Chapter 18: Chapter 18: 100 Chefs (3)
The catfish meatballs looked like white balls with green dots on top. It wasn’t a beautiful sight, but that’s how meatballs were. They looked boring and shabby, but that’s the point that made them different.
Cho Min Joon curled his thumb and index finger to make the meatballs round. He then added them to the boiling pot. He planned to cook them well.
It was now time to cook the soup. Cho Min Joon sliced the garlic and green onions, and then started frying them in a wok. He wasn’t switching over to a fried dish by any means, he just wanted the soup to have an oily flavor. This was going to the base for the flame flavor he would add on top.
When the green onions and garlic seemed to be cooked, Cho Min Joon added onions not long after. The thinly sliced onions grew soft as soon as it touched the wok. It was then time to add the broth. Cho Min Joon slowly poured the broth into the wok. In one hand was a strainer, and in the other hand was the pot. There wasn’t a great deal of broth, but it was enough.
As soon as the broth entered the wok, the oil and water met to create a crackling sound. At the same time, the deep scents of the broth spread out. It was so strong that even the nearby contestants could smell it. At that moment, Cho Min Joon felt certain that he succeeded. The smell reassured him even more. It wasn’t because he had already made it multiple times before. In fact, the flavors were already within the scent. The refreshing flavors of the vegetables, as well as the clean flavor of the catfish.
As for the final flavors, he had to add a little more salt. Cho Min Joon added some salt and soy sauce to his liking, but he couldn’t use too much soy sauce. He was able to reach the right flavor, but he didn’t want his broth to turn brown. Some might wonder why people didn’t use just salt instead, but it was different. Salt and soy sauce were two completely different things, with soy sauce not only containing salty flavors. There were also flavors of soy sauce, the salty yet sharp and deep flavors of soy sauce.
It was almost complete. However, something was missing. The thought of submitting the dish as is reminded him of Allen’s criticism.
So, he decided on fried catfish skin. Cho Min Joon battered the skin and began frying it in a pan. It didn’t really take long. As soon as he placed the fried skin on top of a kitchen towel, all that was left for him to do was wait.
Cho Min Joon looked around him. All the contestants were absorbed in their own cooking. Cho Min Joon scanned around him but stopped at one contestant. Kaya. Flames were coming out of whatever she was making. Was she making Chinese food? Cho Min Joon thought back. She was probably making sweet and sour pork.
Kaya was a British American, but she didn’t stick to Western dishes alone. She cooked all sorts of different dishes.
On the show, Kaya spoke about how she grew up. She had to help her mother with her fruit business ever since she was little. And when her friends were playing with games and dolls, she had to play with the shop owners of the market. However, this helped her to become the great cook she was today. She was able to experience all sorts of interesting cooking materials there.
If a normal person was put into that environment, they probably wouldn’t have known about the depth of flavors. Most market foods were simple, and the most complicated one was the eel that Kaya cooked last time.
However, the way Kaya tasted food was different. She was able to sense all the minor flavors that no one else noticed. When she touched any dish, the flavors grew that much deeper. Due to that skill, the market was a great learning place for her.
Kaya approached cooking very differently. When a part-timer cooked a skewer, Kaya knew exactly when to turn the meat, as well as how the cutting of the meat influenced the scent of the flames. She didn’t do it consciously, she just understood everything naturally.
She was born with it, which was the only way to explain it. Cho Min Joon then thought of how much he wanted to be a judge. He wanted to try her cooking. Beyond the dish, the fact that Kaya cooked it made whatever was on that plate precious.
While he watched Kaya, Allen approached Cho Min Joon’s cooking station. He looked at the pot and asked, “What are you making?”
“Catfish meatball soup.”
“Catfish meatball soup? Hm… Did you fry the peel?”
“Yes. I once saw someone make snacks like this in Southeast Asia.”
“Do you think it’ll go well with it?”
Cho Min Joon had a confident attitude. So much so that Allen was surprised. He was the judge last season as well, and he had never seen anyone so confident in their cooking. Most were nervous around the judges no matter how talented they were.
Allen squinted his eyes. This meant one of two things. He was either very talented or he wasn’t, but he just didn’t know his pace. And Allen thought that it was the latter. Cho Min Joon was young. He was only 21 years old in terms of American age. He was too young to be this confident when he didn’t even get proper training.
“…I hope your cooking lives up to your confidence.”
Allen walked off. Cho Min Joon sensed that Allen didn’t look favorably upon his confidence, but he didn’t care. He just had to prove him wrong.
The time was almost up. During the cooking process, dozens of contestants already got kicked out. Cho Min Joon took out the meatballs from the steamer. They were well cooked. As soon as he opened the steamer, the scent of the fish, tofu, and cilantro made him want to taste it, so he did.
A smile immediately spread across Cho Min Joon’s face. He was either satisfied with the results, or it just tasted good. In any case, he was happy. The meatballs were perfect.
Cho Min Joon poured the broth into a deep bowl and put the meatballs on top. He then put the catfish peel on top. The peel was the key garnish, but it didn’t look very extravagant. He had a feeling that he might obtain a bit of criticism.
But that didn’t mean he wanted to add other garnishes. There was no point in visual satisfaction if it didn’t taste its best.
“Stop! Please put everything down. Time’s up.”
Allen shouted with a sharp voice. Sighs could be heard from all directions. Some sighed of relief while others sighed of disappointment. Cho Min Joon glanced back at Kaya. It was no different from the past. Catfish sweet and sour pork was placed in front of her.
The evaluations began immediately. A few dozen contestants were disqualified during the cooking process, but there were still many contestants left. Since there wasn’t enough time, the judges disqualified some without even tasting the dish.
Cho Min Joon, who was in the middle of the pack, had a strange feeling. People were getting disqualified right in front of his eyes after a single flick of a knife or a small taste. For cooks, this was their entire world. The dish. That’s what determined their fates.
There were no words of sympathy whatsoever. They simply told them if it tasted good or bad. At times, they even threw the dish into the trashcan. Some shed tears in response to their harsh responses, but Cho Min Joon understood. They couldn’t accept it. It was horrifying for ingredients to end up in the wrong hands and go to waste. Especially if they were the hands of aspiring chefs.
And in no time, the judges arrived at Cho Min Joon’s station. The judges glanced at Cho Min Joon’s catfish meatball soup and tasted it. The catfish peel fell apart in their mouths along with the soft chewing of the meatballs. The three judges quietly chewed the meatballs. They then had another taste of the broth. The first one to speak was Joseph. He made a short remark.