2.5 – 4
“What did I just say!? Don’t boil the milk! It’ll curdle!”
“I stopped it at the last possible second! It has not boiled!”
“That’s only because I noticed it! You messed up royally the last time you tried it, remember!?”
“I stopped it on my own!!”
“Is that so!? What the hell is wrong with you, huh!? You’ve been acting like you own the place this whole damn time!!”
“Why, you insolent…!!”
That afternoon. After the busy lunchtime service, the cooks had once again vacated the kitchen. Although the kitchen was usually quiet, today it was somehow even louder than during lunch.
Hoisting his heavy body from the dining room, Alois followed the din echoing from the basement, puzzled over what was going on.
Both of those fiercely arguing voices were familiar to Alois as well. One voice belonged to Günter, a cook who had worked for him for many years. The other person was…
“…Camilla? What are you doing here?”
“Ahh, Lord Alois! Perfect timing!”
As soon as he called out to her, Camilla swiftly turned on her heels.
“Please wait there for just a moment!”, she ordered him, taking two dishes from the bench. Then, without giving Alois even a moment to question what she was doing, she began to scoop something into the dishes in front of her
Peering over Camilla’s back, Alois looked at the kitchen’s oven top. There were two shallow bowls and two frying pans. He watched as Camilla used a ladle to dole out thick and lumpy white masses onto the dishes.
What was going on? Alois truly had no idea.
It’s always around this time of day that Günter prepares Alois’ snacks. Well, even if they’re called snacks, this was still Alois. It was still quite a considerable meal by anyone else’s standards, but that’s besides the point.
It was one of Alois’ secret pleasures to taste them in the kitchen before they were properly served to him.
Knowing this was something Alois looked forward to every day, Günter always made sure the kitchen was quiet and ready for him on these secret visits down to the basement.
So, the noise today was deeply unusual. Of course, it was all because of Camilla.
Just what on earth was she doing here?
He thought about that as he looked around the other kitchen countertops bereft of people. There were various ingredients that had been cut into various states and half empty bags of wheat with the tops rolled down. Drops and smears of milk were left on the bench, as if there hadn’t been a moment to clean up after themselves.
The stove tops were stained, a sign of rough and tumble cooking. It was completely different to Günter’s elegant and clean cookery. Whenever he cooks, he’s usually so clean and orderly that by the time the last dish of the service was ready to go to the servers, his station would be so clean it’s as if he had already washed it down.
Camilla thrust the two dishes in front of the still confused Alois.
He could smell the gentle aroma of milk from the steam that wafted up, making him imagine a warm taste. Both of the dishes had a serving of porridge and it was hard to see any difference between them. But for whatever reason, they were made in separate pans.
“Which one is more delicious!? Now, if you would!”
Alois blinked as the dishes of porridge were pushed ever closer.
Even Günter looked at Camilla in surprise.
Black hair. A noble girl. A foreigner. The wine. Murmuring, he stared at Camilla with utter disbelief. As if it were something impossible.
“You’re the daughter of Count Storm?”
As she heard Günter’s words, she turned to him with her chin raised haughtily, flashing a wicked smile.
Alois wilted under Camilla’s gaze as she held her breath.
Camilla had somehow managed to clear enough space on that dirty kitchen counter for Alois to sit down with the two dishes laid out in front of him.
The dish on Alois’ right-hand side was made by Camilla. On the left, Günter’s. That said, Alois didn’t know about that at all.
He carefully ate spoonfuls of the porridge in front of him, one hesitant sip after another. It felt like Camilla was studying his every facial expression, every time his face so much as moved her expression had a chain reaction as she watched him from the other side of the counter. When he moved onto the second dish, she leaned forwards to watch even more closely. Alois was struggling to keep his cool.
Meanwhile, Camilla couldn’t keep herself still either.
Of the two dishes, one of them was made by Camilla. The other by Günter. Even if she’s up against a professional chef, she would utterly hate to lose. What’s more, Camilla’s food was always very popular at the orphanage. She didn’t feel like her skills had rusted at all.
There wasn’t much difference between the two servings of porridge on a surface level. They used the exact same ingredients as well. They both followed more or less the exact same method too, though that was mostly because of Günter watching her and shouting out when she did something wrong.
Both of them also used far less seasoning than what Alois’ meals usually had. It would have still been quite strong for a normal person, but this was still Alois. Although he hadn’t succumbed to the pressure of judging yet, he still felt uneasy.
“…I wonder if he can even taste the difference?”
Günter heard Camilla murmuring under her breath.
“Hey you, don’t you know about Alois’ great sense of taste?”
“This is the first time I have heard of it.”
At this point, she wondered if his tongue had become numbed to salt and sugar. But, remembering back when Alois prepared food back at the orphanage, it had been seasoned correctly.
As she continued to stare worriedly at Alois, she pondered over what Günter said. Shifting her eyes towards the cook, Camilla whispered.
“Even though he eats like that, you say he still has his sense of taste?”
“Obviously. Why else do you think Lord Alois comes down to the kitchen like this?”
Camilla herself had only just notice how out of place Alois looked in this kitchen. Just why exactly had the Master of the house come alone to the kitchen at a time of day where it would usually be almost entirely deserted?
– Was he here to cook by himself?
But in this land, cooking was considered a virtue. Unlike Camilla, who had to keep her hobby a secret, Alois could cook as much as he liked if he wanted to. There was no reason to wait until most of the cooks had left.
“He comes in secret to eat some of my cooking.”
Was he bragging about that? She glared at Günter indignantly, but this wasn’t the time to start another fight. Noticing Camilla’s stern gaze, he shrugged his shoulders with a smirk.
“Whenever he gets food served to him, it’s over seasoned to hell and back. The only way his tongue can remember that taste is by having some of my cooking.”
Günter’s face began to look thoughtful as he spoke.
“I bet you have a taste you don’t want to forget either, am I right?”
“A taste he doesn’t want to forget?”
Perhaps he’s talking about some kind of memory?
“The taste of my excellent dishes, obviously.”
Camilla felt even more strongly that she couldn’t possibly lose to this arrogant man who could say something like that without a hint of humility.
Just then, they both heard the sound of a spoon being placed onto the counter.
As Camilla and Günter turned around, they saw that Alois had finished eating.
So, which dish tasted better?
As Camilla asked him that, Alois shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
He grimaced like he was in deep trouble as he tried to compare Camilla and Günter’s dishes.
“The ingredients are the same, right? The soup for this congee was made by Günter as well, am I correct? Chicken soup with herbs, celery, carrots, onions and a cow bone base? With… olives and red wine to finish?”
“As always, right on the money.”
Günter raised both his hands as if in surrender. Camilla, meanwhile, was already beginning to feel frustrated. As the daughter of a high ranking aristocrat, Camilla was indignant about her tongue having lost out to a man like Alois’.
“They both were made using the same method as well. Stirred through with butter and a milk reduction… Hmm.”
Alois looked lost in thought as he stared at the dishes in front of him. Taking his role of judging seriously, he pondered over it for a long time. Camilla found it hard to stay quiet, impatiently tapping her foot as she fretted over his decision.
“Since both of them were quite delicious, I hope you can forgive me afterward for choosing a winner?”
“That goes without saying.”
Neither of them will be satisfied without a clear winner. As Camilla challenged him with his gaze, Alois sighed. He must have made up his mind.
“…Both are delicious, however… To put it bluntly, the dish on the left has an awful lot of care put into it. I can tell that a lot of attention was paid to the heat so that the taste wouldn’t be spoiled. It’s very well done. As for the right plate, it has a simple yet charming taste. The effort put into making it is plainly obvious… Therefore, this was Camilla’s dish, correct?”
Having said that, Alois opened his palm over the dish on the right. Certainly, the right dish was Camilla’s. He was absolutely correct.
“When it comes to cooking skill, the gulf of those years of experience can be tasted in the dish. But, taste can’t be decided by skill alone… This was the first time I have ever tasted Camilla’s food, wasn’t it?”
Back at the orphanage, because of how much they were being run off their feet, they never had a moment to take even a bite of the food they’d prepared. So, this was the first time Alois had tasted something Camilla had made.
Camilla’s cooking was not bad at all. When she puts her mind to it, there are a great many things she can learn. However, her level of skill cannot yet compare to that of a professional chef’s. Even if children at an orphanage love her cooking, it’s completely different when being evaluated by a man with a clearly refined palate.
Yet still, Alois is gazing at the plate on his right.
“Since this was something that you made, I cannot let it be defeated.”
Camilla’s eyes opened wide in shock.
Günter’s mouth also hung open.
Of course, neither of them could accept that calmly.
They both spoke at the same time.
It was when their mouths moved in unison that Alois realized his mistake.
“That is not right! That is not right at all!”
“That’s not it! Young master!”
Even though they’d been at each other’s throats up until now, they suddenly united to scold Alois. Whilst Camilla’s face seemed more remorseful, Günter looked truly hurt. Their expressions were uniformly enraged.
“What you are saying is that even though my dish was worse, you declared it the winner because I made it!? I do not want to win through your favouritism!”
“Young Master! What do you even think about our long friendship!? Do you like this woman who showed up out of nowhere more than me now, huh!?”
Alois could only smile ruefully.
He wouldn’t have escaped a scolding if he declared them both winners either. Of course, if he said that Günter was the winner, he would have had to suffer through Camilla’s rage as well. If he had lied and said that Camilla’s was genuinely more delicious, she would have ended up more hurt by it. The moment that he was presented with their dishes, Alois had been checkmated.
Even so, this choice that he eventually came to might have actually ended up being the worst one of all.
“It cannot end like this! Günteeeer! I demand that you teach me more of your cooking skills! I will absolutely win properly next time!!”
“Hey!? Is that how people ask for a favour where you come from!? You damned bossy villainess!”
“But you call yourself the best, do you not!?”
“Of course, no one is better in the kitchen than me! Ah, jeez, come on then! I’ll show you just how great my skills really are!”
As the two of them shouted back and forth, they walked back towards the oven. It seemed like Alois has already been left behind.
As he listened to the two of them quarrel in silence, Alois smiled again.
Alois’ choice may have been the worst in their eyes… But, perhaps, it wasn’t wholly wrong.
End of Part 2.5
Edited by: ApoPie