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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Yellow (11/12/09)

TITLE: The Saffron Factor
By
11/18/09


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Finn Bjorklund understood saffron—its quality, expense, flavor. This he learned from his mother. Finn also understood about being a restaurant critic—at least the prestige and perks involved. This he enjoyed. What was lost on him was the realization that words could cause damage and that if those words were printed, it could reflect poorly on ones boss, who, in Finn’s case, happened to be his father.

He was ordered to write a feel-good review. Or else.

That’s how Finn found himself on Main Street in Barton, Kentucky, looking for a new restaurant called, “The ‘S’ Factor.” According to his GPS, it was just ahead on the right. He pulled into a metered parking space, though he carried no cash. If he got a ticket, he’d charge it to the magazine.

The dinner hour was still well off, but Finn liked to see what went on in the before. He tried the lacquered-oak door. Sure enough, it opened, and as it did, Finn heard shouts coming from the kitchen amid a clattering of stainless steel. Not unusual.

The interior of the restaurant glowed with incandescent light that bounced off butter-yellow walls. Finn’s eyes traveled to the high ceiling, which, along with the exposed pipes and vents, had been painted black. He murmured into a miniature recorder: upscale, industrial.

“Stop!” a male voice bellowed from inside the kitchen. “How many times do I have to tell you, Rita?—a little goes a long way.”

According to their website, this establishment was owned and operated by Rita and Rueben Sayoub. The cuisine was a smattering of eclectic dishes from around the globe—all flavored with the most expensive spice in the world—saffron.

“Your stinginess will be the ruin of us!” she yelled back. Rita didn’t sound like the petite woman he had seen on-line. Finn meandered among the tables, fingertips grazing linen. He enjoyed putting chefs on the spot regarding saffron.

Describe it, he’d say.

It gives everything it touches the loveliest shade of yellow, they’d reply.

But what does it taste like?

Many said it had a nutty, vanilla flavor. Some said it was earthy, like hay. Others thought it was more like a bitter, pungent honey. A few swore it was perfumy—definitely perfumy, they insisted— as it was, in fact, the stamen of the crocus. Gathered by hand—three filaments to a flower. By weight, worth more than gold.

All of them—wrong.

“Follow the recipe, Rita!”

“I am—why don’t you? I've had it with your pale and pasty buns—”

“My buns are neither pale nor pasty,” but something in Rueben’s voice had broken.

“Are you absolutely certain?” asked Rita. Finn strained to hear her. “Out on the counter’s a batch of mine next to a batch of yours—Rueben—please. Go see for yourself.”

For a moment, Finn felt himself the intruder about to be caught. His eyes fixed on the double doors to the kitchen.

Then Rueben found his fight again.

“Spendthrift!”

“Miser!”

Finn let out a long breath. Now he was curious. There on a counter, just outside the kitchen, sat several round platters covered in plastic wrap. He moved forward carefully, not allowing the heel of his loafers to clack against the terra-cotta tiles.

Even through the plastic, it was obvious which rounds held Rita’s backward “s”-shaped saffron buns. To be fair, Finn lifted two—one pale, one golden. The tongue and nose would tell.

Finn took a bite. Rueben’s tasted like a paper napkin.

Rita’s, though, was of cobalt blue and sunshine-yellow kitchens, of mothers with fine blonde hair and warm sweet necks. It was of an essence that could not be described by words. He closed his eyes, savored every bite.

When he finished, he pulled a business card from his wallet, and on the backside wrote: Rita’s right about the saffron. He placed it on the counter.

As Finn left the restaurant, he turned his recorder on. He talked about the ambiance of the dining room. He highlighted the owners and their passionate relationship toward food and one another. And of the entrées? Well, he couldn’t comment on the smoked Portuguese linguica with the saffron rouille, covered with the 12-month Manchego cheese—yet he could go on and on about Rita’s saffron buns.

And he could remind his readers that saffron was like kindness—a little went a long way—but that was no reason to be stingy with it.


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This article has been read 697 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Charla Diehl 11/19/09
Interesting, educational and entertaining all at the same time. Very enjoyable story.
Loren T. Lowery11/20/09
Intriguing from beginning to end. Compelling, in that it reads like an atmospheric mystery. Thank goodness for the Rita's in this world and the Finn's who recognized their labor. The concluding moral could not have more perfectly summed up the story.
Bryan Ridenour11/23/09
Superbly written. Held my interest. and ended with a timely lesson- generosity. Well done!
Betty Castleberry11/24/09
I want more. I think this would be great as a series, following your MC around in his travels. Wonderfully written with vibrant descriptions. Kudos!
larry troxell 11/24/09
you must be not only a master writer but a master chef. i'm headed to the kitchen.
Connie Dixon11/24/09
Loved this. I've heard of saffron but never experienced it. Now I want to. Great descriptive narration and voice. Also loved the subtle humor. Great job!
Yvonne Blake 11/24/09
Ooooohhh...nice ambiance! I especially liked this line: "fingertips grazing linen"
Well written!
Jim McWhinnie 11/24/09
Exquisite detail in the perfect measure ... superbly written and wonderfully imagined.
Karlene Jacobsen 11/24/09
Amazing detail. My mouth was watering as Finn tasted the buns. Mmmm...
Henry Clemmons11/24/09
Very smart again. Upscale. Great pace, mood, details and a message that didn't overpower the reader, much like the proper use of your title in a recipe. Your words seemed more at ease this week. I'm hungry.
Bryan Coomes11/25/09
Nice read. Solid descriptions and loved the bantering back and forth as well as the ultimate message. I work with a gentlemen named Finn and I think he would like this as well. ;)
Mona Purvis11/25/09
I enjoyed that you allowed me the reader to be a fly on the wall to watch your MC. Very well done.
Mona
Verna Cole Mitchell 11/25/09
What a creative take on this topic. And what a unique and wonderful story. I shamelessly eavesdropped myself, along with your MC and the saffron rolls...ummmm delicious.
Sarah Elisabeth 11/25/09
Ooo I liked this! I love when an entry draws me in so much that I have to look away from the computer screen to remember where I am ;-)
Edmond Ng 11/25/09
Love the story! You are always so good at capturing the scenes and showing the characters' mannerisms! I was totally absorbed into the story and was wishing for more.
Beth LaBuff 11/25/09
As soon as I saw your title, I was trying to think of how you'd describe saffron to someone who'd never tasted something with that exotic spice in it. Your description was fascinating. I had to laugh at the argument over the "pale and pasty buns"... I enjoyed this immensely!
Mary Knoll Santos11/25/09
I enjoyed this entry very much! A lot of diligent research? Do you use much saffron in your cooking? In our culture, we use it in some of our home cooking. I'm never aware of its "exotic flavor" until you described it.

Thanks for your excellent writing.
stanley Bednarz 11/26/09
Lisa
You bring everything to the table. Your writing is what makes us hungry for more.
Noel Mitaxa 11/26/09
Your sense of animation is so strong that you make even a very basic cook like me want to make something - like a reservation at the restaurant. Well done.