We had lunch out today at one of our favourite cafes, which leads me to ask about one of the culinary mysteries of modern life. Why do most of these places have enormous wooden peppermills which they gravely bear to your table asking if you'd like pepper ground onto your meal before you've even tasted it? Does this happen anywhere else or is this a local NZ thing? Is pepper so expensive we can't be trusted with our own little grinder? Or do people pocket the things? Can anyone explain this strange custom? I've never dared to ask. But the B7 crew probably would...
Peppering Things Up
As soon as their meals were served, a second waiter appeared bearing a huge wooden peppermill. "Would you care for pepper?"
"Why?" Avon asked. "Has the chef neglected to season the dish correctly?"
The man looked appalled. "Of course not, sir!"
"Then perhaps you can come back with that... extraordinarily huge device when I have sampled my meal."
Taken aback, the pepper-waiter turned to Jenna. "Madam?"
"I'm not a madam." Jenna wondered if high necklines like Tyce's were de rigueur on Lindor. "Do I look like one? Or does this place cater for brothel owners?"
The waiter swallowed. "Of course not, mad--uh, miss--"
Jenna put her chin on her hand and looked at him with interest.
He turned to Gan in desperation. "Would you like some pepper, sir?"
"All right," Gan said equably.
The waiter smiled with relief and began to grind.
Gan immediately leaned forward to watch the pepper emerge from the bottom of the mill, then stood to see better how it worked. "Can I have a go?" he asked eagerly.
"Certainly not!" the waiter said, holding the grinder protectively against his chest. Gan shrugged and sat down. The waiter's eyes rolled nervously to Cally. "Pepper?"
Cally suspected the substance might be harmful in sufficient doses, else why not permit diners to serve themselves? "No thank you," she said primly.
Relieved, he turned to Blake. "Sir?"
"I prefer not to be called sir," Blake said. "We're all equal, you know. And is this your full-time work? I do hope you're adequately paid for what seems to be a very servile and unskilled position."
"Look, it's a job." The waiter turned to Vila, who was waiting eagerly. "Sir?"
"Go on then." Vila watched, licking his lips. "Don't stop... more... bit more... yeah, all right, that'll do."
"Ma--uh, would you like some pepper?" The waiter asked the last person at the table.
Tyce inclined her head. "A little, please. And my guests are from off-planet."
"Ah. I see." He gave the Liberator crew another nervous look before fleeing.
Vila tried a piece of his spanakopita. "Ugh!" He screwed his face up. "It's pepper!"
"That is what they called it, Vila," Avon said.
"Yeah, but they way they were dealing it out like it was gold dust or something, I thought that was just a name for, well, something a bit more spicy. Or entertaining." Vila sighed and began to scrape the excess seasoning off his meal.
Vila stopped on the way out. "Look, just got to go and see a man about a dog. All that wine, you know." He headed back into the restaurant.
"Someone ought to go with him," Blake said, worried. "He'll probably come out clanking with half the silver and his pockets bulging with wallets."
But Vila was soon back, his face a picture of innocence.
Jenna frowned. "Vila, are you pleased to see Tyce, or have you been replying to spam about personal enhancements?"
A couple of passing women stopped and stared at Vila with frank admiration. Blake grabbed him by the elbow and slammed him against the wall. "Get it out, now!" The women sighed with disappointment and walked on. "Come on; whatever it is."
Sheepishly Vila put his hand down his trousers and withdrew the peppermill. "Way I figured it," he said, "was that if it's just ordinary pepper, it must be these things that are worth a fortune."
Blake turned away in disgust.
Avon looked at Vila speculatively. "Care for dinner tonight? A three-course meal, each one in a different restaurant, then down to the markets tomorrow?"