The Thyme-Travelling Chef: Part 2

Things are hotting up in the MustardChef kitchen…

“Welcome to the fourth series of MustardChef!” Weston declared.

“In this first round we have six contestants, all eager to move on to the quarter and semi-finals, and hopefully clinch the big prize: a guaranteed job – working under Weston Rosenblum – at his triple-Michelin-starred restaurant in Berkshire, the Plump Goose.” Miles added. “The competition will be tough, the meat hopefully will not be!”

“Let’s meet the contestants,” Weston said.

The camera swung towards the first contestant. She said her name, her age, and where she was from.

Jason’s nerves began to emerge.

The second and third contestants did their introductions.

Jason’s hands were shaking and his teeth were chattering.

The camera swung into his face.

“H-hello,” he stuttered, “I’m 23, from Jason, aged Manchester. Oh no…” Jason gulped. He had fluffed his lines, how mortifying. The camera crew began to snigger. Red with embarrassment, Jason screwed up his eyes, watched the fireworks, then reopened them. The camera was back on contestant two.

Jason took several deep breaths. “Jason, 23, Manchester,” he chanted under his breath, “Jason, 23, Manchester.”

The camera swung into his face once more, although for the cameraman and everyone else watching, it was still the first time.

“Hi,” Jason enunciated confidently, “My name’s Jason. I’m 23 and I’m from Manchester.”

The camera moved on contentedly. Jason breathed a sigh of relief and smirked.

Once the fifth and sixth contestants had made their introductions the competition started.

Miles announced, “Your first challenge is to create a pastry-based meat dish–”

“Or a meat-based pastry dish…” Weston said.

“Indeed,” Miles coughed. “We will be looking for perfectly cooked, tender meat and golden, buttery pastry. You have two hours, starting…”

Weston and Miles began their signature move of looking at each other before turning to the camera and shouting, “Now!” in unison.

Suddenly, the room was bustling. Extra cameras appeared to track each contestant’s every movement, and the contestants threw themselves into the action. Jason whipped out his Beef Wellington recipe from his apron pocket and bent down to find the ingredients in his personal mini fridge.

Across the room, Weston and Miles were accosting another contestant.

“Angela,” Miles said dramatically, “what are you making for us?”

“Well Miles,” Angela replied in an overly posh voice she was definitely putting on for the camera, “I am creating a salmon en croute for you.”

Weston frowned. “Salmon isn’t exactly a meat, is it Angela?”

“Oh but I don’t eat meat, so salmon will have to do. Meat is terribly bad for you – my father died of heart disease; he was very overweight.”

“I’m sorry to hear–“

“He also had deep vein thrombosis,” Angela told them sincerely, bowing her head.

Miles and Weston laughed nervously before backing away. Angela was a bit weird.

Jason looked up, having retrieved his beef from the fridge, and saw Miles and Weston coming over to him. He hastily grabbed a handful of thyme from the pot behind the sink in an attempt to look professional.

“Hi, Jason,” Weston said. Jason blushed at hearing his hero say his name.

“Hello!”

“What are you going to create today?”

“I’m making a Beef Wellington with thyme.”

“Thyme?” Weston remarked.

“Yes,” Jason replied, biting his lip, “I’m a big fan of thyme. I know a little trick for it as well, shall I tell you?”

“Go on…” Miles said.

Jason took his handful of herbs over to the microwave. “If you put them in the microwave for just a few seconds before throwing them into the recipe, it heats the thyme up and more flavour is released. My mum taught me that.”

Weston turned to the nearest camera. “You heard it here first, ladies and gents: put your thyme in the microwave.”

Jason smiled.

“You could even call it a thyme-machine!” Miles said.

The smile fell from Jason’s face. He was uncomfortable talking about the whole time travel thing. It was something he liked to keep under wraps. Only his mother, father (from whom he had inherited the gene) and his twin sister knew about it. Luckily for Jason, Miles was embarrassed by his terrible pun.

“Make sure that gets cut,” he snapped at the director, who nodded obediently.

“We’ll leave you to get on with it,” Weston said hurriedly.

“Thanks,” said Jason, and he set to, bustling about the kitchen.

He had made his famous Beef Wellington a hundred times before. It was his signature dish, adored by friends and family. One of his friends had even created a Facebook page for it, which had 31 likes. It wouldn’t have been a hard task to make it once more for the judges, except for one thing: Jason was determined to make this dish perfect.

He didn’t want it to be delicious, or fantastic, or mouthwatering, or any of those other complimentary adjectives. No, he wanted this Beef Wellington to be the best he’d ever made.

Jason’s whole future and dreams of becoming a chef rested on this recipe. If he could wow the judges enough in the first round, he’d be a shoe-in for the finals. Therefore, he had spared no expense (granted, it was the television programme’s money) on his ingredients. The beef was a fine, British fillet sourced from a local farm. The prosciutto Jason had decided to use for the wrapping was the best and dearest Italy itself had to offer. The duxelles was to be made with Japanese matsutake mushrooms and white truffles. The white wine, of which only one-seventh of the bottle was to be used, cost £36.99. The puff pastry had saffron rolled into it.

Jason wasn’t only splashing out on his ingredients, but his efforts, too. As the contestants only had two hours to cook in the studio, they had been allowed to prepare their pastry beforehand. Jason had been up all night making six batches of saffron-infused pastry, until one came out just right. Jason now extracted said lump of pastry from the refrigerator.

“Wow,” said Weston from behind Jason’s back, “That pastry looks divine.”

“It’s puff,” Jason said, not thinking again.

“What are the red splodges?” Miles asked.

“Saffron.”

Weston wolf-whistled. “Do you have any other special, secret ingredients?”

“For the pastry or in general?” Jason asked. He had come to realise that the cameras would cut out anything he said that was overly stupid. All he really had to worry about was the Beef Wellington.

“In general,” Miles explained.

“Well, yes, actually,” Jason said proudly, “I do. There are two things I swear by for a lot of my recipes: Himalayan Pink Salt and 18-year-aged balsamic vinegar.”

Miles laughed. “That’s useful if you’re making fish and chips, I guess.”

“I think you can expect something somewhat fancier from me today,” Jason replied curtly. The presenters wandered off and Jason breathed a sigh of relief. He was glad that they hadn’t asked where the vinegar had come from. The truth was, Jason had completely forgotten to buy any and had had to age his own that morning, dropping it off in 1970 and returning an hour later (in 1988) to pick it up. The salt he had bought in Waitrose.

Jason laboured over his dish for 50 minutes, rolling the pastry until it was wafer thin and folding it back up again, to achieve the crumbliest, puffiest texture. He seasoned the meat with his microwaved thyme and fancy salt, and an array of other herbs and spices. He had to make the duxelles twice (resisting the urge to turn back the clock) because the first one didn’t reach Jason’s discerning standards.

He felt himself becoming a little obsessed with the pursuit of perfection…

Finally, it was time to put the food in the oven. Jason wiped away the sweat from his brow as he slumped to the floor in relief. He set the oven timer and was contemplating shutting his eyes when he heard Miles and Weston talking to Angela again.

“What’s your job, Ange?” Weston asked her.

Without looking up from her salmon, meat-impostor, Angela grinned. “I’m a witch!”

Miles took a step backwards. “A- a what?!”

“A witch. I actually own a shop selling witchcraft merchandise. Potions, wands, healing stones, incense, cauldrons, voodoo dolls… that sort of thing.”

“V-voodoo dolls?” Miles turned to the camera and started making throat-slitting actions. The cameraman hurriedly turned away and filmed Sylvia instead, who was making a duck, brie and cinnamon pie. Angela was just too weird. While Jason giggled silently, Miles went backstage to hyperventilate and Weston went to speak to Sylvia.

Forty minutes passed, and Jason awoke from his accidental nap to hear the oven timer beeping. He leapt up, grabbed his oven mitts from the counter and flung open the oven door. The scent of beef and thyme was overwhelming. Jason’s mouth watered as he pulled out the…

Burnt Beef Wellington.

It was burnt. Black on top with bits of charred herb sitting at the bottom of the dish.

Jason gulped. Immediately he knew what he was going to do, whether it was advisable or not. He closed his eyes tight, and rewound the past five minutes.

 

Don’t miss what happens next! Stay tuned for the next instalment.

The Thyme-Travelling Chef: Part 1

A while ago, Mr Boyfriend dreamt that he was a time-travelling chef. We challenged me to turn this bizarre idea into a short story. Seeing as I don’t do short, it’s quite long already and not finished. But here’s the first bit – a teaser, if you will.

 

Click! Thud! Went the letterbox as the envelope dropped onto the mat below. In the kitchen, Jason nearly choked on a spoonful of soggy bran flakes in his haste to get to the front door.

“Could this really be it?” He asked himself, milk dripping down his chin, “Finally?”

Jason knelt down, the sharp bits of the welcome mat digging into his bare knees, leaving tiny red grazes. He ripped open the envelope, read the first two lines, and watched in horror as a drop of milk splashed onto the page. Jason blinked at the ruined page. He had wanted to frame this letter, this golden ticket, and now it was ruined by remnants of breakfast. Frowning, Jason placed the letter back into the envelope and squeezed his eyes shut. 

Whilst to everyone else Jason looked like a man squatting by his front door in a T-shirt and tartan underpants, inside his head there was a magnificent fireworks display. Red and blue and green and silver bursts of light exploded on the inside of his eyelids, getting more intense the harder Jason shut his eyes. After a good ten seconds, the light show faded to white, then grey, then black. He opened his eyes hesitantly, peering at the envelope. It was back exactly where he had picked it up the first time. The flap was perfectly sealed. Jason lifted the edge of his t shirt to wipe his mouth and picked up the envelope once more, eagerly ripping it open. He smiled as he saw the pristine white page, untouched by milk or bran flake.

 

Dear Mr Jason Dreever,

Congratulations! We are delighted to inform you that you have been selected to appear as a contestant on the next televised series of MustardChef. The first competition and filming session will be on Thursday. We look forward to meeting you at the studios then.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Susan Schiff

 

Jason read the letter six times before it all sank in. He was going to be on TV! On a cooking show! He would meet his culinary heroes! His dreams were about to come true!

It was all a bit much to take in. Jason wandered back to his bedroom, clutching the letter, and climbed into bed, with all good intentions of starting  his day afresh that evening and making it into work on time.

Thursday came around very quickly, mostly because Jason skipped Tuesday and Wednesday in his haste to get to the television studios. The bright lights of Michelin-stardom were too enticing to wait for in the proper manner.

Dressed in brand new Chinos and a pressed blue shirt, Jason arrived on foot at the television studios. He was greeted by a middle-aged blonde woman at the desk.

“Hello,” she said in a thick South African accent, “are you here for MustardChef?”

“Yes, I’m Jason Dreever,” Jason said, holding out his hand. The woman shook it.

“Jason, yiss” (her accent meant that this was how she pronounced the word ‘yes’), “you got my letter then! I’m always so worried they’ll get lost in the mail!” She chuckled.

Jason smiled nervously. “You must be Mrs Schiff.”

“Oh, please, call me Sue,” she replied. “Follow me and we’ll get you all togged up for the show!”

Jason was hurried along the corridors into the makeup department and promptly forced into a large leather chair. He greeted the man and woman on either side of him silently, with a friendly raise of his eyebrows. They were his rivals, the ones standing in the way of his future career as a celebrated chef; he didn’t want to get too pally with them.

A young woman with a beehive hair-do, who introduced herself as Claudia, set upon Jason with a giant powder brush and a pair of tweezers. Jason screamed as she plucked a single hair from the top of his nose.

“Argh! My eyebrows! What are you doing? I need them!”

Claudia laughed. “Relax! That was just one hair. I haven’t waxed them off, you know. Look!” she shoved the tweezers clutching their solitary black hair into Jason’s face. He recoiled. Claudia laughed again.

The assault on his face went on for half an hour. When Claudia smudged the mascara and jabbed Jason’s eye with the brush, he resisted the temptation to go back and let her have another go. Instead, he let her douse the area with make-up remover and wipe away his tears with an earbud.

Make-up applied, Jason was helped into his starched white apron. One corner had the yellow MustardChef logo emblazoned on it, the other was occupied by his name badge.

“Jason Dreever, you are the winner of MustardChef!” he whispered to himself as he stood in front of the mirror, gazing proudly at his reflection. In his mind’s eye, he could see himself as a little boy, running around in his mother’s apron, a white paper chef’s hat on his head. Jason made sure not to close his eyes whilst remembering this, lest he be accidentally transported back in time and come face-to-face with his eight-year-old self. Things like that could prove disastrous.

“Contestants?” a man with a clapperboard said. “Would you please come into the studio and take your places.”

Jason grinned. His fellow contestants grinned back. There was so much nervous excitement in the air. It was thrilling. One female contestant was actually squealing with excitement as they made their way into the kitchen.

It was just as Jason had imagined it. Six granite counters, each equipped with a butler’s sink and a large hob and oven. Stainless steel utensils shone in their pots. Glinting pans hung from racks suspended from the ceiling. Jars of multi-coloured spices and potted herbs lined the backs of all the counters.

And at the front of the studio, standing warrior-like in front of a large kitchen island, were the two presenters; one, Weston Rosenblum, the owner of several Michelin-starred establishments, the other, Miles Boren, celebrated food critic.

Jason gulped in admiration as he set eyes on them.

“Silence, please!” Clapperboard-man shouted, “And… action!”

 

If you enjoyed it, look out for the next instalment coming very soon! 🙂