If you want to listen to the song: What's Inside?
Seokmin, waiter and expert pie baker of Jeon’s Diner, was now working on his next new pie.
This morning, he had stepped in the diner, still empty save for the stray cat that always seemed to get inside despite Seokmin making sure he had locked all doors and windows - even had to look through the vents once - every time he clocked off work. It was lounging lazily at one of the booth chairs, licking at its paws and only looked up once when Seokmin unlocked the diner's doors.
He clocked in before heading straight to the kitchen, donning the apron that was hanging on the rack. The place was clean, all stainless steel and checkered black and white tiles that spanned the whole diner. A long steel counter was set in the middle of the kitchen, much like an island, and separated the place into two sections. Seokmin hung his bag where his apron was previously placed and washed his hands.
Jeon's Diner boasted on their menu and window displays of having "27 different pies!", all freshly baked, thanks to Seokmin's ability to whip up the most delicious pastries. Which Seokmin still lives up to as his feet led him to the pantry. The baker started gathering the ingredients he would need, plucking things from the shelves without having to look, knowing where everything is after working there for nearly five years. He grabs a large pack of sugar, a whole lot of butter, and a bag of flour and takes them to his station, near the ovens. Seokmin heads back to the pantry and prepares for the first thirteen pies to make, reciting in his head the order of which ones he will bake first.
The pantry was at most a chilly room with two stainless steel shelves on each side of the walls, making a sort of “hallway” that led to the walk-in fridge (or “chiller” as Hansol would call it) that contained their fresh fruits, meat, and the occasional wine bottles (strictly for cooking! Seungcheol had emphasized).
Seokmin held an empty basket against his hip as he walked along the shelves and placed jars and fresh fruit and cheese, anything and everything he would need. He was looking for the ingredients for the pumpkin pie when his eyes landed on a basket of cranberries. It was as if a lightbulb lit in his head as he took a bowl and started filling it with the fruit. These things often happened, especially for someone like Seokmin who always wanted to give a twist on the pies he made. For his last pie, he went to the next basket and filled another bowl with blueberries, grabbed a pack of bacon, a bottle of maple syrup and headed out.
His station was soon filled with ingredients, bowls and measuring cups, lined neatly on the counter as he started to make the pie crusts. Seokmin was kneading the dough when Mingyu, who was in charge of the meat station, arrived. His tall frame easily towered across the kitchen but he was anything but terrifying. The smile that Seokmin was greeted with was one of the warmest he had ever received.
“Morning, Seokmin,” the taller greeted as he wore the apron identical to Seokmin’s, albeit a little bigger than his. “Early as always.”
“I ought to be, man,” he answered as his hands worked on the dough. “These pies don’t really bake themselves.”
Mingyu laughed and shook his head before heading to the pantry, no doubt getting the ingredients he would need as well. The kitchen was soon filled with lively chatter as the two exchanged stories, remarks, anything that came to mind. They were well into a new conversation when Hansol and Seungkwan arrived together.
Hansol worked on the fryers and Seungkwan on breakfast and beverages. They walked in the kitchen absorbed in a discussion of their own - or more of Seungkwan talking animatedly while Hansol listened, unaware of the toothy smile plastered on his face as he looked at the brunette.
“Morning, hyung!” Seungkwan made his way over to Seokmin’s station and looked over his shoulder. “What are you making?”
“Just pie crusts. Haven’t made anything yet,” Seokmin said and noticed the younger eyeing the bowl of blueberries. “Don’t even think of taking from my berries, Seungkwan, I’m going to use all of them on my new pi- hey!” He cried out but he was too late as Seungkwan scooted out of the way, giggling with half a handful of blueberries. The younger popped one into his mouth and blew a kiss in the direction of the baker.
“Thanks, Seokmin hyung!” He headed towards Hansol who was already washing his hands, apron tied around his body. Seokmin couldn’t even be mad, and only shook his head with a chuckle as he went back to work. Seungcheol, their boss, arrived shortly as he was loading the oven with dishes of already shaped crusts - for the chiffon pies and cream based ones. He peeked in the kitchen and checked each station before heading back out to start sorting the counter.
Seokmin, as he usually does when baking, fell into his own world. Baking had become a sort of second nature to him. A hobby, a job, an escape. It was what he has been doing ever since he was young, an activity he always spent with his mother that filled him with good and warm memories. It soon became his passion, wanting nothing more than to learn more of the craft, to perfect the different techniques in creating the different pies and tarts that existed, as well as being able to create new ones. He loses himself once his feet are in the kitchen, and for a while, Seokmin would be in his own paradise.
Time always passed by quickly when he was in the kitchen. Seokmin was so absorbed in his work, carefully making the lattice on top of the strawberry pie he was about to bake when he heard Jeonghan and Jihoon, the diner’s waiters, clocked in. The older peeked inside to greet Seokmin and the others before heading back out.
Seokmin hummed as he worked. Dough flattening underneath the pressure of his hands as he continued to roll the pin on the would-be crust of his next pie. It was already nearing opening time- just an hour more till they hear the deep gruff voice of their boss announcing the start of the diner's day to them. It was well into the morning as the warm smell of pastries baking wafted in the air. In the small kitchen of the diner, Seokmin whipped up pies of different types, forms and sizes. Folks always loved coming by the modest diner near the highway, even if it meant for locals to take a 30 minute drive - or a whole bus ride - just to get a taste of their desserts.
The baker, now satisfied with the thickness, gently lifted the dough up from the flour dusted counter and onto a deep dish on his right. His hands worked deftly, pressing down on the insides and crimping the edges. He slides the dish in the oven and finally turns to the (un)whipped cream. A cup and a half of it is poured in the mixing bowl and is soon being whipped into a fluffy white cream.
"A fourth of a cup of maple syrup," Seokmin mutters as he reads off of his carefully written down recipe. He grabs the cup and measures the syrup, pouring it slowly into the bowl once he reached the right amount.
"Seokmin," Mingyu waved at the baker and gestured at the pack of bacon on his station. "How much bacon do you need?"
Seokmin contemplates this before saying, "Half a pack, please!" Mingyu takes the pack and starts frying as Seokmin throws a "thank you" in the cook's direction.
With the whipped cream set aside, Seokmin took the bowl of blueberries to the sink and washed them thoroughly. He heads back to his station when he hears the kitchen timer ringing. The heat that escaped from the oven was enough to make a light sheen of sweat cover the baker's face as he carefully pulled the deep dish out with gloved hands.
The crust was a beautiful golden brown, cooked to perfection as it felt firm enough but not too hard. Seokmin smiled as he internally gave himself a pat on the back. Congrats on succeeding with blind baking, he thinks to himself. He pours the whipped cream and evens them out with a spatula. Blueberries came next as they lightly rested on top of the cream.
"That looks tasty, hyung," Seungkwan says as he passed by, carrying a load of coffee beans from the pantry.
Not long after, Seokmin finishes his last pie for the morning. The Special Pie of the Day. Ones that he got to make every day that wasn't necessarily part of the menu. Ones that he often named with unnecessarily long names and are most often based on what was currently going on with his life. Testament to that were the Stupid Beer Pie or the Betrayed by my Tongue Pie. Those earned him an incredulous look and exasperated sigh from Seungcheol.
Now topped with chopped bacon bits and glazed with a sweet maple cream, today's special dessert, the Deep Dish Blueberry Bacon Pie, was lined up in the diner's display of pies, placed on individual heated plates and covered with a fancy transparent lid. Seokmin briefly stands there in front of the display, admiring his morning's labor. They were his pride and joy. The repetitiveness of the days were made bearable because of this, being able to do something such as baking. Everyday, he created delicious food, ones that customers and co-workers have repeatedly praised as they take a bite, though Seokmin always had a hard time believing their words (someone even dared call it art - he had shaken his head profusely at that comment).
Baking hasn't always been the act of mixing flavors and colors people wouldn't normally think would go into a pie. No, it was much more than that. Seokmin was able to tuck inside these pastries little snippets of his life. Secrets. Memories. All of him inside these carefully crafted pies in such a way no one would ever know what was inside.
What was truly inside. Because they always asked him.
Sometimes he'd pretend to struggle with the plates, just so he could see their reactions after taking their first bite of the pie. Sometimes he'd be waved over, noting the cleaned out dessert plate, with only a smear of the cream or sauce as evidence of the pie they ordered. And they would ask him.
And Seokmin tells them. Without fail.
"This one's a lemon meringue pie. There's lemons, graham crackers, almond nuts and the good ol’ usual," Seokmin explains with a warm smile, "sugar, butter and flour."
Sour words lead to a sour pie. That's what happened last night with Sunghyun.
"One salted caramel apple pie for you, ma'am," Seokmin said as he carefully laid the plate of sliced pie in front of an old woman. She takes a bite, smiles, and asks the million dollar question.
Seokmin feels the smile tugging at his lips as he tells her.
"You've got the sugar, melted into a thick caramel, sprinkled with some salt, juicy apples, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and just a tad bit of lemon juice," he says as he clears her previous plate.
Eomma and I used to make these whenever dad was drunk. It made me forget him for a while. I miss her so much.
Seokmin tells them and also, does not tell them. Not the whole truth anyway. Because how would he even begin? How can he even explain the intricacies of folding a memory into a pocket of dough, or burying words in a blanket of cream and fruit? How does one tell a customer-a stranger, a friend- that their pie was based on a feeling that was last felt ten years ago? No, he thinks. This is enough.
It's such a simple question, he decides.
You wanna know what's inside?
He heads back to the kitchen and slips off the apron he was wearing, in exchange for a much smaller one, the kind that was tied around the waist with a small pocket sewn on the front.
I'll tell you.
Seokmin takes the little notebook in hand and pockets the pen. He steps out of the kitchen and into the diner, joining Jeonghan and Jihoon, who were both setting up the counter and condiments table.
My whole life is in here. In this kitchen, baking.
He greets the two waiters as they chat, Jeonghan praising Seokmin yet again for his (fucking incredible, according to his Jeonghan hyung) pastry work. Jihoon waves at him with a warm smile and proceeds to line up the bottles in a neat fashion.
What a mess I'm making.