The Culinary Narrative (Part 1)

Michael Maman
15 min readJul 2, 2021

Xander is an alien dispatched to Earth for reconnaissance. Originally wanting to be an elite soldier, he is instead assigned by his home world to be a cook. Assuming his role fully disguised as a human, his mission is to blend in to his environment to learn about human ways.

June 24, 2021

“HQ to Xander — HQ to Xander, come in.”

“Xander here, HQ.”

“So, you have Italian subs tomorrow for lunch?”

“Affirmative. I have sourced recipes from Food Network and Boar’s Head.”

“What is your gameplay, then?”

“I plan on slicing up some onions, letting them soak for 15 minutes in water. After that, I will slice up some tomatoes in a bowl for assembly later. I would also like to toast all of the bread ahead of time to get that out of the way. Then I can assemble all of the ingredients together on a working surface and begin building the sandwiches. I will layer the cheese and meat on the bottom half, top with onion, tomato, some olive oil and Italian seasoning. Then I can put them in the oven for a minute or two just so the cheese melts.”

“Sounds good. HQ out.”

DEBRIEF: “Well, first I sliced some tomatoes, then use the toaster to toast the bread. I didn’t realize the breads were on the small side, so I had to be creative in how I set up the deli meats. Each sandwich got 3 slices of Salami, Pastrami, and smoked ham.”

“Any issues?”

“Well, I was curious whether salami and pastrami had to be cooked, so used some online search engines to discover that they are ‘dry-cured’, meaning that the moisture is removed over the course of a period to prevent bacteria growth.”

“Good, you are learning then. And the humans suspected nothing?”

“Not this time, I solved the riddle myself.”

June 29, 2021

“HQ, I’m reading that I will be making Chicken carnitas tomorrow.”

“Chicken what?”

“Carnitas’, meaning “Meat Pieces” in the Spanish language.”

Debrief: HQ, I need to make a report from this morning. The breakfast item was overnight oats. I prepared it the day before and left in the refrigerator, or as we call it here, the walk-in “reefer”. I thought they could use some heat, so I set it up on the steamline, but my supervisor criticized me for putting them there.”

“Oh no, your identity was not compromised, was it?”

“Thankfully not. I said I had only made it once before and thought the
y could be served hot. Apparently, they are just supposed to be served cold.”

“Well, just keep that in mind for next time.”

“Affirmative. In the meantime, I recall a previous dinner in which I did not know how to make Saffron rice. I made a note to look up a good recipe, so I found one that looked promising from It requires:

· 1/4 tsp saffron threads
· 1/4 cup hot water
· 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
· 3/4 cup minced yellow onion
· 2 cups white basmati rice
· 3 cups chicken stock
· 3/4 tsp salt

And here are the INSTRUCTIONS:

1. First, it calls for taking half of the saffron threads, and grinding them up to a fine powder in a small bowl. After that, add in the rest of the threads and pour in 1/4 cup of hot water to cover the threads. Then it says to let it soak for 5 minutes so it will open up the flavor of the spice.

“Why not just crush all of the threads?”

“I am not sure, that is what the recipe says. In other recipes it says to just make the rice and add in the saffron. My guess is this extra step will allow more saffron flavor to release. In any case, next step is to rinse the basmati rice in water to remove the starch content.

Next step involves sauteeing the onions in olive oil in a large pot. Calls for sauteeing for 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the onions soften and begin to caramelize.”


“Yes, apparently it’s a process when cooking food on Earth. Sugars in foods oxidize resulting in brown color and sweet nutty flavor. The brown colors are produced by three groups of polymers: caramelans, caramelens, and caramelins.”

“Ok, continue.”

“So, after cooking the onions, we add the rinsed rice, and sauté for a minute or two, mixing with the onions. Now we can use the yellow saffron liquid and pour it evenly across the top of the rice.

Next, we add in the chicken stock and salt. Then bring the water to a boil and stir. We can then reduce the water to a simmer, cover the pot, and let the rice cook for 20 minutes.

After that, proceed to turn off the heat, keep pot covered, and continue to let the rice sit and steam in the covered pot for an additional 10 minutes.

The final step involves fluffing the rice with a fork before serving, stirring well to break up the rice and incorporate the cooked onion.”

“Good job. what is the serving size?”

“Oh right. According to the recipe, serving size is 1/2 cup and the recipe makes about 6 cups of cooked rice.”

July 2, 2021

“Xander to HQ.”

“Copy, Xander.”

“I have obtained tomorrow’s menu.”

“Go ahead.”

“Breakfast will be the following:
-Eggs to Order
-Sausage Links
-Hashbrown patties
-Assorted Hot & Cold Cereals
-Yogurt & Fresh Fruit
-Fruit Smoothie”


“We have Classic BLT, side of Tater Tots and Carrot & Celery Sticks, plus a mixed greens salad.”

“Does not sound too bad. What about dinner?”

“Dinner we are looking at a Chicken & Sausage gumbo, white rice, Cornbread, and Beignets.”


“Affirmative. It’s a French word for a of deep-fried dough pastry. From my research, it is the official state ‘doughnut’ (leavened fried dough) of Louisiana, hailing from the French Quarter of New Orleans. I’m going to need to prep for those after I finish cleaning up from lunch.”

“So, that is the dessert. What about the main course?”

“The Chicken and Sausage gumbo is another dish from Louisiana, so I pulled this from I am going to need 1 pound of andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices, and 4 chicken breasts for the protein. Some cooking oil, about 1 cup of flour, and 1 chopped onion, bell pepper, and 2 celery stalks.

Cooking liquid will be 2 quarts of chicken stock. A bay leaf will be a nice aromatic addition to the stock. For seasoning, we are looking at 2 teaspoons of Creole seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme. I don’t think we have Creole so I will have to substitute with Cajun seasoning.”

“What does the cooking process look like?”

“First I need to cook the sausage over medium high heat, stirring for about 5 minutes or so until browned. Then I will take them out in a bowl so I can cook the chicken next, using the leftover oil and fat from the sausage. Also cook until brown, and place in the bowl with sausage. Now I need to make a roux.”

“A what?”

“Roux, pronounced ‘ROO’. It consists of cooking equal parts by weight of flour and fat to thicken sauces. So I will add some more oil and the 1 cup of flour, cooking and stirring constantly, until the roux is browned to a chocolate color. If I do not wisk constantly, then the roux will burn.

Once I have the roux done, I can toss in the onion, bell pepper, and celery to cook for 8 minutes or until soft. Again, stirring often. Then I add the 2 quarts of water, and bring everything to a boil. Now I can add the chicken and seasonings, reducing the heat to low simmer, stirring occasionally this time, for about 1 hour.

“Why do you reduce the heat?”

“I’ve made the mistake many times of cooking sauces at too high of temperatures, which burns the bottom of the pot and creates a very unappetizing smokey taste.”

“Understood. You’ve probably done that the most amongst the cooks onboard, correct?”

“Yes, unfortunately. One time I burned a bechamel sauce and I was stirring it the whole time. I simply had the heat too high. Needless to say, my supervisor was flabbergasted.”

“Well, continue.”

“So now I can add the sausage, and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Then I remove the bay leaves.”


“I can cut up some green onions and sprinkle them over.”

“Why not put the chicken and sausage in together?”

“My guess is that Chicken will need more time to cook.”

“Do you see any obstacles tomorrow?”

“I don’t think so. Lunch should be under control, I just need to plan ahead for dinner. As stated before, I need to prep the beignets right after dishes, which would be around 1230 or 1300. Letting them rise, then frying them. The rice can be prepared 1 hour in advance, as well as the cornbread.”

“Sounds like you have a solid plan. Look forward to debrief.”

“Thank you, HQ.”

July 7, 2021

“Xander! Xander come in!”

“Xander here, HQ”

“Where have you been? It’s been 5 days since your last communication!”

Xander paused before speaking.

“I am sorry. I have been feeling very down and no longer desire to do this assignment.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“On Saturday the 3rd, I arrived in the morning to find the trash not taken out, the washed silverware was not put away or even organized. On top of that, there was only 1 egg left in the galley ‘reach in’ reefer.”

“Is that all?”

“No. I do not feel appreciated by anyone. No one smiles or says ‘thank you.’ I see people conversing in the dining facility, and when I come by to join in the conversation, silence falls on the group and they quickly disperse. I just feel not up to the task, HQ.”

“Xander, your mission is to observe and learn about the humans you work with, not necessarily be their friends. And in order to blend in, you will need to continue your tasks.”

“I feel confined to working in a metal box all day. If I were a soldier, I would be out training in nature with fellow comrades.”

“Yes, and you could also get yourself killed in combat. During your pre-deployment education, did you learn about Confucius?”

“Maybe, I don’t remember.”

“Confucius was a philosopher who lived in the nation of China around 500 BCE. He said:

To learn and then practice it again and again is a pleasure, is it not?
To be unperturbed when not appreciated by others is gentlemanly, is it not?

I think you can take those ideas to heart. Being appreciated by the crew could come as a bonus to your work, but that is not your focus nor your reason for being there. Do you understand?”

“I do.”

“Good. Listen, we cannot afford to have you emotionally compromised during this mission. Document each instance where you sense yourself losing control — be it as social issue, or issue pertaining to work, etc. Make a list so you can be aware of them in the future. Is that understood?”


“And do not miss another communication.”

July 9, 2021

Picking up the communication beacon, Xander calmed his mind to make the call.

“Xander to HQ reporting in.”

“Well, how is your disposition today?”

“I can say it has improved since our last transmission. I stumbled across this technique called ‘controlled breathing’, where you harness the speed of breathing to a slower state that combats fits of panic or anger. For example, inhaling at a slow count to four seconds, and then exhaling at the same speed. I am going to try to make use of it during workdays.”

“Excellent, finding what you can control. That is what we need to hear from you. Remember your task of noting any instance during the day where you feel you are losing control.”


“Now, onto the menu for tomorrow.”

“So for lunch it is going to be frying off chicken nuggets and waffle fries, served with a selection of dipping sauces. Since the meal will not be labor intensive, I will probably make some dipping sauces myself, which from my research, pairs well with the fries and nuggets. First is Honey Buffalo Dip, combining:
☐ 2tbsp honey,
☐ 1/4 cup mayonnaise,
☐ 1 teaspoon of Frank’s Hot Wing Sauce

Next, I found Southern Sauce, mixing together:
☐ 1 cup mayonnaise,
☐ 1/4 cup of ketchup and worcestershire sauce,
☐ 2 tbsp honey
☐ 1 tsp of hot sauce.

Finally, I came across this dipping sauce recipe from a popular fast-food restaurant called Chick fil-A, which I assume they use with their nuggets. Their recipe calls for wisking together:
☐ 2 tsp mustard
☐ 1tsp lemon juice
☐ 2 Tbsp honey
☐ 1 Tbsp barbecue sauce.”

“Sounds like a good plan, but you better put out regular ketchup for those who don’t like the fancy stuff.”

“Good idea. For greens the menu lists ‘Mixed greens salad’, but if we have any extra fresh vegetables in the walk-in reefer, I will probably roast those off too.”

“And for dinner?”

“Dinner will be Maryland-style crab cakes, served with roasted red potatoes, and wasabi green beans. For the crab cakes, I found this recipe from, the official office of tourism, so it should be legitimate. To make 6 cakes, it calls for:
☐1 pound lump crabmeat
☐ ½ cup breadcrumbs
☐ 1 egg, beaten
☐ 5 tbsp mayonnaise
☐ 1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
☐ 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
☐ 1 tsp mustard
☐ 1 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning

Step 1 calls for combining all of the ingredients in a bowl except for the crabmeat. Then you pour the mixture over the crabmeat and fold it in. Once that’s done, you form six cakes and deep-fry in oil for 2–3 minutes until golden brown. I’ve also read that you can bake them as well for 11 minutes.”

“You may want to make more depending on how many people will be eating tomorrow.”

“Most likely will, depending on how much crab meat is available to work with.”

“Well, it sounds like a good game plan. Debrief tomorrow, do not miss it.”

“Understood. Xander out.”

July 10, 2021

“Reporting in for debrief.”

“Go ahead.”

“The dipping sauces for the fries and chicken nuggets were good experiments, but I ended up just serving barbeque sauce and Frank’s red hot sauce. With the exception of the Southern Sauce, I found the other two to be bland tasting, and did not seem like it would pair well with the food.”

“Did you try adding any additional ingredients for flavor?”

“Yes, I tried adding more hot sauce to the Honey Buffalo dip, and even some worcestershire. No luck.”

“Did you hear any complaints?”

“No, the crew seemed satisfied with the barbeque.”

“Well, next time you will have to tinker some more to get the right flavor profile.”

“Roger. For dinner I discovered the crab cakes were premade frozen in the freezer.”

“So that must have saved some time and dishes.”

“Indeed. I needed to sauté them on the griddle for color, and then finish them off in the oven for 10 minutes. Potatoes were diced, tossed in oil with salt and seasoning, then placed in the oven. I garnished them with minced thyme.”

“Any curveballs?”

“Only one, which oddly enough turned out to be the wasabi green beans. I could not find any recipes for it, and wasabi has a very strong flavor profile. A little goes a long way, so I knew that I could not just add wasabi to green beans. Instead, I ended up mixing wasabi powder with water to make a paste, and mix in lemon juice and soy sauce. I then poured that mixture over the green beans as they were cooking on the griddle flat top. It turned out fairly decent.”

“Sounds like you were able to figure it out, well done. How does tomorrow look?”

“Lunch we have White Castle sliders, which are small size hamburgers. The meat is grounded, I need to form patties, and add cheese, pickle, and some onion. Fairly simple, except I will probably be serving 3–4 per person. For Dinner, we have roasted Peruvian chicken that involves making a marinade, so the chicken can absorb more flavor before being cooked. In a blender, I want to combine:
☐ 3 tbsp olive oil
☐ 1/4 cup lime juice, about 2 limes worth
☐ 4 garlic cloves
☐ 1 tbsp kosher salt
☐ 2 tsp paprika
☐ 1 tsp black pepper
☐ 1 Tbsp cumin
☐ 1 tsp dried oregeno
☐ 2 tsp sugar

I might have to adjust the quantities based on how much chicken it will be able to cover. Anyway, that will be marinating in the reefer for about 1–2 hours, then I will cook them on the flattop griddle for color, and finish them off in the oven, 20 minutes or so until the color is golden brown and internal temperature measures 165 degrees F. In addition, a spicy cilantro sauce accompanies the dish, consisting of:
☐ 6 tbsp chopped cilantro
☐ 2 1/2 tsp canola oil
☐ 1/2 tbsp lime juice
☐ 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
☐ 1 tbsp minced garlic
☐ 1/4 tsp sesame oil

I am just going to be mixing the above together to serve with the chicken. Side dishes are roasted potatoes and corn salad. The corn salad will have some chopped red onions and cherry tomatoes. Adding in apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic powder, chili powder, and salt & pepper, I can probably tossed in minced cilantro.”

“Anything else?”

“Dessert is one I’ve never heard of before: Butter Mochi. This source from The Spruce Eats gives some background:

Butter mochi is a treat that evolved in Hawaii…In the 1880s, U.S. businesses that owned fruit and sugar plantations in Hawaii started recruiting people from Japan…[wherein] Japanese immigrants eventually became a major ethnic group in Hawaii, and their food traditions are quite widespread there. One such food, mochi, is a traditional Japanese rice pastry made from pounded rice.

In recent years, people began adding butter to the mochi to give it a slightly crisp, cake-like form. This butter mochi became popular in Hawaii before spreading around the world, which is why people refer to it as Hawaiian butter mochi; but it’s not technically Hawaiian, since it is not indigenous to the islands.

“Thank you for the history lesson.”

“Sometimes it adds an extra dimension to the foods and desserts being made.”


“How to make it:
☐ 2 cups (16floz/450ml) whole milk
☐ 2 cups (16oz/454g) granulated sugar
☐ 1 box (16oz/450g) Mochiko Flour (glutinous rice flour)
☐ 1 can (13floz/400ml) coconut milk or cream
☐ 4 large eggs
☐ ¾ cup (6oz/170g) butter softened
☐ 1 teaspoon baking powder
☐ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The steps are pretty simple. Beat all ingredients together by hand or with an electric mixer until combined, and pour into a greased 9x13 inch baking pan, lined with parchment paper. After that, let cool completely, and cut into 24 squares.”

“Probably something you can get out of the way after lunch then?”

“Probably good idea. Xander out.”

July 11, 2021

Exhausted from a long day’s work, Xander looked forward to getting what little rest he could before beginning the next day.

“HQ — reporting for debrief.”

“Go ahead.”

“Lunch went relatively well. I grilled off the burger patties for the sliders about 40 minutes in advance, then had them ready in a medium hotel pan set aside for later assembly. For the buns, I was told to use Hawaiian sweet rolls, which needed to be cut in half. I sliced each in half, toasted them briefly on the griddle, and set them aside in a medium hotel pan. For cheese, I selected provolone, using a small circular mold cutter so each slice was roughly the same size as the patties. Assembly was straightforward: Patty, grilled onion, cheese, topped with two pickles.”

“Any feedback?”

“Actually, yes! One crew member commented that he was expecting greasy sliders, but he was pleasantly surprised.”

“Excellent, good job. What about dinner?”

“Dinner prep went about as how I imagined. After cleaning up from lunch, I immediately mixed the ingredients for the butter mochi and put it in the oven. The problem was, I forgot to note down cooking time, so the top got a little more toasted than I wanted.”

“How long was it supposed to be for?”

“About 1 hour, but it was probably in for 20 more minutes. Plus, the ovens we use are convection, so probably even less than 1 hour. Anyway, I learned my lesson. As for the chicken, I made the marinade with a few hours to spare — partially cooked them on the griddle, and finished them in the oven. Again, however, I think I left them in for too long. When they were ready to serve, temperatures were reading from 175–190 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Maybe a timer could be useful?”

“Yes, will probably have to make use of that. Other than that, I think the cilantro sauce recipe I found was faulty, because when adding the ingredients in the blender, the result was very dry, no where near a sauce-like consistency. So I added more olive oil, lemon juice, and water for a smoother consistency.”

“Well, apart from the chicken and dessert, it sounds like you maintained control of the meal and getting it out on time.”

“That is true, there was no last-minute rush. Now HQ I should mention we are going out to sea for the week, so communication will be limited.”

“In that case, write down your reports, and report back with a summary when you return.”

“Understood. Also one more thing.”


“A crewmember asked how my weekend was this morning! I then asked how his weekend was, and he proceeded to tell me about the work he did on board with fixing and maintaining the ship, and the general passion he has for his craft. He relayed to me that his father was a mechanic of sorts and that sort of inspired him to go that route as well. It was a good conversation!”

“Well, you see, you are slowly building trust. Good, continue your progress! We look forward to your report at the end of the week.”

“Roger. Xander out.”

“Xander — Xander come in”

“Xander is not here, HQ! ”

“What? Who is? How did you get on this line?”

“I know everything about Xander — you might say we are twins.”

“Oh no — you’re the doppleganger?”

“Right you are! I guess poor Xander could not take handle the months of pent up negative energy acquired from working here, and I was released in physical form. He’s off in a corner somewhere being sorry for himself.”

“This is HORRIBLE! All of that pre-deployment training to Earth on how to control emotions to prevent psychosomatic entity release, and now he is indisposed! What mischief have you caused?”

Rendax thought back to a recent episode at work:

Monday morning
Jim: “Excuse me, I’m ready for eggs to order?”

Rendax: “Don’t you think you’ve had enough? Beat it pudgy!”

Calling names to co-workers, running off crying.

Mission compromised! We need to send in Phylo-R.