Chapter 34: The First Round of the Grand Cooking Tournament
「Thank you for waiting. These are our dishes. 」
Mina-chan and I carried our finished dishes to the judges’ table. All of the judges frowned their eyebrows upon seeing the strange dishes that we’ve presented to them.
「Hmm, what are these… 」
The first dish consisted of a variety of small sized rice wrapped up with several seafood monsters.
「This dish, called SUSI, is a famous food from my hometown. Before eating, you should take a piece and dampen on soy sauce. And then, you can take a bite.」
I’ve prepared this seafood dish to the judges. They will be able to enjoy a variety of flavors through each small piece of food. In fact, Nigiri Sushi wasn’t the only stable meal in the making of seafood. In recent years, the number of Sushi created with various ingredients such as meat and vegetables have increased. The mix of the newer ingredients with the standard seafood sushi have made incredible creations of spectacular sushi. Therefore, I grabbed this chance and used the fresh veggie monsters that I’ve cultivated to mix with the seafood monsters. Since we’re in a different world, I changed the name from sushi to SUSI.
「Oh, this is a clever concept. One can enjoy a variety of flavors with each bite. 」
After one of the judges ate some of the pieces, the other judges began to take the SUSI made of various ingredients onto their mouths one after another. Then, I sent a signal to Mina-chan. She went to the judges’ table to give the judges something we’ve prepared in advance.
「Excuse me. This is a special drink called Tea. Please drink it between your SUSI pieces.」
「Hmm, you’ve even prepared a drink to go along with this dish. 」
One of the judges brought the tea up to his mouth. This was the first time for this judge to experience the taste of hot flavorful water and marvel through its beautiful fragrance.
Currently, the judges’ evaluation were generally positive so far. But, there was no doubt that this dish was still not enough to win their votes when compared to the exquisite presentation of the Sage Hero. Will I be able to bring the judges’ votes to our side on my next dish? Will they like it? My next dish will decide our fate. It’s the only way to win this match.
Next, we carried our last and main dish to the judges.
「Thank you for waiting. We present you our main dish. The Jubako* meal box. The Leviathan meat was carefully skewered. Then, we grilled it fragrantly with a special sauce and we placed it on top of rice on this special box. It’s called LEVI.」
I prepared the Leviathan as I would’ve prepared an eel. I cooked it carefully on a handmade secret sauce I’ve created. Then, I placed the meat on freshly cooked rice. I also prepared a special box for this occasion as well. It was heavy but it was necessary for our presentation.
This meal was the best we could do. Now, we just had to wait for the evaluation. The judges took out the lid from the LEVI box one after another. The rich smell spread throughout the venue. Everybody, including Miss Katherina, began salivating upon smelling the rich fragrance that came out of the opened boxes.
Before long, all of the judges ate every piece of the LEVI box meal, drank of the tea that I’ve made for them and took a deep breath.
「…This was a great meal. Okay. Let’s move to our evaluation now. 」
The whole venue was quiet on this crucial moment. In this large-scale tournament, the decision had to be made by the majority of the jury, which consisted of five different judges.
The first winning vote from the judges belonged to the Sage Hero. I knew that her extraordinary cooking would get the proper recognition. However, just as I had those thoughts, the next judge voted for me, Mina & Kyou. But, the third judged voted for the Sage Hero. And then, the fourth judge voted for us. It became two versus two.
「Whoa! This is surprising! The match is tied up between the newcomers and the runner-up from last year’s tournament Katherina! This is an unexpected development because the newcomers are unknown! The final verdict remains in the hands of the Gourmet Master!」
Gourmet Master. The old man that drank our hot tea and took a deep breath to admire it. In a few moments, he quietly put his arms together and, when he made up his mind, he spread a piece of paper on the table and wrote one of the contestant’s names.
The name that was written on the paper was…
I could see the Sage Hero’s perplexed face right next to us. Well, actually, I had the same expression on my face. I was extremely surprised to be honest.
The name written on that piece of paper said “Mina & Kyou”.
「Wha…What! This is a major reversal! The winners are Mina and Kyou, the representatives of the small restaurant Mina!!」
Mina-chan screamed happily and jumped on me immediately. On that precise moment, Fitis, Dora-chan and Rock came running on our direction.
Honestly, I didn’t expect this result in the end. But, I was soaring with joy much more than I expected to feel.
However, in contrast to us, there was a person who went towards the Gourmet Master with a calm attitude even though she felt extremely shocked by this outcome.
「I’m not going to complain about the result of this match. I admit my defeat. But, I want to ask you one thing before we go. Why did their dishes won over mine?」
There was no hatred in her speech, but I sensed the pride as a chef who wanted to know the factors that determined our victory and her loss. In response to the question of the Sage Hero, the Gourmet Master began to speak.
「In other to answer your question, I’d like to ask the chef who made this. What is this?」
I answered immediately to the question of the Gourmet Master.
「It’s called soy sauce. 」
The Gourmet Master pointed to the black water that we gave the judges when they ate the sushi. It was soy sauce. Then, he pointed to the sauce on the LEVI dish.
Yes, it was one of the two powerhouse’s seasonings in Japanese cuisine. I believed that this sauce was exceptional among other sauces. Japanese people may fail to understand the value of the sauce because it was natural in their daily lives. But, when they travelled abroad, they would feel lonely because of the lack of soy sauce in foreign dishes. That’s why many Japanese people brought their own soy sauce from Japan when they travel abroad.
The food culture in this world was similar to that of the United States. Everything was big and bold. The individuality of taste was strong, which was an advantage and, at the same time, a disadvantage. There was a lack of carefulness and delicate practice of making food. That’s why the number of seasoning options was overwhelmingly small. In other words, the trick I planned to use on this competition was the seasoning itself, the soy sauce.
After I made tea, I succeeded in the cultivation of Jewel Beans, a vegetable monster. Then, I created Shoyu** with my own hands and I managed to complete it not too long ago. I tried my best to use this sauce for the competition. But, this was only possible thanks to Mina-chan’s cooperation. Of course, we knew that this match would be tough to win, that’s why we had to work the hardest.
「First. Let me tell you something, Sage Hero. As a single dish, your main dish was more delicious. However, the reason why I decided to vote for these contestants was because I noticed that they were more attentive to details than just normal cooking.」
The Sage Hero frowned upon hearing the Gourmet Master’s unexpected remarks. On the other hand, the Gourmet Master offered some sushi and tea for her. When Miss Katherina ate some sushi with soy sauce and drank the tea, she realized why we were made the winners.
「This is… 」
「Yes, it melts in your mouth naturally. Both of you selected a seafood dish and served those dishes to us. In your case, it was true that your main seafood dish is world-class, but there was one drawback from the overall dish. That is the “aftertaste”. A strong taste that remains in the tip of the tongue after one finished eating their meal.」
Seafood dishes. Seafood were a variety of ingredients that could be the best of the best if cooked correctly. The flavor could be superb. However, the higher the freshness, the higher chance there will be a negative effect. That effect would be that fishy smell which remains in the mouth after eating that dish.
Of course, the percentage of freshness was important. But, no matter how fresh it may be, if the cooking was created mainly on seafood, then that unique aroma would remain in the mouth. Most probably, unpleasant and nauseating.
I loved seafood, but I ate it occasionally. But, when I ate it raw without any seasoning nor cooking method, the bitter tastes of the raw seafood would remain in the tongue afterwards. In such cases, I had to drink a strong tea to wash away that taste.
「I appreciate that this hot water played the most hidden but important role in the dishes they presented us.」
Yes, this hot water was another trick I’ve created last month. This hot water was born from the freshness of the mountain’s spring water. It was perfect to wash away the bitterness of a seafood dish. It was Tea.
Besides the water, I improved my cultivation on the monster Weed Leaf. Now, my tea got a better taste than before thanks to the dry leaves of this monster. In addition to its deliciousness, it was perfect to clean my mouth each time I ate a meal.
「No matter what dish you brought next, the taste of the previous dish remained on our mouths. However, this hot water washed away the taste left in their mouth with their dishes before they brought the next piece of food. As a result, everybody could enjoy a fresh dish as if they just started to eat. Not only that, but the combination between the bitterness of the hot water combined with all of the seafood dishes, created an even more delicious meal. I’ve been a judge for many years now, but they were the first contestants to thought of a way to elevate their dishes through a drink and not through a particular food.」
Yes, this concept of removing the bad taste was born in Japan. One of these methods was, no doubt, the Tea. The old man named Gourmet Master noticed the importance of tea during meals. Therefore, he finally gave his evaluation on my little trick.
「Their menu only consisted of SUSI and LEVI. However, the major factor that elevated their food was their tea and seasoning. Their food was carefully made. That’s why I appreciated their effort and voted for them in the end.」
「In other words, did I lose because I didn’t care about my food? 」
「No, Katherina. You’re wrong. Your cooking skills are superb. But, was there any “new food” that you’re brought us here given that the theme of this tournament is “Food Cultivation”?」
On that point, Miss Katherina changed her complexion.
「All of your dishes were excellent and exquisite. There’s no doubt about it. However, all of them were just “existing dishes”. If it were a competition only about flavor, you’d probably win given that your food is delicious. But, this is a competition about food and not only taste. This is the place to bring out “new dishes”. It seems that you misinterpreted the purpose of this tournament. Therefore, I didn’t value just their food, but also the soy sauce and tea because they gave “birth” to something new.」
After listening to the Gourmet Master’s words, the Sage Hero nodded slightly. It looked like she finally understood why she lost against us. The theme I’ve heard before “Food Cultivation”. I didn’t understand the meaning back then. So, I never put that into consideration. I just created my dishes based on my common knowledge of Planet Earth. But, it seemed that it really came in handy. To be honest, I had a lot of luck. Still, I appreciated that luck.
「…I see. I would win if it had been only about deliciousness. However, I tried to avoid the purpose of this tournament and lost. No. Actually, I did not care about those who’ll eat my food, that’s why I didn’t even try to develop a new recipe.」
Miss Katherina nodded upon saying those words. Yes, we would’ve lost if this tournament was just about deliciousness instead of a culinary contest. We won, not only because of the seasoning and because of the monsters we chose to cook with those little tricks, but also because of a little bit of luck. However, this was the result. I had to accept it. The same for Miss Katherina as well.
「I tried to hunt high-ranked monsters and cook them with only my technique. I became too immersed with efficiency without caring much about the warmth and heart one has to put on making food.」
After saying that, Miss Katherina turned around and asked for a handshake.
「It’s my defeat, Kyou. 」
I held her hand and so, the first round of the cooking tournament ended here.
*Jubako refers to the traditional food box used in Japan. Unlike Bento, Jubako refers to stacked boxes, with a lid. The lacquered Jubako are usually used for special occasions like Osechi (New Year).
**In Japan, Shoyu is the Japanese name for a soy sauce made from a mash of soybeans and wheat; and tends to be used as an all-purpose cooking soy sauce. It has a deeper color and is slightly thicker in texture with a richer flavor than the regular soy sauce.