In the small mountainside village along the dirt road, the restaurant of two brothers is busier than ever. The windows are cracked open with the breeze flowing through. With the aroma in the kitchen while all the different people with different jobs are scrambling around the same small kitchen trying to get or do what’s on their minds. As the main chef, Chef Yang, is calling out orders that are ready for the waiters and waitresses to carry out to the people. His brother, his assistant chef, is having a conversation with him. His only brother, Chenglei, and he are very close to each other.
Chenglei and Yang love their jobs because they can spend so much time together. The chef and his assistant (as well as his brother) are glad they have the same job because they both love to cook. Chef Yang wears a tall black hat with a black apron over his chef’s coat, signifying him as head chef. As opposed to Chenglei who has a red hat with a red apron over his chef’s coat, signifying his assistant skills is always improving. They are said to be the best cooks in the whole village. They are known as the two brothers or the Wang brothers more than anything else.
“It’s a beautiful morning isn’t it?” Chenglei told his brother, as he smells the soup.
“It sure is.” Answers Yang, “That soup smells good, maybe one day you could take my place.” “That would be amazing if I could be as good of a chef as you”, responds Chenglei.
Chenglei all of a sudden notices that he forgot to go pick mushrooms so he tells his brother he’ll be back, with forgotten mushrooms. He walks out the door and it slams behind him. He quickly walks towards the woods. A village man stops him and notices he is going towards the woods. He greets Chenglei and asks what he is up to. Chenglei replies, “I am going out into the woods for mushrooms that I must put in my soup.” The villager wishes him good luck and reminds him there is said to be a panda roaming around in the woods. “Don’t forget that pandas can be dangerous to people.” Chenglei thanks him for the reminder and walks on not worried much about the panda.
Upon entering, the woods twigs were snapping under his feet as he began searching for mushrooms. Chenglei hears birds chirping, which adds to the pleasant walk. Soon the noises of the woods are interrupted by a thumping sound. He walks along and the sound becomes louder. Something in the woods is growling and sounding panicky. There is rattling of bamboo as he notices a man-made cage. As he walks closer, he sees a panda in the cage. He feels bad for the panda. She calms down when he comes near. She looks at him with her big brown eyes and moans. Chenglei thinks she didn’t deserve to be caged; this is her woods. He wonders, “Why are village officials so mean as to trick a panda into this prison?” He begins to use his knife that he brought to cut the mushrooms to release the beautiful panda. She slowly leaves the cage and walks into the woods, but she turns around and thanks him with her beautiful eyes. He watches her as she enters deeper into the woods. Then he turns and walks a separate direction. He collects the needed mushrooms and returns to the village.
Chef Yang is worried that his brother is taking so long in the woods, “Where were you? I was worried you got hurt.”
Chenglei didn’t mention the panda, “I was just out collecting mushrooms, and I wanted them to be perfect for the soup.”
“Well, don’t worry me like that again.” Chenglei promises he won’t do that again and begins cooking again as the villagers stopped for lunch. Like other days, there is a lot of chattering in the restaurant but he is too busy to pay attention. One of the waitresses leaves the kitchen to deliver food, but quickly returns and says, “Everyone has left, there is a commotion outside”.
Chef Yang and Chenglei walk out to the dirt road and see a panda entering the village and the villagers shouting and drawing arrows at the helpless panda bear. Chenglei’s eyes get big because he knows the panda is not harmful. He runs in front of all the villagers and shouts “Stop! Let her go, she isn’t going to harm you.” The panda looks at him with those brown eyes and walks back into the forest. The villagers are murmuring about how a panda can be deadly. They whisper in wonderment as to why Chenglei let this panda go.
As the restaurant returns to serving guests, a beautiful woman enters. She has white hair, big brown eyes and is wearing a black shawl over a white dress. From the way she looks with her bare feet, she doesn’t have much money. The villagers do not know who she is or where she comes from. As she sits at a table, she asks for just a cup of tea. Chenglei tells his brother this woman doesn’t look wealthy and we should give her more than just tea. Chef Yang agrees with him. Chenglei brings her tea and a cup of soup. She tells him she doesn’t have the money for the soup. He tells her, “It is alright, I’ve got it covered.”
She replies, “I will accept your kindness, but I must repay you in some way.”
“That is not necessary; it is only a cup of my mushroom soup.”
She replies, “You have been so generous to me that I can share with you a recipe for a new soup.”
“My name is Chenglei, and I would love to know your recipe, I can share it with my brother Chef Yang.”
“My name is Mao; this recipe can only be shared with you.” Chenglei sits with Mao and listens to all the ingredients and cooking steps that she has to share. He notices her big beautiful brown eyes as she reminds him that this recipe is only for him to cook. Mao thanks him for the soup as she begins to leave. He thanks her for the recipe and says he will try it soon.
Chenglei is so excited about trying the new recipe that he gets up earlier than usual. Before anyone else is in the kitchen, he is already making noises as he prepares the new soup recipe. Chef Yang enters the kitchen rubbing his eyes and says, “Why are you up so early? It is not even sunrise and I hear the clanging of pots and the sizzling of food.”
The assistant brother answers, “I am trying a new recipe today.” As the restaurant opens, its doors there are many villagers waiting. The dining area is crowded and Chenglei is helping the waitresses.
An unfamiliar customer looks at the menu and then says, “Surprise me, all of it looks good.”
Chenglei brings him a small bowl of bread, a cup of tea, and a larger serving of the new soup, “You are the first person to try our new soup, hopefully you will enjoy it.” When the soup is finished, he tells a waiter to fetch him the cook of this soup. The waiter tells Chef Yang that a customer wants to see him.
Chef Yang comes out and the customer claims the soup is wonderful, but Chef Yang interrupts him and says, “I did not make this soup.”
“Well, who did?” The customer asks.
Chef Yang replies, “I will bring you the right person.”
Chenglei comes out of the kitchen to the customer’s table. “We need to talk, please sit down.” The strange customer says. Chenglei is nervous, but sits down. “My name is Minzhe, I am a food critic and own my own restaurant, I would like for you to share your soup recipe with me.”
Chenglei shakes his head, “I am sorry but I am not allowed to share it with you.”
“Well, at least I must open a small restaurant with you as head Chef,” says Minzhe.
Chenglei is surprised, “I will have to talk with my brother because he depends on me a lot.”
Minzhe replies, “I respect that.” Chenglei says he will talk to him soon. He returns to the kitchen with a big smile on his face and discusses the possibility of him leaving with his brother Yang. Yang is very happy to hear Chenglei is getting a good opportunity, but also very sad that he is leaving because he is a good chef.
Several months later, Chenglei is in his own kitchen after the dinner rush has ended. Once the kitchen is cleaned, he sits down to face his worries. Chenglei needs to come up with more recipes, but he is unsure of himself. He calls his brother Yang and shares his troubles. Yang tells him, “You are a good cook. Every time I saw you in my kitchen, you were always making up good recipes. I know you can do this. You are just worried because you are the main chef now. Your soup recipe has become so famous, you can do that again.”
Chenglei thanks his brother and says, “My soup was inspired by someone I saw in the village one day and haven’t seen her since.”
“Brother, I know you can do this. It will all happen in time.”Yang exclaims before he ends the call.
Chenglei continues cooking at the restaurant late into the night trying out new ingredients. Over all the clatter, he hears a noise coming from the dining area. He stops and listens but doesn’t hear it again. He wipes his hands on a rag as he leaves the kitchen and investigates the dining area. He sees nothing in the dim light, so he opens the door and looks out at the dirt street. As the front door closes behind him, he sees a panda bear a couple feet away observing him. He realizes he has seen these eyes before. The bear walks toward the woods but turns and looks one more time. Chenglei feels she is waiting for him to follow.
As he enters the woods following, the panda he is unsure what is going to happen. Walking deeper into the woods, they stop. She looks back at him and he knows to stay where he is.
The panda turns off the path. As he waits patiently, he looks up and Mao is walking toward him. She still has on the white dress with a black shawl and her white hair glows in the moonlit night. Chenglei is surprised how the panda led him to Mao. “I am so happy to see you; did you send the panda bear to get me? Is the bear your pet? Where do you live? Where have you been? I have a new restaurant because of your soup recipe. I hope you will come eat there soon.”
“My home is here in the woods. I live here peacefully, only once have I been trapped in the woods, but now I roam freely. When I was trapped a very kind man came to my rescue.”
Chenglei smiles and says, “A very kind woman helped me by giving me a recipe and I need to repay you somehow. What can I do for you?” Chenglei replies. “You don’t need to repay me, because it was your kindness that rescued me and that is why I shared the recipe with you.” Answers Mao.
Chenglei’s eyes widen as he realizes she is indeed the panda. He gets upset, “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”
Mao says, “I was afraid you wouldn’t like me, even though I am deeply in love with you because of your kindness.”
Chenglei says, “How could I not like you? You have helped me become a successful chef. I also have desired to be with you.”
Chenglei takes Mao’s hand and looks deeply into her big brown eyes. “Come share my restaurant and my life,” proposes Chenglei.
“I would love to very much but the animals as well as the woods need me,” answers Mao.
“Well then maybe we can come back to the woods every once and a while,” suggests Chenglei, hoping that Mao would agree.
“That would be wonderful.” So together, they walk back to the restaurant and begin cooking in the kitchen.