Day 13: Puff Pastry

Anamika, with all her might, folded the dough in front of her. The dough remained stony and adamant, just like the heart of a miser. She pushed and punched it – but the dough refused to budge.

“You have just under 40 minutes to go!” Chef Vikas’ voice startled Anamika and brought her back from the folds of her dough. She stole a glance at the clock in the MasterChef kitchen. It was ticking away in glory as usual. Anamika felt that her whole life was hanging on the needles of that clock. She tried to concentrate on her puff pastry, trying to make it soft, but she couldn’t.

It was her fourth week in the MasterChef kitchen. She was an excellent home cook. In fact, that was all Anamika ever did – cook. She cooked elaborate meals for her extended family. She made sure every meal was a gourmet meal. She often threw parties for their friends and family. It was during one of those parties someone suggested the idea of MasterChef.

“You are exceptional! You will become India’s next MasterChef,” the guest had encouraged her. Suddenly, Anamika felt that her life had a new aim, a direction.

She excelled in the first three weeks when they had to cook Indian food. However, she started to crumble as the competition moved to world cuisine. She scrambled her way through most of them though – tacos, pasta, cakes, pies, noodles, and macrons.

It was a puff pastry that had finally caught her. It was her first pressure test,  a one-on-one competition that was sure to send one of the contestants home – either Anamika or Anshu. A single misstep during the 60-minute cook meant she was going home, and she really didn’t want to go home. She dreaded being back within the four walls of her kitchen.

Anamika glanced at the fellow contestant next to her. Anshu was a great cook and a friendly fellow. She stealthily looked at his pastry dough. To her dismay, it looked light and soft. It had an elusive yellow tint and a shiny texture. Anamika put all her efforts into her dough, but it remained a big, tough lump.

“Anamika, get your pastry into the oven. You only have 30 minutes,” she heard the other contestants yelling at her up from the safety of the gallery.

“Idiots!” she muttered and tried to get her pastry into shape.

Anshu already had his puff pastry in the oven. Anamika had no time to redeem her dough. She rushed towards her oven. As she reached the oven door, she saw the oven next to hers.  She peeped inside and saw Anshu’s beautiful pastry. It was about to rise.

Anamika took a deep breath, and her fingers trembled as she opened Anshu’s oven door. Anamika prayed no one should notice her.

“Just 5 minutes to go. Start plating up!”  After a nail-biting thirty minutes for Anamika, chef Vikas finally announced.

Anamika dashed towards the oven to get her pastry out. On her way, she glanced at Anshu, who was standing in front of his station, a little confused. He had pulled out his pastry from the oven a few minutes back. His confused look made Anamika worry that she would be caught.

“Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven,” the final countdown started, and Anamika felt that someone was hitting on her head with a mallet. She plated the beautiful pastry, her head hanging low with guilt.

“Two, One, and that’s it, well done Anamika and Anshu,” Vikas announced in his chirpy voice.  Anamika closely watched Anshu as he took his pastry to the judges. He still had that amused expression.

The tasting started.

“Your pastry is a bit dense, but it’s flavorful, and it’s good,” the judges told Anshu after the tasting. Anshu timidly smiled, but something was unsettling on his face.

“Next up, Anamika,”

Anamika felt that the plate weighed a ton as she staggered towards the judges. The judges tasted the pastry, and a grimace crawled onto their faces.

“Your pasty is fluffy and crunchy, but it’s way too salty. It’s practically inedible,” the critical eyes of the judges pierced at Anamika.

The judges discussed among themselves about whom they want to send home – Anamika or Anshu.

Anamika’s heart was pounding fast. She just wanted to know the result. If it was in favor of her, she prepared herself to forget what she had done.

“Anshu, your pastry wasn’t good enough, but it was definitely edible. So you are safe. Your pastry was way too salty, and that’s why you are going home, Anamika. I am sorry, ” Vikas passed the verdict.

As Anamika walked away from the MasterChef kitchen with tears, Anshu stood there, a smile beaming on his face. He had seen Anamika switching his pastry dough with hers. But, he also knew that his dough was extremely salty, and he decided to take the chance. Luck turned in favor of him. He believed that it  was a brilliant stroke of karma.

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