling that aroma from the luxurious restaurants he had been from Marco’s bread. Just like if your rice is good, you will be able to eat deliciously with basic garnishes, Marco’s bread had a charm that made you happy without any kind of sauces or butter.
However, Kaya’s face that tasted all of these things, couldn’t be bright. But Jo Minjoon couldn’t ask her the reason. He felt that the moment he asked her that, the invisible weight on Kaya’s shoulder would turn real.
That night, or perhaps dawn, Jo Minjoon opened his eyes. He couldn’t discern well whether he woke up or was just closing his eyes and opened it. His body was tired, but his consciousness was clear. Because originally, your head would be the clearest after you slept for 3, or perhaps 4 hours.
As he grabbed his cellphone out of habit, he saw that the time was 3 in the morning. It was an excessively early time to open his eyes. He wasn’t thirsty, but because of that he didn’t even want to go to the toilet.
As he was about to close his eyes to go and sleep again, an alarm that popped on one corner caught his eyes. It was a message from Kaya.
[ Kaya : Are you sleeping?]
It has been roughly 30 minutes since she sent the message. He wondered that she may wake up if he messaged her back, but his fingers were soon moving on top of the screen.
[ Me : I just woke up. ]
The reply didn’t come back immediately. When his eyelids were getting heavier, his phone rang.
[ Kaya : Ah, sorry. I saw it just now. You aren’t sleeping again, right? ]
[ Kaya : I can’t get asleep. I wondered if we should sing lullabies to each other if you also couldn’t sleep. Reading some fairy tales is also fine. ]
Jo Minjoon kept reading and re-reading the message with an astringent expression. Perhaps Kaya realized that, and quickly messaged back.
[ Kaya : It’s a joke. You got serious again, right? ]
[ Kaya : Look how you are lying. Leave it, turn on the lights and look at the mirror. Is your face fine? ]
He wondered what was she saying so suddenly, but as he got ahold of himself he was already checking himself on the mirror as Kaya had said. His hair was a bit messy, but it was fine. The moment he was going to send a reply, a knocking sound was heard at the door.
“If you are fine, come out. Let’s have a time for two insomniac patients to sympathize with each other.”
“……I will put on something. Wait.”
Jo Minjoon wore a hooded shirt and covered his hair. And as soon as he got out of the door, he laughed in spite of himself. Kaya was the same. A limp white hooded shirt with black pants. Maybe it was to hide her messy hair, but her hair popped out of her hood like some furred headdress. Kaya said while looking vigilantly.
“You aren’t going to tell me anything because I didn’t wash my hair at dawn, right?”
“……Thinking about it, I may be.”
Kaya’s pink gum appeared above her white teeth. When her mouth opened again, it wasn’t her gum, but her bright tongue.
“Do you want to talk for a moment?”
“Let’s walk for a moment. Should we go to the garden?”
The two walked towards the garden side by side. After only walking a bit, Kaya jumped up and down. She put her hands on the pocket of her hooded shirt and trembled.
“Ugh, even in summer the wind at night is cold.”
“No, I’m fine. I even roamed with shorts on winter in New York. I won’t crumble with this much. I’m not that weak. I’m strong. Kaya Lotus…… Is that kind of girl.”
At her voice that turned bitter at the end, Jo Minjoon just smacked his lips without saying anything. It could clearly be felt that she was feeling uneasy. It was unavoidable. The finals. On the boundary of victory and elimination, one step could earn you everything, or make you lose everything. But of course, even if Kaya didn’t win, her future wouldn’t fall to hell.
“You will win.”
“Because I will make you a winner.”
“I told you before that I won’t fall back anymore. We are cooks, and in the end, even if this road is complicated there is only one thing we have to do: to make delicious things. And my dishes are delicious.”
The moon was bright. It was a bright moonlight he hadn’t felt like this even once when he was at the city. The streetlamps were all turned off, but there was no problem on looking at Jo Minjoon’s face with just the moonlight. No, perhaps that wasn’t because of the moonlight. Because his face was spread brightly, it could be seen more clearly.
“I had forgotten this, but what I wanted in the end was that. It is also important for many customers to come to a cool restaurant….. But in the end, making a good dish was my dream. And now, I think that I half-accomplished that. So now, I should at least get some confidence.”
“No. I understand. And now, I will tell you honestly. You saying that I was your lighthouse, I felt happy. Only that it was difficult to receive it. Because if I was your lighthouse, I would have to light all the paths you took. I wasn’t confident on doing that. No, perhaps I just lacked trust. On me, and on you.”
He didn’t know why, but while he was saying that, he felt like he was confessing a sin he had hidden for long. Kaya’s eyes shone faintly. At that instant, he felt that she was crying, but she didn’t. But her eyelids were trembling as if wanting to hold back something.
“Are you saying that…… You believe now?”
“Promise me. Holding pinkies.”
Kaya extended her right hand. Her pinky was trembling on the cold air.
“Make me win. At least for this competition, let me believe that you are my lighthouse and depend on you. That’s everything I want. Can you….promise me?”
Jo Minjoon looked at Kaya’s pinky. It was a long, slender and white finger. Her nails were cut shortly, and the wrinkles between the spaces of the finger was sharp and shallow. Maybe it was because of the cold, but because her skin was originally like that…… Many places of the finger had turned bright red.
The pinky fingers of the two slowly intertwined. The feeling he got of Kaya’s hand was cold, soft and smooth. And the thumbs extended. The thumb was slightly different to the pinky. The elasticity was stronger and rather than being smooth, it felt rough.
They each felt heat and cold at the same time. They themselves didn’t know if their hand was cold, or the hand of the other was cold.
Even after the thumb separated, their pinkies couldn’t do so easily. Something came between that small and thin skin. Was it simply heat and feeling, or was there something more than that?
Their hands separated. Slantly, and slowly. The finger that lost their pair hid in the fist. The two of them didn’t say a word. The still silence was saying thousands of words instead.
Dawn. The weather was probably clear.
5 days until the finals.
3 days, 2 days, 1 day.
< Reunion in front of the door (3) > End