The catfish dough seemed like a white background with a green dot in it. Frankly, it wasn’t splendid nor was a nice to see. But meatball was usually eaten like that. It was boring and seemed hard to eat. Instead of it being a disadvantage was rather an unique characteristic.
Jo Minjoon rolled the dough roundly with his thumb and his index finger. And then, he put it on the steamer. He was thinking of cooking it like that.
The next part was to cook the stew properly. Jo Minjoon sliced the garlics thinly and the scallions. Then, he greased the wok and started to fry it like that. Of course, after all he had done, it wasn’t that he changed the course of his cooking. Before cooking the stew, you gave it an oily sensation. And depending on that, it could change the hot flavor.
When the garlic and the scallions were cooked to an extent, Jo Minjoon put in the onions. The onions, that were cut horizontally, lost all of its strength when put on the scorching wok. And it was time to put in the gravy. Jo Minjoon covered the sieve with a cotton cloth, and poured the gravy on top of it. On one hand, the sieve. On the other one, the pot. The gravy wasn’t much but still, it was a rather bothersome posture.
When the gravy flowed through the wok, the moment the water met the oil, it produced a sizzling sound. And at the same time, the gravy’s deep aroma flowed. The participants who were near him couldn’t help but turn to it. It was that deep. And at the same time Jo Minjoon was sure. That he had succeeded. He could guess that only by smelling. It wasn’t because he had made it many times before. But the aroma contained the flavor itself. The fresh flavor of the vegetables, and the unique clean flavor of the catfish.
Of course he had to taste it to know if it was salty or not. Jo Minjoon seasoned it with soy sauce and salt. He couldn’t use much of the soy sauce. He could season it, but it would dye it with it’s black colour if used too much. Then you would wonder if you could only use salt, but the flavor was different. The saltiness of the salt and of the soy sauce were completely different. And it didn’t always have a salty flavor. It had the flavor of soy sauce. It was sour, and had a sharp taste. That was soy sauce.
Now it wasn’t different to a completed dish. But he didn’t want to end it like this. To only present the gravy with the meatballs, he couldn’t help but remembering what Alan had pointed out to him before.
So what he chose was catfish skin fry. Jo Minjoon buried the already peeled skin on starch. And then started to fry it on the greased pan. It didn’t take that long. After putting the whitely fried catfish skin on top of the counter, the only thing left to do was to wait.
Jo Minjoon looked at his surroundings. The participants were still preparing their dishes. Jo Minjoon that was looking at them all over stopped at one person. It was Kaya. On her frying pan surged flames to what she was cooking. Was she cooking a chinese dish? Jo Minjoon searched through his memories. She was probably making Tangsuyuk(탕수육).
Kaya was british american, but her dishes weren’t limited to western ones. She really cooked a wide variety of foods.
Because of that, Kaya talked about her background on broadcast. Since she was small, she had to help her mother on selling fruits. Kids their age were playing with toys and dolls, while she played together with the market merchants. However, that experience helped tremendously on her tasting experiences. Because there were various ingredients and foods that couldn’t normally be seen, nor tasted.
Of course, if a normal person was in that situation, even if they knew the varieties, they wouldn’t know deeply about it’s flavor. Because it was market food, it was really simple. And the complicated thing could only be the grilled eel Kaya had cooked before.
However, even if they ate the same dishes, Kaya tasted different things. For normal people a minimum difference couldn’t be felt. But Kaya felt one grain of salt as one tablespoon of it. Even on the same dishes, if she seasoned it once, it became even more delicious. Because it was that kind of ability, the market could be the perfect school for her.
Even the way Kaya approached cooking, the method was different. When a part timer that worked on a roasted food on a skewer (꼬치구이) house flipped the stick following the recipe, Kaya could know how much it took him to flip it, and how the sliced parts of the meat could influence it’s roasting. It wasn’t that she was doing it consciously. She comprehended it all naturally.
She was born with it. It couldn’t be explained otherwise. Jo Minjoon got a thought. That he wanted to be a judge. That he wanted to try Kaya’s food on the judge’s seat. Aside from cooking, just knowing that the dish was made by Kaya held great prestige.
It was at that moment that he was looking at her. Alan approached Jo Minjoon’s table. After he saw the pots over the fire, he opened his mouth.
“What are you making?”
“Catfish meatball stew.”
“Catfish meatball stew? Hmm… Did you fry this skin?”
“Yes. A long time ago, I saw once that people from southern asia ate it like a snack.”
“Do you think it will suit your dish?”
“Yes. It will.”
Jo Minjoon’s had a pretty confident attitude. Even Alan, that was listening to him got surprised. He had been a judge for all of the previous seasons, but he had never seen someone this confident. Because, even if you did cook well, in front of the judges, you couldn’t help but showing no confidence.
Alan frowned. Normally there were two cases for this. The first was where you had real experience and talent, and the second was the case that you did know how to give it flavor, but didn’t know how to make the best out of it. Honestly, Alan thought it was the latter. Jo Minjoon was young. He was only 21 by American standards. To be confident on his dish when he didn’t receive proper education, he was really young.
“…….I expect that your dish turns out as good as your confidence.”
Alan talked like that and left. Jo Minjoon felt that Alan didn’t receive his confidence that well. However he didn’t care. Because he was going to let his dish do the talking.
The given time was almost finished. On the cooking preparations, there were many who got kicked out because of their mistakes. They numbered almost twenty. Jo Minjoon took out the meatballs from the steamer. Fortunately, they were perfectly cooked. As soon as he opened the steamer, he could feel the aroma of the fish, tofu and coriander. And that sensation was so charming he wanted to immediately put it in his mouth. So he did.
And a smile formed on Jo Minjoon’s face. Could it be because of the satisfaction that the dish was well made? Or the natural smile that blossomed when you ate something delicious? Either way, the conclusion was the same. The meatball was perfect.
Jo Minjoon poured the gravy on a concave dish, and placed the meatballs on top of it. The catfish fried skin was acting as a garnish but, it had a quite boring look. Maybe even this time he was going to hear complaints about his decorations.
However just because of that, he didn’t want to get greedy and put on a lot of garnishes. Because if you wanted to give a momentary pleasure and forget pleasuring the tongue, it was just meaningless.
“Stop! Everybody stop your hands. Tiime is over.”
Alan shouted with a sharp voice. Sighs could be heard here and there. Some were sighs of relief and some were dejected sighs. Jo Minjoon slightly glanced at Kaya. There was nothing different with the past. In front of her was placed a well done catfish tangsuyuk.
There wasn’t time to waste and the judging started immediately. There were many people that got disqualified while cooking, but there were still as many as 60 participants left. There wasn’t time to make it too long, so sometimes, the judges didn’t even eat the dishes and evaluated depending of how well was the interior cooked.
In the middle of cooking, Jo Minjoon felt a strange feeling. It was that right in front of his eyes, many people were being disqualified. At times because of a bad slice, and on others, because of a bite of the meat. It seemed like that scenery contained the chefs world. Cooking. A world that solely depended on that one thing.
There wasn’t even a word of sympathy, nor encouragement. The only thing was ‘it’s delicious’ and ‘it’s not’. There were also times that they threw the cooking on the dish to the bin. You could shed tears by those excessive behaviors, but Jo Minjoon could understand them. It was unacceptable. For the ingredients to meet the wrong people and for them to make something that couldn’t be called cooking was something terrible. And much more if that was someone who was dreaming of becoming a chef.
And the judging time came to Jo Minjoon. The judges, after looking at Jo Minjoon’s catfish meatball stew, put it on their mouths. The catfish fried skin that made crumbling sounds inside the mouth accompanied the chewing meatballs. The three didn’t say a thing and just kept chewing. After that, they drank some of the soup. The one who opened his mouth was Joseph. He said shortly.
< The 100 chefs (3) > End
Translators note: Regular chapter of the week! The releasing time will be changed once again to 7:00am. Also I have added a short glossary that will be updated slowly and will be editing and fixing old chapters little by little. Thanks for reading and for your support!
Regular chapters on tues, thurs, sat, and sun!
Translator : Subak
Proofreader : Maled