We Are Young.
AU Developed with Miquel Romani's help and support! We've been RPing parts of it but I found those scenes hard to repackage for a fanfic (flip-flopping POVs are tricky…), so I scooted around them instead.
Kitchen and Wilson are to blame for the title :D
Game of Cooks
The intro is flashy and the music is a bit too dramatic, but it's the kind of prime-time entertainment formula most people expect and are familiar with. Stainless steel knives are animated and flash across the screen, hacking up vegetables and navigating frothing pots and gouts of kitchen flame. The title "Game of Cooks" crashes into place with sparks and steam everywhere. The second season's opening is trying to show how high-octane the next ninety minutes are going to be, with marginal success.
Families are settling down to a bit of evening entertainment as the heavy voice of the narrator goes over the same endorsement and sponsor information from last season, with one or two additions to the roster. Then they go on to talk about the prizes. For the winner of this sixteen-week cook-off, there is a five-thousand dollar package of professional cookware, a one-hundred-and-fifty thousand dollar cash prize, and at least one endorsement deal with a popular home and food magazine. This is repeated three times while the screen changes and flashes to a towering high-rise in a generic American metropolis: it doesn't look like New York, and it doesn't give off the same vibe as Miami or Seattle, and it's not in middle America either. So is it Los Angeles or San Francisco?
About ten minutes and a lot more camera-angles later to show the massive industrial kitchen at their disposal, the contestants are introduced. There are thirty of them, so most viewers aren't invested enough to start rooting for anyone off the bat, least of all the awkward Italian that comes through in the 12th slot.
"My name is Lovino Vargas, and I am the Executive Chef for the Empress Hotel in Chicago." He's Italian, so there's an automatic interest in households which share those roots- at least until the next Italian in the 18th spot starts talking, but let's ignore that for now. He's young, and with his olive skin, full lips, straight nose and strong chin, he catches a few female eyes and subtle laughs are exchanged from couches and recliners. "Uh, I guess I started in my Nonna's kitchen when I was little, but after graduating from culinary school I spent two years training in Southern and Central Italy, and then spent several months in Spain before coming back home to start my career."
While his voice-over continues the screen is showing a montage of the man in question cooking and serving various kinds of food in a white chef's uniform. They notice he doesn't smile very much, but his dark hands whip the knife across the cutting board cutting various fancy plants, and something about a man with that kind of control and a familiar grip on a flaming pan makes him very appealing- the sudden intrusion of a Spanish mandolin in the background also helps.
"Does it really matter? I'm the oldest of three boys, the middle one is married, and I want to win because I don't like wasting my time." His brother his married, he is not, so plus five points for the hot Italian.
Number 13 comes up and only a fraction of the entertained audience will remember that 12's name started with an L. But there's one platinum blonde sitting in his too-quiet apartment with a pissed off cat and an oblivious canary that just can't wait to watch the rest of tonight's episode. He's far from the only person in 12's close circle of friends who knows there was supposed to be a shout-out of "It's your fucking fault I'm doing this!", but he can't help but pick up the threadbare red pillow off the arm-rest next to him and hug it close to his chest.
It's a poor substitute, but Gilbert's sure the next several weeks will be worth it.
While he's up to his elbows in a set of Norwegian ingredients he's never fucking heard of, Lovino is not so sure.
That shout-out is one Lovino didn't put much stock in getting through, because the crew in the booth filming him wanted something more along the lines of a catch-phrase or a "fuck yeah! cook all the things!" which he is just not interested in doing. He has one-hundred-fifty-thousand-and-one reasons why he's doing this, and the last one is called Gilbert: that fucking asshole with his fucking stupid ability to get Lovino to agree to really stupid shit.
They took away his phone, they made him sign a shit-load of paper-work, they gave him a hotel key and told him where all the cameras are so he doesn't accidentally walk naked in front of the crew. It's a reality show and Lovino has never felt more fucking self-conscious in his entire god-damned life, not even that time when he was in high-school and there was way too much fuss about getting him a date for prom.
To make matters worse: it was hard enough coming out to his family a few years ago. He's absolutely not going to do it in a pent-house full of strangers on national television with his boyfriend watching.
His only saving grace is as follows: the competition actually gives two shits about the food they produce and serve. He had no idea how to prepare the salty pickled whatever the fucking hell that was for the judges, but boiling the shit out of it and then battering and frying what was left actually didn't taste like vomit. Two other chefs used the deep-fryer like he did, but one burnt his and the other hadn't thought to get her fingers in it properly to realize there was sand in there.
Sand girl and that's-not-how-you-make-sushi guy were the bottom two, they had to clean the kitchen while Lovino and twenty-seven other chefs got to return to the hotel and sleep off jet-lag. He's sharing his bedroom with two other men, which would be awkward if they were fifteen but it's just an inconvenience at twenty-eight. There's one camera in the bedroom and none in the bathroom, and as one of his room-mates brushes his teeth and the other is out boasting about how great he is at everything, Lovino blindly searches for his notebook and tears a page out of it.
He writes "I hope the cat pukes in your shoe" with a thick marker, leaves it where the camera can see, and crawls under the covers while wearing one of Gilbert's unwashed sweaters.
How does one get Lovino Vargas to enter a celebrity cooking contest like Game of Cooks? By getting his family on-board.
And how does one convince the Vargas clan to bully their eldest son into actually getting involved? By reminding them what kind of sonofabitch he works for at the Empress Hotel.
There isn't one single, concise, stand-alone word in the English language that sums up Gilbert's feelings for one Roderich Edelstein. There are a couple in German, but those can't be re-printed in several states, and their English equivalents are similarly vulgar. Gilbert doesn't care that he's biased either because the only person whose hatred comes close to his belongs to Lovino's grandma.
Nonna Vargas is the picture of the Italian grandmother: sweet, kind, mothering, often very quiet, and usually cooking something delicious. She smells like baking and candies. She wears a head-scarf for God's sake, and she was the first member of the family to actually use Gilbert's name after he and her grandson got together two years ago. Gilbert had been convinced for the better part of those two years that Nonna Vargas had spent any temper she possibly had raising her son- Lovino's father, and was pretty sure the family was lying to him about Lovino inheriting her violent nature.
But then Edelstein fucked with her grandbaby's birthday.
Nobody fucks with Nonna's birthday dinners. Fucking nobody. But Lovino's boss called him when they all knew he'd booked the day off almost a month in advance, and he did it right when they were just sitting down to a braised lamb dish that took three days for Nonna to prepare. It was come in and run a service for some hoity-toity guest Lovino had already prepared his staff for, or lose his job on the spot because of that blood-sucking contract he'd signed with the hotel.
So Lovino kissed his Nonna and left, and Gilbert didn't understand why Grandpa Vargas decided to go hide in his hobby room while Feliciano started sweating and asking his wife if she wanted to go out for a walk. Monica and Gilbert are cousins, and she'd already been five months pregnant at the time, so for once she'd said no and they'd both been very confused by this very strange family.
In total Nonna Vargas broke four plates and called on six different saints to strike down the monster who'd taken her grandbaby away from her on his birthday. Gilbert and Monica also learned that Lovino picked up most of his swears from the kindly old sweet-heart, not the more verbose and wine-loving grandfather who usually takes the blame for his vocabulary. If there had been a weapon in the house Gilbert doesn't doubt that the old woman could have whipped a shot-gun around and blasted through a couple walls until her rage was spent, because it was like watching a much older, female Lovino blow his top.
So a month and a few more emotional work-related fits later, Gilbert and his boyfriend were reclining on their couch together, in their apartment, watching re-runs of last season's cook-off competition. In between Lovino laughing at the screen watching some idiot mutilate a chicken, and screaming in professional agony as someone else's hand slipped and shattered a bottle of truffle oil, the blonde broached the subject of getting him on one of those shows.
He was shot down so fast he actually had to check for a bullet wound, but it didn't turn into an argument. If Lovino actually liked his job then they might have started shouting at each other, but he really fucking does not, and Gilbert hates watching him get stomped on and harassed at work. Lovino deserves his own god-damned kitchen, with his name on the menu and his stamp on every meal. And no, their apartment kitchen isn't what he's talking about.
When you throw in the fact that Lovino didn't flip out when the re-run ended with a commercial advertising the talent search for the second season, including its Chicago locations, it meant he was thinking about it. One quick call from Gilbert to Nonna explaining the idea led to the entire god-damned tribe showing up outside their apartment, hog-tying Lovino to a chair, and Gilbert wasn't there so he doesn't actually know what kind of satanic ritual they performed on him. He just knows Lovino pulled out his good knife set and spent the next week massacring every organic item in their fridge to make sure his skills hadn't suffered after three years cooking the hotel's stuffy menu.
He also told Gilbert it would be his damned fault if Lovino humiliated himself on national television. Gilbert replied with an ultimatum: either he opens his own restaurant in the next twelve months, or Gilbert punches out Roderich Edelstein and spends a couple nights in prison for assault.
They shook on it, and after that it was all line-ups, recipe submissions, two interviews, and one weird photo-test with a photographer who seemed way too attached to Lovino's neck and shoulders for Gilbert's peace of mind.
He doesn't care if the cat pukes in his shoes, Gilbert just wants his boyfriend to be the last chef standing.
I actually really like Austria, but the words got away from me and he's already hard to work for in the canon. Monica seems to be the most popular name for Fem!Germany.
I also really love cooking competitions like these. Hell's Kitchen, Chopped, and Top Chef are all guilty pleasures of mine, so why the heck not do a parody fic? Drop a comment below!
I'll see you guys with chapter 2!