Needless to say, Mister Yu’s premonition came true. The next person that came up after Si Yi was naturally Si Er. He showed a cheeky smile while he looked at Xiao Ming and actually crossed his arms in front of his chest while the two judges looked at the bowl of rice cake soup in front of them. He could actually see the humor in the current situation.
Xiao Ming felt a little unnerved under his gaze considering that this person had sent him videos in a rather strange way not just once but twice by now. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that he was a little afraid of him. On the other hand, he could also perceive that this person didn’t have any malicious intentions and was just playing around. It was just … this manner of playing around was a little too frightening.
He picked up the spoon and had a taste, still feeling that it tasted the same. This time though, he was able to pick out a slight difference with the rice cakes. He spooned one of them out and held it in the camera, using the opportunity to make a comment. “These rice cakes are generally made rather well. I can see that you were going for a round shape. It is just that in some places, they are slightly uneven. It is hardly noticeable in the soup though and it doesn’t impair the taste. In fact, they are evenly cooked.” Saying this sentence, he had to stop again. This was the third time in a row that either of them said this sentence. One more time and he really wouldn’t know where to put his face as a judge. Thus, he could only look at Mister Yu whose expression also seemed a little troubled.
Mister Yu had a spoonful to taste the soup himself and then nodded. “Yes, I have to say so myself. Also, the taste … well, it is quite similar to the one from the participant before you.” In fact, he couldn’t help but think that if you were saying that the first rice cake soup that they had gotten was the perfect one, then the second one might be one step below because of the different amount of salt even though he didn’t feel that the difference was big enough to really make it a problem. Then this one would probably be counted as two points below since not only did it have a different amount of salt like the second one but it also had a slight unevenness to the rice cakes in the soup.
This was a bit as if the three had done this deliberately. As if they were trying to make sure that they all had the best chances to get into the show but that they were still different so that the first contestant’s chances would be better than theirs in case not all of them were able to get in. It was as if to them, this whole show was just a big joke that they could play.
To be honest, Mister Yu who had devoted most of his life to cooking was a bit angry. Even though this was a show on TV, he still wanted the contestants to take the cooking seriously. And this contestant … he clearly didn’t. The one before had still shown a good face but this one was clearly just laughing in their faces. How could he take that?
But still, as a judge, this wasn’t the time for him to say that. He would bring it up to Xiao Ming later on and see whether he thought that they should consider this when they decided on the participants. After all, they were the ones who would make that final decision. If they figured that this wasn’t alright, they might as well not let them into the first episode.
Thinking of that, he finally sent Si Er off with a few words, not bothering to say anything more. As for the other seventeen ninjas that came afterward, it depended a lot on their respective attitudes how he treated them. Si Qi managed to get a few words more considering that he showed a humble expression but some of the others were treated differently.
At this point, Xiao Ming was already praying silently that this stretch of the material wouldn’t make it into the episode that finally aired. If people saw this, they would certainly turn into a joke. And considering that Mister Yu was somebody who had a good name, he was afraid that most jokes would be made about him and Bright Yellow Water instead. That definitely wasn’t what he had wanted to see when he accepted the offer back then. And the worst was that this was not because his own skills weren’t up to par but because the participants were playing some kind of joke on them. Just thinking about it made him quite sad.
The time spent on the ninjas of the Si clan might feel excruciating, but in the end, there were only twenty people. After about half an hour, they had already finished with them and could lean back.
Both Mister Yu and Xiao Ming looked as if they had gone through quite an ordeal.
At that time, Si Jin was still standing at his cooking block, reluctant to go. In any case, this was the first time he was able to see Xiao Ming face-to-face. He really didn’t want to cut this opportunity short. And right now, there was still time remaining. He’d rather stand here and have a longer look before he finally left. Since that was what he thought, that was what Si Jin did. And naturally, if his master stayed, then Si Yi would also stay.
Si Er looked at the two of them and rubbed his chin. To be honest, contrary to them, he really didn’t feel the need to stay around. He thought for a while and then waved to the others. “In any case, I’ll go home already. Send me a message if you need me.” With that, he was out of there.
Quite a few of the others also had some face to lose so they excused themselves as well and left. The only ones still lingering around by the end were Shi Qi and Si Qi. Si Qi didn’t need to be mentioned but Si Shi Qi was actually looking for his wife. Since Tao Jin had been invited to the show as a special guest, she had to be somewhere around here. But even though he was her husband, he still hadn’t managed to even get a glimpse of her. Could it be that she was in an entirely different area? He really wanted to know! He hesitated for a while and finally went to Si Yi, whispering a few words to him before he was off searching for his wife.
Thus, in the first row, only Si Jin, Si Yi, and Si Qi remained. Si Yi glanced to the side and then pulled out his phone, sending a message.
Si Yi: [You need not stay around.]
He didn’t even wait for a response and just slid this phone back into his pocket, not even glancing at Si Qi. At this point in time, it was probably better to make it clear to him already. While that might cause some trouble in the short term, at the very least, they would be safe from nasty surprises in the future. That was what he had to go for.
Si Qi stared at the message, feeling like his heart was bleeding a little. Si Yi … was really too cold. Despite his years of silent perseverance, he didn’t even give him a few good words or maybe a bit of praise for having done well today. But that was probably the outcome he should’ve expected. Si Yi was heartless. Even more so than their master was.
He took a deep breath and then just left, not looking back. In any case, that man’s mind probably couldn’t be changed. But that didn’t mean that he would give up. He had tried for so long already, why would he stop now? He just had to wait a bit longer. Soon, there had to be some kind of result.
Back inside the hall, Mister Yu and Xiao Ming felt that they should get a bit of a break after this ordeal but things actually developed in an unexpected direction. After a couple of normal contestants, the person that came forward was a woman who was showing them a strained smile.
Xiao Ming was focused on the dish at first but when he looked up, he had a vague feeling of familiarity. He looked a little more closely and finally remembered: This person should be Fan Mei, that Misses Youya who had written that scathing post about him and Bright Yellow Water before.
Since that anonymous fan of Tao Jin’s had exposed her real identity, they had naturally gone to look for some kind of information. Thus, he had seen a couple of photos of her. In fact, it was pretty clear that whatever photo that person had uploaded was the most unflattering one that they had been able to find. Actually, Fan Mei was a good-looking woman. She had a rather grim air about her though, making her seem unapproachable. Maybe that was a bit of an occupational disease though. She probably had that habit of questioning everything and anyone around her.
Xiao Ming looked back at the plate in front of him, not sure what to think. Nin Sha … or rather Si Jin had clearly come to see him. That was what he had said before anyway. Those other people — even though he didn’t know what their relationship with Si Jin was —, they had clearly been there to accompany him. The dishes had shown as much.
But this Fan Mei … Xiao Ming was afraid that she might have some other motives. But still, her dish had managed to make it through the first taste test so she had to have some skill. He should just focus on his job and give it a taste as well and then say what he thought and pretend he didn’t even know who she was. That way, nobody could fault him.
When it came to this dish, Xiao Ming actually didn’t have anything much negative to say. Fan Mei had made lion’s head meatballs. There were three on the plate in front of him, arranged in a line, resting on a bed of greens with some dark sauce drizzled onto them. It really looked appetizing and the scent wafting off them wasn’t to be scoffed at either. This was definitely the kind of dish that invited people to take a bite.
Xiao Ming nodded and used the opportunity while Mister Yu cut one of the meatballs to get in the first appraisal. “Looking at your dish, the first thing that I’m noticing is the color arrangement. From the outside, the meatballs look as if they are very well done from all sides judging by the even color. It also fits very well with the greens beneath, making the dish look even more appetizing. I think that the idea to arrange them next to each other like this for the presentation is also very good. And the white plate gives the dish room to stand out.”
Mister Yu nodded along with everything that he said. “Well, after cutting, I have to say that inside, these are indeed done quite well. They are still fluffy on the inside and a bit crisper on the outside.” He took a bite and narrowed one eye, thinking about it for a bit.
To be honest, even though he was unhappy with what the ninjas of the Si clan had done, he also couldn’t deny that all twenty of them had made a very good dish. The contestants after that had felt a bit lacking in comparison.
This time, the presentation was very good as if this contestant had done this quite often already. Clearly, she was a seasoned hobby cook at least. He did have to say though that the taste was once again not quite up to par in comparison with the ninjas. While the taste wasn’t bad, it was slightly bland. “I think you could’ve gone a little more out with the seasoning. It is still a very nice dish but if you don’t use more of the sauce, then the meat itself is a bit bland.”
Xiao Ming also took a bite and tasted some of the greens at the side, feeling that Mister Yu was right. “I think that the combination of the meat and the greens is good though. It gives you a hearty but also fresh feeling at the same time. Unfortunately, the greens also aren’t that strong in taste. Maybe you could choose something different to substitute these if you don’t want to season the meat as much.”
Fan Mei was mostly staring at Xiao Ming, wanting to find something that he did wrong. She did have to say though, he hadn’t really critiqued much and the one thing he had said had also been criticized by Mister Yu. Furthermore, he had even given a suggestion on how to deal with it in the future. It was a bit difficult to be angry at that. Well, she would continue to observe!
Thinking of that, she nodded and thanked them for the feedback before she left and had to wait for the final results just like everyone else.
When she stepped down and took the stairs down the stage, she couldn’t help but see the two men that were waiting in the first row even though they had finished already. She narrowed her eyes, wondering what exactly was up with that.
Despite her trying to dig into the matter, she hadn’t managed to get a picture of Si Jin or Si Yi as his assistant. Thus, she didn’t know just who they were and just felt that it was odd for them to stand there like that. Well, right now, that wasn’t what she was interested in. Rather than that, she still wanted to find that brother of hers first. Thus, Fan Mei left, restoring peace to the venue once more.
In the first row, Si Yi’s gaze followed her. “That was Si Shi Qi’s sister.”
Si Jin’s gaze flickered over as well before he turned back to Xiao Ming. “Leave her be.” He didn’t want to bother about this kind of insignificant person. What she had done before had already been dealt with by Si Er. Now, she was just one more person that he was in a contest against. And notwithstanding the fact that they were nineteen people helping him secure places, he was sure that he would be able to beat her.
He had worked hard in the last four weeks. And from now on, there would be one week to prepare for each episode. He didn’t believe that he would do a bad job in any of the episodes. By the end, he would surely win that date with Xiao Ming and be able to confess his love to him face-to-face. There was no doubt in his mind about that.