Word count: 3252
The Problem with the Gift Box
After getting on the car, Mayer took her to a street that was still under construction. There were traditional chinese-styled buildings on either side, with cornices, gray brick walls, and stone-paved paths.
“Is this Jiang Qian Fan’s Chinese food street?”
“Yes. It is only that Jiang Qian Fan’s requirements for the stores to be settled have not yet been reached. The project’s been dragged on for a long time, and even the mayor is considering whether or not to continue it.”
Mayer invited Lin Ke Song to step down the car and the two walked around as they conversed.
“In fact, once this project is successful, it will become another popular attraction sit in New York not only for Chinese people, but also for everyone else in the United States who are interested in Chinese food culture. For the government to cooperate with the Jiang family in preparation for this project, Jiang Qian Fan’s influence in America’s culinary community could be seen.”
“I understand!” Lin Ke Song could understand Jiang Qian Fan’s thoughts regarding this, and why he had such harsh demands for the food that were to be settled here.
He hoped that everyone who steps into this place will all end up falling in love with Chinese food.
No matter whether it was French, Italian, Mexican or Chinese food, there was not a single country’s cuisine which could be labelled as the ‘best food’. It was only that the people who made the dishes were different, and the effort they put in were different. When the food was finally sent into the mouth, what the tongue tasted was the varying degrees of deliciousness.
Jiang Qian Fan wished that all the people who came here to make food would be the same as him, pursuing the same ideal.
“Due to the mayor’s hesitation and the fact that the Quentin Group are also very interested in this land, it is likely that the project will be abandoned. All of his efforts will then be completely wasted. I know that he has always said to you that he doesn’t need you to win, and only need to enjoy the experience.”
Lin Ke Song paused in her steps and gazed carefully at Mayer, “Mr Mayer, what are you trying to say?”
“What I want to say is very simple. Since you have decided to stand next to him, then you must be prepared to bear the same pressure as him. This competition is not just a game. If you win, Jiang Qian Fan can campaign and attract the pubic. If you lose, I believe that the Quentin Group will take it as an opportunity to attack Mr Jiang.”
Mayer had always been gentle, carrying the calm style of an elder. But for the first time, his eyes were deep and oppressed Lin Ke Song.
She could understand his concern for Jiang Qian Fan, as well as the real meaning behind the competition.
“I know, I will take it seriously and try my best.”
Mayer shook his head and lifted his hand, placing it on Lin Ke Song’s shoulder, “Rather than just trying and doing your best, you must win.”
Lin Ke Song clenched her fist as her heart beat rapidly, as if it was ability to leave her body.
“I will win.”
On the day of the competition, Jiang Qian Fan’s car parked outside her house very early in the morning.
For her breakfast, Lin Ke Song only ate a bowl of porridge and a few dishes prepared by her uncle. Everything was simple, so that it would not affect her sense of taste.
Jiang Qian Fan accompanied her to outside the door of Leidewensen Hotel. In front, there were many reporters from media companies who had come over and were taking pictures of them both constantly.
They wanted to move closer and surround the two, but unfortunately, Jiang Qian Fan’s aura was too powerful and no one dared to stand before him.
They walked inside and headed to the elevator dedicated to the competition’s contestants and staff. Jiang Qian Fan placed both of his hands on Lin Ke Song’s shoulders, and fixed her collar with dedicated carefulness.
At that moment, she felt as if she was wearing the clothes of a chef, rather than just a plain checkered shirt.
Jiang Qian Fan was about to send her off.
The other contestants in front of the elevator stared at them quietly.
Everyone knew that Jiang Qian Fan couldn’t see. Yet, inexplicably, everyone could sense the attentiveness in his eyes towards Lin Ke Song.
Lin Ke Song nearly even forgot to breathe.
He used Chinese to only speak that word, but Lin Ke Song knew that what he didn’t say was ‘I will always look at you’.
Annalise also arrived, followed by the makeup artist and her assistant. The moment she saw Jiang Qian Fan, she smiled meaningfully.
“It was only yesterday that everyone saw those photos, yet today Mr Jiang personally accompanied Ke Song here. It seems that Mr Jiang is very certain about Ke Song winning the competition?”
Her words caught everyone’s attention, including Viktor who had been pretending that he didn’t see Lin Ke Song.
“Just because she doesn’t win the competition, would it mean she won’t be my partner anymore?
The tone of Jiang Qian Fan’s statement was like a rhetorical question.
Just as Annalise was in shock, Jiang Qian had already turned around and departed.
The elevator doors opened and everyone walked in. Even if she didn’t look around, Lin Ke Song knew that she was being stared at by the others.
Then, Annalise leaned towards Lin Ke Song and whispered, “Ke Song, what is Mr Jiang’ kiss like?”
Once again, she fell into everyone’s line of sight.
“Annalise, have you ever tasted spicy chocolates?” Lin Ke Song squinted and asked with a smile.
“Ah, of course I have.”
When the elevator door opened, Lin Ke Song walked and answered quietly, “That’s what it tastes like.”
All the contestants were here together in the lounge, waiting for the competition to begin. As the camera was currently being repaired, the competition was expected to be delayed for half an hour longer than what had been originally scheduled.
Shan Sha patted the seat next to her, motioning for Lin Ke Song to sit beside her.
The staff of the competition came and gave drinks out to the contestants, asking them to watch patiently for the start of the competition.
“Coffee, milk, milk tea, or mineral water?”
Other contestants had ordered coffee, Shan Sha had asked for milk tea, and Lin Ke Song had wanted just bottled mineral water.
Just as Shan Sha was about to say something, Lin Ke Song opened her mouth and spoke first. “If you wanted to ask about the matter between Jiang Qian fan and I, then I can only tell you that his is my mentor, but also my lover. There is nothing else that I can say further.”
“Ah, no….I’m so nervous. It’s already been so many rounds since I’ve entered the top three! Ah, I’m going to quickly go to the bathroom!”
Shan Sha went to the bathroom, she really was very nervous. In a short ten minutes, she had already gone to the bathroom three times, causing Lin Ke Song to feel somewhat anxious.
When Lin Ke Song went to the bathroom and came back, the competition committee told everyone that the competition was about to begin, and asked them to please head over to the stadium.
“Ke Song, let’s go!”
“I’m coming!” Lin Ke Song unscrewed the cap on the bottle and drank a sip of water, only to spit it back out.
“What happened? Ke Song?” Shan Sha turned her head back. “Did you choke?”
“No! It’s so salty! It’s really salty!” Lin Ke Song searched around everywhere for water, but it was already time to begin the competition.
Her mouth still tasted of sea salt.
Other contestants looked towards Viktor’s direction. Viktor only raised his eyebrows and smiled, with his hands in his pockets, “What’s wrong, Ke Song? Don’t tell me you drank a mouthful of sea water?”
At that moment, Lin Ke Song wished to beat that guy for a bit. He must have changed her mineral water when she went to the bathroom with Sasha.
“Don’t you think it’s very boring to do such a prank?
“I solemnly declare that your water was not tampered by me. If you don’t have evidence, don’t randomly be suspicious of others.”
Viktor left and Shan Sha frowned. “What is he on about, everyone knows it’s done by him. It must be because he still bears grudges about the matter last time when you spoke about boiling salt in seawater? Is there any point in doing this though?”
“Yes, it’s to temporarily disturb my sense of taste.”
Lin Ke Song could only continue to gather her saliva and hope to weaken the saltiness.
She walked to her workbench, and all the contestants were surrounded by an audience full of expectation. Light shone down from the top, and everything was so bright it made one unable to open their eyes.
A new journey was about to begin.
Lin Ke Song didn’t scan around, she knew that Jiang Quan was looking at her from somewhere.
“I’m very happy to meet you all again. In our last competition, everyone fought fiercely in the round and a big difference was created in the rankings. Whether it is the audience, or the contestants, I’m sure everyone wants to know what new rules and regulations there will be for today’s round.”
At this moment, staff members pushed a cart onto the stage.
The cart held a variety of different gift boxes in exquisite packaging. They included heart-shaped, rectangular, square and even triangular shaped boxes.
Lin Ke felt somewhat doubtful in her heart. She had just broached the topic of chocolate to Annalise in the elevator, could it be that today’s competition was about that?
Other contestants also guessed that it was likely to be cookies or candies.
“Contestants, please all choose one of these presents from the cart! This is what the competition committee has prepared for you, and I hope everyone who receives these mysterious gifts can enjoy them!”
Viktor chose a triangular-shaped gift box, Goto took a rectangular one, and Shan Sha chose a heart-shaped box. Lin Ke Song didn’t have much requirements for the packaging of the gifts, so she took a black and square one. It was tied with a silver ribbon, and seemed have a tactile quality.
The box was heavy, and felt quite cold to touch. It was if it had just bene taken out of the freezer.
Could it be that everyone had guessed wrongly, and they needed to make something with frozen dessert or ice cream?
“Everyone know has a gift box in front of them, so please pray sincerely because the object inside the box will be what you have to make today. You must a delicious dish out of the ingredients in the box. It can be an appetizer, soup, or a main dish. Of course, if you want to make a dessert as well…I have no complaints!”
Hearing the meaning in Annalise’s words, they knew that the content in the boxes were no suitable for dessert.
“Now, everyone can open the box!”
Annalise snapped her fingers, and the sound of the gifts being unwrapped could be heard.
“Ah? How could it be this?” A Mexican contestant standing not far away complained. It turned out that his box contained pig liver!
“No way! It smells so bad!” Shan Sha covered her nose and backed up, she had unexpectedly received the heart of a chicken.
Goto’s box contained beef heart, and Viktor’s had sheep loin.
The theme of this round was clear; they had to use the internal organs of animals to cook a dish.
In Europe and America, the viscera of animals were practically abandoned, and was rarely used for cooking.
For other contestants, this held a degree of extreme difficulty. However, this was not surprising for those who specialised in Chinese cuisine, as basically everything was used to be cooked.
Even so, Lin Ke Song was not completely sure that she could grasp control of her ingredients.
She untied the ribbon and opened her own gift box……inside, there was chicken liver
Lin Ke Song kneaded her forehead, this truly was a difficult problem. If it were sheep loin, pig heart, pig lungs or even pig intestines, she could think of a way to deal with it.
But for chicken liver…once it’s cooked, the texture will be quite dry and the flavour hard to taste.
Ah, it really was difficult.
Lin Ke Song could only continue to think of various ways of cooking it in her mind.
Could she make some kind of batter to fry the chicken liver? But how could she make sure the chicken liver was cooked well, and not over-done after frying? The time was limited and the number of chicken livers were also limited. There was no time for her to experiment.
Steamed chicken liver? The fishy smell aspect of it was a problem! The taste may not be very good.
Then she should roast it, making the outside burnt and the inside tender.
But, she guessed that many other contestants would use this method to handle the internal organs too. It would be very difficult for her to stand out if she did so, as the taste of grilled chicken liver would not be better than roasted sheep loin or teppanyaki fried duck liver. There was no way to win with such a method, so she couldn’t use it.
Annalise clapped her hands and said loudly, “Contestants, have you thought about what you want to make? If you have, you can come with me to gather the rest of your ingredients! I hope that everyone will be careful as you will not be able to go to the ingredients warehouse for a second time!”
Lin Ke Song raised her eyes and saw Jiang Qian Fan in the audience. He was sitting indifferently, while Mayer was beside him, continuing to explain the situation on stage. He raised his hand slightly, as if telling her that he was here.
Although she had no idea what to do, Lin Ke Song could only enter the ingredients warehouse with everyone. Just as she had expected, the majority of contestants chose charcoal, burning coals and other seasonings used for barbecuing. Like an outsider, Lin Ke Song only stood there without moving.
Viktor walked passed her with his ingredients, and looked at her empty basket. He snapped his fingers and said, “You don’t even know what you’re doing? It seems you’re doomed to lose to me.”
Between Viktor’s fingers, Lin Ke Song caught a glimpse of sliced bread on a shelf. A nerve in her brain was stimulated and Lin Ke Song quickly rushed past with her basket. She promptly added bread, garlic, rice wine, sake, butter, thyme, and other spice and seasonings into the basket. At the last minute, she came out from the warehouse.
When Annalise knocked against the wine glass, signalling the start of the competition, Lin Ke Song immediately dealt with the chicken liver.
She washed the plasma, mixed a variety of spice to marinate it, and then fried the chicken liver with butter. She chopped the garlic and fried it with chicken liver, then added in shiitake mushrooms and parsley.
She constantly reminded herself to be careful of the heat and cook attentively, making sure her seasoning was accurate. Her nerves were highly strained as she stared at the color of the chicken liver, shovelling it up at the most critical moment and placing it in a foil to keep warm. Then she tasted the bread she had chosen, and decided to slice the bread. She fried it with butter and garlic, then sprinkled the crumbs with basil.
Then she placed the fried chicken liver and diced mushrooms onto the bread, and Lin Ke Song proceeded to meticulously adorn the plating.
Time was pressing, and she had to complete twelve plates. Her back was plastered with sweat, and some slipped down her forehead.
When the sound prompting the end of the competition rang, Lin Ke Song had just completed them.
The staff pushed a cart over and brought the twelve plates prepared by Lin Ke Song away.
On the screen, the scene of the judges tasting the dishes prepared by the contestants could be seen.
The first dish was teppan-fried pig intestines. However, the intestines were not washed clean, and the judges spat it out after having tasted it for less than two seconds.
No matter who received the intestines, Lin Ke Song felt very sympathetic as it was difficult to deal with. It was thrown away as waste in most countries, as there was too much dirt and the fishy smell made people want to vomit. Cleaning up was also very troublesome, as one not only had to clean the intestines, but also remove the oil inside by scrubbing repeatedly with salt, vinegar and even starch.
The next person made roasted pig loins. Although they used a lot of heavy seasoning, it still didn’t cover the smell of the pig loin so many judges frowned.
This round in the competition was not very optimistic. Even after the fourth and fifth dishes were tasted, there was basically no one who scored more than six points.
Finally, it came to Shan Sha’s chicken heart dish. She used the method for roasting ducks, and stuffed blocks of apples and cherries into the heart of the chicken. The fragrance of the fruit reduced the fishy smell and even somewhat incited a sweet scent. The seasonings which were added were also quite good, it was only that it had been roasted for too long, and the chicken heart became slightly over-cooked. She received an average of 7.8 points, which placed her at a rank before Bruce. The difference between the top three were getting smaller.
After her was Goto, whose method of cooking the beef heart. He first roasted the beef heart until it was half-cooked, then diced it and fried it with sweet corn kernels. The final taste conquered many of the judges, and he scored 8.3 points in one swoop.
Viktor went next after Goto. Today, Viktor seemed to be very at ease. This caused Lin Ke Song to become very curious as to how he dealt with the sheep loin.
Although, in China, carbon-roasted sheep loin added with a lot of seasoning was very common. When the whole piece was placed into the mouth, the flavour was heavy, yet fresh and tender. When the taste of the sheep loin was melted together with cumin pepper and other spices, it provoked a sense of nostalgic fragrance. However, Lin Ke Song didn’t think that Viktor had eaten Chinese styled roasted lamb loin.
When his plate appeared on the screen, everyone froze in shock.
The plating was very exquisite, causing people to unable to believe that it was arranged with the lamb loin.
The lamb loin was cut into thin slices and paired with times, saffron. Turmeric and other spices. They were all fried until slightly crisp, and mixed together with asparagus that had been cooked in soup.
At the bottom of the plate, there was also a layer of sauce that looked quite rich and heavy.