The King and the Cook

          The King and the Cook and the Fabulous Feast

     You have heard, perhaps, of the king who commanded the royal cook to create a dessert both hot and cold. Not only that, it must be both dark and light, as well as sweet and bitter. The cook, although confident that he could produce elegant meals for the royal family and state occasions, left the king's presence in fear and trembling. He wracked his brains all that night. As the light of dawn crept through the smoky kitchen windows, a solution came to him. At the state banquet the very next night he served each guest silver bowls of snowy vanilla ice cream. Melting over the top - you guessed it - dark bitter chocolate. That first ice cream sundae made the cook and his king famous for generations to come.
Well, this good King, by the name of Cole, is also famous for his jolly character, as you may have heard. He loved to laugh almost as much as he loved a good feast. When he could have both at once, he expanded like a party balloon, and throughout his kingdom, people felt a little more cheerful, the birds sang a little more sweetly and the sun itself seemed to shine a little brighter.

     The morning after a particularly fine performance by his court entertainers at a royal feast, Old King Cole was struck by a desire to honor his court jester, his deft acrobats, sweet musicians, dramatic sword swallowers, and dexterous magicians.

     Immediately, he sent for his Royal Cook.

     The Cook had not attended the performance, being of the opinion that entertainment was not a proper occupation for a serious person such as himself. He regarded his monarch with more patience than he extended to others who indulged in frivolity, possibly because many of the King's frivolities involved food - a subject in which the King and Cook shared a consuming interest.

     The King commanded the Cook to prepare a luncheon for his entertainers in which the entire menu was to be shaped like the tools of the entertainment trade. The Cook was thinking complacently of little spun sugar acrobats and musical instruments as the King, struck by a sudden inspiration, added: "And they shall be life-size, of course." "Of course, Majesty," the Cook responded smoothly.

     "And lots of pies. I feel in the mood for sweets." The King was always in the mood for sweets, but the Cook nodded and smiled as though this were a novel idea, and retired to his kitchen to plot and plan.

     The Cook did not have any great experience with entertainers, having, as we mentioned, no great sense of humor. In the next few days, more than one performer dropped their eyes, their lines, or the silver balls they were juggling under the intent glare of the Cook as he researched their supplies and equipment, muttering to himself and taking notes in a large notebook.

     On the day of the luncheon, the Cook laid out the gilded spoons and knives with a sense of satisfaction. Displayed artistically around the room were jugglers' balls made of cheese and sliced sausage, and a tightrope of red licorice strands braided together stretched across the room. In the center an acrobat, entirely constructed of raw vegetables, balanced on one celery leg. There were several side shows modeled after the King's favorite entertainments: a sword swallower swallowing a spun sugar sword, drawn from a dried fruit scabbard at his side, and a fire eater, preparing to gulp down a brilliant fiery Jello and raspberry torch.

     There were pies indeed - in the shapes of gold coins of the realm, reserved on a sideboard for the King to present to each of his entertainers with a pretty speech at the end of the luncheon.

     What the Cook could not have known, as an amateur at the fine art of appreciating creative people, was that a juggler, a clown, a jester or an acrobat cannot leave a prop alone. The Cook fondly imagined the usual response to his great work, a moment of stunned silence, followed by a babble of congratulation and commendation and then, with some urging, the appreciative and orderly devouring of his creations.

     In the first moments of the luncheon, when the first juggler saw the first cheese ball, he … juggled it! Now cheese is not the best juggling material and tends to fall, not to say fly, apart during the performance. The juggler was not at all dismayed. He contrived to send the flying pieces of cheese in the direction of several compatriots, who were only too glad to partake in his good fortune, catching the morsels - in their mouths, of course.

     The fire swallower was enchanted by the Jello fire. "My favorite flavor!" he said as he put it entirely into his mouth. "Ahhh," he exclaimed as he pulled it back out, smoking. The Cook frowned uneasily, but the King smiled, and the party began to hum and buzz with laughter and flattering comments.

     Everyone seemed to have a magic trick or two, as the Cook discovered when a jester tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Oh, would you give me a napkin?" The cook was pleased to be asked something that seemed so proper, and handed the jester a linen napkin, beautifully embroidered with the King's initials. As the napkin was placed in the jester's hand it disappeared. "My man," he said with dignity matching the Cook's own, "I asked you for a napkin." Flustered, the Cook produced a second, and a third and fourth napkin. And so on, until he had given the jester twenty napkins and was beginning to worry that the supply would give out. "I see that I will have to get one for myself," humphed the jester and walked away with his nose in the air. The Cook thought that perhaps the jester was making fun of him, but could not for the life of him make out exactly how.
Somewhat at a loss, he offered a nearby acrobat the last napkin, which he was still holding. The acrobat thanked him profusely and then, ate it. At the Cook's horrified look, the acrobat apologized and reaching into his mouth, pulled out not one, not two, not three, but nineteen napkins, handing each to the wide-eyed Cook. "I think there's one more," said the acrobat, frowning, "Do you have a toothpick?" "Why, um, yes," said the Cook, pulling a gold toothpick from a cup in the shape of a flute, made from a hollowed out zucchini. From the acrobat's mouth appeared a beautiful white dove, who picked up the toothpick and flew up into the rafters. "Nesting material," explained the acrobat, and cartwheeled away, while eating two grape eyes from a sword swallower entirely constructed of fruit, at the same time.

     The Cook picked up one of the napkins, somehow neatly folded and quite clean, and raised it delicately to his brow. Just before he did it himself, he felt an unseen hand begin to rub his head gently, then scratch delicately. "Puzzled about something?" asked a voice from above his head, and he looked up to see a high wire artist balancing on the licorice rope. "Oh, you can't.." gasped the Cook, "It's just licorice, you see, and..." "Oh, bother, I didn't know that!" exclaimed the high wire artist, and promptly tumbled to the ground. Or rather, he fell almost to the ground, as he was caught and flung across the room by an acrobat in green tights, spun around and deposited onto a see saw made of breadsticks and slices of toast - which seemed to the Cook's surprise to hold him quite securely - and bounced back to stand in front of the Cook. "Ta da!" said the high wire artist, "Fine feast, thank you, sir!"

     Well, I must tell you, not a fork, knife or spoon was used in that entire meal.

     At the close of the feast, the King rose, beaming, and called the entertainers to stand before him. Clearing his throat, he began to declaim what the entertainers were fairly sure was to be a long, boring and extremely uninteresting speech about skillful rendering of the skills of such and such and how he would be delighted to bestow upon them the rich rewards they so richly deserved. Before him on the table were arranged the rewards themselves, a long line of pies, each looking exactly like a gold coin.

     Before he had uttered more than "My dear entertainers," each guest, simultaneously and without consultation, solemnly lifted a pie and aimed it, silently, not at the King's heart, which would have been treasonous, but at his face. The King, who was no fool, as much as he enjoyed foolery, concluded hastily by saying "Would you please partake of your reward."

     The first entertainer bowed, and with his free hand on his heart, declaimed, "Oh no, I do not deserve this. But," he cried, "you do!", turning to his neighbor and squashing him squarely in the face with the pie.

     "Thank you, I'm sure," said the neighbor, flinging his own pie blindly (he had lemon cream in his eyes) across the room. The pie skimmed across the sword swallower's head, who reacted by shooting his still smoking Jello flame back toward his assailant; the flame landed in an acrobat's pie, splattering raspberry custard over him - and the acrobat and the jester who stood on each side of him. The pie continued on, bouncing off a spun sugar trampoline (to the Cook's surprise), and scoring a direct hit on the King's royal face. The Cook gasped and looked for somewhere to hide, but there was nowhere to escape the chaos or his sovereign's wrath.

     All was confusion. All was doomed!

     The King smoothly raised one royal hand and slid it under the last remaining pie - Coconut Cream - and with the grace of an accomplished acrobat, flipped it onto the sword swallower's sword. Bending the sword back like a bow, the sword swallower shot the pie into the center of the licorice tightrope. The tightrope bent back like a slingshot and sent the pie straight into the face of the Cook. A great shout of laughter and applause rang out in the hall, and the King sat down heavily on a raspberry pie that had come to rest on his throne, gasping with laughter.

     Meanwhile at the end of the table, four industrious entertainers had constructed a tower of ten pies: banana cream, vanilla custard, chocolate mousse, coconut meringue, cinnamon apple, mince, cherry, plum, peach and apricot pies, all balanced on the licorice rope. By some sleight of hand, they had anchored the rope to eight spun sugar acrobats lined up as though taking a bow.
With a flourish the sword swallower whacked off the sugary acrobats' feet, sending the whole delicious mess high into the air. A rain of pie globs and spun sugar snowflakes rained down on upon everyone's upturned faces.

     Looking around him in delight, the King discovered the means to deliver the finishing touch. Recovering several cherries from the tip of his nose, he aimed with admirable accuracy, and brought down three pies which had stuck to the ceiling, completely burying the Cook in strawberries and whipped cream.
The Cook emerged slowly, gazed around helplessly at the total destruction and happily gorging entertainers, and at his satisfied monarch scraping cherries off his ears, and...began to giggle.

     He was never quite the same again.