Lesson One: Manifeasto
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A Manifeasto

They walk into the room, dressed in a full houndstooth chef's uniform, hat, and all. They nod at everyone, allowing them to ready their notepads and laptops, slowly inhaling and then exhaling in meditation. They snap their fingers and the electric burners of the stove at the front of the class turn on, a smile spreading across their face as they stride purposefully. They look around the room and catch your eye. "You. Who in your life made the best food?"

You hesitate, somewhat shocked they're talking directly to you. "Oh… my mom did, she made the best chicken marsala."

They laugh. "Exactly. Parents will almost always be held in high regard by their children for the food they cook. And once you eat my food, that will change." They flick their wrist, a chef's knife appearing in their hand. "I am Cary, Chef of the Cosmos, Pursuer of Spices, Butcher of All, They/Them. "

Cary looks at the class, a glint in their eye. "Food is universal to all cultures, all races of creatures sapient enough to raise it above a simple biological necessity. Eating, chewing, swallowing, digesting, excretion- these actions are simple, common, part of life's melange." They reveal five onions, clearly purchased from a local grocery store. "We are all sensory creatures. Our senses play an intrinsic part in our lives. Jobs, traveling, recreation, reproduction. All of these need our senses to complete properly- you can do these without them, but of course, there is a definite loss to the experience."

Cary begins chopping up several onions, deftly dicing them into cubes of a size you never thought physically possible. "But the thing about a good meal, not a great one, a good one, is that this experience is universal to all cultures. Using your local mythology, the best example is Norse mythology." They put the onions in a metal bowl, picking up olive oil and covering the onions in it. They season it with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, all of which were bought from a different nearby grocer. "Valhalla, or hall of the slain, is where those who fell in battle- a high honor in Norse culture- would go when they die, preparing for Ragnarok and to fight the Jotnar. During this preparation, it is explicit that they are fed excellent food served by beautiful valkyries, along with healthy amounts of mead. Food was clearly important to them, communal meals such an intrinsic part of their culture that eating was something you were rewarded with when you die."

They scrape the onion into a pan, twirling it around and applying a small hint of soy sauce. The sizzling sound of cooking onions fills the room, the scent giving you strong nostalgic feelings. "Onions are an important part of the cooking culture." Cary reaches into the pan, picks up a piece, and holds it up. Liquid blue light swirls around it, and an image of the piece expands, covering the room in a light blue glow. You can see the tiny individual cells, the hexagonal pattern in exquisite detail, the cuts so fine, and the knife so sharp that there's barely any breakage. Next to you, a classmate is awestruck, muttering "Truly the work of a master…"

As they speak their other hand seems to phase, becoming two ghostly afterimages working on a literal slab of beef. "With a standard pH of 5.5, the humble onion was domesticated in Central Asia nearly 7,400 years ago. It is interesting how, from a historical standpoint, massive Asian trade routes caused the onion to turn into a central part of so many dishes across three continents. It's used as a vehicle for flavor and is an easy addition when a raw crunch and tang are desired. They are delicious, and serve an important part of the shared culinary history that many countries have." The ghostly hands shred the beef, reducing it to strips about an inch thick and a quarter of an inch wide.

"The cow is sacred in many cultures, their equivalents across the planes being in similar positions. They are… the animal equivalent of onion if you will. Their meat can be cooked in a wide variety of methods- braised, baked, fried, aged, grilled, smoked, or roasted. And even further there are entire subcultures dedicated to deciding which cut of the cow is the most delicious, and what style of cooking is the best- the simple cow, a beast of burden, has been monumentally intrinsic to the culture of a former world superpower." The beef is gently lain on the now partially dissolved bed of onions, the thin strips sizzling. Cary picks up a bottle of vodka, sprinkling it around the pan and eliciting an even more intense sizzling. The smells are so intense you can't help but drool, the simple seasoning mixes seemingly making love in your nostrils.

"Now, vodka… wódka… this is made from humble kartofel, a spud of much repute." Cary takes a small sip, sighing as the alcohol runs down their throat. "The first mention of vodka is what was once Poland in 1405 from a royal recorder of deeds. It was so strong that colloquially it was called the verb 'to burn.' It was powerful, could get you drunk quickly, and was cheap to produce. It quickly became a staple of Russian culture, a stereotype that still exists today." They smell their meal, the alcohol now boiled away and adding to the sticky sauce in the bottom of the pain. They add more corn, thickening it. The rice is finished, and Cary takes a spoon and carefully distributes the sticky grain across a plate. They carefully select strips of cooked beef, laying them in concentric circles along the paddy of rice. Cary then scoops up the sauce, dripping it across the plate and adding a swirl around the edge. They hand the plate to you, winking.

"Food. It is everywhere. It is in every culture. In all worlds. In all planes. In all realms in which sentient and sapient life exists that has dominion over other less intelligent forms, those under dominion will become food. The Cow. The Potatoe. The Onion. Garlic. Spices. Realistically, all of these creatures outnumber humanity. They are everywhere. But they are… never taken as the important things they are, in my experience. The next time you are at a grocery store, take a look at your surroundings. Think of the millennia of concentrated effort that created your foods. Think of the farmer, sweaty and exhausted, tending their fields." Cary has been plating, giving every member of the class a plate. "And when you eat… think of who made your food. Enjoy."

You dig in and feel bliss. The steak almost melts in your mouth, the onions have intertwined themselves with the meat, and the vodka sauce is a perfect addition to the rice. You are reminded of your family, gathered around the table and eating together. For how long it took to cook, it is one of the best meals you have ever eaten. Only an hour, maybe even less, you're so taken away by the meal, you don't even realize when you're close to finishing it. When you realize you're almost done, you can feel a deep sadness welling up inside of you. This collection of supermarket goods, this heady mix of simple and cheap ingredients, has made you realize the truest beauty of the world is something you can find in any restaurant- good food, and the desire to make others feel good.

After class, you buy their novel, and sign up for a beginners' cooking class. You can't help it- you have a mix of reasons, but you'll figure one out eventually. Cary laughs, seeing you sign up, knowing they have reached at least one person today, and that's what's important. They take your book, signing their full name. "Cary Onoteag Soleano Amelienovich, the Chef of the Cosmos. Remember to shoot for the stars, kid, because you'll end up drifting among galaxies of everything beautiful." Cary winks at you, heading out the glass door and letting it close behind them. You run for the door, wrenching it open- you still have more questions! But they're gone, the small blue wisps of magical energy the only trail they left.

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