«The trip was quite unpleasant, if this is what you wanted to ask me, Miss Marple,» said Poirot handing over his impeccable Loden cape to Gwen, the red-haired maid.
«Oh, I’m so sorry, Hercule, and why was that?»
«The roads, terrible roads. And then George, my assistant, seemed to drive over every blessed hole and bump on purpose, at the cost of my already weakened stomach.»
«Weakened? I find you in…magnificent form,» said Miss Marple, nodding to Gwen, who disappeared into the kitchen. In front of the roaring fire, there was a small table set for tea.
«Yes, weakened. And I do hope that having dragged myself to this out of the way place is worth the trip. I am exhausted.»
«You’ll see, my dear. You will not regret it. St. Mary Mead is a lovely place. Well, perhaps I’m the only one who thinks so. But the purpose of my invitation was to prepare for you, on this occasion, some delicacies that you’ve never had before; and by doing so, disproving a common belief that many of our readers share.»
«And what would that be?» asked Hercule.
«That I’m utterly ignorant when it comes to food, with rather working class tastes; and that you are a refined gourmand.»
«My goodness, I thought that you wished to ask my opinion on a particularly difficult case,» said Poirot, licking his moustache.
«There’s no difficult case, and stop being so suspicious, relax.»
«I don’t believe I shall inconvenience my ‘grey matter’ for such a futile matter,» continued Poirot. «The real problem isn’t between you and me, and you know that perfectly well, but between two different culinary and culinary worlds: the Anglo-Saxon world and the French world. And as anyone with good sense could confirm, there’s no contest.»
«I see you haven’t lost your endearing character. Perhaps it is as you say, but enough with mythologizing French cuisine. After you’ve tasted my specialties, you will have to re-think your position. » replied Miss Marple.
«There’s no contest, I tell you. I’ll let you spread your Marmite on your sandwiches and I’ll keep spreading my foie gras. The truth is, I think that unbounded nationalism, as well as the British presumption that defines every English citizen, has no limits in the culinary realm. You’d like me to believe that English cuisine – if, in fact, it even exists¬ – is better than the French, which is considered the mother of all the world’s haute cuisine? Bah!» said Poirot, dismissively.
«If you wish to pose the question in these terms, than what do think about our sweet apple pies, our roasts, a creamy pea soup, our Scottish salmon and Irish butter?»
«Even all together, they aren’t worth a slice of well-made tarte tintin?» quipped Poirot.
«Come, come. Now for our Earl Grey tea, which you must try with my chocolate scones, Poirot,» said Miss Marple, ringing a bronze bell that she kept on the table.
«Chocolate? And what kind of chocolate would have used for your scones, I wonder?»
«Chocolate. Chocolate is chocolate,» says Miss Marple with infinite patience.
«Don’t be foolish, Jane. You mean to teach a free Belgian of sound mind and body about chocolate? Chocolate is chocolate? I’ve never heard such nonsense.»
«Well, if we begin like this…it doesn’t bode well. The scones are good, trust me. I forgot about your unbearable pickiness, you’re the one who sends back the eggs if they aren’t perfectly hard-boiled to your liking,» said Miss Marple, while Poirot took a bite of a cucumber sandwich.
«Exactement. And not only if they aren’t properly cooked, but also if they are of a dimension that disturbs me aesthetically,» said Poirot, taking a long sip from his Victorian cup.
«Don’t tell me that you’ve actually refused a dish only because it wasn’t presented well. Or is it that your flawless intuition tells you if food is not good?” asked Miss Marple, although she already knew the answer.
«Naturally, » replied Poirot. «Once, the Chief Inspector Japp invited me to his home for an English dinner and tried to feed me a sort of whitish mush that in no way resembled real mashed potatoes. Alongside, there was a greenish mash that resembled cooked peas and then two faggots, those horrible croquettes made from pig innards and other unknown ingredients,» said Poirot, looking disgusted. With a crinkle of his moustache, he cut off a slice of apple pie.
«I don’t remember the case you were working on, but I’ve heard of the episode. You pretended to suffer from a rare allergy. Certainly, yours is a question of prevention. May I remind you that you went mad for sautéed kidneys, that, if I’m not mistaken, belong to the category of ‘innards’?» asked Miss Marple, handing Hercule a tray of hazelnut muffins.
«My discriminating palate is open to new things. I think you shouldn’t so provincial, Miss Marple. I remember when you were abroad for the ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ case and did nothing but long for your pudding, your Devonshire cream and those blessed apples from your garden.» Poirot brushed off a crumb from his shirtfront.
«That’s not true. On that occasion, I tried a passionflower ice cream that I found very pleasing. But it must be said, that after a few days everything tasted like papaya,» said Miss Marple, noticing that Poirot had cleaned all the plates. His shiny, oval head began to droop and he was falling asleep. Good, thought Miss Marple. She had managed to distract Hercule and make him eat and appear foolish, just by sprinkling a bit of that powder into his tea. The sleeping powder would last until around midnight. She had won the bet and the next day, everyone – from St Mary Mead to the rest of the world – would know that Miss Marple had gotten the best of Poirot.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.