Ice and Fire Nine Layer Heavens – Ultimate Cauldron of Nine Dragons
“Senior Zi Xiu, let us serve our dishes at the same time.” As he spoke, he lifted his purple flame-coated hands and swept them towards the prepared winter melon goblet releasing a wave of blazing heat, dissipating the white fog and falling softly like snow. A neat circle of winter melon powder surrounded the goblet that was recovering its green splendour. Under the influence of the scorching heat from the purple flame, the goblet brimmed with emerald essence, that made it appear like genuine jade. The onlookers were stunned as they realized that they had misjudged the dish earlier.
With the appearance of the Demonic Engraving Knife, there would naturally be no mistakes in the preparation. Reflected on the surface of the winter melon goblet was no simple engraving, but a full-fledged sculpture. The walls of the goblet had been thinned out by around half an inch, and nine azure dragons appeared to be coiling and leaping on its surface. The dragons appeared to be lifelike to the point where each individual scale could be clearly distinguished.
To Camel Chef Zi Xiu’s surprise, each dragon appeared to be alive and writhing in different arrangements. Whether be it swooping down onto prey, clutching objects with its claws, soaring with outstretched wings, roaring majestically, or leaping through the clouds, the nine dragons intertwined perfectly without blemish. The three protrusions seen previously were actually dragon heads, with their dragon feelers formed from winter melon scraps produced by the carving, and subsequently fused in a baptism of ice and fire. The entire kitchen was momentarily rendered speechless at the sight, with even Nian Bing himself enraptured with a flicker in his eyes.
Nian Bing added a dash of salt to the pot before pouring the white-green congee mixture into the winter melon goblet. His actions were deliberate and careful, for fear of damaging any part of the goblet. With the pearlescent white rice on the cusp of melting, coupled with the emerald-green bamboo shoots, and topped off with jade-white tofu, Nian Bing had completed his congee dish.
Together with Nian Bing, Zi Xiu also started serving his dish. The reddish-gold soup exuded a thick fragrance as it was poured into a large bowl. Noodle strands that were even finer than hair emerged from within the soup, forming a blend of red, gold and white. Although the setting was not as lavish as Nian Bing’s, the dish looked undoubtedly delicious.
As both competitors brought their works of art to the onlookers, Feng Nu asked Nian Bing blankly, “Is this thing even edible?”
Stunned for a moment, Nian Bing broke into laughter, saying, “Are you questioning my skill? Don’t worry, there’s no poison in it.”
Feng Nu shook her head. “No, I simply can’t bring myself to eat it. What is the name of this dish?”
“Don’t worry. If you like it, I can make it again for you. It’s called Ice and Fire Nine Layered Heavens – Ultimate Cauldron of Nine Dragons.” Nian Bing smiled.
“Hmph, Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons. This is basically just that old fart Zha Ji’s famed Pearl-White Jade Congee.” Zi Xiu said irritably.
“That’s true, only with some minor changes. Senior’s bowl of noodles should be the Rouge Golden Jade Noodles that was highly regarded by master.” Nian Bing spoke without a hint of anger.
“Everyone, come taste the dishes. I fear I’ve lost my touch after not having cooked for quite some time,” replied Zi Xiu with a snort.
Zi Xiu’s expression immediately darkened when everyone started in on the dishes, as their focus was fully on Nian Bing’s Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons, with his Rouge Golden Jade Noodles left ignored. Seeing his uncle’s noodles left untouched, the kind and honest Zi Qing Jian put down his spoon that was already reaching towards the Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons, and instead turned his attention towards the noodles.
Nian Bing walked to Zi Xiu’s side and said with a slight grin, “Senior, if you don’t mind, let us assess each other’s dishes. Although noodles may be a simple dish, but dishes made by Senior will definitely be unique.” Employing flattery, he managed to ease the look on Zi Xiu’s face. With a nod, both of them started eating each other’s dishes.
Everyone was so engrossed in eating that not a single word was spoken, not even exclamations of delight. In no time at all, Nian Bing’s Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons was left with only the goblet, without even a chance for himself to have a single mouthful. To everyone’s astonishment, the biggest eater was actually the president of the Orchid Dream College, Zi Meng. Fully utilizing his strength as a Martial Saint, he stuffed his mouth with delicious morsels at lightning speed using his spoon.
“Zi Meng, are you taking advantage of your speed to bully others? This is made for me by my pupil.” Although no one else dared to speak up, Hei Ye was not so polite. In the rush for the Pearl-White Jade Congee, he was the only one without martial arts. As magic didn’t serve any purpose in this situation, he only managed to eat a small amount.
After finishing a small bowl of Zi Xiu’s Rouge Golden Jade Noodles, Nian Bing turned towards him, “Senior’s noodles are perfect in terms of color, fragrance, taste, thought, and shape. I especially admire Senior’s usage of the Life-Tearing Heavy Eagle Hand. It would have been impossible for me to make such a delicious noodle dish.”
“Although the Breakwater Still Surface technique wasn’t used, the fine noodle strands don’t stick together. In addition, the noodles themselves are tough; hence the thick fragrance of the duck soup and goose liver fully incorporated into each and every strand of noodle. This is truly an exquisite dish!”
“Nian Bing, who do you think is the winner of this match?” Zi Xiu said with a calm smile.
After a moment’s hesitation, Nian Bing replied, “To be exact, Senior, I’ve won. Both our dishes have their own specialties; however, your combination of duck soup and goose liver is very innovative. At the same time, the fragrance generated is equal to my dish, yet the raw materials used are much cheaper. Therefore, the victory goes to you with regards to fragrance. Having been processed with the Life-Tearing Heavy Eagle Hand, the taste of the noodles is also slightly superior to my Pearl-White Jade Congee, although the difference is extremely slight. Am I correct to say that you’ve won in terms of taste and fragrance?”
“Kid, you truly have outstanding talent in the culinary arts. No doubt, you’ve touched on the key points of the dish, but you’re being overly humble. Having tasted your congee, I would have been confident of beating you in terms of taste… if it was the usual Pearl-White Jade Congee. However, your version is completely different. With your unique method of heating and deep-freeze processing, the taste has reached an entirely different level, and I’m able to distinguish eighty-one different variations in their taste. Truly, it lives up to the name of Ice and Fire Nine Layered Heavens. With the usage of magic in cooking, countless changes can be achieved to the taste of food. It’s no wonder you were so confident earlier. There’s no need to cover up the truth for me, a loss is a loss.”
Upon seeing Zi Xiu who had calmly admitted defeat, Nian Bing’s admiration of him increased even further. “My culinary arts are still yet immature and lacking in various areas. If it was not for my usage of magic, I wouldn’t have been able to stand on equal footing with Senior. I got lucky this time.” Nian Bing said respectfully.
With a shake of his head, Zi Xiu replied, “Not everything can be attributed to luck. Even though the utilization of magic in cooking will generate unique results, without long hours of practice and understanding, you would not have been able to combine magic and cooking to this extent. Of course, there are still some deficiencies in your technique. Your combination of magic and cooking still lacks refinement, and the way you process your ingredients is still rather crude. You will need to pay more attention to these aspects in the future.”
“Nian Bing, what really surprised me wasn’t your Ice and Fire Nine Layered Heavens, even though it was magical. After all, the usage of magic during cooking is already an advantage in itself. In fact, I knew I had lost when you managed to perform the complete Dance of the Gathering Rain Dragons. Even though I carried an advantage when it comes to the fragrance and taste of the dish, but in terms of color, shape, and thought, there was no way I could have matched up to your Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons. However, I certainly didn’t expect your Dance of the Gathering Rain Dragons to have surpassed your master’s.”
“Senior, you’ve overestimated me. You might not believe it, but if you were to ask me to repeat my earlier performance, I would definitely be unable to produce the same result. During the carving process earlier, I had somehow reached an inexplicable state of mind. Even I myself have no idea how many cuts I had made, however at the moment the carving was completed, I could clearly feel that I had succeeded.” Nian Bing said with a bitter laugh.
“There’s no need to underestimate yourself, as feelings are an important part of cooking. You have now reached the stage where cooking is all about your comprehension and understanding. Although your knife technique is not yet as refined as your master’s, but when it comes to understanding the Dance of the Gathering Rain Dragons, your master is clearly no match for you. Seeing as how you already reached such results at a tender age, you will eventually become the top-ranked chef in the continent.”
As he was speaking, Zi Xiu placed the last piece of tofu in this mouth with a satisfied look. Chewing on the tofu, he continued, “This tofu is pretty well-done. Usually, tofu doesn’t absorb flavors easily. It appears that after your deep-freezing process, although there are no visible changes to the exterior, the inside of the tofu was full of holes which could fully absorb the delicious essence of the broth. In addition, after being subjected to extreme heat, not only did the tofu retain its shape, it actually became thicker and more solid. The final dash of salt which you added at the end was the crucial finishing touch that really brought the feeling of Ice and Fire Nine Layer Heavens to life. Salt is the epitome of all seasonings, and any savoury dish will be enhanced with the addition of salt. You must remember this point and make full use of it in the future.”
Nian Bing acknowledged it with a sincere nod. “Thank you very much, Senior. So…”
Knowing what Nian Bing was about to ask, Zi Xiu used qi to compress his voice before speaking a few words to Nian Bing. Upon hearing his words, Nian Bing was momentarily dumbstruck.
“How…how is this even possible? The identity of that person…”
Zi Xiu made a shushing motion towards Nian Bing, saying, “Weren’t you the one who said in class that nothing is impossible? With the sensitive nature of that person’s identity, now you understand why your master didn’t request you to avenge him. He did not wish for any complications to befall his only treasured apprentice. Furthermore, I’m afraid your master hasn’t forgotten his feelings for that person, even unto death.”
Nian Bing was at a loss as to what to do. If his master had never let go of his feelings towards that woman, would it be suitable for him to avenge his master? Shaking his head, he decided to meet that woman at least once, regardless of his desire for vengeance. Perhaps he would be able to decide further based on her attitude.
“Senior, thank you for telling me all this. If you don’t mind, I’d like to have some more Rouge Golden Jade Noodles.” Nian Bing said after thinking it through.
“Unfortunately I think there’s none of your share left. Why don’t you take a look behind you?” Zi Xiu chuckled.
As Nian Bing looked behind him blankly, he discovered that the crowd which was gathered around his Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons had set their sights on the Rouge Golden Jade Noodles in front of him. The yearning for food that was reflected in their eyes sent shivers over Nian Bing’s body. He quickly stepped back and made an inviting gesture.
This time around, Feng Nu was the fastest to take action. With a sweep of her chopsticks, a bowlful of noodles had been collected. Nian Bing realized suddenly that the word ‘ladylike’ held no meaning in front of delicious food. Aside from Feng Nu, even Zi Qing Meng – who was normally quiet and cold – was also frantically rushing to eat her share of the delicious noodle dish.
Moving past the crowd, Zi Xiu approached Nian Bing’s Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons. Upon close examination of the winter melon goblet, he exclaimed in admiration at the lifelike and detailed sculpture. The nine azure dragons were free of imperfections and looked extremely alluring. Unfortunately, all the Pearl-White Jade Congee in the goblet was gone, without a single speck of residue remaining. There were even scratches on some parts of the interior of the goblet.
“If this was a real piece of jade, it would definitely be one of the top treasures in the world! The Dance of the Gathering Rain Dragons is truly worthy to be called the top-ranked knife technique in the culinary world. My Dense Jade Screen cannot match up to it, no matter how refined my technique becomes. Nian Bing, you have really surpassed your master. Ice and Fire Nine Layer Heavens – Ultimate Pot of Nine Dragons is an excellent name for your dish!” Zi Xiu sighed in appreciation.
Shooting Zi Xiu a glance, Nian Bing replied, “Senior, the reason I was in a rush to hold this competition with you was because I’m afraid that I may have to leave this place soon. I have to hurry to complete a task that was entrusted to me by a friend.”
Disappointment flickered through Zi Xiu’s eyes. “Are you going to leave, just like that? Even though I’ve appointed you as a knife arts teacher for the culinary faculty, you’ve yet to fulfill a single day of your duties.”
“Senior, I quite enjoy the environment here, especially when learning from you and teacher Hei Ye. When I’ve achieved my dream, I will come back in the future.”
Various emotions flickered through Zi Xiu’s eyes. “Go ahead. As an elite chef, you’ll need to undergo all kinds of different experiences. The culinary world of the future will be a stage where you can perform, and I will not stop you from moving forward. However, keep in mind to not have your mind clouded with pride, no matter what level your culinary skills may have reached. Otherwise, you will definitely encounter setbacks, similar to what happened to your master. Were it not for his momentary carelessness and underestimation of his opponent, he wouldn’t have lost by simply preparing a few dishes. Even though his opponent had the assistance of magic, their culinary skills would never have matched the level of the Demon Chef,” he said while clapping Nian Bing’s shoulder with a firm hand.