Imperial Chef Rookie – Chapter 09 Part 1 – Capture a Maiden’s Heart with Gourmet Food
To tell the truth, my days at the Imperial Palace passed quite leisurely. Though I carried the title of Imperial Chef, the work I did was not even a third of what they normally do. I’m only responsible for just the princess’s daily three meals, with the occasional medicated meal thrown in.
The only thing that gave me a headache was the distance between my residence and the princess’s Yi Hua Palace. Since the princess already knew my identity, she actually wanted me to stay at her place.
However, in the eyes of others, I’m still a ‘man’, and therefore have some trouble getting into the inner court to live with the princess. In order to prevent unwanted rumours, she had arranged for me to stay in this far away pavilion for the time being.
After a while, due to my frequent trips sending dishes over to the Yi Hua Palace, even the palace maids started to get to know me. They all just treated me like a little eunuch that had been ‘snipped’ and did not bother me any more.
The princess took advantage of this rumour and treated them as facts while she arranged for me to live in one of the courtyards in her palace. Thus, in the eyes of the people here, I am now one of the lower ranking eunuch chefs.
From that day onwards, I live under the same rood with the princess. It could be said that my every move was under her observation.
“Who’s a eunuch? You guys are eunuchs, your whole family are eunuchs!” I seethed as I put my stuff away at the new place within the palace courtyard.
Naturally, I am not happy about the rumours flying around. I am, after all, a young and virginal maiden. Even if I don’t look like a maiden, I can at least look like a dashing young buck, ah.
Unexpectedly, I am now shoved into the role of a eunuch by these evil women, this is really unfair, ya~
If not for all the wonderful benefits, I would have left this place immediately.
“Am I being too easy? Not only do I have to cook for the princess, I still have to suffer all this…” I continue to mutter as I continued put my things away.
…completely unaware that the princess was already standing behind me. Heavens knows when she came in.
The palace maid that had sneaked out with her last time had to cough lightly, helpfully letting me know that the princess had arrived. I dropped everything to make my greetings.
“This one did not know when princess arrived, should have inform this one so that I could come out and properly greet, ya~” there’s a flattering smile on my face even as I sent a brief glare at Yuan’er. Why didn’t she inform me earlier? Wasn’t this just too inefficient?
After being in the palace for a while, these days I’m got more familiar with the palace maids. We’d chat and exchange gossips, joke with each other and what not.
Yuan’er was the princess’s personal confidant, and she’s usually the one that waited upon the princess.
Yuan’er sent me helpless expression, looked like it was the princess who had deliberately kept her visit quiet.
“Song Xiran, just what are you muttering over and over again over there? Are you saying bad things about me? You look awfully angry, why don’t you come over and tell me about it?
That face, that surface smile. She clearly heard what I just said and wanted to mess with me.
How could I fall into her trap, I immediately back-peddled and resorted to some fast talking. “In answer to princess, how could Xiran dare to slander thee? It’s just that all these rumours on how I, as a favourite in princess’s eyes… is seen as a eunuch chef. Really cause some grief to Xiran, ya~”
After hearing my words, the princess couldn’t help her charming little smile. That smile was just as matchless in its ability to intoxicate people.
“Isn’t this good? Is not staying here much more convenient for you? Very well, in order to make it up to you, and also to thank you for your past rescue, I shall take you for a stroll around the Imperial Gardens. How about it?”
“Yes, please~” At the words ‘Imperial Gardens’ stars appeared in my eyes. Had to be beautiful. Also, to stroll the garden with a princess, isn’t this a perfect ‘Gorgeous View with a Lovely Beauty’ kind of thing? Too awesome~
The Imperial Gardens has all kinds of exotic flowers and rare herbs, small decorative structures and jagged stone sculptures scattered through the gardens creating a meandering kind of path that offered privacy and seclusion. Especially in areas where tall curious trees were grown. There were also resting pavilions that came in all shapes and sizes, and of course, the obligatory fake stone mountains.
Though it’s already summer, the gardens was still in full bloom. There were lotus flowers in the ponds, gorgeously coloured peonies and elegant jasmines…the ones I could name were tens of kinds, the ones I did not know were uncountable. The variety and colours were just too many, just dazzling to the eyes.
As I strolled within the imperial garden, I feigned a casual air as I probed her for answers.
“Princess, when you brought me to this palace, is it really just to cook for you?”
“Yes, and no. Possibly because you have rescued me in the past. Possibly because I find you pleasing to the eye, or that I wish to have you by my side. Are you satisfied with these answer?”
She turned to me and flashed a smile. Within such a gorgeous setting, the allure of that smile increased in power. After throwing out that answer, she said no more and slowly walked forward again.
I stood like an idiot, watching the silhouette of her shape as she leave. There were thousands upon tens of thousands of cooks in this world, so why did she choose me? Is this that legendary fate thing?
“So you find me pleasing, and wish to have me by your side?” I’m starting to have a sense that this person in front of me was kind of interesting.
After a moment I relaxed, and followed her.
When we’re tired of walking, I sat with her at one of the resting pavilions. We chatted as we admired the flowers around us. Suddenly, an idea hit me and I excitedly said:
“Princess, princess, shall I make Sweet Soup with Snow Fungus, Lotus Seed and Lily Bulbs for you? And the Seven Flower Pastry. It will be the best conclusion to this trip, ma~ After enjoying a beautiful scenery, one must end it with a beautiful meal for it to be meaningful.”
“Very well, Seven Flower Pastry is it? I’ve never heard of it, I wonder just how you’re going to make it?”
Since there’s a kitchen within the Imperial Gardens especially prepared for the emperor’s used, she ordered her servants to bring over some of the necessary ingredients I wanted. As for the main ingredients, I have decided to just pluck them from the garden and rinse the flowers needed in clear water. Just like that, everything was ready.
“Princess, I’m going to start now.”
I sent cocky smile towards her. For this dish, I have some confidence in my skills.
The first thing I made was the Sweet Soup with Snow Fungus, Lotus Seed and Lily Bulbs.
I prepared the snow fungus that had been sent over by the Imperial Kitchens. They’ve already been bubbling in warm water to a soft, sticky texture and I only had to do very little to it before setting it aside.
Next, the lotus seed was boiled until it was half cooked before the white fungus was added to it. Then, the fire set on high for a roiling boil. Finally, freshly plucked lily flowers were added along with a handful of Chinese wolfberries, and the fire was lowered to a gentle simmer.
As the Snow Fungus Sweet Soup continue to simmer, I began to work on the dough for the Seven Flower Pastry.
First, I removed the petals from various flowers and crushed them with a mortar and pestle, extracted their juice and added it to a bit of water. This flower juice extract will be kneaded into the dough.
The purpose of this juice was to provide colour for the pastry shell in order to make it even more appetizing.
Then, I bundled the freshly plucked roses, jasmines, etc flowers and started to make the filling. I placed the mixture onto an oiled pan and started frying it over a low fire, tossing and turning the mixture until it was well mixed and crisp.
The completed Seven Flower Pastry filling shone with the colours of a rainbow.
On top of that was the crisp golden hue of the fragrant pastry skin, savoury yet sweet, but not at all cloying. It was an extremely fascinating dessert.
When the Snow Fungus Soup became shiny and translucent, thick and rich with sticky fragrance, I added a few pieces of dried longan fruit.
A few minutes later, the fire was put out, and the contents of the pot transferred into a small Chinese dessert bowl with straight sides. As a finishing touch, I garnished it with a few artistically placed mint leaves, giving the Snow Fungus Sweet Soup a unique kind of refreshing feeling.
The desserts were moved onto a specially prepared tray and was carefully brought before the princess. I bade her to enjoy the desserts and to not scald herself against the sweet soup.
First, she took a delicate bite into the Seven Flower Pastry, a very satisfied expression descended on her face.
One bite followed another, with no sign of stopping. There was only happiness and satisfaction on her face. With the fragrance of the Seven Flower Pastry in the background, even a hawk flying by the glade would not be able to resist swallowing had they encounter this scene.
“Hm, your cooking skills aren’t bad. This Seven Flower Pastry certainly has a unique freshness to it. Very tasty. I am satisfied with this. Well then, if there’s anything you desire, I shall consider awarding it to you.”
It was like she has undergone a transformation after eating. A pair of large sparkling eyes stared up at me. A bit of pastry crumb sticking on to the corner of her lovely lips. She looked a little like a child that had just sneaked some pastries on the sly.
I could not resist coming closer to her side, and brush those crumbs lightly with a handkerchief.
The movement was so natural that she did not have time to duck away. An ambiguous atmosphere descended upon us. We were closed enough to look into each other’s faces. Time seemed to stop. Only the sound of heartbeats was heard.
Right now, a blush had settled on her cheeks. I boldly leaned closer and said:
“Seeing how you’ve eaten until your lips are all crumbs, this wish of mine, I’ll tell you in a few days. All right?”
Having said this, I slowly leaned back. She also seemed to have realised that movement was a bit too suggestive. However, she remained calm as she picked up the Snow Fungus Soup before her and acted as though the previous action never happened.
“Ahem, Xiran your Snow Fungus is also not bad. Very cooling. Well, it’s getting late, I shall be going first. After you’re done strolling, you should also return as soon as you can. Yuan’er, let’s go.”
She finished her little speech without looking at me, quickly stood up and left. I also felt that what I’ve done was a little ambiguous? But I just could not help myself.
The flustered expression on her face was similar to the one she had when she woke up to find both of us in bed together.
At every other time, the impression of her had always been one of great calm and dignity.
“I wonder what happened to her today? Why did she run off so quickly? That’s really not like her at all. Wait, did she just called me…Xiran?” Sweet Soup with Snow Fungus, Lotus Seed and Lily Bulbs – Not difficult to make, but needed to be simmered over a low fire for quite a long time.
 Seven Flower Pastry – Most of the details I found uses rose as the main ingredient. There were no recipes using seven flowers, not sure what it would taste like, lol. I got the pictures below from Amazon.com. Looks yummy!
 Dried Longan – Normally put into sweet soup desserts. Longan literally translates as ‘Dragon’s Eye’, due to how the fresh fruit looked a lot like a dragon’s eye when bitten in half.
Dried Longan vs Fresh Longan