Otomo Takeshi knelt in the uncomfortable cushion, taking in the poorly chosen decorations of the room. His posture remained firm and elegant, as he decided how best to express his displeasure towards the table’s height, finally opting not to show any indication of discomfort. He would just add the uncomfortable cushion and inappropriate table to the ever increasing list of inadequacies in this fortune-forsaken place.
Since his arrival at the colonies a few days ago, the Otomo diplomat have had to suffer from the many breaks of tradition that the so called ‘colonists’ seem to not even notice. It was clear to him that the barbaric nature of these forsaken lands had damaged the common sense of those unfortunate souls who had remained here for more than a few weeks. At the very least, his honor would remain intact, as he would not remain here for more than one. But after weeks of eating nothing except dried fish, Takeshi was elated to finally being able to enjoy a Rokugani restaurant. With the many recommendation from the offices of the Imperial Governor, he thought that the Noble Nori would at least be able to provide him with the traditional food he was accustomed to. He was wrong.
As the food was placed in front of him, Takeshi’s mind could only focus on the many differences between what he ordered, and whatever was now sitting on a table that measured an extra inch and a half. The sashimi was improperly cut and possibly even the wrong fish, the sushi was obviously not cleaned enough before cooking and the tea was too sweet. How could this place be so favored by Imperial Offices? Could it be that this was another of the eccentricities of the new Governor? Or perhaps it was a trick from the local bureaucrats to shame him…
Takeshi closed his eyes, controlling his rage as the realization came. If he were to partake in this food, his reputation as a connoisseur of high cuisine and keeper of traditions would be ruined. However, if he were to call out the bad food, he would be insulting the Governor’s recommendation, and inciting her wrath was not a good idea. It was clearly a trap. The effect of this dreadful place was clearly faster that he imagined, as no Otomo worth his name would have fallen for such a simple trick. And yet, here he was, seemingly unable to turn this situation to his favor.
With his eyes closed, he could smell the imperfection on every bit of food; he could hear the silence of the predatory eagles waiting for his next move. He was Otomo, and even if the paltry atmosphere of the Colonies had somehow caused him to be in such a trap, he will prevail. His mind raced to find the best solution, one that would allow him to teach the colonists a lesson without any loss of face on his part
He allowed the glint in his eyes to momentarily betray that he had found the answer, and with a swift movement, he stood up; looking directly towards where the kitchen would be. His voice loud and clear, betraying no emotion.
“I must speak with the chef.”
* * *
Hattori was no longer a young man, and his whole body would ache every time he had to carry a box of new products to his simple shop, yet he would not allow anyone else to pick his goods. Yes, he was old, but his ability to determine the quality of food could not be rivaled. In fact, Hattori’s was regarded as the best market in Second City, the place where the best restaurants in the city would get their raw ingredients.
To the samurai, Hattori was nobody of importance, just another merchant; but to the peasants, Hattori was an honored elder, a sage. He could not read or write, but he was behind the recipes of the most prominent restaurants in the Colonies.
He was among the first group of peasants to reach the colonies; back when the samurai would survive only on the dried fish they would bring from the main land.
He saw many fellow peasants die at the hands of the samurai for producing bad crops, and he learned how the soil in the Ivory Kingdoms was different to that of Rokugan.
He saw many fishermen spend days trying to catch the right fish, and soon learned that the waters of the Ivory Kingdoms were different from the Rokugani waters.
He saw many merchants unable to survive because they were afraid of the taint, and would not serve the Spider; and so he learned that the Ivory Kingdoms were not like Rokugan, and if the followers of the Unnameable One would be his costumers, then he would have to cater to their needs.
The first lesson that Hattori learned in the Colonies was that tradition was not the best method to follow in a completely gaijin environment. The second lesson that Hattori learned in the Colonies was that the samurai do not like change. Even the Mantis, whose life at the seas forces them to view the world with open eyes, found it hard to adapt to the life here. Even the Unicorn, whose ancestors once roamed these lands, found it hard to accommodate to the climate. Blessed be Tengoku, even the Spider, most alien of samurai, found the harsh conditions of the Colonies intolerable at best.
So, in a way, Hattori understood Otomo Takeshi’s desire to stick to traditions, he was a samurai, it was in his blood. But the way the Imperial has chosen to prove his point left even the seasoned merchant with doubts. “A Tournament of Culinary Perfection”, they called it; a tournament pitting the most prominent chefs in Second City against those from the Empire. And even then, Hattori hoped that those who would participate in the tournament would understand the lack of traditional ingredients in the Colonies. But that all changed when the Imperial Governor spoke…
“The position of the of the Jewel Chef will have the highest regards; and as such no peasant would be able to receive such an honor,” she had said. “Only true samurai will be allowed to participate.”
However, Hattori knew that this would not only be a competition for samurai. He knew that the merchants of Second City would do anything to provide the traditional ingredients that the samurai of the Empire would require. They would put their livelihood at risk to not disappoint the samurai. That is why, as he grab yet another box, the old merchant began a silent prayer to Ebisu, asking him to protect those who would inevitably fail.
* * *
The tasteless smell of dried fish covered the room, as the ship was rocked by yet another wave. Otomo Takeshi could never get used to the constant movement of a sea-fearing ship, nor to the crude smell of unseasoned food; but this time his mind was too busy to even care.
For minutes on end, Takeshi stared at the blank scroll in front of him as he thought back at the events that transpired just a few days ago. Not only had he managed to save face by not even touching the dreaded food he was served; but by creating this challenge, he had managed to not directly insult the Imperial Governor recommendations. No, the result of the Challenge would be taking care of that.
However, it seems that Takeshi might have underestimated her. By making it an Imperial sanctioned tournament, and requiring that only samurai participate, the Governor had taken full control of the now called “Jewel Chef Tournament”. Of course she’ll have no problem finding colonist willing to partake in the unsavory task of preparing raw food, but it would not be as easy for Takeshi.
Looking at the empty scroll one more time, the Otomo took a quill in his hand and began writing. He will find the best samurai chefs of the Empire, and he will convince them to join the Tournament as his Jewel Chefs. Together, they will prove to the Colonies the importance of traditions. They will win this tournament, not for the sake his pride, but to preserve the traditions that forged the Empire. They will cook, for the Honor of the Emerald Empire. They will prove that, in Rokugani cuisine, tradition reigns supreme.