Chapter 374 - A Pie in the Sky

Yu Xiaocao seriously checked his pulse and said, “Fifth Lord, you have slight symptoms of a cold. You don’t need to take any pills, but did you bring Tongren Medicine Hall’s cough syrup?” 

The emperor emeritus glared at her with his large bell-like eyes, which looked quite scary, “This lord and the people around me are all grown adults, so why would I have such a thing? Aren’t those syrups for children?” 

Yu Xiaocao explained, “The syrups are mostly made of relatively mild drugs and don’t have any side effects. It’s effective for treating mild cold and coughing. Fifth Lord, you have a strong body, so you can quickly recover after drinking cough syrup. Why would you eat bitter pills and spoil your appetite?” 

The emperor emeritus, Zhu Huaiyong, thought about it and felt that the little girl’s words sounded quite reasonable. It didn’t matter what kind of medication he took, as long as it worked quickly and didn’t delay him from enjoying delicious food. 

After Zhu Huaiyong drank a sip of the syrup, he rinsed the sweetness within his mouth with warm water. Then he eagerly said, “Lass, quickly cut up some pig head meat and pig ears for me. Dequan, take out the wine that I told you to bring along. To drink wine and eat cold pig head meat, that feeling is… even better than living as an immortal!” 

With a stern expression, Dequan looked at Yu Xiaocao and asked, “Miss Xiaocao, with my master’s health, can he eat such greasy food and drink wine?” 

Without waiting for Yu Xiaocao’s reply, Zhu Huaiyong glared at him with his large bull-like eyes and shouted, “Why can’t I? It’s just a small cold. I’ve already drank ginger soup and taken the medication. Didn’t you hear what Lass Xiaocao said? My illness will get better soon! Dequan, stop wasting time and quickly go get the wine!!” 

Dequan’s feet didn’t move at all, and his eyes were still focused on Xiaocao. Yu Xiaocao smiled at him and said, “He can eat meat, but he can’t drink any alcohol at all!” 

Seeing that the emperor emeritus wanted to say something, she continued, “Drinking alcohol is the most taboo thing for one to do when ill. If the illness becomes more serious, I’m afraid that, in the future, even eating meat will be forbidden and you will need to eat a light diet…”

When Zhu Huaiyong heard this, he quickly let go of his desire to drink. He didn’t want to be a little white rabbit—be a vegetarian—under Dequan’s supervision! 

It was about time for lunch now. Yu Xiaocao cut up a small plate of pig head meat, which consisted of more lean meat than fatty meat, and mixed it with minced garlic and sesame oil. Responding to his request, she also made a plate of pig ear strips with chili oil and cut half a roasted chicken. After that, she stir-fried several vegetable dishes and placed them all on a kang table.   

Zhu Huaiyong complained about the lean meat of the pig head meat, but he unreservedly wrapped the pig head meat within a steamed bun and ate it in big mouthfuls. He devoured all the meat dishes on the table and drank a big bowl of soup, but he didn’t eat much of the vegetable dishes. After he finished eating, he rubbed his belly with contentment and lay down to rest on the kang bed. 

Yu Xiaocao also prepared a sumptuous meal for Head Steward Dequan and the imperial bodyguards. Most of the dishes were the braised food from the shop and a few stir-fried dishes. Everyone was very satisfied with her cooking. Originally, it was quite a difficult task to accompany their master on a trip in December. However, when the imperial bodyguards found out that their master wanted to go to Dongshan Village, they competed fiercely for this opportunity in private. None of the imperial bodyguards who had tried Yu Xiaocao’s cooking didn’t miss and yearn for it.    

Yu Xiaocao had used mystic-stone water to make the soup that the emperor emeritus drank. Therefore, when Zhu Huaiyong woke up from his sleep, his entire body felt comfortable and refreshed. His fatigue from the trip was also gone. 

Zhu Huaiyong, who had filled his stomach and rested, called Yu Xiaocao over and discussed with her, “Lass, the business of your braised food shop in the prefectural city is doing very good ah! Are there any plans to open a branch shop?” 

Yu Xiaocao thought about it and seriously answered, “We’re seriously understaffed here, so we can barely manage one shop! Where would we get the energy to manage another shop?”

Zhu Huaiyong widened his bull-like eyes and smacked the table, “Manpower? This lord has it ah! What do you think about this? I’ll provide the workers, storefront, and money, while you provide the skills. Let’s collaborate to open a braised food shop in the capital. You don’t have to worry about anything, other than teaching the chefs to make the braised pig head meat to taste exactly like yours. You don’t even have to come to the shop. You can take all the profits; I won’t take a single coin!!” 

‘What? Emperor Emeritus, are you a fool? Or do you have so much money that you don't know how to spend it? You’re providing the money, people, and storefront, as well as also doing all the work. Yet you’re giving away all the profit and not taking a single copper coin? Did such a good matter like a pie-in-the-sky really happen to me?' 

Yu Xiaocao slightly hesitated, and then asked, “Fifth Lord, didn’t I already give you the recipes for braised food? The imperial chefs in the palace have already learned the method of making braised pig head meat, so why do you still want to open a store?” 

When Zhu Huaiyong heard her mention those disappointing imperial chefs, he got angry, “Don’t bring it up! When you were in the palace, the braised food that the imperial chefs made was still acceptable. But, after you left and there wasn’t anyone supervising them, their cooking skills instantly decreased! Yet they’re still claimed that they made it according to your recipe. Wouldn’t that make you angry too?” 

“Eh… Perhaps they’re used to cooking exquisite and elegant food, so they still have a slight sense of disdain and resistance towards coarse dishes like braised pig head meat and offals. Mentality determines craftsmanship. So that might be why they can’t meet Fifth Lord’s standards, right?” Yu Xiaocao was very clear about the real reason, but she had to work hard to think of an excuse for the imperial chefs. 

After thinking about it, Zhu Huaiyong completely agreed with her. He was so angry that he wanted to harshly reproach those arrogant and self-important imperial chefs. 

Yu Xiaocao giggled and said, “Fifth Lord, have you never suspected that I might have given you a fake recipe, or held something back?” 

Zhu Huaiyong glanced at her and firmly stated, “You won’t! Your guts are even smaller than an ant, so you don’t have the courage to play tricks with me. Besides, you personally taught those guys in the palace. Under your guidance, they were clearly able to make delicious tasting braised pig head meat. As soon as you left, there was something wrong with the taste. Those old fellows must be loafing on the job!! This won’t do. Lass, you must cooperate with me and open up a braised food shop! Otherwise, this lord would have to run all the way to the prefectural city or Dongshan Village in order to authentic braised pig head meat!! I’m getting old and can’t endure such trouble…” 

‘Tsk! He is even using the ‘tactic of mourning soldiers’! Emperor Emeritus, this isn’t the battlefield, so your tactics won’t work here!’ 

“Since Fifth Lord already said that, I can’t tactlessly ignore your kindness, right? Then it’s settled. Selecting the location, renovation, hiring, management, and procurement… I won’t interfere with any of those matters. I’m only responsible for training the cooks! But, I’m not a greedy person, so let’s split 50-50!” Yu Xiaocao thought that the emperor emeritus’ proposal was good, but she didn’t feel at ease. If she pulled the emperor emeritus onto the same boat, then no one would dare cause trouble for them. 

“Sure! As expected, this lord didn’t misjudge you. You’re such a kind and righteous girl! I’ll go back tomorrow to make the arrangement and strive to open the shop in December…” 

Emperor Emeritus, weren’t you being too impatient? It was already the tenth day of December. When you got back to the capital, you would have to choose the location, renovate the shop, and so on. Wouldn’t that need at least two to three months to be completed? 

Yu Xiaocao never expected that this wasn’t an idea that the emperor emeritus suddenly came up with. Instead, he had long settled on a storefront, which was used to be the location of a long-established pastry shop. He forcibly exchanged the storefront with them by giving them a store that was located at an even better area and worth a higher price. He also compensated them with a lot of money for delaying their work. 

By the time Yu Xiaocao was taken to the capital on the twentieth of December, the storefront was already ready for operations after being slightly fixed up. In addition to the oven, the back kitchen also had six stoves and various kitchenware were available. The staff was already in place, and they were just waiting for her, the ‘main chef’, to come over! 

For this visit to the capital, Yu Xiaocao also brought along Yangliu, a maidservant who was obsessed with cooking, and her older twin sister, Yu Xiaolian. Yu Xiaolian had already mastered the skill of braising food, and the braised food she made tasted even more authentic than Yu Xiaocao’s. It would be a waste not to use these free helpers.

Yu Xiaocao wandered around in the kitchen, and then went to look at the well in the backyard. She asked the little divine stone to turn the well water into mystic-stone water, and she also did the same for the water in the vats. She arranged Yu Xiaolian to teach the chefs, who were sent by the emperor emeritus, how to make braised food. Xiaolian had strict control over the ratio of the seasonings, as well as the heat for cooking. 

Xiaocao, on the other hand, personally taught Yangliu how to make dishes like roasted chicken, roasted duck, salted duck, smoked duck, and more. Then she taught the recipes to the other chefs. Anyway, the emperor emeritus assured her that these chefs were trustworthy, and they would never leak the recipes. In order to not compete with Zhenxiu Restaurant, she specially requested to limit the sales of dishes that were the same or similar as the dishes sold at Zhenxiu Restaurant. 

After being busy for two days, the shop that the emperor emeritus personally set up was finally ready for business. Originally, he had prepared open the shop in a low-key manner by just setting off a string of firecrackers and uncovering the plaque. Unbeknownst to him, many people had started watching him since he exchanged storefronts with the pastry shop. The news that the emperor emeritus had nothing to do and decided to open a store swiftly spread throughout the upper-level circle in the capital. All their preparation before the opening of the braised food shop were being watched by countless eyes in the dark. 

On the day of the opening, an endless stream of high-ranking officials, aristocrats, and retired old officials had come. With a stern expression on his face, Head Steward Dequan greeted all the guests for the emperor emeritus. Fortunately, these people, with the exception of the old officials who had made great contributions when following the emperor emeritus, all tactfully left after leaving a gift.   

From morning to noon, there was no stop in the people coming to congratulate them. Head Steward Dequan and the eunuchs who worked under him had to receive so many presents that their arms were tired. Even the one in the palace had joined in the fun and wrote a phrase of congratulation. He had Su Ran send it over, saying that hanging it up in the shop would give his imperial grandfather more face. Other people would definitely feel greatly honored to receive something personally written by the emperor, however, the emperor emeritus felt that his grandson was being too stingy. He had so many valuable goods, yet he only gifted him with some scribblings! 

The matters outside weren’t things that a little farmer girl like Yu Xiaocao needed to be concerned about. She just dutifully stayed in the back kitchen to teach cooking. She strived to ensure that these chefs could undertake the task without her help so that she could leave earlier and go back to celebrate the New Years with her family! 

Fortunately, these chefs weren’t stupid. They had a solid foundation and learned quickly. After the third day of opening, most of the chefs could do the work on their own. After the Yu sisters supervised the kitchen for a few more days, they felt that they could completely let go of their hands for the chefs to cook themselves. Even the emperor emeritus, who had a picky tongue, felt that the chefs could graduate from their apprenticeship, and finally agreed to let the sisters leave. 

When they left, the sisters strolled around the capital under the protection of two imperial bodyguards. They bought many goods that couldn’t be bought in the prefectural city and Tanggu Town, and prepared gifts for everyone in the family. They finally returned to Dongshan Village on December 28th. The family was pleasantly surprised to see the sisters because they thought that they wouldn’t be able to return for the New Years!

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Translator: Myst