Chapter 2.1 – The Demon Chef, Zha Ji
Zha Ji bitterly laughed, “How could an old man like me with a pair ruined hand tendons possibly do to you?”
Nian Bing looked at Zha Ji, the panic in his eyes calmed a bit, and probingly asked, “Grandpa, why, why your hands like that?”
Zha Ji pulled on Nian Bing, motioning him to sit and sadly sighed, “Let Grandpa tell you a story, a story about what happened to my own body. After you finish listening, you will understand why I was so excited when I saw you use magic.” After saying this, he looked into the darkness outside beyond the door, his eyes growing hazy. ”
“In our Yang Guang Continent, we had experienced a period of war lasting three hundred years. Approximately seventy years ago, the entire continent entered a time of peace, and five great empires began to form, dividing the continent’s territories. Apart from a few special regions out of reach, all of the land have become territory of the five Great Empires. After a baptism in three hundred years of war,, the people needed to recover. These past decades, industry and agriculture had continuously developed. Although there have been disputes between the five great empires, they are considered to be at peace.”
Nian Bing nodded his head, saying, “The five great empires you mentioned were the Profound Orchid Empire in the east, the Strange Lu Empire in the southeast, the Harmonic Flower Empire in the southwest, the Bright Tree Empire in the northwest, and the Ice Moon empire in the north.
Zha Ji nodded and continued, “Correct, those are the five great empires. I was born in the Strange Lu Empire in the southeast. During my childhood, my household was very poor, and food was scarce; we often missed meals. I remember I had once asked my mother if there would ever be a time we would have enough cornbread to eat until we were full. She held me and cried. Even now I clearly remember. At the time, my greatest ambition was to be able to eat delicious delicacies every day and to be able to make the greatest dishes and let my mother eat it. Later, I had strived with great effort to diligently pursued this goal. Unfortunately, my parents had passed away from plague before I had the ability to care for them. Perhaps it were the Gods taking pity on me. When I was thirteen years old, I had met my master. At the time, because my home was poor and I was also very young, I had become an apprentice at a restaurant. It was also what I was most wanting to do. My master was the head chef at that restaurant. In order have the opportunity to learn the culinary arts that I yearned for, I had been extremely hardworking, impressing everyone in the restaurant. Our restaurant was named Qi Xiang (Wonderful Fragrance). It was the most famous restaurant in the Strange Lu Empire. My master had seen my diligence and had begun to teach me a few simple culinary arts. I could not be considered smart but I was awfully diligent. Like they say, hard work can overcome lack of talent. After three years, I had finally been promoted from an apprentice to the chef in charge of side dishes. One day, master called me out to a secluded place. He said to me, “If you want to learn the culinary arts well, then only being hard working is not enough. Comprehension is also required. Carefully observe the dishes you cook. Cooking isn’t such a simple task but rather that of profound knowledge. He taught me eight teachings for me to complete. Then I practiced cooking for ten years, ten years comprehending cooking. Those eight teachings, even today I still remember. I went through an unceasing effort to understand them. When I was twenty three years old, my culinary arts had reached the end of its journey, but my master had passed away from illness that year. From beginning to end, I continuously kept master’s eight teachings in mind. That is why I renounced the opportunity to inherit master’s position at the Qi Xiang restaurant and resigned from my duties. With my kitchen knife in hand and my meager savings on my belt, I set foot on my own path. I wanted to travel all over the Yang Guang Continent and learn every region’s various culinary arts.”
Saying this, Zha Ji eyes were shining. It seemed that he had again returned to his glorious beginnings. Sighing, he continued, “Ten years. Another ten years. Those ten years truly had allowed me to comprehend the true essence of the culinary arts. In those ten years, I traveled to every famous restaurant, and compared our culinary arts with each and every single one of them, continuing the progress of my comprehension. Then finally, I had perfected my own style of cooking. Later, because my culinary arts had already reached the realm the Gods craftsmanship, people gave me the title, Demon Chef. In five consecutive Cooking God Competitions, I obtained five glorious victories, placing first. The dishes I cooked became an emblem of my victory. The five imperial palaces of each empire threw an olive branch towards me, hoping that I would hold the position of head chef at their imperial kitchens. However, all along I felt my own culinary arts were still insufficiently profound. As a result, I continued to explore, wishing to ascend my culinary arts to an even greater realm. Through my continuous travels, I improved. It was a wonderful experience, especially the times I created a new unique, delicious dish. The feeling of those accomplishments were unable to be compared. I dedicated my entire life to the culinary arts. Even until my forty-seventh year, I still hadn’t married.”
Zha Ji stopped there, and looked at Nian Bing, wholly immersed in his life’s story. He gave a slight smile, saying, “Hard to imagine, huh? This ruined old man also had a glorious side.”
Nian Bing gave a blank stare. Although Zha Ji spoke very ordinarily, with Nian Bing’s keen senses, he became aware of the strong sorrow displayed in Grandpa Zha’s voice. “Grandpa, then what about after? What happened afterwards?”
Zha Ji said with a bitter smile, “After, honestly, I truly don’t want to recall anything that happened at the time but now I can’t help but remember. The year I turned forty-seven was a major turning point in my life, the year I fell from the sky. Perhaps is was because I had lived forty years without experiencing such an emotion. That year, I actually fell crazily in love with a woman. She was so beautiful, so lively and cheerful. Every one of her movements, every scowl and smile, caused my heart to tremble. At the time, she was only twenty-four years old. My age was double compared to hers. Regardless, without hesitation I fell in love with her. She was also a chef but as chefs we were as different as black and white. She would only make a few refined desserts. At the time, she was a pastry chef at her restaurant. That was also the restaurant I had stayed the longest at. I thought long and hard during that time and decided to confess to her my heart’s innermost feelings. Although I hadn’t any great expectations she would accept then, I still wanted to speak out my heart’s innermost thoughts.
Nian Bing asked, “Then did she accept?”
Zha Ji shook his head and said, “ She didn’t accept, neither did she reject me. After she heard my confession of love, she raised one condition. She wanted to compare culinary arts with me. If I won, she would marry me. If I lost, I would withdraw from the culinary world and whatever reputation I possessed would become her’s.
Nian Bing wrinkled his brow. His small handsome face displayed a strange expression, “Grandpa, I think you let her exploit you. She definitely knew you were the strongest chef yet she dared to raise such a condition, she certainly knew this. Besides, for her to raise such a condition, she clearly doesn’t have any good intentions. Why did you sincerely wanted her to marry you?”
Zha Ji laughed, “You truly are a clever child. That’s right, I let her exploit me, but at the time, my powerful emotions had already taken over my brain. I hadn’t thought about it at all and readily agreed. After all, I was at the peak of the culinary world for many years, causing me to long possess an ineffable air of arrogance. At the time, I had already stopped competing in cooking competitions with other people, because nobody would be willing to challenge me. Even in the Cooking God’s Competition, I have become a mere judge, nothing more. This being the case, she wanted to compete in my greatest expertise. I naturally at no reasons to refuse. Consequently, the competition that I will never forget had started.”
Pausing a moment, Zha Ji then explained, “In order to convince her in heart and word, I decided to cook my six greatest signature specialities. We invited the eighteen most famous chefs in the culinary world to judge us. My culinary arts have already reached the peak of perfection. My six complex signature dishes, cooked with my hands, only took an hour to complete. Many years of culinary understanding came together, causing me to be extremely satisfied with my own dishes. It was almost as if they were live. But strangely at the time, she had yet to make use of the ingredients in front of her. When I finished my six dishes and looked at her, she said to me, “You’ve cooked so much. I will only cook one dish, a work of art. Just that should be enough. On one side talking, the other moving. With ungraceful movement and unpracticed knife work, she simply grabbed a cutlet and tossed it into the air and chanted with a peculiar intonation. With it a blue flame soared into the air, engulfing the cutlet. A white knife light flashed in the sky. When the cutlet fell into the plate, it had turned into thirteen pieces, thirteen shining golden pieces. Until then, I hadn’t known that she was actually a mage. In addition she was also an extremely powerful fire mage. Despite this, I still believed I won. After all she only had one dish while I had six. From appearance and scent, she seemed to be at a great disadvantage. However, I quickly knew I was wrong. When I had sampled that golden cutlet, an unprecedented taste filled my mouth. Prior, that cutlet hadn’t been worked on in the slightest, neither had it been seasoned while cooking, however, her cutlet’s aroma was completely released. Thirteen pieces of cutlet, even though they weren’t sour, sweet, bitter, or spicy, any of these familiar flavors. However, every single of the thirteen pieces of cutlet, held thirteen distinct degrees of smell. These thirteen scents mixed together to produce an aroma, an aroma far more delicious than any other seasoned dish could produce. When I sampled a bit of it, I knew that I already lost. Not only was it a disastrous defeat, even from the smell, my six dishes could not possibly be compared to her cutlet. But facing her with my culinary arts, I had already fallen from my chariot. Not because of her speed, but even more significantly, because of her innovation.