2015-02-03 - Cooking Club Calamity II

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Title: Cooking Club Calamity II

Kyoto Culinary Institute has made its formal challenge to the cooking students of Infinity, and all of the stops have been pulled. Judgement is nigh. Chefs prepare to do battle.
Tonight's Secret Ingredient: Tofu!


Kuniko Saito, Gordon, Inori Yamabuki, Makoto Kino, Lingshen Chao, Fuu Hououji, Mesozoic Maiden Lucy (and Didi), Kyouko Sakura, Zoisite, Souichi Tomoe (NPCed by Mai Tokiha)
GM: Juri Arisugawa


Infinity Institute - The Chairman's Stadium

OOC - IC Date:

19 May 2014 - 02/03/2015

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The Chairman has no name, and his face is often cast in shadow, as he mulls over the future of the Blue Ribbon Society, Earth's premiere organization of magical chefs, over a glass of wine or cup of sake.

He is not the first Chairman, or so it is said, but all Chairmen embody their title so profoundly that individual characteristics tend to all fade into the same blend: a bold voice that rumbles like thunder. A tendency to wear a lot of black and silver. An exquisite taste in cuisine.

And he brings with him the Chairman's Stadium, which is in some ways as tangible a metaphysical construct as his own identity. What was Infinity Institute's largest auditorium has been transformed, and few traces of the school remain. To walk into this high, vaulted chamber is to walk into a KITCHEN BATTLEFIELD.

Two identical cooking arenas sit on opposite sides of the room, with ovens and ranges and sinks and all other apparatus of the trade imaginable already gleaming and ready.

In the middle: an ingredients table with every manner of food preserved at perfect freshness, and most centrally a pedastal currently covered with impenetrable, shifting fog.

The fog of war, since whatever's on there is surely Tonight's Ingredient.

Above: the Royal Box, draped in silks and velvets, with a grandly set table and a variety of chairs. There the judges wait and watch and commentate (along with actual commentators, who tend to be more knowledgable about food, though that isn't... always... the case). It is thusfar empty; tonight's sparkling personages have yet to be presented, surely with as much grandeur as the food.

Around: the audience, which is a mix of Sister Schools students, teachers, and some shockingly celebrity faces. Apparently this grim challenge of old versus new values has captured the interest of no few members of the culinary world, some of whom have flown in from Europe and the Americas! There are also some more local faces, like Biff Standard (CEO of StandardSoft), Kaoruko Hanasaki (botanical garden director of international renown), and Utau Hoshina (rising star in the teen idol biz).

Now Entering: Denko Misono, matriarch of the Kyoto Culinary Institute and the instigator of this battle, who declared a vote of no confidence against Gordon's leadership of the Infinity culinary program. She's old enough to be a grandma, but still vigorous, sparking with health -- and attitude. Adrian, her mascot and turtle, rides in state on a canape dish carried by one of her students.

"Misono-san," the Chairman booms, warm and welcoming. "It has been too long. Welcome... to the Arena! Is your student prepared?"

"She is, Chairman-sama," Denko replies with more politeness and respect than Gordon ever rated in the first place. "I present Aoi Nakamura, second-year high school student, first-class chef of traditional Kyoto cuisine."

A few cherry blossoms inexplicably drift by, the sound of koto twanging softly in their wake, as a soft blue parasol spins, then closes, revealing the maiden beneath. Over a cream-colored inner kimono, she wears a golden outer one embroidered with scarlet and gold cranes. Her obi is scarlet, with an ivory figurine of a kimono-clad cat hung below her fan -- and alongside a short paring knife. There's a smile in her eyes even when she's worried, as now.

"I am honored by this opportunity to compete. I will do my best to represent the ideals of my school and teacher," Aoi says gravely, her voice as low and soft as twilight. Her glossy dark hair slides over her shoulders as she bows very deeply to first the Chairman, then Denko.

The tiny butterfly on her shoulder is doing the same. Its brilliantly blue wings catch the light in a thousand scintillations. "We are honored," it echoes in a high squeaky voice. A fond smile sneaks onto Aoi's lips, and she holds out a finger for it to perch on so that it can be lifted aloft for proper introductions.

"Nakamura-san's mascot, Shinkokami-san," Adrian introduces with a very, very slight sneer. Maybe he's not a big fan.

The Chairman returns the bow with a far shallower one, not rudely but out of his proper station as master of this domain. Then he turns expectantly towards the approaching Infinity contingent. Meanwhile, commentators are making their way to the microphones to begin introducing the judges...

<Pose Tracker> Lucy Iwai [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Commentators?" Lucy reads from the letter with a quirked eyebrow.

"Yeah," Didi the Dinosaur says, adjusting a bowtie in front of the full-length mirror on the back of Lucy's dorm room door. "I saw they needed commentators for your senpai's cooking battle thing, and I figured that'd be a good excuse to eat a lot of good food and cheer on 'em with a microphone instead of just shouting."

"You're probably thinking of judges, though. Commentators don't eat the food. They just comment on it, with their knowledge and cooking expertise."

Didi pauses. Both he and Lucy slowly turn to look at the camera with deer-in-the-headlights expressions.

A spotlight shines on a diminutive tyrannosaurus rex with a bowtie and microphone, standing on the judges' table. It's starting to get muddled whether Didi is a stuffed toy, a science fair project, a ventriloquist's puppet, a really weird lizard, a health code violation or Lucy's foreigner friend.

But today, he's just Didi the Dinosaur and that's absolutely, perfectly normal.

He seems very into his job, but he's still playing sidekick to Mesozoic Maiden Lucy (or is this Lucy Iwai? the line seems to be blurred: just this once, she's easily recognizable as both), standing behind the table her own microphone. She gives Kuniko and the rest of her schoolmates a cheerful, two-handed wave from where she sits. There's a nonzero chance that commentary is going to be rather partisan, here.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the cooking showdown of the century!" Didi speaks up. "That was a really cool entrance from the challenger team, there. We've got an awesome evening ahead of us, right Lucy?"

"That's right, Didi! We'll be your hosts tonight, and we're both super excited! But, ah! Here comes the home team!"

Lucy lets the team introduce themselves, while Didi walks on the judges' tables to introduce them as they make their own entrances. It will likely be best not to overthink the chronology involved.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Kuniko Saito has been anxious - to say the least - over this entire cosmic situation. Caught in the middle of a conflict between rivals, she had poured out her heart to some friends, but in large part it has made her subdued, almost melancholy in the face of such an obstacle to her own quest.

But the presence of the Stadium itself, at least, has outshone her inner worries, throwing her into an attitude of awe and perhaps reverence. For as much as she may have been motivated to step on this road by her own inner torments, the allure of cuisine has mingled with her heart.

Nonetheless, she is here, and standing in the wings on her side of the stadium, she watches the arrival of Denko Misono - who may be her superior, soon enough - and the approaching young woman. Aoi Nakamura... she's my age, Kuniko thinks.

Her eyes narrow and she reaches up to tug down her fisherman's cap for about the nineteenth time. Her attention then turns back to those who are there with her.

Towards Yamabuki: "Thank you for coming along. I know this is kind of weird, so I appreciate it."

Towards Chao: "Lingshen-san. I guess in the end we're all in this together, huh? I guess they might not want students running a restaurant... so we'll have to do what we can."

And to the remaining person, Kuniko can only smile, with a misty look in her eyes. There isn't more to be said. After this, she sucks in a breath through her teeth, tightens her Mise-en-place's form as an apron, and steps out through that diaphanous curtain, over the threshold --

The passing cherry blossoms have had their moment. Kuniko's entrance is bright and almost solar in its heat; there is a suggestion in the distance of a marketplace, somewhere on a coast, with the sea churning and sea-bells clanging. Is someone making the call to prayer or only advertising their shellfish? It's only the suggestion of a voice, though, and it passes as Kuniko looks out on the world.

In the bright light, her blue chef's clothing shimmers and sparkles like the sun on Mediterranean ways. A black star on a blue ribbon over the left breast pocket declares her allegiance; for the rest, excellent tailoring and a suggestion of fish scale at the piping proclaims her status as a Poissonnier. The dark blue knit cap on her head is adjusted for the twentieth time, the brim slightly, rakishly askew. In the waistline she has slid the boning knife granted to her by Chef, and the longer blade she has used to carve shawarma. It does make her look (very faintly) piratical.

She straightens up afterwards to bow to the Chairman, and permit her own patron to make the introductions.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Someone might expect Gordon to have a fiery display for Adrian. After all, the two despise one another; they are rivals in every sense of the word, and the turtle has been on the rabbit's mind all day. Gordon has a reputation for being animated, to say the least, too. But, no, he doesn't do that. When he enters -- wearing immaculate chef's whites, pressed and cleaned -- he just gives the turtle a look. It's the sort of angry, furious glower that says volumes.

But, he doesn't say volumes. Instead, he looks at the Chairman; he bows respectfully, because the Chairman is the boss. "We're here to represent Infinity," he says. "We'll let our cooking speak for us."

Then, he looks at Aoi and her butterfly, as he hops in after Kuniko. He sizes the opponent up, but doesn't make a remark to her. He lets her do the talking, at first; he's the teacher, and he can't help Kuniko in the kitchen tonight. No, he has to watch.

A few old friends are here. He thinks one of his old sous chefs is up in the stands. That dinosaur is here; if he gets hungry, he might try to eat him. A lot is on the line. He looks at Kuniko, before she departs, and nods once. "Show them what you've got," he says, quietly. "All of you. They think you're a bloody joke. Kids playing kitchen. Show them what cooking is all about."

<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Infinity's auditorium has been transformed by the Chairman's presence, becoming a stadium with almost no relation to what there was of the academic Institute. Almost none - but there are enough anchors of the school-that-was that the Stadium has not overwritten everything. Among those anchors is the man stepping into the Royal Box very nearly too late for the event - a name known to many but a face scarcely seen by mundane eyes.

Professor Souichi Tomoe, founder of Infinity Institute, appears to be in good cheer. His white pinstripe suit - vaguely reminiscent of a labcoat, with a bold tie in Infinity blue - is immaculate and his silver hair neatly combed, perhaps speaking more to his personal assistants' efforts than his own. For once, he's not poring over the latest academic papers as he walks in; for whatever reason, he seems to have decided to give today's challenge his full attention.

Not that he doesn't have a file folder of those papers, but at least he isn't reading them this very moment.

He's entirely smiles as he makes his way swiftly to the commentator. Before he can even be introduced, he's holding his hand out for the microphone - an unspoken request swiftly granted. A moment's fumbling to make sure it's set up correctly, and then he speaks confidently. "Students, staff, and honoured guests to Infinity Institute - I welcome you to our academic tower this day. I am Professor Souichi Tomoe, the founder and overseer of this school. Infinity was founded with the intention of encouraging talents of the highest caliber - and it is a challenge to our methods that has let to today's event. I look forward to the results of this competition, whatever the result may be - culinary excellence is one of many fields we seek to cultivate here."

The light glints off his glasses, and he gives Gordon and Denko both a nod before catching the Chairman's eye. That seems to be the extent of his speech, though; he hands off the microphone unceremoniously, and moves to take his seat as the commentator struggles to reclaim the conversational rhythm.

As he has no plate to enjoy as of yet, and no apparent thirst for water, Professor Tomoe steeples his hands in front of his mouth and leans forward. This event seems to have his interest.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

While Fuu is somewhat familiar with cooking competitions, this is the first time she's ever had a chance to watch one in person. But when word got around, whether in rumors or confirmed news, about this contest for the fate of Infinity's Cooking Club ...

Well, there was really no choice *but* to attend, so that she can cheer on Gordon-sensei and his pupils. So Fuu walks in with some of the other Infinity students who'll be in the audience; the glasses-wearing girl glances over the cooks and other celebrities, and as she spots Kuniko-san and Lingshen-san, she spares a smile and a wave in their direction. If they don't notice her amongst the crowd, though, she's not going to worry overmuch - certainly they're preoccupied with preparing their minds, bodies, and equipment for the coming battle of culinary skills.

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao has turned up in her very best; the branded Chao Bao Zi apron that she always wears to the kitchen, cinched up tight and recently cleaned. And having some inkling of what could be at stake, she's already wearing the jeweled bracelet she typically hides in the pockets of her uniform; the long length, suited more for a broad man's neck than a teenaged girl's wrist, wrapped several times around her arm for security in the kitchen. She watches the introductions with intensity; these are no less important than a dojo's greetings, after all. Perhaps moreso. Still, she can spare Kuniko a little grin, the seemingly permanent blushes stamped on her cheeks glimmering. "You know I couldn't turn down a big challenge! Besides..." Her lips curl down, seriousness returning. "Like you said...I've put too much into Chao Bao Zi to let them mock us or our program!" A nod for Gordon; silent, given the circumstances.

Ah, but introductions. Chao is here to assist Kuniko and glides up alongside, silent but grave.

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Ever end up in a situation, where you're not quite certain how you got here? 'buki clasps her hands together just over the waist of her yellow cream colored apron, lowers her head and sighs. It had all started with trying to help out a certain duo in the kitchen for the Infinity's Cooking Club. Unaware of the magnitude of rivalry going on, someone had asked her if she'd like to assist the club in a 'small' competition. Cut to now, the splendid magical theater which is really a kitchen battlefield.

Cooking was a barely a hobby for her! How was she ever going to survive under the withering scrutiny of all the personages in the Royal Box. And the girl they were competing against... as Aoi is introduced, Inori can't take her eyes off their elegant competition. It's only when she realizes that she's staring, that she looks away, instead focusing on the words of the head chef of their group, Kuniko. Rubbing one hand at the nape of her neck, she offers a quick reply to her with a flap of the hand that's meant to wave off what she says. "No, no, it's not weird at all! I just hope I'm able to-" She clears her throat the word softening, "-help."

In the end, it's the words of the chef rabbit, that inspires her. She hears the words, and looks one direction, then the other, then straight down at him. She gapes at Gordon for a moment, before it changes to a look of adoration, stars in her eyes. And yet they were walking out there to introduce themselves, she couldn't stay there fawning over the rabbit. So instead she clasps her hands together again, and replies, "Alright Rabbit-sensei! I'll just have to believe in our cooking!" Leave it to a bunny to be able to inspire Inori.

Brushing back her orange side tail she walks out on the stage, her renewed confidence immediately tested by being under spotlight. A subtle scent of pineapple that's released as she makes her subdued entrance. The aroma catches her nostrils, suddenly inspiring her to walk the last few steps, where she finally takes her place alongside Kuniko, making an exaggerated bow.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Leather boots dyed red as wine shift left and right in place behind the curtain, listening to the muffled sounds of the grand stadium beyond. Kyouko Sakura has come dressed for glorious war, but not one she'll be fighting herself. Tonight she'll watch over the carnage, and reap the benefits. A specialty of hers..in a field for which she is uniquely suited.

Closing her eyes, she can detect the medley of scents wafting by even now. Inwardly she marveled at this place. She has recognized a kindred spirituality by love of food. Perhaps, selected as a judge, this place sees the same in her.

"Our next judge..Kyouko Sakura!"

Her time is here. She adjusts the lavalier microphone attached to her collar, and pushes through the curtain into the Royal Box beyond. She does not carry her spear. "Kyouko Sakura is a resident Puella Magi with deep roots in the community, as well as a renowned gourmand. There she is now!"

Her eyes adjusting to the light, she grins, swaggering in and waving to the audience. She walks to an announcer, a soothingly-voiced hermit crab parked in front of a much larger microphone.

"That's right Tom! Miss Sakura is said to enjoy food more than fighting, and boy does she pack a pun-" Kyouko grins toothily, and takes the microphone, bringing it up for her own. "Thank you for the introduction. I'm Kyouko Sakura, and I'm honored to be here. Let me warn everybody watching. No matter how much your tastebuds are tempted, if you try to rush our table in an hour, I won't give up my meal without a fight!" She winks, and turns to address the chefs and the Chairman himself. "I salute the combatants in the duel to come. I honor the Chairman, who has brought this all to be."

And then she bows, and deeply. Hushed murmurs abound in the peanut gallery. Bowing? Kyouko? They'd never seen such a thing! Returning the microphone to the claw-clacking commentator, she flashes her a wink too, and whispers. "Thanks for letting me borrow this." And she takes a seat at the table, facing the battlefield below, siting straight instead of slouching.

"Kyouko Sakura, everyone!"

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Puella Magi Kyouko!
COMBAT: Lucy Iwai transforms into Mesozoic Maiden Lucy!

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Makoto has done a pretty good job, from the time Misono and Adrian first issued their challenge through the days of preparation that followed, of staying upbeat and confident about this competition... up until approxmately just now. She knew it was going to be a big deal, of course, and even if she hadn't figured it out for herself, talking to Kuniko about it has clarified for Mako just how much is riding on this--

--but knowing it in the abstract sense is a much different thing than actually standing here *seeing* the full scale of the Stadium, the relatively rare experience of feeling downright tiny by comparison. Inwardly, Makoto is jittering, and though she stands tall and sturdy as ever she has to draw in a long, slow breath to try to settle her nerves.

When Kuniko looks her way, though, Makoto smiles back at her. Her hand at her side curls closed into a fist that she raises, just a little, a tiny salute of encouragement and solidarity.

"You can count on us, Chef," Makoto murmurs in answer to Gordon, before Kuniko begins their entrance and Mako steps off to follow her with long, decisive strides.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The Chairman leans forward, though his face remains in the shadows -- the lightline slides up his nose like a pair of adjusted glasses, but no further.

"Saito, you say... the daughter of the late, great Jewel of Cuisine finally making her grand debut on our stage."

One gets the feeling that his invisible gaze is very intense as it rests on Kuniko's face.

"Well, well, well. We will have to see if the new generation surpasses the old. Quite the protege, Gordon-san... very interesting."

He nods respectfully towards the rest of the Infinity team, then strides down a set of gently spiraling stairs that appear out of nowhere beneath his sweet leather shoes.

The fog over the central ingredients table begins to churn, and lights shaft down from the ceiling, blue and red and green and yellow, to catch wisps of the swirling mass.

"Tonight's ingredient is..."

Off-sides, the Infinity Institute Taiko Team is pounding drums towards an enthusiastic climax:


The fog explodes outwards, revealing blocks and wads of tofu of all possible consistencies, glimmering like faintly slimy marble under the light.

Denko and Adrian exchange smug looks, and certain other culinary artists in-the-know understand why: tofu is one of the most important specialties of classical Kyoto cuisine. This is a potentially enormous advantage for the traditionalist challenger.

Aoi herself maintains her composure, but if there's anything behind those long lashes, it might be shock and a little bit of embarrassment. She bows to the Chairman, to Kuniko and Gordon, to her team -- other very traditional-looking young men and women in proper chef garb, and finally to her teacher, who looks down at her with the most superior eye.

The Chairman booms, unabated by any tension in the room, "ONE HOUR ON THE CLOCK! LET THE BATTLE BEGIN!"

The Kyoto team surges forward, collecting ingredients, turning on ovens and ranges and freezers with alarming speed. In the midst of their bustle is Aoi, softly issuing directions to her sous chefs even as her hands produce all manner of wonderful culinary implements from within her long sleeves, and begin to work magic all her own.

Up in the Royal Box there's one last judge to be introduced. She has a face like a pickle.


"And a regular on our judging circuit, the wise fortune teller Saeki Nobuko!" announces a nearby commentator, before the mic is wrestled away from him in about one second flat.

"The fortunes predict great deliciousness today, but only for those who follow their hearts! And if you don't..."

Tight zoom in on her eyes, which gleam like diamonds. Evil diamonds.


<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"Entering the stadium now, our next judge..."

He glides toward Lucy and Didi, the fragrance of rose and asphodel trailing in his wake. Gasps and squeals issue from sections of the audience: "Ahhh, it's Izou Saitou, model and a member of Infinity Institute's Student Council! He was present when the challenge that's led to tonight's battle was issued, and gosh are we excited to have him!"

"Too true! He's traveled all over the world for his career, and he's sampled all kinds of cuisines. He's also said he's looking forward to the dessert course..."

True to form, Zoisite -- Izou -- is radiant in bright saffron-yellow and verdant green, all languid feline smiles and burnished auburn curls; and when he waves to the audience with an impossibly elegant hand, a sigh breaks over them like ocean waves.

He does not take the mic, sauntering smoothly into the Royal Box without a word -- but plenty of smoulder for the audience.

And then the secret ingredient: tofu??? Izou's pert nose wrinkles. "And here I was thinking it'd be duck," he remarks, casting his emerald eyes to the ceiling.

<Pose Tracker> Mesozoic Maiden Lucy [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Saito-senpai's team has arrived!" Lucy cheerfully calls into her mic. "Good luck Kino-san, Chao-san, and..." She's unfamiliar with the remaining girl. She's handed a card from offscreen. "It just says 'Buki'... Well, good luck to you too!" A pause. "And good luck to Nakamura-senpai as well!"

No matter what the stakes are, she should strive to be at least a bit fair, she thinks. She's a girl not much older than she is, after all.

Meanwhile, Didi shudders deeply when Professor Tomoe gives him back the mic. That guy gives him some SERIOUS creeps.

He crosses eyes with Kyouko, who's handling her own introduction. Lucky girl, who actually signed up to be a judge on purpose! He wanted to judge! Judge and eat /all the meats/!

But then, the secret ingredient is revealed.

"TOFU?!" Both Lucy and Didi scream into their respective mics in unison. There's a bit of a feedback noise.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Fuu raises her eyebrows a bit as the secret ingredient is revealed. Tofu, one of the basic building blocks of Japanese cuisine ... almost literally a building 'block,' in fact, given how it's usually sold. You can do virtually anything with tofu, too; it goes into so many dishes ...

For the most part, though, Fuu is going to stay quiet and watch. She may make some quiet conversation with a couple of her classmates who are here, but at this point, she doesn't want to disturb the competing cooks. Kuniko-san and her teammates will be fine, she's certain of that.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.


Gordon doesn't pale -- he's actually mostly white furred, how would you tell? -- but some of the cheer after talking to his students is gone. His eyes widen, and then narrow. It will be easier for the other team; this is a traditional dish. But... they have to do the best they can. He hops over towards the stands, but doesn't go there. Instead, he remains sitting there, and considers.

Maybe, with the right sauces, they could...

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Three people are with her. Kuniko had been afraid she would have none.

Gordon exhorts them. Professor Tomoe himself appears and speaks to them. Kuniko feels herself swelling up, like a proud pigeon, and it actually hurts her not-very-old scars beneath the jacket, so she tries to force herself to relax.

Which doesn't work, because the Chairman must have just dropped a giant bomb on her. It would be especially clear to Makoto that Kuniko is about two inches and a sausage casing away from screaming out WHAT??? She gives Gordon a shocked, astonished, almost betrayed look. How long has he known!? Did they all know!? Her stomach wrenches itself into a tight knot, already half-tensed as it was-- but things are progressing. Swept up in the course of events, Kuniko does not have time to do more than wonder, perhaps curse to herself at what this means, but it may be a blow against Infinity's odds...

And the ingredient for the night is...

... Tofu!? Kuniko's face tightens. Sweat glistens on her forehead already. Have they already lost?

Her heart pounds. No, she thinks. Not without a fight. Already an idea is forming in the back of her head-- but she remembers the words of Gordon. You can't hesitate in the stadium, not for one second. "Come on!!" she shouts, gesturing particularly to Makoto with her tall legs and long, strong arms. "Yamabuki, get the ovens hot! Lingshen, prep the prep!" Which sounds stupid but it means 'clear decks on the tables.'

Because Kuniko grabs two mixing bowls and baking sheets, foisting a pair of them onto Makoto as she lunges in to load them up with just all kinds of tofu - grabbing them almost recklessly, even as the different shades of texture pass through her fingers.

"Come on, idea, come on outttt," she mutters under her breath before dashing back to deliver the payload!

<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

From his throne in the Royal Box, Professor Tomoe takes in the arena. His gaze follows Didi the Dinosaur for a minute or two before he shelves that particular line of thought for later. The students competing are worth some attention - while he doesn't have the entire populace of the school committed to memory, helpful assistants provided a brief on those who are competing today.

That brief is back in his lab, being used as a coaster for his coffee mug, but it's the thought that counts.

Gordon's statement is succinct. The rabbit chef holds the Professor's gaze for a minute or two; he knows full well who he has running the culinary school, for all that the staff are left to their own devices more days than not. Under normal circumstance, there would be no question that the lagomorph could continue teaching the culinary program...

But Infinity has been challenged. Much like the students are subjected to periodic tests to prove their progress, the day has come for Gordon's examination - and Souichi is among the few fit to oversee that testing.

There's a handful of non-Infinity students competing under his aegis, and this incites the slightest of concerned frowns - were his own students insufficient? Or are there other motives at play? The idea of friendship being the cause for the irregularity doesn't even cross Tomoe's mind.

Enough ruminating for the moment, as the secret ingredient is revealed. He comments aloud, though not into his judging microphone - the words largely for his fellow judges. "Tofu? I certainly hope they have enough spices..." Is he already anticipating some particular dish?...

...and then he bursts out into loud laughter at Saeki's prediction. Not drawn out, but for a few moments, he's nearly cackling at some private joke. He unfolds his hands for the indulgence, and afterward turns to his fellow judges with smiles.

"Very good, Madame. That should encourage them!" He gives the fortune-teller a grin, then turns to the student council member. "I suppose there are more options this way - I do wonder about Gordon's choice of students, though. Bringing in outsiders is rather irregular, wouldn't you say?" Lastly, he turns to Kyouko - evaluating the Puella Magi as he adjusts his glasses. "And a welcome to you as well, miss - if you don't mind my asking, which school did you select over Infinity?"

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

If she gave herself a chance to think about it, Makoto would've talked herself into standing still, but she's never much been in the habit of thinking twice when it comes to her friends. Perhaps it's not the most professional thing, but when she sees Kuniko's distress, her reaction is automatic: a small step closer to put her hand gently on Kuniko's shoulder in support and reassurance.

Once the key ingredient for the challenge is announced, though, there's no time for anything but action. Mako doesn't need to be prompted to charge into motion; with Kuniko, she rushes to load up on as much tofu as they can manage, and given Mako's natural strength she can manage a considerable load.

Tofu. What can she do with tofu? She'd come into this half expecting to bake, but that thought is quickly tossed out now, the beginnings of a different idea just beginning to simmer as she carts her share of their prize back to the other girls.

<Pose Tracker> Mesozoic Maiden Lucy [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Having introduced the contestants and the judges, Lucy decides she'd rather not stay cooped up in the Royal Box the entire time if she can help it. She leaves her magic club propped up against the table, to take back later, and makes her way down to the spectators.

The stairs crack down from her landing. She winces a little. Maybe she should have just taken them like a normal person. The stadium will probably fix itself when this is all over anyway. Hopefully...?

She puts that worry behind her, and points her microphone to a /completely random/ audience member.

"Houhouji-san," Lucy says with a wink, "Any words of encouragement for your classmates?"

Didi, meanwhile, remains with the judges, the closest being Izou. He still turns to address them collectively, and delivers profound insight:

"Soooooo. Tofu, huh? What a trip, man. I was expecting, I dunno. Beef?"

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The ingredient of the day is revealed to the pounding of drums. Inori's eyes grow momentarily wide, and then slowly, her look of surprise grows more subdued. In fact she may even be looking a little happy, until the last judge is revealed. A fortune teller.

Her ominous statement causes her shoulders to tremble for a moment, as she remembers a recent reading before she brings herself back in check with a look of determination as if she were up to facing this challenge She wouldn't lose this, just like she wouldn't lose her friends. And yet for a time, all she could see was Setsuna's cards.

It's Kuniko that spurs her into action, as she moves over to the ovens at a hurried pace, and turns the dials to pre-heat. However, thoughtful she thinks upon the matter for a time, then on impulse suddenly rushes over to where Kuniko is picking up the ingredients, and makes a careful selection of quality silken tofu. "I'll handle dessert!" She declares to Kuniko without explanation, before moving back to their side's station.

Humming to herself one of Miyuki's hit songs, she puts on plastic gloves, then starts to take the silky ingredient out and pressing it between towels, allowing it to drain. Looking through the drawers, she eventually selects what must be the tiniest pans present, and measuring cups, which she then uses to measure out some medjool dates and raw walnuts. What was she planning to do here?

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Kyouko's eye gives a surprised twitch. She's been wondering what lay in store all day..with all the resources available to this magical realm she had been expecting something much more exotic than..the complete opposite of exotic. An intriguing choice..Kyouko glances for a glimpse of the enigmatic Chairman's face, and ponders his intentions.

The mood in the room is palpable. Everybody understands why, too...but perhaps a hidden knife accompanies the traditionalists' good fortune. Any mistakes they make will be magnified by their obvious advantage. And it can be quite hard to stand out with a staple. But if Infinity's team loses hope from the start then that battle's well won.

Her reverie is interrupted by her fellow judges. She appreciates the fortune teller's do-or-die attitude. This isn't something frivolous like school. This is /food./ The professor..that one reeked with a peculiar aura. His presence seems to have its own inherently unsettling quality. Kyouko isn't intimidated, mind. Witches are far more frightening and she stopped quivering to those awhile ago. But she takes note. The last one, the student..some pretty boy. Nothing stands out about him.

Grinning to the professor's question, she scratches her head immediately above her ear. "Thanks, I appreciate it. I'm home-schooled actually." She glances back to the arena. "It's an interesting choice. Almost limitless possibilities. Who knows what they'll come up with?" Reaching up to her collar, she flicks on her microphone, a red light newly glowing. Might as well have a little fun while they wait for food. Her voice booms through the speakers.

"Y'know Didi, they say that tofu comes from an ancient race of platypi that were punished by the gods. That means that when the world runs out of tofu, that's it!"

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao takes in the tableau of the judges and revelations with a firm eye. It's all spectacular...she's never seen cooking done with this much spectacle before. But...

It's not just a show, is it? Her eyes narrow a little at the revelation of the ingredients. Tofu...her eyes dart to the side, wheels spinning. But it's Kuniko's show, even as her fingers curl and she silently considers.

And when Kuniko calls for her, Chao's off like a shot. "On it!" Buzzing over to the tables! She's managed a kitchen of her own, so her movements are quick and proficient as she sets aside all impediment!

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Team Kyoto is producing dishes -- actual, finished dishes -- at alarming speed. Part of this is extraordinary teamwork; part of this is magic. A sorcerer's apprentice-esque set of cute little china plates is spinning around Aoi gracefully, and she taps each one with just the right garnish; negi, ginger, basil, plum.

And there's more to come. Some kind of broth seems to be bubbling on her range, while other blocks of tofu are being chilled in a deep freezer, and is that someone getting out a blowtorch...?

Up on his throne, the Chairman is his usual inscrutable self. Saeki is a lot more vocal. She gives Dr. Tomoe a long glare down the tip of her bulbous nose.

"Beware the dark temptation of the easy road... or..."

An aide rushes up to her and jams a biscuit in her hands, and she munches on it in lieu of finishing her line, then goes back to watching the hustle and bustle below.

"They'd better not burn my tongue!" she complains as she sees the sizzle on the Kyoto side. "And you, dinosaur... you must open your mind to the limitless possibilities of the future."

She's kind of parroting Kyouko but is way too smooth to even glance over at the vastly younger girl.

"For if you do not escape the past... YOU WILL DIE!"

...there it is.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

And then Fuu gets singled out by an interviewer (whom she just so happens to recognize) completely at random. Fuu sits up straighter, smiling, and speaks into the microphone (and by extension, to Infinity's team).

"Kuniko-san, Lingshen-san, everyone who's cooking for Infinity - good luck! I know you can out-cook the Kyoto team if you put your hearts into it!"

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Kuniko can hear someone complaining that this isn't beef. She narrows her eyes for a moment, new resolve washing through her. In this, Didi has encouraged her, at least.

"Got it!" she tells Yamabuki as she stares at the tofu in front of her. She grasps firmer pieces of tofu including a couple of really big blocks - literal bricks! She has to put her trust there...

Kuniko whips out that freaking scimitar she had in her waistband and starts slicing the brick into thinner chunks. Slices, really. Sweat is beading on her forehead. To Makoto, she says, "I think we need a soup kinda thing - can you manage it?"

Then to Chao, she says, "Mabo!?" Which is almost a suggestion - Chao may not have the widest repertoire on Earth, but a single word may evoke the entire phrase of 'those mabo tofu buns you're good with.' After this, she pauses, looking down at the bricks in front of her.

What am I doing? she thinks. I don't understand any of this. If Dad was here -- I guess he /has/ been here...

Several long vital seconds pass away before an inspiration comes to Kuniko, if not quite what she needs. She slaps the table, though, and several of the walk-in refrigerators pop open, possibly saving everyone some vital seconds in getting at their cold ingredients! After this she starts slicing the tofu into thinner slices, like ham slices. It's done quite quickly, and she's whipping them over to coat them in a marinade of olive oil and some mysterious brown sauce.

But I still need an entree! she thinks, gritting her teeth. Without a centerpiece...

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Gordon murmurs a swear, softly, under his breath.

Part of his teaching method is to encourage individuality. On the one hand, it can help a student's confidence and let them shine; they can produce dishes that are truly theirs. On the other, it is less efficient, and his students often need more work to become cooks as part of a brigade -- because he emphasizes the ability to learn, innovate, and work. But, that's where the heart is.

He looks up at the Chairman and considers for a moment -- and then he hears the words from Saeki. He makes a face, turning quickly to the side.

"Bloody fortune teller, cost me a few battles," he mutters, under his breath. Then, he looks back; Kuniko's trying to think of an entree. He can tell. He takes a deep breath. He can't call out advice. That would be interfering.

"Focus on the ingredient," he says to his team. He can't tell them what to do, but he can give general insights! "Don't make it something it's not."

<Pose Tracker> Mesozoic Maiden Lucy [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"W-Woah, I didn't know that!" Didi says into his mic, genuinely shocked by the revelation, and not having even an inkling that the Puella Magi is messing with her. "Tofu is way more rare than we give it credit for, right?"

Saeki's advice causes him to sweat profusely. Dinosaurs have no sweat glands, but that doesn't stop him. "Errr, right you are, ma'am! But I gotta ask you, how can a dinosaur escape the past?" Heavy stuff!

Lucy nods with a smile to Fuu's words of encouragement. "Inspiring!" She gives her classmate a thumbs-up, before wandering over towards the guests of honor. She considers... Since her friends need support in these dark times... She stops on Utau Hoshina. She hasn't seen her around the school much at all, but she knows she studies at Infinity. She should be cheering for her friends, right?

"Hello! Hoshina-senpai, do you have any words of encouragement for your classmates?"

This is the best plan ever.

<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Professor Tomoe starts chuckling all over again at Saeki's menacing prediction - but it is alas cut short by an aide's biscuit, and the moment passes. Hmm. Perhaps he should get his aides to bring biscuits to his lab while he's working. Though cross-contamination might be a concern, sometimes science is best advanced by fortuitous accidents...

After taking a moment to tear his thoughts away from musings on cookie-induced daimon growth, he returns his attention to the ongoing culinary competition. Aoi's graceful tableau deserves some consideration - and he can't help but contrast her use of magic to Kuniko's. Between the two, it seems like Infinity's representative is showing off less at this stage - a divergence in skill, or merely in style?

Something to bring up with Gordon, later.

For now, he has a choice: talk with his fellow judges, or read those recent research proposals on genetically modified mosquitoes. It takes a moment to decide, but for now he sides with the former. Kyouko receives another evaluating look. "Fair enough, I suppose - but next year, I encourage you to give Infinity your consideration. Whatever your talents, this school will...surely encourage them. And I do agree - even with a single ingredient, the possibilities seem..."

As before, the light shines off of his glasses - clear glass turned opaque by the sheen. "...Infinite."

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

Tofu, Makoto thinks again while her body runs busily along on autopilot, answering Kuniko's question by grabbing a stockpot to set beside the stovetop range. She makes herself not think about what the other team might or might not be doing, because like they said back then, like she's said before, what's important about cooking is making delicious food that makes people happy when they eat it.

Memory surfaces, soft-edged with the passage of time: standing alongside her mother at the stove, handling the long-handled spoon with grave concentration, face warm with steam and pride.

"I've got it," she tells Kuniko, and she's smiling.

Quick quick quick Makoto collects ingredients, stalks of lemongrass tucked into the crook of her arm, a knobby root of ginger, shallots and cloves of garlic and a couple of yellow tomatos. Then it's back to the range, and with the stockpot filled with water and set out to heat on the burner, Mako sets to work with the kind of confidence few middle school students should really display when using a knife.

Before long she's humming quietly to herself as she chops, thinking of summer and the warmth of that old memory.

<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Zoisite, despite being an Infinity faculty member in the person of Professor Junko Izono, has never met Dr. Tomoe. He's never even /seen/ Dr. Tomoe. So when the good doctor turns those gleaming glasses on him, well...

...he's a little creeped out, to be honest.

Even though he spends most of his time with people, and not-people, like Queen Beryl.

"Ah, er," he stumbles over his reply, unable to quite face the man, "well, they're just sous chefs, right? Does it matter who the help is, if the star is one of our own?"

It's talking to Didi that's the easier of the two. Laconically, "Well, protein would've been nice, but I'd rather not eat a beef dessert. Even though I'm not crazy about tofu, you /can/ make desserts out of it." Isn't that, like, the entire point of silken tofu?

Izou inhales audibly at that, and leans slightly over the edge of the box to get a better look at the bustling floor. "It /is/ starting to smell good in here, tofu or not. Funny, our side's a lot less..." He makes a lazy circle with one hand. "Frantic."

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Seeming particularly inspired today, Saeki's reiteration only causes her to stumble half a step, jarring the measuring cups of dates in her hands but not causing them to spill everywhere. Putting them down on the counter, she then makes a return trip. She takes her time here, selecting only the ripest peaches, blueberries... and even a single pineapple that was sitting near the back.

On the return trip, she sees Kuniko wielding a scimitar, which gives her a non-plussed appearance for a moment. "The Infinity Cooking Club is really intense." She finally remarks, before retaking her place suddenly remembering a guest lecturer at Ohtori crashing a truck through the wall, she clears her throat. "Passionate is probably a better word!" She says, second guessing herself immediately.

Looking around on the counters, she uses a food processor first, dropping in the walnuts and switching it on. She interrupts herself from the process, to briefly stop the whirring processor to add in the dates, and start it back up again. Now suddenly looking a little pressed given the number of tasks she was balancing, she puts on a kettle. Filling a pan full of iced water, she sets the peaches to the side and waits on the other kettle to come to a boil.

While she still looks a little overwhelmed, she smiles as she looks on the progress of each seperate task. Taking up the pineapple begins carving off the spiked top of the pineapple, a little more careful about her movements than Makoto as she then starts to work away at the skin. Not that she doesn't have much manual dexterity, just that her confidence in handling the implement wasn't quite up to par. "I hope I have enough time." She murmurs to herself, trying not to allow any doubt to show otherwise.

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao is, predictably, according to Gordon's long instruction and Chao's Minor Derangement, planning some kind of bun thing even as she sets the last of the cooking space up. The other team is a factor, of course; it's a battle, and no mistake. But Kuniko's calling orders, and one of them's - not really an order at all, but it's for her! Chao's eyes light up. "Mabo...Mabo!" she chirps. She swings around to claim a block of her own tofu, then...going to need the tofu cubed, need to get the chili and bean paste ready, the onions prepared...not to mention the bun itself! So she does what Chao always does when faced with a circumstance where she could use more hands!

She turns to the wings and whistles once, sharply, at which point a little rolly ball suddenly skitters into the stadium! Chao boosts it to the tabletop using two quick, expert kicks while she's busily setting beans aside, and when it's about to land, its four lower quadrants snap open to reveal a set of legs. Like some kind of...octo-drone.

Chao sets the block of tofu in front of it, at which point it snaps out a sizable claw, grabs the nearest cleaver, and commences furious chopping. Chao nods firmly to herself and sets about preparing her own sauces. The pride of the robotics club is on the line, too!!

<Pose Tracker> Mesozoic Maiden Lucy [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"I dunno, you ever had any meat cake? It's cake, except also meat." It's funny how Izou, for all his prettyboyishness, is the only judge here who doesn't creep him out on some level. It's like they're almost bonding. Strange, the relationships that can emerge when they're the lesser evil.

But Didi has decided that it would probably be a good idea to make himself rare. He gives Izou a peace-out salute with his claw, sets his microphone between his jaws, then grabs one of the draperies hanging from the box and rappels down directly to the kitchen area.

A moment later, he's climbed on top of the counter on the Infinity High side. This might be alarming because statistically speaking it's unlikely he washed his feet. On the other hand, as a commentator he probably has some kind of diplomatic immunity?

"So, what are you and your team up to?" he asks in Kuniko's general direction, but anyone who passes by his mic is fair game, really. "And have you got any cool one-liner to drop to hype up the audience and, maybe, put on the poster when we sell the movie rights?" That question is also extended to the entire team, really.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Utau has been zoning out, but as Lucy and by extension the camera approaches her, she snaps back into laser focus. "Infinity students are unbeatable when it comes to dedication. Kyoto may think they have the advantage, but they don't."

Then she goes back to what she was doing before, that is to say, gazing at the middle distance.


Saeki stares at Didi. Her eyes mist over as she stares not at him, but through him, somehow.

"Forgiveness," she says inscrutably.

Then she scoots her chair a half-inch away from Dr. Tomoe after his glasses go all weird, and looks over at Kyouko, instead. "Homeschooled -- I was too! There's nothing wrong with taking your education into your own hands, my dear."

She clears her throat.

"But don't give up on it, or..."


Team Kyoto is still an industrious hive. They're definitely doing some kind of grilled skewers, there are a rainbow of sauces now bubbling away, and...

...Misono-sensei is looming over Aoi's shoulder, giving her an extremely disapproving look. "Now is /not/ the time to deviate from the traditional teachings," she suggests 'helpfully'. The girl hunches her head down on her shoulders for a moment, then draws herself up to her full height and begins gracefully wielding her knife against a mammoth block of tofu in front of her.


"I say," Saeki murmurs, "Is that sculpture? Oh, no-- it... fell."


A sous chef hastily clears away the unrecognizable mash on the floor, while Misono stalks off. Aoi turns away and attends to the soup instead. Her butterfly flutters a distressed circle around her head, then returns to her shoulder.


"Ooh, lemongrass!" Saeki adds happily as she sees what Makoto is making. "It was imported from Belgium in 700 AD!"


"THIRTY MINUTES!" booms the Chairman, a huge illuminated -- and vertical, thermometer-like -- clock sliding down steadily.

Half the time is already gone!

Haruka Tenoh has arrived.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Gordon knows well that time can fly in here. He's had more than one entree not quite finish on time, more than one dessert he barely got out. The timer is truly part of the challenge. But, he sees Inori hard at work -- watching her fire the food processor -- and then he looks at Chao. A bun, he suspects, is in the coming. He nods. They can do this; there is still time. And--

--and then he sees the mess in the opposing team's camp. He frowns; the poor girl, part of him thinks. He takes a couple of hops over, moving closer to his team. He looks at Makoto, and then nods. "Good knife work," he says. "But keep it snappy. You're on the clock, and you want time to cook that enough."

Then he turns. "Saito! What's our entree?"

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Kyouko nods to the doctor, a little distracted by the action below. "Yeah, alright. I'll keep that in mind. Maybe we'll run into each other again one way or another, who knows?" Didi draws a grin though. Hook line and sinker. Nothing like a carnivore gaining an appreciation for tofu.

Her head turns to Saeki though, an eyebrow quirked. The formidable fortune teller seemed much less severe. "I couldn't agree more. Experience is a wonderful teacher." And the catch phrase comes. Of course. Kyouko rolls her top lip into her mouth and against her bottom row of teeth, letting it scrape back into place.

Wriggling her shoulderblades, her mic switches back on. "The original tofu chefs were barbers, whose mastery of the knife mattered more than cooking experience. Royal tofu chefs came from the Samurai class of barbers."

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Fuu blinks, adjusting her glasses and looking at the 'clock'. The halfway mark already? Time really *does* fly when you're having fun ... even if this isn't something Fuu would normally have considered 'fun'; perhaps the fact that her friends and classmates are competing has something to do with it. She's certainly excited (and a little nervous) for their sake. Lingshen-san's octo-drone causes Fuu to raise her eyebrows - is that legal? Well, the judges aren't challenging it ... and the collapse of Aoi's tofu construction actually gives Fuu a moment's faint, rueful smile. She's not sorry to see the Kyoto team having its share of problems, but she sympathizes nonetheless.

As far as she can tell - and Fuu is pretty much a novice in the kitchen - it's still anyone's match.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

An idea forms in Kuniko's head. Slow and subtle. Something using arabic ingredients together with the tofu serving as a meat substitute, she thinks. She could call it 'Prophet's Delight--'

But this is foolish vainglory. Gordon saves Kuniko from this with a single word. She looks up to the rabbit, eyes wide. The concept is filed away-- such things may not be forgotten easily, and even if they are not the most heartful of sorts, they can bring joy when well executed. But this is not a place for mere technical virtuosity.

Kuniko loads up her thin sliced tofu on a tray and maneuvers herself to be near a stove. She slams down a pan, pours in some oil, and lets it heat up. At this point, Didi comes up, and Kuniko turns her head to look at him.

Once, a man said in this moment: 'Not now!' But Kuniko feels a certain coolness in her heart now, and she smiles. "Let me show you... the dream of tofu."

Kuniko slides out her boning knife and slaps it down. Next to it, a paring knife and a classical chefs knife. Behind her, the oil starts to heat gradually. Kuniko pivots down, drawing out drawers of fish. Not the bony kind she's used to such great effect here - tuna comes up, of course, but so does mackerel, even trout, of all things. vegetables join it. Kuniko leans over the table, pulling the slices she was messing with earlier closer.

And then she picks up the rest of that brick of firm tofu, throws it in a bowl, and measures out soy sauce. As she's cracking in some eggs, she answers Gordon. "It's something my dad made. And..."

Kuniko picks up a mashing stick. Her words remain wistful even as she beats the tofu and eggs into a mash, the jackhammering sound only slightly veiling her words. "I guess... if he was - was he really? - I mean, if he was really a Jewel of Cuisine... His tofu croquette..."

The mashing stops, and the boning begins. "It was so light and crisp. With a slice of pomodoro and a bit of onion. But... I'm gonna do it with the garnish I like. And it's going to be -" A single glistening fishbone flies in the air, before landing, perfectly, in a waste can.


<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Surprisingly, the socialization among judges - paired with the showy cooking demonstrations - is more engrossing than Professor Tomoe had expected. The file folder of papers, prepared in anticipation of a mind-numbing wait, remains unopened for the time being - the competition isn't an utter waste of possible research time.

Izou speaks up with his own opinions, and in due time Souichi gives the student his full, unbridled attention. An intent, evaluating stare for minutes on end - and then, commentary. "Less frantic - a reasonable choice of words. I have my concerns, but I do hold out hope that they've chosen to reserve their efforts for the final presentation. Still, bringing in outside help - this challenge is as much about Infinity's image as it is Gordon's fitness to teach. The observant watch more than the star."

To that end, he takes a moment to evaluate what all the cooks are doing - including the outsiders. Juuban's visitor has a vegetable dish in mind, while Ohtori's seems to be planning a dessert. Sweets will be part of the meal, it seems. Chao's dish of choice looks familiar enough that Tomoe's eyes glint for a moment in anticipation - but he'll have to wait to find out what the plan is there. Frustrating. And Saito - the entree is only now claiming its form, and is as yet a mystery to him.

Kyoto's team is more traditional, and he can nearly pick out the dishes on sight. Misono-sensei's menace goes without comment from Infinity's founder - there's no need to put voice to his thoughts on the matter. In general, it's more directed teamwork - a single vision, and assistants to that end.

A philosophical debate, perhaps. One of learning and teaching styles - his preference being those that need no oversight from him - where Infinity's methods are to encourage individual talents. Hm. Perhaps something to discuss, once the final results are made more clear.

The recipes are well underway, and there's little to discuss save the cooking techniques on display. Now is the time for him to voice the full extent of his kitchen expertise. Professor Tomoe clears his throat briefly, and...

...takes one of those papers out to peruse. He has a few minutes before the judgement takes place, and Saeki's latest comment reminded him of the interesting results those Belgian researchers had promised.

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Well in the middle of poaching her peaches and using the impromptu boiling to chilled water trick to remove the skins, before letting them simmer in a mixture of wine, nectar, and vanilla she finally takes the tofu out of the towels, inspecting it with a gloved finger until satisfied it had drained enough.

Didi's question catches her off guard, somewhat off guard, as she finds herself staring face to face with the dinosaur announcer, unable to stop herself. "Oh! You're so cute! Uh. I'm making my Fresh-" She stops herself suddenly, "-did you say movie rights?" Suddenly she considers one-liners, to try to answer the question, "The yellow tart is the symbol of savoriness?" And then the Chairman booms 'thirty minutes'.

Looking suddenly panicked, she gets back to her task, pouring every ounce of effort into getting this underway. She lines each of the small tins with parchment paper, and opens the food processor, spreading out the nut mixture that now resembles a dough into each of them. She rushes them over to a freezer, to give them a few minutes to chill, before returning to her station.

Once there she now starts again at the pineapple, chopping it in a more frantic pace to remove the eyes, then cutting them into smaller pieces. Sweat beads on her forehead as she realizes how unevenly they're chopped, but she can't let up now.

Once she has enough chunks of pineapple to go with the blueberries, she starts putting the silken tofu in the blender with a tiny amount of caramel and vanilla and flips it on to mix it into a creamier form. she didn't have time to make this perfect, and that caused her to feel a small pang of guilt in her chest, but she would try her best! This was going to be a tribute to her friendship after all!

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

"Yes sir!" Makoto's answer to Gordon has the respectful snap of a young soldier acknowledging the orders of a commander. Each ingredient has followed the next into the simmering water, with no pause as she goes from one task to the next; thirty minutes is still enough time, but it'll be close, there's no room for overconfidence or sloppiness--

But she does feel, if not confident, a little jazzed now rather than jittery, excitement tingling through her like summer lightning. This is it, the same feeling she had back then, the bright joy and the gentle flush of warmth. *This* is the feeling that she wants to share with everyone.

A spoonful of olive oil follows the other ingredients into the stockpot; Makoto allows herself a moment to breathe in the steam as she gives it a stir, and spares a quick grin and a wink for Didi. "I'm not too good with one-liners," she tells him cheerfully, leaving the pot to simmer as she cuts the block of tofu she selected into neat cubes. "I'll have to let my cooking speak for me."

<Pose Tracker> Mesozoic Maiden Lucy [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

...Forgiveness, huh?

(!) Didi will remember that.

"Attagirl, that's the spirit!" Didi pumps a tiny clawed fist at Kuniko's dramatic one-liner. She really seems to be getting into it! And if tofu really IS meat after all, like Kyouko says... maybe he can beg to eat some, and be satiated before he starts to feel like eating Gordon! ...Er.

He glances at the rabbit with his best attempt at an 'Oh hey it's cool, mammals are friends, not food' look. His beady eyes are definitely not communicative enough for that level of nuance.

He then points the mic at Inori, whose own one-liner sounds snappy and maybe more than a little familiar! He nods in approval. And Makoto eschews the one-liner format in order to deliver... a very cool, single line. Oooooh.

"Thank you, Hoshina-senpai!" Lucy meanwhile says with a beaming smile. That's idol charisma for you!

For the record, if Utau has been wondering where her brother is instead of having come watch this thing: He had no particular plans and is just sort of hanging out in a park and doing nothing special right now.

As she moves on, Lucy spares a sympathetic glance to the Kyoto side, where disaster has struck. She's got her clear favorites, but it's very hard not to feel bad at the sight of that accident. She bites her lip.

But the Mesozoic Maiden then moves on to the two remaining special guests. They're close by enough that she can ask them both the same question, which is good because the clock is rapidly ticking. "So, what do you two think of how the dishes are coming along?" Biff Standard she... isn't entirely sure understands Japanese, but Hanasaki seems so very kindly!

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao moves with an expert's hand; Chao Bao Zi employs one of the other students as their Super Bun Ace, but Chao's no slouch! However manic her love for the food may be, it's a love true and lavish! Chao gets rid of the drone by whistling once for its attention, a second time to get it to ball up, and then sweeping a wholly unnecessary spinning kick past the tabletop to send the robot bouncing back into the wings. She immediately dumps the finely chopped tofu into a bowl and combines it with firm throws. Then it's time to get the dough rolled out in careful portions. Handily, some is to hand; it'd take hours, otherwise!

She flinches at the boom of thirty minutes, chewing a lip and counting out times in her head. Could be tight. Buns need to steam for a while. Might need to use... ...'that'.

So it's while she's portioning out dough that a dinosaur waddles up for a conversation. She considers the question, and then grins, bright and sunny. "Obviously, I can't let them talk bad about my friends /or/ my food! So I'll show them everything I have!" She holds up one fist, clenching it in challenge! "Chao Bao Zi is the best in history!"

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"FIVE MINUTES!" shouts the Chairman somehow both cheerfully and with dignity. Then he goes back to overseeing this whole thing with a nice glass of some kind of alcohol. It's opaque; he could be drinking anything.

Down in the audience, Biff Standard's bodyguards politely but firmly shoo Lucy away. Kaoruko just smiles beatifically, like the grand old lady she is, and then goes back to focusing on the match.

And out on the battlefield, Team Kyoto is putting their final touches on all of there dishes. The soup is partitioned into ancient, gorgeous teacups; the yuba -- which has been extracted from boiling tofu -- has been sauteed and drizzled with a series of sauces; the skewers are beautifully sorted; and out of the freezer come what seem to... just... be blocks of tofu that have been there since practically the beginning of the hour. Is that really possible?

As time ticks down, Aoi smiles encouragingly but a little sadly at her teammates, sending each of them into a fury of final touches; more garnishes, blotting drops of sauce off of each of the tiny plates; arranging every piece of vegetable just /so/.

Saeki leans forward eagerly, chiming in with Kyouko on cue. "Yes, and 'tofu' is a bastardization of the term 'fabulous haircut!'"

<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"Lemongrass is from Belgium?" Izou turns to Saeki, flame-coloured eyebrows threatening to leap into his hairline. "Seriously??" Those aren't the sort of factoids you learn even when you /are/ the Heavenly King of Europe.

And then--

oh god--

Zoisite finds himself pinned in place, stuck fast beneath Dr. Tomoe's terrible unrelenting gaze. The sheen of his round spectacles reminds the Shitennou like nothing so much as the strangely luminous void that encircles the Dark Kingdom, static yet alive with a kind of uncaring menace. It's as close as he can get to putting into words that clinical quality, for such creatures as Dr. Tomoe are as alien to the Dark Kingdom as they are to normal humans.

Sweat crawls down his back. "Oui, bien s-sûr," he chirps, unthinkingly.

But then -- thank the darkness -- the good doctor elects to do some reading, and Izou's able to escape. Thirty minutes gone, thirty to go, it seems, and the opposition's had an accident. It wouldn't surprise the young man, really, if the tofu tower's toppling was a direct result of that horrid woman (and/or her turtle) looming so nastily over the student-chefs. When Zoisite's a jerk, it's okay; when /other/ people do it, it's super mean and unfair!! ...Not that he's upset about the possible blow to Team Kyoto's chances, either. He's complicated, you know.


At the five minute mark, Izou squints at the frozen tofu -- and at Kyouko and Saeki. Are they jerking that (admittedly adorable) dinosaur's chain??

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

The clock keeps on ticking; Fuu is leaning forward in her seat a bit, watching the teams finish their cooking - and not chatting with her classmates now, but they're as focused on the incipient outcome as Fuu is.

Kuniko seems to have found her groove - Fuu has seen her in the full glory of her culinary magic, and the way Kuniko's moving now reminds her very much of how she supports her allies and opposes their foes. That sight gives Fuu the most hope for Infinity to win this battle.

But Makoto, Inori, and Chao look like they're in their element as well, with Inori (stranger though she is to Fuu) focusing on a dessert which makes Fuu wish she were one of the judges. Chao's track record with meat buns is as much a landmark at Infinity Institute as any of the buildings or gardens; she's certain that there's no need to worry about what she'll bring to the table when time is up. As long as she has *enough* time, that is. And while Fuu doesn't really know Makoto either, the tallest of the chefs on the Infinity team seems to be comfortable with how her soup is going.

As for the Kyoto team's work ... the way Aoi hovers on the edge of micromanaging brings a slight frown to Fuu's face. They seem to have their technique down pat, as you'd expect with their sizable edge in experience. Beyond that - well, it's up to the judges, really.

Fuu clasps her hands tightly on her lap, her gaze flicking from Infinity to Kyoto cooks, and occasionally to the dwindling clock. "Good luck," Fuu murmurs under her breath - presumably for the Infinity team, although they're hardly going to hear her.

<Pose Tracker> Mesozoic Maiden Lucy [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

"Oh yeah, I totally agree!" Didi says at Chao's determined words. He's had a few of their meat buns, and they definitely passed the Dino-Sized Hunger test.

Darn those bodyguards! Lucy stamps her foot in frustration after having been turned away, which registers on the Richter scale but only barely.

Only five minutes left? The Maiden's head turns. Time goes back so fast! She glances at Didi, who seems to be thinking the same thing. She wanders down to the kitchen area, spares a big smile to her friends and a smaller but still sympathetic one to the Kyoto team. Didi leaps onto her shoulder, and Lucy leaps... back to the judges' table!

To her credit, this is one of the smoothest landings she's ever performed. That is to say, the table only shakes a little as she plops back into her seat.

"All the contestants putting the finishing touches to make their dishes extra-perfect! You can do it, everyone! This all looks so delicious!" "Yeah! And I'd like to state, for the record, that I'm super hungry!"

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Fish is wrapped in tofu and dredged in breadcrumbs. Soon enough, everything Kuniko wants is ready, and she takes her tray of arranged croquettes-to-be, that mysterious stuff she was marinating, and some sliced aubergenes over to the stove. She reaches over to fire up a gas grill.

Now, the matter is one of execution.

The eggplants that have been sliced up go on the grill as Kuniko reaches behind herself to bring some other odds and ends together. In a pan, she adds a sliver of European-style butter, watches it spread - leans over to flip all the eggplants - and then down go those mysterious chunks of tofu! Like little pancakes, they frizzle up, growing savory and acquiring those vital notes of caramelized flavor. And the sauce...

The mixture of some steak sauce with a little salt, some mushroom extract, and a sliver of beefsteak tomato has produced an intense level of umami compounds! Which those thin slices of soy curd have been marinating in... for surprisingly long! And then Kuniko flips up the eggplant from the grill, /right into the palm of her hand/ --

Where she crushes it with complete and delicate care. The thin slices of crispy fried tofu are folded over then, spatulaed up and set aside.

What is left for Kuniko now is to perfectly fry croquettes and arrange them on plates, while rolling up some babaganoush in the middle. This is not trivial, but it is not something that is out of her baliwick entirely. She takes a moment to gaze around, looking at the competition. The yuba sauces. The look on Aoi's face, seen from a distance. Sympathy, perhaps?

But nearer by, Chao's relentless energy, the warm radiant command of Makoto, and the enthusiasm of Yamabuki that evokes a feeling of subtle protectiveness in Kuniko's heart. Somehow, she's found herself relaxing amidst the chaos.

But... take a picture, and remember it. Even if it's her last hurrah: She has food to plate, things to prepare. "Get ready! Remember to plate it up nice!" A clatter of frying oil, as her defiance of Burgermeister's words reaches it's peak--!


ENTREE: Tofu croquettes a la Levant. Mashed tofu mingles with a bit of onion and four different sorts of fish (one croquette of each kind), fried golden brown and with a little fresh-made babaganoush dressed with paprika and olive oil on the side. The texture mingle a crunch outside with a firm inside, the fish gently cooked and with its essence pervading the soft rich tofu-batter that forms most of the meal. The eggplant salad on the side provides for the simple pleasure of dipping to taste, evoking the memory of warm croquettes eaten with the family.

and also
HORS D'OEUVRE: Tofu wrapped around fresh mashed eggplant, seasoned to share the savor of a finely grilled steak. A simple little nibble, no more than two or three bites per plate, brimming with the sore desire to satisfy every diner.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

A low rumble in Kyouko's stomach..not of protest or impatience, but anticipation. The end of the road is in sight, and soon she'll eat..the doctor had shifted his attention away from her, and she can't say that she's displeased about it. He makes her uneasier than she lets on.

It's pretty cute, watching a little dinosaur plod along and interview people on the floor. The mood among the two kitchens seems like the opposite of the way that things started..but the proof will be in the pudding. The jiggly, bean curd based pudding.

Saeki plays off of her, so Kyouko returns her serve, her voice level. "That's right. The finest wigs were made from tofu, and could be eaten in an emergency. Oda Nobunaga's tofu wig is at the Tokyo National Museum, and could be eaten today. But bring your own soy sauce!"

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The next half hour is a blur to 'buki. She believed she wasn't that talented of a cook, and had never had to work under pressure before. Especially pressure of this magnitude, as the blender works, the peaches are laid in the crust, then once it's finished with it's mechanical whirling, she takes the time to careful spread out the sweet tofu custard over the poached peach filling.

Remembering only in the last ten minutes from Kuniko's words on 'Plating it up nice' that presentation usually counts, she responds, "Right!" Carefully she positions the fruit seperate on top of each tart, pineapple chunks together on one half, blueberries on the other half. The whole pan with the tins is placed in the freezer five minutes, her chest heaving as she takes in one breath, then another, and leans against the refrigerator for support. She'd prefer they'd chill for longer but...

Once the five minutes are up, she takes out the tray with all the tins. What sits in each of them are tiny cookies...

DESSERT: Freshly Harvested Tofu Cookie Tarts. The walnut and date crust is sticky and moist, containing a sweetened poached peach filling, Surrounded by a creamy and smooth tofu custard like substance. The balance of caramel and agave of the custard give it a part sweet, but mostly tart zest to balance out the sweetness of the peaches.

On top of each, are ripened blueberries and pineapple chunks seperated into halves. The chunks are inexpertly sliced, but seem aglow with the passion of an amateur in the hobby. All in all, it's a relatively simple dessert for the refined palates of the judges, but perhaps one of them will find style in that simplicity? Or maybe someone will just have a sweet tooth.

<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

The final countdown begins! In mere months, the menace that has plagued tropical glades will be vanquished by the might of scien...oh, the cooking is wrapping up too. Stowing away the article and its lofty promises, Professor Tomoe takes a fresh look over the cooking arena. Whatever his field of expertise, his place here is to be a judge.

Three dishes from Team Kyoto, all demonstrating the strict methodology that their program teaches. Sous-chefs working in tandem to create perfect-looking servings - incomplete, but needing only polish to the academic's untrained eyes. His gaze flits around, looking for a replacement for that failed sculpture - but the chef seems not to have attempted another. Hm. Three dishes, then.

He takes in the state of Infinity's efforts with a glance, albeit with a particular focus on its native students over the outsiders. There's a simmering soup and a daring dessert, but it's Gordon who stands trial here - and as such, his students to judge foremost.

Since his last inspection, Kuniko's side of the kitchen has practically exploded - multiple items, some presented in a manner he's never seen before. Chao's buns are more familiar, and in a manner that has him anticipating the new future - if she can finish in time.

Having finished catching up on the state of affairs, Professor Tomoe turns back to his fellow judges once more. Saeki and Kyouko seem to be having a grand time doling out culinary factoids, and he chuckles for a moment before toggling his own microphone. "Quite the...educational discussion indeed. Putting aside the history of the ingredients involved, however - I note that we seem to be seeing a difference in styles. Infinity prizes individual talent, and the defending team seems to have gone with several distinct items with no oversight. Kyoto's challengers are more unified - following the same curriculum under a single vision. Would my fellow judges care to comment with their thoughts?"

And then he leans back, steepling his hands now that the topic has been shifted abruptly. However helpful the tidbits, this is a point that seems to be worth discussing - does it not? He glances to Kyouko with an encouraging smile, and then to Izou with one more...commanding? Menacing?

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

With dough portioned out, Chao sets about the important part: Laying out dollops of mabo tofu into the buns, shaping them with an expert's hand; careful, careful. Too taut and it will tear! She pinches them together at the tops to create the distinctive tail she prefers of the dish, and then loads them into the steamer case, and /that/ in the steamer/ box/, and sets the timer for twenty.

Fortunately, that was well in excess of the five-minute call. Chao spends the rest of that time making herself useful to the rest of her team; the last ingredient is love and time.

Still, when Chao comes back shortly before the five-minute call, she's frowning, considering. Just a little, maybe....

Of course, she could flash-steam the whole steamer case with a little magic, but that would require more acrobatics than she cares to exert when she has a slightly more practical solution at hand, namely: She reaches into a special tools case, and produces a segmented gauntlet with an extension cord coming out the back. She dons it with smooth movements, plugs it straight into the nearest outlet, and then, the gauntlet sparking:

Grabs the steamer case, causing it to immediately start to billow plumes of fragrant steam! And also zap with slightly alarming amounts of electricity!

Chao releases after a few seconds, nodding firmly, and then flips the gauntlet off and starts removing the steamer case. Got to get the buns out of there before it starts to smoke, see.

Chao spends the remainder of the time gently peeling the parchment off the bottom of plump and steamy buns, and then procuring just a pair, supplying them to a plate with grids of parchment, the paper itself decorated for appearance. Ever aware of time's ticking hand, Chao's buns arrive at the plating station mere seconds before the final call:

APPETIZER: Mabo tofu meat buns, yeasty dough wrapped about a filling of mightily spicy mabodofu, tofu and meat cooked in a chili and bean paste with just a sprinkle of vegetables; no merciful chef Chao, these buns are designed after the fires she might or might not secretly be a sorcerous master of, but definitely apparently likes in her cooking. The buns are the smaller type, two to a plate, the angry red of the mabodofu subtly shining through the dough.

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

There's no way around it, soup has to simmer - but while it does, Makoto is not idle. The tofu is cubed, greens shredded, a few stems of spring onions sliced fine - and now and then the contents of the stockpot get a brief stir. As time ticks down, she risks scalding her tongue for a little bit of a taste... and, slightly flushed from adrenaline and steam, Mako nods with satisfaction and gets busy straining the broth.

The final preparations take her almost right to the wire, but when time is called, the bowls are lined up neatly, gently steaming and ready.

SOUP: Lemongrass miso, a broth with a light and fresh but vivid flavor. Dark green ribbons of kale float among the mild white cubes of tofu, with thin rings of neatly-sliced green onion sprinkled over them.

It's not her mother's recipe; it's an experiment that Makoto first tried last summer, but at the time she thought it came out beautifully, a mixture of the comfort of the familiar standby and the effervescent thrill of a new discovery. The bright, clean taste of the broth still reminds Makoto of that feeling, and it was the first thing that leaped into her mind when she asked herself for the most delicious thing that she could do involving tofu.

Her heart's thrumming in her chest, nerves back in force now that there's nothing left to do but wait for the verdict. She just hopes they like it half as much as she did.

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"Perfect," Gordon repeats. He lets it hang there; Kuniko's chosen, and he'll see. But shooting high is the right thing to do right now, and so the rabbit nods.

And watches.

Her entry is stunning, though. It's a mishmash of styles -- something she did wrongly, before, like when she dreamed of opening an ill-advised restaurant called "Caravansarai" -- but this time, it should fire on all cylinders. The combination of eggplant, fish, and tofu batter should prove surprising. Hopefully, he thinks, it uses tofu to their satisfaction.

The dessert, too, seems like a winner. The freshly harvest tofu cookie tarts has clear Western influences, and the mixture of fruit and nuts should nail the texture, he thinks. But, did they chill long enough? That hour is tough, and he knows that could get Inori's dish. But... the fundamentals are there.

And then the appetizer and soup. He expected meat buns; the tofu meat bun may be Asian, but it's hardly traditional (and he would hope the Kyoto group would not seriously expect a Chinese chef to do Japanese cooking). Those, he thinks, will work -- though hopefully the judges like spicy. It's always a risk. Makoto's soup, too, he thinks should win. The lemongrass is a strong flavor -- maybe too strong for some palates -- but the brother is clear, and the dish has traditional roots with some fascinating changes.

It's with some pride that he steps up to the judges' table and bows, shortly.

"My team presents the following dishes for your approval," he says. "For an appetizer, mabo tofu meat buns. For soup, lemon grass miso. As hors d'ouevre, tofu wrapped around a freshly mashed eggplant. For an entree, tofu croquettes a la Levant. And, lastly, for dessert, freshly harvested tofu cookie tarts."

He nods. There is a hint of a smile there, but it stays a hint, given the gravity of the situation. "Bon appetit."

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

The Chairman hops off his throne as the time ticks down to zero, chanted by the crowd. "Tasting time!" he announces, before strolling over to the Royal Box to join the judges. With a certain magnanimousness to his armflick, he invites Didi to take a seat in front of an empty place.

He samples each of the dishes slowly and thoughtfully but essentially without expression. His is a tiebreaker's vote; it's quite possible he won't have to weigh in at all. Until it's clear whether or not he must, he keeps his reactions to himself.

Saeki is distinctly the opposite. As Team Infinity's dishes are presented to her, she gobbles messily and cheerfully but often with a thunderous frown on her face. She seems to take particular issue with the croquettes. "Fishy!" she mutters. "Very fishy. Tofu drowned out by other flavors, used as a vehicle, a journey, but not the destination." Also, she's drinking a lot of water -- she may have burnt her tongue, eating this freshly-fried food with such fiesty force. "Family-friendly... but not good for kids." Tragedy never is, is it?

She also grumbles about the dessert -- too smooth! -- and the appetizer -- too steaky! -- and the soup -- too wet! -- and the buns -- too spicy! And the team leader is too rabbitty!

There's no pleasing this woman.

One can only hope that she's an equal-opportunity curmudgeon.

<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

And so it is that the food is presented for judgment. With smells wafting up and presentation made immaculate, Souichi Tomoe has curiosity plain on his face. Compared to his usual diet, it's very nearly all filed under 'exotic' - but intriguing, and worthy of judgment. By whatever procedure is expected in these cases, Infinity's selections are made available first.

The hors d'oeuvre has him stopping to look at his meal more than once - not a flavour he'd expected, nor one he'd considered possible. Something the school can be proud of. "Unexpected," is his sole comment on that course.

The appetizer is where his attention is most swiftly caught. In the preparation, he'd overheard the treasured word 'mabo' - mabo tofu being a favourite dish of his for long research sessions. (It reheats rather well.) To that end, as much as he'd hoped this would be a dish - here, his judgement will be firm. The nearly-glowing buns earn a cursory inspection, a healthy inhaling of odor - ah, there it is beyond the yeast. Then, with care, he bites into one.

For an instant, the scientist freezes. Slowly, methodically, he chews before swallowing - and then, with just as much methodical care, he takes a sip of the water. Then another, just to be certain. "Well. A bold choice of appetizer - mabo tofu is as ever a spicy choice to present. This early in the meal, I expect it might yet dominate the palate - with so merciless a use of chili, this is not something one can eat casually. It has been cooked to precision, in spite of the limited cooking time, and the dough complements the spice well. Perhaps some more moderation is warranted - though I cringe to say this of mabo tofu - and the balance of tofu to meat is your main moderator for the spiciness, not whatever bread you're wrapping it in."

He picks up the half-eaten bun. "Still, it's been packaged neatly, and suitable for keeping on hand for a snack - but perhaps best served on its own, rather than as part of a full meal." And then he eats the remainder in a single bite, flush with reaction to the spiciness, and starts on the second. In spite of his words, he's enjoying these.

It's a cup or two of water later that he's able to start on the rest of the meal - as much as his personal taste was satisfied by the buns, he's intrigued by each of the other dishes. There's a strange warmth he can't explain in words present in the soup - and aside from a nod, he doesn't even try - the croquettes receive a few approving comments, and the dessert is...hm. Surprising, perhaps?

<Pose Tracker> Mesozoic Maiden Lucy [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Much to Didi's delight, the dinosaur is given a seat at the judges' table after all?! It seems his little stunt was all worth it! He gets extremely sparkly at the Chairman's infinite generosity.

Luckily, Lucy gets her own plates, though without the heavy responsibility of judging. All things considered, she kind of likes it better that way. She doesn't even have the pressure of needing to sound knowledgeable about why she likes or doesn't like!

I mean, obviously all the judges were picked because they were very knowledgeable, right?

The cavegirl and her dinosaur happily partake, and even though the basic ingredient wasn't meat, they seem to be enjoying the meal.

"Tofu's platypus meat, you know," Didi says knowledgeably, giving Kyouko an appreciative nod.

"What? No it's not!"

Rather than argue about it, the two decide to just eat more.

The judges start delivering their verdict, and then Didi expertly chimes in:

"Man, those little nibble things--"
"Yeah, those are super delicious! They taste just like steak, and basically what I'm saying is are you going to finish those?"

Lucy protectively puts an arm around her own plates. Didi turns to the rest of the judges and their respective plates.


(+ vvvv +)

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Tomoe takes her by surprise by injecting himself into the conversation, but Kyouko rolls with it, unruffled. "That's an excellent point Professor. This battle is more than a competition between schools. Each team is fighting for a different philosophy of cooking! Infinity's students will each succeed or fail based on their own merits. They'll be more likely to misstep but more likely to surprise. Kyoto will live, or die, as one. In the end it's all just, as they say, a matter of taste."

The time has come and judgement is upon them all. Infinity's champions had started out in a hesistant near-panic, but the spread before her was passionate and inspired, piece for piece. The Chairman takes his seat at the head of the table, and somehow his features seem as indistinct as ever.

Like a haughty king, the cooks of conquest bequeath their treasures in tribute, prepared for her inspection. And what a selection it is..the dishes didn't defy all classification, but Kyouko can say with some confidence that each piece, to some extent, has a quality that she's never seen before. The four fishes of the crouquettes paint a lovely little rainbow of flavor, properly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the amuse-boche a savory little nugget of treasure. Its meaty qualities alone would have been remarkable, but it transcends mere imitation. The tarts are rich and decadent, stripes of sweetness all mixing among her tastes...as for the buns, it's very good that Kyouko has a taste for spicy foods! There's a great difference between a good balance of sweltering ingredience and heat for heat's sake, and this favored the former.

And there is another..A steaming bowl of soup sends scintilating scents soaring up in gently undulating vapors of flavor and heat. Kyouko holds her spoon in the air, drawing deep and appreciative sniffs of escaping mist as her sample cools. The broth is cloudy, spilling out and about the surface of the bowl in warps and whorls..she decides to pounce and downs the spoonful, throwing her head slightly back and closing her eyes...

...and it runs along her tongue and down her throat it goes..the miso base, suffused with lemongrass dances along her tastebuds and shoots fireworks in its wake. It's flavor is bold without being heavy, pleasantly arresting without too much richness. The onions accentuate the strength of the dish's character..the kale provides a balancing ballast, and the tofu provides the texture, each finely diced cube glazed and soaked with the soup. Sampled between dishes, the soup's powerful profile is a blazing cleansing fire, purifying her palate with remarkable speed and grace.

Wiping her mouth with a napking, she belches slightly, and grins without shame. "This soup is humble, but strong. Quiet but bold. It's made with adventure and curiosity, but it doesn't fly off into oblivion because it doesn't have something keeping it together. It's..the old and the new coming together in such a perfect blend that it feels like the way that things /should/ grow. It lingers on my tongue very pleasantly. Well done!"

She catches the platypus meat comment, and flashes a wink to Didi. Maybe she would have told him the truth, but he sure seems to be enjoying tofu more than he would if he did.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Aoi Nakamura seems to be serving in the kaiseki style, haute Japanese cuisine with a basis in the same ideals as the tea ceremony tradition. There isn't time to perform such service properly here, however, and all the dishes are presented together in an overwhelming panopoly of little plates, each with just a few bites on them.

There is a journey in temperature of astonishing skill and deliciousness. The yu-dofu soup, served with yuzu fruit, spicy momiji oroshi, and negi onions, is warm; the sauteed, sauced yuba, providing contrast between the creamy texture and a crunchy outside, is hot; the skewers positively sizzle, pushing the palette to the breaking point; and then relief is found in the hiyayakko, soft, chilled tofu with the tiniest hint of soy sauce and a series of garnishes that begin savory, with onions and basil, and gradually proceed into sweetness, finishing in plum. The focus of the dish is on the taste of the tofu itself: a celebration.

Her shoulders are very set beneath her kimono, however, and she taps the tip of her closed parasol on the floor. The feelings in the food are the same way. Though the food was crafted with superb skill and in fantastic if traditional taste, there is only one feeling in each dish, always the same: frustration.

The taste of stagnation is captured perfectly.

Misono stares at her student through slitted eyes as she speaks the name of each dish, then awaits the judgement of the judges.

Saeki's twisted mouth has a hint of bitterness to it throughout the tasting that follows, one that was absent previously.

<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

OH NO Dr. Tomoe's looking at him again and--

Ugh, great. Zoi forgot (or, more likely, never really considered) that he'd be expected to 'represent the school' and all that nonsense. Sometimes this human disguise thing of his has its downsides.

Clearing his throat, Izou toggles on his own mic (and his best 'loyal Infinity student' face) and comments, "I think so, sensei. Personally, I'm just glad at least one side thought to give us a dessert!"

Speaking of which...

After time is called and the judges are joined by the inscrutable Chairman (and Didi!), Izou gets to eating. Sweets are his thing; savoury, less so. However, the fire-loving mage can't help but appreciate Chao's mapo-doufu bao (his eyes close as he presses the tofu-meat mixture, redolent with its complex Chinese spice blend, against his soft palate), noting, "Well, my appetite's definitely been whetted!" before sliding his plate away from Didi; Makoto's soup -- who puts kale in miso soup?? -- elicits a strangely conflicted, almost nostalgic expression; the amuse-bouche is straight-up /weird/ but delicious; the very very faintly heartsick look from earlier returns once Izou bites into Kuniko's lovingly-prepared croquettes; and then...

A fruit tart is placed in front of the model. Izou slides his dessert spoon through the surface, down through the peach and tofu custard and to the crisp crust beneath; the spoonful he brings up bears one blueberry, one pineapple bit, in an attempt to experience both together. Each component gleams in the light, the crust a warm gold against the delicate ivory and soft sunset hues of the filling, with the intact fruit seeming almost to be sun and falling dusk overtop. Like a beach, he thinks.

Very deliberately, Izou places the spoon and its contents between his cupids-bow lips, and it is clean when it is withdrawn. His eyes close once more. It is sweet, creamy, fruity and nutty; maybe the custard could have used longer in the blast chiller, but it is set and that's what matters; the crust crumbles perfectly and melds with the custards and fruit in his mouth to create a pleasing contrast of textures.

And there's something else...what is it? It is nostalgic, but not the same nostalgia evoked by the soup and the croquettes. He has felt this before, and its hue is gold.

Izou swallows. "Beautiful," he announces, and there is something genuine in the curve of his rosy mouth. "Technique-wise it's impeccable; the flavours and textures are separate yet meld together excellently, and I'm actually happy with the tofu, which is a surprise. The top, the fruit," he gestures with his spoon, "is uneven, but -- ugh, I know that's probably not 'acceptable' in the culinary world, but /I/ think it's avant-garde." He's a model, he would know. "Look at the rise and fall of the pineapple! Doesn't it evoke the rays of the sun breaking through cloud cover? And..." Gently, "It tastes nostalgic, somehow."

He then proceeds to eat the rest, savouring each bite.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Sweaty and a little shaky, Kuniko comes up to observe the viewing. She is able to catch her breath, now... even if the final stages were more or less execution of known maneuvers, she had to do them fast and with no errors (well, she did mess up a trout ball, but she made extra for that reason).

Now merely comes the meat-grinding. She smiles with that false look that doesn't quite reach the eyes as her croquettes are judged, saying with ash in her mouth, "Thank you very much-"

Professor Tomoe himself slightly disdains some part of their effort, maybe (he's hard to read.) Gulp. Didi and Kyouko, give her some room for hope, perhaps...

Ah, but the dessert. The reaction to the dessert is what makes Kuniko dare to hope that they can win it. She gives Inori a brief sideways grin as Izou goes ga-ga for it, perhaps even Fame Monster Gaga. There's a subtle thumbs-up with it.

As the opposition comes up, she sidles nearer to Gordon.

"... Did you know?" she asks, then, in a low voice. (Gordon has big ears.) "I mean, about my father."

<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

The other judges speak more on the dishes Souichi could not find words for; on the balance, judgment is delivered. With Infinity's offerings consumed, now is the turn of Kyoto - and its presentation of the glories of Tofu. These dishes are more familiar, perhaps - more known to the people of Japan than the diverse offerings of the assembled chefs.

Professor Tomoe samples each of the dishes in turn. Skill is evident, that much is clear to see - technical prowess at its finest. The soup's ingredients are prepared more evenly than the kale miso Makoto prepared, the skewers match Kuniko's croquettes for sheer tofu-preparation skill, the fine balance of spices and flavours in the hiyayakko more carefully prepared than either mabo buns or fruit tarts. Based on pure talent, based on the treatment of the tofu itself, Kyoto's offerings seem to pull ahead to a victory.

And yet. And yet, something feels not quite right about the experience and a whole. The soup, while warm, while warming...somehow feels colder than that Makoto prepared. The sizzling skewers somehow fail to satisfy like the croquettes did. And the hiyayakko...it's not bold or brave or challenging, it simply is. It makes no logical sense, it defies fact, wherein lies the difference?

"Technically speaking, these offerings all excel - Kyoto's students have followed their instruction to absolute precision." There's more to say, but for all his thoughts on the matter he can't quite place it - he samples each of the dishes again, contrasts Kyoto's offerings against the remains of Infinity's directly, goes back and forth with increasing irritation.

What is the difference?!

<Pose Tracker> Gordon [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Gordon cracks a smile, finally. It may be premature -- the votes aren't in -- but he can see who has won, regardless of what the judges say. What they say is, of course, important. But, his students have something to be proud of. But when Kuniko approaches, he looks up at her.

Then, he shrugs.

Yes, he knew. It's clear on his face (or is, for those able to read expressions). "Does it matter? Chefs make their bones on their own," he says. "Not because of who their fathers were."

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Anxiety permeates the air around Inori as the dishes are presented to the judges one by one. As Saeki gobbles it down, and declares all of the flaws, she hunches her shoulders in, clasps her hands together, and looks down. She knew she wasn't the best cook, but she'd tried so hard!

Silently, she contemplates where she went wrong, only half-listening as Dr. Tomoe evaluates Chao's buns. She looks out of the periphery of her vision, trying to give her teammate a supportive smile despite how she felt behind it.

She looks up just a little, enjoying Didi's antics as he threatens a rampage for more of Kuniko's entree. It brings a slightly more genuine touch to her smile, though it causes her ot sigh as she contemplates how she should just stick to what she knows. Kyouko's judgement of Makoto's dish makes her eyes glimmer radiantly, as she looks sidelong, and even pats Makoto on the back once.

When Izou begins to take a bite of her tarts, her breath catches in her throat. That expression goes through a full gamut of changes, of anxiety and despair, to startlement, to wonder and hope. And finally delight as with a large open mouthed smile. "He really likes it." She breaks her speechlessness, sounding a little awed. She looks sideways at Kuniko, and as she gives her a thumbs up, she returns it.

She'd come here expecting almost nothing of herself, and had ended up surprising herself simply by pouring her heart into trying something new and different. Maybe she was right from the start, all she needed was a little faith in herself after all!

"Do you think we did it?" She murmurs to other members of the team. Even if the dish was her own, they were united as a group by their love for this, even if some were more dedicated than others, even if others were more skilled. Their passion and effort was what counted, wasn't it?

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

The traditional dishes come lining up. As emotionally satisfying as the Infinity offerings were, Kyouko's appetite is far from sated. This second course is more recognizable than the first, though she isn't necessarily more familiar with all of it. Traditional food, meticulously perfected over hundreds of years of shared exploration and experience.

It's delicious, every bit. The taste is less aggressive than the Infinity offerings, more circumspect and calm, less eager to tear in and seize the day. There are great merits in both, and food is one of the few areas in which Kyouko can appreciate the sober side of the debate. But in her heart she's a hell-raiser, and she enjoys food that bangs down doors instead of merely knocking.

There's a progression, too. The dishes come together. Individually, the Infinity offerings were stronger, but the Kyoto offerings were each individual pieces of a single whole. It was like the difference between five mercenaries and a unified squad. It made a difference, a big one.

But there's a thread-thin line of..something..in the dish. Nothing is bad, not in the least. But it feels..restricted, in a sense. Like a wild animal chained to a post that struggles to be free. Like somebody wanted to take ten steps and only took five, looking onto the last half with bitterness. In short, it felt like the vision behind this meal was impure. The direction was being directed in a way that split the focus down the middle. It's clear that that hovering hag and her evil eye are to blame. Her presence tainted the eden of the Kyoto kitchen. Her students would be blamed for the loss, but it was her fault all along.

She smiles warmly to Aoi. Not patronizingly, but in appreciation of her obvious talents. "These dishes are excellent. The quality and presentation of each is beyond reproach, truly. Any of them would fit right in at a fine restaurant, you chefs are obviously gifted! Each flows into the next like curves of the same river. It..they tell a story. A story with a beginning, a middle, a end. It's just.."

Kyouko hesitates, composing her thoughts. "..It feels like there's more to these dishes' story than just the one you wanted to tell. Like you've practiced skipping to perfection but you really wanna /leap./ There are these really neat hints, to me, of wanting to go further. I think that it's really incredible to do something that a lot of people are familiar with in a way that's better than what they expect. But these dishes feels like it's wants to be something it isn't allowed to be, I guess."

"It's..well, it's really hard to put my finger on it! The food is truly amazing! I just feel like there's a shell that wants to be broken out of, I guess. Keep pushing! Whether it's towards mastering the yolk or breaking the egg, either way. But being in the middle is holding you back, I think.

<Pose Tracker> Zoisite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

It's the opposition's turn. Izou's brows lift at the sight of the first of Aoi's small, exactingly traditional plates -- and the first taste paints a slight frown onto his beautiful face. That frown grows and spreads, like ivy spidering its leafy fingers up a stone wall, as each successive plate is set before him. When they are collected, food remains on every one.

Frustration and stagnation are tastes not unknown to the Dark Kingdom. How many centuries now have they laboured? How much have they tried to drown in hedonism, in wanton cruelty? Nothing ever changes.

Maybe, Zoisite comes close to reflecting, that's why he spends so much time amongst humans.

Spurred by such thoughts, Izou finally lets out an irritated huff. Kyouko was nicer than he cares to be. "It's all /prepared/ well, I guess, but it just tastes flat. Like there's something missing -- like you're just following a recipe but your heart isn't in it." He clicks his chopsticks together. "You're better than this. Aren't you?"

At that, his poison-green eyes flick to Aoi's mentor.

<Pose Tracker> Juri Arisugawa [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.


Once the commentary has died down, the Chairman takes the stand. In the Blue Ribbon Society, there are no ballots; he receives the votes, it is said, by feeling the hearts of the judges as though they were his own.

He raises his arms and speaks with agonizingly slow, anticipatory longeur.

"In tonight's battle, we saw not a fight between old versus new, as some might mistake it -- but rather two bright, shining stars of the new generation, the inheritors of the world of cuisine. There are no losers in such a contest. The future will be made by all of you, who assembled on this floor."

His face is still hidden, but his voice is very grave.

"But it was not your hopes and dreams you fought for; this is undeniably true. It was that of your teachers, their standards you bore. And in this battle waged to determine the best leadership for Infinity Institute, the result is clear."

"The winner tonight is the incumbent team, lead by Kuniko Saito. Congratulations!"

The lights come up, the crowds roar, some confetti spills down and gets in the soup.

Off in a corner, a table has been laid to allow the winners and losers alike to come together and sample their cuisine. The Kyoto Culinary Institute students begin to do just that, smiling quite cheerfully at their Infinity rivals, and after the commentary given, no one more happily than Aoi, but Misono pauses at one of Gordon's considerable ears to drop a few words of poison into it.

"This isn't over," she promises. "This was just the warm-up. Enjoy your lukewarm victory while you can."

Then she's graciously thanking the Chairman for his time, and a few moments later, lost in the hubbub entirely.

<Pose Tracker> Lingshen Chao [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

Chao stands resolute while her dish is judged. She went full spice; though Tomoe's appraisal is in some ways harsh, she agrees with it on an analytical level. The Infinity spread is in general a little...not slapdash, but perhaps inconsistent is the word. She's used to her buns being not just the star, but practically the whole show on their own. As the verdicts come in; praise for the choices, occasionally questioning the wisdom of the dish itself, Chao tips forward in a bow, fingers clenched tight in her apron. "Thank you very much," she says quietly, politely, of her judgment. We learn from our mistakes, and the passion for trying carries us even through errors; though she feels a little winded, she won't let herself call it a regret. That wasn't a roasting, she tells herself. That was learning.

As her turn on the fire ends, she retreats with the others, allowing Kyoto to take the stage.

And she frowns, marginally. She got a bit of stick; she expected that, for serving what she did with as much heat as she did. This...this sounds more systemic. Interesting.

COMBAT: Mesozoic Maiden Lucy transforms into Lucy Iwai!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Kyouko Sakura!

<Pose Tracker> Souichi Tomoe [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

His fellow judges are putting words to thoughts - and if anything, Professor Tomoe gets only more irritated for it. It doesn't make sense, what hidden quality is making this soup better than that? What distilling of the component ingredients? What hidden spices? What core quality differentiates two meals both prepared with identical ingredients and skill?

He goes so far as to surreptitiously put a spoonful of each broth into a couple of test tubes taken from one pocket. He'll figure this out.

The Chairman's final judgment is equally incomprehensible and utterly expected all at the same time. He enjoyed the Infinity meal, and did not enjoy the Kyoto one. Ergo, the former proved victorious. This is logical. Illogical are the explanations given as to why - what does it matter that the chef wished to go further, if they accomplished the set goal?

Misono's challenge to Gordon goes unheard by Professor Tomoe. He smiles politely, rises to applaud his school's victory - and as soon as attention is off the Royal Box, turns to leave.

He's full, but inexplicably unsatisfied.

<Pose Tracker> Kuniko Saito [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

When Gordon speaks, Kuniko frowns to herself. Does it -

Really matter?

No, she decides after a long silent moment. He never told me... he must have had his reasons. Whatever they were... a lengthy musing, during which other people explain to Aoi how her dishes are falling short. That pang of sympathy comes back again. Am I just feeling that, she thinks, because I have pity...?

But then the Chairman speaks. His voice commands attention. Kuniko's face colors slightly as he speaks. Her pulse is pounding. Her mouth is dry. The mometns pass, and -

The incumbent -
Incumbent! That means us!!

Her mouth opens and closes. Her face feels funny, like she wants to laugh out tears. She doesn't know what to do with herself, her eyes turning upwards slightly and her hands pumping pointlessly into fists, then relaxing, and then

WITH A SUDDEN LEAP she is grasping onto Makoto, who is both nearest, tallest, and dearest. "We did it?! Gahhh that was amaziiiiingggggg" and with that she lets go, brushing off her top and continuing in a more controlled and subdued tone, "I mean, all of you, this -- I didn't -- I mean, you all...!!"

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The judging is a veritable roller-coaster of emotions for Makoto, from sharp anxiety at the fortune-teller's complaints to speechless joy when Kyouko praises her soup more highly than she could ever have hoped for, only to plunge from pride over Izou's reception of Inori's tart back into fretful doubt when the Kyoto contingent's dishes are presented in all their beauty--

The wait for the final verdit seems to draw out in agonizing slow-motion. When the Chairman says Kuniko's name, Makoto lets out a wordless squeal, and she might very well have glommed onto Kuniko if the older girl hadn't been faster.

She's laughing as she catches the leap, and she returns the hug fiercely, beaming around her at the whole team. "Congratulations!" she says, a little breathless. "Everybody did *great!*"