Chef Jakub – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 20
The farm was a few acres, maybe seven. It was open and untiled, but it had a water supply and two small buildings. I used one for housing livestock and the other for tools. I set about arranging it on every second day that I had outside the kitchen, the rest of the days I spent in the market and meeting traders to collect goods for both the Imam’s plate and for my farm. It was a full time in my life and though I was always busy, my creativity flourishing. I fenced the boundaries of my allotment, then segmented it into various pens where I would rear specific animals on specific diets. My idea was to have, for example, beef reared on a diet of oranges. Also, fowl raised on single spices or nuts. The possibilities were endless.
Meanwhile, I irrigated a section of the farm and used the waste form the kitchen to fertilise it. Later I used the dung of the livestock. It was very demanding but once the farm was set in motion I knew that it would provide ingredients the like of which nobody anywhere had even eaten before. I imagined spit roasts and banquets of unprecedented quality, the Imam could grow even more renowned on my name, and thus I too could rise up. Not to mention I could satisfy my own curiosities on, and off, the farm.
Within a month I had my livestock, the Vizier had been kind enough to arrange for birds and cows, but no swine. The days on the farm and the blistered days in the kitchen soon aged my body. I was a long time in need of invigoration, before I knew it I had been in The Gulf for over a year, and without a woman. The Vizier had taken only one wife, despite the local tradition of four. So, as he was more attuned to my opinions on companionship than the majority of the locals, I approached him and enquired as to the customs and the manner in which I could go about attaining the attentions of a woman befitting my standing.
A stern smirk and a quiet word explained that there would not be any women of my age who were not already married. The families of any party I was interested in would have to give their permission for me to proceed, and they would also have the power of veto over my intentions. Sensing my dismay, the Vizier was quick to add that as the Imam’s cook I would be sought after. I insisted that he make inquiries.
There weren’t many suitable available women in that part of The Gulf, but once the announcement was made known the Imam’s personal cook was looking for a wife inquiries came in – some even from beyond the Imam’s territory. Such was the Imam’s prestige. Of course, I was flattered and, by my nature, desired to taste as many women as I could, but I restrained myself and let a more learned man in such matters led the way. As it had been such a long time since I had enjoyed the pleasures of a woman I felt hurried, but the Vizier’s natural calmness helped me to arrange myself as I tended my farm and upheld my duties to the Imam.
Around that time my first hand reared lemon-coriander-storks were ready to slaughter and serve. I was nervous, the meat could have spoiled or the birds themselves could have contracted some form of infection, but as I slaughtered and inspected them it was clear that they were healthy. As I washed the stork fillets the scent of lemon was difficult to detect but the coriander was fragrant. That night, with some mushrooms and pesto, I served it to the Imam and his wife in private. I still didn’t know how to read him, so his reaction of wide eyes and a frozen grimace sank my heart, but a steady nod and a glance of surprised appreciation between the couple dissolved my concern. Then, in an act which I never saw repeated, the Imam kissed his wife.
It wasn’t a smothering kiss but a softness that such a powerful man in that culture would never show – even in front of his servants. He was very reserved, as was his wife, but in that moment their vails slipped and I witnessed the humanity in their great booming pride. I said nothing, of course, and left them to finish their meal together. As I turned away I saw the Imam’s wife resting her hand on her husband’s as they continued eating. It gave me such pleasure, such satisfaction and vindication in my efforts so see my love pass between the Imam and his wife. When I returned they were sat gazing into one another’s eyes, lovesick.
Next I served them a creamed rice with roasted almonds and then closed off the meal with tea. They never spoke and didn’t acknowledging my presence, then retired at once.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey