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The strong umami flavours from the fish began to dissolve in the soup.
For today's meal, Hans was trying to mimic oden by seasoning his stew with borganga fish sauce (Fischsoße). He was not using soy sauce.
「I think it turned out well.」
Taisho, who a.s.sessed the taste, nodded in satisfaction. This was the best response Hans had received in the past few days, since he had been entrusted with the afternoon employee meals. Thinking hard in bed the previous night had been worth it.
As he thought, he enjoyed the pleasant, sticky texture of the potatoes that had come directly from Eva's house.
「How about you, Shin.o.bu-san?」
He called out to Shin.o.bu, who had been lost in thought about something for some time.
He had not received any praise from Shin.o.bu yet.
Even today, there only harsh critiques came from her.
「I think the salty taste from the borganga fish sauce is too prominent. Since it is only there for its fragrance, the results should be the same if you reduce the quant.i.ty a some more, and it might taste better depending on how you combine the dashi broth.」
「Is that so? Thank you very much!」
He was a little disappointed inside, but he still made a mental note.
How much more effort did he need to put in, if he still couldn't get any praise with this?
Of course, he did not expect to be able to make dishes that could be served in the store in a single morning, but he couldn't wipe away the uncertainty that he felt in his future.
Today's imitation oden was much more delicious than the oden stew that was being served at street stalls. He still felt that it was a little strict to not be praised for such a feat.
He understood that the path of an apprentice chef was long and arduous, unlike a guard's training. Nevertheless, he still felt uneasy if he couldn't see his future clearly.
「Why didn’t you use soy sauce, Hans-san?」
Eva asked. Her cheeks were stuffed with the egg that she had kept aside for last.
「That’s because…we will "share the sign curtain" someday.」
Shin.o.bu was the one who answered instead. "Sharing the sign curtain" was a phrase that Taisho had taught them, and it meant setting up branch shops.
「Ah, you can’t use the backdoor if you open a branch shop.」
「However, as long as n.o.bu continues, we can share ingredients and soy sauce.」
They had already been told about the back door of Izakaya n.o.bu, which was connected to another world.
Leontaine, who had a candid personality, didn't seem to mind this news too much, but Hans, who noticed that it was consistent with the mysterious and obscure things around, was relieved instead.
There were ingredients that he had never seen before, food that he had never eaten before, and tools that he had never heard of before.
The mysteriousness, which he had felt ever since he was brought to this shop by Nikolaus for the first time, all made sense when he was told that this shop was connected to another world, just like in a fairy tale.
Even though Hans thought it was strange, he did not reject it.
He was used to interacting with different cultures during his childhood, when he had been traveling from the east to the west with his father, a travelling gla.s.s smith. Most other craftsmen only traveled within the empire, or at most, to the Eastern Kingdom, but his father had traveled to lands even further than that.
When compared to Taisho and Shin.o.bu, the hermits in the Northern Three Territories and the nomadic peoples in the lands of the far west also lived differently, so it wasn't anything to be concerned about.
At the same time, he realised that he had more things to think about now.
If he relied on the ingredients from the other world, it was possible that he would not be able to do anything if he couldn't use the back door anymore. If that happened, there would be no meaning in putting in the effort to learn how to cook.
Therefore, Hans' present goal was to be able to make delicious dishes by using as many local ingredients as possible, all while steadily absorbing Taisho's techniques.
However, it was difficult to tell whether it was going smoothly or not.
Taisho understood what Hans wanted to do, but Shin.o.bu's words were sharp. In Izakaya n.o.bu, no new items could be added to the menu before Shin.o.bu acknowledged them. Despite telling himself he shouldn't be impatient, Hans realised that he was a little frustrated.
「What do you think, Leontaine?」
When Taisho asked for Leontaine's opinion, she groaned and folded her arms.
「I’m still a little troubled.」
「I think nurukan is better than atsukan for this, but what brand… Kamotsuru or Kiku-Masamune?」
(TL: Nurukan is warm sake, ~40C. Atsukan is hot sake, ~50C.)
That was it.
Immediately after eating the employee meals, Leontaine was thinking about what alcohol to pair it with when the dish was served out in the shop. Although they were both employees of the shop, there was a large gap between.
Hans felt something slightly different from envy.
He was frustrated that he couldn’t produce any results, despite all his efforts.
When he was in the sentry corps, he was able to achieve satisfactory results by putting in extra effort. While he was envious of Nikolaus, who could do anything well, he wasn’t too bothered by it much, since Nikolaus was his senior.
However, Leontaine and he had joined at the same time.
She had established a lead despite, while he still couldn't produce any results. He could only feel the frustration acc.u.mulating inside him, piling up like snow.
「But, Hans is amazing!」
Leontaine, who ate up the last hirten that had soaked up the broth, spoke earnestly.
(TL note: Hirten is j.a.panese fried, flat fish cakes.)
「Why do you say that?」
He wasn't amazing at all. '…Leontaine is the amazing one,' was what he wanted to continue with, but he kept quiet. There was no point in saying it out loud.
「Well, I’ve been eating Han’s employee meals for the past few days, and it's getting better. It’s improving everyday, you know. Isn’t that considered amazing?」
Leontaine laughed loudly and cheerfully while downing the soup in the bowl.
If she said so, it was probably true. He certainly felt that today's performance was better than yesterday’s.
「Hans may not have noticed, but Shin.o.bu-san finished her soup today.」
When he looked at the bowl, he could see Shin.o.bu's bowl was indeed empty. It was so beautifully cleaned that it seemed as though it didn't even need to be washed.
He was sure that she had left some soup behind until yesterday.
「Shin.o.bu-san, it’s not because you’re particularly hungry today, right?」
He asked Shin.o.bu, who shook her head lightly. Upon seeing that, Taisho's expression became strangely serious.
「Hans. At the ryotei where I trained, Yukitsuna, it was a frightening thing when “Shin.o.bu-ojousama did not finish her plate.”」
「”Shin.o.bu-ojousama did not finish her plate?”」
「Yeah. Yukitsuna’s previous owner possessed a keen sense of taste called the “G.o.d’s Tongue”, and Shin.o.bu-chan inherited the talent the strongest within the family. When Shin.o.bu-chan did not finish her plate of a chef’s signature dish, everyone in the kitchen desperately thought about the reason for it.」
Shin.o.bu blushed and pinched Taisho's upper arm as he stared into the distance. They really had a good relationship. They almost seemed like siblings with a large age gap.
「Certainly, Hans' broth is much better than it was yesterday. Don’t worry about it too much.」
Taisho smiled when Hans tried to ask whether it was delicious or not.
「If Hans, who started cooking at the end of last year, was able to make Shin.o.bu-chan say his dishes were delicious, then I would have lost face.」
「What do you mean…?」
「It took five years for her to say my meals were delicious, you know.」
Hans felt cold sweat running down his spine when he heard of the horror behind Taisho's words, which were spoken with a smile.
Hans wondered if Taisho had pa.s.sed through this period of time, just like him.
However, he strangely didn't feel that it was that difficult anymore. Rather, it was the opposite.
Until now, he had not had anyone to compare himself with.
That was why he felt a burning sense of rivalry towards the waitress Leontaine, who had an excellent memory.
The cause of his anxiety and loss of confidence was because there was no standard to measure how much time it would take for him to graduate from being an apprentice chef.
He should have asked how long people stayed as an apprentice, be it five or ten years, before becoming a chef.
The fog that had been covering his eyes until now had suddenly been lifted, and his worries had cleared up.
「Hans-san, you have a nice expression now.」
Eva chuckled while helping herself to another serving of eggs. Today was also the first time Eva had refilled her bowl.
Even though it was such a trivial matter, he felt his spirits lift. He felt like he could continue living tomorrow.
「Speaking of which, have you reconciled with your father, Hans?」
Hans choked at Leontain's surprise attack. The soup seemed to have entered his airway.
「W-why the sudden question?」
「Well you see, when I was on my way here today, I saw Napolitan Gernot walking with his brother.」
「Ah, those two met up again?」
「That’s why I was thinking things like, ‘How’s the situation with Hans?’.」
Hans could only respond to the question with a bitter smile and an awkward expression.
Even though he returned home every day, he could not remember talking with his father, Lorentz, at all. It was almost like a cold war, rather than a quarrel. Lorentz was stubborn, but Hans was equally stubborn. There was no sign of them coming to a compromise with each other.
His elder brother, who was a fine gla.s.s smith himself, kept his distance from the two to avoid getting involved, so the inside of the house was already becoming something like a battlefield.
This was caused by Hans quitting the sentry corps and aiming to become a chef instead. To Lorentz, it seemed like Hans had ran away from the corps. Hans didn't need his father's blessing, but he had at least wanted Lorentz to be quiet about it, so when his father started questioning him sarcastically at every available opportunity, Hans' patience had worn thin.
「It seems…it’s going to take a little longer than it should.」
「Ah well, take your time.」
Hans slurped up the soup that was left in his bowl. Certainly, it was a bit too salty, like Shin.o.bu had said. What could he do to make it milder? He tried combining various flavours in his head, but he still couldn't find a solution. What kind of taste would be produced when he combined the dashi?
Was this training too?
Realizing his own problems and absorbing the know-how from his daily work. The hints had already been given. Thus, he had no choice but to slowly acc.u.mulate experience.
「Oh, by the way, there is another dish for today.」
Shin.o.bu said, and she took out a container from the refrigerator. That was also magic from another world.
「It’s soft boiled egg, marinated in braised pork belly broth!」Half boiled egg in braised pork belly broth
Leontaine expressed how delicious it looked as Eva let out a cry of awe. It was probably a little too much for Eva, who had already eaten three eggs today.
When the egg, which had soaked up the broth beautifully, was cut in half, the thick, yellow yolk flowed onto the plate. The pale green plate that Shin.o.bu had prepared for the half boiled egg complemented the colour of the yolk well.
Hans thought about how dishes could also be a feast for the eyes as he brought ate the egg. Its rich taste spread through his mouth.
The smooth, creamy yolk and the egg white that had soaked up the rich flavours from the braised pork belly broth complemented each other and gently enveloped his tongue.
Hans muttered reflexively before looking at his empty oden bowl.
He wanted to hear someone say “delicious” too. However, he wanted it to be a spontaneous reaction. He didn’t want it to be an evaluation of his efforts, but proof that they enjoyed his cooking.
He scooped a second helping of potato from the oden into his bowl, smeared some mustard on it, and took a bite.
He had been extremely impressed by this when he had first visited Izakaya n.o.bu.
In fact, his desire to become a chef had sprouted that day. It was because he wanted other people to experience the feeling of happiness that he felt when he ate delicious things.
「As I thought, half boiled eggs are the best. It’s perfect for drinking.」
「Uuuu…I’m, I’m going to eat another egg!」
「Ah, I was aiming for that egg, Evchan!」
After watching the three people noisily scramble for the half boiled eggs, Taisho and Hans nodded at each other.
Hans was glad that he had come to this shop.
‘Let’s make something for Lorentz today,’ Hans thought. With that in mind, Hans began preparations to open the shop.