In the middle of the dark room was a steel kitchen table and the demon. The table was heaped impossibly abundantly with food. The demon sat at the end of it, smiling, waiting.
“I’ve come for my father,” Becky announced.
“He’s here.” The demon gestured and there he was, seated at a dining table high on a dais, fidgeting with the silverware.
The demon raised a hand, cutting off her cry. “He can’t see or hear you. He’s simply here for the contest.”
“A cooking competition!” The demon spread his arms and the walls transformed: banks of stoves and ovens, rows of mixers, racks of knives, bowls, spoons; a vast and perfect kitchen. “Whichever of us makes the dish your father likes best, with them shall he stay.”
“But – he’s a food writer! How can I make something that will impress him when you have the power to do all this?”
He bared his blackened teeth in a cruel smile. “Begin!”
He materialized in a puff of smoke before one of the stoves, flanked by a staff of smaller demons. Becky remained alone. She looked one last time at the dais and began to plan.
The table seemed to boast more food every time she looked: cured meats, fresh herbs, gleaming peppers, oils and vinegars, whole chickens, fragrant cheeses, bowls of greens. Even with all the exotic flavors and techniques her dad had introduced her to, the variety was overwhelming. Her demonic competition scampered back and forth, taking ingredients, but the table never seemed to empty. They took a slab of purplish fish – tuna, she realized – and some greens, which the demon sautéed. Both items soon reappeared on the infinite table.
Becky picked up some tomatoes. The food rearranged itself, adding crab and capers to the assortment. She was beginning to feel sick with fear. What could she possibly make with her skill level – which was high for a fifteen-year-old, but still – that could best a supernatural being? And assuming she could produce something Michelin-star worthy, what could she make that could win over her father, who’d eaten at the best restaurants in the world?
On the demon’s side of the kitchen, a squat assistant was blending a green emulsion. The demon himself was grilling something wrapped in parchment that was steaming gently and smelled like backyard summer.
And then Becky knew what to make.
They served her father three dishes: two by the demon and one by Becky. The kitchen lay shadowed, and the dais had transformed into a candlelit leather booth. He even had his notepad out for reviewing.
He sampled the tuna first.
“Magnificent,” he announced after swallowing. “Beautifully seared. And is this wasabi in the emulsion? Amazing.”
The demon smirked. Becky’s heart sank.
Next, the mysterious parchment dish, topped with fries from multicolored potatoes and bathed in a swirl of scarlet oil. Her father unfolded it, enchanted, and carefully took a bite.
“Barbecued chicken,” he murmured, his eyes closing in appreciation. “Perfectly balanced sauce…fork-tender meat…and these fries, with this spicy oil, it’s just perfect!”
Despair tore through her as he reached for her dish. A tear escaped down her cheek. Even though he couldn’t really see her, she wiped it away furtively.
“Grilled cheese and tomato soup?” Bemusement gave way to a smile, distant but warm. “My favorite.”
Becky felt her own small smile. At least she’d been able to give him this moment, before the end.
He dipped half the sandwich into the soup and took a bite. His smile grew broader. “Mayo instead of butter on the sandwich – nice touch. And this soup…”
He frowned suddenly and tasted another spoonful. The smile reappeared. “Plenty of oregano, Parmesan, garlic…and sun-dried tomatoes. Just like my daughter makes it.”
He looked up at her – really at her – and the dark kitchen vanished behind her, taking the frustrated roar of the demon with it.
They were home. The demon’s polished kitchen had transformed into their own battered wooden cabinets, scratched black mixer, and mismatched knives.
“Hey, Bec.” He was still smiling. “Great soup! Where’s yours?”
She smiled back and poured herself a bowl.