Shokugeki no Soma is a story that manages to impress me despite the story detail. It is a fresh take on making cooking look interesting filled with tension.
All the while without disregarding what real cooking entails. Preparation work, planning and improving one’s skill is related to bring a chef. Most important of all, is that each character has their own reasons for choosing to be a chef. And each character has their own unique identifiable cooking style that makes them who they are.
Soma’s simple diner fare coupled with rather unique additions. Megumi’s style of home cook food that touches the heart and soul. Erina’s haute cuisine.
But most importantly, is what it does to highlight the core of all conflict. That it is about two different ideals clashing about. Something that a lot of stories these days about magic, swords or fights seem to lack.
The beginning of the story shows Erina’s disdain for anything other than haute cuisine. Believing that it brought down cooking rather than it being a legitimate form on its own. And it being the main drive that brings them together. As Soma continues to wow her despite doing nothing worthy of the title haute cuisine.
To Tsukasa Eishi, for all his brilliance he can’t collaborate at all. He can’t work in an environment of chefs simply because he doesn’t believe they are good enough. Ironically, even head chefs will need to manage and also give way to their own subordinates. Collaboration gets rid of issues more than it creates them, it brings another perspective which often add something to the table.
As each one of us happens to be unique, we all will bring something new and fresh to the table. Same here, where each cook brings something of their own to the kitchen. Soma’s roundabout way of incorporating complex cooking techniques with simple easy food to Alice’s complex food science techniques.
Above all, one thing that gives the story an even better sense of development is that it knows how to manage large casts of characters. Soma alone made almost ten rivals. How does the story manage it?
By having the side characters narrate the actions. If it was the chef doing so, it will take far too long and sound way too panicked. Instead the calm observer can cut into what they are doing and tell the reader in a clear understandable way without ever feeling out of place. Or the judges explaining what was added to make it look good.
It uses the elements of cooking, where competitions are often captured and it always being on live.
Another is how it showcases a unique way to convey deliciousness. Showing the expression to delicious food is difficult, as most simply end on either gobbling everything up or just thinking about it. But this show uses another way. By giving us over the top imagery, which in this case is suggestive.
But it works, because it highlights that cooking is intimate. Each customer will come with their own taste buds and the chef must do their best to appeal to them. And also one more thing, each of them will experience the taste differently.
But above all, the one thing that I feel the story has is fresh unique characters.
Megumi’s lack of confidence can be attributed to the fact that she simply isn’t suited for the classy style expected from Totsuki students. Hers is simple, but will always touch the heart of others.
Isshiki’s rather carefree and nonchalance about his appearance and characters acan be given to the fact that he spent most of his childhood having done everything others asked of him. Without really asking whether he liked it or not.
Erina’s disdain of normal food can be given to the fact that she had been conditioned by her father to reject anything that isn’t gourmet.
Soma has no actual talent in cooking. He is not exceptionally gifted in cooking, he has no great memory, no good sense of smell, and nothing of the eccentric traits that Tsukasa has(which coincidentally makes him a great cook). What he has that distinguishes himself from others is the fact that he will face his setbacks looking forward. That he will seek all sorts of variations, and constantly improve and practice. And he won’t ever give up.
And that is something that makes Soma different from a lot of protagonists. He got there through hard work, and self-improvement. Not because he showed talent for it.
These are all rather different. And even the other characters all have something. The most outstanding of them all also happens to be part of the Elite Ten. From Eizan, despite his drive to make money, many can’t deny that he is still an exceptionally skilled chef. Just that his methods are different.
To Subaru, who for lack of better word is a stalker, period. But his abilities are given the same kind of respect. Because it is something that only he can pull off. The same for Eizan. Eizan’s biggest skill is in using ingredients that deliberately clashes with the others, but still able to blend well with his dish. No one else can truly copy the way he does things. Because of his experience as a consultant.
The story makes great use of dubious ways to win, mentioning that it was still a strategy. And each character has their own strength.
Another is how none of them are truly good or evil. Which plays into the notion that the conflict they have, and all the battles here is due to warring ideologies. More so than just simply good vs evil.
One of the best embodiments is Nakiri Azami. His perspective does addresses some of the biggest questions, and about the idea of equality in the cooking world. By only allowing normal chefs to copy, but enabling them to succeed without having to go through the hard work themselves.
In a way, it’s a communist system vs free market. The idea that cooking should be free vs regulated. Whether anyone can come up with anything and call it their own, or be stamped down when they do.
And why does he pursue this goal? He wants to prevent could from burnouts, from realizing that they have been living an empty dream. For lack of better world, he was trying to make the cooking world an utopia, where all will benefit.
Instead of the ruthless world, where only the best chef survive. Even as Soma looks at each chef’s food as not better or worse than his, but subjectively. That each bring something to the table that only they can do. And that the basis of a great chef is to put on the plate their passion, and what cooking means to them.
Overall, this is something that brings a lot of fresh things to the table. It never loses sight of itself and always manages to consistently satisfy me.