Chapter 3.3 – A Chef’s Cultivation
The use of magic had left his spirit somewhat exhausted. He leaned against a tree and briefly meditated.
The Ice and Snow Goddess’s stone is truly worthy of being called the highest quality ice gem. After one short hour, it had helped him recover his small amount of magic power. Yesterday’s meditation and today’s recovery caused his magic to have a slight improvement.
Zha Ji had just finished making lunch a moment ago and stood in front of the wooden room moving his stiff body. He was baffled. Why would Nian Bing take such a long time to come back? Could it be he could actually use that axe to chop wood? That’s impossible. When he had Nian Bing take the axe, he had only wanted to see how long it would take for Nian Bing to come back. He had wanted to confirm how long Nian Bing would ponder about how to chop wood. For the longer he pondered, the more thoughtful he was, and also the greater understanding of dishes he would have as a chef. This was a simple test that Zha Ji gave Nian Bing, but it had already been two hours. The sun had long since reached the center of the sky. This caused Zha Ji to feel somewhat worried.
Just as Zha Ji was about to go out and look for Nian Bing, a crisp voice sounded out, “Master, I’m back. Look, is this enough firewood?”
Nian Bing came back from the Peach Blossom Forest with his Brow beaded with sweat. He dragged back seven or eight peach branches that were tied to his large axe with a vine. The weight was clearly no small burden for him. He appeared to lack breath as he spoke.
“You actually chopped firewood? Could it be that you can actually lift that axe?” Zha Ji said, surprised.
With his small face red, Nian Bing said, “No, I used magic. That is how I chopped these. However my magic relatively weak. After I finished chopping wood, I needed to recover my magic power. Then when I next looked at the sky, it was already noon. That’s why I’ve returned for now. In the afternoon, I’ll go get more.”
Zha Ji’s heart stirred, “You used what magic? You can use fire magic to chop wood? You don’t want to burn this place down, right?”
“Of course I didn’t. I used Ice Blade to chop it down, look! Ice Elements, I request of you, condense into a large, sharp blade, and chop through the world’s bindings and chains!” With a flash of light, a transparent blade of ice appeared before him.
“You know two types of magic!?” Zha Ji’s eyes had nearly shot out light. He wasn’t a mage. Naturally, he didn’t know that ice magic and fire magic were unable to be cultivated together. He could only think about how lucky he was to pick up such a treasure. “Ice. Very good. You can also use ice in dishes. It seems that I’m going to have to change the way I teach you. If you can put both fire and ice to use, then the dishes you put out will….. Alright, let’s go. We’ll go eat first.”
The meal could not be considered lavish; it only consisted of two dishes and ordinary rice. However these dishes were made from Zha Ji’s hands, how could they possibly be lacking? To Nian Bing, this meal tasted even more luscious. In all of his years he had been wandering around the continent with his father, this was the first time he had eaten so steadily. He satisfied his stomach, causing his small face to appear flushed.
“How was it? What do you feel?” Seeing Nian Bing finish eating, Zha Ji hastily asked.
“Delicious, it was truly delicious,” Nian Bing said from the bottom of his heart.
Zha Ji looked at him, dumbstruck, “This again?”
“Wa, I had forgotten. It might be because I had just used magic to chop firewood; my mental strength was exhausted. Master, at night I will definitely remember.”
Zha Ji speechlessly looked at Nian Bing, and nearly burst into rage. He groaned and said, “This time I will forgive you, but there will be no third time!”
Nian Bing chuckled and said, “Master, don’t be angry. Actually, this time I did feel it. Although I didn’t know what these two dishes were, they tasted fresh and salty. In addition, it left a sweet, fragrant aftertaste. It was crisp and felt very nice. Furthermore, when it reached the stomach, it felt nice and warm.”
Zha Ji unhappily said, “That’s it? I used half a day’s worth of effort for nothing. Do you know why these dishes taste good? When ordinary people cook vegetables, first, they put only oil into the pan. After the oil is hot, they put in green onions and cover the pan. Then, they put in the vegetables and stir-fry. Lastly, they add the seasoning. The first reason why my stir-fry is delicious,is because of the ingredients. They are the freshest vegetables. Right after they are picked from the forest, they go straight to the pan. Secondly, I do not use oil. This is the reason why you don’t notice any oiliness. If ordinary people don’t use oil, they wouldn’t have a method to stir-fry. However, I can use water instead because I’ve added special ingredients in the water, among these are a few medicinal ingredients. After they are mixed, not only does the water cause the vegetables to not stick to the pan, but also causes them to become more fragrant and sweet. Simultaneously, while stir-frying, heat control is crucial. Often a mere second of error will cause the flavor to become entirely different. You must remember, no matter what the food it is, if you want it to be delicious, you must bring out its natural flavor. Do you understand?”
Nian Bing was at a loss, and said, “Teacher, isn’t it too early to teach me this? We should take it step by step.”
Zha Ji said, “I simply wanted you to first know this. Tasty dishes have reason for their deliciousness. Alright, go take a nap. In the afternoon, you will resume chopping firewood. At the kitchen’s left corner there is a wood knife. That is what you can use. In the future, you cannot use magic to chop wood. Understand? That would be a complete waste. You must use magic during cooking’s most crucial point in order to reflect its true worth. If I knew magic, my cooking would be much greater!”[TL Note: Wood knife is a machete like cleaver.]
From the start of the day, Nian Bing lived an orderly life. Every morning, he would wake up early. First, he would simply tidy up his bedroom the kitchen. Then, he would eat breakfast and listen to Zha Ji’s lecture on a few aspects of the culinary arts. Zha Ji was not impatiently teaching him by having him learn from practice, but carefully teaching him the knowledge every chef should know. After this, he would go chop firewood. Chopping down firewood was not at all difficult. What was difficult was splitting it. As Zha Ji had instructed Nian Bing, splitting logs requires paying attention to the grain1 of the wood. Each piece of wood’s grain differed, as does the location to split it in two. To evenly split firewood was no easy task. Lunch was the same as breakfast. In addition to him telling Zha Ji what he had perceived from the meal, he heard Zha Ji talk about it. In the afternoon it was the same as in the morning, chopping firewood. What Zha Ji required of him was not the quantity of firewood split, but rather how thin the firewood was split. The thinner, the better. After dinner, Nian Bing would listen to Zha Ji’s lecture, and return to his room to meditate. Meditation is not only the best method to cultivate magic power, but also the best way to sleep.
Many days had passed. Nian Bing had finally experienced the process of becoming fat from thinness. Although he continuously split firewood everyday, the amount of exercise he received was not at all large. In addition, Zha Ji changed the meals he gave Nian Bing. In every meal he added a bit of Huang Jing2, ginseng and other herbs he picked from the forest. It was as if Nian Bing’s body was pumped with air. With the horizontal growth of Nian Bing’s originally thin body, it is only natural that with his plentiful nutrition that his stature also grew much taller. But compared to his body weight, his height wasn’t very proportional.
After a year had passed, the originally handsome child had disappeared. Regardless of where you looked, Nian Bing’s body resembled that of a sphere. When he asked Zha Ji whether or not he had become too fat, Zha Ji simply told him that later he will certainly return to thin.
“Master, today do I still have to split firewood? The firewood I chop is already very thin!” Nian Bing ran to Zha Ji’s room and said somewhat discontentedly.
“Chop, continue chopping. You are still far too lacking.” Zha Ji didn’t look at him as he lied on the bed and turned over. Ever since Nian Bing came, he had become much more lax, not having to be concerned with any of the heavy labor. Only cooking three meals everyday for Nian Bing is enough.
“But Master, how do I have to chop to be finished!?” Chopping firewood everyday for a whole year, who wouldn’t be sick of it?
“Finished? That’s simple! Currently, you truly chop wood thin enough, but they are not even. When you can chop firewood into even pieces, you will be finished.” Without the slightest bit of urgency, Zha Ji smacked his lips twice and went back to sleep.
Even, this word made Nian Bing recall of the magic power within his body. With the assistance of the Ice and Snow Goddess’s Stone and the Flame God’s Stone, this past year his magic had improved at an extremely rapid speed. Now he had understood why his father could become a magic scholar when he was only thirty-seven years old. Perhaps the reason was because of the Flame God’s Stone. However, the problem was facing him all the same. When he had first started, he had simply relied on his surface perceptions, feeling half of his body cool and the other half warm. But now, either side of his body had clearly distinct temperatures. Whenever he dips the left side of his body in water, it becomes ice water. The right side of his body was hot as if under a fever. One side cold, one side hot. It frequently made Nian Bing feel dizzy, especially when he used magic. Whenever he unbalanced his magic power, this feeling became ever more distinct. Therefore, after he uses a water spell, he must cast a fire spell that uses the same amount of magic power, otherwise he would suffer from the imbalance.
Nian Bing didn’t tell Zha Ji about this. To take revenge, he clearly understood he would put himself in danger. But he still had to correctly look after his cultivation. He believed so long as his own magic power can maintain equilibrium, the problem would no longer arise. But is it truly as such? Perhaps even a Divine Descendant couldn’t give him an answer. After all, until now there have never been anyone bold enough to cultivate two entirely opposing types of magic.
He grudgingly walked to the courtyard, dragging a wooden stool to sit on. His left hand was towing the wood knife while his right hand was holding the firewood in front of him. When he passed the wood knife to his right hand, Nian Bing’s expression changed and became completely focused. His consciousness was completely concentrated on the firewood in front of him. The wood’s grain was clearly scanned in his mind. He didn’t move, only motionlessly observing the firewood. Zha Ji instructed him, only in the most suitable circumstance would he chop down, achieving the greatest result. The most suitable circumstance was the moment when he completely understood the firewood in front of him.
His hand rose. The knife moved eight times in succession as if it were natural as water flowing, not slow in the least. The firewood stood still as before, not moving the slightest. The sharp wood knife reflected the sunlight with its metal luster.