Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 10

Entering this shokugeki, I was a little dubious: I generally dig the concept of Kurokiba Ryo’s dual identity, but in execution, while cooking Okamoto Nobuhiko yells a lot in that very annoying Okamoto Nobuhiko way (though it has its uses). Meanwhile, this new baddie Kusunoki Rentaro, not only sounds a lot like angry Ryo, he also looks stupid with all his fussy accessories, and his haughty attitude is poised to wear faster than clothes during a foodgasm.

Still, by the time he’s completed his salmon confit flamme, I gotta hand it to Rentaro—the kid knows what he’s doing and he’s supremely confident in victory in a way every chef must be. While I came to love a good many of Food Wars many characters, this episode gets back to the show’s roots, and the thing that got be hooked early on before I knew anyone—the process of creating a dish.

Rentaro is a veritable culinary Radio Shack, employing many of the same innovative gadgets that Alice uses in her molecular gastronomy. And I can tell ya first hand it’s no gimmick—some of the moistest, most flavorful turkey I’ve ever tasted came from the sous-vide water bath method. Rentaro’s “elegant” use of heat (cooking the fish through steam convection) and cold (salmon ice cream from the cryomill) lends his dish a thermal interplay that knocks even Momo’s clothes off.

But while we were hearing all about Rentaro’s dish and how great it is, all we saw at the beginning of the battle was Ryo sauteeing rice and prepping bread dough. The final product is a total surprise: a french dish of Russian royal origin called coulibiac, and it looks every bit as succulent as the confit flamme.

I’m one of those people whose enjoyment of a food—any food, even highly processed—is only enhanced by learning more about it, particularly while eating it. So I can relate to the judges seeming to enjoy the dish even more once they unpack how it was prepared. Like Ryo’s cartoccio in the Autumn Elections, the brioche crust serves as a container for pure, intense umami that causes a brain jolt (and the loss of Megumi’s clothes, sneaking a bite from a portion Alice stole).

So, who’s the winner, eh? Rentaro and his elite colleagues believe the tie will be broken by his dish, because he was able to maintain moisture without drying out the fish. But it isn’t moisture that tips the scales, nor is it Rentaro’s dish that wins—it’s Ryo’s coulibiac.

How did he nab victory after Rentaro’s nearly-perfect dish? With imperfection. His umami was superior due to the use of an outside factor—spinach in the crepe, while his own original blend of spices (using a skill learned at the Indian restaurant where he interned) are unevenly distributed throughout that crepe, a non-homogenous tactic that enables the palates of all who taste it to sense the richness and flavor with greater acuity.

The use and distribution of spices was born out of the guy who ultimately won the Autumn Elections, Akira, as well as Ryo’s circumstance of ending up in the very kind of restaurant where he can bone up on a field he may have neglected in the past.

Then you have Alice supporting him as always (these two should really just get married at this point), and it all adds up to a Ryo who is not the chef who distinguished himself at the Autumn Elections: he’s better. And he gets a sweep and the first blow to the arrogant Central-picked elites.

Nice ep; its main demerit is that it checked in on Erina.

Why is that bad? Because it’s a reminder that, so far, Erina has had next to nothing to do but sit around the dorm. Granted, her movements are limited due to her runaway status, but that amplifies the Princess Toadstool(or Kuchiki Rukia)-esque quality of her arc thus far. But she’s just not the factor I’d hoped her to be so far.

Here’s hoping the series can get her more involved before this Third Plate is finished.

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Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 09

After all the upheaval of Nakiri Azami’s oppressive new regime, the good guys really needed a win badly, and Souma put himself out there, took a chance, and won against an ill-prepared and overconfident Eizan. To the show’s credit, the good guys are actually allowed to revel in this victory, as Souma soaks in his triumphant return to Polar Star, greeted with hugs, tears, and warm smiles…even from Erina!

But as Isshiki Satoshi told Rindou before Souma’s match, he had every confidence in his kohai’s ability to beat Eizan, while being focused on what’s to come afterwards. While Souma loudly and brazenly stood up against the oppression, he provided time and cover for Satoshi to do some behind-the-scenes legal wrangling. As such, now every club slated for disbanding has the right to challenge via Shokugeki…and a fairly-judged one at that.

Souma may have won a Shokugeki, and Satoshi may have set a precedent that must be followed, but it isn’t long before Azami kicks Satoshi off the Elite Ten (along with Eighth Seat Kuga and Third Seat Megishima), both for voting against Azami’s installation and for not being “team players.”

Only Rindou protested the oustings, but ultimately falls in line. If Souma has an ally in her, she’s one who seems poised to play both sides to the end. As for the other Elite Tens, they and their “Elite reserve troops” knock off one research club after another, as those clubs are unable to put up as much of a fight as Souma.

One of these “elites”, hand-picked by Azami, is Kusunoki Rentaro, who has a very fussy and cliche-packed style and a haughty, abrasive attitude, and neither Souma nor Takumi (both of whom attended the Shokugekis for scouting purposes) are able to take his trash-talking lying down.

Ultimately, Kuzunoki’s next opponent is neither Souma nor Takumi, but Kurokiba Ryo. Alice has unknowingly been the chief of the “Cutting Edge Cuisine RS” for a while now, and Ryo aims to defend her title and the club.

Like the other guys, he’s not about to let Kusunoki talk shit about him and his. Perhaps he can provide that crucial second victory against Azami, further legitimizing the rebel forces in this Totsuki Civil War. 

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 08

Thanks to his consulting network, Eizan Etsuya is one of Totsuki’s greatest wheeler-dealers, and his profits greatly exceed the combined tuition fees of the entire enrollment. He has connections with everyone, including the three Shokugeki judges. He also has a fifty-strong eviction force about to knock down Polar Star’s doors. Souma doesn’t have a chance in hell, nor do the Polar Star residents…right?

Well, not so fast. Food Wars didn’t back our friends into a corner just to hit the trap door and send them plummeting to their doom. Simply put, neither Souma nor his dorm-mates are going to take this raw deal sitting down. Even if Eizan and the judges say it’s hopeless, Souma just has to believe…it isn’t.

He finds a degree of support in Rindo, who clearly sees something in Souma, and wouldn’t want to see him expelled. Of course, he wouldn’t have been worth supporting if he does lose; she seems to be waiting for him to show what he can do, which is more than you can say for the dismissive Eizan and his puppet judges.

Satsuma chicken is the ingredient, and Eizan shows that yes, he can still cook by preparing some exquisite Haianese Chicken Rice, a dish as much of strict orthodoxy as it is a dish of elegance and restraint. The judges go nuts over it, and Souma is also impressed by the taste, which is most definitely refined.

But he isn’t going to win this thing, or even get to a point where the judges taste his dish, by trying to surpass Eizan in refinement or sticking to a script. If Eizan is classical, Souma’s got to bring the jazz. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! 

His resulting dish, gyoza made with boned wings and a sauce composed of, among other things, ketchup and Parmesan, does indeed sound like a desperate cobbling together of disparate ingredients that will only do the noble Satsuma fowl a disservice. That’s what everyone thinks, at least.

The judges were in Eizan’s pocket. There was no way they were even going to entertain picking up a fork to taste Souma’s food. They were that sure Eizan’s dish was superior. And yet…I guess the smell was just a bit too irresistible, or maybe Eizan’s rice wasn’t quite filling enough.

Whatever the case, after Eizan tastes the gyoza and is left speechless, one of the judges digs in, then another, then another. And all of sudden, Souma has won 3-0, and the eviction (which had been thwarted by Polar Star in riot gear) is called off. Suddenly, the impossible is possible.

It’s a win for all of Polar Star, not just Souma, as he wouldn’t have stumbled upon the flavor combinations that beat Eizan’s competent but by-the-book cuisine were it not for their input and collaboration. Erina, having witnessed this dorm-as-a-culinary-think-tank, can’t believe such a chaotic system could work. And yet…it did. I wonder what her father will say about this.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 07

During an exceedingly rare instance of Yukihira and the others actually being in class, new Totsuki boss Nakiri Azami gives another inaugural speech, this time laying out the nature of his “revolution.” And hey, it really is a revolution—a authoritarian one.

He immediately bans all groups, clubs, and research societies, then sets up a paramilitary organization called Central to enforce his strict culinary dogma. No more pockets of like-minded weirdos, and no more individual creativity. Azami and the Elite Ten will decide what is food and what is “animal feed.”

Azami believes that by eliminating the meritocracy and replacing the current system with his, Totsuki will be a more just and equal place, and a few low-level plebs can kinda dig it if it means they get to learn how the Elite Ten cook. But a lot of people are unhappy and unwilling to accept this.

Worse still, the banning of all autonomous entities in the school besides Central includes Polar Star Dormitory! I should have known such a warm and fluffy rendition of dorm life experienced by Erina was a bit of a danger flag, and now we see the beloved home and melting pot of the central core of the shows characters is in the crosshairs.

Many, including Souma, intend to challenge these edicts with Shokugekis, but Eizan buys off all the judges, who don’t even eat his challenger’s food before declaring Eizan the winner. It’s meant as a warning: challenge the new system, and you will be expelled.

Rather than break Souma’s spirit, Eizan only draws the redheaded kid’s ire. I’m not sure what Souma’s game plan will be, other than cooking chicken that smells so amazing even bought judges can’t help but eat and judge it, but Eizan has also arranged things so that in the three hours Souma is occupied with cooking in what could be another farce of a shokugeki, a band of delinquents is dispatched to evict Polar Star immediately.

I’m telling you, everything the good guys know and love has been turned on its head. #THISISNOTNORMAL. How in the heck are they going to get out of this awful mess?

Shokugeki no Souma – 20

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With just four episodes left after this one (barring a second 26-episode season, not outside the realm of possibility), Food Wars will likely dedicate them to the Autumn Elections, meaning it no longer has the luxury of spending an episode focusing on one, two, a handful, or a smaller group of students.

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It must focus on all of them, including quite a number of recently-added newbies, all from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals. One uniting factor is that a lot of them either admire Souma and want to see what he can do, or want to beat him…or both. Still, the character sprawl and the necessity of checking in on everyone both before and during the big preliminary round results in a somewhat breathless, unwieldy affair.

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If, for instance, you like what Alice is up to in her futuristic sci-fi kitchen, or what Nikumi is carving up, that’s kinda too bad, since the episode can only afford occasional peeks at each chef in order to cover all of them. New characters like Hayama, Hojou and Nao (whose late introductions are another hint that this show could keep going after this first round of 24) eat up some of that time.

Everyone’s jockeying for space and attention, and the episode gets a little whiplashed. At the same time, that’s part of the appeal: variety of the spice of life, be it real spices, or characters and methods of cooking, and there’s plenty of it here.

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The main rivalry in this preliminary three-hour curry cookoff seems to be Souma vs. Hayama, and both have been preparing for months, pulling many all-nighters in the process. But while Hayama seems on top of his game and is already attracting the attention of the prestigious judges, when we check in on Souma for the first time, he’s asleep. Looks like he’ll have to come back from behind one more time.

Let’s face it: We know he’s going to be one of those eight finalists to move on to the elections proper, but knowing that is neither as important nor all that detrimental to our present anticipation and future enjoyment in watching how he succeeds, as well as who the other seven will be. There are so many great chefs to root for and choose from.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 19

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The Autumn Election selections have been made, and Groups A and B will duke it out, with the survivors moving on to the tournament proper, where they’ll be observed by some of the finest restauranteurs in the business (no surprise there), and where failure will almost certainly ensure they have to futures in the industry.

The show shifts into overdrive juggling both all the side characters we know (like the Aldinis and Nakiris) while introducing a bunch more (Hojo and Nao) while elevating mostly background characters into contention with the better known chefs (Ryo, Hisako).

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Souma is straight-up fired up, and can’t wait to get into the fray. But when participants receive a vague hint about the nature of the elections—indicating a “curry dish” will be the thing by which they’ll be judged, Souma decides to track down a Totsuki professor who is not only an Alumna but his dad’s former kohai and dormmate at Polar Star.

This turns out to be Shiomi Jun, a P.E. outfit-wearing scientific master of spice who instantly reminded me of Working!!’s Popura due to her size, which misleads many to believe she’s a junior high student or younger (in reality, Jun is 34).

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At first, Jun isn’t pleased to see the son of a senpai who regularly used her as a test subject for his nastier dishes, and expresses that displeasure by giving him a sequence of Olympic-caliber punches. But since Megumi tagged along with Souma, and both she and Jun are experts in circular apologetics, it isn’t long before Jun forgets about her outrage over Souma’s presence and just starts geeking out over her speciality, spices, giving them a full-on lecture during which Megumi takes careful notes.

Megumi and Souma are “saved” by another newcomer, the tan, silver-haired Hayama Akira, Jun’s aide who transforms her scientific theories into real cooking. He’s as dependent on her (and his excellent nose) as she is on him; it’s a symbiotic relationship. And Akira takes the opportunity to show Megumi and Souma what he can do with curry, which he and Jun just happen to be researching, which is also the theme of the elections.

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The show gets into the nitty-gritty of what makes a simply good curry to what makes a transcendentally awesome curry, and it really comes down to little tweaks in the cooking process, combined with impeccable skills and timing. And while Souma didn’t know Akira existed, Akira knows him, and warns him that using inspiration to overcome restrictions won’t be enough to get to the top of Totsuki (which, duh). 

As usual, Souma tries to get the last word in, diplomatically thanking Akira for the food and promising to return the favor by making an even better curry for him, but Jun, upset they ran out on her lecture, interrupts Souma’s monologue by bursting in the door he’s about to exit through, slamming the doorknob into his gut. It’s hilarious, but also appropriate to the task at hand. As usual, Souma will have to speak, and convince all the naysayers, with his cooking in the next four episodes, not with words.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 18

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In part thanks to the efforts of her Totsuki Elite Ten adviser, Nakamozu Kinu was able to occupy a stout castle in a prime location where she can vacuum up the cash of anyone coming on or off the trains, and Mozuya Karaage is a good product, so she’s doing just fine. But she’s also been operating in a vacuum; without legitimate competition. That changes this week, in what is billed as an epic samurai-era battle for dominion over the stomachs—and wallets—of the locals.

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Mozuya is a tough foe, but Souma, Nikumi, Mayumi, and Chairman Tomita work to lay out its strengths and weaknesses. Souma in particular makes the keen observation that Mozuya does not operate on the same turf as the Sumire Shopping District. Its greatest strength is also a weakness, because customers have nowhere to stop and eat. Souma susses out the customers Mozuya isn’t reaching due to their location and the way they serve their product.

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But it’s not enough to find those customers; they must be lured to the district with a sensational product that is “innovate, memorable, and portable” in addition to having an enhanced taste. Nikumi suggests the shift from lean breast meat to heartier, jucier thigh meat, and while Tomita’s karaage onigiri falls flat, the idea of rice going so well with the chicken sparks an idea in Souma’s head: one that’s kept secret from us, the audience, as well as Nakamozu.

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We don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we see a lot of wheels turning, from Tomita waking up the printer, to Nikumi throwing her Mito weight around to get on-the-dot early deliveries of meat, to Mayumi conscripting her little brother to help with package design. There is a great sense of shit going downpreparations for a surprise attack on Mozuya.

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Nakamozu, ensconced in her fortress of success, in her arrogance, never sees it coming. She sees some boys walking past her shop with karaage; then more and more people. By the third day, her sales are down 20%, an unthinkable course of events by her reckoning.

But the fact for those days she’s simply standing there beside her store, not innovating, resting on her laurels, speaks volumes. Souma never announced his siege on her castle, and she doesn’t realize there’s a siege at all until it’s too late.

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What amazes her—and me too, frankly—is how quickly and completely Souma is able to revitalize a shopping district that had been a “ghost town” three days prior. Then again, Souma and Nikumi are elite culinary masterminds supported by hard-working, dependable, passionate people, in an area where multiple disciplines are represented; disciplines that can be utilized to make a lot of progress in a pittance of time.

The genius of Souma’s delectable “Sumire Karaage Roll” is that it contains a little bit of every district business. Mozuya was all about purity, homogeneity, and authoritarianism; The Sumire Roll is culinary democracy in action.

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Once she inevitably tastes the roll, like her rivals tasted her karaage only a few days ago, Nakamozu has no choice but to concede defeat. After all, she tasted the innovation and resourcefulness of pure youth, as well as grossly underestimated the tactical skills of the kids she challenged.

Her downfall is a black mark on her Totsuki adviser’s record, so that advisor, one Eizan Etsuya, ninth seat of the Elite Ten, calls Souma in, not to “beat him up”, but to invite him to join his bullpen of chefs with which he creates empires of success all over Japan and beyond.

Souma, content with his smaller goal to keep his dad’s diner going, refuses the offer, so Eizan informs Souma that he’s been selected for the Autumn Elections, in which he’ll be working towards Souma’s defeat and the end of his meteoric rise. Somehow, I doubt Eizan will succeed.

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