A/N: Hey there wonderful readers. I hope everyone is faring well in these trying times. I know it's been a while since I updated but I'm trying my best to get out chapters of all my works while jumbling a crazy ass schedule. P.S: Prepping for business school while working on your master's degree thesis is not easy. So sorry for the delay but I hope you enjoy the latest chapter. I also want to clear 1 small thing. I won't be writing the scenes which remain unchanged from canon. But I did my best to summarize them as briefly as possible while not missing anything important. But if you do notice that I missed a major detail, please let me know in the comments. Bon appetite.
During the following weeks before the summer break, Artier continued to gain a reputation for himself. His flirtatious deeds only escalated further after the dinner at Nakiri household. His alluring gaze, infectious smile and honey glazed words would work like a charm on almost everyone. After a week or so, it was never him that initiated the conversations anymore. Girls would flock to wherever he was, which was usually anywhere except a classroom, and attempt to cajole the French playboy. He was more than happy to oblige to their requests, heaping praises on their beauty, creating melees of compliments sweeter than sugar.
After a debacle of a dinner at the Nakiri household, he came across Erina and Hisako only once, a chance meeting where he ran into the pair at a restaurant in the city. He showed no interest in Erina and swaggered towards Hisako's side, recreating the dinner climax. He was surprised by the cold attitude shown by both of them, unable to understand their hostility towards him. When confronted, Hisako suggested they simply walk away and not bother wasting their time. But he managed to coax Erina into spilling their mutual scorn towards his salacious personality and behaviour. He attempted to clear their misgivings by saying
"I'm an admirer of the beauty that surrounds me Hisako. But don't misunderstand that for amorosity. My heart belongs only to you."
Which was met by a distasteful
"You disgust me."
by Hisako. Artier simply smiled in response and waved goodbye as they left.
The month of June arrived, the students of Tōtsuki Culinary Academy were given a string of holidays, creating a short summer break. With the time given, the residents of Polar Star Dormitory had their holidays planned out and Yukihira Soma decided to return to Sumiredōri shopping district to air out the Yukihira restaurant. Returning from their break, after an intense round of ping pong at Polar Star Dormitory, Satoshi Isshiki informed everyone that Tadokoro Megumi, Yukihira Soma, Zenji Marui, and Shun Ibusaki had been selected to participate in the 43rd Annual Tōtsuki Autumn Election. Although Sakaki Ryoko and Yoshino Yuki were disheartened to know that they were not selected, Satoshi informed them that there were still twenty spots that needed to be filled.
Later that week, Soma was summoned by a group of male students to meet Etsuya Eizan, the 9th seat of the Elite Ten Council. In his office, Etsuya told Sōma that he had heard about the Sumire Karaage Roll and was impressed by it since it put Mozuya, which he was helping to operate, into financial distress. Soma was given a lucrative offer from Etsuya to work under him, but Soma refused. Then, Etsuya declared that the Autumn Election would mark the end of Soma's "upstart".
Shortly after that, the Elite Ten Council decided to finalize the last participants for the elections.
"Does anyone on the council have any issues with the final list of participants?" Isshiki asked, expecting one person in particular to raise an objection.
"Yes. I propose to remove to Yukihira Soma and Artier Lief to be excluded." Erina spoke, in a more commanding tone for someone who's request's approval relies on a vote.
"Ohhh... So the princess actually pays attention to what goes on around huh?" Terunori Kuga said, in his usual gleeful way. Erina wanted to scowl but she knew better than to pick a fight with Kuga of all people. Would she win in a match against him? Hands down. Would she be able to get rid of him? Hell no. Sometimes it's better to sit out a storm than try out running it.
"There's no way I'm accepting that proposal. I don't care about whoever this Artier is but I need Yukihira Soma in the autumn elections." Tetsuya Eizan piped in, leaving no argument for debate.
"Regardless of anyone's personal feelings and objectives," Isshiki spoke, glancing at Eizan knowing well the 9th seat's nature and possible interest in Soma. " The list is prepared based on merit and merit alone. And I don't think anyone would disagree that Soma-kun failed in achieving that. He's bound to garner a lot of attraction to the autumn elections. Would you disagree, Nakiri-kun?"
Erina tch'd reluctantly. She couldn't disagree with him. Soma's reputation has already spread around the academy like a wildfire due to his antics. Although most of it was was negative in the beginning, there's been a steady change in polarity of his notoriety after the 'hell camp'. And the fact that he beat her former underling, Mito Ikumi in a Shokugeki and standing out at the 'hell camp', in a rather pathetic manner in her view, was merit enough for anyone to enter the 'autumn elections preliminaries. But it wasn't the case for Artier. Soma was her main concern but she wouldn't let that coquettish french do as he pleases without consequences. 'This is for Hisako, after all.'
"What about Artier then? He's got no merit to show for himself. He didn't even attend the 'Friendship and rapport training camp'. As far as I can tell, he's been nothing but a sleazy flirt." Erina retorted, knowing what she said was the truth and there's no proof otherwise.
Isshiki, as much as he hates to admit it, had no counter to Erina's claim except his word. He knew Artier's antics have gained him a reputation of being the 'ladies man' of the Totsuki academy. Although he personally found it nothing but amusing, seeing how his cute juniors were more than ready to fawn over his every smile and swoon over his every word, he can't claim it to be true for everyone. But nevertheless, Artier not being in the autumn election would be a huge missed opportunity for him to showcase his innate potential that can skyrocket his standing in this academy, apart from being known as a flirtatious dream boy that is.
'Well, I have to try... Maybe if I can explain his Abalone Spaghetti. That's the best chance I got here.' "You do make a good point there Nakiri-kun, but-" before Isshiki could finish his defence, another voice spoke up.
"He stays. As for merit...I will vouch for him."
Every head around the table turned to see the person defending Artier. The 1st seat, Tsukasa Eishi.
"Tsukasa-senpai? You know him?" Terunori Kuga exclaimed, shocked by this revelation. The surprise was shared by everyone in the table, save for one person.
"So it's him huh Tsukasa?" Kobayashi Rindo chaffed teasingly. Tsukasa just nodded with his eyes closed, as he sighed. "Now I'm excited to see him in action. I vouch for him too."
Erina knew she lost the battle after the 1st and 2nd seat of the elite ten have approved his place. There's no point in resisting any further and being the director's granddaughter or possessor of god's tongue won't matter in this situation. The decision has to be unanimous and any conflict was usually resolved by discourse but there's no room for argument left when Tsukasa Eishi and Kobayashi Rindo were involved.
"So it's decided then?" Isshiki asked, knowing that it was only a formality at this point. He saw nothing but nods from everyone except who refused to rebel in her own by pouting but nonetheless raising no more objections. " Let's officially start the preparation for the 43rd annual Totsuki autumn election."
A few days after, the students of the 92nd Totsuki Generation gathered on campus for the official announcement of the Preliminary Participants. Along with the four that Satoshi had confirmed, Yuki and Ryoko were also selected, as well as other notable 92nd Generation participants. Artier, after receiving the news of his participation in the autumn elections, left the academy saying he had a few things to take care of. Soma met up with Nakiri Alice who told him that most of the current Elite Ten Council members, barring Erina, were once participants in the Autumn Elections. As Alice departed, she told Soma that she could not wait for the day that they, along with Erina, fight over the Elite Ten. Meanwhile, Daimido Fumio was preparing a celebration for the comeback of the Golden Age at Polar Star Dormitory. Saiba Joichiro arrived unexpectedly at the dormitory and greeted Fumio, who nostalgically said he should at least call ahead of time if he planned to come back, lacking common sense as ever.
Not before long, the day of autumn elections arrived. On the day of the preliminaries, the 60 participants gathered in the main hall for an introduction speech from the academy director before splitting up into their respective blocks. The rules explained by Senzaemon states that each block contains 30 students and a total of 5 judges who are generally big names in the culinary industry, one of which serves as the head judge. Students are given one hour to cook and prepare all of their ingredients for their dish. The students will then make 5 servings to serve all 5 judges. The students are expected to bring their own ingredients and any appliances they may need to cook their dishes. However, the school provides basic appliances such as a sink and an oven.
Each of the judges will take the time to eat each students dish and critique them before giving a final score. Each judge can give a score from 0 to 20 points for a cumulative maximum score of 100 points. However, judging is very strict, as the judges treat each dish as if the student who prepared it should be on the same level as a professional chef. The top eight students, the top four from each block, shall advance to the main tournament. If two or more students are tied for fourth place, the judges will break the tie by choosing the better dish.
Hisako stood outside the B block's arena waiting for the gates to open. Her face betrayed her emotions by remaining impassive for the most and only hints of determination slipped out of her resolute eyes. But if someone were to listen to her heartbeat, they could feel the intensity of her inner commotion.
'Relax Hisako. You've waited a long time for this stage and opportunity. You've been training and honing your skills since your childhood. The time has come to prove your worth to Erina-sama. To show everyone that you are the one who will help Erina-sama ascend the gourmet apex.'
The constant buzzing in her surroundings didn't help her either. Her eyes attentively shifted from one person to another, scoping out the potential major threats. From the 30-member crowd, she found 4 people who could prove as a serious hurdle in her journey. 1st was obviously yet another prodigy from the Nakiri family...
'Nakiri Alice. A genius in her own right and most likely to inherit a seat in the elite ten council soon. A pioneer in molecular gastronomy. Although curry isn't the most compatible theme for her area of expertise, I'm sure she can still produce something stunning.'
Next was another heiress from a reputable culinary lineage...
'Hojo Miyoko, a strong-willed person with the lust for battle. Combined with her fierce style of cooking, her dishes are bound to pack a powerful punch, especially a curry, which relies on the impact it delivers.'
Her third target was...
'The Aldini brothers. Though Takumi Aldini is clearly the better of the two, I can't afford to underestimate Isami either. Spices and Italian food usually don't go well together but I've heard enough about both to consider them a threat.'
Last but not least...
'Tadakoro Megumi. Often clumsy and timid and almost lacklustre until recently, she became an overnight threat after the rumours of her battling to a draw with Shinomiya Kojiro, the former 1st seat of the elite ten.'
The sounds of the doors opening grabbed her attention before she could analyze her co-competitors which made her miss one other crucial person. As she started to make her way inside among the crowd, the sudden greeting from behind startled her.
"Salut, mon amour."
Hisako's spirits instantly darkened, recognizing the prurient voice of Artier. She tightened her fists in an attempt to control any outburst, refusing to let him collapse her composure when required the most. She just indignantly huffed and continued her walk, putting more strength into her steps than usual.
"Still mad at me chéri?" Artier called out to her standing from where he was before, gazing at the retreating form of the steadfast pinkette. When he received no response, he just shrugged his shoulder and started to make his way inside when he was treated to the same thing he did a minute ago.
"Still pinning after the unattainable, Lief-kun?" Alice said, popping up from behind, a teasing grin on her face.
"Alice ange. Lovely seeing you here."
Alice glanced over his frame, seeing him in a chef's uniform for the 1st time in a while, given how he never showed up to any classes. He donned a standard white chef's uniform, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows with a red tie, loosely tied around his neck and slung over his shoulder. "That would be obvious so stop dodging my question."
Alice fell into step as they both continued to walk inside the huge arena which was about to turn into their battleground.
"What can I say? The heart wants what it wants."
"Uh-huh. Do well today. I want you to face you in the finals, although, you might have to overcome some challenges." Alice said and made her way inside.
Artier simply smirked in response, not his usual friendly lop-sided grin but a very cocky grin displaying his confidence. "I'm counting on it. That's the reason I came here after all."
Soon the competition in both the Blocks began. Orie Sendawara, Osaji Kita and Shingo Ando began their ruthless assessment of the curry dishes presented with none of the starting dishes proving to be any decent, scoring sub pars scores until Sadatsuka Nao, one of the wildcards, with her jet black curry laksa was the 1st person to receive a score above the 80s with a commendable 84. This opened the flood gates as Hisako who was next scored staggering 92 with her mutton meat shimotsu-o curry followed by Takumi Aldini and Isami Aldini scoring 90 and 87 respectively for their Naporitan curry fettuccine and curry bread calzone. Hojo Miyoko was tied with Isami with an 87 for her Pineapple fried curry rice and Yoshino Yuki scored 86 for her Duck cutlet curry. Tadokoro Megumi scored 88 for her Goosefish Dobu-Jiru Curry. Nakiri Alice was standing at the top of Block B with a score of 95 for her Thermal sense curry, proving Hisako's suspicions right. The only contestant left was Artier Lief, who carried a large sling bag on his shoulders and walked onto the centre stage when called upon.
He placed his bag on counter-top and glanced over the familiar contestants. Megumi, who was one of the 2 girls he didn't flirt within the academy gave an encouraging nod to him despite knowing that any score above 88 would mean the end of her journey in this autumn elections. Alice winked at him with her tongue out already predicting what's about to happen. His gaze finally settled on current 2nd position holder, Hisako who was staring at him intently but clearly showing a certain amount of disinterest.
'Senzaemon-sama said he was a person to watch out for but I've never seen him cook. Erina-sama even said that Tsukasa Eishi, the current 1st seat vouched for him. His clout doesn't match his personality at all. There's more to this guy than meets the eye.' Hisako thought, only interested in watching his skills and nothing else.
Besides, the judges' table stood Isshiki Satoshi, hoping to see a repeat or preferably a more intense performance from his fellow polar star dorm mate.
'His Abalone spaghetti was indeed already at gourmet level but even a blind person could see he wasn't anywhere near his best when cooking that. I can only imagine what will turn out if he decided to escalate things a little. So the question is, what approach will you choose Artier-kun? Will you choose this stage to showcase your true innate potential?'
As the clock started ticking, Artier started unpacking his sling bag, spreading out his ingredients on the countertop. He spread out his executive chef's case, showcasing his collection of knives, from small to big, sharp to blunt, a knife for every culinary purpose imaginable present. He retrieved a saute pan from the basic equipment provided by the academy and placed it over low flame. From a box containing an assortment of spices, he grabbed a teaspoon of each spice and roasted for a few minutes before grinding them coarsely using a stone grinder with the addition of few inches of peeled ginger, couple of cloves of garlic and some fresh coriander leaves to make a spice mix paste.
The crowd watched him move seamlessly in the kitchen without wasting a single breath. Every single movement of his was precise to minutest of the details and most astonishingly terrifying detail was the kitchen was absolutely quiet except for his humming. No sounds of pans clatterings or knives hitting the chopping board. All done, with pin-drop silence and pinpoint accuracy. He had a relaxed smile on his face as if he was barbequing on a summer afternoon instead of competing in a cut-throat competition. Even people who knew about his eccentricity were a little taken back to see him so breezy in the kitchen. Just as when people were about to question his conviction, the aura around shifted. An eery silence accompanied by a chill loomed all over the place. People gulped in silence, jealous guys just murmuring who were previously taunting him, fearing the unknown dread that materialized out of nowhere.
Artier moved onto the meat, a whole Muscovy duck. He closed his eyes and ran his fingers all over the duck, familiarizing himself with its anatomy. The noises around him dampened to a point where he heard nothing but his own breathing as he concentrated all his senses on the bird before him. He could visualize the duck inside his mind, just by the feel and not using his eyes. In a burst of speed, he opened them and started to debone the duck and before people could wonder and gasp at his knife skills in appreciation, 2 breasts, 2 thigs and 4 winglets of the duck, deboned and skinned lay on the wooden chopping board, neatly placed in an aesthetically pleasing way.
That display which only a handful of people actually followed, dispelled any doubts concerning Artier's determination. Most of the audience just looked at each other in confusion unable to comprehend what just happened.
He rubbed the spice mix paste onto the duck breasts before cooking them on the pan. The moment the spiced breasts touched the hot pan, a crackling sear could be heard all around the dome. He then peeled a couple of onions and chopped them finely as if it's his second nature and started to saute them in another pot. With 2 pots on the heat, he moved onto the next part where he retrieved 2 more boxes from the sling bag.
Isshiki watched Artier breeze through the kitchen quite nonchalantly, looking relaxed while still managing to maintain a more than decent pace. Isshiki attributed that to his usually calm and composed nature which was proving to be a huge asset on this grand stage, saving him precious seconds otherwise lost due to clumsiness like with Tadokoro. He also observed the finesse of his skills, where he did most of the chopping, cutting, roasting and grinding almost blindly. All in all, Artier looked confident enough to breeze past the preliminary round. But Isshiki didn't share the same level of confidence.
'It's almost 30 minutes from the start and all I can imagine on the plate right now is a pan-seared spiced duck breast and judging by the looks of it, a curry broth made from the bones, thighs and winglets of the duck. There's nothing special about it in any way. Given his talent, he can push even such a simple dish to the extremes in terms of flavour and intensity, but will it be enough to proceed to the main tournament?' he wondered, remembering the dishes that stood as top 4 at the moment.
Just as Isshiki was starting to lose hope on Artier's dish, the 40-minute mark just passed and something caught his attention. He saw Artier open one of the boxes and take out a piece of charcoal from the box and place it directly on the flame. A faint smile etched onto his face as he saw Artier continue his work. 'Now that's more like it Lief-kun.'
The next 20 minutes passed with the crowd gasping in both shock and amazement as the obsidian haired boy finishes up his dish and was ready to serve. Despite working the full hour, there was no sign of exhaustion from him. Just his usual charming smile, for which most of the fangirls in stands were already swooning over.
He walked over to the judges' table with neither confidence nor nervousness. Just an indecipherable smile. Hed placed the dishes before the judges and their reaction to the dish was something that was shared by the entire stadium. Pure intrigue. All they saw was smoke behind a glass lid and nothing else.
"I hope your dish is as tasty as you look, boy." Orie Sendawara spoke, in a patronizing yet sultry tone. Artier on his part just cracked a knowing smile and choose to present his dish instead of retorting using words.
"This is smoked duck curry. Bon appetite." Artier said and removed the lid over the smoke. The moment the smoke was released from its confines, there was an explosion of the aroma of spices wafting all over the place, conquering the entire arena in the complex mix of fragrances.
'What is this intense burst of fragrance? It's so fierce yet I can sense some undertones of mellow flavours hidden. This combination of overwhelming aromas is indecipherable.' Orie Sendawara thought, barely able to contain herself from leaving behind all her inhibitions and devour the dish in front of her without even looking at it. A deep burning desire imploded within her, chipping away at her aplomb, something that resonated with the basest instincts of pleasure.
'This level of sensory overload using various spices and different cooking techniques, this is nothing short of a statement he's trying to make using this dish.' Osaji Kita thought, drooling internally. His head began to feel light as if intoxicated by the mere expectations of how this curry would taste.
'He managed to dominate our sense of vision using the smoke and sense of smell using the fragrance outburst. The perfection he is aiming for now solely depends on how well the meat is cooked and tastes.' Shingo Ando thought, holding onto his rationality by a mere thread. He felt like he was blown up while sitting on top of a flavour grenade, already having an idea of how the dish was gonna taste and he couldn't wait to do so. The remaining 2 judges were openly drooling, staring expectantly for the clouds of smoke to clear.
When the smoke completely cleared and the fragrance was spread out enough to not overwhelm the judges, the dish finally came into view, shining like a diamond on display under the lights. The curry had a rich-looking texture with sparkling golden colour. Each dish had 3 slices of perfectly cooked medium-rare duck breasts, sitting in the centre of the plate while the curry perched around it. On top of those 3 slices of duck was a small stainless steel cup, with a piece of burnt charcoal in it.
Visually, the disparity between the black ceramic plate and the stainless steel cup that lay in the middle, the rich textured golden curry and the burnt charcoal couldn't be any clearer.
'But...It looks so charming.'
'It looks so inviting.'
'It looks so exciting.'
'It looks trailblazing.'
The judges thought before shakily reaching out for the cutlery. They put aside the cup holding the charcoal before digging in.
Their reaction? All of the judges' eyes shot wide open for a second before rolling up into their skulls, overwhelmed by the ecstasy. A euphoric squeal was all they could let out through their tightly shut mouths, afraid of even letting the aroma of the bite escape, relishing in the lingering taste of it as they gulped their food. Only after that, did they let out a sigh of bliss, gasping for breath while staring at the plate with pure adoration in their eyes.
'He managed to blend the sophistication of gourmet and the rustic charm of crude elements like coal and that stainless steel cup perfectly. Not too much. Not too little. Just right. He never fails to surprise.' Isshiki mused with a jutting grin as he watched judges take their first bite of the dish.
"I can't eat anymore of this. This...this is sinfully good. I fear I will lose myself if continue to take even a single bite. But..." Sendawara thought before looking at the guy behind the source of her current predicament, with a devilish smile on his face.
"You know you want to take another bite. You want to savour the sense shattering flavours on tongue again, right? You want to relive the exultation of the highest degree, in front of everyone, don't you Sendawara mademoiselle."
"Ha..ha...HAI!" Those were the last words she spoke for while as she curtly proceeded to take another bite. Whatever fears and prenotions about the second bite she had were all wrong. They were worse. She felt her soul entering an astral plane where gratification and glee were the only things present. She felt stakes of pleasure being driven through her, all over her body. Her throat incapable of generating any sound, her eyes filled to the brim with tears of contentment, writhing in her seat, lost in a world of her own, completely disconnected from everything.
Osaji Kita, Shingo Ando and the other judges didn't fare any better either. They melted in their chairs after the first bite itself, showing no signs of recovery yet.
Every participant from Block B including Yoshino, Sadatsuka, Isami, Miyoko, Megumi, Takumi and Hisako were taken back by the immoderate reaction from the judges. The crowd were too confused to make anything out of the slumped judges, some guys going as far as saying Artier's dish gave them food poising but these guys knew better. Only Nakiri Alice had a different reaction compared to the rest.
"Geez, that guy. He knows no restraint. Just like Ryo. Wonder how 2 persons with such opposing personalities have the same approach towards cooking." Alice muttered, loud enough for it to be audible to the contestants who stood by her. She huffed a little and stepped forward. "Oi! Lief-Kun! How can you go all out from the beginning, you show off!" Alice yelled at Artier, gaining the latter's attention.
"Eh? But I did hold back. Not my fault these judges are of low calibre." Artier replied, shrugging nonchalantly. But the judges weren't recovered enough to take insult at his words. They could barely register what's happening in their surroundings yet. Sendawara, Kita and Ando barely gained consciousness while the other 2 were still slumped, drooling out of their open mouths, muttering incoherently. But not everyone shared the same feelings as him.
"You, mind your words. As much as I don't want to be bothered with you, you're still a student at the Totsuki culinary academy. As long as you are here, you represent this prestigious institution. Don't you dare speak ill of such stalwarts of Japanese culinary industry and besmirch the reputation of Totsuki." Hisako spoke in a threatening tone though not showing any ill intent in her approach.
"Your arrogance will be your downfall." Miyoko Hojo added.
Artier just sheepishly smiled in response, showing some humility in his behaviour with his arms raised up. "Ah! I apologize. I didn't mean to disrespect them. But I should've been more considerate with my articulation back there. The last thing I want to do is upset you fine ladies. Go...men?" he said with a one eyes smile, something that both the girls found neither funny nor appeasing in any manner. Especially Miyoko, seeing the sexist pun underlying in his attempted apology.
Out of all the rambunctious contestants, 1 person was staring intently at his fellow European student. 'Another arrogant prick. He's even worse. At least Yukihira has ambition. He's too airy for his own good, bound to hit the glass roof soon. Although-' His thought interrupted by his twin, Takumi snapped his head to greet the sharp eyes of slimmed-down Isami.
"Nii-chan, what were you just thinking about?" The younger Aldini had a smile on his face but Takumi knew better.
Takumi's face twisted comically in dread, trying to put an innocent and smiling front while shaking from within. He raised his arms defensively and waved them in denial accompanied with a shake of his head.
By the stage, through all the ruckus, 3 of the judges retained enough composure to play their roles as judges while the other 2 were curtly carried away due to their incapability of judging right now, owing to their delirious state. Isshiki cleared his throat to make an announcement before the judges' scoring began, explaining how the judging will be done now that there are only 3 judges left, as discussed not too long ago.
"Minna-san, we have Orie Sendawara-san, Osaji Kita-san and Shingo Ando-san as our judges for the final presentation. Since there is a change in the panel due to these unforeseen circumstances, the scoring procedure is slightly changed. The 3 judges will rate the dish out of 20 as they did and the percentage of score Artier Lief-kun has scored out of 60 will be his final score."
"That's gotta hurt his score a little. Those two judges were more lenient in their evaluations, giving out higher scores than these 3." Yuki Yoshino said to a praying Megumi, who desperately clung onto the faintest hope available. She was already at 4rth place and seeing the judges reaction alone, she knew Artier's dish was definitely gonna score way more than 88.
"Before we give out the scores, we want the chef to explain his dish." Shingo Ando said, adjusting his glasses.
"Sure. I first made my very own spice blend paste. I toasted dry cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds, star anise, green cardamom, black cardamom, nutmeg, bay leaf and dried Kashmiri red chillies. Then I ground them using a traditional Indian grindstone adding fresh ginger, garlic and coriander leaves into the mix to make a spice blend paste. I used half of the paste to season the muscovy duck breasts before pan-frying them. I browned finely chopped onions in oil and put in the rest of paste into them before adding the duck stock to prepare the curry base. Halfway through, I added the duck breasts into the curry and cooked them through, soaking in the flavours. But the final addition was I used spiced wood charcoal to smoke the whole dish using Ghee."
"What? Spiced wood charcoal?" The judges seemed equal parts astounded and curious.
"Yes. I took a piece of applewood and imparted spiciness to the wood itself before burning using malting technique. I used a self-made spice malt for that purpose. Then I turned it into charcoal using pyrolysis. I reheated that piece of charcoal, poured Ghee on it to produce smoke and let the smokiness break down any collagen present in duck breasts to make it more tender while also making it more aromatic."
'That's Lief-kun for you. An all-round perfectionist. His understanding of ingredients is so cardinal, it can put expert molecular gastronomists to shame. The sheer volume of culinary knowledge he possesses, I have to say even I envy that.' Alice thought with a knowing smile, smitten with herself for foreseeing this moment before anyone else.
'Just who is this guy? He's used rare spices, traditional Indian culinary techniques and tools while breaking unimaginable barriers with his unorthodox cooking style. Game poultry like the duck is rarely used in Indian cuisine but he managed to make it work. Forget that, the judges were swooning over it. On top of that, he knows malting and smoking too? Techniques which takes years to perfect and master. He used them so casually and in tandem. How? Who is... Artier Lief?' Hisako thought as she heard him explain his dish.
The crowd gasped in awe while some guys t'ched in envy, calling him a showoff. The judges looked at each other and nodded. But the common thing amongst all of them was curiosity. Nakiri Alice received a score of 95 but the kind of response Artier's dish received was unprecedented. Will he receive a higher score? Or does the absence of 2 judges who awarded the highest scores affect his? All eyes were on the brunette french who stood smiling in front of a crippled judging panel.
E/N: That's a wrap for now. I know...I'm going to hell anyway so might as well be cruel ;). This chapter is a little longer than my previous ones with 5.6k instead of the usual 4.5-4.7k, so I hope I kept you all interested throughout the chapter. DO voice your comments, compliments, concerns and complaints in the reviews. Since the fanbase for Shokugeki no Soma is smaller compared to typical shonen series', the amount of traction this draws will also be lesser. So I urge all the readers to leave a review, especially if you liked it. Reviews are a huge source of motivation for people like us which will push us to work with more enthusiasm. Thank you and have a good day.