previously Run it! ch10
The day of the competition, I arrived with Praykina and Gigi, taking a seat in the row of folding chairs meant for the finalists. The teen MC took to the microphone.
She was a well-dressed member of the student council with her hair pulled back in pigtails. If I had to guess, she was clearly performing the role not for extra credit, but rather for the chance to be on local television. “A brief announcement before the proceedings,” she said reading from a notebook. “In memory of distinguished alumni Remy Moceanu, the judges for final competition will be the entire top seven reunited from Mr. Moceanu’s year where he, at fifteen years old, tied for second place. Will the following please join me on stage, beginning with that year’s first-place winner, Professor Akira Hayama.”
Uncle Akira walked on stage, taking a seat in a specially set up row. He was looking sexy in a dress shirt, and khakis. The audience let him know as much, with various immature cat-calling.
I wanted to say something, but my mind was focused on the fact that there were seven seats; seven judges, a truly terrifying number even if a few of them were family and friends.
“Next, Hilaria Arato!” the MC waved her arms in a comically overdramatic style, like a game show host or ringmaster.
That was not a name I had heard in a while. As far as I knew she was a holistic vegan chef who may or may not have had a crush on Aunt Erica.
The tall woman with long purple hair took a seat, in a long formal gown. “So, not only did you have sex with Miss Erica you got her knocked up?” she said as she nudged Akira. Clearly, she was bitter.
Thankfully, her words were not caught by any microphone, but Praykina had to resist the urge to laugh. “She actually wanted me to intern at her clinic. I swear she’s obsessed with my mother.”
The sound of my cousin’s voice caused the woman to turn. “Hello Kiki,” she said with the biggest smile.
“Hello, Ms. Arato,” Praykinia replied with an over-the-top, beauty queen smile.
“You look more and more like your mother every day.”
“Thank you, Ma’am, that means a lot.” As soon as the woman turned around Prayikina made the ‘she’s crazy’ sign with her finger.
“Next, Tomas Aldini!” Gigi’s father took his seat, adjusting his tie. “So nice to see you, Hillary.”
The purple-haired hippy shook his hand politely.
“Now,” the MC motioned to the fire exit. “Please welcome, Slate Mimasaka!”
“Jamie’s dad?” Prayikina asked.
“Yeah,” I said with a raised eyebrow. “You look surprised. He made the finals when he was our age.”
The giant of a man looked as brutish as ever. For whatever reason, he rode all the way up to the stage on a loud, massive motorcycle. I was surprised the stage didn’t collapse under their combined weight.
“Oh come on!” Tomas grumbled, speaking the words that everyone else was thinking, “he didn’t even graduate!” To his credit, Gigi’s father looked genuinely embarrassed that his words were picked up by the mic.
“I left this shithole because I got the opportunity to cook in Hollywood, unlike you!” Slate grabbed the mic from the frightened student MC. “Do you still work at your Daddy’s place putting out spaghetti and meatballs?”
“Yes, my family is very important to me,” Tomas said from his seat, “which is why, unlike some people, I stuck around to raise my kid.”
I silently mouthed, ‘O.M.G.” This was getting out of hand. Something had to be done.
“Hi, Dad!” Jamie shouted from the audience. “Look, Mom’s here!”
I looked up to see what he was talking about. Jamie’s mother was pale, like a ghost, with deep dark eyes that seemed otherworldly. She wore a classy black suit, looking totally professional.
“Oh, God,” Slate said as he cowered, comically covering his eyes. “Is it still looking at me?”
“You call the mother of your child, ‘it’?” Tomas asked with a noticeable laugh.
Slate slouched his shoulders, looking much more humble and defeated. “Look, I am always there for my son. He spent last summer with me in California. I just need an ocean between me and that thing!”
Akira reached for the mic. “Slate, if you please. We would like to continue.”
“Yes, professor,” Slate said the last part with a note of sarcasm as he relinquished the mic back to the MC.
“Um, thanks. Continuing on we have Megan Yukihira formerly Tadokoro.”
Megan took her seat. “Welcome, Slate,” she said with her usual sweetness. “Sam and I were so honored you were able to grace us with your presence.”
“Next, Alicia Nakari!”
My blood ran cold. This was not a surprise; she like Slate was more than worthy of an invite but to actually see her caused a visceral panic attack.
My mother, in her white pants suit, and black heels, made sure to glare at Megan before sitting down. She didn’t even both to say hello’; not to me or anyone. I assumed she was just glad to not be excluded from the reunion, this time.
Prayikina held my hand. “It will be ok. She holds no power over you, not here not ever. You will be ok.”
I nodded through tears.
“And finally, Principal Samual Yukihira!” Principal Sam took his seat with a huge smile. “What?” he looked to his classmates. “I wanted you all to get reacquainted. The seating arrangement is certainly not because each and every one of you trapped me into being interim principal for the past six years.”
After a brief introduction to the rules and theme of the final competition. Prayikina and I walked to our stations or at least we were supposed to. I was too afraid to let go of her hand. “Elena look at me. Your mom judging the finals means 1 of 2 things. Either she admits you are an amazing cook or awards her vote to the daughter of her arch-nemesis.” Prayikina looked to the judge’s table “The only loser here is Ali Nakiri!”
“Prayikina!” Principal Sam shouted from his seat at the judging table. “Do not make me disqualify you.”
“My apologies Principal Soma,” she replied with a girly curtsy.
“Ladies to your stations!” shouted the enthusiastic MC. “You have until the moon passes over the arena!” She motioned to the massive glass ceiling which offered a rather impressive view of the night sky. “So, about an hour give or take. And your time starts now!”
Prayikina gave me one last hug. “You good?”
“Yeah, I am. thanks.” I put my hand in my pocket, reaching for my father’s bandana. I didn’t want to put it on just yet but to feel it gave me a much-needed boost of energy.
We rushed to the supply area, collecting a shopping basket full of items. I knew I could go back at any time so I just picked up enough to get started; flour, salt, and other dried spices, along with some of the smaller cuts of fish.
The MC walked over to Prayikina who was setting up her station with a wide variety of custom cookware. “Kiki Hayama, what will you be presenting to the judges.”
“Tamagoyaki,” Prayikina quickly replied, clearly annoyed. She seemed to be looking for a particular pan; the square-shaped vessel commonly used to create the signature Japanese dish. “Where the fuck is it!”
“You’re making a rolled egg?” the MC asked, clearly confused and a little disappointed.
“A filled Tamagoyaki. Is that okay with you?” my cousin asked as she finally located her pan. It was a newer model, a non-stick version, unlike the ones available in the supply pantry. “Get away from my station, I need to concentrate.” She seemed genuinely aggravated which was odd for Prayikina.
My time had come. Looking around at the intense crowd; I wanted, no, I needed to put a smile on her face. I glanced up from my station, looking over at my cousin with big doll-like eyes. “Hey, Kiki.”
My cousin glanced at me with noticeable anger. “What?”
“My dish is coming along great.” That was a lie considered we just started. “I just know the mix of spice; sweet, savory, hot,” I spoke slow and clearly into the microphone at my station. “I hope it blows Professor Hayama’s clothes off,” I said with a smirk.
The crowd went wild. If Akira was not my uncle I would have been much too embarrassed to continue, but as it stood I could only hope he would be willing to forgive me for what I was about to do.
Prayikina raised an eyebrow. “What did you say?”
I comically licked my lips, giving my best Marylin Monroe impression. “I want to see your dad’s muscular chest, his tight abs, and his big, powerful,” I made sure to raise my voice as the crowd went silent.
Hilaria Arato snickered, speaking directly into her assigned microphone. “How does Remy’s underage daughter know it’s big and powerful?” The woman had to know I was kidding but she was having too much fun.
“Tiger tattoo,” I added. “The big powerful tiger that starts on his shoulder and ends just below his ribs, it’s super cool.” I turned to the judge’s table, blowing the entire panel a kiss. I then mimed a gesture to the crowd. “What did you all think I was talking about?” The arena burst into laughter. I could even hear people cheering me on.
“Good one Elena.” Prayikina paused her work as she started to laugh, followed by a slow clap. “Fine, I promise no more jokes about playing with your dad’s balls.”
“You can play with my dad’s balls as much as you like. I’ll just lay in bed thinking about your dad’s big powerful tiger,” I said, moaning like an adult film star. “I bet when he works out those muscles become really hard, maybe even throbbing and your mom has to rub on him to release the deep tension.”
Principal Sam cleared his throat. “Ladies, please return your focus to your dishes.” The man clearly was struggling to maintain his composure, spitting on the mic as he choked back laughter. “Akria is turning a shade of pink I did not think was possible with his complexion.”
He wasn’t wrong; Akira looked like he wanted to crawl under a rock and Hilaria was laughing so hard she could barely breathe.
I felt slightly guilty. “I love you Uncle Akria,” I shouted, flashing a peace sign.
Akira leaned forward, to speak in the microphone. “You are your father’s daughter.”
The MC made her way to my station. “Elena Rose, what are you working on?”
“Don’t touch that,” I said, noticing what she was looking at.
“Is that a culinary 3d printer?” she asked, taking a respectful step back.
“Yes is it.” I started the batter for the 3d printer, a mix of starches, spices, and shrimp powder with a minimal amount of water.
“Elena Nakiri, are you making a three-dimensional shrimp chip?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied. “Hopefully they will turn out as good as they did in the lab of the molecular gastronomy club.” That was where I’d rented out the equipment from.
“As I remember that was the club your mother won the leadership of as a first-year student.”
“You would be correct,” I said looking towards the judging table. “And my father, Remy Moceanu, defended that very club when Former Principal Azami attempted to shut down all of the clubs,”
“Your father was quite the bad-ass. Do you see yourself following in his footsteps?”
“As a bad-ass? Oh yeah, totally.”
“A bad-ass warrior-artist of a chef with a passion for seafood and culinary arts,” the flustered MC clarified.
“While I love my father’s appreciation for seafood, I also love molecular gastronomy,” I made sure to look towards my mother, “I always have.”
The MC went to the opposite side of my station, near my burner. “And what about your soup?”
“The soup you’re looking at is a seafood and tomato-based broth inspired by a recipe my late grandmother created.” I took a few liberties, making it my own (making use of the pantry and supply closet.)
“Remy Moceanu’s mother? What a true multi-generational treat!”
“Yup,” I replied through gritted teeth. “The original Elena.” I was starting to understand why Praytikina had told the MC to leave her the fuck alone.
The MC’s surgery sweet, persona was like nails on a chalkboard. “The school paper already asked you about this, but you have quite a diverse cultural heritage.”
“Yes,” I said with a forced smile. “My grandfather was Japanese but my grandmother was Russian. My father was born in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.” That was a fact I had committed to memory. It was a place I wanted to set foot in someday.
“And your mother?” The MC asked.
I stopped working, looking at her with a somewhat irritated glare. My mother’s heritage was well known as was her legacy and her family fortune. “What about my mother? I’m winning this for my Dad.”
“Well ok!” the MC walked away, back to the center of the arena.
I didn’t hear what she said next. My mind was caught up in a memory. Yesterday, after I arrived back at the dorms, my grandmother was waiting for me with my ‘inheritance.’
“Hi, Grandma,” I said as I laid on my bed.
“Did you read the article about the scholarship foundation?” she asked. “I was going to end the memorial with a speech regarding the creation of said foundation but as usual your mother had to be the center of attention.”
“So true,” I said staring up at the ceiling. I was hopelessly lost in thought, picking out shapes and figures in the textured plaster.
“Thankfully the local paper was willing to post my speech as part of the obituary.”
“I know, I saw it.” I made myself comfortable on my pillow since I knew my grandmother could not resist reading her speech aloud.
“As students of the academy in addition to your tuition and living expenses, all food battle ingredients must be bought out of hand. This limits the types of students who could even apply for a place here. In fact, had Remy Moceanu not been a member of my family he would have likely never made it here, much less graduated.”
‘Yeah, I know,’ I said to myself, resisting the urge to kick my grandmother out of my room. Dad owed you everything; we all know that, the whole fucking world knows that.
“So in honor of my beloved son-in-law, the father of my darling grandchild, I am establishing the Remy Moceanu scholarship foundation. This foundation, headed by yours truly, will seek out talented young chefs from low-income areas of the world and invite them to our illustrious academy. Current students facing financial hardships are also encouraged to apply for grants.”
“How kind of you,” I muttered out loud.
My grandma took a seat on my bed. “Your father was a shining example of what an individual can achieve when given the opportunity. His memory will live on through the scholarship foundation and of course through his extraordinary daughter.” She lifted a briefcase to her lap.
“Is that’s Dad’s?” I rolled over to get a better look. My grandma was holding my father’s knife case.
My grandmother nodded. “Prior to arriving in Japan, your father told me to bring his knives with me when I arrived for the finals.”
“Because he didn’t want to risk having to check them in as luggage, and you have your personal plane,” I said with a laugh as I blinked tears from my eyes. This was no ordinary case. The outside was a normal piece of luggage made of the finest leather a d brass, but inside was the real knife kit.
“Your father knew with my schedule I would be flying in just before the finals. Elena, your father never doubted you for a moment. The idea of you failing to make the final two, It was never even a possibility. That is how much he believed in you. So to you, my beautiful, talented granddaughter- I present your father’s knives. When you hold them, I hope you feel his spirit.”
With trembling hands, I opened the dirty cloth wrapper. It held a collection of knives, in a shark-skin holder. They were not new, or even in good condition. But they were there; a cleaver, a butcher’s knife, and several smaller parking knives, carving blades, and even a fish scaling knife. They belonged to my father, my grandmother, and even possibly my grandfather before he was lost at sea. I picked up one of the knives, it was strong, heavy, sturdy, like my dad’s legacy.
Under the moonlight of the arena, I held the well-worn hilt of the scaling knife. It was one entire piece of metal, sculpted by hand with fire and stone. I looked towards the center of the arena, so locate the whereabouts of the talkative MC.
She was standing on a box with the cameras in her face. “There you have it, folks, the epic battle between the Nakiri cousins Elena and Prayikina. Stay tuned for all the excitement to come!”
I rolled my eyes. The circus-like spectacle was all too much. “It’s a battlefield, right daddy?” I said to the knife. My goal would be to put out the best dish I could but Prayikina was not the enemy. I looked to the judge’s table, at my actual rival. My mother was looking back at me. I wanted to flip her the bird, cuss her out, or any number of obscene, hate-filled gestures. But that’s what she would have expected from me; my Dad’s anger, courage, and strength. So, at that moment I made the conscious decision; just to spite my mother, I would become the upper-class, heiress she always wanted me to be. I would cook with class, dignity, and with no more jokes about Uncle Akira. (Until after the judging, anyway.)
next: Run it! ch 12