I patiently waited at the front of the gates leading to the Duke’s mansion, along with two new companions. My head was only just starting to get used to the slight numbness of the cold, which was a result of my face modification by Cornelius. Every so often, I couldn’t help but reach up and touch the icy illusion to check that it wasn’t melting. It had been over an hour, and it still remained smooth and dry. Ice maintained by magic was certainly something. Wearing an outfit typical of Cornelius’s servants, I was essentially unrecognizable to those around me.
Since the Duke was looking to hire bakery chefs to make the wedding cake, which I wasn’t so confident in, Cornelius lent me some of his trusted servants. The two that were currently standing next to me were called Bigginton and Wedgeworth.
‘Such annoying names to pronounce,’ I thought. As per my usual self, I immediately started referring to them as Biggs and Wedge. In hindsight, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. That pair had a 50/50 record of dying in the series that they came from.
Regardless, the two were a welcome addition as we pondered what kind of cake to create for the competition. Only one team would be chosen out of the 10 or so present. If we were able to win the contract, then we would be staying in the mansion up until the wedding, giving us plenty of time to dig up some dirt on the Duke. However, if we lost, then at least we would have a reason to be there as we tried to gather some intel.
I looked over at the pair. Biggs was tall and lanky, but what distinguished him from a crowd was his strangely upturned mustache, making him look a bit devious. Wedge was a round, jolly guy who looked a bit like a squirrel with how he placed his hands up to his mouth.
The two of them apparently were ‘magic chefs’, which was something that I had been unfamiliar with. These were people that had an innate proficiency in magic and used it for their cooking. Biggs demonstrated his skill with fire by barbecuing some chicken skewers in his hand, which resulted in a perfectly crisp outer coating that had masterfully sealed in the juicy meatiness. In contrast, Wedge’s forte was desserts created by freezing liquids into specific shapes. He greeted me with an ornate flower made purely of fresh cream, which gave a cool and delicately sweet taste upon sampling.
With chefs like them in this world, I started to wonder if my abilities weren’t a bit bland in comparison. My only advantage was the otherworldly knowledge that I had brought with me.
Just then, a butler opened the gates and cleared his throat to address the crowd.
“Greetings to all! I’m sure you are all aware of the guidelines to this task, but just to make it clear, your teams will have the afternoon to design a cake suitable for the grand wedding of Duke Casper Charlemagne and Lady Eryn Faulkner. We have the necessary ingredients on hand as per requested by your teams, so please surprise us with your greatest masterpieces. The winning team will be granted a contract that awards twenty thousand silver.”
At the mention of the prize at the end, the teams around me got fired up. I gave a half-hearted cheer to blend in, since I wasn’t here for the money.
Soon after, the crowd filed past the front gates and lined up at a desk to be checked in. My heart froze when I saw Dengel sitting there examining each person that had signed up.
I positioned myself behind Biggs and Wedge to calm myself, making sure to check my face again.
“Chefs Bigginton and Wedgeworth from Reichenstein. Welcome…and who is this behind the two of you.” Dengel directed his attention to me, as I was struggling to act casual.
“I am… Cid.” I’d smack myself later, but that was all I could come up with.
“Cid? Just Cid?”
“Yes, just Cid.”
“A commoner chef, I presume. Very well. You can move along, Chef Cid,” Dengel announced with a dismissive wave.
I released the breath that I had been unknowingly holding as I scurried past him. We were led past a grand entryway and into a ballroom that was in no way inferior to the one in the royal castle.
Set up around the floor of the ballroom were stations equipped with full kitchens, one for each of the teams. All that was missing was an audience, which would complete the feel of a cooking battle. I shook my head at this amazing setup. At least, there wasn’t the pressure of being expelled like in a certain anime.
“Come on, let’s get to work.” Wedge placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Yes, we’ll just have to do our best with the design that you gave us.” Biggs cracked his knuckles, ready to start.
With the help of Biggs and Wedge, I thought long and hard about what kind of cake would meet the satisfaction of those that seemingly had everything. Not only would the cake have to be delicious, it had to demonstrate the richness and power of a nobleman. It had to be unique and resourceful to show others, ‘this is what a person of my standing is capable of.’ Knowing that, none of my typical styles would be appropriate.
However, there were a few things about this world that I could take advantage of. For example, sugar was still a highly prized ingredient among the wealthy. Giving out desserts loaded with sweetness was certainly one way to flaunt your wallet. However, there is a limit to the sweetness that one could use before the taste becomes off-putting.
Cold desserts were also somewhat valued as well, seeing as ice magic was required to maintain its viability. Luckily, cold and sweetness went hand-in-hand. For that reason, I had proposed an ice cream cake as a basis for the design.
At the moment, Wedge was churning the ice cream as he molded it into the shape of a cake. Biggs was busy heating the molten syrup that would end up as delicate, crystalline flowers to be adorned on the cake.
As Wedge completed each tier of the cake, I set to work icing it. Afterwards, there was the task of carving slight grooves around the outside of the cake that spiraled downwards. After several tiers were built, it was starting to look more and more grand, especially after the sugar flowers were placed on it. Light shown on the flowers, scattering the beams into a multitude of colors that danced across the surface of the cake. I tested one of the spare flowers, which had remarkably thin petals that snapped off at the slightest pressure. It was amazing what the combined teamwork of Biggs and Wedge could do when precisely controlling heat and cold for such edible artwork. At the same time, the temperature of the ice cream cake was being maintained with a refrigeration spell.
With the tiers complete, I signaled to Biggs to start the final ingredient before walking off to notify the judges that we were ready. Surprisingly, quite a bit of time had already passed as the other teams were already finished and in the process of being evaluated. We had apparently been so focused that the time seemed to zip by.
The wedding cakes that the other teams had designed were a sight to behold. Some teams had heavily decorated their cake to the point of flagrant gaudiness, which didn’t seem to sit well with the judges. Another team had relied on wind magic to aerate their cake to make it extra fluffy but found it difficult to maintain its shape after several tiers. As the tower of cake wobbled shakily in the breeze, the chefs carefully used wind magic to cut out pieces that flew onto some plates. Eye-catching, but a bit rough on the presentation.
I found the judges, Dengel included, in front of a tall fluorescent orange cake that certainly stood out at a distance compared to the others. The judges took a bite, only to look at each other with unpleasant expressions.
“The taste…leaves something to be desired.”
“It’s certainly not for everyone.”
“I don’t like it.”
Seeming to take offense, the chef who made the cake quickly retorted, in a voice reminiscent of a bad French accent.
“You do not find it to your liking? Are you sure of your taste buds? This is a work of ART! No one else can bring out the same magnificence!”
“I’m sorry, but not what we are looking for. Let’s move on,” Dengel responded bluntly.
In a panic, the chef grabbed plates of his own cake and started imposing on everyone in the vicinity to prove his case. Since I was waiting nearby, a piece was shoved into my hands as well.
I brought a forkful to my mouth, which made me flinch as soon as it touched my tongue. The strong taste of citrus ravaged my mouth, making me nearly gag in reflex. I held my hand over my mouth and looked away in order not to offend him.
The sourness of his orange juice cake felt like it was forcing itself onto you, bombarding you with its tangy sweetness in an attempt to make you accept it. The balance was completely off, like it was purely going for shock value while the texture and feel was a complete mess.
Obviously, the chef was not happy with the responses that he got from those he forced cake upon.
“I have many admirers! If you had sampled my goods up until this point, only then will you understand its greatness! To those uninitiated in my 51 courses of flavor, your opinion amounts to the trash upon my shiny boots!” The orange chef complained.
Needless to say, I didn’t have the patience to deal with someone that pompous and misguided. The commotion that he was making certainly wasn’t winning him any more admirers.
Tapping Dengel on the shoulder, I let him know that our cake was ready. The judges promptly came over, ignoring the ravings of the orange chef.
Dengel looked at our ice cream cake, adjusting his glasses to take in the sight of glimmering flowers that split the light into rainbow sparkles.
“It has a certain flair… but I feel something is missing.”
A bit surprised that Dengel picked up on that, I directed the judges to look up at the top. A large white ball rested there.
Giving Biggs the signal, he sent fire magic to wrap itself around the white ball. The heat from the flame slowly melted it, letting it drip down the cake. Since I had carved grooves into the side of the cake, the white liquid soon found its way there, directing the flow such that it spiraled around the outside, adding a layer of decoration in between the gaps of the flowers. The flowing liquid then hardened due to the coolness of the cake, which was still being maintained by Wedge.
Dengel moved over to where the newly formed white decoration had hardened and took a piece, placing it in his mouth.
“This is… white chocolate? Interesting…”
I nodded. The melted chocolate had created an effect similar to that of a ‘drip cake’, adding a layer of decoration to the overall design.
“Wait, what is that?” One of the other judges pointed towards the top.
A topper, with the shape of the Duke and Eryn in wedding outfits, had been revealed after the ball of chocolate melted. The topper had been inside the hollow ball of chocolate the entire time.
“Such presentation! I am pleased. But the taste?” A judge eagerly reached out as I cut a piece from the bottom for him.
As the judges ate the first bite of cake, they immediately took another, and yet another.
“The sweetness… it’s so intense… but somehow I can’t get enough of it!” The same judge replied with gusto. He had swiftly finished his piece and extended his plate to me for another.
“I see… you took advantage of the coldness to dull our tongues. Though the cake is intensely sweet, the cold prevents it from becoming overbearing, thereby letting the consumer continue enjoying the sweetness over a longer period of time.”
Dengel’s evaluation of the ice cream cake was amazingly on the mark. Just who was this guy?
“Presentation, taste, quality – a step above the others, I can see. I think we’ve made our choice. Congratulations, chefs of Reichenstein. Your design will be the centerpiece of the Duke’s wedding.”
Shocked at our victory, the three of us momentarily forgot why we were here in the first place, celebrating our successful endeavor. After all, we were all chefs at heart, and recognition for our efforts gave us pride.
“We did it, guys!” I yelled to them, smacking them on the back.
Seeing us celebrate, Dengel momentarily cocked his head in wonder. Given his busy schedule, he had no time to ponder, so he simply stored that thought for later. He let out a sigh, thankful that one task could be crossed off his list.