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A Stroke of Karma
by Salini Vineeth

Helen placed the heels of her hands on the dough and put her body weight onto it. She kneaded it with all her might. Still, the dough remained stony and adamant—like Scrooge, the miser.

“40 minutes to go!” Chef George’s voice startled Helen. She glanced at the clock in the MasterChef kitchen. It was ticking away joyously. Helen’s future was in the hands of that clock. She tried to concentrate on her pastry dough, trying to salvage it, but she couldn’t.

It was her fourth week in the MasterChef kitchen. She was a gourmet cook. She cooked elaborate meals for her family and often threw parties for their friends. When the MasterChef audition came to her town, everyone urged Helen to participate. Suddenly, Helen’s life had a new aim, a direction. The competition was every bit tough, as she had assumed. She struggled with the world cuisine – tacos, pasta, cakes, pies, noodles, and macrons. Still, she managed to stay on.

Finally, it had come down to the puffy pastry. For untrained eyes, the puff pastry was simple. But making it was tricky, especially in a one-on-one contest. A single misstep during the 120-minute cook meant elimination. His contender Mathew was a timid yet good chef. Helen glanced at Mathew’s table. His pastry dough looked light and soft. It had an elusive yellow tint and a shiny texture. Helen put all her efforts into her dough, but it remained a big, tough lump.

“30 minutes to go. Helen, get your pastry into the oven.”

Mathew had already placed his dough in the oven. Helen rushed towards her assigned oven. She peeped into the oven next to hers and saw Mathew’s beautiful pastry. Devil poked her brain. Helen took a deep breath. Her nimble fingers reached for Mathew’s oven door.  

“Ok, it’s time for tasting!” After a nail-biting thirty minutes, chef George announced. Helen glanced at Mathew, who was standing in front of his station, a little confused. He had pulled his pastry out of the oven a few minutes ago. Neglecting her pounding heart, Helen pulled out and started plating her beautiful pastry.

“Two, One, and that’s it.” Chef George announced in his chirpy voice. Helen’s eyes followed Mathew as he took his pastry to the judges.

“Your pastry is a bit dense, but it’s flavourful.” The judges told Mathew. Mathew seemed to force a smile.

“Next up, Helen,”

The judges tasted her pastry and grimaced.

“Your pasty is fluffy and crunchy, but it’s way too salty. It’s inedible.” Chef George spat out the pastry into the garbage bin.

The selection seemed easy for the judges.

“Mathew, your pastry was dense, but it was definitely edible. So, you are safe. Helen, your pastry was way too salty, and that’s why you are going home. I am sorry.” George passed the verdict.

Helen walked away from the MasterChef kitchen, holding her tears back. Mathew stood in front of his station with a smug smile plastered onto his face. He had seen Helen switching his pastry with hers. But, his dough was extremely salty, and he decided to push his luck. Luck favoured him. It was a brilliant stroke of karma.