You Are What You Don't Eat
Joy V. Smith
"What a gustatory opportunity!" Chef TexMex O'Brien unpacked his seasonings and cookware, stopping only to test the ship's stoves and express his delight at being one of the Terran delegation.
Chef Gratinee Marengo, the French delegate, sniffed. "Barbarians. Worse than Americans, if you can believe what they say."
Julienne Banbury from Yorkshire chided him. "It's our chance to show them what Terrans can do. All those alien delegates here on Earth-well, above it actually. They must think we have the potential to join the Galactic Alliance."
Bradchen Kloesse looked up from his sauerbraten. "I did a search for cooking and SF books on the web. James White wrote about the challenges of cooking for other species. Isaac Asimov wrote Good Taste; that's about food based entirely on synthetics. And of course, To Serve Man was a cookbook.
Marengo blanched. "Synthetics! Sacre bleu!"
"Blue cheese? Do you have any to spare? I need it for a dressing." Julienne had unpacked her equipment hours earlier. She'd been the first of the five chefs to arrive.
Chow Fun Tso spread his selection of noodles on one of the counters. "Is it true that they're especially interested in our vegetarian dishes? I understand that almost a quarter of the Galactic representatives are vegetarian."
O'Brien picked up his clip board. "Out of twenty representatives (the crème de la crème, it says here), fourteen are omnivores, four are vegetarians, and two are carnivores. We have one week to impress this mix with our food and creative ability."
Marengo glared frostily at the list. "I don't think I brought enough truffles."
Less than halfway through the week, the cooks had to order more supplies from Earth. The Galactics had never uttered one word of praise, but they inhaled the food. (Well, some did; most just ate it.) When the shipment arrived, O'Brien and Kloesse went to the cargo hold of the space ship with a guide-a small vegetarian from Aebleskiver--to whip the new batch of ingredients to their kitchen.
The robots in the hold loaded the assorted boxes on a skimmer; the two men were to accompany it back to the kitchen. Marengo had made them swear to stay with it. He couldn't leave his vichyssoise.
Just outside the hold, an alien accosted them. He was the biggest of the visitors. "Carnivore," murmured O'Brien. "T-bone Rex," whispered Kloesse. Their guide yipped and beat it.
"Hungry," bellowed the alien. His voice grated.
"Then don't delay us," O'Brien told him.
The alien gave him a toothy smile. "Eat now."
Kloesse held his ground, but thought, He probably won't even bother to shuck us.
O'Brien said, "We're the cooks. We've been preparing the food you eat (and I watched you guzzling it with gusto, you big meatball). I'm sure you don't mean you want to eat us. We're intelligent beings too."
Kloesse hoped no one had ever mentioned dolphins and octopus to the aliens.
Then three other aliens arrived. No one spoke, and the first carnivore snarled and moved away down the corridor.
"They didn't even apologize," said O'Brien back in the kitchen. He was still mulling the incident over.
Julienne looked thoughtful. "Sounds like a big bully. Why would they let him run loose? Something's wrong. Or they're testing us." They resumed their cooking duties uneasily.
"Talk about feeling like a bowlful of jelly," O'Brien said. "It was the first time I thought about what al dente really means."
Marengo scowled and simmered.
"Keith Laumer wrote about aliens making humans ride in garbage trucks and eat garbage," added Kloesse.
At last the Galactic conference was almost over, and the chefs stood at the head of the long table in the dining hall. They'd been invited here by a Glogg, one of the vegetarians, and then ignored. At last O'Brien pounded on the table with his potato masher. When he had their attention, he didn't mince words. "You asked us here; you haven't complained about the food. We didn't expect to be coddled, but we wonder if you are ignorant or heedless of good manners. If you don't like our food, say so. Or is it true that you cannot appreciate good food and that we might as well be slopping the hogs?"
"Pearls before swine!" Marengo snapped. The disdain of a Frenchman needed no translation. A few aliens stiffened. One stood up.
"Forgive us," the Pitter said. "Only the importance of the conference could reduce the importance of your culinary gifts. We have a gift for Earth, which your efforts have earned you."
Two hours later the five chefs disembarked from the ship's shuttle loaded with an assortment of presents from the cultures of the Galactic Alliance. Marengo folded his fines herbs tightly to his chest. "Such an aroma," he breathed.
Julienne's gifts included cookware made from an alien alloy. "What flambees I can make with this," she said, eying the steaming skillet, which she held tightly in the oven potholder.
Tso had a knife selection that would make Gingsu jealous.
Kloesse had a selection of vinegars that he knew would make sweet and sour dishes that would make people's eyes glaze and saliva curdle.
O'Brien had a collection of condiments. With the hot sauce, he could create a chili that'd burn a beard off.
"But what is the gift for earth?" Tso spoke for them all.
Anadama, the Pitter and head cheese of the Galactic Alliance delegation, turned away from the closing door. "To business," he commanded. The other delegates lined the corridor to let him pass and followed him to the kitchen.
The carnivore looked up at them and snarled. A curt command from Pitter, and he turned back to his scrub pail. "So, we are agreed. Earth is on probation as a member. The Foedselsdagskringle will return to their entry status until they learn how to serve their fellow creatures. No sauce."
Return to Handses
Table of Contents
Background by Joey Dragon