Of course the bloody space fleet had restaurants on their swankier space ships and space stations. Of course the space newspaper had a reviewer who visited the restaurants during times of peace or diplomacy. Of course the cuisine was usually tremendous.
And, of course, no one wanted the reviewer gig. Why? Space sickness, possible enemy action, lost time in stasis, the phrase “usually tremendous”. For every beautiful, sense-loading, delightful Arganidian Mezze there were five stodgy, try-hard authentic Saloptranian IV banquet “tristes”. Every mouthful of Bulgraum Desert Sod Soufflé had a murky Triamarind Soup lurking in the background.
Galaxy-wide cuisine was in the grip of “good honest food” again and boy was its unadorned, fashionable gloominess contaminating every other half-decent chef, battalion, bistro, restaurant, up-market cafe street food van, and pop-up from Vangloss Prime to Teatar.
“Get on the shuttle, Reeves, you’ve lost the lottery of life. You’re heading off to Regnis 8 the latest SuperCruiser in the fleet to review Goût the latest restaurant in the fleet. All top brass and fizz for you lassy.”
“Goût?” asked Reeves, still slightly hungover.
“Goût. It means ‘tasty grub’ in Drabbish apparently. Get packed, you leave in 15 space minutes.” The Editor of Galaxy Travel Magazine was a diaphanous cloud of pan-universal filligree but she was a hard bastard who you fucked with at your peril.
“But boss, why me?”, Reeves whined. “Last month it was covering another fucking Royal Wedding, and now this shitty job. What did I do to deserve this?”
The Editor levitated a photograph of the young reporter arm in arm in arm in arm in arm with Stan Ensills, publisher of Moderniste Space Plating magazine. “This, now fuck off out of my site and give this restaurant a good review.”
Reeves slunk out of the office, into a waiting cab and out to the shuttle port.
While she went through security, she checked up on the new joint she was supposed to be giving a glowing review too. First out of the traps was the name of the chef: Barkus Fords. Excellent. An old friend from finishing school. Barkus had married Jula Crops another old friend of hers back when he was an under-chef at a grand old hotel that had hung onto its three Argon Thruster Stars for centuries. Luckily, and totally outside of the love of the two beings, Jula’s father owned the hotel as well as a chain of others and quickly installed Barkus as head-top chef in one of them that was unlikely to go under no matter what came out of the kitchen. And the rest was history. Barkus was a whiz with figures so even following the divorce he and Herr Crops Senior carried on as successful business partners.
This partnership also meant that unlike other chefs who would inevitably have fallen hook line and sinker for heirloom Frumberries or artisan Quillum Flakes, Barkus was obsessively Moderniste. If there was a dish to be reimagined, smashed all over the ceiling to drip into the mouths of the waiting acolytic diners; painted onto hoverboards and them toasted, then Barkus would go the entire hog, or cow or Flibbian Angel Shark.
“Food at this level is experiential”, she had explained to Reeves as they dined at her previous place – ‘Aspire’ on Prebbish 1. ‘Aspire’ was as doomed a venture as Prebbish 1 as it went.
Reeves wrote down the sentiment, underlining “at this level” twice and “experiential” three times.
“You have to imagine that most diners – no matter who they are – want, no desire, no they need, to be wowed by you. Anything else is simply undermining your talents and their expectations. Whoever I cook for must experience at least one mind altering, sense licking sensation for every dish we place in front of them, or over them, or hide from them in another dish that we then reveal is in fact a 3D print of a dish that they might have at some point in the future. What we do is not ‘food’ per se. It’s more life on thrusters.”
That was Barkus and that was what got printed alongside pictures both moving and still of the 22.5 course set menu that took eight hours to consume and another 400 analyse.
During the short life of ‘Aspire’ menu items had included:
Flame-charted Carillion Chewchew
Collapsed Jappa Lung Flaun
Klinper Breads with Slow Sauce
Yapper Milk Sausage
Calculon Plants with Live Gralick Toasties
Muzzilion Calf Skin with Stope
And obviously, obviously the legendary Pie Pie with Evening Cream and Bolted Sandor Pollen.
Reeves made it through security with a minimum of bullying, groping, hard faced microaggressions and straight out cursing into her face. For historic period in which the SuperDrive™ had made interstellar travel a reality, no government every really liked to see its people travel. The sheer leeching of tax money and people talent mediated against it. The constant warring among planets – and in two cases, moons – made the authorities suspicious.
Because the only people who could afford to travel to space stations or cruisers were wealthy or on expense accounts, there was no need for travel classes. It was very much a case of sit where you liked – that was democracy in action. So, Reeves found a window pod and settled in for the three week flight.
Three weeks later she woke up. She showered, brushed herself and settled into a seat for some food as the shuttle made its five hour descent to the SpaceDock™.
Shuttle food was good. It was still a few years behind the times so it usually came with treats, lots of flavours and textures, and fun. It was the antithesis of “good, honest food” in fact. Sooner or later it would catch up with the worthy, puritanically healthy fashion of the now but until then – and deep in the storm of tsking, tutting, and eyebrows raising that surrounded her – Reeves enjoyed the hell out of the meal that had been synthesised for her.
It was as she was chewing the fat from the last tiny leg of Grillian Grouse Doused in Shimma Wine that she realised exactly how she was going to write up ‘Goût’. She was going to make a sensation. She’d calculated, possibly in her sleep that the Good Honest revolution had been rioting through the eateries or the universe for about five Universally Agreed Years by this point and that this was about long enough. Someone had to be brave and insightful enough to end it by starting something new. Craig Jaroo had done it with his Moderniste review of Aspray Arnaz’s ‘Fold’ restaurant. Monoc the Grand’s “12 New Rules of Eating” feature in “Yum! Yum?” magazine all those years ago had introduced Molecular Cookery with its sauces and, well, molecules. Both of these writers were legends. Reeves wanted to be a legend. Barkus was a nice sort, a bit behind times but time was rapidly becoming a negotiable idea anyway, so what the hey!
She began to Thinktate the opening of her review into her Thinktaphone™.
“Goût is a new way of thinking disguised as an old stager but don’t be fooled by the brilliantly retro stylings of the magnificent Barkus Fords, this place is setting standards not sticking to them. What we have with Goût is new-healthy, it’s taken authentic ingredients and techniques and injected more new life into them than you could force into a Spaltic Capone with a syringe from Dr Vvamton’s kitbag.”
She smiled and relaxed. She was looking forward to catching up with Barkus.
So, it was with some chagrin that as the news that the war with the Fidgeon Empire had restarted and both Goût and the Prebbish were blasted out of the sky in front of her eyes.
“Bawbags”, she whispered. “Now what?”