Once upon a time there was mean, fat king who loved nothing more than vast, sumptuous feasts. Lamb, veal, duck, venison, pheasant, caribou, sloth, spotted owl... the premier kitchen of the realm prepared his meals to his precise specifications, and no appetite was left unsatisfied. No, not merely unsatisfied -- unsatiated.

However, the corpulent king began to grow distressed. The bountiful banquets that once brought him such pleasure began to taste bland and boring. His chefs redoubled their efforts to find the most succulent beasts, the freshest vegetables, and the most stimulating spices -- but all of their attempts fell on tasteless buds.

The king fell into a deep depression, and refused all sustenance. His chefs tried everything to stir him from his melancholy, but even the most scrumptious sweets would drive the king to gasps and coughs. "I am a man of refined tastes," he exclaimed. "I cannot eat such filth."

Losing his expansive luster and driven to desperation, the king marshaled his fading will to live and announced a competition. "My chefs have failed me," he told his people. "Their food was not fit for sloping swine, but perhaps they will be. Consequently, there is a vacancy in my court that needs to be filled, as do I. Any man who can prepare a meal that is truly fit for a king will be lavishly rewarded."

The king's command attracted would-be chefs and were-in-fact charlatans by the cup, quart, and bushel. Day and night the aspirants toiled in the king's extravagant kitchens, presenting him with course after course of comely cookery such as the world has never known. But the king's malaise would not be dispelled, and he wasted away, surrounded by mountains of decaying delicacies.

One by one the rejected, dejected connoisseurs drifted away. Conceding defeat, they fled, fearing that they too might end up feeding the king's zoo after snatching defeat from the jaws of misery. The king despaired, but he retained one final resort. "If my enormous wealth can not buy my satisfaction," he said, "I have but one thing left to offer. If any man can gratify my culinary lusts, I'll give to him my daughter!"

The king's daughter was a beautiful young lady, who fortunately did not take after her father's gluttonous ways. Word spread quickly though the land that anyone who could renew the king's taste for life would marry the princess, and be made heir to the kingdom. Who would answer the call?

Every chef who heard the new pronouncement scoffed. "The king has eaten all there is to eat," they said. "Every animal, every plant, and every fungus has passed his palate; nothing remains to entice him from his ennui."

Every chef -- but one. One man who could not be tempted by wanton wealth, but only by the love of a kind and generous princess. "All those who have come before me," the man told the wan king, "were mere pretenders to the gastronomic throne; I am the master. If you are willing, I will prepare a savory extravaganza that is certain to satisfy."

"By all means!" the king commanded. "But how will you accomplish such a feat of a feast? Look around! I am surrounded by the comestible corpses of your predecessors."

"Fear not, O king," the confident cook replied. "I, and I alone, possess the secret ingredient that will titillate your tongue and resurrect your vanquished vigor. No no! You must sample it for yourself when I am finished. And then we will discuss the princess."

The king waited in eager anticipation while the cook prepared secretly in the kitchen. He dismissed all offers of assistance and labored alone, but his job was quickly completed. Smiling triumphantly, the cook ascended to the king's banquet room and presented his masterpiece: a delicious pie, still steaming from the oven. Without a word the king devoured the dessert -- every last crumb of crust and fleck of filling.

His plate sparkling, the king proclaimed, "I feel new life in my bones! Quickly, bake me another!"

"And my reward?" the chef inquired. The king demanded that his daughter be brought forthwith.

But the princess could not be found! In her quarters was the meager message: "I will not be fed to your ravenous maw."

"I'll give you anything! Money, power; all that I have and more! Anything you want! Sustain me, and all that I have is yours," begged the king of the cook. "Or else, I die!"

But the cook replied, "You have nothing left that I desire."



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