“Finally, we reached the final dish. How are you feeling, Head Chef Zuo?” Chef Li asked.
“How is Ao Pi feeling?” Instead of answering, Head Chef Zuo frowned and asked Ao Pi, his partner for today.
That’s right. This Rolling Crab Dumpling dish was supposed to be Head Chef Zuo’s signature dish, yet Ao Pi happened to be good in crabs as well. Since this dish was very troublesome to make, the two decided to work together.
“Everything is perfectly fine,” Ao Pi was filled with confidence. He felt that his cooperation with Head Chef Zuo was not as simple as one plus one equals two.
But after hearing Ao Pi’s words, Head Chef Zuo’s frown deepened.
“Head Chef Zuo?” Chef Li could not understand what was going on with Head Chef Zuo.
“I’m somewhat worried,” said Head Chef Zuo seriously.
He was a comparatively older chef among them and he had been in the industry for a long time. Even his restaurant was opened when he was young and had been in business for about 20 years.
Naturally, he was no longer leading the kitchen of the restaurant nowadays. Instead, it was his best disciple, his pride and joy. The disciple was no worse than him in cooking skills and he had only decided to participate in this match to teach Yuan Zhou a lesson since the online reviews were really too critical.
However, although the disciple was quite good, the issue was that this disciple would normally manage the kitchen instead of personally cooking. He would only cook for special occasions or important guests.
And that was unknown to Head Chef Zuo. Now, Head Chef Zuo was worried that he would be the one to be taught a lesson instead.
“What are you worried about? I’m also good at cooking crabs. With the two of us working together, there won’t be any problems,” said Ao Pi confidently.
“I’m not worried about our dish. But that Yuan Zhou does not look like a pushover either,” said Head Chef Zuo.
“Did you discover anything, Head Chef Zuo?” asked Chef Li.
“Not really,” Head Chef Zuo shook his head.
“What are you worried about, then? You must have been thinking too much about this and got yourself worried. We have to thank that Head Chef Yuan for providing us the first opportunity to participate in a match as an alliance like this,” said Chef Li teasingly.
“I think our seafood alliance should work even more closely together after this match,” said Ao Pi.
Chef Li nodded in agreement, “Yes, we can turn the alliance into a brand.”
In his opinion, so long as a brand was popular, there would be customers. The actual taste of the food was of secondary importance.
This thought originated from the sheep mentality of the masses. If a day arrived when the masses became thoroughly skeptical, things would prove to be interesting.
“Forget about the match. Look at Yuan Zhou, he’s not the least bit worried. From the start till now, his expression has never changed. Looks like he is very confident as well,” said Head Chef Zuo. Even with his rich experience that came with age, he was unable to stay as calm as Yuan Zhou.
But he was correct. Regardless of when Yuan Zhou was cooking or when the judges were tasting the dishes, he maintained a deadpan face, a face neither anxious nor happy.
“Haha, Head Chef Zuo is worrying too much. I heard before that this fellow never has any expression on his face, the so-called deadpan face is very suitable for him,” said Ao Pi with a laugh.
“I hope so,” said Head Chef Zuo. Inwardly, he was still slightly anxious.
Little did they know that Yuan Zhou’s mind was actually very busy. He was hard-pressed for time for dinner preparations of the restaurant and thus was busy thinking about that.
Soon, they stopped talking as the judges were starting to eat.
This time, the assistant did not need to divide the dish. Rather, the entire plate was served, with the judges reaching to the dish with their respective chopsticks.
As usual, prior to eating, they would first rinse their mouths with green tea, wash their hands and finally removing any lingering flavor with warm water before starting to eat.
Yuan Zhou’s dish was served on a large round plate. There were markings of cyan sea waves on the bottom half of the plate, with the crab resting on the waves.
In a way, the dish looked like the crab were floating up and down on the waves, giving off quite an artistic feeling.
The dish’s name was Big Crabs and hidden underneath the shells were the crab dumplings. The dumpling had the color of white jade, soaked amid the red gravy.
When the shell was lifted, ignoring the pincers, the dish looked like a sun slowly rising on the sea’s horizon, beautiful and appetizing.
“Not bad,” Zhou Shijie said.
“Indeed,” said Zhang Yan.
“The quality of the Dungeness Crabs are that good? To the point the meat is all white jade in color?” asked Wang Xiang.
“I guess so? But something feels different?” Bai Xiaoxiao hesitated as he did not know how to cook, even if he was the supplier of these crabs.
“We’ll know after eating,” said Wang Xiang. Then, he shifted his gaze at Zhou Shijie and waited expectantly for Zhou Shijie to start eating.
After all, this was a match and Zhou Shijie and Zhang Yan were the head judges. And of the two, Zhou Shijie had the higher status. Thus, he would be the first to eat each time.
Both Wang Xiang and Bai Xiaoxiao took great care to adhere to this unspoken etiquette.
Even when they were eating the Eight Clawed Flaming Mountain earlier, Zhou Shijie was the one to prod the tentacles, causing the “mountain” to be set aflame before everyone started eating.
“Ok, let’s start,” said Zhou Shijie as he reached out with his chopsticks.
Initially, Zhou Shijie thought that the crab meat would be hard to pick up since it had been made into the form of a dumpling, yet he found that the dumpling’s texture was similar to tofu and he could easily pick up a piece of it with his chopsticks.
Even after picking up a piece off the dumpling, the dumpling still looked intact with the meat all still joined together. The only change was the missing piece that had been picked off.
“In the food industry, there is a popular belief that seawater crabs are incomparable to river crabs, river crabs are incomparable to Potamidae crabs, while Potamidae crabs are incomparable to lake crabs. Therefore, I am curious how this seawater crab that is the last on the list will taste like,” said Wang Xiang expectantly.
“True. Lake crabs do not need any salt or vinegar for it to be rich with flavors. But seawater crabs have a natural type of fishy scent, with comparatively rougher meat as well,” said Zhang Yan with a nod before he reached out with his chopsticks as well.
“With these comments by you guys, I will have a hard time selling my crabs in the future,” said Bai Xiaoxiao helplessly.
“Is that even a concern for you? Forget it, let’s start eating,” said Wang Xiang with a smile.
It was natural for them to have so many things to say about crabs. Crabs have always been a widely loved food since ancient times. Examples of crab lovers were Liu Chengxun of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Bi Zhuo of Eastern Jin Dynasty, and Li Yu of Late Ming and Early Qing Dynasties. Li Yu was known to be crazy over crabs and considered crabs as an extension of his life. From this, it was obvious how tasty crabs were. Then again, to be precise, all these historical figures loved lake crabs.
Yet, Yuan Zhou made this dish with seawater crabs. Therefore, one could say that he was using a different ingredient.
Wang Xiang was good at making lobsters, also a seawater organism. He was very clear on how difficult it could be cooking these shelled seawater organisms.
He directly stuffed the tofu-like crab meat into his mouth.
In truth, this was not the perfect season to eat Dungeness Crabs. December was the best month to eat these crabs.
Therefore, Wang Xiang had a lower expectation, yet he found that he had been greatly mistaken the moment the crab entered his mouth.
“This? This taste?” Wang Xiang’s eyes went wide in disbelief.
The meat felt like tender tofu, yet the moment he stuffed the meat into his mouth, it dissolved into strains of meat immediately. On top of that, it was incredibly chewy.
Since the meat was made into a form of dumpling, the sweet natural flavor of the meat was preserved, causing the meat to be extremely rich in flavor upon chewing.
With each chew, one felt like this crab was actually being eaten in the right season for it, the flavor in perfect harmony.
After Wang Xiang chewed on it, he discovered that there was a tiny amount of roe within as well. The roe had been extracted and perfectly blended with the meat. The roe and meat rolled around his tongue, contrasting each other yet fused perfectly at the same time, complementing each other.
“Wu, delicious,” Wang Xiang lamented inwardly. He reached out again, aiming for the part soaked within the gravy this time.
When he picked up the part there, he found that the meat had a faint reddish color, as if it was a precious stone wrapped by a layer of red sand.
Resting on the brown chopsticks, the combination looked incredibly beautiful.