Judgment Day

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Thursday night, the evening movie was a Luc Besson show called Taxi. Usually I watch the movie each week on Thursday, because I can listen to the secondary audio program and get an English fix; however, when the SAP is French and the movie is trash, I don’t get much out of it. I flipped to another channel for a little background Japanese practice and busied myself with something else until Judgment Day. Er, that sounds a bit odd, let me explain.

A cooking show came on and I got caught up in it. The show’s title, Houchou (包丁), was a little hard to translate because it has at least five meanings; one of which is, ‘judgement’. (The A-R among you may notice I used the American spelling here and the British spelling in the title: my dictionary indicates the phrase ‘Judgment Day’ should drop the ‘e’ which amused me greatly. Yes, simple minds are amused by simple things.) The other meanings are:

  • Knives (or other sharp tools used in the kitchen)
  • Chefs (cooks, etc.,)
  • Cooking (the activity)
  • Skill (or adeptness)

There are other ways to say each of these things, so I’m certain they chose this name for its multi-faceted nature. Competition takes place between master chefs for the title. During the show there is a lot of attention paid to the knives that are used and the techniques used with the knives, in addition to the normal cooking competition points like ingredient selection, presentation, and such: tieing in all of the meanings of houchou. No surprise that another chef competition show would pop up in the home country of Iron Chef (料理の鉄人).

When it grabbed my attention there was a competition in katsuramuki (桂剥き). Katsura is the Japanese name for the cinnamon tree, which peels off in spiral layers. Muku is a verb meaning ‘peel’ or ‘pare’. Katsuramuki is a process of paring a daikon radish (or carrot, or such) in a continuous sheet. For those of you who haven’t seen a daikon, it looks kind of like a very long, very fat, white carrot with almost no taper. The texture is not dissimilar to the small Western radishes, but the flavor is not so sharp. There was a time limit close to 20 minutes on the event. Each chef was given a section of daikon about 14cm thick and about as long, with the goal of paring a continuous sheet 5m in length. If the sheet broke or the time expired they could receive points for the distance they reached. Two chefs were successful. One chef was dripping buckets of sweat onto the table: if not for the hot stage lights, time pressure, and stress; I would have decided against his restaurant on the spot. I’m sure at his restaurant he can use a towel to daub at his forehead and doesn’t have to work under stage lights.

Carrot golf was the next event, where chefs tried to cut spheres from carrots and roll them down a table. Techniques used here were quite varied, with one chef quickly twitching his blade and the carrot about; bits of orange dropping off here and there.

Three chefs were to advance to the finals but two chefs were tied for third place, necessitating a playoff. Creating 24 apple rabbits (which I had previously thought were apple cockroaches) in the shortest time would win a spot in the finals. One chef work in stages; first slicing each apple and cutting off the seeds, then cutting under the skin and notching it to drop out the piece between the ears. The only female chef was the other contestant. She would turn one apple completely into eight rabbits, and then start on the second apple, and then the last. Each rabbit had to be individually judged for balance before being accepted. Naturally, the female jumped out to an early lead on the first apple, but her method was more labor heavy at the tail end, resulting in a very thin margin of victory for her.

Whenever a show like this trims down to two contestants, they always have three final events, and the first two are always split between the finalists. I find this horribly suspicious and expect that there is a lot of ‘fixing’. Regardless the show was interesting.

Next time they will have a contest involving movers. We should get to see a little broken china, so that’s worth catching.

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