Ch23 – Skipping Three Ranks – Part Two
“Thank you.” Ruan Tang gave them a slight bow. “I would like to continue on to the third assessment. May I ask as to how to proceed?”
“What?” Ge Lao was startled, and he met the eyes of the other examiners. He soon schooled his features and asked seriously, “Are you certain?”
Ruan Tang replied, “I am certain.”
Ge Lao recalled the expression on his face just now. Although there would be some difficulty in successfully finishing the third exam right now, he had indescribable confidence in this youth, therefore he nodded his head, “Alright, right now it is 2:15. There is still an hour and 45 minutes before the assessment for the third rank closes. You must reach the venue within half an hour and finish the assessment in an hour.”
Ruan Tang nodded, “I understand.”
“Time is very tight. I will speak with the examiners over there.” Ge Lao asked, “Did someone take you here?”
“I can just hail a car to go there. Thank you.” Walking there would definitely take too much time, so he left after offering his thanks. He hurriedly walked towards the exit while using his light brain to order a car.
Just as he walked out the main doors, Ruan Tang saw a lofty and dashing man standing nearby. Unexpectedly, he hadn’t left yet. He was standing not far from the main entrance and behind him was the specially outfitted silver suspended car. Both the man and the car, sparkled under the sunlight.
He Yun Chen, inclined his head, “Get in the car.”
Since time was tight, Ruan Tang couldn’t afford to argue. He said his thanks and once again rode the imperial marshal’s private car. “Thank you, I need to get to the third assessment’s venue in half an hour. Is that possible?”
“Of course.” He Yun Chen smiled slightly and leaned over him to fasten his seatbelt.
Once he was seated back in his own chair, with practiced movements he switched the suspended car’s controls to manual mode. “Sit tight.”
The suspended car suddenly flew like a shooting arrow. Ruan Tang was pressed firmly against the back of the chair by inertia and he couldn’t help but to narrow his eyes.
At marshal-grade driving speed, even accounting for the slightly lessened speed in consideration for Ruan Tang, they still managed to reach the testing site in just about ten minutes.
Ruan Tang, whose limbs were weak because of being flung about, stayed recuperating in his seat for a couple of minutes before he thanked the marshal and got down from the car. He headed towards the test site.
The candidates in the three-star rank assessment were even sparser that the previous two. Because there was only a little time left for the assessment, there were no more than five candidates left. Seeing him enter the venue, all travel-worn, they couldn’t help but size him up.
Ruan Tang sat down in the waiting area and after resting for a moment, it was already his turn.
The assessment for this rank required the use of fifteen different ingredients. Moreover, he had to finish within an hour. This mission was considerably difficult.
Ruan Tang used the light brain to draw his ingredients. His fifteen ingredients were cucumbers, pork tenderloin, pumpkin, chicken breast, potatoes, eggs, radish, spinach, glutinous rice flour, carrots, garlic, red chili pepper, tomato,
After reflecting on it for a couple minutes, he decided on his dishes — Sweet and Sour Pork, Pumpkin Cake, Stir-fried Spinach, Yuxiang Diced Chicken, and Tomato-based Potato and Beef Stew.
The ingredients the smart robot brought filled the entire counter. Ruan Tang calmed himself down and his eyes did a sweep of the ingredients. In a neither too fast nor too slow manner, he put a pot to boil over the stove.
The tomato-based potato and beef stew would take the longest time and thus he prioritized the handling of the ingredients for this dish.
He took the big piece of beef and washed it clean before putting the cut up chunks into the pot of boiling water to blanch. He then changed the water and put it over high heat.
He sliced the onions into big pieces and used the rolling cut on the tomatoes, potatoes and radish. After heating up the frying pan, he put in the oil and the sliced onions. In an instant, white steam started to emerge from the pan. He stir fried the onions until they were soft and then added the better part of the tomatoes. He continued stir frying until the tomatoes were also soft and the red juice was extracted, boiling in a layer at the base of the pan, looking like subterranean magma.
When Ruan Tang judged it to be ready, he included the boiled beef chunks in the stir fry, adding in the appropriate amount of dark soy sauce and salt for seasoning. When the beef had taken on a reddish color, Ruan Tang poured in the water used to boil the beef along with the cut potatoes, radish and the remaining tomatoes. He then covered the pan with a lid. Boiling sounds could be heard inside the pan and a faint aroma still remained in the air. Under low heat, it would take half an hour to be ready.
Next on his list was the sweet and sour pork. This dish could be done in just a few minutes. This dish has always been a favorite of his. When he felt disinclined to move about he would make a portion of sweet and sour pork. He could effortlessly finish off two bowls of rice with it.
He washed clean the pork tenderloin and sliced it into even strips. The pork tenderloin didn’t need to be sliced too thin, lest it affect the texture since the meat would stiffen when subjected to the heat.
The next steps in the process, Ruan Tang had done countless of times before. The sliced tenderloin was combined with scallion-ginger juice, salt, starch, sugar and vinegar in a bowl. The mixture was stirred well and left to marinate for a few minutes. Even with his eyes closed, Ruan Tang could make this without any mistake.
He heated a pan and did a quick fry of the minced ginger and scallions until he could smell its delicious fragrance. He then tipped onto it the marinated pork slices. When the pork slices had slightly turned white, he added in sugar, vinegar and dark soy sauce. He turned up the heat to extract the juice. The sticky and dense orange sauce covered the velvety pork tenderloin slices. It looked full of luster and with the sweet and tangy aroma, it unconsciously made people’s mouths water.
Glutinous rice flour and pumpkin were the main ingredients for Pumpkin cake and making it was easy.
Ruan Tang deftly removed the peel, core and seeds of the pumpkin before dicing it and placing it in a steamer. This step would take about ten minutes. Taking advantage of this time, he prepared to make stir-fried spinach.
Making this dish was even quicker. He directly took two cloves of garlic and smashed it with a cleaver. He put it in the hot pan and sautéed until fragrant. He then cut the washed spinach into segments and put it in the pan. He continued to stir fry until the spinach wilted and turned tender. When the juice from the spinach began to seep out, he added salt for seasoning.
He turned off the heat and transferred it to the plate. In under five minutes, he had a plate of emerald green stir-fried spinach infused with the delicious smell of garlic.
At this time, the pumpkin was also nearly done steaming. He took out the steamed pumpkin and added it together with a bit of white sugar before putting it into the blender to turn it into a paste. He added in the glutinous rice flour bit by bit, kneading until the dough no longer stuck to one’s hands.
The next step was equally as easy. He divided the dough into about a dozen little pieces and then one by one shaped them into little patties. After frying them until both sides were golden brown, this sweet snack was done.
The only one left to make was the Yuxiang diced chicken. This dish was similar to Kung Pao Chicken. However, since no doubanjiang sauce was available, he could only use the Yuxiang flavor.
Cucumbers, carrots and pepper — he cut these up so fast there was almost an afterimage.
The chicken breast was similarly diced. He sprinkled salt evenly over the chicken breast. At the same time, he made the sweet and tangy Yuxiang sauce by combining soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and salt.
All was ready and waiting for the crucial ingredient. Ruan Tang spared a glance at the time; there was still around twenty minutes left. He let out a sigh of relief and started to heat oil in the pan. He stir fried the diced chicken until it changed color and then added the cucumbers, carrots and red chili peppers in batches while stir frying. Finally, he poured in the Yuxiang sauce and used a bit of starch slurry to thicken the sauce. It was done and he transferred out of the pot.
After hurriedly finishing this, the potato and beef stew was also finished. All five dishes were scooped into white porcelain bowls — each one lustrous and exuding aromas that kept wafting about.
In under an hour, Ruan Tang had successfully used fifteen different ingredients to make five dishes. Once again, the smart robot entered through a small door and together they ascended using the suspended platform to the examination room.
As before, inside were three examiners. Except this time, they were even more advanced in age with both their hair and beards almost completely white. All of them were already facing towards the door, slightly smiling expressions on their faces. Ge Lao had obviously informed this three-star assessment’s head examiner in advance and thus his attitude towards Ruan Tang was considerably friendlier. He even knew that this was the young man highly regarded by President Gu.
The five dishes were arranged in a row on top of the table. They also didn’t indulge in any unnecessary words and directly picked up their chopsticks to taste the dishes.
With one bite they understood why Ge Lao held this young gourmet anchor in such high esteem.
Each dish had its own flavor, and arranged like so on top of the table, it was like a small banquet. The sweet and sour pork was both crunchy and tender, with a palatable sweet and sour taste. The pumpkin cake was crispy on the outside but soft in the inside and carried with it the sweetness of the pumpkin, making people unable to stop eating them. The stir-fried spinach tasted light and refreshing, although simple, the flavor was definitely just as good. Although the Yuxiang diced chicken also had a sweet and sour flavor, its color was richer and more beautiful. It had a different taste than sweet and sour pork. It had layers of texture and also had chewiness.
The tomato-based potato and beef stew was the examiners’ favorite. The sauce was thick and the beef was stewed especially soft. The tendons in the beef were smooth, tender and elastic. Add to that the perfect match of the tomatoes and potatoes. Even these old gluttons couldn’t find any fault in it.
It was obvious to see just how much energy this young man could pour into the empire’s culinary world, given his age and skill. They met each other’s eyes and did not need any further discussion. The result was already self-evident.
“Very well done. You could say it exceeded our expectations!” The head examiner’s face showed a kindly smile. “Congratulations. You are now a three-star rank chef.”
What surprised them was that Ruan Tang immediately said, “Thank you. I plan to proceed to the four-star rank assessment.”
The three examiners looked at each other in dismay and couldn’t help but ask again, “You want to take the four-star assessment?”
“Yes,” Ruan Tang answered without the slightest hesitation.
The three examiners were dumbstruck. In half a day, from a one-star chef to a four-star chef. Was there ever such a person in the many, many years of the interstellar universe?
That sole ever person was standing right before them.