The Scimitar Switch
A Tale of Career Change, Vanilla, & Chocolate
Monsieur Chef’s obsession led him to Madascar. His obsession? To make the best chocolate cake in all the world. Where he hailed from? France.
He toiled, walking, carrying a scimitar he hoped not to need, in the jungle now far from home. Sweat rolled down his face. The verdant smell of soil and of a thousand varieties of vine hung in the heavy air all around. No vine was more important than the vanilla bean, even more than the cocoa beans already in his pocket— vanilla would be his secret ingredient.
And like all his necessary ingredients, Monsieur Chef was obsessively certain that the vanilla had to be fresh from the best source.
His research revealed the best soure would be the jungle ranch that lay at the top of this next hill—the ranch of Andry Rakoto.
Andry Rakoto, the prize-winning farmer of world-famous vanilla beans, sat miserably. He was a prize-winner of vanilla in a world where the organic vanilla bean was increasingly rare, yet it mattered not. He brooded in his jungle, on his family hill, and glared at his scimitar.
He had to use it too often.
You wouldn’t be able to tell because he always cleaned the blood and guts off after. But perhaps once every two weeks, at any random moment, he had to duel a thief. A few times, more than one thief at once! Andry always won.
It didn’t matter; he was good at what he did—both the growing and the defending — equally necessary components of the vanilla industry.
Being good at something didn’t mean you liked it.
“I’m at the wrong end of the industry,” he said and chucked a husk into the dirt.
“...wrong end — of the tree...” it sounded like. These were the words pressed through to Monsieur Chef's ears through the jungle. Human voice! Guarding the necessary vanilla pods!
“Fils de pute,” (“son of a bitch!”), expostulated Monsieur Chef. He pulled out his scimitar.
He had trained in Paris in martial arts, particularly with a scimitar as it would be best for bushwhacking the jungle.
Yes, he was a master baker. But he had known that he might have to fight to the death for his ingredients in the hills of Madagascar to obtain the most organic, tastiest base for his creations. Thus, martial arts were necessary to baking.
Sometimes he worried he enjoyed war too much.
In Madagascar, the cocoa bean and vanilla bean both grow. Could the dueling men?
Both crops are guarded with life and blood against marauders. Yet they grow together.
Would the Frenchman and Madagascan find a way to coexist like the plants? Or would they be as opposite as chocolate and vanilla truly are in nature… to the end?
It was a gastronomic, and a martial, mystery.
The clash in the jungle over the beans splattered blood upon the greens. The leaves shimmered with beads of it. The beads of blood knocked against black soil-dots and dew.
There was the obsession with making the best chocolate cake in the world. Against it, the obsession with access to a bourgeois life.
Clang! Slash! “RAWWWRRR!”
“I’ve never crossed swords with so great a swordsman,” shouted Andry in shock. And in respect.
“Va te faire foutre!” (“F*** you!”) yelled the fancy Frenchman. He swung and caught yet another shallow slice into the warrior-farmer.
They scuffled more. Galant sweeps sundered the air.
Madagasy footwork slowly but surely took the advantage over French flair and--
--POOM! Monsieur Frenchman fell backward on the slope. His back hit the ground. Andry straddled him like an A-frame and gently pushed the tip of his blade into the invader’s throat.
“You forgot to slap me with your glove,” Andry gloated. “It got you off on the wrong foot.”
The loser in the dirt shook his head. It caused a slight scratch to appear on his throat. Yet the Frenchman relished it. “Now, I will never get the chance now to make the world's best chocolate cake.”
“And yet, I feel at the last that I have finally lived.” All this was in heavily French-accented English.
“What do you mean?” asked Andry, cocking his head.
He found the fellow fascinating. He wore that funny, giant white hat. He dealt that outstanding swordsmanship. His skill outstripped any of the common thieves Andry had had to fend off from his crop all his adult years.
“I mean," said the French treat-maker so far out of his native element, "that all this time, I thought I was meant to be a baker. I was willing to go to any length. Now I realize that being willing to go to any length makes me a warrior.”
“That is deep, Dead Man. What is your name?”
“Is that the name on your passport, I wonder? Never mind. I am just a farmer." He never shifted his weight an ounce. Never trembled the scimitar a smidgen. "Though I’ve killed many men, I wish nothing more than to be a baker. I am a great warrior and farmer, yet I wish to be on… the finer end of life.”
“I did notice your impeccable accent.”
“Thank you. Now. Imagine this. You give me your identity as a Frenchman, and I give you my farm.”
On the moist ground, his eyes reflecting the jungly sky popped wide. “Quois?”
“You shall live so long as you become a warrior for this mountain: and, if you will let me take your place in France.
There was a long, shocked, pause. But slowly the silenct became pregnant. It became at last, enterprising.
"Do you think it could be done?” Andry Rakoto pressed.
“I… I sink zat for a life az a warrior, I could find a way…”
It was complicated and involved much trust, tutelage, and tort law. But by God, they did it.
Monsieur Chef became known chiefly as just, Monsieur. Fewer and fewer thieves perturbed his hill.
Madagascar Vanilla Chocolate Cake became the winner of 2026’s Great British Baking Show. Andry was very, very happy.
They both were.
One day, Monsieur received a cooler delivered to him by airmail. Inside was a slice of chilled cake: chocolate, with a mysterious hint of something classic.
There was a note on stationery in carefully mastered French in the cooler, too.
“M. the Former Baker:
I am finally on the right side of the industry. And you, on yours.
Yet, I do still swing my scimitar in the local martial arts studio. And you, Monsieur, should still taste the sweetness.”
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Professional pilot. Fantasy author. Traveler (18 countries+).
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