Jaskier cannot cook much, but he is an experienced cook's helper.
When he gets in trouble at home? “Go help the cook,” and he is promptly made to put his excess energy to use beating SO MANY egg whites, and plucking chickens, and doing things that his parents maybe think are humiliating for a noble to do, but little Jaskier doesn’t know any better. He’s just happy to be useful, and also the cook secretly gives him a sweetmeat when he does an extra good job.
When he gets in trouble at boarding school? “Go help the cook,” and this time the cook is meal prepping to feed a bunch of teenage boys, and Jaskier chops SO MANY onions, peels bushels of potatoes, kneads countless balls of dough, and bundles and dries fruits and herbs before winter. This cook doesn’t give him candy, but they are a fount of good jokes and good gossip, which to young Jaskier is basically the same thing.
When he gets in trouble at university? Jaskier doesn’t actually have to help the cook, but the cook is still one of the best gossips on campus, and by now he’s used to thinking through the cause and effect of his actions while his hands are busy doing cooking-adjacent things. He also makes himself at home in various tavern kitchens, trading chores for performance time because Oxenfurt is a locale with more singers than places to sing.
The Witcher version of scut work is a bit different, but Jaskier makes grabby hands without thinking and does all the plucking when Geralt finds a bird for dinner; he figures out how to build a campfire that’s good for both cooking and warmth; after a period of careful observation, he starts helping with Potion Nights by prepping the herbs Geralt uses for his disgusting potions, because he doesn’t know alchemy but he does know how to grind, chop, and macerate things. It doesn’t occur to him not to do this. He is a DELIGHT and his presence is a GIFT, but he also suspects that Geralt has mentally plopped him into a box labelled ‘trouble,’ and, well, Jaskier knows what to do when he’s there, doesn’t he?
When Jaskier gets to Kaer Morhen, he looks at Vesemir. Vesemir looks at him. Jaskier’s ‘in trouble’ senses tingle even though he hasn’t had time to do anything yet. He shows up at the kitchen the next morning, bleary-eyed but entirely willing to chop the cabbages and onions that they’ll need for the midday meal. He makes himself personable, compliments the repairs done on the keep, sings a song from when Vesemir was a child because Jaskier is the kind of academic who researches music from hundreds of years ago for fun and wants to know if the song is supposed to say ‘the sun rises like a water buffalo’ or ‘like water from below.’
Vesemir says Jaskier might as well come back to help with dinner, and Jaskier doesn’t realize it’s a compliment.
Later that day, when they’re prepping the evening meal, Vesemir says, “Make the gravy when you’re done with those potatoes."
Jaskier says, “How do I do that?” because Jaskier is a gravy-stirring expert. THERE WILL BE NO LUMPS IN HIS GRAVY. But no cook has ever trusted him with the gravy-starting process.
It turns out that Vesemir is, deep in his soul, a teacher, and Jaskier, deep in his soul, actively wants to learn everything in the known universe, so they’re actually a pretty good match.
Vesemir shows him how to make gravy, and also how to do a bunch of other things, so gradually and matter-of-factly that Jaskier doesn’t really think about it. He takes Jaskier on little plant-gathering field trips and shows him how to find the best places to set snares for game. Away from the younger wolves, Jaskier feels less like he has to ‘perform.’ Vesemir gets to tell Jaskier some of the stories that the other Witchers have heard a dozen times already, and there are no Witcher traditions telling him how to treat bards.
Jaskier is canny enough to ask Vesemir questions about his stories that make him think of old events in new ways, and it’s the same with old recipes. “Why this and not that?” and “What would happen if…?” Since Vesemir is a learn-from-experience kind of man, usually his answer is, “Let’s find out,” and they set up a little test pot next to the big tried-and-true one.
(”It’s called curiosity, Geralt,” but it’s also craftsmanship, Jaskier’s natural tendency to push, pull, and tweak until something is the best it can be for the people who consume it. His audience deserves good things.)
There comes a day near the end of winter when the only thing Vesemir has to do in the kitchen is tell Jaskier what he wants for dinner and then lounge around with a glass of wine to keep an eye on things. After everyone has eaten, Vesemir announces proudly to the other Witchers that today’s delicious meal has been hunted, gathered, and cooked entirely by Jaskier. Jaskier abruptly realizes that maybe he was never in trouble at all.
Cooking isn’t atonement for Jaskier anymore. Instead it’s an act of creation, giving, and love.
(Next winter, Vesemir is going to start teaching Jaskier about alchemy.)