“Meal, you say…”
Jaina thought over the word dumbly . Since when did she stop enjoying food, and started eating it? It’s been a while she’s felt this ashamed over food . She picked up her fork again, then put it down .
Instead, she reached out with her fingers . She looked away nervously when she realized Paul was looking at her .
“It’s a sandwich . You don’t eat sandwiches with forks,” she responded .
“So, you like it?”
“Well, I know for sure it’s tasty . But a lot of things are tasty . Like burgers . If you’re telling me there’s something more to it… . I don’t really know . I can’t tell . ”
“Do you remember what the server said before? This is a dish made by Minjoon . ”
“Is that important? Chef Rachel’s screened all the dishes already . Even if Minjoon came up with it, it still has to be according to chef Rachel’s standards . ”
She knew well that there were tasters who thought chef Rachel should make all of the restaurant’s dishes . Jaina didn’t care much about it, though . She didn’t think the head chef had to be the one who did everything . To begin with, the people who were arguing over such things… it would be better to say things like ‘why isn’t chef Rachel cooking with a knife in her hand during work hours?’
This time, Jaina picked up the soft part of the sandwich . The one made with the innards of the baguette and the cassoulet . Her eyes became colored in pleasure as her tongue chased after the flavors of the sandwich .
‘So this is… what he wanted . ’
She had to admit, this was a dish fitting of the ‘best restaurant in America’ . That first piece of sandwich was good enough, but the second one was even better . It wasn’t objectively more tasty or anything . But there was a difference in texture compared to the first piece . That made the dish fun . Beautiful, even .
Paul was feeling the same thing as Jaina . This was a ‘fresh’ dish to him . He’s never had a dish decomposed by textures before like this .
‘Is this just obvious from Rachel Rose’s disciple, or is the chef just incredibly talented?’
Paul had to think about that for a minute . The answer was surprisingly simple . It was both . A skilled jeweler dug out a beautiful diamond out of a rock . Such a beautiful diamond wouldn’t be here without its original shape or the jeweler who dug it out . Jaina turned to speak to him exhaustedly .
“Was Rose Island… Always like this?”
“Don’t know . I don’t really understand your question . ”
“Is it this tiring? Most other restaurants that I went to made me think ‘alright, let’s see what you got’, but… This is different . It’s like the restaurant’s telling me ‘let’s see if you can even begin to understand our dish’ . This isn’t a good place to eat . This is… a testing ground . To test how good we are as tasters . ”
“That’s a fair assessment . Rose Island is often out of reach from most people . ”
“…How can a restaurant like this even exist?”
Jaina looked at the plate with an annoyed look . She’s always felt that American restaurants always dragged behind European ones . European restaurants always cared about tradition, and at its top was Michelin . Jaina was almost like a stereotypical taster from Michelin . Stuck-up in her ways, that is .
To her, American restaurants were ones that threw away tradition to the dogs . Rose Island was different, though . They were walking a very thin tightrope in the sky . Between modernism and tradition . Normally, restaurants like this only produced mediocre results .
Not Rose Island, though . They made something like this . Food that just shook her worldview entirely .
“Rose Island wasn’t accepted this widely in the beginning,” Paul began .
“They got a lot of bad reviews at first . They didn’t follow tradition, after all . They were even called the shame of Western cuisine once . But Rachel and Daniel didn’t give up . In the end, they were accepted by the community they were in . ”
“They were getting bad reviews?”
“Funny, isn’t it? They made similar dishes compared to the ones here today back then . But now they’re called the best restaurant in America . ”
Paul sounded a little bit disgusted as he spoke . He looked down at his plate as he continued .
“Whenever I feel like I’m getting arrogant, I think of this . Tradition isn’t always the answer . Every taster who called Rose Island a shameful restaurant got shamed themselves a few years later . They were insulted for their palates, even . ”
“…I mean, that does happen . Reviews for restaurants flip pretty frequently . ”
“To review a chef’s dish… means to review that chef’s entire life . We can invalidate someone’s life with just a few sentences . We can even… drive them to death . ”
Paul looked incredibly heavy as he said this . Jaina thought of the man’s old story . He took off a star from a restaurant, and called the restaurant uninnovative and boring . A few days later, the head chef of the restaurant killed himself in the kitchen .
“I don’t think that was your fault,” Jaina said .
“Thank you . You’re kind . But… you should know, that the person who I really need to hear it from is no longer in this world . You should be careful as well . What you’re reviewing is food, but in reality it’s the chef’s entire life . I’m not saying you shouldn’t be strict . Just… you need to think more carefully for every review you make . ”
“I understand . ”
“I’m sorry . I made the meal very glum, didn’t I? I’m a failure of a taster . ”
Paul smiled apologetically before attempting to continue the conversation .
“So, how does it all feel so far? Do you like this restaurant?”
“It feels like I’m looking at a medieval lady holding a smartphone . ”
“What a complex review . ”
Jaina thought over her words for a second . Did she really want to say this? After a moment of thought, she realized that she did .
“She’s a very beautiful lady . ”
“That table over there… they’ve got to be tasters, right?” Maya asked .
Minjoon looked over for a split second before returning to working on his jelly .
“Dunno . Might be just a grandpa coming to eat with his granddaughter . ”
“Boo, what kind of a grandpa comes to eat with his granddaughter? Especially here? He’d probably come with his entire family . ”
“Who knows? He might not have any other family . Or they could be friends . Anyway, get back to work . Making assumptions about guests is rude . ”
“Go check on the cheese foam . I need to know if it was done properly . ”
Maya walked away with a depressed face . Minjoon looked at her for a second as he started thinking .
‘… . Did I go too easy on her?’
Maybe he was trying too hard to make her feel comfortable . He did have a tendency to try to make people feel better around him . Not because he was a good person or anything . He just hated pushy people . As a teacher, he always got better results trying to look over and help his students . He even had students that kept contacting him after graduation .
It was the same when he was a cook . He often had to deal with very pushy people back then . He had to deal with a stupid amount of work because of certain people . He decided then that he really didn’t want to be a bad boss, which was part of the reason why he was so nice to Maya . But…
‘She acts too much like a kid sometimes . ’
It wasn’t like she wasn’t working or anything . She helped him with almost everything, and she was very willing to learn as well . Just… she was kind of going about it like she was on a picnic? It would be nice if she was more serious about this .
Right then, his head clouded over . He stopped himself from falling by grabbing onto his work station . His head was throbbing . Was it because he overworked recently? He tried to get a few steady breaths to calm down .
“Are you okay, Minjoon?” he heard someone say .
Minjoon turned to the source of the voice . He could see blonde hair in his vision, but he couldn’t make out the face . He closed his eyes tightly for a second . There we go . Now he could see a little bit better . Minjoon put on a small smile on his face .
“Ah, Annie . What’s up?”
“I was just going to pass by, but you looked like you were about to collapse . Are you okay?”
“Sorry . I’m feeling a little weak . ”
“That’s not it . Hm, what should we do… It’s going to take a while before the customers leave . ”
“Don’t worry . It’s just the heat getting to me . ”
“Phew… In that case, I’ll just have to give you a quick energy boost . ”
Minjoon looked at Annie with a confused look . The woman just smiled at him brightly .
“There were customers who looked like tasters . They were very touched by your dish . ”
“My dish? Hm… The cassoulet?”
“Yes . They couldn’t stop talking about it . It’s pretty amazing, they made a face like they’ve never eaten the dish before in their life . ”
“Thank you . That does make for a pretty good booster . ”
Minjoon smiled . He did feel more energetic, actually . Minjoon thought of a conversation he had with Rachel for a second .
‘How greedy of you . ’
‘How did you think of trying to capture all of this? All the aspects of a cassoulet? Most people would have ruined the dish with that greed, but… You ended up plating that greed beautifully . ’
He couldn’t remember if Rachel was smiling or laughing back then . Maybe she was doing both? Or neither? He couldn’t even remember . He only remembered what she said afterwards to him .
‘And you’re making me feel greedy, too . You make me want to take you again, despite the fact that I already did . ’
He remembered his expression, though . He was crying . Quite a bit, too .
‘I’m happy that I could teach you . ’