Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Deflated Mousse, Deflated Ego

I worked in PR before I came to Japan.

I spent five long years as a "spin doctor," pitching media stories on Harley Davidson (even though I've never set foot on a bike), on sausage (even though I don't eat it), and, in a seemingly strange juxtaposition to the sausage gig, on heart disease (even though I'm not a cardiologist).

I thought I could sell anything to anyone. But turns out I was wrong.

My first failed sale came last Thursday at a dinner party being thrown in honor of J, my friend from Chicago who was hanging out here in Japan until today. The party was organized by the crew from my Thursday night English class, that crazy fun group of adults who have been responsible for my consumption of shirako and other strange foods during my time here in Fukui.

It was my night to teach class, but because J was in town, the gang agreed to practicing English over dinner instead of in the community center. We organized a potluck at my co-teacher's extra-large apartment, with the students agreeing to bring all sorts of Japanese goodies: fresh sashimi for build-your-own sushi, locally-brewed sake, and assorted Japanese salads and side dishes. In return, they simply asked that I prepare an "American" dessert for everyone to try.

The request was seemingly reasonable enough. In most instances, one might bake some brownies. Maybe a small cake or an oh-so-American apple pie. But this is Japan. I don't have an oven in my apartment. All of the ingredients that I need are in hard-to-read kanji-covered packages. And, to make matters worse, I don't even know how to cook.


C, my co-teacher -- and also a friend, fellow JET, and accomplished cook -- suggested that I tackle chocolate mousse (a dessert borrowed from the French, but hey, close enough...), and graciously sent me a recipe that required only basic ingredients and no oven. He even offered up his kitchen, saying that I could come over early to make it before the guests arrived. It sounded like a fail-proof plan.

With J in tow, I trekked over to the grocery store, and, armed with the kanji dictionary on my cell phone, carefully purchased unsalted butter, semi-sweet chocolate, sugar and eggs for the mousse. I went to C's apartment, reviewed the recipe, and then set to work, painstakingly following each direction step by step. I mixed the mousse, finishing just as the last guests arrived, and confidently set it in C's refrigerator to cool as we ate dinner.

As dinner finished, I swaggered over to the fridge, ready to impress my Japanese friends with my delicious chocolate creation. I pulled open the door, spotted the bowl on the bottom shelf, lifted it up, and...

To my horror, the mousse was still completely liquid, too runny to even pass for pudding. There was no way I could serve this. I ran through possible solutions in my head. Could I sneak out to buy dessert at a grocery store? Did C possibly have a stash of Oreos in his apartment somewhere? Should I just apologize and admit my failure as a cook?

I was ready to resign myself to the last option when C walked into the kitchen.

"How'd it turn out?" he asked.

"Uh. Umm. Errr. It's a little runny," I stammered.

C peered into the bowl and laughed.

"They've never had chocolate mousse before. You could just tell them it's supposed to be that way."

We argued back and forth. There was absolutely NO way that I could serve this mousse, I said. I was mortified. But C didn't listen. He pulled some fancy wine glasses off his shelf. He used a ladle to pour the would-be mousse. And then he marched into the dining room and announced that my dessert was ready.

I wanted to die.

My students/party guests enthusiastically passed around the glasses of mystery liquid. When J received his, he shot me a "what-the-hell-happened-to-this?" kind of look, which I returned with a "keep-your-mouth-shut-if-you-want-to-be-friends-after-this" glare.

C raised his glass, explained in Japanese that this was a special kind of American chocolate beverage, and then proposed a toast to ME as he lead our students in actually drinking the mousse. My face was burning as I shook my head back and forth, attempting to avoid both crying or laughing out loud. I composed myself long enough to snap the picture of the kanpai above.

Surprisingly, the liquid mousse was a hit. My students guzzled it down. Even J and C, the two Americans who knew better, drank away. I took a sip. It didn't actually taste that bad. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that I might have actually gotten away with it all.

But after dessert, as we were cleaning up, I overheard one of our female students asking C, in Japanese, why the chocolate wasn't thicker. She wasn't convinced. She was my failed sale.

C had my back, though.

"My refrigerator hasn't been working so well lately," he explained.

Thanks, C.

1 comment:

-C said...

no problem.