My attack stat… – V11 Chap 328 – A Certain Time Once Again (2)

“Welcome to ‘World Fusion’- Oh, it’s just you, Claude.”

A waitress smiled as she saw Katalina and I enter the restaurant. She pointed to the kitchen where my father was usually at. Opening the swinging door to it, the sounds of activity buzzed throughout. Knives chopping, ingredients mixing, and the hissing and bubbling of heated food – these sounds filled the air like a familiar orchestra.

We had stopped somewhere for lunch before coming here. There was no need for ‘unofficial’ employees to get in the way of the busy lunch rush, so we arrived during the slower afternoon.

Even still, there was plenty of prep work to be done in between meals. But not so much that my father didn’t have the time to take a break and have some fun.

“Yo! Ready for another round of challenges? I have the little missy here to thank for coming up with a good way to light a fire under your butt!”

Jovial, spirited, and passionate – Dad had a thing for placing his all in his cooking, if only to see what others thought of it. The restaurant itself was an inspiration of various cuisines, mashed together in strange ways that one wouldn’t normally mix. But he didn’t care. ‘Unique concoctions’ were his jam.

“Right, right. I’ve been thinking of something that would meet your approval. You said that you’d add it to the menu and pay me ‘royalties’ if I manage to impress you.”

Ever since Katalina met Dad, the two of them bonded over sparks of ingenuity. He was all about dismissing conventions, using his vast experience of cuisine all around the world to fuse cultures into something unique. Often, the results would be head-turning. Other times, they were flat-out gross.

Regardless, he was never opposed to trying. And as a result, he had a menu full of worldly mysteries.

It was probably one of the few places in the world where one could sample Mac n’ Cheese Waffles, Ice Cream Samosas, or a Sushi Smorgasbord Pizza, all in a single meal.

The ones that made it onto the menu were tested and approved by the staff. But it wasn’t until Katalina proposed the idea of giving me ‘royalties’ for a successful idea that I felt up to stirring the pot of creativity during my visits. Certainly, it was more fun to invent new things than to casually help with the tasks.

Of course, my normal training was still done, but the prospect of having the freedom to test out something random afterwards made the tasks a breeze. In a flash, I sliced up the ingredients needed for the dinner crowd, heated up broth and roux, and did just about anything that was asked of a sous chef. Only then, was I allowed to dabble in the arts of the chef de cuisine.

Time flew by as Katalina became my sous chef to help with the concoctions of my mind. Completely focused on what would generate a bang for my father, I missed the impish chuckles that she tossed my way. Happening upon something, I felt like this recipe came from somewhere, but I couldn’t pinpoint where it was inspired from.

After an hour, I had a plate full of fried cutlets, each having a slight difference in hue that hinted to its contents. They were placed next to a circle of miniature dishes, different sauces adding a colorful flourish.

Dad shot me a skeptical look, wondering just what he was preparing himself for. But then, he smiled and laughed, like he had seen past my schemes.

“I can tell that you had fun thinking about this, whatever it is. It’s a pretty big difference compared to when you didn’t even feel like cooking your own meals.”

He grabbed one of the cutlets and took a bite, his eyes lighting up.

“Japanese curry flavored, huh….” He dipped the cutlet into the corresponding sauce and tried it again. “And applesauce. A nice combination of savory locked in by frying the cutlet and layered with a mellow sweetness that refreshes your taste buds. Not bad at all…”

I grinned lightly, watching with anticipation as he sampled the next. His eyebrows twitched as he bit into the next cutlet, springier than the previous one.

“This is… Tikka Masala flavor… cheese- no, paneer? Gooey, caramelized paneer – not unlike that of fried mozzarella sticks but firmer. And judging by the fiery spices within, you made a yogurt sauce to compliment it.”

Two completely different tastes, locked in by the same technique. Deep frying the ingredients created a crispy outside while trapping the flavors inside. The richer the dish, the more powerful the release would be.

Foods that had a strong flavor were quick to numb the tongue. Because of that, the sauces paired with it created a large contrast, letting the tongue reset like alternating the touch of hot and cold. Juxtaposing such extremes heightened the sensitivity to each, leaving an illusion of sequential flavor explosions.

Dad continued to try the next ones.

Jambalaya and mashed yams with brown sugar.

Mapo Tofu and cold cucumber, garlic puree.

Chipotle Turkey and raspberry sauce.

They were things normally found in a meal, not wrapped in a fried crust and dipped. A sampling of various foods to tickle the tongue as appetizers, but not overwhelming for first timers hoping to try something new.

It was what I thought of when I saw my father trying new things, dabbling in exotics while maintaining a common ground of flavors. And who didn’t like things that were deep fried?

“75 points,” he finally said.

“You mean-”

“Mhm. You passed. Congrats on the first time. I would have scored it higher though, if you had dried out your ingredients better to enhance the crunch, but that’s something easily fixed in our hands.”

With every good training session, he proceeded to note every little mistake that I had made in my preparation. However, I didn’t care. I was on cloud nine for having successfully gotten his approval on something. It felt good to finally reach a certain bar after trying for months.

“How did you come up with this idea anyway?” he finally ended up asking.

“I…” I wasn’t sure how to respond. My thoughts blanked for a moment as I tried to think of where the source of the idea came from.

Katalina raised her hand.

“That is… probably my fault. Since I’m used to duller flavors, I asked him once to change up the flavors somehow or come up with a way to chase the strong taste away. Not to mention, we were watching this strange anime about flavor explosions tearing off-.”

“WAHHH! He doesn’t need to know that part!”

“A joint effort, eh? And using random inspirations from various media, huh?” Dad beamed a smile at the two of us, ignoring the little slip up. “You know, this may sound cliché, but you are motivated by how others think of you. Another’s opinion, particularly someone close to you, holds more weight in driving the decisions you make. Because perspective is not something that you can see alone.”

I looked down at the cutlets I made. They were well-known flavors already established in this world. But a stray thought, a look from another’s viewpoint – that created a spin on what was already there. Making something new didn’t have to be monumental or groundbreaking. Sometimes, it was borne out of a simple convenience.

I looked at Katalina, who was bubbling with excitement to try some as well. She had inspired me more than simply with my studies. The more I thought of her, the more I wanted to do – to match her enthusiasm, ease her worries, and simply have fun together.

Dad could probably see that change in me as well. The progress I made in this little game spoke volumes of how much I had grown. Maybe, that was why he got along so well with Katalina, despite her lack of knowledge in cooking. Their expertise was different, but the vibes they held were similar.

Just then, the door leading to the service area flew open.

“Hello! I’m the new hire! Looking forward to working here…”

A petite, Asian girl had pushed the door a little too strongly, causing her to panic as she tried to stop the door from swinging back on her. Her long, black hair was tied back to keep it from getting in the way, and she had on a cute, waitress outfit. For some reason, my heart went ‘dokidoki!’

Maybe because I was staring at her, she turned her gaze to me and tilted her head cutely in confusion.

I felt a hand suddenly pat me on the back.

“Go on, Claude. Give her the tour since you’re free. I have to whip up another batch of your new concoction to pitch it to the staff.”

I shot a conflicted look at my father for dumping that task onto me and then at Katalina. She was already snacking on the extras that I made.

“What? Do you need permission from me? I’ll just be here, chatting with your dad… Unless there’s a reason I shouldn’t be trusting you?”

“Ha ha, very funny.”

Though I retorted sarcastically at that quip, there was something that certainly caught my eye about this girl.

“Hi, I’m Saki Himejima. Pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Claude Evers. Technically, I’m not part of the staff, but my dad owns the place. Hope you don’t mind me showing you the basics.”

I reached out for a handshake, but Saki stiffened up immediately. But just as I thought it was odd, she hesitantly brought out her hand for one. I could feel the nerves across her body from that touch.

“Nervous for your first day? Relax, it’s not that difficult of a job.”

“N-No, it’s not that….”

Saki pulled her hand back forcefully, cheeks flushed. I stared at the meek girl that almost seemed embarrassed to be here.

“Say… have I seen you around? I could almost swear I’ve heard that name before… Do you attend the university nearby?”

Saki shook her head. “N-No, I just finished high school and d-decided to get a job. But because I’m not good with people, th-there’s not many things I’m confident in….”

“What made you decide to apply here?”

“I-I, like the food. It feels weird- I mean, I find it unique and, and, there are some familiar flavors but strangely put together- I mean, I don’t know what I’m saying!”

I broke into a fit of laughter. This girl was certainly interesting at how ‘articulate’ she was. Yet, I found it kind of nice.

“How cute! At least, I could tell that you mean well by your statements, but for a moment there, you sounded like some token anime character.”

I looked back at her, and my chuckling stopped abruptly. Saki’s face was now beet red like she knew exactly what I was getting at. The air became awkward between us for a moment, before I decided to push on and show her where things were.

Brushing aside our little snafus, I quickly walked her through the rooms, showing her the general layout and where to go for supplies. There were no customers yet, so the real work couldn’t begin until she could shadow one of the others. We had time to leisurely converse about things in the meantime.

After giving her the basic rundown, it was not quite 5 pm, opening time for dinner. We stood around awkwardly, wondering what else to say. Outside of business, there was nothing else connecting us… except…

“Ahem, do you watch anime?”

“Eh?” Saki’s eyes widened. Then, she backed away. “Why do you ask?” Her body language was almost a dead giveaway.

“I just had the feeling that you did, for some reason. Also… I could have sworn there’s something familiar about you. Like how you kept looking over whenever a waitress passed by.”

“I-I just like the uniforms, that’s all!” Saki exclaimed, loud and abrupt. She shrank back from her outburst and fidgeted with her fingers. “And yes… I like anime. Particularly, ones with cute outfits and stuff.”

“Cute outfits are always nice. It makes for great cosplay. I see nice ones at the local anime convention-”

“I know right! There’s so much to see and do there! But tickets cost money, and for that I need a job….”

I broke out laughing again. It was like a signal that made her realize how into it she had gotten. Immediately, she felt self-conscious again.

That wouldn’t do. I had to fix my rudeness.

“You’re an interesting person, aren’t you?” I asked, giving her a smile. “It seems like you would be a pretty fun person to hang out with. Maybe we should check out the next con together when it rolls around again.”

Saki backed up defensively. “A-A-Are you asking me out on a d-d-date?!”

“Huh, what? No! I was just-, my girlfriend would probably shoot me if that was the case!”

“I probably would.” Katalina’s voice slipped right behind me. Her arms wrapped around my front as she ensnared me from behind from who knew where. Saki’s face fell like she was caught in the middle of something, even though she had done nothing wrong.

“But only if you decide not to invite me along. I may not be as into anime as you, but I’m not opposed to sharing in the joy.”

Katalina ended that statement with a peck on my cheek, dissolving the tension that hung in the air. Maybe I had just imagined that hint of envy. Just then, my dad entered the room.

“Hey, there you are, Saki. We’re about to open, so let’s pair you up with someone until you feel comfortable taking orders.”

“R-Right away!”

Katalina and I watched her trot away, escaping from any chance of getting further into trouble. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something about her that commanded my attention, like how Katalina did when I first met her.

“I see that you found yourself a new friend. A cute one too,” Katalina said as she hugged me tighter.

“Jealous?” I hugged her back, letting my actions convince her of my intentions.

“Should I be?”

“No. I think it would just be fun to geek out over stuff with a fellow otaku.”

“Then, I trust you.”

Suddenly, I was hit with a strange bit of vertigo.

‘I trust you. I believe you. I put my life in your hands.’

The image of Katalina saying those words echoed in my mind for a moment. But she was dressed differently. As was I.

“Claude? What’s wrong? You went silent for a moment. Things are going to get busy, so maybe we should conclude our visit.”

I nodded to her, brushing the previous thoughts from my mind.

“Nothing, just daydreaming, I guess. Let’s head back to the apartment.”

My attack stat… – V11 Chap 327 - A Certain Time Once Again (1)
My attack stat… – V11 Chap 329 - A Lazy Sunday