Yu-gyeong held her breath as Chef carefully added a sprinkle of grated pecorino romano over the artfully arranged noodles. Standing up, he put his hands on his hips and studied the plate with a frown.
He held out his hand. “Fork.”
Yu-gyeong handed him the fork.
He twirled the fork in the noodles and lifted it to take a bite. He chewed, his expression unchanging, and swallowed. Yu-gyeong leaned in closer.
“How is it?” she asked in a hushed voice.
“Awful.” He dropped the fork and clutched his hair. “Ahhh! This recipe is driving me crazy!”
Yu-gyeong took another forkful of noodles to taste for herself. She chewed slowly, paying careful attention to the flavors and textures on her tongue. The elastic firmness of the noodle, which had absorbed the rich olive oil, contrasted sharply against the crunch of the pine nuts, with their fresh, light aroma. The aftertaste, a little sweet, a little bitter, lingered in her mouth.
Chef was watching her now, his mouth quirked in his amused half-smile. “What’s wrong with it?”
She hesitated, wanting to get the answer completely right. “Well, the pine nuts are supposed to balance out the heaviness of the olive oil but it isn’t enough.”
He nodded. “And?”
“And...well, I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem to harmonize.” She gestured vaguely, trying to find the right words.
He folded his arms. “So what would you do to fix it?”
“If Chef can’t figure it out, then how am I supposed to know?”
“Haven’t you learned anything?” he said in his habitual clipped tone, used whenever he was being particularly sarcastic or impatient. “Haven’t you gotten to be an expert at fixing my failed recipes by now?”
She wrinkled her nose and stuck her tongue out. Chef sighed and threw the contents of the plate in the trash. “I think I should just go back to the beginning and start again.”
Yu-gyeong chewed on her lip. “What about adding ginger?”
Chef made a gesture of dismissal. “Makes the flavor too complicated. We want to emphasize the pine nuts.”
“That’s a thought,” he said slowly. “Yes, that’s not bad. Why don’t you try making it?”
She scowled. “We’re not at work, you know.”
“Ah, but I’m still your Chef, aren’t I?”
She couldn’t help smiling at that. “Always, Chef.”
“Well, what are you waiting for, Seo Yu-gyeong? Get on the pasta line!”
“Yes, Chef!” She pulled out a frying pan, testing its weight in her hand, and turned on the stove. “Let’s make a bet, Chef. I’m going to figure out this recipe before you do!”
He leaned on one elbow, watching her take out ingredients from the fridge. “You say the most adorable things,” he murmured in a low, deep voice that sent a little thrill down her spine. “What will I get if I win?”
She grinned and pinched his nose. “Mmm, I’ll do anything you want for one night?”
“Look at this woman!” he said, laughing. “No shame at all!”
“What will I get if I win?” she countered.
“What do you want?”
She thought it over for a few moments as she plunged the pasta into boiling water. “Teach me your boscaiola recipe.”
He studied her with a half-smile. “This is why I love you, Seo Yu-gyeong.”
“I know,” she said and pulled him down for a kiss.