Public health warning! This story is likely to cause profuse salivation!
Read only on a full stomach!
Michael Turner, the most popular food blogger in the world, has been unable to get his life back on track ever since being overtaken in the ratings by new upstart food designer Amy Williams. And now he is faced with the daunting challenge of taking her on in the annual televised top chef competition and the ignominy of losing his long-held crown to her in front of an audience of millions.
A humorous science fiction tale of delightful dishes and culinary masterpieces that shatters our familiar notions about cooking and explores our relationship with food and each other. Are you still a bit hungry? Good, then dinner is served..!
It all began with the turkey.
With ‘Grandma Doris’s home-roast Turkey’ that Amy Williams posted on her blog last year. Stuffed with ripe quince and juicy cranberries. Garnished with a spring potato mash and parsnip side dish and accompanied by a cream sauce of field mushrooms.
It was a genuine culinary triumph, posted a month before Thanksgiving and actively promoted on the market, it soared to the top of the season’s culinary hit-parade.
I even decided to try this novelty myself and it didn't disappoint. The components were all so well balanced and perfectly complemented each other: the juicy turkey meat, the crispy golden skin, the fluffy mash with light nutty notes and the irreproachable rich creamy sauce with perfectly browned slices of fried mushrooms.
The stuffing had a generous pinch of nutmeg, a barely perceptible hint of garlic and the tart notes of bay leaf. It had basted the turkey well, giving the tender breast an exquisite caramel sweetness, a pleasant sourness and exceptional juiciness.
A dry apple cider had been recommended as the accompaniment to this dish - a good choice, reflecting the fruity palette of the main course and refreshing the palate after the creamy sauce.
I even gave the recipe a 5-star review and I am rarely impressed with traditional cooking.
And that was the moment when all my troubles started.
For the past five years, my name has deservedly topped the list of the most popular food bloggers. Everyone knows that I, Michael Turner, lead the field and that my recipes are works of art married to the latest innovations in culinary science.
“Plus, of course, a teaspoon of home-spun magic”, I used to joke in interviews at a time, when I could still laugh and have a joke.
When millions of my subscribers and numerous awards for the most creative new dishes sent me soaring over the earth, filling me with pride and giving me the inspiration and strength to produce bold new solutions and extraordinary gastronomic successes.
Until one fine day, Amy Williams’s name appeared on the top rung of the ratings ladder.
How was it possible!? I couldn’t believe it. The upstart, how could she? How dare she? What did she have that allowed her to leapfrog over me in the ratings? Me!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no overweening snob with a fragile ego, although that is how several of my critics seem to describe me. The dishes I create really are perfect. They are well conceived, calculated and considered down to the last crumb.
Many believe my approach to be cold and heartless. But that’s not true. I put every ounce of my knowledge, my soul and myself into my recipes. I don’t just give them cute folksy names oozing with pseudo-family values and, unlike Amy, I don’t decorate my blog with vignettes, love hearts, flowers and florid fonts.
But perhaps it is precisely this warm-heartedness with its echoes of traditional family feasts that is what’s attracting a growing number of followers to her blog?
Which was why ‘Mom’s treasured pear pie with whipped cream and orange zest’ quickly soared into the top spot in the desserts and sweets category.
And ‘Rustic veal stew with spring vegetables and fresh greens’ simply took the foodie market by storm. These were closely followed by ‘Traditional home-made, roast potatoes with crispy bacon and sweet onions’, ‘Dad’s oak-smoked, dill-infused salmon’ and a range of similar new products, that firmly placed Miss Williams as the most sought-after food designer of our time.
Leaving me, Michael Turner, an honorable second place but nevertheless a loser whose best days were behind him. And whose culinary talents had been put in the shade by a new rising star who had irrevocably altered the established culinary firmament.
I even tried to take a leaf or two out of her book. And my ‘Grandpa Chen's Peking Duck’ with honey-oyster sauce and ginger chips” received a lot of positive feedback. But there was quite a lot of criticism as well. I was accused of lacking authenticity, trying to imitate a classic Asian dish. And even worse - copying Amy’s homespun style.
So essentially now, any dish appealing to tradition, would be compared with the industry’s new undisputed champion? Giving her the exclusive rights to the revival of heritage dishes in modern haute cuisine? It was grossly unfair.
I racked my brains to find a way to win back my rightful place at the top table of gastronomic glory. And in the process, I brought some of the most innovative culinary fantasies to life, pushing the concept of taste and aroma to new boundaries and presenting the market with a whole new palette of textures.
I always received good reviews from the professionals, but... the hearts of the ordinary punters remained with Amy Williams and her sweet, simple dishes presented in a pretty wrapping of warm, cosy, marketing epithets.
And if only it were a matter of my lost ratings, my wounded pride and nostalgia for the good old days when the entire cooking world bent the knee before each of my new recipes. The real problem was the upcoming annual ‘cook-off’ that was due to take place in barely a month.
The list of participants had changed since last year. Usually, the three most popular food designers would be invited to prepare a meal of their choice on live television to surprise and win over the hearts and stomachs of seven experienced judges, with millions of viewers literally eating out of their hands.
As you've already guessed, Clara Adams would not be taking part this year, because the strongest three contestants were now Amy Williams, your humble servant, and of course the ‘showboater extraordinaire’—Theodore Belmont.