First Steps (1)
“So today’s finally the opening day . It’s also the day that Minjoon finally gets to debut as a chef . You must be feeling quite thrilled inside . How do you feel about all this?”
– I don’t feel too thrilled, actually . I’m not too anxious, either .
“I didn’t ask if you were anxious though? I suppose you are a bit anxious?”
– … Just a bit . I’m very excited to meet customers who are waiting for the restaurant to open . I’m also a little nervous about having to meet their expectations .
“Are you confident?”
– I’ve always been confident . It’s not confidence in myself, though . It’s confidence in my teacher, Rachel . Our head chef is the best in the world . I understand that, and I’m proud of that . My teammates, too, are aces who won’t fall behind anyone .
“Aren’t you proud of yourself? This is a historic moment . You might not be the star of the show, but you can’t say you’re just an extra, either . ”
– I’m unbelievably proud of myself . But this isn’t the end for me . This day will keep on repeating itself for me every day . Every single day of my life will be a testing ground for my skill . I’m only truly going to have pride in myself after those tests end .
“But you said yourself . You’ll be tested every day . Do you think the day when your test ends will really come?”
– That day will come .
– Well… .
“That was a nice interview . ”
Maya snuck in a compliment as she looked at Minjoon from across the kitchen . Minjoon smiled lightly .
“I didn’t seem cringy or anything?”
“Well, you kind of did, but that’s the thing about chefs, isn’t it? Being as cringy as they possibly can . ”
“… It’s not like I do it on purpose . ”
Minjoon looked down with a look of defeat on his face . It was a bit strange to say this to a guy, but he looked rather cute like that . Almost like a puppy .
‘Is that how he charmed Kaya Lotus?’
That being said, it wasn’t like he was always this pure and cute . At times, he could become more nitpicky than any other demi chefs she’s ever worked with . This was the case whenever he was at his station . He didn’t beat anyone down for having poor skill or technique .
But whenever she would plate up a dish thinking “this should be enough…”, Minjoon would sneak in a chilling comment from the back .
‘Do you really think you did your best there?’
‘You probably think you just made a compromise with your lack of skill . But no, you just made a compromise with your dish . You made a compromise with your life, and with your own customers . ’
‘Your customers have absolute trust in you . What you plated up right now isn’t just a decent dish you made a few mistakes on… It’s an artwork that you made with your lifetime of experience and work . That’s what the customers think of when they look at your dish . You just betrayed their trust . ’
‘We’re chefs . We need to be loved by our customers, and we need to love our customers . ’
‘Let’s become chefs who are proud of themselves, Maya . Please . You are my hands and my legs . I’m not just watching over you . I want to place my faith in you . You understand, right?’
She always felt an incredible amount of pressure after his lectures, but his words always left an impression on her . Perhaps it was because his words weren’t something just meant to punish her, but because it was his honest impression of his work?
‘…My demi chef is the best . ’
Maya smiled as she looked at Minjoon . She didn’t have a lot of experience under other demi chefs, but she was confident that he was the best demi chef . After all, she had never seen him slack off at his work . No matter how tired she was, being next to Minjoon fired her up in one way or another .
In that regard, Minjoon was a perfect teacher and senior . He was a bit unbearable occasionally, but he always knew what he was doing . Minjoon looked at Maya strangely .
“Why are you smiling like that?”
“Just because . I’m just happy that I can work with the best demi chef in the world in the best restaurant in the world . ”
“What’s with you and compliments today? Well, it’s not like I hate it . ”
Minjoon smiled lightly as a response . He probably understood Maya’s honesty in her words . Minjoon took his eyes off of Maya to look over the kitchen . Rachel was looking over the hall with a red scarf around her neck .
Her back was small . After all, how big could an elderly woman’s back be? However, no one in the kitchen felt her back was small . On that back rode the weight of the dreams of everyone in the kitchen . That wasn’t all . She was also handling the expectations of all the customers of the restaurant all by herself .
Perhaps the term “tiny giant” was meant for people like her? What was Rachel thinking when she looked at the customers with those eyes? What did the world look like in her eyes? Just thinking about that… Made Minjoon’s heart beat violently .
It was almost eleven . In a few minutes, the restaurant would be filled with people . Everyone in the room was looking at the kitchen expectantly . Rachel turned to look at them .
“Nope . There’s nothing to be afraid of with you here . ”
“If you were trying to make me feel even more burdened, you did a great job . ”
Rachel smiled bitterly before turning serious again . She slowly opened her mouth .
“I don’t want to say anything annoying, but today is an important day . Based on how we take our first steps, the road we take can change dramatically . That’s why I will not allow any mistakes . I want to tell you to be at least a bit nervous, but… I know firsthand how bad food made from nervous hands can taste . You should know it, too . ”
Not all of the people seemed to understand what she was talking about, but all the demi chefs found themselves nodding in agreement . They knew perfectly well what she was talking about . Rachel continued .
“Think of it just like a play . A play that makes people happy . But, we need to try our best . So that not a single person leaves unsatisfied . Let’s have fun . ”
As soon as her word ended, the ticket dispenser started pumping out orders . Rachel ripped it off of the machine and raised her voice .
“Table 9, for two! One of them is allergic to seafood, so be sure to replace that part with just vegetables . The main is a duck confit and stewed beef cheek . You all remember how replacements work, yes?”
“Table 3, for four! No special requests . Janet, is the amuse-bouche ready?”
“Yes . I’m plating right now . ”
Rachel’s voice didn’t stop . Raphael was the same . Even though there was just one menu, a lot of adjustments had to be made according to allergies or special requests . They sometimes had to prepare an entirely new dish based on their allergies or dietary restrictions . Of course, it was incredibly rare for people like vegans to come to Rose Island to begin with, so there was no need for something like this to happen .
The first thing Minjoon grabbed was a frying pan . He needed to make a bacon foam . Of course, it wasn’t like he could just make that forever, either . Minjoon turned to Maya as he opened his mouth .
“Maya, take out the jelly . ”
“Yes, chef . ”
Maya took out the aged jelly out of the fridge . Minjoon looked over the jelly carefully . It was 7 points . But there were too many things about molecular gastronomy that couldn’t be seen through pure cooking points . He needed to look at the thickness of the jelly, and had to check if the jelly tasted the way they wanted it to .
‘I’m kind of being forced into it, but I can’t seem to rely on the system now . ’
It was a good thing in the long term . The system was too sweet for him . It was just like a milkshake in front of a person tired from exercise . He’d gain much from relying completely on the system now, but he’d lose everything in the long term . It would help him a lot more if he learned the techniques himself .
What the molecular gastronomy team actually had to do was plating . At least, this was the case with the jelly . Most jellies improved in flavor after a day of aging, so it only made sense that this was the one thing they made way further in advance . So their only real task was to cut the jelly and plate it .
“How is it, chef?”
“It tastes alright . Good thickness as well . We just have to cut it well at this point . You do it . I have to finish making the base for the bacon foam . ”
“Yes, chef . ”
Minjoon turned to focus back on the frying pan . It wasn’t too hard to make bacon foam . He just had to slowly cook bacon and onion in some butter . Then, he would deglaze it with white wine, reduce a bit, and add cream with a bit of water . This would imbue the cream with a deep flavor of bacon .
At this point, he just had to add some gelatin, some more butter, then turn it into foam . The process itself was rather simple . So, making the foam itself wasn’t that difficult . What was important was the flavor .
He had to make it compliment the potato soup perfectly . But the potato soup wasn’t up to him, it was Janet’s responsibility . It was only possible to make two dishes made by different people compliment each other when the two people understood each other .
“Janet, try some of this foam . See if it’s good . ”
“Yeah, it is . This should be perfect . ”
“Great . ”
He had to go back to the jelly as soon as he finished the foam . Thankfully, it was Sunday tomorrow . Normally, he’d have to make the stock for the jelly the next day, but since Sunday was a rest day, he was free from this responsibility .
There was still quite a lot to do aside from that, though . He had to smoke the butter with cloves, he had to check the sherbet, and he had to make fake caviar with fish stock, brown sugar, lime and applemint .
The orders kept on coming . Rachel didn’t forget to check Minjoon every once in a while even as she looked over the entire kitchen . The other demi chefs made mistakes here and there, but she didn’t have anything to say about Minjoon’s work .
‘…To think he’d be able to keep his cool even outside of practice . ’
She could only compliment him for his mental fortitude . This was his first day as a demi chef, but Minjoon looked like he had this position for decades .
‘I can rely on him . ’
Rachel looked towards the hall after smiling a bit . The head chef had a lot more to do than just looking over the kitchen . At least, that’s what Rachel thought . She had to look over the flow of the hall, and had to act according to what the customers wanted to see .
Right now, Rachel felt that the hall was filled with positive vibes . When the soup that had the bacon foam went out just now, the air spiked with excitement . She wasn’t surprised . After all, even the chefs thought the soup was quite amazing .
Rachel rang the bell after cleaning up the plates in front of her . The servers came in to take the dishes . Rachel, as she looked at the servers walk away with the food, realized how sweaty her palms had gotten . She thought of what Isaac had said a moment ago in the office .
‘No one is perfect, there are only people who try to be perfect…’
“…There’s nothing more disappointing than working without getting tangible results . ”
Rachel balled up her fists . The show wasn’t over yet . The customers had smiles on their faces, but there was no telling when that smile would turn into a frown . Her heart beat stronger by the second . Then, it calmed down in a flash . Rachel looked over the kitchen like a fierce general . She thought of the interview Minjoon had done a while ago . What did he say about the “every day is a testing ground” question again?
– When the nervousness and the tension in our hearts disappear . When we think of our work as just “having fun”, I suppose that would be the day when we manage to finally finish our work .
Words of a newbie . But those words hit her harder than anything . Rachel thought over Minjoon’s words carefully .
‘I should… finish work . ’