1. Chili with a Chance of Mushrooms
The original story can be read here: "The Cook-off"
Chili with a Chance of Mushrooms
Well, we had some excitement today! There were some very odd visitors to Tol Eressëa, Wizards they were--eight of them, no less, gathered at the home of Gandalf…or Olórin, as he is known here. But to me he will always be Gandalf.
The first one I almost took for Radagast until I saw the little crossbow hanging from his belt—our Radagast would not have been seen dead with such. I'll admit his staff was much better looking, however. Another Wizard wore a cloak with stars and moons all over it, and a matching tall pointed hat. I could just imagine Gandalf in such a get-up; he would have been laughed right out of the Shire, I'm certain! I tactfully kept my opinion to myself, however, particularly since the fellow was carrying a long black stick in his belt, which looked rather wicked—the stick, not the belt.
There was another all in white—I supposed him to be from Middle-earth, where white robes seem to have caught on among the Wizardly set, but I found out differently. And another with rather dark skin that appeared to be a trifle sunburnt, clad in deerhide leggings and matching boots and a great deal of beads and feathers, and a very nice-looking long pipe trimmed with feathers also. He wore no shirt, and the Elf-ladies cast sidelong glances at him and then at each other with uplifted eyebrows and appreciative little half-smiles, then back at him. Would that they would look at me so…but, oh well.
There was yet another who was even more scantily clad, wearing only some sort of short white skirt, leather sandals with straps all around his legs, bronze bands on his upper arms, which seemed bent at rather strange angles, a wide round collar with strange markings all over it, but no shirt either, and some sort of bronze snake-thing with glowing eyes on his head, which was all bald and continually turned to the side. I tried not to snicker at the way he walked, sternly telling myself that the poor fellow must have had something seriously amiss with his hip joints, some rival had cast an evil spell on him which spoiled his gait, or else it was simply the way folks walked where he came from. A few ladies did seem to find him attractive, however. He carried two staffs, one of which looked like a flail and the other like a shepherd's crook. I supposed he needed them both to help him walk, since he looked as though he would topple over without them.
There were a couple more, their robes and trousers rather loud I thought, and yet another all in green velvet, which needed dusting; I had to sneeze a time or two when he passed. He had his very long beard tucked into his belt, and a couple of crystal glasses in a frame over his eyes. He kept waving a long stick about, tracing some patterns in the air as he explained something to Gandalf. One of the trousered ones traced a letter X, pointing it out to the other as though he had done something most clever, and the other one made a letter O under it, at which the other made another X beside the previous one. I asked Lord Elrond what language they were speaking, but he said he had no idea, they just dropped in once in a while to visit with Gandalf and they all seemed to be having wonderful times together. I could only wonder how I had missed seeing them before, and what they could possibly find to talk about.
They all seemed quite excited, and took turns drawing diagrams in the air with their sticks and staves and flails and what not, chattering all at once in their strange tongues, and finally the reddish chap took what appeared to be a sort of painted gourd from his belt and shook it so it rattled, and I did a double take as a kettle suddenly appeared before him! Then he took a bag from his belt and poured something into the kettle. I was not close enough to see what it was, but it smelled very pleasant.
Not to be outdone, the other Wizards began producing kettles also, and dumping stuff into them. The fellow in the green pointed his stick at each one, speaking a word I did not recognize, and flames appeared under each kettle—blue flames!
They were cooking!
I marched up to Gandalf and yanked at his robe, demanding to know what he meant by having a cook-off without inviting me.
"We have been debating the perfect recipe for chilly, Frodo," he explained. "This is a dish popular in the Southwest…"
"Southwest? Dunland?" I pucked my nose and forehead. "I didn't know anyone there even cooked."
"Not southwest of Middle-earth," Gandalf said with a chuckle. "'Tis an entirely different continent—one yet to be discovered. Redcloud, that dark-skinned chap, is from there. Of course, this 'chilly' dish has not been invented yet, but--"
"Gandalf, I have to wonder what they put into your pipe," I scolded, and he laughed at me.
"Just trust us, Frodo," he said. "We--"
"Trust you?" I huffed. "Well I remember what happened the last time I trusted you!"
"And it all turned out for the best in the end," he reminded me quietly. "Now, just listen, Frodo, please. It seems none of us can agree as to the best recipe for this dish, seeing as how it has not even been invented yet, and when it will be, everyone will have his or her own way of making it, so we are having a cook-off to determine which recipe will be best. And I suggest that you, along with Elrond and Celebrían, be the judges. I--"
"Judge?? Me?? I think not," I sputtered. "There is no way on this Island I am going to stand by and let you all cook without me. I may have certain elvish qualities—at least, everyone keeps telling me so, although I don't seem to be getting any taller—but deep down I am still a hobbit, and ever will be, to my dying day. Tell me what this 'chilly' is, and why it's called that when it's put into a kettle over fire and cooked, and how it's made, and I'm in."
"Actually it's spelled c-h-i-l-i, after the sort of pepper it is made from, and that pepper tends to be rather hot. So you wish to join us?"
"Do bears muck in the woods?" I said rather haughtily.
"Very well then. Dumbledore," he said to the dusty chap in the green, "conjure up another cauldron for our hobbit-friend here, if you please."
"He is a Wizard as well?" Dumbledore said--seems he could speak Westron after all, to my relief, although I did not quite like the way he was looking at me through those glass things on his nose. I could feel another sneeze coming on.
"Nay, but he enjoys cooking. It's a hobbit thing," Gandalf said, giving him a rather stern look as if to say: Stop staring. Dumbledore nodded then, clearing his throat, and lo and behold, another kettle appeared, over which he waved that stick of his and spoke the word, and more blue flames shot up under it. Some lovely lady Maiar came along bearing jugs of water and baskets of onions and tomatoes and beans and peppers and various spices. One of them gave me a rather flirty look, and I took her aside and made a request at which she nodded and smiled, curtsied and flurried away. Soon she returned with another basket and a tankard, and I smiled gallantly and thanked her.
I watched the other Wizards choosing their ingredients, chopping up the vegetables, mixing in the spices and what not, noting that the southwestern chap, Redcloud, used no beans. And that Dumbledore's looked a bit silvery for my liking, and he kept giving me those glances when he thought I wasn't looking. The two Wizards in the trousers made quite a mess, since they couldn't be bothered with stirring their kettles themselves but relied on their magic, which made quite a production and seemed to be trying to one-up each other, with the result that a good bit got splashed about and wasted, and at one point, their stirring-sticks actually started a fight with each other. The chap in the white skirt seemed to be having a hard time of it, his arms being bent at such peculiar angles, and I thought to offer to help, but he shook his head and with some assistance from the snake-thing on it, managed on his own. I had to admit, that gave me the creeps, so I kept my distance.
The one in the darkish robe and tall hat—Merlin, his name was--was the most disconcerting, for he kept changing his form, at one point even turning himself into an attractive young woman who kept up a running commentary I could not understand, exclaiming, "Yummo!" from time to time, which I took to be some sort of cooking-spell, so I made note of it to use myself. Then I wondered if he were deliberately trying to divert my attention from my cooking with his shape-shifting, so I turned my back to him and the others, and went to work on my own dish.
It all smelled quite delicious, I must say.
Well, after about two hours or so, our chili was ready, and bowls of various colors were brought by the lady Maiar and set on a long table someone conjured up. More Elves besides the Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrían appeared—word gets about very quickly on this Island--and lined up at the table to taste the strange new dish. I noticed that Merlin had re-assumed his original form, and that Dumbledore was now looking at Redcloud, but the feathery man didn't seem to notice. I was relieved to see that the headdress of the snake-man had taken its place once more, although I could swear the eyes were still twinkling, while its master still stood in that peculiar position with one arm bent upward and the other downward behind him, his head still on one side.
One of the gaudy trousered fellows, whom Gandalf had addressed as Ridcully, was standing next to me, and he looked down at me with interest, although not of the sort that Dumbledore had been showing.
"Did you know," he whispered, "that the word Wizard derives from 'wys-arse' meaning 'wise at bottom'?"
"No, I didn't know that," I said rather absently as I watched Lord Elrond pick up one of the yellow bowls containing my chili and hand it to his wife, then take one for himself. I saw one of the Elves sample some from the red bowl, then spew out the contents and grab for a glass of water. Some others did the same. I saw Ridcully look at his companion, Ponder, with a smirk.
I soon deduced that the copper-colored bowls, which contained Redcloud's chili, were going down very well. And the blue bowls containing Merlin's seemed not so popular. I thought to suggest to him that he keep his own shape while cooking, then his dishes might turn out much better, but for the nonce I held my tongue. I can swear I heard one of the Elves murmur something that sounded like "Oh-me-likey!" over the yellow bowls, and although I was unfamiliar with the word or phrase, the expression on his face clearly indicated great pleasure. I was relieved, since I'd heard some snide remarks from him over some of the other bowls, such as "I certainly hope I'm not around when this stuff gets invented!" and "Ugh! Seems I stepped in this yesterday morning on my way to the stable!"
Soon I saw pleasured looks on other faces as they sampled the yellow bowls, and I grinned to myself. Particularly when one elleth I did not quite recognize looked at me as though she'd like to have me for dessert.
"It appears we have a winner," Gandalf said, looking my way rather proudly. Others looked to me in astonishment.
"May I politely enquire as to what comprised this delightful dish?" Dumbledore asked as he took a taste from one of the yellow bowls.
"A hobbit never tells," I said, coyly glancing away from him and at the elleth who was smiling at me with shining violet eyes.
"Well, my friends," Gandalf said looking at the others, "I think we can say that we have all had our rumps soundly kicked by a Hobbit…a member of a race renowned for its cooking skills. As well as its fondness for ale and mushrooms…which I strongly suspect were an integral part of this particular recipe?"
He looked at me with questioning eyebrows, but I just shrugged and grinned more smugly.
Then Redcloud, whom I had assumed did not know Westron, spoke up.
"Little Hairy Foot invent Chili," he said. "Him only one not use beans, beside Redcloud. True chili not made with Musical Fruit."
"Aye, 'tis true," Gandalf agreed. "Although whether or not one wishes to make use of them, is strictly up to the cook. In other words, to each his..or her, own. But Merlin, my friend, I'm afraid your chili sprang a leek…Get it? Leek?"
"I sincerely hope YOUR cooking is better than your jokes, Mithrandir," Merlin said with an arrogant shrug.
Gandalf laughed, as did I. The others muttered and grumbled, then Dumbledore held out his hands to request silence.
"We must honor you as the best cook we've as yet come across, Master Baggins," said he. "To have invented such a succulent dish and bested even the greatest Wizards around the world—well, you can be most proud, my dear Hobbit. I can only wish that you were going to attend a school of which I shall be headmaster in the far future, wherein the Dark Lord Sauron shall return under the name Voldemort. Perhaps then you would even have your own cooking-show, in the sort of magic boxes that will be invented then."
"Alas, I shall not be around by that time," Merlin sighed. "I will have youthened away to nothing. Even now I feel the curse of young age creeping up on me. I truly dread the slide back into the pubescent stage."
"Oh, it lasts for but a few years," I assured him.
"Not for a Wizard, it doesn't," he said darkly.
"Think of all the fun you'll have irritating everyone around you," Ridcully assured him.
"Aye," the Wizard in the moon-and-star cloak agreed, "I've an apprentice who does precisely that…particularly when he takes on the appearance of a giant mouse."
"I'm sure I'll find out all about it, once I start my school," Dumbledore said. "Well, anyway, let us congratulate the best cook in the Shire once more, shall we?"
"Oh, I'm scarcely that," I said with becoming modesty. "That title belongs to my very best friend and former gardener, none other that Samwise Gamgee. I dare say the way he would prepare this dish would cause you to take a massive swat at your own father. Dammit, I wish he were here now!"
Then I blushed and looked up puppy-eyed at Gandalf apologetically for my language, but thinking about your cooking just seems to have that effect upon me always, dear Sam….
But Chili had officially been invented, and if and when you get here, I'm going to enter you in the greatest cook-off ever!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.