Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma is a Japanese manga series that was more recently developed into a very popular anime series. The term Shokugeki (食戟 Shokugeki) itself, is one that started off in Tōtsuki Culinary Academy – the culinary school where this anime is mostly set in, that refers to cooking duels. Being an avid reader and viewer of this series, I was undoubtedly entranced with the idea of two of my favourite cooks duelling it out in the kitchen.
Nathan Jones is a Toronto-based cook that is well seasoned (no pun intended) in the culinary industry. It is my strongest opinion that he is one of the most underrated beings to exist within the industry. If you haven’t had the privilege of experiencing his work, then you really are missing out. I can comfortably say that he is one of my all-time favourite cooks and I am so excited to watch him grow and take over Toronto’s culinary industry, in time. Taylor Goring (my darling partner) and the underdog in the game, comes equipped with a mind full of grand imagination – especially when it comes to food, and the thirst to always rise to the occasion. As someone who has Crohn’s but never lets this get in the way of playing with flavour and always delivering, he is someone who I look to with respect and genuine awe when handed a plate he’s built. To say I was excited about this duel would be an understatement – what with, Taylor challenging Nathan in the theme of desserts and pastries, one that is Nathan’s specialities – focusing on ice cream.
Nathan came up with this beauty of a platter which hosts a graham cracker crumb, chocolate crumb, charred homemade marshmallow, graham cracker ice cream, & wood smoke. The ice cream was creamy, smooth and had an impactful flavour that was really reminiscent of a childhood memory I didn’t even have. That is, I remembered something I hadn’t ever experienced. It was beautiful.
The crumbs brought a beautiful layer of texture to this dish, and also posed the indulger with a juxtaposition of sweet and almost a savoury, salty flavour – really rounding the dish out. The homemade marshmallows were a bit harder to cut into as per the judges, but for the eater that isn’t focused on being prim and proper, that meant nothing. They tasted phenomenal – so much so that I took the rest of the marshmallows home. The wood smoke really brought everything on this plate together to create not a dessert, but an experience as I had earlier mentioned. And in my humble opinion, it really takes an artist of a certain calibre to be able to do that to those experiencing their work.
Taylor came up with something a little out of the ordinary, leaving us all pleasantly surprised. He built his dish over a soy caramel, a soft Chinese 5 spice meringue, topped with a roasted garlic, ginger & miso ice cream and garnished with a sesame tuille and powdered rayu oil.
Though these flavours were all impactful in their own right, they worked beautifully together. With it being his first time making any of these components of his dish, he did run into a few issues. The most prominent one in terms of flavour would be that as the soy caramel warmed up to room temperature, the soy flavours came out more than the caramel. In all honesty, where he was lacking in presentation, he delivered with imagination and flavour. His dish packed a punch and left the diner with the remnants of the powerful and unique flavour combination he come up with.
All this being said, Nathan was the victor of this Shokugeki. Both contestants worked hard and put forth beautifully explosive flavours, but Nathan’s years of experience and expertise lead to his victory. As someone who had tasted both dishes, I can say that this was a tough call.
The only thing that didn’t sit right with me was when one of the judges advised Taylor to bring down his flavours to meet ‘Anglo-Saxon’ flavour profiles as this may be ‘too much’. If I’m going to be brutally honest, this was an unnecessary critique that is a load of bullsh-t, pardon my language. I do think that Taylor’s dish could have been a little bit more cohesive and well plated in order to let all the components shine. However, dimming flavours down for an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ customer is a thought process that can kindly kiss my a$$.
All in all, both of these fantastic kitchen creators (as I like to call well-deserving cooks) did a fantastic job. I look forward to their growth as individuals and to the next Shokugeki.