“Wouldn’t want to be a regular…”
She didn’t expect anything good, but even this was worse than what she thought . The word ‘regular’ stabbed her brutally in the heart .
The food wasn’t even good enough for someone to consider coming back . It was only good enough to be a one-time thing . It’s easy to get bored of . It’s nothing really special…
All kinds of thoughts swirled in her head like a violent tsunami . Deborah didn’t waver though . She’s gone through this several times . She wasn’t weak enough to be hurt by words like this .
“Why is that?”
That’s why she could respond so calmly . Minjoon poked the dish with his fork .
“This isn’t a dish for a customer . It’s a dish for a critic . That is, a dish that would only get points in a magazine . ”
“It’s too complicated . ”
Minjoon looked at the dish with a complicated look . He didn’t feel so good about this . The advice he had for her also applied for him too here . He wondered for a second if he really had the right to tell her this . But if it was for her, he did .
“Ginger-potato cream and honeyed ginger . They both taste radically different despite both being made with ginger . I’m not sure whether to call this harmony or chaos . My tongue just ends up getting confused as it tries to analyze it . ”
“That’s what I was going for . I thought that chaos would get neutralized by the pork . I got good reviews about it as well . But how is this a dish for critics?”
Minjoon closed his mouth . Some things were difficult even for him to say . Even if it would do Deborah good .
“It’s empty . ”
“It’s just over the top . Tasty, sure . Makes you think ‘ah, this is a complex dish’ . Not even critics would be able to tell exactly what this dish is about . ”
“And you can?”
“…Huh . Now that you’ve said it, I can . I wonder why?”
Minjoon asked the question with a confused look . Deborah had the ‘of course you would’ look on her face, but Minjoon knew better than anyone that he wasn’t actually a supertaster .
‘…Is it because I always thought about things like this?’
He’d have to take his time thinking about this matter for a while, but for now he couldn’t make Deborah wait .
“Some customers might come back trying to figure out what this flavor is supposed to be . They’d then realize how there’s no ‘center’ to this dish at all . To say that the center of the dish is the ginger is a bit… You’ve expanded a little too much . People would realize that this dish doesn’t actually have any depth in it, and…”
“H-hold on . Hold on . You’re coming at me a bit too fast now . Can we take a break?”
Deborah asked with a saddened expression . Minjoon just smiled tiredly at her .
“It’s just one sentence . But we can rest if you’d like . ”
“If it’s just one… Fine, go for it . ”
“Normal people who don’t care too much about finding out about that flavor will never come to your restaurant again . Either way, your dish just doesn’t grip people at all . It’s just fancy . I feel like you aren’t trying to be a Michelin starred restaurant, but trying to imitate one . ”
“…That’s not even one sentence . ”
“Sorry, I’m bad at English . ”
Minjoon replied with a grin . Deborah just lowered her head annoyedly . She wasn’t actually mad at Minjoon . She was just mad at the fact that she could do nothing but agree with him .
“I was going to show this to Rachel and ask for help…”
“You’re going to get your ass beat . ”
“You still want to make fun of me?”
“In our country, we say that bitter things are usually good for you . ”
“Your words aren’t bitter . They just hurt . ”
Deborah exclaimed with a saddened tone . Minjoon wordlessly took a bite of the meat on the dish . Why did that chew of his sound so good to her right there? Why did it feel like Minjoon was fully appreciating the value of her dish right there?
“It’s a little spicy and bitter . Maybe it’s because of the ginger?”
“What do you mean? I’d love it if you were a little more direct here . ”
“I’m saying that even this dish could be medicine for you . ”
As Deborah was saying something, the bell in the hall rang . It was the end of break time . Minjoon turned to look at Deborah .
“Outsiders are forbidden from being in the kitchen during work . I’ll see you later today . ”
Deborah ended up exiting the kitchen with a surprised look . She looked back at the kitchen with an annoyed face from outside .
“I’m not an outsider though…”
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Unfortunately, Minjoon was unable to talk with Deborah again until the next day . Deborah sighed inside Minjoon’s car .
“I hate sitting next to beginner drivers . ”
“Hey, I can’t give you my advice for free . But speaking of which, isn’t America weird? Why would you need your own car to take the driver’s license test?”
“I mean, you’re going to drive with that car anyway . So might as well test in it . ”
“But why would you even get a license if you don’t have a car to begin with?”
“You have a point . ”
After passing the written test, one would have to bring their own car to the testing area for the driving test . With a 25 year old sitting next to the driver in the front seat . Minjoon couldn’t really find people like that around him, save for people like Rachel . And then Deborah came along .
“Maybe the reason why you came here to begin with was to help me get this license . ”
“…You’re telling me I’m that kind of a side character?”
“You’re not an extra . Licenses are important! Plus, I got it thanks to you . ”
“Thanks to me? I literally just sat here . You did good . Did you drive back in Korea?”
“Pretty much . ”
It was actually thanks to his experience from when he was thirty, but he didn’t need to talk about that . Minjoon looked at Deborah from the corner of his eye . Her cheeks were swollen . The woman clearly cried the previous night .
“Don’t look at me too much . You’ll fall for me . ”
“Kaya’s prettier anyway . ”
“You think husbands of models cheat because they find prettier women? Also, what makes her prettier than me to begin with?”
“Kaya was voted the second prettiest chef in America . What rank did you get, Deborah?”
“…That only applies to celebrity chefs . ”
“Doesn’t mean it’s any less credible . ”
Deborah let out a small laugh . Minjoon decided to change the topic .
“Rachel looked scary last night . What did you guys talk about?”
“I got yelled at . Stuff about not growing even after working under her for so long . ”
“I see . ”
Minjoon shut his mouth . Deborah wanted him to say something, but he didn’t even budge .
“She told me I lost my spirit . ”
“…I see . ”
“What a lukewarm response . ”
“Sorry . I don’t know if I can really give a proper reaction with me driving for the first time and all . ”
He was driving way too well for it to have been the first time . Deborah glared at Minjoon for a bit before sighing inwardly . Minjoon asked her a question then .
“So? Do you think you lost it?”
“Don’t know . I’ve become a coward to critics though for sure . ”
“Doesn’t the fact you’re even thinking about this tell you that you at least care for the customers?”
“Who knows . I don’t even know if I’m doing this because I care, or because I’m starting to make less money . We’ve been getting tables that stay empty the entire day recently . ”
“…You got a star though . You have empty tables despite that?”
“Cancellations . Also, not all starred restaurants are always full . Especially if it isn’t in a very touristy area . Once people in the area realize ‘damn, michelin isn’t as good as I thought’… Then things start to decline pretty steeply . ”
Deborah’s voice crawled back into her throat as she talked . Once her voice almost completely disappeared, Minjoon stopped the car . Deborah looked around a bit curiously .
“Where are we?”
“A modern art gallery . ”
“For the homework Rachel gave me . She told me to come here with you . ”
Minjoon just got off without saying anything . Deborah followed suit .
Once they entered the first hall of the gallery, they were greeted with paintings . Minjoon stopped at one of the paintings . It was a painting of a checkerboard filled with layers and layers of different colored circles . Each box in the board were colored differently as well .
“Do you like it?” Deborah asked .
“I thought the circles were like dishes for a second . ”
“Don’t know what to tell you about that . Do you like art? You understand what’s going on in there?”
“Dunno . I can’t tell you what the piece is supposed to mean . But you know, it does invoke an emotion of sorts . ”
Deborah tried looking at the picture as well . It was still a bit strange to her . It felt like it was supposed to invoke some feelings, but it didn’t . Almost like her dishes .
“I wonder if my food is like this?”
“Not at all . Your food doesn’t invoke anything at all . ”
“…You’re a bit too much, aren’t you? You didn’t have to go that far . ”
“You were the one who wanted to know what the problem was to begin with . Think about it . What if I went to the artist of this picture and asked him to change a bunch of things? Like the colors of the circles, or the size of the boxes… If the artist did listen, do you think the painting would invoke the same kind of emotion to me?”
“…So you’re telling me I need to be more uptight with my food . ”
“Uptightness is good . You can’t make everyone happy, so why even try? Even Lincoln was under tons of fire when he freed the slaves . But he stuck with it . ”
“I don’t even know what I should be uptight about, though . ”
Deborah sighed tiredly . Minjoon moved on . This time, he came across a golden toilet . There was a muscular man in rags sitting on it . Somehow, this reminded Minjoon of his own dish .
The toilet would have been fine as a toilet . With it being golden… It just looked strange . Just like his cassoulet dish .
‘Thinking about the actual dish, huh…’
Minjoon stared deeply into the toilet for several minutes . Or maybe it was several tens? In the end, Deborah tried saying something to him .
“…Ah, sorry . I was thinking . ”
“It’s alright . I looked around a bit as well . Did you think of a recipe?”
“No way . Even if I did, I wouldn’t want to actually feed it to people . ”
“Really? As far as I know, most people get their inspiration on the toilet . ”
Minjoon shrugged with a smile . Deborah tried staring at the man on the toilet . The man was staring off into the void without ever turning his eyes to them .
“I hate to say this as a head chef, but I’m jealous of you, Minjoon . ”
“You always seem to be full of inspiration . You look like one of those kids who always improves no matter what happens . ”
“I’m normal . I just happen to think about food a lot . ”
“That alone is what makes you strange . ”
“I don’t think I can really say anything to that . ”
“That’s why I can see exactly why Rachel chose you as her heir . ”
Minjoon coughed in surprise .
“Even you, Deborah? You know she hasn’t actually said anything . ”
“But you should be able to see as bright as day that she has a lot of expectations for you . I’ve never seen Rachel focus on one person so much in my life . You could take advantage of that, you know? Don’t you feel greedy?”
Minjoon walked away without saying anything . To a sculpture of a person wearing a giant pearl necklace . Except, the person had a head of a pig . Minjoon opened his mouth as he stared into the pig’s snout .
“Of course I feel greedy . How can I not?”
“Thought so . ”
“But I’m afraid more than anything . In the end, I’m not actually fit for that role . I’d just look silly in it . I want to become a person that… Looks great in their role . That’s what I want to be . ”
Deborah sounded almost desperate herself . She wanted to know the answer to that question as well . She wanted to become a person worthy of her position . A person who could actually enjoy life . Minjoon answered .
“By trying hard?”
“…You’re looking real punchable right about now . ”
“But that’s the answer . Doing that’s just worked for me . So that’s what I’m going to keep doing . Until I reach the peak of the mountain that’s my field . ”
Minjoon extended his hand .
“Come with me . You don’t have to worry about my driving skills or anything . We can’t even drive up there anyway . At least we have Rachel who paved the way for us . ”
Deborah grabbed his hand with a mocking smile .
“Can you carry me up if I get tired?”
Minjoon shrugged .
“Only if you get permission from Kaya first . ”