Topic: Mise en Place  (Read 4587 times)

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Achariyth

  • Nickname: Tonomi
Mise en Place
« on: March 18, 2012, 03:59:36 am »
(Greetings, I'm Achariyth, a new author on this site, although not in the fandom, and I'm looking for a place where I can find a good, critical community to help me grow as a writer.  I offer this tale as a best foot forward, and I plan to continue this work... when I can sort out my muse.  Consider it a sort of Alternate Gensokyo story.)

Mise en Place

-A Touhou Project fanfic written by Achariyth

Chapter 1: Lucky Peach

The knife scratched against stone. Mystia Lorelei peered down the blade, before testing the edge with her thumb. Satisfied, she slid her chef's knife into a thick wooden block set at the edge of her cooking counter. Rows of freshly chopped herbs lined the oversized cutting board; each spice in its own little box. Leeks, onions, and other fragrant vegetables filled bins on Mystia's left. As she dumped more potatoes into a drawer at her feet, she smiled. Her mise en place, the way ingredients and dishes were arranged around her cooking station, was as it should be; all was right in the world.

A cook's mise was important; as orders piled up, the ability to quickly locate spices, knives, and that cute little garnish for the pixie sized lamprey order spelled the difference between thriving and surviving in the kitchen. A clean, ordered mise was the sign of a clear, ordered mind. A disordered one signified impending disaster.

Cranking the wheel that spun blood and slime off of her lampreys, she opened the shutters just above the cooking counter. With a smile, she greeted the first of the evening customers. "Can I take your order?"

"One special, please," a cultured and demure voice said.

"Certainly," Mystia said, forcing a smile. Without looking, she pulled a thick paper from a drawer. Her hand shot out, slamming a paper ward onto Yuyuko Saigyouji's forehead. Pointing at the "No Ghosts" sign tacked onto her cart, the songbird screeched, "Go away!"

"Ow!" Yuyuko whimpered, batting at the paper on her head. The Princess of the White Jade Tower pouted, ignoring the faint blue flames that surrounded her. "There's no need to be so unfriendly. All I wanted was the best lampreys around."

"You should have thought about that before you ate me," Mystia snapped, brandishing her chef's knife. She reached for another of Sanae's paper charms, spilling bins in the process.

"It was just one little mistake," Yuyuko sighed dejectedly. She caught the night sparrow's eyes and pleaded, "Can't you forgive me?"

"Not until the world stops turning," Mystia said, hurling another charm at the ghostly princess. The paper passed through Yuyuko as she faded away. "And don't think you can send Youmu here either. The ghost rule applies to her too."

The songbird panted, draining a small metal flask as the knife slipped back into its block. Tiding up her workspace, Mystia shook her head at the overturned spice bins. At least those herbs were cheap. Gods help her if she had spilled her saffron. Washing her face, she forced a smile. "Can I help you?" she greeted the next customer.

"Certainly," a light and elegant voice said. Mystia opened her eyes and froze. Keine Kamishirasawa smiled at her. Elegant and beautiful, the historian had recently made news by opening a restaurant with her long-time partner, Duchess Mokou Fujiwara. "I'm looking for a new head chef. Can we talk?"

"Hey, I'm hungry here," a surly tengu yelled.

"Sorry," Keine called over her shoulder. "I'll come back after the rush."

***

As the line finally dwindled to nothing and the sun began to set, Mystia quenched the fire underneath the grill. Splashing water on her face, she adjusted her clothes. While it was too late to make a good first impression, thanks to all that time hanging out with Cirno, she could at least make a proper impression as a chef. "So-"

"You know, this is good!" Mokou said, crunching on a skewered lamprey. The last of the fish disappeared, and the phoenix girl licked at the fat dripping down her fingers. "I mean it's really, really good!"

Keine shot her a glare and threw a napkin at Mokou. "I'm sorry about my friend's manners," the teacher said nervously.

"But that's the good part," Mokou protested, wiping her hands clean.

"You bought a triple order of lamprey with sides of fries and rice balls," Mystia said, shrugging. "That's manners enough." Not asking for a free meal was huge; no cook that handed out complementary meals on a regular basis ever stayed in business long.

"It's the least we could do," Keine said.

"You mentioned a job offer," Mystia said, her eyes narrowing. "Why me?"

Another skewer disappeared into Mokou's mouth. "Really, really, really good."

"We get the point," Keine groaned, rolling her eyes. "Our previous chef left us, and you were recommended to us."

"It was a short list," Mokou said, before draining a clay mug.

"Something like that," Keine laughed.

"No one else will-" Mokou said, wincing as Keine drove a heavy shoe into her foot.

"No one else came to mind," Keine said sweetly, grinding her foot against Mokou's.

Mystia leaned against the barrel, swiping a fry off of Mokou's plate. "So, tell me about your restaurant."

Keine smiled. "How about we show you instead?"

***

The trio stood outside a wood and paper walled building fit for a high Japanese noble. Mystia suddenly felt underdressed despite Keine's pleasant reassurances and Mokou's complete indifference to propriety. The chef hoped for a modern kitchen; one stray flame and the building would turn to ash.

"Welcome to Maya," Keine said with a graceful flourish towards the restaurant's doors.

"Maya?" Mystia blinked as Mokou ushered her inside. "That sounds a little plain." She walked into a room filled with simple yet beautiful wooden tables and chairs. Unlike the Eastern exterior, the interior was pure West.

"It means 'Veil of Illusion,'" Keine said, stepping next to the night sparrow. She waved at a mural. From one side, a Chinese dragon could be seen, and a lion from the other direction. "What do you think?"

"Nice," Mystia trailed. As impressive as the dining room's elegant simplicity might be, Mokou and Keine would be paying her to cook. She would not be seeing much of it. "Where's the floor?"

Keine blinked. "Oh, the wait staff?" She trailed off, looking at Mokou for help.

"They asked for time off," Mokou said smoothly as she settled behind the glass bar. Opening a wine bottle with a pop of a cork, the phoenix girl poured a drink. "We'll have them after we hire a chef. Want a glass?"

Mystia waved away the offered drink. Best to be sober; she could avoid being blindsided by a competing con that way. "Where would I be working?" she said, and then held up a finger before a beaming Keine could speak. "If I say 'yes.'"

The historian laughed. "This way," she said, gliding towards an alcove at the end of the bar. Mystia followed, rounding the corner.

Burnished steel counters glowed under the overhead lights. An impressive array of pots and pans lined the prep stations. The songbird breathed a sigh of relief at seeing ovens, griddles, and ranges. No sign of giant open flames waiting to burn the place down. The kitchen seemed spacious and cool, almost comfortable, yet Mystia knew that illusion would not last. Once five or six bustling line cooks filled the room with the rambunctious commotion and searing flame that a night's cooking required, the room would become a moving maze of steel and flesh, sharp knives and ever-oppressive heat.

You had to be crazy to love it. Well, Mystia did hang around Cirno…

Keine stepped out of the chef's way as she moved from prep station to prep station, examining pots, reach-in fridges and freezers, and even the sharpness of the knives.

"A scale? Really?" Mystia said. The offending object hung from her fingertips.

"For the dessert chef," Keine said, eyeing the songbird with a wry smile. Mokou slipped into the kitchen, draining the last of her drink.

"I knew that," Mystia said, turning to hide the pink in her cheeks. She reached into a freezer under a counter and frowned. "So where's the food? I haven't seen a single ingredient."

"When our chef left, we put everything into the walk-ins," Mokou said, setting the wineglass down on a steel counter.

"Could you show me?" Mystia said. "I'd like to see what I might be working with."

Keine and Mokou looked at each other and grinned. "I think you'll be pleased," the elegant historian said.

"This way," the phoenix girl said, motioning toward the songbird. She threw open a large metal door, and a wave of cold air hit Mystia. Shivering, her feathers stood on end. The night sparrow prayed she didn't look like a puffball. But as she stepped into the freezer, her eyes snapped wide and her jaw dropped.

"You okay?" Mokou said, waving a hand in front of Mystia's eyes.

The chef stood transfixed. The shelves were filled with fish. Scarlet Chilean sea bass longer than her wingspan, giant sides of tuna, halibut, salted cod, ray-like skates, wild salmon, red snapper, giant prawns, the tasty but repulsive looking monkfish, even the all too familiar lampreys. Hundreds of kilograms of fish, all arranged precisely in the freezer.

Finally able to move, Mystia leaned over the stunning sea bass and inhaled deeply. Not a single whiff of fish met her nostrils. The songbird squealed in delight.

"We buy only the best from Iku," Mokou said, smiling as she leaned against the entryway.

"I can tell," the chef stammered. Fish without the smell could only come from fresh high-quality catches. Sea bass, salmon, even swordfish, Mystia had long wanted to work with ocean fish but never expected that she would. Gensokyo was far enough from the sea that most of its residents had never seen the ocean even once in their lives. While Iku did make deliveries from the sea, her fares were too expensive for a modest little lamprey cart. She looked again at the massive yet sleek sea bass, her mouth watering. Turning around to face Mokou and Keine, Mystia shrieked:

"I'll do it!"

Keine and Mokou smiled at each other. "Can you start tomorrow?" the were-hakutaku asked.

***

Mystia sang softly as she buttoned up her chef's whites. Looking out over her new kitchen filled with all manner of pots, pans, and delicious ingredients that she had never dared to think about ordering while she traveled with her cart, she smiled, twirling in circles. A loud booming knock at the back door snapped the night sparrow out of her reverie. Hopefully the first of the pre-dawn deliveries would be waiting at the door.

"Hey, Mysty!" Suika Ibuki greeted her, as the chef opened the door. She raised her hands, showing off the half-dozen gourds. An alcohol vendor to various eateries in Gensokyo, she sold off her infinite supply of booze. While booze might be free, party food was not. "I've got your spirits delivery. Got a little for cooking, and a whole lot for after-hours."

Mystia's smile grew wider. "That's just the thing I needed for tonight's special." Alcohol made for a wonderful marinade and not just for food. Spirits flowed liberally when the cooks inevitably gathered after hours to complain about the miseries of kitchen life.

Suika handed the gourds over to the chef, and then held her hand out. She rubbed her fingers together expectantly. "Forgetting something?"

The night sparrow recoiled, setting the gourds down inside the restaurant. "You've always given me credit."

Suika shook her head. "I've always given Mystia Lorelei credit; she's always been good for her bills. But you've got to be nuts to think that I'm giving credit to Lady Fujiwara."

Mystia winced. The amount of credit that vendors like Suika offered indicated their confidence in a restaurant's chances of survival. That Suika insisted on cash on delivery suggested Mokou's restaurant would be best served by euthanasia. "What didn't Mokou and Keine tell me?"

"Lady Houraisan's Bamboo Child is your competition, and she swore to run Lady Fujiwara out of business and into servitude. She's doing a great job at it too," Suika said, shrugging. "Honey, you've climbed aboard a sinking ship."

Mystia pursed her lips as she thought. "One week's credit for old time's sake?"

Suika laughed. "I shouldn't give you one hour's credit, friend or not."

The night sparrow practically glowed with confidence. "So, give me a day's credit instead."

"Promise me you won't sell your cart, and you've got a deal," Suika said, lowering her hand. She dug out an invoice and handed it over.

"Got it. I'll just have the dishwashers pick these up, and get back to work," Mystia said, signing the paper.

"Oh, honey, they really didn't tell you anything. When do you open?" Suika said, shaking her head as she collected the invoice.

"Six hours," Mystia froze, but her smile never wavered.

The oni shook her head. "I should have never agreed to give you credit. You really should have talked to me before you agreed to this fiasco."

"No dishwashers. What else don't I have?"

"Lady Houraisan ran or hired off the entire kitchen."

"Well, I've got a spot for a bartender. You interested?" Mystia practically sang, oozing confidence.

"If you're still open in a week, I'll think about it."

"So I'll expect you next Saturday. Five PM sharp."

Suika laughed as she walked away. "Good luck, Chef Mystia. You're going to need it. Don't forget, Tewi's playing for the other team." Tewi's manipulation of luck was legendary, as was her capriciousness.

"I've always wanted to make a rabbit special," Mystia said as she closed the door. Her face fell as she turned around and slid down the door. "Where the hell am I going to find an entire staff in less than six hours?"

***

As the last pink of sunrise turned to blue, Wriggle Nightbug sat in a dewy field, laughing as ladybugs and dragonflies fluttered in circles around her. Mystia loved to see her friend enjoying herself; she just hated what would happen next.

"Hey, Wriggle," she called out, walking towards the firefly queen.

Wriggle startled and her ladybug and butterfly attendants flew into hiding. "No, wait!" she said, reaching for the insects. As the last fluttered away, she stood, planting her hands on her hips. "You scared them, you, you… bug eater!"

Mystia rolled her eyes at that. Yes, sparrows did eat insects, but she found fish to be far tastier. "I need to talk to you."

"After how you scared my friends away, I don't want to," Wriggle said, pouting.

"I've got a job for you," Mystia said with a lilt.

The firefly's eyes widened and she spun away from the chef. "Leave me alone!" she shouted as she ran away. The songbird groaned as she grabbed the edge of the insect queen's cloak. "Let go!" Wriggle said, squirming against the sparrow's grip.

"Calm down," Mystia said, smiling sweetly.

"I know that smile," Wriggle said, ripping her cloak free with her hands. The bug's eyes narrowed. "You're not getting me into a frilly dress again." One of Cirno's scams had needed a girly-girl for some reason and, thanks to Mystia's deft fingers, tomboyish Wriggle had drawn the short straw.

"Relax. Want to make some money for a change?"

"You're still not getting me into a frilly dress," Wriggle protested, her arms crossed.

"No, I was thinking a white jacket this time," the sparrow said, flashing a winning smile.

Wriggle blinked, dumbfounded. After she found her voice, she said, "Like a chef's?"

"A sous-chef to be precise," Mystia said, using the title for the head chef's second in charge. She held her arms out. "What do you say? It'll be like Butch and Sundance together again. Lupin and Jigan. Thelma and Louise…"

The firefly's eyes narrowed. "I'm not driving off a cliff with you."

"Whatever, it's not like we can't both fly," Mystia said, laughing.

"I didn't think your cart was doing quite that well," Wriggle said, before Mystia told her about Mokou and Keine's job offer. The insect queen shook her head and pointed to her antennae. "Just one problem. I'm a bug. No health inspector'll let me anywhere near a dining room, much less a kitchen."

Mystia let out a huge belly-laugh. "I think I've got that covered."

***

Kotohime sat at her desk, filing papers. As Gensokyo's self-appointed police chief and health inspector, she shouldered a heavy workload. Normally, she considered it a small price to pay for the public's safety, but right now she wished for less paperwork. It seemed to multiply like rabbits on her desk. The princess swore that a third stack of papers mysteriously appeared when she had her head turned. She tugged at her collar. When did it get so hot in her office?

Her door flew open, sped along the way by a powerful kick. Mokou Fujiwara stepped into the room, flames whipping around her body in a frenzy. A predatory smile crossed her lips as she cracked her knuckles. "Let me tell you how it will be…"

***

Wriggle and Mystia sat in the middle of the field, huddled over a sheet of paper. Occasionally, Wriggle would write a new name in a flowery script.

"So who do we have?" the sparrow said. She squinted at the list, turning her head at odd angles.

"Sakuya?" Wriggled said, tapping on the maid's name with a wooden fountain pen.

"Remilia would kill us," Mystia said, shaking her head. "No, really. Sakuya's got the non-compete clause from Hell. If she works anywhere but the Scarlet Devil Mansion, her new employers become vampire snacks."

Wriggle winced, scratching a line through Sakuya's name. "How about Kasen?"

Mystia's eyes shone. "She'd be a classy addition. Too bad she's a hermit. Koishi?"

"No one's seen her for days."

"Yamame?"

Wriggle made a moue of disgust. "Dead."

"Really?" Mystia said. "When?"

"Yesterday."

"Was it Reimu?" Mystia asked. Wriggle just nodded and sighed. "Any idea when she'll revive?"

"Hello, she's a spider youkai," Wriggle said. "Do you think I want to be around her when she wakes up hungry? I want to make dinner, not be it."

Mystia sighed, scowling at the list in Wriggle's hand. "So, that leaves the usual suspects. Let's go get them."

***

Rumia sat against an ancient tree sitting on the road to the Scarlet Devil Mansion, groaning. A makeshift sling held her arm, her dress was in tatters, and scratches marred her doll-like skin. She looked up at Mystia and Wriggle.

"So I can eat all the meat I want, I don't have to chase humans, and Reimu won't beat me up for no reason?" she asked hopefully, her eyes shimmering in the sunlight.

Mystia smiled as she held a hand out to her youkai friend. "Yes." She paused, considering her words. "Well, I can't guarantee the last."

Next to her, Wriggle shrugged. "It is Reimu, after all."

Rumia pursed her lips, grabbed the sparrow's hand, and pulled herself to her feet. "And all I have to do is chop and cook yummy meat? Count me in!"

***

"Just think of the money," Wriggle said, shivering inside Cirno's makeshift igloo.

"You won't just be the strongest fairy; you'll be the richest, too," Mystia added, wrapping the scarf around her neck tighter. "Just think of what you could do."

"I can do shaved ice," Cirno said, hovering in the air. Her ice-flavored shaved ice had been something less than a best seller at the last festival, but the ice fairy's enthusiasm never waned.

"Let me worry about the menu," Mystia said. "Just make the desserts, we'll pay you, and we'll party and scheme after work and late into the night."

"Count me in," Cirno said, beaming.

"C-can we go?" Wriggle said, her teeth chattering. "My hibernation reflex is about to kick in."

***

Shielding her eyes from the mid-morning sun, Mystia sang softly as she hammered the last nail into a sign by the entryway. Stepping back, she looked at her work and smiled, handing the hammer to Rumia.

"'No ghosts allowed,'" the shadow youkai read. "Is that so?"

"As long as I'm head chef," Mystia said, opening Maya's door.

"Mysty!" Wriggle shouted as she ran out, nearly running over the songbird. "Where's the waitresses? Where's the dishwashers? We open in an hour!"

The head chef slapped her forehead. "I forgot about the dishwashers!"

Rumia asked, "What about the waitresses?"

"Keine and Mokou can be the floor for all I care," Mystia said, shaking her head. Her cheeks glowed red. "I can't believe I was that stupid."

"Who tells Keine?" Rumia asked, deep in thought.

Wriggle shrugged, looking Mystia in the eyes. "Leadership takes responsibility, Head Chef"

The night sparrow slumped against the wall and sighed. "Fine."

***

"What do you mean 'we're closed'?" Keine shouted. She stood up slamming her hands against the top of her desk.

"We don't have the people. I barely have a kitchen, but we still don't have runners, bartenders, waitresses," Mystia said as calmly as she could manage and winced. "Or dishwashers."

The were-hakutaku flashed a look at the duchess lounging in the only chair in the closet that doubled as Keine's office. Mokou sat up straight and shook her head vigorously. "No way! You know what happens when you put me in a skirt!" Mystia watched the phoenix girl shudder. "Last time I had five marriage proposals in an hour. In an hour, Keine."

"You do realize if Kaguya gets her way, you'll be lucky to have a skirt," Keine said.

"What does Kaguya have to do with this?" Mystia said. Her eyes narrowed as Keine laughed nervously. So Suika was telling the truth.

"It's a private wager," Mokou said, grimacing.

"Whatever. I still need more staff," the head chef grumbled. "Look, we're not closed down for good, only for lunch. If you can find me two bodies-"

"We've already called in all of our favors," Keine said, slipping back into her seat.

"Is Kaguya the reason why we don't have any staff?" Mystia knew the answer; she just wanted to hear it from Keine's lips.

"That no-good cheating lying dish-throwing nutcase," Mokou muttered, still shuddering.

"Something like that," Keine said.

The songbird choked back a sigh. "Fine. I'll find our two 'volunteers.' I really should be in the kitchen, though."

"How are you going to do that?"

"I'll shanghai them if I need to," Mystia said, halfway through the door. As she left, the head chef could hear Mokou ask Keine:

"Wait, she's getting Alice?"

""I thought there'd be more yelling," Wriggle said, appearing out of nowhere to fall in step with Mystia. The firefly grinned as her friend jumped.

"Where were you hiding?" the sparrow said, holding her heart. Wriggle pointed to where a darker than normal shadow filled a nearby corner. Rumia and Cirno stepped out, grinning.

"So what are we going to do, Chef?" the ice fairy asked as she hovered in the hallway.

Mystia thought as she walked. Stepping into the kitchen, she saw a single peach sitting on Wriggle's counter. The chef's eyes widened and she almost burst into song. A hand clamped on her mouth.

"Sorry, Mysty, I don't want to go blind right now," Wriggle said, holding her hand against the songbird's face. Mystia rolled her eyes and huffed. The firefly let go. "So, what's the scheme?"

"We're going to pull a Lucky Peach," Mystia said. Empty stares greeted her pronouncement. "Rumia, Cirno, get my cart and set it and a bunch of tables and chairs neatly outside. Wriggle, I need you to come with me and write down the new menu."

"And what are you going to do?" Cirno asked.

"I'm going to get us some help," Mystia said. "In the meantime, let's get ready to open for dinner."

As Rumia and Cirno left, Wriggle leaned in towards Mystia. "How are you going to do that?" the sous-chef said, sotto voce, so that no one else could here.

"Beats me. I'm making this up as I go along."

***

Suwako Moriya sat out on the Whiterock Creamery's patio, shoveling huge bites of Letty's infamous "Genocide by Chocolate" dessert into her mouth. Even the sight of that ice pest's bird and bug friends lurking in the nearby bushes couldn't dampen the sugary ecstasy of chocolate after lunch. Not for the first time, Suwako wondered how she had survived all those centuries without chocolate.

"Do you miss anything from the old world?" Sanae Kochiya asked from across the glass table. The wind priestess had chosen a small strawberry parfait. Mortals still had to worry about getting fat.

"I have faith. Oh, and chocolate," the earth goddess said. "I'm pretty much set."

"Sometimes, I miss the oddest things," Sanae said. "Like working."

Suwako paused, glowering until another bite of chocolate crossed her lips. "What, at that dive?" Was she mistaken, or did that bird suddenly perk up?

"It wasn't the food," Sanae said, laughing. "Although it wasn't too bad. I just miss talking to all sorts of people."

"You still do that here."

"Everyone here's pretty much similar. There were more types of people when I was waitressing-"

"Did she say 'waitress?'" the bug said.

"Get her!" the bird shouted. The ice pest's lackeys tackled Sanae to the ground. The bug sat on the priestess's back, while the bird tossed a restaurant flyer onto the table and bowed. "Thank you for letting us borrow Sanae. We'll take good care of her."

"Suwako, help!" Sanae shrieked, squirming as her captors lifted her overhead.

The goddess looked at the flyer and nodded. "You just told me that you missed waitressing. Have fun," Suwako said, waving as Sanae disappeared down the road. Normally, the earth goddess would be worried, but she was certain that she could curse the ice pest's friends into next year with very little effort. Besides, getting shanghaied by youkai might teach Sanae some much needed humility. Or it would send her off on a youkai-smiting rampage.

Either way, the result should be amusing.

***

Mystia panted as she rested her hand on the mammoth trunk of the largest tree in the Forest of Magic. "Remind me why we're out here."

Wriggle walked a circle around the tree. "Because you thought Alice's house was out this way instead of listening to me."

The sparrow looked for a rock to through at the Nightbug in her ear. She found a suitable pebble, but the stone was too far away. "Do we really need her? This seems like way too much effort for an almost certain 'No.'"

"Her dolls would solve our missing waitress and dishwasher problem, saving us money," Wriggle said. "And have you seen her when she's not putting on that tough girl act? We'll have guys lined up for kilometers."

"Why not get Okuu then?"

"One birdbrain in the restaurant is enough."

Mystia rolled her eyes. "Whatever. You do realize we've got a restaurant to open soon. If we can't find her-"

"Oh, you're Cirno's friends, right?" a golden-haired fairy said, dropping down in front of Mystia with a wide smile. The songbird recognized that smile; it made her want to check to make sure her coin purse wasn't missing.

"Sunny, right?" Mystia said, flashing a smile at Wriggle.

"Where are your friends?" the sous-chef asked. Fairies naturally grouped in flights, so if you saw one, others would be hiding nearby, scheming and plotting.

Sunny Milk raised her hand high into the air. Instantly, like a veil dropping, Luna Child and Star Sapphire appeared between the chefs; the latter fairy reaching for Mystia's coin purse.

The starlight fairy looked up at her mark, smiling wanly as she froze. "You have pretty wings."

"Thanks," Mystia said, smiling serenely. The songbird slapped Star's hand away and then bopped her on the head.

"Ow!" the fairy of starlight said, covering her head.

Luna and Sunny watched, amazed and with smiles dancing across their faces. Someone had actually managed to catch slippery little Star in the act for once. The two fairies suppressed giggles for a brief moment before falling to the ground, laughing.

"Now that that's over with," Mystia said, blowing on her knuckles. "We were looking for you." The songbird ignored Wriggle's sudden incredulous look. "Cirno recommended you. I've got some restaurant jobs you three would be perfect for. We'll pay you and feed you."

"We have coffee," Wriggle said smoothly, leveling her best winning smile at Luna.

Her eyes shining, the fairy of moonlight grabbed Wriggle's hands. "Take me with you."

"Luna!" Sunny protested. Turning towards Mystia, she said, "I'm the leader here and I say-" The sunlight fairy's eyes were drawn to the stack of yen the chef flourished into a wide fan. "Yes!"

***

Sunny and Luna both scowled as they scrubbed dishes in sudsy hot water up to their elbows. "'Perfect job,' she said," Luna snarled, loading another gleaming dish into the drying rack.

"Yeah, as dishwashers," Sunny sighed, groping in the water for silverware. "And Star gets to wait tables. It's unfair!" An arm draped across the fairy's shoulder.

"Yes, it is," Mystia purred, pulling a wide-eyed Sunny close. "Because good little dishwashers that work hard might just learn how to cook from the head chef herself and become line cooks, while all good waitresses get to look forward to is another day full of loud, pushy, angry customers and screaming kids." The hand chef mussed Sunny's hair before letting her go. "Now what did we just learn?"

"Don't try to take Chef Mysty's money?" Luna said, meekly.

Mystia opened her mouth but stopped to think for a moment. "Close enough." She walked around the corner, pausing just long enough to hear Sunny speak.

"Wow, Star got screwed again."

The songbird laughed into her hand, and headed into the kitchen, colliding with something unseen. "Ow!"

"Chef," Cirno said, clutching Mystia's apron. Sweat rolled down the fairy's brow. "Please, I need an ice break."

"Take five," Mystia said. She scrambled out of the way as Cirno encased herself inside a pillar of ice.

"Ahhh…" Cirno said, smiling

"Go outside next time!" Mystia yelled, shaking her head as she walked away. She stopped and stared at Rumia as the shadow youkai walked by with a plump fish almost as big as herself. A tag with the words, "Rumia's fishie" hung from one of the fins.

"Hi, Chef," Rumia said, beaming.

"Put that back!" Mystia squawked. "Now!"

"You said I could eat all the meat I wanted," Rumia pouted.

"Not from our most expensive fish," the head chef said, watching as Rumia's eyes teared up. "Put it back and I promise I'll make it up to you later."

The shadow youkai waddled back towards the walk-in fridge. "Bye bye, fishie."

The songbird finally made it to her station, making slight adjustments to her mise. Plating a set of clear jelly-like cubes, she drizzled apricot juice over the dish before setting a single coin-sized circle of fruit atop each cube.

"Chef!" a voice demanded. Mystia spun around, banging her elbow against the counter. Apricots and fruit juice showered her mise. Sanae stood in front of her, hands planted firmly on her hips. "I don't appreciate being press-ganged into-"

The head chef rolled her eyes and turned around. Sliding a single cube of fish marrow and apricot onto a spoon, she tuned out the waitress's rant as best as she could.

"-are you even listening to me? I swear, I don't know why I'm even here-"

"Open wide," the sparrow said, slipping the spoon into Sanae's mouth. She watched in satisfaction as the priestess's eyes widened and a blissful smile lit up her face. "Anything else?"

Sanae shook her head and swallowed. "I'll just get back to work."

"Thank you." Mystia said, scrubbing her counter clean with a thick white dish towel.

"Mystia!"

The chef threw her towel into the hamper and spun around. Why did distractions always seem to pile up in the last hour before opening? Forcing a smile, she said, "Yes, Mokou?"

The phoenix girl held up a hastily printed menu. Pointing towards the text, she glowered at her chef. "What's with this menu?"

"Look around," the night sparrow said, sighing. "No one else here's a professional yet. I need something simple while I train the girls."

"I know that," Mokou snapped. The immortal girl read from the menu. "'Grilled Lampreys - Try some for good eyesight.' You're not pulling that scam here, got that?"

"How'd that get there?" Mystia said, feigning innocence. So she had used her powers over night-blindness to sell a ton of fish as a cure, big deal.

The duchess tried to stare her chef down. "No funny business. Am I clear about that?"

"Clear as glass," the songbird chirped. But there were so many types of glass…

"Enough about that," Keine said as she stormed in. Mokou rolled her eyes and walked off in a huff. "What the hell is a Noodle Bar?"

Mystia closed her eyes and took in deep breaths. Her hands crushed and twisted the edge of her apron. "We don't have the staff we need for the dining hall yet, so I had Rumia, Cirno, and Sanae whip up something on the patio."

"Maya doesn't have a patio."

"And it still doesn't," Mystia said. "It has the Maya Noodle Bar outside, which will be open until we can hire and train the staff we need for the mother restaurant. Think of it as customers paying us to train."

"And after Maya reopens?"

"We'll have two successful restaurants served by one kitchen."

"I'd settle for just one. Mine," Keine said, and then sighed. "Look, just clear it with me next time."

Mystia blinked. "Just like that?"

"I like the idea of getting paid," Keine said. "I noticed your menu is a little light on noodles for a noodle bar."

"Wriggle's cooking up some yakamein right now," Mystia said, pointing the giant pot bubbling away at the firefly's station.

"Smells different. Is it Chinese?"

"Cajun. Want to try some?" Mystia said, ladling the noodle soup into a bowl. "Let me know what you think." The songbird breathed a sigh of relief as her boss walked away, a cup of noodles in her hand. What else would go wrong?

***

Rice cakes roasted at Mystia's station while she cleaned the last of the mushrooms for her next dish. Rolling the fungi in olive oil, she dropped them into a heated pan and then sprayed sake infused with fresh garlic over them. As she turned the rice cakes over, she looked around at the other cooks' stations.

Rumia grilled fresh shrimp in a pan, singing softly to herself. "I'm going to eat you, little fishie, because I like eating fish." One in thirty shrimp found its way into Rumia's stomach; the songbird would deal with that later. Maybe Iku could deliver something special daily for the shadow youkai.

In addition to watching the pot of New Orleans' Old Sober, Wriggle cut potatoes into the wedges needed for potatoes bravas, a fried potato dish. Next to her sat a vat of freshly squeezed lime juice waiting for the night's first order of ceviche. The firefly handled her knife precisely. Mystia had trained her to cook whenever the health inspector wasn't looking. Unfortunately, Kotohime had developed a taste for grilled lamprey.

Who knew what Cirno was doing with that milk and cereal. Looking like a devilish child on the verge of a sugar rush, the ice fairy examined one of a series of pastel-colored milk bottles. Mystia shook her head; she wasn't paying Cirno to be an artiste. Hopefully Cirno learned something at the Whiterock Creamery. Out of the corner of her eye, Mystia watched as Sunny and Luna passed around a bottle of rose-colored milk, content smiles on their faces. Maybe Letty had shown Cirno a thing or two.

All things considered, her kitchen was as ready as it could be. Hopefully Keine and Mokou had done their part in drawing customers, or Mystia was just running an expensive cooking school for her friends. Maybe Suika was right; this did feel like a sinking ship. Rolling the mushrooms around in the pan, she said a quick prayer to whatever unknown goddess it was who watched over cooks and doomed souls.

"Order!" Sanae yelled as she burst into the kitchen, hanging a ticket on a long slide. "I've gotta deuce wanting prawn and bacon brochettes and potatoes bravas. I also gotta four-top-"

"Order!" Star hollered as she flew around the wind priestess. "Anchovy and pepper skewers-"

Mystia smiled as the slide started to fill up with tickets and then panicked when she saw how quickly the orders piled up. Had Keine marched Mokou through the streets naked? It'd take some deft cooking not to get lost in the weeds tonight, but it beat the alternative.

***

Tewi Inaba huddled into her chef's whites, nursing a round of vodka and beer with her companions. "La puta vida," she slurred in a horrible farce of a Parisian accent that did not match the Spanish. "This life, she's a bitch." The rabbits at her table drained their drinks. After the kitchens closed and midnight was nothing more than a memory, they were regulars at Miko Toyosatomimi's bar, like most of the chefs in Gensokyo.

Reisen Udongein Inaba frowned. "Watch your mouth," she scolded, crossing her arms beneath the Bamboo Child logo on her whites.

"It's true," Yukimi said. The white-faired earth rabbit flashed two fingers at the fairy waitress flittering by. "Few customers, little pay, and I still don't know how Long Ears got lost in the weeds."

"Switch stations with me tomorrow and find out," Reisen snapped. Her produce station was the only one to get backed up all day. She ripped a glass from the fairy's serving tray and drained the contents in one pull. "Another."

"Take it easy," the waitress said, shaking her head as she served the remaining drinks. "Lady Miko-"

"-can come down here and scold me herself," Reisen said. The hare's eyes glowed red as she pointed to the entrance. "In the mean time, get me another drink and put wings on it."

The door burst open as Mystia, Rumia, and Wriggle flowed into the room, cheering.

"All hail the new queens of cuisine," Wriggle shouted, swiping a drink from a passing waitress. "Maya Noodle Bar. Y'all remember that name."

As the trio set off towards the bar, and Wriggle looped her arm around the cute guy that Reisen had been eyeing all night, the rabbit growled, "You know, I was going to feel sorry for what we're about to do to them."

Tewi raised an eyebrow as she set down her drink. "And now?"

"They deserve what's coming to them."
« Last Edit: March 18, 2012, 10:48:26 pm by Achariyth »

Esifex

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2012, 05:36:45 am »
Consider this post a heads-up for you - I'll give you a full-blown critique a little later. Right now, I've got a splitting headache, but I did read it, and I enjoyed it.

Feel free to remove your legal disclaimer - the entire site operates like that.

Esifex

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2012, 04:37:21 am »
Man that was a long headache :derp:

The story was well written and I like your portrayal of... pretty much everyone. Mystia has always been one of my favorite characters, and no one ever really explores her chef and business side that much. You've done a great job of giving everyone distinct personalities, unique to each of them, rather than minor variations between everyone.

I greatly enjoyed what you've got here, and it looks as though it's not completely finished. If that's the case, I'd love to see where you go from here. Even as it is, though, cliffhanger ending and all, it stands well enough on its own.

Iced Fairy

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2012, 05:25:10 am »
Hm now, this is interesting.  Some places seem a little hurried, but all in all this is a nice piece of work.  I'm looking forward to see where things are going with this rather unique kitchen crew.

FinnKaenbyou

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2012, 04:20:13 pm »
You had me interested within a few paragraphs. And I don't read much around here, so that's saying something. :V

Looking forward to where this goes.

Tamer Anode/Cathode

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #5 on: March 22, 2012, 04:36:52 pm »
I'm very impressed by this story. I admire the amount of detail and description you've put into your work.

One of the things I noticed was that you're using Westernized terms for various things (White Jade Tower instead of Hakugyokurou, rice balls instead of onigiri). If you're doing this to make your work more approachable to outsiders, it's a good idea. However, I would suggest that if you're going to publish within the fandom, you may want to use the original terms since some people can be very nitpicky about this.

Joveus Molai

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #6 on: March 22, 2012, 05:49:33 pm »
Heh, while I was reading this I started having ideas for a "Mystia as a cook and a businessman" story myself, but they soon failed. It went something like this:

1) After reading the first few paragraphs: "Hey, a story about Mystia running a restaurant! Maybe mine will be about her and Mokou pairing up and running some sort of food cart."

2) After reading several more paragraphs: "Okay, so Mokou's already involved, so scrap that last idea. Maybe a restaurant fic featuring Team 9?"

3) After reading the rest of the story: :fail:


Regardless, this was quite a bit of fun to read. In particular I thought that the scene depicting the restaurant's (re)debut captures the frantic feel of a busy restaurant quite nicely--my mother used to own a restaurant, so I know how chaotic they can be.

Wolfsbane706

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2012, 09:56:47 am »
Saw your name, so I started reading, and I didn't regret a second of it!  I enjoyed it.  ALOT.
[15:30] * Wolfsbane706 pitfalls Roukan.
[15:30] <Roukan> WHAT WHY
[15:31] * Roukan aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa*splat*
[15:32] <Wolfsbane706> That's the funniest reaction I've seen yet.
[15:34] * Roukan thumbs-up from beyond the grave.

BT

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2012, 10:11:15 pm »
Enjoyed this quite a lot. So far, both your stories had me hooked in no time. Treat this as a subscription for this thing's continuation, which I hope will come soon!

Achariyth

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2012, 05:02:01 am »
(Thanks for everyone's kind comments from the contest.  This is a little something while I figure out the next part.)

Mise en Place: Omake

Gensokyo, land of fantasy and illusion. Walking through its fields, one could easily be forgiven for thinking it lived as a relic of the 19th Century. In its towns, however, the 21st Century struggles to emerge, like a chick from an egg. In turns cosmopolitan and provincial, its humans, animals, fairies, and youkai live in a melting pot easily disturbed by the whims of the powerful and bored. In short, Gensokyo's a land of paradox, it's my hometown, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

***

I'm Koishi Komeji. I write, I eat, I travel, and I'm hungry for more.

Koishi Komeji: No Reservations.

***

Historically, the first stop for any visitor to Gensokyo was the Human Village, if only for safety. It wasn't all that long ago that newcomers were considered fair game for the countless highwaymen, hucksters, and hungry youkai that prowled the land. Once they reached the Village, a newcomer would then have the same protections as a local and could walk around safely.

Now, any person can freely travel all throughout Gensokyo without fear. Yet you should still go to the Human Village right away, if only to see the changes a vibrant economic boom can make to a small town. Be prepared to walk, though. There are no buses in Gensokyo, and it's best that way. Who would want to miss the natural splendor of the countryside? But if fields, mountains, and forests aren't your thing, you can hire a cat cart. It isn't that much faster, but your driver can fill you in on the local gossip and folklore on the way.


***

"This all changed a few years ago," Rin Kaenbyou called out over her shoulder as she pulled a small wooden rickshaw. As the kasha ran, Koishi sat on the cart's bench, one hand holding her wide-brimmed hat on her head. The feline driver showed no sign of fatigue as they passed a rice paddy. "After the Hakurei Priestess created the spell card rules. That leveled the playing field between the strong and weak. Now a child can walk from one end of Gensokyo to the other without worry." Rin winked at Koishi. "I know I wouldn't have been able to do this in the old days." She sprinted faster.

"Certainly, not everyone follows the spell card rules," Koishi said, wincing as the cart bounced over a rock.

The cat youkai laughed. "Those that don't find Reimu waiting for them. That Hakurei Priestess shows them just as much mercy as they showed others."

The young satori traveler cringed. "So, none then."

Rin laughed and said, "Good riddance, I say. Between her rules and the new kappa inventions, life's a lot better now."

"Is there anything you miss from the old days?"

"Some of the food carts. You can't find good cheap lampreys anymore. Progress, I guess," Rin said, licking her lips. "Oh, and Koishi? Please don't forget to see Satori. She misses you something fierce."

"Thanks," Koishi said, shrinking into her chair.

***

After she shared a recommendation for an authentic Chireidein barbeque restaurant, I reassured Rin that I'd check in with my sister. I then set out throughout the Human Village to find what Rin could not; cheap lamprey from a food cart.

Tucked away throughout parts of Europe and Southeast Asia, you can find small food carts and stalls. Often run by one family for generations and focusing on one specialty, you can tell the best of these from the long lines of locals waiting their turn for the food. Like Rin, I could remember a time where Gensokyo was filled with these mom and pop shops, many times ran by farmers trying to eek a little more cash from their harvests and slaughters. These thrifty souls lived the ancient challenge of the poor cook; making the leftover and the inedible edible. In the process, more often than not, they made tasty food that would be the envy of any large city chef.


Yet the noble food cart proved to be just as frustrating to find as trying to catch a glimpse of a kirin in Gensokyo. Fields where food carts once converged now lay empty, or worse, are paved over with the newest TGI McFunster's abomination imported from greater Japan. After growing frustrated and hungry during my two hour search down the Village's now bustling streets, I began to despair. The food cart used to be part of the Human Village's soul. What does it profit a town, to gain so much, yet lose its soul?

If I couldn't find the lamprey stand, I'd at least try to find the cook. A tip from a friendly hell raven sent me here, to the hottest new restaurant in the Village, the Maya Noodle Bar. Instead of common Japanese fare, though, Maya serves a strange mix of the familiar and the foreign, providing its customers with Spanish tapas side by side with more traditional seafood and rice. Despite the name, noodles aren't featured here, save for a Cajun riff on Chinese noodles.


***

"The old cooks are still here," Maya's head chef, Mystia Lorelei, said, sliding a plate filled with grilled lampreys and fried potatoes bravas toward Koishi. "But you'll now find them in restaurants like this instead of the streets."

"Why did you leave your cart?" Koishi said, between bites. The two sat out in the Noodle Bar's patio.

Mystia shrugged as she waved down a green-haired waitress with a snake ornament in her hair. "For the challenge, really. Before I came here, I cooked only lampreys and rice. Now I have much more to play with. Ocean fishes, new vegetables, marrow, and more. But I wouldn't have been hired if not for my food cart."

"Cooks are at a premium, then."

"With all the money coming in, everyone wants the sophistication of the megacities, especially with food. So any smart would-be restauranteur is going to look for a chef that can not only cook well, but can turn out a lot of dishes in a short time," Mystia said, taking a small plate filled with clear cubes covered in fruit from her waitress. "So all the cooks pushing little carts struggling to get by suddenly have big money offers because the owners know they can get the job done."

Koishi took a cube and slipped it in her mouth. Her eyes widened as she chewed. "What did I just eat?"

Mystia laughed. "Fish marrow with apricot caviar. You should have seen our waitress's face when she first tried it. You'd have thought she had just been kissed." With a clatter of plates against the floor, the red-faced waitress ran inside the kitchen.

"I can see why," Koishi said, dabbing a napkin at the corner of her mouth. "Don't you miss your old stand?"

Mystia pointed to a polished wooden cart at the edge of the patio. "Not really. I made it part of the restaurant, both physically and in the menu as well. Most of my cooks wouldn't have gotten a job in anything other than a cart, so we take care to remember our roots."

"Yet your menu is anything but traditional," the food critic pointed out, sipping from a glass of water.

"I forgot who said it, but food's the new rock and roll," the chef said. Behind her, rabbit ears poked out from the bushes near the food cart. "People are fierce champions of restaurants, just like bands and music. The Noodle Bar gives them something different from everything else in the Village. People either like us or hate us, but no one confuses us with any one else."

"So, you're not worried about competition?" Koishi said, watching as a team of rabbit youkai converged on Mystia's cart, taking up positions at the front and rear.

"Not at all. We're-" the songbird chef said. Wood creaked and protested as the rabbits pulled the cart away from the patio. One dark haired rabbit stopped and showered the restaurant in flyers. ""Get back here!" Mystia shrieked, dashing after her rapidly retreating cart.

Koishi finished off her plate as she read one of the flyers that floated her way "The Bamboo Child. She's right, food is fiercely partisan here."

***

After the break, we'll see a spell card battle, and, yes, Rin, I'll finally catch up with my sister, Satori...

***

Disclaimer: The Touhou Project belongs to ZUN. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations belongs to the Travel Channel.

nintendonut888

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #10 on: June 06, 2012, 03:54:57 am »
I like! Mystia's never even been a blip on my radar, but it's interesting to see her in her element as a businesswoman and cook (and not singing ;;). Your writing makes everything fun and easy to read. I look forward to seeing you continue. :)
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Baity: For a moment, I thought you broke 1.1billion. Upon looking at my score.dat, I can assume that you destroyed the score that is my failed (first!) 1cc attempt on my first day of playing. Congratulations.

[19:42] <Sapz> I think that's the only time I've ever seen a suicide bullet shoot its own suicide bullet

Achariyth

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Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2012, 07:24:00 pm »
Interlude: Amuse-Bouche

By tradition, late night is the time to do the Devil's work.  Most chefs, no strangers to the Inferno, chose to raise hell in the bars and clubs, but tonight, for one night only, Cirno stayed in the Maya Noodle Bar's kitchen.  A syringe in hand, a single question consumed the fairy dessert chef:

Will it spherify?

Head Chef Mystia Lorelei introduced the esoteric technique of spherification on her first day in charge of the kitchen.  Making her tuna marrow in apricot caviar required dripping a mixture of fruit juice and tasteless alginate into a calcium bath.  This created caviar-like beads that squirted apricot into a diner's mouth with each bite.  The delightful surprise, along with the mixture of the fruit's sweetness and the savory umami of the marrow, made Mystia's creation a signature dish for the Noodle Bar.

Since the juice spheres, like most food, tasted best when served fresh, Mystia gave the tedious job of making them to the newest cooks.  It gave then a break between cracking tuna bones for marrow and filleting fish, while giving Mystia a chance to determine which of the new hires had the patience and attention to detail needed to cook professionally.  An elegant solution; one that even Keine Kamishirasawa, the more active of the Noodle Bar's two owners, approved of.

And then Mystia had to put the syringes into the hands of fairies.

It wasn't her fault; Kaguya's Bamboo Child restaurant had hired away all the experienced chefs.  As the Maya Noodle Bar ballooned in popularity, Mystia had no choice but to promote her two dishwashers, Sunny Milk and Luna Child, to line cooks.

As expected, the fairies' innate curiosity got the better of them.  It had started innocently enough when Sunny first made little oranges from orange juice.  As long as they limited their playing to juices, Mystia gave the experiments no thought.  But when Luna spherified her first batch of coffee, Mystia paid closer attention.  Not only did it kick off a minor war between Medicine Melancholy, the newly hired bartender, and Luna over who got each new batch of coffee "beans", it sparked ever more exotic experiments.

Olives, peas, and even milk worked well enough that the head chef was searching for a way to add them to the menu.  Water proved to be underwhelming, and the less said about Rumia's fish spheres, the better.  Keine even banned all spherified peppers after a bead of ghost pepper juice "mysteriously" ended up in her tea.  When a customer left Medicine's unique take on Scotch on the rocks (a fifth of tonic water liberally filled with beads of Scotch) out long enough for the spheres to congeal to the consistency of jellybeans, the three fairies found inspiration for their crowning achievement of spherification:

Sparrow sake.

Giggling, the ice fairy slowly dripped the lemon-infused rice wine that Sunny had prepared earlier into the calcium bath.  After the last drops fell into the solution, she scooped the small white candy-like balls out with a net.  Allowing each to drip dry, she filled a glass dish with her night's work.

Tiptoeing down the hall, Crino slipped into the management office and set the candy dish down on Mokou Fujiwara's desk.  She left with one hand covering her mouth.  For as much as Mokou tried to hide it, the phoenix girl had a ravenous sweet tooth.  And sparrow sake had a well-known side-effect...

***

"Keep it down," Sunny whispered as Cirno walked down the hall.  She pushed the ice fairy against the wall.  Next to them, Luna peeked into the manager's office.  While it was common for the line cooks to arrive at the Maya Noodle Bar early, Sunny, Luna, and Cirno had beaten all but Mystia, Mokou, and Keine to work.  Instead of preparing their mise en place for the day's services, the three fairies sat outside Mokou's office, waiting.

They suppressed giggles as the phoenix girl and co-owner of the restaurant absent-mindedly popped a handful of white candies in her mouth.  But the giggles faded as Mokou calmly shuffled a stack of papers on her desk.  Using a red feather quill, the owner scratched her signature on the top page.  After watching her finish her paperwork for five minutes, the three fairies huddled together in the hall. 

"How long until it works?" Cirno asked.  She jumped as a hand clamped down on her shoulder.

"There you are," Mystia said.  The head chef pointed towards Sunny and Luna, and then towards the kitchen.  "You two, get cracking."

"Not the tuna bones again," Sunny wailed as Luna dragged her into the kitchen.

"Good morning, Chef," Cirno said, shrugging her shoulders away from Mystia's hand.

"Spill it."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Cirno stammered.  Mystia just glared at the fairy.  Sighing, Cirno fluttered up and whispered into Mystia's ear.

***

Two hours into the lunch service, and Mokou couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching her.  While it didn't raise her hackles like the silence before Kaguya struck, it still made her uncomfortable, like a man's errant eyes.  To make things worse, whenever she went into the kitchen, four sets of eyes followed her, expectant. So she hid in her office, working on the paperwork that never seemed to stop. 

Sometimes, when she looked up, she swore she saw little fairy heads duck behind the doorway.  One of them even had bird wings.  But whenever she got up to look, the hall was empty.

She'd talk to Keine about it after the lunch service was over.  Mokou sighed, and chewed on another of the sweet white candies from her dish. 

***

A white sake sphere rolled along the metal counter of Cirno's dessert station.  The ice fairy shook her head and flicked another across the surface.  "I thought you said this would work."

"I thought it would," the sunlight fairy said in between bites of the staff "gruel".  Traditionally served between the lunch and dinner rushes, the more appetizing than its name meal usually featured the trinity of chicken, pasta or rice, and salad.  Out of deference to Mystia's sensibilities, the Noodle Bar served fish instead.  "Mystia said it wouldn't take much."

"Just for the record, I had nothing to do with this," Mystia said, holding out her plate so that Wriggle Nightbug could scoop an extra helping of rice onto it.

"Maybe Mokou's just a lush," Luna said, sipping at her coffee mug.  She scowled at the empty cup before filling it up again from a nearby coffeepot. 

"Or maybe you fairies are just lightweights," Keine said, appearing behind Sunny.  She frowned and crossed her arms beneath her breasts.  The fairies jumped at the sound of her voice, spilling bins and silverware.  Only Luna's heroic effort saved her coffee from the same fate.  "What did you do?"

"Nothing," the three fairies said together.  Each stared up at Keine with all the feigned innocence of a misbehaving child.

"You've been shadowing Mokou all day.  Did you think that I wouldn't notice?" Keine scolded.  "Mystia!"

The head chef looked up from her meal.  "Yes?" she mumbled between bites.

"Do you-?"

"Look out!" Sanae Kochiya shrieked.   The waitress dove into the kitchen, rolling until she collided with a reach-in refrigerator.

Hurricane Mokou swept through the kitchen.  Twirling like a dervish, the phoenix girl danced lightly on her feet.  Her long floor-length hair  whipped out, ripping pots, pans, bins, and anything not nailed down from walls and racks.  The cooks ducked out of the way of the flying curtain of pale hair.  Still spinning, Mokou picked Keine up off the ground in a bear hug, and twirled the were-hakutaku in the air.  Setting her friend down, the phoenix girl stopped spinning long enough to sing, "Keine, let's go dancing tonight."

Red-faced and trying to hide her smile, Keine caught her breath.  "Whatever you gave her, I want on the menu tonight!"  An arm snaked around the were-hakutaku's waist, and Hurricane Mokou swept her away.

The room stood still for the briefest of moments before breaking out into uncontrollable giggling.  But as the merriment faded, Mystia gathered a mixing bowl and a whisk and shoved them into Cirno's hands.  "Start. Cooking," she hissed at the wide-eyed ice fairy.

***

Out in the dining room, Sanae stopped to wait on her next table.  Hiding frustration behind a polite smile, she looked Marisa Kirisame in the eyes.  It seemed like every night that the witch showed up at the Noodle Bar with a new suitor and a new little black dress.  "Would you like dessert?"

"Do you have something different?" Marisa asked, not looking up from staring into her date's eyes.

Sanae smiled grew wider, lest she scream aloud.  At least Marisa's dates tended to be generous tippers, otherwise she would have left this table for Star Sapphire to serve.  "In fact, the kitchen just rolled out something new a few minutes ago.  It's a berry-flavored cereal milk panna cotta with a lemon and spherified sparrow sake sauce."

"Is it light?" Marisa asked.  She shimmied in her seat.  "I want to be able to dance all night."

Sanae closed her eyes, and relished the memory of the single bite Mystia and Cirno had allowed her.  Light, creamy, and clean, the tart lemon pleasantly contrasting with the cereal milk custard's sweetness; the waitress swore that the dessert, like most of the restaurant's food, was wasted on the customers.  Then there was the reason why Mystia had only allowed the wait staff a single bite each; those delightful jelly-like bites of sake.  Of course, Cirno would use the only sake that made people dance uncontrollably whenever they drank it.  Sanae smiled at Marisa for the first time with any mirth.  "I guarantee you'll be on your feet well into the morning."

Achariyth

  • Nickname: Tonomi
Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2014, 07:53:37 am »
**snip** I will be posting the new chapter soon, so the snippet that was here is about to be redundant.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2014, 07:57:44 am by Achariyth »

Achariyth

  • Nickname: Tonomi
Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2014, 05:27:42 am »
Aya Shameimaru couldn't shake the feeling that she should have preened more luster into her feathers before she arrived. Normally she chased down leads through shadowy alleys and into dark corners. This time, an anonymous note had lured the photographer to an open-air amphitheater shrouded within a lush bamboo grove. Aya had dallied enough on the food writer beat to recognize it as the Bamboo Child, one of the three most sought after restaurants in Gensokyo.

Smoothing out imaginary wrinkles in her blouse, she walked past the parade of couples in their finest vibrantly-colored robes. At least none of her competitors stood in the line of well-dressed patrons waiting to get in; scooping that Himekaidou squab took the sting out of seeing that hell raven in the strapless onyx gown upstage all the crow tengu present., Aya wove around a wheeled food vendor cart parked in front of the amphitheater like a prize before settling at the back of the line.

On the polished wooden stage at the amphitheater's heart, a woman in flowing Heian silks plucked arpeggios on a shamisen. As the first notes echoed throughout the stage, the diners fell silent and watched with rapt attention. The musician's sweet soprano filled the bamboo grove with a haunting tale of star-crossed lovers.

"Miss Shameimaru, this way please."

Aya spun around. A young rabbit hostess no taller than a fairy bowed to her. Like the woman on stage, the hostess looked like she had stepped out of a woodcut of the Empress's court. The rabbit girl tugged Aya out of line and led her past the line of waiting patrons into the heart of the restaurant. The reporter salivated as she followed the hostess past lacquered tables teeming with tempura, edamame, and spring rolls. The Bamboo Child had been known to make even the most die-hard carnivorous youkai turn their backs on the School of Meat and feast upon vegetarian fare with relish. Aya wanted her turn, each breath making her mouth water as she bathed in the heavenly aromas wafting from the well-hidden kitchen.

The hostess shepherded her along to a small table tucked cozily behind the stage. "The princess will be with you shortly. May I get you a glass of water before the tasting menu begins?" As Aya waved her away, the beaming rabbit bowed. "Thank you for coming. The princess doesn't let us show off much."

Aya grinned and rubbed her hands. A tasting menu! And on a Thursday night, too, where the kitchen had the time to linger over every plate. She'd be able to sample over a dozen small courses of the Bamboo Child's best dishes and drinks, each handpicked to showcase technique and flavor. The reporter set her camera and notebook on the table. Every dish would be treasured, captured in film and florid praise for her readers to coo over. Yet as she was caught up in the heady rush of fortune, Aya noticed that the waitresses were preparing a second place setting at her table.

With one last cry and a flurry of chords from the stage, the singer ended her tale. Kaguya Houraisan bowed to the crowd and glided off stage, accompanied by thunderous applause. Rabbit hostesses, twins and triplets to the young girl that attended Aya, swarmed the musician, carrying away her shamisen and layers of silk robes. Kaguya sipped from a proffered teacup and followed her attendants to Aya's table. "Welcome to the Bamboo Child," Kaguya said, smiling as a hostess seated her. "I hope that you will find everything to your liking."

Before Aya could respond, a rabbit waitress carried a tray over to the table and set it down on a serving stand. "For the first course, yuan-ai tofu, lightly smoked and served with three types of pepper." She was unfazed by the stroboscopic flash from Aya's camera.

Aya's mouth watered as the peppery fried tofu dish graced her plate. "That's fast service. My compliments to the wait staff. And, of course, to the chef," she said between bites.

"At the end of the meal, you will be able to tell Chef Inaba and her staff yourself." Kaguya picked up a small flowered fan and snapped it open. She twirled it in circles before tapping it shut against her wrist.

A young rabbit, whose hair matched her snowy ears, carried a bottle of wine to the table. "May I interest you in a glass of Katsunuma Valley's finest Isehara, combining the best Koshu grapes with the terroir of the finest vineyard in the Yamanashi prefecture?" She held out the sweet white wine for inspection.

"Let's have the envelhecida for this course, Miss Inaba," Kaguya said, referring to a variety of wine fortified with brandy. The rabbit scurried off behind a paper wall. Within moments, she reappeared, pouring the flame-colored wine with a flourish. "I find it makes for a warm companion to a pleasant evening's tale."

Aya eyed the long-stemmed glass before her. While the reporter was certain that Kaguya could wax poetic on the minor differences between wines, she thought it all tasted like old grape juice.

"Not to your liking?" said the eternal princess. "Would you like heartier fare for the next course?"

"It's fine." Licking her lips, Aya reached for her camera as a plate of sweetfish tempura piled high with shoots and vegetables appeared. "You know that I'm not supposed to review your restaurant for another month."

"I just want you to enjoy my food and listen to one of my stories."

"What kind of story?" Aya set down her beloved camera in the middle of a shot and opened her notebook, tapping a pen against the empty page.

Kaguya sipped her fortified wine and daubed her lips with a napkin. Squaring her shoulders, she took in a deep breath. In the same haunting soprano she had used in on stage, Kaguya began her tale. "Tell me, have you heard of the Maya Noodle Bar?"

***

Mise en Place

Chapter 2: Debrouillard

***

Debrouillard is what every plongeur wants to be called. A debrouillard is a man who, even when he is told to do the impossible, will se debrouiller—get it done somehow. —George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

***

Mystia Lorelei danced through the halls of the Maya Noodle Bar, flipping off lights and slamming shut doors. Earlier, she traded her chef's whites for her favorite dress, and was now counting down the moments until she could lock the restaurant's doors for the night. In the meantime, she ushered the last stragglers of the small platoon of sunflower fairies, Maya's servers and dishwashers, out into the moonlight.

It had been another busy night for the Noodle bar. Mystia estimated that the kitchen had cooked three hundred settings - each one including all the appetizers, entrees, and desserts a single diner had ordered over the course of the meal. She was proud of how her line cooks had hustled through the evening crush, but now she just wanted a stiff drink, a song to sing, and the eye of a nightingale regular at Miko Toyosatomimi's bar.

"How many?" she called out as she shimmied her way towards the manager's office.

Inside, huddled under antennae and horns around a roll top desk, Wriggle Nightbug and Keine Kamishirasawa shuffled through the night's receipts. Sighing, Wriggle continued to ink a set of tally marks into the ledger. "You ask that every night. Keine wants to know how business is. You just want to gloat."

The night sparrow chef laughed as she poked her head inside. Every chef wanted to know the day's final numbers, for celebration or commiseration with the other cooks on the line at the end of the day. "Don't you?"

Wriggle rolled her eyes as she dealt the receipts into neat piles. "Well, yes, but someone has to count it all first."

"I'm just glad we're making money," Keine said. As Wriggle read off each receipt, the were-hakutaku slid rows of worn brass beads back and forth on an abacus. The beads clacked to a stop and Maya's owner slumped against her chair, wiping her brow.

Mystia glanced at the clock and winced. "Can't you hurry up?"

Wriggle pushed against the desk and rolled her chair towards the door. "Go chase after your nightingale. I'll catch up." The firefly stretched her leg out and kicked the door shut.

"I'll save you a spot at the table," Mystia hollered. The night sparrow whistled a jaunty tune as she walked down the hall. As she neared the kitchen, a heavy metallic thump pealed through the restaurant. Running towards the clamor, she poked her head through the kitchen door.

At one end of the kitchen, Sunny Milk hovered above her fellow fairies and pointed. On the opposite side, a giant soup pot used to make Cajun yakamein noodles earlier that night, slowly spun to a stop inside the dishwashers' sink. "I told you I could do it," she boasted with a toothy smile.

"Do it again," Luna said. The moonlight fairy shoved a larger pot into Sunny's arms. "But from farther back this time." One of the many fairies that Mokou and Keine had hired to fill out the rapidly expanding staff cringed. Keine insisted on obsessive maintenance of all kitchen equipment, occasionally with a horn's point.

Mystia shook her head and smiled. Sometimes a chef needed to know how to toss a heavy pot across the room into a sink without damaging anything in the process. Not that she'd admit that to Keine quite yet. She walked away from the kitchen, wincing at a sudden thump and a shout. Fortunately, Sunny had made her toss.

The doors burst open at the other end of the hall. Cirno stormed through, scowling. Lady Mokou Fujiwara, Maya Noodle Bar's second owner, trailed in the diminutive dessert chef's wake.

"Just one panna cotta for the road, please?" Mokou asked. The immortal rested a hand on the ice fairy's shoulder. "Or a snowball. Something before we go home for the night?"

Cirno whirled around, slipping out of Mokou's grasp. "Keine said to never give you anything after closing. No even ice cubes," she said. The ice fairy planted both hands against her hips and stared down the restaurant's most notorious sweet tooth.

"Don't ruin your diet!" Keine shouted from inside her office.

"Think of it as a prank," Mokou stage-whispered.

"Why should I?" Cirno snapped as she continued down the hall. "You drown anything I make in chocolate."

"Chocolate," Mokou said, drifting off into a silent revelry. She shook her head and chased after Cirno. "Come on, strawberries and chocolate go well together."

"Forget it, Mokou," Cirno said as she passed Mystia. "I'm not your personal dessert chef."

"But-" Mokou wailed as she squeezed around the amused night sparrow.

"Take it up with Keine." Cirno dove into the kitchen and locked the door behind her. Mokou rattled the door handle twice before diving through the open serving window. Cirno hollered, and a wall of frost belched out from the kitchen.

Mystia jumped as Medicine Melancholy, the Noodle Bar's newest bartender, crashed through the patio's serving door and into the hall, with a swaying milk crate full of wine glasses held over her head. Luckily, before the doll could race onto the ice, Mystia swept Medicine and the crate up in her arms.

"I'm not made of porcelain!" Medicine protested, squirming out of Mystia's hold. She froze as soon as she saw the ice. "Oh. Thank you, Chef."

Setting Medicine down, the head chef smiled and checked her dress for wine strains. As the bartender tipped the box of glasses up onto the serving window's counter, Mystia stepped outside onto the dining patio, where Sanae Kochiya, Daiyousei, and Star Sapphire wiped tables and swept the hardwood floor.

"Good evening, Chef," Sanae said, leaning against her pushbroom. "Will you have something new for us to taste tomorrow?" The experienced waitress had been shanghaied into work by a desperate Mystia, but had stayed for the delicacies that came out of the kitchen. Now the head waitress and floor captain of the serving staff, Sanae could have been paid in servings of fish marrow and apricot caviar alone. Unfortunately Suwako Moriya, Sanae's mother goddess, demanded that Sanae receive her pay in a harder form of currency.

"We'll see," Mystia said as she took a stylish coat from the coat closet.

"Still chasing after that nightingale?"

"Oh, it's a sure thing." Mystia slipped into her jacket. "He just doesn't know that he's caught yet."

"Take care, Chef."

Mystia walked out the door, past where Kogasa Tatara fussed over the umbrellas on the patio, and out into the night.

***

Daylight always came too early.

Only weeks of practice kept the stagger out of Mystia's step as she shuffled towards Maya Noodle Bar's back door. At the threshold, the head chef shielded her eyes from the sun's searing glare and pawed for the door. Her fingers raked across the cold metal handle just before it slipped out of her grasp.

"Good morning, Chef!" Wriggle chirped.

Mystia blinked away the green blur in front of her eyes. Her sous-chef, her partner in crime, had poked her head out the door. No smile should flash that many teeth, much less one framed by feathery antennae. She darted back from the door, one hand clutching the coin purse at her belt. Sidling to her right, Mystia tried to catch a glimpse of whatever Wriggle held hidden behind her back. "Keep it down."

"I warned you last night." Wriggle handed her chef a small pill and a tall glass of cold water. "You shouldn't have stayed out so late at Miko's, especially with a double shift today."

"Thanks, Mom," Mystia poked the pill in her hand. "Do I really want to take this?"

Wriggle grinned toothily as she counted the options on her fingers. "It's that, suffer through the hangover, or try one of Medicine's concoctions."

"You call that a choice?" Mystia downed the pill and the glass of water in one long pull. Wincing at the bitter cacao aftertaste, she pushed her way into her restaurant and down the main corridor.

The two chefs made it past the storeroom before Wriggle spoke up. "So, care to tell me about it?"

"What's there to tell? That ibis floozy got to him first. Again." Mystia swayed through the hall and collapsed onto the firefly's shoulder. "I guess I'm just a sucker for a pretty voice."

"Going to try again tonight?" Wriggle pushed her head chef upright.

Mystia steadied herself between the walls. "No, I think I'm going to get some sleep for once."

The firefly coughed into her hand twice before abandoning all presence of propriety. "Who are you and what did you do with Mystia?" Wriggled laughed.

Clearing her throat, Mystia pointed at a clipboard on the wall next to her. "So, did the weekend vendor deliveries come in yet?" she trilled.

"Yes. You owe me for covering down for you…again." Wriggle slipped the clipboard off its peg and rustled through its pages. "Oh, Iku said she might have a line on something special for next week. She'll let us know for certain tomorrow."

Mystia groaned. The last time the fish vendor had brought a similar surprise, to the delight of Rumia and her belly, they had savaged fifteen skates before they figured out how to properly fillet the rays. However, the same fillets had sold out within the hour. Just thinking about all the work made the vise surrounding her head clamp down tighter. She clenched her eyes shut. "Since you've got everything under control, I'll just go into our office to review figures for a couple hours."

"Hard to do that through your eyelids." Wriggle stepped out of the way as Mystia blindly crawled along the wall.

"Relax, I just need an hour and I'll be good for the day. Hey!" Mystia squawked as Wriggle pushed her into the dining room.

"Don't count on it. Keine wants to have a meeting before the line cooks come in."

Mystia groaned. One of the only benefits of working a double shift on Fridays was that it left less time for Keine's beloved staff meetings. "What does she want to talk about?"

***

"I want my old restaurant back," Keine proclaimed. She swept her arm out across the empty dining room. Since the Noodle Bar's opening in the patio outside, the original Maya's tables had remained unused, waiting for the mother restaurant's reopening.

The elegant were-hakutaku held court at the head of Maya's longest eight-top oak table. Mokou, Wriggle, and Mystia clustered around her; chefs on one side and the owners on the other. Out of deference to the head chef, the overhead lights remained dimmed.

Mystia picked her head off of the table and rubbed her eyes. "We still need more cooks. Sunny and Luna are coming along nicely, but we still need three more before we can stay open seven days a week." She was already on the verge of overworking her chefs, a dangerous move with prank-loving fairies, an insect grifter-in-training, and an insatiable darkness youkai.

"We've already swept Gensokyo clean of everyone available, and until someone awards us a star, no one's going to want to do a stage here," Wriggle chimed in as she flipped through a ream of paper on her clipboard, referencing the culinary internships held in the most prestigious restaurants.

"I understand. But I still haven't seen a menu yet. We need to train our current staff on the new recipes now," Keine said.

"And the wait staff." Wriggle stuck out her tongue and winked like Kogasa, to giggles from Mokou and Mystia. The poor umbrella youkai got tongue-tied whenever she tried the few Spanish words that graced the menu.

Keine cleared her throat. "And it's not just training. There's setting up the new food deliveries, table arrangements, plating-"

"Let it be, Keine," Mokou cut in. She poured leftover yakamein noodles out of an electric kettle into a mug. "We're making money now. Hell, we're practically minting it. And it's a good thing, too. Kaguya was going to-"

Keine held up her hand, stopping the familiar yet private rant. "You should have never let her goad you into that stupid bet."

Hiding smiles, Mystia and Wriggle traded knowing glances. Mokou's bet with the owner of the Bamboo Child restaurant was a frequent topic of kitchen gossip. While Mokou and Keine continued to be loose-lipped about the existence of the bet, the exact terms were still a close held secret.

"I meant that there's no need to change what's working." Mokou slid the kettle full of Cajun hangover cure towards Mystia. The night sparrow took one look at the food, turned green, and pushed the kettle away.

"We're still paying for all this unused floor space."

"Move the Noodle Bar inside."

"Didn't you just say not to change what's working?" A wan smile crossed Keine's lips. "This just isn't the dream I had when we first opened Maya together."

Mokou sipped her cup of yakamein. "The food's better now," she said with a mouth full of noodles.

"Don't speak with your mouth full." Keine scolded, every bit the prim schoolteacher of her past. She picked up the still steaming kettle and placed it out of Mokou's reach. "Think about your diet for once."

The immortal shrugged and slurped her noodles noisily. "I keep telling you that it all burns away every time I'm reborn."

Mystia yawned and placed her head against the table. "Can I go back to my kitchen now?" She waved her hand over her head towards where she thought the kitchen was. Mokou hid her smile behind her cup as the hung-over chef pointed instead at the front door. Wriggle leaned over and turned Mystia's hand in the right direction.

"Not until this is settled. Someone promised me that she could run both Maya and the Noodle Bar out of the same restaurant." Keine's eyes flickered towards Mystia. "So far, I've yet to see it."

Mystia rose to her feet, her hangover crippled restraint finally snapped. "I'm not saying 'no'; I'm saying 'not yet.' We need more people and more time. Remember how this place-"

Wriggle leapt up and cupped a hand over her head chef's mouth, smothering the tired argument. "I like working here," she hissed into Mystia's ear. "Don't ruin this."

Keine stood up, but before she could answer Mystia, Mokou tugged on the were-hakutaku's sleeve. After one last slurp, the phoenix girl set her mug down and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. Keine looked into the eyes of her partner, and understanding, horror, and finally resignation flashed across the were-hakutaku's face.

"Let's settle this with a bet." Mokou leaned forward, waving her empty mug between Keine and Mystia.

"I wish you would stop doing that. Every time you agree to a bet, it…backfires." Keine grew contemplative, her eyes flickering between her partner and her chef.

Mokou shrugged. "It beats everyone saying things they'll regret."

Keine reached out and pinched Mokou's cheek, turning just enough to mask the predatory glint in both of their eyes. "And you'll have a chance to skim off the kitchen's side bets."

"There's no way I'm letting her cut into my action," Wriggle whispered as she let go of Mystia. The firefly sous-chef worked hard to have her hands in more kitchen schemes than Mystia could keep track of, even to the benefit of the kitchen…sometimes. She pleaded, "Don't do this. Kotohime won't let me work anywhere else."

Smiling, Mystia nested her head on the table top. Gensokyo's health inspector was known for her campaigns against insects and other "vermin" youkai in restaurants. Wriggle had been allowed in the kitchen only after Mokou had paid a special visit to Kotohime. Rumors about Mokou's visit had spread faster than the smoke from Kotohime's office.

Playfully pouting, Mokou rubbed her cheek and waited while Keine and Wriggle settled back into their seats. "So, what do y'all say?

"As strange as it sounds, Mokou is right." Keine gave a coy moue and slid the electric kettle back towards her partner. "So, if Mystia wins, we'll do things her way. I'll even let her shake up the menu. But if I win, next week, we'll start preparing for the grand-opening, and you two will cook my menu."

"You're on!" Mystia crowed. She stopped, lifted her head, and thought for a moment. "Wait, what was the challenge again?"

Wriggle buried her head in her hands.

Mokou eyed the electronic kettle and licked her lips hungrily. "Cook me your best dish."

Keine said, sotto voce, "You're always thinking with your stomach."

"I'm in the mood for raw fish. Something more substantial than ceviche. Sushi, maybe?" The phoenix girl slid the kettle away from Keine.

Mystia sat there aghast, her feathers bristling along her wings. "Hold on a moment. It takes three years just to learn how to prepare the rice. That's before you can even dream of being in the same room as a fish."

"So, as much as Mokou might be looking forward to a California roll or two, we shouldn't settle this on something quite so complex. However, a chef of your considerable talent should be able to improvise, like you did with those skates," Keine said. Her eyes, as hungry as Mokou's near chocolate, belied the were-hakutaku's cloyingly saccharine tone. "But since this bet affects the future of our restaurants, I think that the customers should decide the winner."

Scowling, Mokou leaned forward, waving her arms in front of Keine. "I said 'Cook me your best dish.'"

"You're too much of a gourmand to be the only judge." Keine pursed her lips and studied her sullen partner for a minute. "Fine. Have the meal ready for the staff dinner. If Mokou likes it, we'll serve it as tonight's special. If the customers like it as well, we'll add it to the menu. I'll even make you the executive chef over all the menus; you'll have earned it. But if it doesn't sell as well as our usual specials, I have two words for you."

She leaned in closer, her tall frame filling the night sparrow's vision the same way a hawk's wings would fill the vision of its prey.

"Caesar salad."

Mystia suppressed a shudder at the curse of chefs worldwide. Squaring her shoulders, the night sparrow chef flashed her most confident huckster's grin. "You're on."

Wriggle grabbed Mystia's arm and smiled wanly. "If you'll excuse me, we need to plan." The firefly pulled her friend into the service hallway.

***

As soon as she was certain they were out of earshot, Wriggle spun Mystia about and marched her into a nearby storeroom. "What were you thinking? You've tasted Keine's gruel. Can you image an entire menu like that?"

Mystia held her head in her hands and waited for the world to stop spinning. "It isn't that bad."

"I like my food to actually have taste. So do our customers."

"Relax. I've got everything under control."

"I've heard that before." Wriggle crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Right before everything goes to hell and we have to tapdance our way back to safety."

"This time I mean it," Mystia shot back, as color returned to her cheeks.

The firefly rolled her eyes. "And that one too."

Mystia waved her sous-chef away before stretching her arms and her wings out wide. "We just need to find something quick and easy. It's just raw fish. The hardest part is finding a supplier for really high-quality fish. All the cooks will have to worry about are the sauce and the sides."

Wriggle's antennae twitched as she pursed her lips. She pulled out her notebook and flipped through its pages. "Iku has never let us down before. I'll give her a call. Maybe she can do a rush delivery today. I just need to know what to order and soon. She doesn't deliver on Saturdays."

"Tuna would be the obvious choice, but there are other fish we might be able to use." Mystia opened the door and blinked away the stars floating in front of her eyes. "Why don't you go to the Stacks and find out? We'll try what you find at our lunch. That'll give us the afternoon to refine the recipe."

"What will you be doing?" Wriggle suppressed a groan. Ever since Keine had lectured everyone on the virtues of delegation, Wriggle had ended up with all the jobs Mystia didn't want, including the lion's share of the kitchen's paperwork. Granted, that was part of a sous-chef's job, but Wriggle wished that she could pawn some of the endless tasks off to someone else. The kitchen, however, was still too understaffed.

"Keeping an eye on the kitchen."

"That's my job." Wriggle pointed to the breast of her chef's whites. Underneath crossed chef's knives, the words "Sous-chef Nightbug" were embroidered in red.

"Keeping Keine from meddling is mine. I can't do that if I'm not here." Mystia straightened her whites and walked out of the storeroom. She spun around and scowled at the firefly. "Aren't you leaving?"

Wriggle laughed as she tossed a crate of potatoes into Mystia's hands. "You haven't done all your morning checks yet."

Mystia stared unblinking at her sous-chef. Wriggle smiled and mimed a fish swimming.

"Oh, right."

***

Mystia perched in the hallway by the kitchen's serving window and nursed a cup of coffee. Not everyone had been born at the bottom of a tequila bottle like Wriggle, but a cup of Mokou's black tar could bring even Yuyuko back to life. Normally, the phoenix girl stashed her coffee beans behind cold iron lest Luna ferret them away, but a bundle of Cirno's rum-soaked sugarcane desserts had convinced Mokou to part with enough of her wealth for one precious cup.

Occasionally casting glances at the overhead clock, the head chef watched her domain and waited. Wriggle stood at her station, her hands kneading dough even as her eyes and antennae took in everything that happened in the kitchen. Mystia had learned to rely on the firefly's instincts, even though she would have chosen Cirno to clean the day's vegetables instead of Luna. But as long as Wriggle kept the kitchen running smoothly and Rumia from cherry-picking the best cuts of meat, Mystia kept out of her sous-chef's business.

Mystia's eyes flickered between Rumia and the walk-in refrigerator at the back of the kitchen. As the darkness youkai gleefully chopped potatoes, Mystia shook her head. Rumia deserved better. Every day for the past week, Wriggle had, on Mystia's orders, manufactured some vital chore that required Rumia's "special talents." The night sparrow chef hated running scams on her own chefs, scams were for waitresses and customers, but she needed the secrecy this once. There would be an extra special fishie for Rumia to make up for it, but Wriggle could only keep Rumia distracted for a short time. In that interval, Mystia needed to finish her checks and be back at her station without waking Rumia's fairy-like curiosity and ravenous appetite.

She looked back towards the potato station and her breath caught in her throat. Rumia had vanished. A walk-in refrigerator opened in the rear of the kitchen. That refrigerator. Choking down the last of her coffee, Mystia stepped into the doorway, ready to run through the maze of counters, chefs, and knives. Sunny staggered out from the fridge, struggling with each step to keep the giant crock of pickles in her hands from wobbling onto the floor. Mystia breathed a sigh of relief as the sunlight fairy finally managed to prop the crock onto a counter, until Rumia reappeared at the back of the kitchen, edging towards "her fishies" in the fridge. The head chef pursed her lips and whistled.

Wriggle's antennae perked up. Wiping her hands on a towel, the sous-chef barked out orders. Wide-eyed, Rumia froze in her tracks, caught in the act. Luna rushed over from her soup pots and plunged her hands into the dough while Wriggle led Rumia away from the fridge and out to the hall.

Mystia flattened herself against the wall as her chefs passed by on their way towards the storeroom. Behind her, at the other end of the hallway, the restaurant's serving door flew open, slamming against the wall.

"Out of my way!" Sanae wailed, clinging to a newspaper as she dashed past her head chef.

Ignoring Sanae, Mystia ducked into the kitchen and weaved her way past her chefs and dishwashers. Unless the waitresses left her dishes to wither under the heat lamp, she paid little attention to them, with the exception of sticky-fingered Star.

Slipping into the same walk-in fridge as Sunny's pickles, Mystia latched the door behind her. Already her feathers began to puff up in the cold. She knelt down, slid aside a pair of earthenware crocks, and pulled out an unmarked box from the recesses of the shelves. Inside, five individually packaged cuts of tuna belly soaked in a brine of molasses and salt used to cure bacon. She poked a tuna belly before making a fist. Using a classic kitchen test of doneness, she pressed against the flesh of various parts of her hand with her finger, comparing each to the tuna. The bellies had spent a week curing in the brine and, from the feel of each, would be ready to serve tomorrow so long as Rumia didn't find the delicacy. The chef shook her head; if, by the slimmest of chances, the tuna had finished curing, the delicacy would have made a perfect dish for the day's bet. Shivering, Mystia replaced the cardboard box and left the fridge.

Walking over to her station, she smoothed out her ruffled feathers and stacked up a tower of bins on the metal counter. As she filled each with its portion of the daily preparation of herbs, spices, oils, and garnishes, her mise en place, Mystia reviewed her plans for the next week's specials. When the Aki sisters came by with the day's potatoes, she'd place an order for cantaloupes-

The manager's office door crashed open. "Stop her!" Keine shouted from the hallway.

Mystia looked up from her station. Mokou ran past the serving window towards the exit, crushing a rolled-up newspaper in her hand. Behind her, Wriggle, Rumia, and Sanae bounded along, struggling to keep up. Rumia dove forward at the immortal's heels, toppling Wriggle, Sanae, and Mokou into a tumbling mess that crashed into the wall. Towering stacks of pots and pans rained down upon Maya's fairy dishwashers at their sink. Mystia scooped the girls up in her arms before they could charge the hallway with frying pans.

With brisk grace Keine caught up with the tangled mess, helping the chefs and waitress to their feet with a gentle smile. Her cheeks flashed pink as she dragged a dazed Mokou in front of the serving window, past the eyes of her line cooks, dishwashers, and runners, and towards the refuge of her office. "Chef Mystia, could I please have a moment of your time?"

***

Wriggle crouched in front of the main office and settled her ear and antennae against the door. Try as she might, the firefly had yet to make out a single word of the muffled conversation on the other side.

"Move over a bit." Sanae dropped next to Wriggle and pressed against the door.

Wriggle rolled her eyes. "What did you do?"

"It's not my fault," Sanae whispered. "Did you read the newest 'Wind God's Gullet' column in this morning's Bunbunmaru Newspaper?"

"Is Aya peddling that 'don't buy fish on Mondays' nonsense again?"

The priestess pursed her lips and sighed. "It's worse. She reviewed our restaurant. The last time Aya got this caustic, Meira's teahouse withered and died. Worse, any time Meira tries to open a new one, the critics line up to savage her like it's a game. That one review all but ruined her. And now Aya's done the same to us."

Inside, the hushed conversation cut off. Wriggle held up her hand in front of the waitress. "Not so loud."

"You just want to hear Mokou's explosions," Sanae hissed.

"It's my job to know everything that happens here. Besides, isn't eavesdropping unseemly for a priestess?" The door's vibrations grew stronger. Wriggle flattened herself against the door and held her breath.

"Suwako calls my job eavesdropping on prayers." Sanae pursed her lips and pressed closer against the door. A faint bloom of pink crept through her cheeks. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Can't you miracle up a way to hear through this door?"

"Don't make me get my flyswatter."

"Go for it." Wriggle shooed the priestess away. "They'll be done by the time you get back, and I'll never tell you what I heard."

"Fine," Sanae huffed. "The fairies probably hid it anyway."

Wriggle held up her hand and pressed herself against door. Her eyes grew wide as, above Sanae, the door handle began to turn. Both girls tumbled inside the office, sprawling against the floor.

Mystia towered above her sous-chef and her floor captain, rubbing her hands in glee. "I'm glad the two of you could join us. We were just talking about you."

***

Leaning over her roll top desk, Keine smoothed out the crumpled ball of newspaper. "I wish you had come to see me first, Sanae." The head waitress examined the floor, properly admonished, as she shuffled inside.

The management office was never intended to squeeze in more than a trio of occupants, much less one with Mystia's magnificent wingspan. Keine waited while Sanae, Wriggle, and Mystia slid past each other in a mess of ruffled feathers.

In the far corner, Mokou sat on a tall stool, her legs drawn tight against her chest. "I should have turned Aya into yakitori when I had the chance."

"I don't serve poultry, but I should be able to find a recipe for blackbird pie," Mystia said. Her breath hissed through clenched teeth as Wriggle wormed past, trapped her flight feathers against the wall.

"Enough of that," Keine said, turning around to face her employees. With a measured calm honed from years of teaching children, the former schoolteacher's voice made everyone stand up a little straighter. "No good comes from tangling with critics."

"I don't see why we even have to. Can't this bit of history be waved away?" Wriggle stared at Keine, her antennae flickering.

Keine met the firefly's gaze. Most inhabitants of Gensokyo had a unique talent. Keine's hakutaku blood allowed her a measure of control over history itself. "I wish it were so simple, but for some reason the newspapers are as immune to my ability as the Gensokyo Chronicles. We'll have to regain our reputation the hard way."

"So now what? Half-price specials? Free food?" Wriggle managed to squeak out the final two words before she quailed under Mokou's burning glare.

The phoenix girl unfolded from her stool. "I don't want to hear the word 'free' anywhere around here."

"Or 'menu change,'" Mystia chirped. The night sparrow folded her arms and wings. "It's too soon to start that restaurant death spiral."

Wriggle threw up her hands. "We have other things to worry about besides this morning's meeting."

"Under the circumstances, I'd rather that issue not remain unresolved. However, it would be unfair to insist on Mystia's new special tonight as we're likely to feel Aya's review at the registers. So don't worry about the bet today; we'll need to focus on the food and service. I'd still like to serve that dish tomorrow, though," Keine said. While Mystia nodded, the were-hakutaku placed a hand on Sanae's shoulder. "At the very least, it will give our waitresses and fairies something to gossip to the customers about. I want all of them singing about our new dish."

Sanae nodded and rubbed her hands with glee. "Tell me all about it."

"We'll have a tasting ready at tonight's staff meal," Mystia said as she combed her fingers through the vanes of her remige feathers. "It'll be our take on raw fish dishes. Wriggle's trying out some ideas."

As Sanae squealed in delight, Wriggle feigned a smile. "Thanks a lot, Chef. Now she won't leave me alone for the rest of the day." she hissed in Mystia's ear.

"Hey, you get all the fun. I get to go to Youkai Mountain and talk to reporters." Mystia drew her wings tight around her body and shuddered. She held out a list of names and addresses by her fingertips.

Keine returned to her desk, glowering over the newspaper as if she were about to grade it with a red pen. "We need good press to drown out Aya's article. Mystia's the obvious choice. Celebrity chefs are all the rage right now."

"Don't you have to be a celebrity first?" Wriggle whispered. Mystia displayed her appreciation for Wriggle's observation by shoving the firefly into Sanae with her wing.

The priestess caught Wriggle in her arms. "What if a reporter comes here instead?"

Mokou slid from the stool to her feet. "Don't answer her questions and bring her straight to see Keine or me." From behind the phoenix girl, Keine pointed to herself, her steely gaze and gentle sway of head telling the girls what they needed to know. "Same as it's always been. Isn't that right, Keine?"

Keine dropped her hand to her side and slipped into the practiced smile of a schoolteacher. "It wouldn't hurt to remind everyone though."

Mystia cocked an ear towards the office door. "I think you just did." Squirming her way around Sanae, she reached out and pulled on the handle. There, sitting on the floor, Kogasa, Medicine, and Cirno looked up at the knowing smirk of their head chef.

***

Unlatching Maya's freezer, Cirno cooed as the blast of cold air hit her skin. Unlike the rest of the kitchen, the ice fairy thrived inside Maya's walk-ins. Stepping inside, she examined the blocks of flavored ice stacked to the ceiling and slid out a crystal clear lemon-infused block off the top. She paraded out her prize out to the deli-slicer she commandeered by her station and watched as the sharp blade glided across the surface, shaving ice into a steadily growing pile of fine snow.

Drumming her fingers against her thigh, the dessert chef stared at the oils, syrups, and spices lining her counter. Since her very first dessert at Maya, chilled milk infused with sugary breakfast cereal, diners had learned to expect surprises whenever Cirno revealed a new dessert. Her panna cotta with spherified sparrow sake had become a hit after many a customer, swept up by the effects of the legendary sake, danced the night away - and much of the next morning as well.

Her snowballs, however, just weren't fun as they could be. Sure, the diners had enjoyed the simple take on a snow cone, but she continued to adjust the recipe in the pursuit of the perfect mix of delicious whimsy. First, she tried wrapping the flavored ice in packed fine snow, so that flavor and color were hidden until the customer tapped the snowball open with a spoon. A few days later, she made the outer snow out of watered down juice, just to give it some flavor - Mystia had insisted. Yet the joke still wasn't amusing enough for a fairy. Maybe she could make the core of the snowball out of something else besides ice.

Her brow furled in thought. Cirno drifted over to the sinks. Two fairy servers poured tubs of plain cornflakes and milk through a screen into a five gallon insulated cooler. The dessert chef fished out a tea cup from a nearby drying rack and poured herself a fresh cup of cereal milk from the cooler's spout. She swished the drink in her mouth as if it were wine. The batch of the snowy dessert needed more sugar.

Cirno's eyes lit up as the glow of inspiration settled upon her.

The dessert chef set the cup inside the sink and rushed out of the Noodle Bar. Flying across the patio in a frantic weave around the parasols, tables, and a surprised Kogasa, the ice fairy dove behind the line of wine barrels that made up Medicine's makeshift bar. With judicious use of an icicle, she popped open the lock on a glass case beverage cooler. Cirno pulled out two bottles of strawberry cereal milk, pursed her lips, and hid two more inside her apron.

"Cirno!" Keine called out from the server's exit.

"I didn't do it!" the dessert chef said, jumping up from behind the bar.

As she glided across the wooden deck, Keine ignored the sound of clanking glass. "I wish you wouldn't do that every time I see you."

"It's a traditional fairy greeting." Cirno smoothed her apron over her chef's whites, sliding her new treasures to where they would remain quiet against each other.

"Is Mystia still around?"

"No, and Wriggle just left as well."

Keine pursed her lips in thought and stared at the ice fairy. "We're going to try something new today. A brunch buffet."

Cirno looked up at Keine and scratched her head. "Are you sure? That doesn't sound like something Mystia would say."

"You know that we can't afford another bad review. So, while our line is down two chefs, let's cook something a little more forgiving than normal," Keine said. She handed a menu to Kogasa, who rushed toward a blackboard in front of the greeter's podium. Using purple chalk, the umbrella youkai wrote the word "buffet" in big bold characters. Keine then held out a second menu. For the briefest of moments, the ice fairy thought she saw horns on the owner's head. The dessert chef grabbed the menu and backed away from Keine. "I need this ready for when we open for lunch in an hour."

Cirno's eyes widened as she read the menu. "Who's going to organize all this?"

With a smile, Keine reached out and tousled the fairy's hair. "Looks like you're in charge."

The ice fairy swallowed, squared her shoulders, and marched her way back into her kitchen.

***

"The Stacks" were what the local chef community called the towering reference shelves inside the Suzunaan Lending Bookstore. Whether a dishwasher needed to find a manual to help repair a walk-in fridge or a line cook wanted to learn about sous-vide low temperature cooking, it was guaranteed that at least one book in Suzunaan's tightly packed shelves usually held the answer. Of course, there had been times that Wriggle had to squint and hold the page sideways to make the answer to fit her particular problem, yet the advice held firm. When in doubt, search the Stacks.

But today the Stacks held no answers.

In fact, it held nothing at all.

Wriggle stared unblinking at bare wooden shelves. All the wonderful cookbooks with delicacies from around the world, once squeezed into the towering book shelves like a jigsaw puzzle, were gone, leaving a cavernous maw that swallowed the firefly's hope. Chefs had been known to come to blows over who would rent certain coveted books, but now, no longer. How would she craft her plate of raw fish? Stricken by a once in a lifetime stroke of bad luck, the firefly shuddered as her world began to spin.

Walking in the center of an ever moving chorus of bells, Kosuzu Motoori turned the corner of the labyrinthine Stacks. She carried a tower of hardcovers that reached to her chin. "Good morning, Miss Wriggle. I didn't hear you come in." The precocious bookseller watched the pallid youkai, waiting for a sign of life. "Miss Wriggle, can you hear me?" Using her chin, Kosuzu slid the topmost book off of her returns. It clattered against the ground.

Like one of her firefly kin when startled, Wriggle took flight and perched high in a rolling ladder that Kosuzu kept reclined against the high shadowed shelves. "What happened?" Her antennae pointed to the shelves below. Trembling, she slid down the ladder to the floor.

Kosuzu set her books on the ground. "We had a buyer make a once-in-a-lifetime offer. It's enough for Daddy to take the entire family to visit the National Diet Library on the Outside."

"And I was saving up for that seafood restaurant's cookbook." Wriggle knelt down and perused the titles of Kosuzu's hardcovers. There wasn't a single cookbook among the Heian poetry, tell-all confessionals, and psychological thrillers in the bookseller's arms.

"Le Bernadin?" Kosuzu asked, naming the prestigious restaurant. She reached up on her toes and shelved a pair of books. "My father reordered that one, just to keep the peace around here. I can order another if you'd like." The bookseller flashed Wriggle her best shopkeeper's smile.

Color returned to Wriggle's cheeks at the news that the most desired cookbook in Gensokyo would soon be available again. She'd be able to search through the pages, read, the recipes, and dream of dishes yet to be. Like ones with raw fish. The firefly groaned as one inescapable fact sunk in. "I need that now, though."

"Sorry, all sold out." Kosuzu's smile grew strained and she started placing books on the shelves. "Remember, we're a lending bookstore, not a library."

"Maybe I can borrow it from the buyer." A long shot, but it was all Wriggle had left.

The bells in her hair jingled as the precocious shopkeeper shook her head. "Daddy says I have to respect our customers' confidentiality."

Wriggle's heart fell, until a wild spark of an idea worthy of Mystia herself crossed her mind. She slipped her hand into her pocket. "Well, thanks for your help, Kosuzu." Slipping into a shadow, the sous-chef thrust her hand out towards the bookseller.

The shopkeeper stared at Wriggle's hand. "What's this?"

"Aren't you familiar with the Western custom of the handshake?"

"I'm not supposed to learn Outside customs until next year," Kosuzu said.

"Think of it as a bow, but not quite so formal. Just place your hand in mine." Wriggle smiled as Kosuzu cautiously slipped her hand in hers. With firm pressure, the firefly pressed a folded wad of bills into the girl's hand. As Kosuzu's eyes widened, Wriggle pumped her hand up and down and let go.

"Just like that."

The shopkeeper's hand vanished inside her apron. "You know, I did see Nazrin around here earlier," Kosuzu mused, one finger tapping against her cheek. She winked at the firefly.

Tension eased out of Wriggle's shoulders. So the rumors were true. Kosuzu was said to be one of the most aggressive book collectors in Gensokyo, with an eye out for extra yen to support her habit. "It's a pleasure doing business with you."

***

Mokou pressed herself against the hallway wall and peeked into the kitchen. Unlike Keine, she wasn't comfortable with a fairy as acting sous-chef, much less Cirno; piecing together brunch on the fly was Mystia's job. At least the ice fairy's heart was in the right place as she bossed around the remaining cooks. Unfortunately, her disasters tended to be magnitudes worse than her sister fairies', if only because she tried even harder to do the right thing.

And the phoenix girl could not afford a single mistake right now, not while Kaguya's plans hung over Mokou's head. She couldn't prove that her rival was behind Aya's poison pen, but it felt like something the moon princess would do. Kaguya thrived in the treacherous politics of the imperial court. Mokou had drowned in those same foul waters.

She watched the ice fairy flittered around between stations. Between helping Luna roast rice cakes, watching Sunny cube watermelons, and plating her own trays of lamprey skewers, Cirno barely had time to work at her beloved dessert station. She looked like she had everything under control. Then again, she just had to make sure fresh trays of entrees and sides hit the buffet table. The waitresses had yet to shout out the unbroken stream of orders that usually filled the dinner hours.

To save time while Cirno bustled her way between counters, Sunny and Luna brought every finished tray to Rumia for tasting. Only after the blonde darkness youkai had gulped down a complete serving from a platter would she let the runners take it out to the buffet line.

Hiding the hint of a smile on her lips behind a hand, Mokou shook her head. The blonde blob of darkness added a full five percent to the restaurant's food cost. Thankfully, she was content to take her paycheck in meals. But no matter how much the youkai ate, Rumia never seemed to grow out of her underfed look. So what if Mokou had to occasionally keep her from claiming an entire tuna twice her size as "Rumia's Fishie?" She showed up on time, always cheerful, always ready to cook more yummy meat. An owner couldn't ask for more.

As Luna plated stacks of rice cakes on the other side of the station, the moonlight fairy not only looked like she belonged in the kitchen, she remained unaffected by the heat and the stress as though she was above such mundane concerns. Keine had wanted to make her a hostess, but the fairy could cook. Years of practice cooking on a fairy's budget for her friends had given her an economy of motion and an array of skills that only Mystia could match. Show her a technique once, and she tried it constantly until it was mastered.

Compared to her sister fairy, Sunny made up for a lack of skill with enthusiasm. Even cracking tuna bones couldn't keep the toothy smile from her face. Hard work in the kitchen meant money for more elaborate pranks elsewhere. Not that the sunlight fairy had any problems finding mischief in the kitchen; Mokou expected that the waitresses would be dodging watermelon seeds all week.

Mystia and Wriggle had done well in creating a kitchen that could not only function in their absence, but handle the curves Keine threw at them. Now, if Mystia and Keine could only deal with the negative press, Mokou could breathe easier. Maybe Kaguya would be the one to walk-

She cringed as dishes passed through the fingers of the newly hired fairy dishwasher and clattered to the floor.

Then again, maybe it was too soon to relax.

***

In a shadowy Youkai Mountain back alley, Mystia pulled her wings tight against her body as she squeezed into a closet-sized office. Trading her shoes for a pair of slippers, she peered at the ceiling high towers of bundled newspaper. "Thanks for seeing me on short notice."

A streak of purple flashed between the stacks, clipping a tower of yellowed newspaper. The stack wavered and then collapsed, sending clouds of dust and powdered ink billowing into the air. Hatate Himekaidou, chief editor, reporter, photographer, and sales rep for the Kakashi Spirit News, walked through the haze with a handkerchief over her nose and mouth. "I knew you'd stop by after I saw Aya's article. She almost never publishes a Friday edition."

"Not a word of it is true. I've never seen her at our tables." Mystia coughed as she toed open the door. A light breeze blew in, bringing fresh air to Mystia's burning lungs.

"How sure are you?" Hatate led her guest to a writing desk and sat down.

Mystia inched past the corded newspaper towards a wooden stool. "I have her picture on a break room corkboard for the floor to see. Sanae and Daiyousei are supposed to let me know if any known food critic so much as walks near the front door."

Hatate set her camera phone and a stenographer's notebook on the desk. "What's that supposed to do?"

"If the critic's honest, we take extra care not to screw up." Mystia dusted off the stool and sat down. "The honest ones just burn you if you try to buy their favors."

"And in Aya's case?"

"She's bent, but she stays bought. No amount of special dishes from the kitchen or fawning waitresses changes that." Mystia shrugged. "It's the price of doing business. No one wants a nightmare review like mine."

"I haven't seen a critic vent so much spleen in ages." Hatate dashed a line of shorthand into her notebook. "She has to know that she'll never get a seat at any of your restaurants. I'm glad she left me the exclusive, but it isn't like her to pass on anything that sells papers."

Critics grown used to the special dishes and favors from chefs tended to mute their negative comments. Most reporters realized that attacking a chef's poor showing at their current restaurant meant that they might never be able to go the opening of the next one. And that one might be the one that everyone wanted to go to.

No matter how she craned her neck, Mystia could not make out the notes on Hatate's paper. The songbird blinked away her bleariness. Wriggle was better at reading upside down. "Wait, you said 'restaurants.'"

Hatate covered her sly smile with her hand. "I did, didn't I?"

"Have you been talking to Keine?"

"Now you know that I hold my sources in utmost confidentiality," Hatate clucked.

Mystia slumped against the back of her chair. "Figures. I'm trying to save the one we have, and she's too worried about the next one."

"Thanks for tomorrow's headline." Hatate chirped as she scrawled down the page. "'Maya Noodle Bar to Open Sister Restaurant.'"

As realization dawned, Mystia crossed her arms and bristled her feathers. "I hate when I get scammed. That's supposed to be my job."

Hatate finished her notes with a stab of pen against paper. "Relax. This will help people forget about Aya. You need good press, I need an article that sells papers, and Aya needs her tail feathers plucked. Everyone wins." The reporter twirled her pen between her fingers. "Of course, I do need a few more details."

"We're going to reopen the original Maya in the old dining room. The Noodle Bar will still be at the patio outside. I'm not sure when it'll happen, but the same kitchen will serve both restaurants."

"What's tomorrow's special?" the nosy tengu asked. "Don't look at me like that; I can't write about the Noodle Bar without mentioning the glorious food."

Mystia thought back to the tuna bellies in her fridge. "Yubari King melon wrapped in slices of tuna belly cured like Spanish ham."

"That's a bit of a mouthful."

"It's worth it."

Hatate set her pen down. "It's not going to be enough."

"How about two specials and a seat next to the bar?"

"I didn't mean that." Hatate's cheeks grew tinged with pink. "People know that whatever Aya calls night, I'll call day. Too bad Yuyuko-"

Mystia slammed her palm against the desk. "Ain't happening so long as I'm breathing."

Hatate closed her notebook. "People trust her tastes. Yuyuko's patronage alone would be worth a month of front page news. Just be glad that she's still trying to sneak in."

Mystia made a mental note to ask Sanae to replace the wards around the kitchen. "Find someone without a taste for ortolans."

The reporter tapped her pen against her lips. "I might know someone."

"Can you give me her picture?"

Hatate shook her head. "I'm not Aya. I insist on doing everything in a proper manner. Besides, the Blue Rose's contract states-" The crow reporter clamped her hands over her mouth.

"And now we're even." Mystia preened as she relaxed into her chair. "You don't know your own critic?"

"It helps build the reputation of the Kakashi Spirit News's integrity. Besides, the best critics keep their identities secret for a reason. I can't make any promises that she'll show. She reviews what she wants when she wants. Last time we talked, she wanted to review Yuuka Kazami's Hana."

Mystia stood up and brushed off ink and dust. "Thanks for the help."

Hatate held up a hand and dashed out a quick list in her notebook. "Before you go, there's a few of us who aren't fans of Aya. You might want to visit one or two while you're still on Youkai Mountain." She tore out the page and handed it to Mystia.

Biting back a sigh, Mystia took the list. She had all but finished Keine's suggestions, now she had more. And she couldn't bear to face her chefs without trying everything she could.

As Mystia squinted at the leads, Hatate pleaded, "Do me a favor, though. Don't let them scoop my new headline."

Achariyth

  • Nickname: Tonomi
Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2014, 05:29:14 am »
Shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun, Wriggle pounded on the heavy oak gates of the Myouren Temple. Even if she had to gather a million wood mite friends, she'd bore her way through to get to Nazrin and her cookbooks. Not only did Nazrin have what she needed, Wriggle hated being away from the kitchen for long. Sure, when she stopped by Maya to pick up a snacks and check on the kitchen, it looked like Cirno had everything under control, for a fairy, but Wriggle didn't want to tempt fate by her absence. She stepped away from the gates and adjusted the pack on her shoulders. "Hey! Let me in!" she shouted through cupped hands. "Please?"

The monastery's doors dragged against the swept earth as they opened, revealing an expansive courtyard lined with terraces and white limestone brick walls. Abbess Byakuren Hijiri stood underneath the vaulted entrance tower, wearing a placid smile. "Welcome, weary traveler. Oh, it's you, Wriggle. I don't suppose it's too much to ask if you've come for a quiet hour of contemplation."

Wriggle massaged her wrists. "Actually, I'm here on an errand."

The abbess's smile fell. "I already told Mokou that I would not let my novices perform wherever alcohol is served."

"I'm here to see Nazrin." Wriggle forced a smile. "I've got a job for her. No mischief, I promise."

"You lucked out. The Avatara insisted that Nazrin needed to be here this week instead of at Muenzuka." Byakuren beckoned the firefly though the gate. "In that case, this would be a perfect opportunity for Sister Kyouko to practice her hospitality." She pointed to the dog-eared yamabiko novice sweeping dirt from the courtyard's brick paths.

"This way." Kyouko rested her broom against the temple's protective wall. She led Wriggle along the brick paths, up the stairways, and across the sacred spaces atop the temple's terraces. As soon as they passed behind the long wooden cabin housing the monastery's non-ordained guests, the nun glanced around furtively. "Did she follow us?"

Wriggle rocked up on her toes and spun around. "The abbess? I can't see her."

Kyouko's voice dropped into a whisper, far softer than one would think an Echo Youkai's voice would go, as she passed a line of red doors leading to the monks' cells. "Can I get a table for four tomorrow? Say at seven?"

"I thought Abbess Hijiri banned you from the Noodle Bar." The firefly cast a look over her shoulder.

"She only said that I couldn't perform there. Besides, it's for Avatara Toramaru. She's finding the Temple kitchen bland again."

Wriggle nodded and made a small note in her notebook. A visit of Shou Toramaru's divine stature would enhance Maya's prestige. "Alright. Daiyousei will have a table waiting." The starstruck fairy hostess would swoon when she heard the request.

"Thanks. I'll go tell the Avatara. Just knock on this door." Kyouko rapped against a door that looked like the twin of any of the monk's cell doors nearby. The novice hurried away.

Wriggle stared at the door. It took a moment to make out, but the carvings on the door were finer than any she had seen in the monastery. Occasionally, a fleck of gilt shone in the red lacquer paint. The firefly reached out with her knuckles.

Before she could knock, a slit in the door slid open. Two large red eyes stared at Wriggle. "What do you want?"

Wriggle unslung her pack and held up a wax paper bundle. "I thought that we might be able to talk over a late lunch."

"That better not be a cheese wheel." The hatch slammed shut.

"Mystia says that it's too hard to make money with cheese." Wriggle unwrapped one end of the paper bundle. The scent of spicy fish mixed with a hint of olive oil filled the air.

The red door creaked open. Nazrin stepped out of her cell and sniffed the aroma building around her. The grey mouseling drew in a deep breath. "Tapas!" She clasped hold of Wriggle's hands and drew her inside the cell. "Come in."

***

Allowing herself a respite from her endless circuits around the Noodle Bar's hardwood patio deck, Keine drifted over to the outdoor bar. One day, she would replace the cobbled together line of wine barrels with a more permanent fixture that didn't remind her of the mishmash of tables, chairs, and stools that filled the patio. The historian still had no idea how Wriggle and Sanae had scrounged up so many seats back when the Noodle Bar first opened, but, despite the odds, the girls had turned necessity into quirky style. None of the smiling diners crowding those tables noticed the occasional high-backed wooden chair among the patio furniture, not while they emptied the buffet once teeming with skewers, lettuce wraps, and potatoes.

Keine sat down at the end of the bar and smiled. Maya's style had coalesced out of the success of necessity and a tradition of improvisation that originated with Mystia. Cirno, Sunny Luna, and Rumia had banded together and made Keine's brunch buffet work. Already, a dozen guests had asked Keine when the next brunch would be. The historian couldn't wait to tell Mystia; maybe the head chef would molt. Like her fellow chefs, the night sparrow loathed buffet-style meals. At the very least, the word of mouth should help make up for the slower than usual sales.

Medicine Melancholy leaned over the rough-planed counter and handed Keine a long-stemmed glass. "Your cooks were in my drink cabinets again." The doll scowled like she had eaten one of the lemons in the pitcher by her elbow.

Keine sighed and sipped her water. When she first bought Maya, no one had warned her about the constant stream of problems that would require her attention, including the need to referee the eternal rivalry between the kitchen staff and everyone else. "I'll talk to Mystia when she returns."

"Talk to Wriggle, too. Not only am I missing cereal milk and coffee, someone raided my honeyed whiskeys." Medicine poured crushed ice and a jigger of vodka into a metal cocktail shaker. "If this doesn't stop, I've got some flypaper with her name on it." She punctuated each word with a rattle of ice from the shaker.

Keine slid her empty glass towards the bartender. She motioned to the nearest server and pointed at the buffet line. Soon, empty metal trays marched across the patio on their way inside the building to the dishwasher's sink, replace by steaming platters of tapas, fish, and lettuce wraps.

Stepping cautiously around the line of servers refilling the buffet, Sanae approached at Keine with an anxious look on her face. "There's a reporter here asking everyone questions about Aya's review. Could you please talk to her before she upsets Mokou?"

Keine sighed as she stood up. A restaurateur's job was never done. Fixing her most welcoming smile on her lips, she glided away from the bar.

***

"Sorry about the reception, but when you're a treasure hunter, you learn to take certain precautions," Nazrin said, leading Wriggle into a spartan cell just large enough to hold a straw sleeping mat, a nightstand covered in votive candles, and two petite women so long as Nazrin kept her tail wrapped around her waist. The mouseling reached around the firefly and slammed the wooden door shut. "Shame about Aya's article. If I were you, I wouldn't normally worry about one single bad review, but she's got a flair for the memorable phrase." She knelt down and slid her hand underneath the straw. The mat folded up against the wall, revealing a ladder leading to an underground room.

"Does the Abbess know this is here?" Wriggle stashed her gift back into her pack and followed Nazrin down the ladder.

"We have an understanding. I help the temple from time to time, and Byakuren doesn't tell Shou where I hide the good stuff."

Wriggle dropped into a cozy underground studio walled off in the same limestone brick that built up the monastery. Wooden bookcases and shelves covered an entire wall, each filled with all kinds of books, knick-knacks, and treasures, often behind glass. "What would have happened if I had forced my way in?"

"I would feed what was left of you to Shou in the morning. That girl might be absent-minded, but she makes for a great garbage disposal." Nazrin sat down at her kitchen table, her face a stern mask. The grey mouseling laughed as she smoothed out a cloth placemat in front of a wicker picnic basket. "Relax, Byakuren would just make you chant sutras all night. She likes the company."

"That's a relief." Wriggle set two paper bundles on the placemat and stepped away from the table. She admired a jeweled pagoda given special prominence in a large glass case. Compared to the organized clutter filling the rest of the shelves, it felt like a shrine. "Given the stories about you, I'd have thought this place would be larger."

"Think of this as my vacation home." Nazrin tore open a bundle and stripped two thirds of the chili peppers, anchovies, and olives from a skewer. The scent of olive oil filled the room. She dropped the last of the food and the wooden stick into the basket. The straw container shook for a moment and the skewer flew back out, bare of even a drop of oil.

Wriggle left the jeweled pagoda and drifted past a row of bronze bookends towards Nazrin's bookcase. Leathery tomes and modern hardcovers filled the ceiling-high shelves. She scanned the bookcases, reading titles as her finger passed over the spines. Kosuzu had been insistent that Nazrin had bought out her stock of cookbooks, but all the sous-chef could find were philosophy texts, first editions of half-forgotten novels that Kosuzu would have gushed over, and the occasional penny dreadful written by one S. Komeiji. Surreptitiously, the firefly looked back over her shoulder towards her host.

Nazrin's eyes brightened as she unwrapped a ceviche ssäm, a lettuce wrap containing a chunky mix of Korean influenced pico de gallo, raw fish "cooked" in citrus juices, and seasoned black beans. Smearing an edge with pepper sauce, she took a big bite from the ssäm, savoring the fish, salsa, and citrus with a wide smile. The mouse youkai's tail flicked back and forth in delight. Nazrin took a knife, sliced the end off of the wrap, and slid it into her basket. "You don't know what this means to a foodie like me to host a chef."

Wriggle stopped her slow scan of the bookcase. "I've never seen you at Maya."

"No, you haven't." Sadness crept into Nazrin's voice. The mouse youkai tapped her ears. "They don't really let my kind in any restaurants."

Wriggle ran her fingers up her antennae. "They used to not let my kind in either. Didn't you think that you might be welcome at a place that has a bug as a sous-chef?"

The mouse youkai closed her eyes as she savored each bite. "People like fireflies. You're pretty. They're afraid that I'm going to raid the pantry and spread disease everywhere."

"I'm still a youkai. People are still afraid of that." Wriggle bit the inside of her lip. Where were the cookbooks?

"To make things worse, Kotohime insists that I can't bring my friends." Nazrin hissed the name of Gensokyo's policewoman turned health inspector and pulled out from her basket a grey mouse the size of a small cat. "This is Mikan. She's like a sister to me. Isn't she so cute?"

Wriggle stared at the unblinking mouse. "I prefer things with antennae."

"To each their own," Nazrin laughed. Her smile vanished and she pointed her knife at Wriggle. "From the way you're looking through my library, I doubt you're here to cheer up a beleaguered foodie."

"Is it that obvious?" Wriggle winced as she tried to hide in the shadow of the bookcase.

"I'm a treasure hunter. I like to keep what I find, and I can recognize my own," Nazrin said, cleaning her palate with small sips of water. "So why are you leafing through my stuff? The truth now, else I hope you're ready to chant sutras all night long."

Wriggle sat down in front of Nazrin and Mikan. Quickly telling of Mokou's demand for a new raw fish recipe, she added, "Kosuzu says that you've got the largest library of cookbooks in Gensokyo."

"That's like calling a Hokusai woodcut a mere drawing," Nazrin scoffed, feeding Mikan a small piece of chocolate-smeared bread. "While I can't go to the best restaurants, I can at least cook their recipes. Has Maya Noodle Bar given thought to producing a cookbook?"

Wriggle held up her hands and waved them in front of her. "One headache at a time, please. I need a new raw fish entree that isn't sushi first."

"Had to ask." Nazrin shrugged and pointed at the half-finished lettuce wrap in front of her. "You have ceviche."

"Mokou wants something with fewer vegetables."

Nazrin pursed her lips and drummed the table with her fingers, unaware that Mikan had just hopped into her lap. "I keep the fine dining books over by the kitchen." She pointed to a locked hutch at the end of the bookcases.

"You're letting me stay?"

Nazrin swept the table clean. She rubbed her hands together and beamed at the firefly sous-chef. "How often do you think a foodie has a chance to help create a dish with a real chef?"

***

Cirno hurried from one station to the next, flipping rice cakes, grilling lampreys, and plating whenever she had a spare moment. Sweat dripped down her brow. She needed a minute or two wrapped in the cold embrace of ice, but Maya's dishes always had a lot of moving parts. Whenever she had her part done, she found herself waiting on another's chef's contribution, and the others waited on her in turn. As the little mistakes added up, the gears of the once clockwork kitchen ground to a halt. Meanwhile, the requests from the patio never stopped.

"Chef Cirno, I've got a deuce waiting for their tomato toast."

"Where's the prawn and bacon brochettes for table six?"

"Table nine sent back their ceviche. They say it needs more time in the lime juice."

"Table two changed their order for the third time."

"Chef, Keine's trying to keep a four-top from walking out. Can you please rush their fish fillets?"

"Mokou wants to know when you're going to start clearing the board of orders."

"We're getting slammed out there. Where's the food?"

"Chef…!"

***

Despite her best efforts, a faint squeal slipped past Wriggle's lips. Just one shelf of Nazrin's wide hutch held enough high proof chef porn to keep Mystia breathlessly awake into the wee hours of the afternoon. Wedged tightly among the shelves were copies of The French Laundry Cookbook, The Whole Beast, Escoffier, a number of the ElBulli yearbooks. Another stack was full of the rock stars of chefdom: Momofuku, White Heat, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, Yakitate! Japan, The Fat Duck. Even the obligatory copies of Kitchen Confidential, Belly of Paris, and Down and Out in Paris and London were present, leavening the cookbooks with tales of chefs behaving badly. Wriggle recognized most of these from her frequent visits to the Stacks, but she squealed as she found new friends she had yet to be introduced to. Noma, Heritage, The Spirit of Food, and a full run of Lucky Peach, a brilliantly illustrated food journal that Wriggle knew Mystia would cling to like a magpie her silver.

Yet some choices felt out of place. "Manga?" Wriggle asked, pointing to thin volumes hidden in the darkest recesses of the hutch. At least two hundred volumes, or so she estimated, split between a handful of titles.

Nazrin looked over her guest's shoulder. "Oishinbo is a foodie classic. There's as many recipes in its hundred volumes as you would find in any cookbook." She glowed as she watched the chef gush over her treasures.

"What about Boys Before Flowers?" Wriggle couldn't see how that shoujo manga classic related to food.

Nazrin's cheeks grew pink as she darted forward and pushed the books to the back of the shelf. "I have to hide it somewhere, or Shou will borrow it. She's better at losing things than returning them." She pulled an orange and white book free and handed it to Wriggle.

"Can I borrow this?" the firefly said, her eyes lighting up at the coveted Le Bernadin Cookbook.

The mouse youkai shook her head and led Wriggle back to the dining table. "I spend too much time recovering other people's stuff. I don't want to do the same for mine." She tapped the book. "Try page fifty-one."

Wriggle didn't bother to sit down before she opened the book. "Slivered black bass? I'm not sure we have those herbs, but it looks simple enough. Maybe the tuna carpaccio," she said. She pulled a small notebook out of her pants pocket and scribbled notes as she read.

"Are you sure you can get me a table at the Noodle Bar?"

"Pretty sure. You might need to leave Mikan home, though." Wriggle closed the book with a sigh and set it aside on the table. She glanced at the books by her elbow and paused. Seemingly out of nowhere, a stack of six cookbooks had appeared on the table in front of her. "How am I supposed to find fish recipes in all this?"

"Leave it to me," Nazrin said, waving her dowsing rods in front of her bookcase. "However, if you end up using what I find, Mikan gets a seat at my table."

Wriggle reached for the next volume, hoping that Nazrin would bring out more. Perhaps even that volume of Kaiseki hidden behind Nazrin's manga. "Maybe at the edge of the patio."

"Deal!"

***

As the first evening chill cut into the afternoon heat, Mystia sang to herself as she walked through the Human Village. It beat screaming. She had bounced from one newspaper to another, giving the same canned speech over and over to any reporter who would listen. Unlike Hatate's Kakashi Spirit News, most had subscription bases no larger than the mom and pop shops that their reporters hawked them from. Any reporter more popular concerned herself with the social beat instead. While everyone wanted to gossip whenever Yukari Yakumo, Komachi Onozuka, or Wakasagihime ate at the Noodle Bar, they cared more about the dresses each wore than the food they ordered.

To keep her grimace from showing, Mystia wrapped her hand around an invisible knife. Running a blade down a lamprey's spine, even imagined, always cheered her up, and not only because a customer had paid for the fillet. She had learned to take her pleasure wherever she could; there was rarely an opportunity in the kitchen to stop and preen the droop out of her feathers.

She turned the corner towards the Noodle Bar and froze. Like music, a kitchen had a certain rhythm that could only be felt in the bones, a groove that made each shift a dance. From the way Daiyousei shifted from foot to foot while a crowd pressed against her hostess's podium, the kitchen had tripped over its feet. Mystia had never seen a fairy without her impish smile. When Keine appeared at the fairy's shoulder, the nearby tables emptied as diners pressed her for answers.

Going through the front door was out of the question.

Rushing past a flash of orange and pink from the crowd, Mystia cut through a back alley. Swooping through the receiving door, she tarried just long enough to rip her chef's whites out of her locker before darting into her kitchen.

The line of tickets, each representing a table's order, ran along the board atop the serving window like a solid decorative border. The spike, home for completed orders, was bare. While no food lingered underneath the warming lights, no food made it to the serving counter either. Cirno, Rumia, Sunny, and even Luna wore haggard hangdog stares as they ran laps between their stations and the pantries and fridges. At least someone had the presence of mind to have Mokou mind the soup pots. Even Star had pitched in, although her willingness to work in the kitchen might have had more to do with her talent in avoiding trouble with the diners. Mystia blinked, and the starlight fairy vanished.

Her kitchen had fallen into the weeds.

On a slow day.

Where was Wriggle? Biting back an indignant squawk, Mystia clapped her hands. "Everyone stop what you are doing, unless you have something on a burner." She ran a finger along the line of orders and scowled. "Talk to me. What orders do we have hanging? Who's getting slammed the hardest? Everyone, give me an 'all day' on everything you have in the works."

While Rumia rattled off a list of every dish in progress at her station, complete with states of doneness and temperatures, Mystia grabbed her rolled-up bundle of knives and a stack of towels from her station and circled the kitchen. As she suspected, each fairy's mise en place was scattered and threadbare. The head chef grabbed Mokou by the shoulders. "Get salt, pepper, olive oil, and chili flakes and fill up the stations. After that, find out what my chefs need and get it."

"What if Keine needs me?"

"Get a server and have her do it. Just make sure it gets done." Mystia glanced over at the tower of plates and pans at the dishwashers' elbows. She'd figure out where the kitchen had fallen behind later. Getting caught up was more important.

As soon as Sunny finished her report, Mystia slid next to the fairy and unfurled her knife roll. She reached out and grabbed Sunny's arm before the fairy could slip away. "Keep working, but watch what I do. It'll help you next time this happens."

"Next time?" Sunny's face blanched as she tore lettuce for ssäm wraps.

"You do realize that this is Hina Kagiyama's favorite restaurant?" Mystia allowed herself the briefest of smiles. The misfortune goddess often absorbed more bad luck than she could handle, and the excess leached into her surroundings. Anything could happen around Hina after that.

As she cooked, sliced, and seasoned her way through her share of the burrito-like ssäm lettuce wraps, Mystia saw the line of orders slowly shrink. While the extra set of hands certainly helped, Mystia leaned on a lifetime of kitchen tricks and shared freely with her chefs. Simple things, like how to organize a mise en place around what ingredients were used more often, or how to skewer multiple chunks of olives, anchovies, and peppers at once. How to move around another chef working at the same station without tripping her up. Hip-check that oven closed next time. Think ahead. Prepare. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, fast is slow.

Run out of lime juice for the ceviche? Toss a bunch of limes into the microwave and get Mokou and the runners to squeeze them when they're done. Dishwashers haven't cleaned enough square plates for that eight-top's worth of lampreys? Grab the round ones and plate the skewers to match this plate. Don't hold those shrimp fritters back because there's no garnish; get them out to the window now. Toss that bacon into the microwave this one time, but don't ever do it on a normal night.

When the shift was over, Mystia would explain to her staff what short-cuts were acceptable in her kitchen, but until the board was empty and the spike was full, there was nothing to do but cook her way through to the end. She breathed a sigh of relief when Wriggle finally wiggled her way into her place on the line and took over the potato fryer from Cirno. Without a word, the dessert chef then threw herself into cubing watermelon and tomatoes. Finally, after one last furious rush, the board was empty.

***

As the Noodle Bar's evening rush ebbed away from the patio, the kitchen finally breathed easy. The dishwashers scrubbed pots and pans, the cooks restocked their mise en place, and the servers tidied up the inventory all the while sharing stories of favorite pranks and rumors.

Wriggle knelt down and hauled a green glass amphora bottle out from under her station. She would need the olive oil for her part of the staff dinner. Normally, the evening meal featured a mix of salad, rice, and fish, but Mystia occasionally used it to test new cooks and recipes. Today, it would help settle a bet.

Mystia grabbed the firefly's shoulder. "Are you ready?" She pointed to the doorway. Already, Mokou, Sanae, and Kogasa peeked around the doorjamb.

Wriggle rapped on a notebook at her station. "It's all in here. Don't worry. I'm not going to condemn the kitchen to a lifetime of Keine's gruel." The firefly shrugged and opened her notebook. "Am I making this for everyone?"

"Just a sampler. Make sure to save some for Mokou."

Wriggle nodded and traced her finger across several lines of script. A quick trip inside the walk-in refrigerator, and a bag of cucumbers, two lemons, and a ruby red cut of fresh tuna joined the olive oil at her station. As the firefly sous-chef sharpened her knives, Mystia dragged a stool over and watched from her new perch.

"I suspect that this will be a hit with the kappa." Wriggle sliced a cucumber into thin slices and laid them out in a rectangle on a tray. Cutting the chilled tuna into half centimeter dominoes, she placed each chunk of the deep watermelon-colored fish onto the bed of cucumber slices. After a quick drizzle of olive oil and salt, Wriggle reached for a lemon and a microplane grater.

Mystia placed a hand on her arm, halting the garnishing before it began. "Let's try it without seasoning." She picked up a slice of tuna together with one of cucumber and popped it in her mouth. "What's this called?"

"Crudo. It's like sashimi but not as dependent on knife skills"

"The olive oil accents the tuna's mild flavor instead of smothering it. There's room for a little acidity, but it works as it is right now." Mystia grabbed another strip of fish. She looked over at Rumia and pursed her lips. "Will this work with cheaper fish than tuna?"

"I found similar recipes for four other types of fish." The firefly tried to keep the grimace out of her face. Nazrin had actually found the recipes in her books. Wriggle was not looking forward to reserving a table for the mouseling's giant rodent pet. She looked up as a shadow fell over the plate and froze.

Mokou, Sanae, and Rumia swarmed around the plate, swiping crudo samples until only a single cucumber slice remained. Wriggle spun about and found Kogasa at her shoulder. The youkai waitress held up an empty plate and pleaded with her eyes. Medicine and Rumia settled in behind her, forming a line. As Mokou savored her last piece of tuna, she flashed Mystia and Wriggle an enthusiastic thumb's up.

"Go ahead and make another batch, but this time double it and then double it again." Mystia dropped off her stool. "Meanwhile, I'm going to tell Keine that we've got her special for tomorrow."

***

As the last band of rosy dusk faded into night and fairies rushed to light the gas lamp torches that lined the patio, a lull settled over the Noodle Bar. Her tables momentarily empty, Sanae staggered into the service hallway and wrung a lemon into a tall glass of water. She looked into a mirror and grimaced. Suwako would have another lecture waiting for her when she got home. Wiping a strand of hair from her eyes, she gulped down her drink in long pulls.

"Sanae, you've got to help me." Kogasa ran into the hallway and grabbed the head waitress's shoulders. "We've got to get table two out of here right now."

The priestess gave silent thanks to her goddesses that the glass had been empty. She glanced out into the patio and scowled. The fairy servers gave a wide berth around a pair of crow tengu. "Oh, the Pickled-Rose-Magpie-Tengu couple?"

"That's what they ordered." Kogasa flattened herself against a wall as a fairy server passed by. "Wait, you know them?"

"They've been here since the first night, which is a shame, since they're rude, arrogant, impossible to please, and worst of all, they change their order whenever they see their neighbor's food. They should be grateful that Suwako isn't a waitress."

"They insulted my umbrella." Tears welled in Kogasa's eyes. She stroked the furled parasol strapped to her back.

Sanae bit her lip. Kogasa's umbrella was a hideous shade of eggplant that not even a mother would love. "Let's not get carried away-"

The umbrella youkai stamped her foot. "If you can't help me, I'll ask Medicine."

The priestess paled. The Pretty Little Poison often used laxatives and other chemical tricks to speed on troublesome customers. Unfortunately, the little doll never knew when to stop. Sanae pursed her lips and drummed her fingernails against the wall. "Let's not get carried away. If they get to be too much, get Mokou. She won't put up with customer nonsense."

Kogasa's eyes lit up. Mokou had been known to add fifteen percent to a customer's bill for rudeness to her staff. In some cases, repeatedly.

Sanae grabbed her arm before Kogasa could skip away. "In the meantime, talk to a server. Don't let them linger over their food. If you do it right, you can serve them, hand them the check, and clear their places within ten minutes."

"I can do that?" Her tongue hanging out as if to match her umbrella's, Kogasa salivated at the thought of her delicious surprise.

Sanae turned towards the serving window and checked if any of her orders were up. A toothy smile betrayed the floor captain's calm. "Just don't let Keine catch you."

The floor captain's smile was short-lived as Daiyousei dashed into the hallway and planted her hands in the small of Sanae's back, pushing the waitress forward. "Get Mystia, get Keine and Mokou, and get back out there." The slight fairy's wings flapped as she shoved the priestess all the way into the kitchen. Sanae stumbled over her feet and toppled a stack of empty bins.

The bustle and the banter in the kitchen stopped. Sanae blanched as chefs looked up from the various pans and plates at their stations. Glaring at the waitress, Mystia stripped the fillet off of a lamprey with one swift slice of her knife from gill to tail. "Get out," the head chef warbled. With her free hand Mystia scooped up a tomato and reared it back.

"Code Violet, Chef," Daiyousei answered, hiding behind Sanae.

With a huff, Mystia set down her knife and tomato. "Rumia, can you finish this? I have to go glad hand our celebrity." She made that last word sound like a curse.

"And no snacking on the lampreys while I'm gone," the night sparrow chef called out over her shoulder. Rumia nodded, greeting Mystia with a heartrending innocence that the darkness youkai had learned from her fairy coworkers. As soon as she turned her back, Mystia swore that she heard Rumia's lips smacking in anticipation of her fishies.

Wriggle pitched the towel around her arm into a hamper and rushed through the kitchen after Mystia. Sanae squealed as the two chefs each hooked an arm underneath her shoulder and carried the offending waitress out of the kitchen, straight into Mokou and Kogasa. The five girls crumpled into a tangle of arms legs, wings, antennae, and one umbrella's giant tongue.

Keine towered over the dogpile. "Get up. We're needed out there." She pulled Mokou out and inspected her partner's clothes. Frowning, Keine dragged Mokou into the dining room, smoothing the wrinkles from the immortal's dress shirt.

Wriggle squirmed her way free and growled at the waitresses. "You two get out there. Daiyousei can't do everything by herself, and we can't afford another review like Aya's." She grabbed Mystia by the collar and dragged her out the server's entrance the patio.

Kogasa unwrapped her umbrella's tongue from Sanae's arm and swayed her way to her feet, punch-drunk from surprise. "What's a Code Violet?"

"Think about it." Sanae worked her shoulder as the waitresses pushed through the server's door, following after the chefs. "How many celebrities are there named Violet?"

"Yukari? I thought from that rush that our guest would be someone more important, more exotic." Kogasa blinked away the gas lamps' glare and gestured with a nod of her head. "You know, like her."

Next to Daiyousei's roadside platform, growing crowd of admirers thronged around a living statue in lace. Two brown wolf ears poked above a feather-lined Venetian columbina mask, but the voluminous red and black skirts hid the demimondaine's tail. As she waited, the glamourous woman chatted with Daiyousei and Star, both fairies glowing from the attention. Kogasa squealed over the woman's scarlet parasol.

The dining hall's paper lattice doors slid open. Backlit by the original Maya restaurant's chandelier, Keine set down her pagodaesque mortarboard cap and brushed lint from Mokou's shoulder. The were-hakutaku strode towards the small knot of Noddle Bar chefs and waitresses, her face a placid mask uncracked by the stares of her guests. Keine's eyes flickered between the masked demimondaine and Mokou. "Oh my, does that dress come in red and white?"

"Don't even think about it," the phoenix girl said, hiding behind Sanae.

Casting a glance behind her, Wriggle scowled. To the sous-chef's irritation, the kitchen had emptied. Close to a dozen cooks, dishwashers, and servers clung to the sides of Maya's serving entrance. The firefly stamped her foot and shooed them inside. The staff vanished in a spray of frost, but as soon as Wriggle's attention wavered, Rumia and the fairies crept out onto the patio.

As soon as she saw Keine and Mokou, the masked woman held up her hand and the crowd around her parted. Illuminated by the glow of Daiyousei's fairylight, the demimondaine began her slow stately glide through the Noodle Bar's patio.

"So who is going to introduce us?" Sanae asked.

Wriggle nodded towards Mystia. "This is a job for the head chef."

"No, for the owners," the songbird said.

Keine rested her hand on Mokou's shoulder. "You're the princess."

"I was a duchess, not a princess. That doesn't count." As the eyes of the Noodle Bar staff turned towards her, the phoenix girl shrank further into Sanae's shadow.

Rolling her eyes, Mystia pointed to Sanae and mimed walking. The head waitress gulped and inched away from the group. Immediately, Mokou staggered out into the patio.

"How clumsy of me." Wriggle covered her mouth and coughed back her laughter.

Mokou steadied herself and froze, the new center of attention for the streetside theater. Grumbling, she drew a deep breath and allowed centuries to fall away. For the first time in ages, she held herself with the poise demanded of a courtier's daughter of the Fujiwara clan, the one from whom emperors chose their brides. Immediately, the Maya staff stepped forward and took their place in the duchess's train, with Keine at Mokou's right hand and Mystia at her left.

The masked wolf woman stopped a meter in front of Mokou and gave the duchess the deepest of curtsies. "Your Imperial Highness," a clear, melodious voice said just loud enough for Mokou and the Maya Noodle Bar staff to hear.

Sanae gasped. That address was reserved for-

"I am not of the Emperor's family," the restaurant owner said. Her face darkened to match her pants.

"So you claim, Most Serene One," the demimondaine's ruby lips turned up in a smile.

"Someone doesn't know Mokou all that well." Wriggle winced as Mystia's elbow dug into her side.

"My Lady sends her compliments and desires that you would accept a token of her esteem." With an illusionist's flourish, three blue roses appeared in the masked woman's hand.

Mokou turned to Sanae and whispered, "Take them from her." The waitress gulped as she stepped out and took the flowers. Mokou asked, "Who is your lady?"

"This letter will explain everything, Most Serene One." Again, Sanae took her gift. "By your leave?" The dining room remained silent as the lupine demimondaine glided out of the Maya Noodle Bar and into a carriage.

As the guests broke into a sursurration of whispers, Mokou took the letter from Sanae and opened it. Color ebbed from her cheeks until her skin matched her pale hair, and the wayward duchess thrust the note into Keine's hand.

Mystia squeezed her way into the inner circle. She squinted at the flowery stationary. "What does it say?"

Keine exhaled sharply and marched towards the bar, her friends and employees in tow. She took the roses from Sanae and placed the blue flowers in a tall glass of water. Swallowing, she croaked to Medicine, "Wine."

The bartending doll dipped behind the wine barrels. A cork shot into the air, and Medicine reappeared, pouring a dusky claret into a stemmed wineglass. Keine snatched the glass away and drained it. Medicine looked up at the were-hakutaku, ducked underneath the bar once more, and slid the bottle towards Keine.

As Mokou grabbed the bottle by its neck, the chefs, waitresses, and patrons of the Maya Noodle Bar crowded around the bar.

"Would someone mind telling me just what the hell is going on?" Mystia clamped her hand over the lip of the bottle.

Mokou set down her wine and sidled closer to Keine. "The Blue Rose will be here to review the Noodle Bar's food tomorrow."

***

Author's Notes:

Thank you to Mephiles666, Captain Vulcan, Wolfsbane706, Felix3D, kojiro kakita, and everyone else who has helped shepherd this over the past year and a half.

***

At the end of the night, when the last customer waved good bye, Daiyousei beamed as she penned the food critic's pseudonym into the reservation book. She blew the ink dry and read the names on the page one more time. Avatara Toramaru, Nazrin, and now the Blue Rose. Even after Aya's hatchet job review, the guest book still read like the Who's Who of Gensokyo. She closed the cover and giggled. It might tempt fate to say so, but tomorrow would be a fine day to be a fairy at the Noodle Bar.
« Last Edit: October 02, 2014, 03:48:06 pm by Achariyth »

Achariyth

  • Nickname: Tonomi
Re: Mise en Place
« Reply #15 on: October 08, 2014, 10:14:01 am »
Felix3D is working on a series of dossiers on the food in Mise en Place.  Here is her first one, posted with permission:

Nazrin's Notes:

    Kotohime insists I cannot visit any restaurant in Gensokyo. If I press matters, it'll make trouble for Byakuren, so I will forgo this worldly desire out of respect. But try as she might, Kotohime cannot deny me my love for food. If I cannot experience these dishes at restaurants, then I'll stop being just a foodie and become a culinarian. I'll use my talents to find everything about these dishes so I can better recreate them on my own. I'll record everything I find so that I will never forget a thing. As my skills and files increase, I'll eventually be able to surpass those dishes that I was never able to experience in restaurants.

    It'll be a long journey, but I have the patience, time, and most importantly of all, the love for food needed to succeed.

    Take my chefs, take my seat, but you'll never be able to take Food from a Foodie.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    File 0081 - "Yuan Ai Tofu"

        - There has been a new restaurant in town announced, Kaguya Houraisan's Bamboo Child. Playing off of her own Legend, one dish bewilders me.

        "Yuan Ai Tofu".

        I have never such a name ever before. I wonder what it could be. Since I am not allowed in restaurants, dowsing the origin of this dish may be difficult without tasting it.

        - The search in the Stacks proved fruitless. Nary a twitch from my dowsing rods. But I have a feeling I am looking in the wrong places. The name may have a Chinese origin.
        - I met a Chinawoman today. The Gateguard at the Vampire's Mansion. She told me it was an old obscure Chinese dish. She didn't know how to make it, but she knew what it would have been like.
        - Armed with the knowledge from China, I was able to narrow down the scope of my research. Sichuan and other mountainous regions' cuisine, history of Tofu, there's still plenty to cover.
        - I am an idiot. The text I needed was right here. Buddhism came from China to Japan. We had a copy of a text from a Chinese monk that detailed this dish. It seems that it had a nasty trick - it was made with animal fat. But the description itself is incomplete.
        - I was able to replicate the dish. But it felt unfinished. I do not know what else to do. All the Monk's journal said was that it was roasted over charcoal with a basting of animal fat and sprinkle of various spices that included sichuan pepper. But try as I might, it's not coming out good. Or staying together over the charcoal. What am I missing? How could Kaguya choose this to serve at the Bamboo Child?

    Yuan Ai Tofu

        Origin: Southern China, Mountainous region.
        Type of dish: Regional classic - local street food.
        Notoriety: Unheard of
        Ingredients: Gypsum Tofu, Michui, Rock Salt, Ginger, Fresh and Roasted Sichuan pepper, other spices (unknown)
        Instructions: Marinade firm gypsum Tofu sliced 5mm thick in a brine of Cooking Rice Wine (Michiu), unrefined rock salt, ginger, and sichuan pepper. Then dry off tofu slices and lightly coat with pork fat. Apply secret spice mixture (Known components of the spice: ground roasted sichuan pepper, white pepper, Salt). Roast over a traditional clay charcoal grill for a few minute on each side.
        Lore: Yuan Ai Tofu means "First Love Tofu." Despite being dirty street food, it is a dish meant to represent the experiences of first love. It is said upon your first taste, you'll fall in love with it and yearn for it forever. I still do. It's been over decade since I last had it for real. A dish that invokes unattainable and pure love... is that not prefect for Kaguya to serve to those entranced by her beauty?
        Explanation of lore: Sichuan Pepper gives the "Ma" (numbing) sensation of the "MaLa" signature taste of Sichuan food. It is also known to be literarily "Better than Sex" as a sensation. As in, written in Chinese Literary works to be better than sex. So, yeah, the lore has credence.
 

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