Coriander Mason is a chef.
Coriander Mason is the best chef in the world.
But there is only one way to get Coriander Mason to cook you a meal. First you have to kill somebody.
To understand this story I need to take you back a couple of years, to a time when Coriander came second at the International Chef of the Year awards.
Coriander Mason was not happy.
To fully appreciate this story I need to take you back further still. After all, Coriander had entered the competition five times, and five times she had come second.
Coriander Mason was born to be a chef. Her maternal grandmother had been the head chef at the Dorchester Hotel. Half Italian, half French, she brought the proud traditions of both these great nations to the table. Her grandmother had married the head chef at the Ritz, Pablo Chatterjee whose signature dish of paella rogan josh was said to be a favourite of Winston Churchill and the old Queen Mother. And Coriander Mason’s mother was, of course, Vanessa Chatterjee, the doyenne of home baking.
It was somewhat of a surprise, and a bit of a scandal, when Vanessa took up with Coriander’s father, Elton Mason. Elton was Jamaican, of West African and South East Asian stock. Now Elton wasn’t a chef. Elton was an artist and a musician, unlike both of his parents who were, not surprisingly, chefs.
You may have thought that bringing together such a diverse range of culinary styles, tastes and customs might make for a peculiar hotpot but we have to face facts; Coriander Mason was a genius who could blend herbs with spices and sauces with soups.
So the obvious question is: why was Coriander Mason only the second best chef in the world?
The answer was George Vimto.
I suppose I should tell you, this is a bit of a love story. George Vimto adored Coriander Mason. Many people did. Put simply, Coriander was a beautiful woman, intelligent, independent and, like all great chefs, voluptuous. And if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, Coriander knew the route better than any other woman alive.
It is, unfortunately, an unrequited love story. George was not a good looking man, at least not in the traditional sense. In the non-traditional sense he was gorgeous: a bit on the short side, slightly overweight, going thin on top.
But George was a chef. Not a great chef, not like Coriander, but he owned his own cafe across the street from Coriander’s world famous restaurant – Chez Mason. And every day he watched Coriander arrive and he would smile and sometimes wave but Coriander barely acknowledged his existence. Her mind was filled with new creations, new blends of spices, new fusions of textures and tastes.
George knew there was only one way to be noticed.
The process of entering the International Chef of the Year competition is complicated. One place is reserved for the current incumbent. Six more go to the highest ranked, Michelin-starred chefs on each of the major continents. Five more enter through televised competitions where there are round upon round of heats and reheats. The final places are awarded through a written contest to find the four most original recipes.
Chez Mason had just been awarded an unprecedented fourth Michelin star and for the first time, Coriander was invited to enter the competition. And not only that but she was the favourite to win. Coriander’s reputation had now spread to every corner of the gastronomic world
George submitted a recipe, and from twenty three thousand entrants, George was one of the chosen few. George was not surprised.
Nor will you be surprised to learn that a competition as prestigious as the International Chef of the Year Award is shrouded in secrecy, not just by the organisers but by the contestants themselves. No chef wants to give away their secrets, their ingredients, their recipes until the last possible minute, and not always then.
The first year that Coriander and George entered, the finals were held in Budapest. George was excited. He’d never left the UK before. Coriander, or course, had travelled the world, cooking for kings and queens and presidents and rock stars, some of whom now made up the judging panel to select the International Chef of the Year.
George wasn’t interested in celebrity. George wasn’t particularly interested in cooking. George was interested in Coriander.
On the day of the competition, sixteen chefs stood in their kitchen areas on the stage of the Hungarian National Arena. The opening gong sounded and fifteen of the best chefs in the world began three hours of slicing and dicing, boiling, broiling, simmering, stewing and roasting. For more than two hours George did not move. He watched transfixed as Coriander prepared her dish of Scottish lamb marinated in guava and honeysuckle. With ten minutes to go before the final gong, George started cooking.
Of course he won. Don’t misunderstand me; there is nothing wrong with rich sauces, spiced foods or exotic ingredients but when you are in the right mood there is nothing in the world that will beat baked beans on toast.
At first Coriander did not hate George. She blamed the sponsors for choosing George’s recipe and the judges for going along with the joke. In Coriander’s eyes, George was just a silly little man looking for five minutes of fame. He was no more than a streaker at a fashion show.
This was not the effect George had hoped for. George had hoped Coriander would notice him both as a man, and as a man in touch with the tastes of the common man. Coriander shook his hand but she did not look him in the eye.
George saw this as a challenge. The following year, as the holder of the International Chef of the Year title, George was invited back to the competition, now held in Vancouver.
While Coriander Mason flambéed a wild Canadian salmon and prepared a bed of Senegalese Thieboudienne rice, George sautéed, deep fried, garnished and infused. There were many who praised Coriander’s vision but there was universal acclaim for George’s egg and chips with a slice of buttered bread and a nice cup of tea.
Coriander was really starting to dislike George and dislike turned to utter contempt twelve months later when George won for an unprecedented third successive year with a reheated Morrison’s sausage role and a can of orange Fanta.
By now many of the other chefs had changed their approach to the competition. Not only that but restaurants around the world had adapted their menus to suit the changing taste for simpler foods.
Against this tide of barbarism, Coriander clung on to all she held dear. She knew the wheel would continue turning and her creativity and inspiration would one day be fully recognised.
It wasn’t until George Vimto claimed his fourth victory, with a Walker’s cheese and onion crisp sandwich, that Coriander’s thoughts turned to murder. George had become the focal point of all the evil in Coriander’s mind but this now extended to food critics, food writers and especially competition judges.
The following year the competition moved to Florida. This year there was a twist. The finals were to be held in the Animal Kingdom theme park and the contestants were free to include in their ingredients any of the animals in the zoo. Perhaps if she had opened her eyes a little wider Coriander might have spotted a return to traditional restaurant values of exotic ingredients at wildly inflated prices.
Compared to many of the other entrants, Coriander kept things relatively simple. Not for her the chargrilled panther steak or pan-fried lemur. Coriander went with a Belgian D’Anver chicken in a medley of herbs and almond-scented wild mushrooms.
George knew that times were changing but he secured his fifth title with the classic pot noodle. Lifting the trophy was the last thing George did in this world. Coriander had invited him to taste her dish and along with the five members of the judging panel, George fell victim to cyanide poisoning. Indeed it was the cyanide that had given the almond-like tang to the wild mushrooms.
Coriander was now the undisputed best chef in the world. She was also serving the first of six consecutive life sentences for murder. She was spared the death sentence by offering her services as the head chef on death row: the chef who prepares the last meal requests of those about to be executed. And, with the encouragement of the prison Governor, many of her customers now chose Coriander Mason’s signature dish of herb chicken with almond-scented wild mushrooms.