A clear survey of his inventory was important. Meat by the ton? Check. No need to worry about it being Bison. Buns? Certainly, something that resembled them at least. John found a decent baker who was quite happy to sell him a large quantity all at once. Cheese? He looked at the wheels he had purchased. It was certainly cheese. Though that was another thing he should have planned ahead for. As it turned out, not all cheese was equivalent. He knew that. He also knew it was pretty much impossible to get familiar cheeses in this world, since even small variations in bacteria and the ingredients vastly changed the results. So he had a few kinds of cheeses that at least tasted good on their own. Finally, he had vegetables. The difference between good lettuce and bad lettuce was huge, so he made sure to buy something tolerable. And the good thing about being in a place like this was that everything that was available would be fresh.
Sure, he didn’t have anything that was quite a tomato. Or onions. And he really needed to find something to replace pickles. But not every burger had all of that, and he was able to buy some local sauces to replace things like mayo and ketchup.
So all John was missing was a proper kitchen, workers, clear options, a steady supply chain… oh, and customers. But at least he had a stall and a grill.
He used his own spiritual energy to heat the grill. What was the point of all that cultivation effort learning to use fire and attune to a totem if he didn’t use it? Sure, it had come up in combat… but in truth he was still least practiced with flames. So if he wanted to, he could use the excuse that this whole thing was training. But mostly it was self indulgence.
The meat sizzled on the grill, providing a vaguely familiar smell. He controlled the flames while he sliced the bun and the various components. A slab of cheese went directly on the grill. He realized he should get a proper spatula only after everything was in place. Ah well, what was spiritual energy for if not this?
The meat changed color properly and he flipped it. The cheese was placed on top, and he had the control to keep it from oozing everywhere too early. The rest of the ingredients were placed to maintain the structural integrity of the bun.
If John was walking by, the smell would have drawn him over. He looked around the market and… found himself pretty much ignored. Well, that could be solved later.
He handed the first burger to Crystin, while taking the second for himself. It was… certainly a burger. It wasn’t bad or anything. Rather, it was quite tasty. But the match of flavors wasn’t quite as he’d been imagining. It needed more work to hit his memories. Still, nobody but him would know what it was supposed to taste like. Bison was certainly more gamey, so he would have to take that into account with future cooking. Which ultimately meant asking someone who did cooking not just from a few set recipes.
Crystin watched John devour his food, using one hand to hold her own burger and take cautious bites.
“So, what do you think?” John asked.
“Well, it’s good, but…”
“But what? You can be honest.”
“It’s nothing about the flavor,” she said. “I just don’t see the point in eating it.”
“Isn’t the point of eating food that it’s tasty?” John asked.
Crystin shook her head. “Not primarily. Or rather, that is just one factor. You don’t think all the food at the clan was made just to be tasty, right?”
Well, John certainly remembered some of it was. But he understood the point. The main meals were made with a certain intention. To promote cultivation, which included both nutrition and spiritual energy content. Taste was a luxury that the Tenebach clan never lacked, but the practical side leaned towards some of the other factors occasionally.
“Hmm,” John frowned. There were plenty of people who weren’t cultivators. Wouldn’t they want some? Perhaps his prices were too high for that. Certainly, a few people were wandering past and curious, but nobody had taken the bait yet. “What else am I missing?” John asked himself.
He thought back to Brad’s Burgers. What did they have? Well, first was familiarity with the food. And being part of a chain, albeit small. So John had never really had to seek out new customers, or at least not starting from the ground up. But more importantly…
“Flashy pictures,” John clapped his hands together. Now, he could spend a good portion of his spiritual energy to maintain a poor illusion of a burger all day… or he could just make one and have it sitting visible.
He’d still have to call out to customers though. And while it didn’t really matter if this whole thing failed, he kind of wanted success. He tried something with the next patty. And a handful after that. The results were… Terrible. Completely ruined. But he also didn’t have any customers that he had to serve, so experimentation was just fine.
One more attempt. He already had a greater appreciation for Raul’s work, but he was certain he could do this on his own. He reached out for the patty with his abilities and began to slowly extract the element from it. All five that he possessed. This time, the results were what he wanted. Though being left with a light element burger was… suboptimal, for him personally.
Still, at least he could do it. And he was glad to find that most local ingredients had a good mix of elements. So even if they were less dense than the hoary alyssum, everything had some spiritual energy within it. The bison was probably the best example of that.
Once he got his new methods down, he modified the sign, slightly lowering the prices for a ‘standard’ burger and adding a higher price for ‘elementally attuned’ options. He also began calling out to potential customers.
He explained himself over and over with few results. Several people eventually bought a burger out of curiosity. They seemed to like it, but he wasn’t getting rave reviews or anything. He hadn’t sold any elementally attuned ones yet.
Then John caught Viriato walking by. The plump merchant sniffed the air, his nose and head turning towards John’s stand. “Oh, what’s this? I didn’t take you for running a food stand.”
“Well,” John shrugged. “It’s hardly a business. More of a hobby I wanted to try. Especially considering the results so far.”
“Not exactly overflowing with customers,” Viriato agreed. “What’s ‘elementally attuned’ mean?”
John gestured to a half dozen patties serving as examples. He was using his spiritual energy to keep them warm while trying not to make them overcooked, or letting too much heat spread to other ingredients. He could manage that since he didn’t really have that much else he had to focus on.
“Oh, interesting,” Viriato said. “Hmm, light or darkness… maybe I should get one of each?” He muttered to himself about imbalance.
“Well, you’d want one with a mix of light and darkness inside it, right?” John asked.
“Can you do that?”
“Can I?” John grinned. Actually, it wasn’t as hard as it sounded. He had some experience with dealing with the two elements- both in regards to the Golden Tomb Guardians and Cuah’arn as well as observing his daughter and son-in-law. In some ways, it was one of the easier options for him since he just had to remove the four core elements while keeping darkness from annihilating itself with light. Anything that didn’t involve light meant removing it, so in a way it was actually most difficult for him to get pure darkness at the moment since darkness was his best vessel for drawing out the final element he had no totem for.
Still, it took a bit to fulfill Viriato’s order. The patties were rather thick, so they didn’t cook that quickly. Perhaps he should do something to cook them more quickly? He could spread his spiritual energy through them, after all. Not something he should experiment with right now, but later certainly.
“Here you go,” John said, placing the burger down in front of the man. He didn’t really have plates… but he didn’t have to touch things with his hands so it wasn’t really a big issue. Though some people might not want to carry them directly so… another thing he had to deal with eventually.
“This is eaten out of hand, correct?” Viriato asked. He picked it up with both hands and looked suspiciously at the vegetables. He then took a tentative bite. Then he took another bite. The third was even more rapid. Less than a minute later, and he was licking his fingers. “That is quite pleasing. And the balance of spiritual energy… could certainly be useful for my training. Could I bother you for another?” John made him a second, which disappeared just as quickly. Viriato seemed tempted to go for a third, but stopped himself. “You’ll be here tomorrow, won’t you?”
“Well, I’m not going to give up after just one day,” John said. “But business is just as you see.”
Viriato nodded. “It will likely pick up at lunchtime.”
John felt like an idiot. He was so eager to get started… he hadn’t really thought about that much.
And the merchant was right. At lunchtime a lot more customers came to him. Not really enough for him to be busy- it seemed that many people had their favorites or preferred food from a proper restaurant- but it didn’t feel like a complete waste of time. He got another small crowd at dinner, trying out something new.
John looked at what remained. He’d been a bit optimistic about his cooking. He had probably a dozen rather large burgers assembled, some of various elements and some ‘plain’- which was to say with the full mix of spiritual energy that most people got nothing from.
Well, only the meat would have been good the next day anyway so John wasn’t too bothered. The buns were good, but they were already starting to stale. Maybe he should get a second order midday.
As he was beginning to pack up, John spotted a figure in a nearby alley. The kid shrunk away at his gaze, but John gestured him over. “Ayhan, come here.” The urchin had delivered a message for Raul once.
The young man sheepishly walked over. “Sorry, sir. I wasn’t going to try to nick anything, honest. I was just hoping you might… throw that out somewhere I could get it.”
“That would be a waste,” John said. “You have any friends?”
“Uh, some,” Ayhan said.
John grabbed a cloth out of his storage bag and cut it into smaller pieces. Then he began to bundle burgers together. “Take this to them. It won’t be any good in the morning. Obviously you should have one yourself.”
Ayhan nodded, taking the small pile into his arms. “What about those,” he said looking at what remained. Left behind were the elementally attuned burgers.
“Those are a bit dangerous. Unless you know anyone with some control over spiritual energy, the pure elements in these can make you sick.” They weren’t charged enough to be truly dangerous, but it still wasn’t good to let elements into the body without intent behind it.
“Oh,” Ayhan said. “Actually…” he stretched out the word. “I know a few people who are beginning to practice cultivation. So they could handle it.”
That was a lie. Or at least half a lie. John shook his head. “I mean it. It’s not safe. And no offense, but if you knew a handful of people equipped to handle this you’d probably not be as you are.” John thought for a moment. “But I don’t want them to be wasted. So either you bring these people to me, or bring me to them. I need to make sure nothing unpleasant happens.”
Packing up the stall only took a moment- storage bags were amazing- and Crystin was already blending into the shadows, since she didn’t like standing around visible in public anyway.
“Well…” Ayhan frowned. “I suppose I could show you where some of us hang out. As long as you don’t tell the guards.”
“What guards?” John raised an eyebrow.
“The Society ones…”
John nodded. “Ah. My lips are sealed.” He made a zipper gesture… which might not have meant anything to the kid. But ultimately the point got across.