“This is important.”
“I mean it, Lili, cherie. And I wish you had worn something other than jeans.”
“You told me that, at least, like, fourteen times. And the jeans are fine; I am just gonna get dirty.”
“You’ve been counting?”
“I started to after a while. It’ll be fine. Stop, just, just stop.”
The older woman backed off. Her husband put a hand on her shoulder. “Lilienne, c’est assez.” Lilienne, it’s enough. The three of them stood in a small room just off the cafeteria at Lili’s high school.
“Je sais que, mais ….” I know that, but …. Both grandparents looked concerned.
“Not you, too, Granddad,” Lili O’Day said, looking at her grandfather.
Richard Ducasse bit down on what he was really going to say, and instead opened with, “We just want this to go well. I saw you kept the lobsters alive just fine.”
“The fishmonger taught me,” Lili explained. “I didn’t need a tank, ‘cause I only got them yesterday at the New France Market. You keep them in the fridge, near the back, and they just sort of go to sleep in the cold.” And terrify anyone reaching for chilled orange juice if they weren’t expecting a curious antenna moving a little. Lili chuckled a little, recalling her grandmother’s surprised yelp.
“And it seems as if you have everything with you,” he commented, nodding at a huge crate she was holding with both hands.
“Don’t forget how important this is,” Lilienne again reminded her.
“Fifteen,” Lili replied, rolling her eyes, just like the teenager she was.
“Charlotte Lilienne O’Day!” came a voice over the intercom.
“I guess I’m on,” Lili replied, stepping forward.
“Bonne chance,” her grandparents both said. Good luck.
Lili carried her burden behind the cafeteria into the school’s large industrial kitchen where there was a Vulcan woman sitting by herself in front of a small table. “I am Miss Aviri,” she stated. “And you are Miss O’Day?”
“You understand that if you can create something impressive for me, I will seriously consider you for the Mars Culinary Institute. I do not come to Titan often. And I will tell you right now that you have the worst grades of anyone who has competed today.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lili successfully avoided reddening, but gulped just the same.
“You also have the beginnings of a criminal record for, let me see,” she consulted a PADD, “something called joyriding.”
“I returned the car and the charges were dropped.”
“I see. And not wearing a toque, how interesting. The cap you are wearing, is that a favorite team?”
Lili was dying to put down her stuff and take off her Titan Bluebirds baseball cap, but then she remembered – don’t touch anywhere near your hair. “They’re the local team. But they’re perpetual cellar dwellers, uh, ma’am.”
“I see. And what are you making today? You may place your items on the counter.”
“Thank you. I am making lobster en croute.”
“You do realize I am a Vulcan, Miss O’Day?”
“I do. And I know that most Vulcans are vegetarians.”
“Vegans, then.” Even more restrictive. Lili blinked and swallowed a little, but fought through it. “But I did some checking. And I’ve seen, ma’am, I have seen various press images of you, and that included the, the banquet that was held in your honor when you first became the dean of the MCI. And, and I saw, there were pictures of prime rib. It was served to you. And I also was able to find candid shots of later in that evening, and I saw, well, it was two slices of prime rib, but the later shots only showed one slice. So I came to the conclusion that you eat meat. At least you do, some of the time.”
An eyebrow was raised. “That was quite an impressive bit of detective work. You may begin cooking now.”
Lili began chopping a shallot as quickly as she could. “Miss O’Day?”
“Uh, yes, ma’am?”
“Explain to me what you are doing, as you do it.”
“Oh, uh, of course, ma’am. First, I am going to do some basic prep work. This is what a sous-chef would normally accomplish in a professional kitchen. First I am chopping a shallot and setting it aside. Next, I’m making,” she began chopping celery as she spoke, “a white mirepoix.”
“And what is a white mirepoix?”
“It’s roughly chopped onion and celery, ma’am.” Lili paid attention to her task and was quiet for a while. There was a stove and a saucepan. She turned on the flame and sliced some butter into a measuring cup and checked the level carefully, then tipped the contents into the pan. “Uh, next, I’m making a roux. A roux is a mix of flour and butter. This one is one hundred and fifteen grams of butter combined with an equal amount of flour.”
“Why do you make a roux, Miss O’Day?”
“It’s used as a thickener, ma’am. Now, while it’s thickening,” Lili sighed, “I’m going to kill a lobster.”
Lili looked around the kitchen. Aha! There was the freezer unit. She opened it up and took out two trays of ice. Putting the stopper into a sink, she dumped the ice into it and placed a lobster inside the ice bath. “I am, uh,” she thought a little of how to put what she was about to say, “I’m doing this because, uh, because I have to kill this lobster but I want her to at least be asleep while I do that.”
“How do you know the lobster is female?”
“The swimmerets under the tail are soft, Miss Aviri.” Lili took the lobster out of the ice bath, looked down at it and whispered, “I’m sorry.” She plunged a French knife into its abdomen. “I, uh, I am now going to quarter the lobster.” As she did so, she would notice every now and then as Aviri took notes. “Now, I’m going to check the roux and see if it’s thick enough.” She placed a wooden spoon into it and stirred. “Okay, it seems to be thick enough. I’ll run the oven at 218. I am putting the lobster and the mirepoix into the oven to brown. While it’s heating up, I’ll gather together the remainder of my ingredients and get them ready.”
“And what are your other ingredients?”
“I have fish stock and a German Riesling; I’m going to add that and the shallots to the lobster mixture once I take it out and put it on the stovetop. I’m going to flame a bit of this Martell Cognac. It’s a French brandy.”
“And the Riesling, Miss O’Day?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The Riesling, what sort of wine is it?”
“It’s a white wine, ma’am. Now,” Lili looked at her ingredients, picturing their placements and the order in order to remember everything. “What I also have here, once I strain everything, is saffron, tomato purée, heavy cream and lobster base. They get added next. Here’s where it gets tricky as it’s a bit of a judgment call.”
“And why is that?” The Vulcan eyebrow was raised again slightly.
“Well, this part is regular cooking rather than baking and so it can be approximated, Miss Aviri. Um, once I’ve done that, I’ll thicken everything with the roux.”
“How will you serve this dish?”
“Ah, yes, my other two ingredients! I have puff pastry dough and I have egg wash. I will put the bisque into the serving dishes, top them with the dough and then brush the dough with the egg wash. The last step is to put the completed servings back into the oven and bake at the same temperature as before, until the pastry is puffed and golden brown.”
“What type of wine would you serve this with?”
“The Riesling, actually, ma’am. I’m, well, I’m only eighteen. I’m technically not legally permitted to drink alcohol. So, uh, that’s an educated guess.” As Lili spoke, she took the ingredients out of the oven and started cooking them on the stove top as she had said she would.
“Have you tasted this dish that you are making?”
“I have, ma’am.”
“Yet it has alcohol in it,” stated the Vulcan.
“Point of fact, ma’am, but alcohol burns off at about 78 degrees, and I’m heating it up to 218 in the oven,” Lili explained as a bit of the alcohol in the pan flamed a little and she jumped back slightly. “So it’s perfectly legal for me to eat this dish. The alcohol is in it for flavor but it doesn’t add a kick.”
The Vulcan took more notes as Lili prepared six serving dishes and placed them into the oven.
“Why six servings?” inquired Aviri.
“I wasn’t absolutely certain whether you’d have any judges with you. Since you don’t, ma’am, my grandparents are here with me and when we’re finished, if there are two dishes left, I’d like to be able to give them each a serving.” She took tumblers out of her crate and rinsed them off, drying them with a towel.
As the food cooked, Aviri looked at the pale teenager in front of her. “Your file says you were raised by your grandparents.”
“Yes. My parents have been dead for nine years.”
“When did you learn to cook?”
“Maybe two years ago, at least I think it was 2125.”
“Does flame scare you, Miss O’Day?”
Lili thought about that for a moment. “I, I don’t know what’s in my file. Maybe you already know this. But I’ll assume you don’t. So, um, in 2118, my parents died in a fire at our house. So yeah, for a while, all fire scared the bejeesus outta me. But I’ve gotten better. I can put out a flame that’s gotten too high. And, and as you saw, I can handle a flambé.” A bell dinged and the food was ready. Lili chose the serving where the puff pastry had expanded into as perfect a dome as she could make. She eschewed the school’s oven mitts and used a dish towel instead, placing the serving dish onto the small table in front of Aviri, and then adding a soup spoon on a folded napkin. She grabbed a tumbler, adding ice from the freezing unit and water from a canteen she had brought with her. The drink was put down next to the place setting.
As the Vulcan tasted the dish, Lili stood nearby, turning the dish towel over and over in her hands. Finally, the alien looked up. “The roux is burned a little. But you were nervous, and you were multitasking, so that is understandable. The shallots were cooked well. The mirepoix could have been chopped more finely. Generally, a more rustic-style dish would not normally include such an expensive type of brandy. However,” Aviri added, “such nontraditional fusions are becoming more popular these days. And then there is the matter of the lobster.”
“Yes, Miss Aviri?”
“You are the last candidate I am seeing today, and are the only potential student I have seen here on Titan who investigated whether I would eat meat. The description of your research, along with what I have seen today, shows me that you pay attention to details. Further, your treatment of the creature was reverent. You made an effort to assure that its slaughter was as rapid and pain-free as possible.”
“I didn’t see any reason for it to suffer, ma’am.”
“Agreed. Now, I want you to understand something. Admission means that you cannot go joyriding anymore. You will need to study hard and your time will be filled. We do not just cook at the MCI, Miss O’Day. You will also learn where all of your food comes from. This means slaughtering animals that are far larger and more sentient than a lobster. It means gardening and some limited agriculture, but it also means hunting. Do you object to hunting?”
“Only if the animal suffers.” Lili continued twisting the dish towel.
“You will also be required to at least sample every type of cuisine that humans consume. That means Australian witchetty grubs and it means South American guinea pigs. Your people and mine have of course had first contact, and you have had contact with the Caitian people. There are going to be alien dishes which will disgust and appall you. This program is intended to prepare students such as yourself for those kinds of eventualities. Do you have any religious objections to this type of sampling?”
“I don’t keep kosher or halal, ma’am.”
“Do you have any food allergies or sensitivities or any other reasons why allowances might need to be made?”
“None that I know of.”
“Do you also understand that not everyone gets a plum assignment? You may find you have a degree but are preparing bar fare, or are working as a sous-chef, or,” she paused for a moment, as the idea seemed to be distasteful to her, “managing a fast food establishment. Is that all right?”
“Ma’am,” Lili said, “you already know I’ve been in trouble a bit. If I don’t get into your school, I bet I’ve got a fine life ahead of me washing dishes. This kind of an education could, you know, kinda flip my life back to the better side of things. So, uh, managing a fast food joint doesn’t sound so bad.”
The Vulcan sat there, silently thinking about that. “You will receive a message within the hour. You may clean up.”
“Thank you for the opportunity, Miss Aviri.” Lili cleaned up quietly as the Vulcan gathered her things and departed. Once the alien was gone, she tasted her dish. “Yeah, the damned roux is a little singed.” She flipped open a communicator and called her grandparents.
While the three of them were sitting in her school’s cafeteria, eating a somewhat cooled-down lobster en croute, she received a message on her PADD.
The Mars Culinary Institute wishes to extend this formal notification of acceptance to the autumn, 2127 class, to Miss Charlotte Lilienne O’Day. You may indicate your decision concerning our offer of admission by return electronic signature.