• Published 14th Nov 2016
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Canterlot Cooking Calamity! - MythrilMoth



CHS holds a fundraiser bake sale and cooking contest.

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Cooking Drama! (Part Two)

Outside a modest two-story suburban house twenty minutes from Canterlot High...

Applejack tapped her foot and waited after ringing the doorbell. It took a while, but eventually the door opened just slightly, and a woman with curled red hair and large square-framed glasses peered around the edge. "Oh, Applejack! Good afternoon, dear!"

"Afternoon, ma'am," Applejack said, tipping her hat. "Ah brought Fluttershy home. She, uhh..." She grimaced. "Better if Ah explain it inside."

Mrs. Shy gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. "Oh...oh dear. Is something wrong?"

"Well..." Applejack frowned and looked off to her side. "Dang it all, Shy, git over here!"

As Mrs. Shy opened the door the rest of the way, Fluttershy half-staggered, half-skipped over, giggling. "But they're peeonies, AJ!" she sang.

Applejack facepalmed. "Git inside, ya idjit," she muttered, pushing Fluttershy past her mother and stepping into the house herself.

Mrs. Shy blinked several times. "Umm..." She pointed at Fluttershy. "What...happened?"

Applejack sighed. "Some dumbass brought some pot brownies t' th' bake sale, an' Fluttershy got into 'em pretty hard. She didn't know they was whut they was."

Mrs. Shy's eyes widened. "Oh. Oh dear."

"She's startin' t' come down a mite," Applejack said tiredly, "but we all agreed it'd be fer th' best if somebody brought 'er home, an' Big Mac's had about all of 'er he can stand fer one day, so Ah drove 'er over."

Mrs. Shy frowned. "What do you mean, your brother's had all he can—"

Applejack held up a hand. "Let's jes' say Fluttershy gits powerful flirty when she's stoned," she said. "Anyhoo, with her van bein' outta commission an' all, that's pretty much it fer us an' th' bake sale, an' she's gonna need t' sleep this one off 'til Monday anyway."

"What happened to the van?" Mr. Shy asked as he wandered in from the den.

"Fan belt," Applejack said. "It's kinda stranded at Las Galletas Hermanas."

Mr. Shy sighed. "That old van goes through more fan belts," he said, shaking his head. "Maybe it's time we finally get rid of the old girl."

"Well anyhoo," Applejack said, "Jes' so you know, it ain't th' school's fault or nothin'. About th' pot, Ah mean."

Mr. Shy chuckled. "Oh, the old pot brownies at the bake sale thing happened to us when we were kids too, isn't that right, Mother?"

Mrs. Shy giggled. "That's kind of how we ended up with Fluttershy in the first place," she said.

"Ah did not need t' know that," Applejack muttered. Shaking her head, she waved. "Gotta git back t' th' school, cheer on mah friends in th' cookin' contest. Ah'll check up on 'Shy tomorrow."

"Alright, dear. Thank you so much for taking care of her!"

From the living room, they heard a crash. After a moment, they heard Fluttershy call out: "Mom? The carpet doesn't match the drapes..."

"Yeah Ah'm outta here," Applejack said, beating a hasty retreat. "Good luck!"

* * * * *

Most of the cooking stations in the gym had been either removed or condensed down; eight portable kitchen setups remained, each attended by a quarterfinalist. Additional modular countertops had been provided for the quarterfinalists, as well as extra appliances on request.

"Alright, everyone!" Principal Celestia called over the loudspeakers. "The quarterfinals will now begin! As with the previous round, judging will be conducted as each contestant's dish is ready to be served. However, in this round, the contestants will be scored directly against their designated opponents."

"Now, just to remind you of who's facing off against who," Dean Cadance picked up, "These are our match-ups:

"Sunset Shimmer, Twilight Sparkle, and Rarity versus Lyra Heartstrings and Sweetie Drops!"

The named girls waved as the crowd in the bleachers applauded them.

"Trixie Lulamoon versus Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo!"

Polite applause rang out as Trixie took a theatrical bow, while the younger girls just waved.

"Flash Sentry, Skunk Rock, and Beats versus Snips and Snails!"

More polite applause as the boys waved and laughed.

"And lastly, Negra Arroyo versus Saffron Masala!"

The applause was more muted this time, as neither student was terribly popular. Saffron made the best of it, while Negra Arroyo didn't even bother looking up from his preparations.

Celestia took over once again. "During all final rounds, Octavia Melody will be wandering the floor, speaking to the student chefs, providing a commentary on the action.

"Quarterfinalists, your two hours begin...NOW!"

At one station, Scootaloo frowned as she began unloading ingredients. "I can't believe we're going with meatloaf and cornbread," she said.

"Well, we know it's somethin' we can make," Apple Bloom said. "Besides, we're gonna zip it up a bit. An' we've got them mashed sweet taters t' fall back on, too."

"I've never had mashed sweet potatoes," Sweetie Belle said as she started peeling a sweet potato.

"Me either," Scootaloo said. "I'm honestly a little curious."

"Here, crush them Bitz crackers," Apple Bloom said, handing a box of crackers to Scootaloo. "Ah'm gonna git workin' on th' meat."

As the girls worked, Octavia wandered over to them, holding a microphone. "And what will you girls be making for the quarterfinals?" she asked.

"Spicy meatloaf, cornbread, an' mashed sweet taters," Apple Bloom said.

"Hmm, a very down-home menu," Octavia said. "Somehow that's not terribly surprising." She tilted her head. "Are those Bitz crackers?"

"For the meatloaf," Scootaloo said as she pounded a zipper bag full of crackers with a meat tenderizer. "We're trying something a little different."

"How interesting," Octavia said. "Good luck to you girls." She wandered over to Negra Arroyo's station. "And...what do you have for our judges for the quarterfinals?" she asked.

Negra Arroyo ignored her, focused on his preparations.

"Well!" Octavia said in a slight huff. Scowling, she moved on.

Rarity frowned. "Charming fellow," she said as she sliced pork for their okonomiyaki.

"And I thought Crystal Prep students were rude," Twilight muttered as she grated a daikon.

"And here we have Sunset Shimmer, Rarity, and Twilight Sparkle," Octavia said as she approached. "Three of the most popular girls at school." She shot Sunset's mixing bowl a quizzical look. "It seems as though you're making pancake batter..."

"Sort of," Sunset said as she crammed a food processor full of cabbage and shredded it. Once she was satisfied, she dumped it into the batter and mixed it in.

Octavia's brow furrowed. "Shredded cabbage in pancake batter?" She shook her head. "I can't begin to fathom what you girls are working on here."

"I think I know what they're making," Celestia said from the judges' table, a pleasantly surprised smile on her face. "If it's what I think it is, I haven't had it since my trip to Neighpon back when I was in college."

Rainbow Dash looked up from her tablet. "I put pancake batter and shredded cabbage in Foodle and got back some word I can't pronounce," she said. "Whatever it is, it's a real recipe."

Cadance glanced over Rainbow's shoulder. "So it is something Neighponese," she said. "That sounds interesting!"

Lyra gave Bon Bon an alarmed look as she cut up chicken. "I don't know if I like the sound of that," she said.

Bon Bon rolled her eyes as she poured from two bottles into a metal bowl. "Whatever they're making, it sounds like a mess," she said. "We're making the classiest dish around! How can cabbage pancakes or whatever compare to coq au vin?"

Lyra smiled. "You're right. We've got this in the bag!"

"And now let's see what Trixie is up to," Octavia said as she crossed over to Trixie's station. "Hmm. I see you're browning steak, and you also have some potatoes on to boil...a simple steak and potato dish?"

"Nothing simple about it," Trixie said snootily as she rolled out dough.

"Really?" Octavia challenged. "Because I couldn't help but notice you have a potato ricer."

Across the floor, Sweetie Belle asked her friends, "What's a potato ricer? Does it turn potatoes into rice?"

"Maybe it rices them up!" Scootaloo said. "You know, like a car!"

Apple Bloom groaned. "It's fer makin' mashed taters," she said flatly. "Now focus, y'all! We can't screw this up!"

"Hey, if all Dripsie's makin' is steak and mashed potatoes, we got this in the bag," Scootaloo said dismissively.

* * * * *

Sunset, Twilight, and Rarity were the first contestants ready to present their dish. The three girls wheeled their serving cart up to the judges' table; four plates with steaming pork okonomiyaki sat in a line. The tops had been drizzled with sauce and garnished with mayonnaise, applied in thin lines shaped with a fork. "Judges," Twilight said, adjusting her glasses, "We present pork okonomiyaki."

"Oh, this is very creative, girls!" Celestia said.

"It does look quite interesting," Ms. Harshwhinny said.

"Yeah, I looked this thing up and it sounds...kinda funky, but I trust you girls," Rainbow said.

"I think it's amazing you girls came up with something like this," Cadance said. "Why don't you explain the dish for the benefit of the audience?"

"Sure," Sunset said. "Okonomiyaki is a Neighponese dish, popular in certain areas of Neighpon. It's not what you'd call high cuisine; it's actually sold from roadside food carts in some places. The basic idea is it's a pancake with shredded cabbage in the batter, topped with whatever meats and vegetables you feel like adding. In this case, we used pan-seared pork, daikon radish, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and green onions. The sauce is an authentic recipe we found online, and we used mayonnaise as a garnish, which is also a traditional preparation."

"It doesn't sound like much," Rarity said, "but it is quite excellent."

Celestia cut off a bite and tasted it. "Mmm," she said. "This takes me back." She smiled. "How long did you girls practice to get this right?"

Sunset smiled sheepishly. "Well, I make this myself about once a month at home, but for the contest, we spent about a week practicing. We made it with just about everything we could think of. Beef, shrimp, pork, chicken, even vegetarian. We decided on pork because it seemed to work best with the cabbage."

"I wholeheartedly agree with that," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Your presentation and preparation are excellent, and this tastes quite delicious."

"Wow, this is pretty good," Rainbow Dash said. "I mean, you wouldn't think a cabbage pancake with a bunch of crap on top would be any good, but this really is!"

"I agree," Cadance said. "I'm impressed, girls. Well done!"

"I do have to ask one question," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "You spent a lot of time and effort on mastering this one dish. Why use it as your quarterfinal entry? With this level of skill, I'm certain you had other dishes that would've passed this round and the next easily. I would have expected something like this to show up in the final round."

"To be honest, we weren't too confident of this," Sunset said. "We're saving our better stuff for later. I mean, if we move on."

"If this isn't your ace, I'm a little scared to find out what is," Cadance said in disbelief.

Once the judges finished their okonomiyaki, Celestia picked up her tablet. "Alright, judges, please enter your scores now." As the other judges entered their scores, Celestia added, "After each entry is judged and scored, the scores will be displayed on the scoreboard behind us."

The three girls looked up at the scoreboard, tense and nervous...

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): SUNSET SHIMMER, TWILIGHT SPARKLE, AND RARITY

PREPARATION: 10/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 10
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
PRESENTATION: 10/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 10
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
CREATIVITY: 10/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 10
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
TASTE: 10/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 10
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10

The girls' jaws dropped. A massive cheer rose from the crowd. Whooping with joy, Sunset, Twilight, and Rarity grabbed each other in a hug and jumped up and down.

"Very well done, girls," Celestia said with a smile.

Lyra and Bon Bon looked at each other, dread in their eyes.

"We're so boned," Lyra moaned.

* * * * *

Once they were finished cleaning up their station, Twilight, Rarity, and Sunset found Pinkie Pie in the bleachers and joined her.

"Way to go, girls!" Pinkie cheered. "You totally rocked it!"

"Well, it certainly does seem as though we'll be advancing, doesn't it?" Rarity said.

"Lyra and Bon Bon look kinda depressed though," Sunset said. She frowned worriedly. "I mean, I wanna win and I'm happy with our score, but I never wanted to cause anyone to have that crushed-soul look ever again..."

"Eh, it's a contest," Pinkie said dismissively. "It's all in good fun. Besides, they'll get over it."

"So who do you think we'll be up against in the semifinals?" Twilight wondered.

"Hard to say," Sunset said. "I hope it isn't Negra Arroyo, though. I have a feeling he'll be the toughest competition here."

"I'm not so certain," Rarity said. "I mean, Saffron Masala has experience working in an actual restaurant." She craned her neck. "So, my sister and her friends are making a country feast, I heard?"

"Yep," Pinkie said. "Though it seems Apple Bloom's doing most of the work. Sweetie Belle's just peeling and cutting stuff mostly."

"Hmm."

"And Flash and his bros are still grilling," Sunset commented. "They're up against Snips and Snails, right?"

"Yeah," Twilight said.

Sunset snorted. "Well that'll guarantee them a spot in the semifinals," she said. "Those two idiots can't even microwave a burrito."

"I dunno," Pinkie said. "I've been watching them and what they're doing is...well, weird, but my Pinkie sense tells me they actually came up with something cool."

"Huh. Well, we'll have to wait and see."

* * * * *

Scootaloo snuck a glance over at Trixie's station. "Okay, I give up," she muttered. "I have no idea what she's doing."

Sweetie Belle was busy mashing sweet potatoes with a hand mixer—under strict supervision from Apple Bloom. "What's she doing now?"

"Okay so it looked like she was makin' these little pies," Scootaloo said, "and then she started puttin' steak and stuff in 'em, but now she's just pilin' up mashed potatoes on top."

Apple Bloom's brow furrowed. "Huh," she muttered. She shook her head. "Well, nevermind her. Let's focus on our own cookin'."

* * * * *

Snips and Snails were the next contestants ready to be judged.

Snails proudly presented a casserole dish with a flaky, golden-brown layered crust covering the top. "So this is our Poodle Noodle Strudel, eh," he said.

"It's an original recipe we came up with ourselves!" Snips proclaimed.

Cadance wrinkled her nose. "I'd...I'd work on that name if I were you," she said. The audience laughed.

Ms. Harshwhinny frowned. "Boys, I was watching your preparation quite intently," she said. "I have...frankly little confidence in what I saw happening there."

"I don't know," Celestia said with a quirk of her lips. "I think these boys are onto something, and the name almost made me giggle." She coughed. "Alright, boys, tell us about your, erm, 'poodle noodle strudel' while you plate it for judging."

Snips used a pie server to cut into the 'strudel' and serve four portions into shallow plates. As he did so, Snails explained, "Okay, so...what we did was, we made some mac and cheese, and we cut up some hot dogs into little pieces and kinda fried 'em in a pan a little bit, then we took some canned crescent rolls and kinda flattened 'em out and rolled 'em together to make like a crust, and we put the whole thing together in a casserole dish and baked it in the oven."

Rainbow Dash frowned. "So it's macaroni and cheese with sliced hot dogs baked in a big crescent roll?"

"Pretty much," Snips said as he and Snails brought the plates over to the judges. "That's why we call it poodle noodle strudel!"

"Does that even count as cooking?" Rainbow asked as she studied it. "I mean, it sounds edible, but..." She tasted it, pursing her lips as she chewed. She tilted her head. "Yeah, tastes about like I expected," she said. "Not bad."

Ms. Harshwhinny frowned. "I...suppose there is a certain degree of...lazy inventiveness? It's a ludicrous concept and very little actual skill was involved, but..." She tasted it, then shook her head. "Well, I suppose it's adequate in the sense of 'tomorrow is payday and this is literally all I had to work with for dinner'. Still, inventiveness only goes so far. I can't overlook the minimal effort that went into this."

"It's kinda bland, honestly," Cadance said. "You could've at least zipped it up a little, maybe added some thousand island dressing to the macaroni or at least a little mustard. Anything to give it a little more flavor than just plain macaroni and cheese and bland hot dogs. The crescent roll crust is a nice touch though."

Celestia dabbed her mouth with a napkin. "I agree with the others," she said. "I do commend you on your ingenuity in creating an...interesting meal, and there's certainly an element of appeal to this idea. I just think it's, well..." She made a vague gesture. "A little too 'frat boy Friday night'." She pushed the plate away and picked up her tablet. "Judges, please enter your scores now."

The other judges picked up their tablets. After a moment of deliberation, the scoreboard lit up:

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): SNIPS AND SNAILS

PREPARATION: 5.75/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 4
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 5
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7
PRESENTATION: 8.75/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 8
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 9
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 9
CREATIVITY: 8/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 7
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 8
TASTE: 6.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 6
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 5
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7

Snips and Snails looked at their scores, looked at each other, shrugged, and wheeled their serving cart back to their station to polite applause.

"Ouch," Sunset commented. "Flash and his friends are gonna wipe the floor with those two."

"I'm not so sure about that," Twilight said with a thoughtful frown. "It seems to me like they're just doing more of the same."

"Even so, even I would have to agree that barbecue would win over..." Rarity pulled a face. "that any day of the week. And I'm not even that fond of barbecue!"

"Gotta give 'em credit for trying though," Sunset said. She chuckled. "Poodle noodle strudel. What a name..."

* * * * *

Negra Arroyo approached the judges' table. On his serving cart was a shallow casserole dish.

"And what do you have for us this time?" Celestia asked.

Negra Arroyo began plating his dish with a spatula. "Chicken enchiladas with queso asadero and sour cream sauce," he said. Once each plate had a blue corn enchilada on it, he used a spoon to carefully deposit additional sauce on top, then sprinkled fresh chives over them. He then added a dollop of guacamole to the side of each. "And some fresh guacamole," he said. "And some pico de gallo," he concluded as he added a spoonful of fresh, coarsely-chopped salsa, then placed a plate before each judge.

"Ooh, nice presentation," Cadance said.

"Blue corn again?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"It's my signature," Negra Arroyo said.

"Having your own signature is a sign of a true kitchen artist," Ms. Harshwhinny said approvingly. "Making your own condiments fresh...I commend that."

The judges sampled the enchiladas. "Better than a restaurant," Celestia said.

"Wow, not too spicy, not too bland," Rainbow said. "I like the pico de gallo. It's a good contrast right after a bite of enchilada."

"Yeah, it all just works together," Cadance agreed.

"My only complaint," Ms. Harshwhinny said, "is that you should've added perhaps a few tortilla chips on the side for the garnishes. Other than that, this is an excellent offering."

"I ran low on tortillas," Negra Arroyo said with a shrug. "They take a while to make, so I'm saving as many for tomorrow as I can. Assuming I move on to the next round."

"You make these yourself?" Celestia asked.

"I make as many things myself as I can," Negra Arroyo replied. "I grow my own fruits and vegetables. The only things I don't make myself are the meat and dairy products I use. Everything else comes out of my own garden."

"Okay, that is awesome," Rainbow Dash said.

"Alright, let's get on with the scoring," Celestia said.

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): NEGRA ARROYO

PREPARATION: 10/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 10
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
PRESENTATION: 9.75/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
CREATIVITY: 9.5/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 8
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
TASTE: 10/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 10
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10

Negra Arroyo's lips thinned as he looked up at the scores. "An eight on creativity?" he asked, giving Ms. Harshwhinny a challenging look.

She returned his gaze calmly. "You have tremendous skill and an obvious knowledge of authentic ingredients and recipes," she replied, "and yet you chose to offer enchiladas. The taquitos, I could overlook as an appetizer. I was honestly expecting something of a higher level from you."

"Hmm." Negra Arroyo's lips curved down. "And yet you scored three girls who made Neighponese roadside food a ten." With a shrug, he walked away, pushing his cart.

Rainbow Dash blinked at his retreating back. "Wow," she said. "Sore winner much?"

"Artists," Ms. Harshwhinny grumbled, pursing her lips in annoyance.

"He did sort of have a point," Cadance said. "Even if he was kind of a jerk about it."

Ms. Harshwhinny shrugged. "I stand by my score."

* * * * *

Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo approached the judges' table. "Howdy y'all!" Apple Bloom said cheerfully. "We've got some good eats fer y'all!"

Cadance giggled. "My, how country," she said. "Alright, we already heard about your menu, and you girls seemed to know what you were doing, so let's get to it."

Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo carefully served each judge a plate containing a slice of meatloaf, a piece of cornbread, and a spoonful of mashed sweet potatoes with butter.

"The presentation is a bit plain," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Also, the fact that you largely copied the menu from last weekend's cooking class is going to cost you." She picked up her fork and went for the meatloaf as the other judges began eating.

"Hmm. This meatloaf's okay," Rainbow said. "It's kinda dry though."

"I think the Bitz crackers worked against you girls," Celestia said apologetically. "It was a good idea, it just..." She grimaced, then took a bite of the potatoes. "Now, these turned out perfectly."

"A pour-over gravy would have done wonders for this meatloaf," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Also, the cornbread is a bit on the dry side. I've certainly had worse, but with the meatloaf as dry as it is, it's not going to help your score."

"You girls did a good job," Cadance said. "It's just...not competition-grade, I'm sorry."

The girls bowed their heads.

"Now, cheer up, girls," Celestia said. "You show promise! Especially you, Apple Bloom. I think you should spend more time in the kitchen with Granny Smith." She sighed and looked at the others. "Judges?"

The judges were somber as they entered the scores.

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): APPLE BLOOM, SWEETIE BELLE, AND SCOOTALOO

PREPARATION: 7/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 7
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 7
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7
PRESENTATION: 7.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 8
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 6
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 7
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 8
CREATIVITY: 7.5/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 8
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 7
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7
TASTE: 6.75/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 6
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 7
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7

The girls looked at each other unhappily, sighed, and trudged away. They were intercepted at their station by Rarity and Sunset Shimmer.

"Don't be too upset, girls," Rarity said. "You gave it your all! And you haven't lost yet. Don't lose hope!"

"Nah, Trixie's got us beat," Scootaloo said. "We been watchin' her, she's way out of our league."

"But you had fun cooking together, right?" Sunset asked.

The girls looked at each other.

"Yeah, we did!" Apple Bloom said.

"And I'm not as much of a disaster in the kitchen as I was before this all started," Sweetie Belle said. With a giggle, she added, "For one thing, I realize now that I actually was a disaster in the kitchen. Now I at least know milk doesn't come in the cereal box!"

Sunset blinked. She glanced at Rarity, who cringed. "Okay, with that in mind, your scores in this round are pretty good," she said.

"We did better with th' fried chicken," Apple Bloom said.

"But that was just you," Scootaloo pointed out. "We hardly did anything for that."

"We'll help you girls clean up, then you can come sit with us and watch the rest," Sunset said. "How's that sound?"

The girls shrugged and nodded. With that, the five of them set to work cleaning up.

* * * * *

Flash, Skunk, and Beats strode confidently up to the table with their serving cart, which had a large metal tray on it, along with an assortment of separate packages, containers, and other stuff.

"Alright, what do you boys have for us this time?" Celestia asked pleasantly, folding her hands in front of her.

The boys looked at each other and smirked. "Well, after we saw what Snips and Snails brought to the table, we decided to change up our game plan," Flash said. "Boys, let's flip 'em up!"

And with that, the boys swiftly assembled four bacon cheeseburgers, hot off the grill, with extra sauce, crisp lettuce, sliced tomatoes, crispy onion straws, and sliced smoked cheddar.

Rainbow Dash leaned forward with anticipation, a huge grin on her face. "Alright, now we're talkin'!" she said.

Ms. Harshwhinny raised an eyebrow. "Really, boys?"

Flash shrugged. "Well, we had something else planned, but we agreed when we were planning out our menu that if one of our competitors really whiffed it, we'd coast on a classic."

Celestia smirked. "Good strategy. I'm impressed by your foreplanning."

"Even if it's a bit ruthless," Cadance added with a sneaky smile.

The boys served the judges, who took delicate bites of the burgers (with the exception of Rainbow Dash, who just tore right in). "Oh, dude, this is a good burger," Rainbow said.

"That sauce you boys are using really does bring out the flavor of everything," Cadance said. "Did you cook the bacon and the onions on the grill?"

"Yeah," Beats said. "We looked up ways to cook anything on the grill, just in case."

Ms. Harshwhinny pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Well, I must hand it to you, boys," she said, "even I enjoy a good burger from time to time, and you certainly know your way around toppings. Also, the fact that this was a backup plan in case one of your competitors failed miserably is worth taking into consideration."

"It is pretty impressive that you boys came prepared to make a dish you weren't sure you'd even need to make," Celestia said. "And I haven't had a bacon cheeseburger this tasty in quite some time." She looked around. "Judges?"

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): FLASH SENTRY, SKUNK ROCK, AND BEATS

PREPARATION: 9.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 9
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
PRESENTATION: 8.5/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 7
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
CREATIVITY: 9/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 8
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 9
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
TASTE: 9.5/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 9
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10

The boys hi-fived each other and whooped as they wheeled their cart away. The judges just laughed (except Ms. Harshwhinny, who rolled her eyes) and finished their burgers. Ms. Harshwhinny shot Rainbow Dash a pointed look as she swallowed a bite. "All tens, Miss Dash? Really?"

"What?" Rainbow said through a mouthful of burger. "It's a good burger."

In the stands, Sunset laughed. "I can't help but think Flash and his friends just got graded on a curve," she said.

"Yeah, if those burgers had been up against us or Negra Arroyo, the scores wouldn't have been nearly that high," Twilight agreed. "I think, anyway."

"I believe the scoring that time was more based on their planning strategy than on their actual food," Rarity said, folding her arms.

"I dunno, those burgers looked awful tasty," Pinkie said. "I think I'm gonna go get 'em to make me one while they've still got the grill hot!" She vaulted off the bleachers.

A minute later, Twilight jumped up. "Hey, wait up!" She followed Pinkie across the floor.

Sunset rolled her eyes and stood up. "You coming, Rarity?"

Rarity shook her head, smirking. "I'm quite full, thank you." She glanced at the three younger girls. "Girls?"

"We're full too," Scootaloo said. "Which totally sucks, because I kinda want one too."

"I ate too much meatloaf," Sweetie Belle complained.

"Well, it had t' go somewhere," Apple Bloom said before letting out a huge belch.

* * * * *

"And here comes Tripsie," Rainbow Dash muttered as Trixie approached the table, a haughty and superior expression on her face.

"Be nice," Cadance whispered.

Trixie's dish was already plated; she placed a plate before each judge which contained a small, round ceramic baking dish from which rose a mound of mashed potatoes, the top of which was golden-brown. Each dish had a sprig of parsley laid carefully atop the potatoes, which were seasoned with coarse ground black pepper.

"Behold," Trixie said with a flourish of her arms, "The Great and Powerful TRRRRIXIE'S potato-topped steak pot pie!"

"Pot pie, huh?" Cadance asked. "Alright. I've never seen pot pie with mashed potatoes on top before."

"Oh, I've had that," Rainbow Dash said. "Dad buys 'em frozen. It's not bad."

"This," Trixie said testily, "is far superior to any frozen pot pie you've ever eaten or ever will eat."

"I don't doubt it," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Tell us more, Miss Lulamoon."

"Very well," Trixie said silkily, running a hand through her hair. "Beneath the artistically-whipped peaks of smooth, creamy, yet just faintly golden brown potatoes, you will find tender medallions of steak, sliced carrots, diced potatoes, and snow peas in a rich gravy made with simmered onions and just a dash of Worcestershire sauce." She tilted her head back and closed her eyes.

Rainbow Dash dug in. "'S good," she grunted through a mouthful.

Ms. Harshwhinny shot her a cross look, then delicately tucked into her own pot pie, as did the others. After carefully and deliberately chewing and swallowing, Ms. Harshwhinny said, "You have indeed presented a fine, quality example of a pot pie, Miss Lulamoon. I particularly applaud your choice of snow peas. It is not a vegetable one normally associates with this sort of fare." She frowned. "I do however question the addition of diced potatoes to the filling, given the rather generous amount of mashed potatoes on top."

"I agree there," Celestia said. "It seems like a litle too much potato. Other than that, I don't have any complaints."

"Well, you certainly know how to sell it, I'll give you that," Cadance said with a laugh. "But yeah, it's not bad. I'm not big on this much potato in one dish, especially when there's another carb involved. But that's a personal thing, I won't take points off for it." She frowned. "What I will take points off for is that you only seasoned the mashed potatoes with pepper. I'd have added some garlic and herbs to the potatoes before topping the pies and baking them."

"She's kinda got a point there," Rainbow Dash said. "You hafta get 'em down into the gravy or they're just mashies with stuff under 'em. Like I said, it's not bad, but it could be a little better."

Trixie grimaced. "Trixie...did not take that into consideration," she admitted.

"Still, all in all, a solid effort," Ms. Harshwhinny said.

"I could certainly have this for dinner from time to time," Celestia agreed. "Judges? Enter your scores now."

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): TRIXIE LULAMOON

PREPARATION: 8.75/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 9
PRESENTATION: 9/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 8
CREATIVITY: 9.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 9
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 9
TASTE: 9/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 9

Trixie tossed her hair and took a bow. The crowd applauded as she returned to her station.

* * * * *

Lyra and Bon Bon wheeled their cart to the table, heads bowed.

"Girls, why so glum?" Celestia asked.

"Uhh, because we already lost before we even got judged?" Bon Bon said. "Sunset and her friends got a perfect score!"

"Now, girls," Cadance said with a gentle smile. "As long as you gave it your all, you have nothing to be depressed about." She steepled her fingers. "At least go out fighting, right?"

"Yeah, it ain't over till the fat lady sings!" Rainbow said. "Even though you pretty much can't beat the other girls, don't just give up!"

"You're right," Lyra said. "We have to see this through, no matter what." With that, she uncovered their pot.

Ms. Harshwhinny sniffed the air as the lid was removed. Her eyes widened. "Surely that's not..."

The girls spooned up four dishes of coq au vin and placed them before the judges. "For our entry, we prepared coq au vin," Bon Bon said.

Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Should I even ask how you girls managed to get hold of the wine you need for that?"

"My mom," Lyra said. "We told her it was just for cooking."

"And it is, honest!" Bon Bon added hastily.

Celestia smirked. "Uh-huh." She shook her head. "Well, let's see how you did."

Rainbow Dash blinked. "Wait. There's booze in this?" She looked at the dish hesitantly. "I'm not gonna like get in trouble if I—"

"When used in cooking, alcohol simmers away," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Undoubtedly you've had marinara sauce prepared with merlot without even realizing it if you've ever eaten at a proper restaurant."

"Huh. Cool." Rainbow Dash took a bite, frowned, and shook her head. "Yeah, no. Sorry, girls. Just tastes like chicken stew to me."

Cadance tasted hers. "Hmm." She wiped her mouth delicately. "It's a good try," she said. "I think perhaps you could've tried a different recipe, maybe varied it a bit."

"This is Mulia Mild's recipe down to the letter," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Though I think perhaps you could have used a more expensive, more refined wine. It would have improved the quality."

"It was a good effort, girls," Celestia said, smiling apologetically at Lyra and Bon Bon. "Keep practicing! You seem to enjoy cooking Prench cuisine."

The girls looked at each other. "Actually..." Lyra began.

"We kinda totally hate it," Bon Bon admitted. "We're way better at baking bread than cooking anything fancy."

"We just thought we'd try something different," Lyra said.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Celestia said with a smile.

"Actually," Bon Bon said, rubbing the back of her head, "we only tried Prench cuisine because we thought making fancier stuff would give us an edge."

"We totally weren't expecting this thing to be so intense," Lyra said.

"I see," Celestia said mildly. "Well, the important thing is you tried. Judges?"

The other judges picked up their tablets...

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): LYRA HEARTSTRINGS AND SWEETIE DROPS

PREPARATION: 7.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 8
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 7
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 7
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7
PRESENTATION: 7/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 8
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 6
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 7
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7
CREATIVITY: 6.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 5
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 6
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7
TASTE: 6.75/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 8
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 7
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 7
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 5

Lyra and Bon Bon looked at the scores, sighed, and walked back to their station. The crowd cheered for them, and they waved halfheartedly.

"Oh dear," Rarity said fretfully. "I do feel dreadfully sorry for them. We should...we should do something to cheer them up."

"I think Sandalwood still has some of those brownies," Pinkie said. The others glared at her. "Whaaaat?" she whined.

* * * * *

"We're just about to wrap up the quarterfinals!" Celestia announced. "As we wait for our final contestant, let's review the matches so far and the quarterfinalists who have already clinched their ticket to the semifinals!"

As the crowd cheered, the scoreboard lit up with a graphic depicting a tournament bracket. The eight semifinalists sat on the left; as the judges named each victor, their portrait advanced to the semifinal match-ups.

"With the only perfect score of the quarterfinal round, Sunset Shimmer, Twilight Sparkle, and Rarity move on to the semifinals!"

A huge cheer rose from the crowd as the three girls' portrait moved ahead in the bracket, while Lyra and Bon Bon were dimmed out.

"Having scored a hit with her potato-topped pot pie, Trixie Lulamoon advances and will face Sunset, Twilight, and Rarity tomorrow!"

Trixie's portrait moved into the slot beneath the other girls, even as the portrait of Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo dimmed out.

"Flash Sentry, Skunk Rock, and Beats grilled up a win against lazy bachelor chefs Snips and Snails!"

The grillmasters' portraits moved into the third semifinal slot as Snips and Snails' portrait dimmed.

"But who will their opponent in the semifinals be? Will it be Negra Arroyo, the perfectionist with the blue corn fetish? Or will Saffron Masala curry our favor and move on to the next round?"

Cadance looked down the table at Celestia with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. "You're getting way too into this," she said.

Celestia blushed. "I never get to do stuff like this," she protested. "I'm allowed to have fun, right?"

Saffron Masala finished her preparations and wheeled her dish over to the judges. "Sorry for the wait," she said. She spooned up four bowls of a chunky red stew from a slow cooker, garnishing each with a sprinkle of some yellow spice.

"More curry?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"Sort of," Saffron said. "This is goat vindaloo."

"Goat?" Cadance asked. "I don't think I've ever had goat."

"Honestly, your presentation is rather lacking," Ms. Harshwhinny said as she picked up her spoon.

"I am sorry," Saffron said. "I was always taught that the smell and taste of food are more important than the appearance."

"People do tend to eat with the eyes first," Cadance said. "Speaking of which, this is making mine water and I haven't even tasted it yet."

"It does smell a bit...pungent," Celestia said. She took a bite, and nearly choked. "Oh! Oh," she said. She coughed, hastily swallowed, wiped her mouth, then reached for her bottled water, chugging it. Along the table, the other judges had similar reactions, sweating as they went for their water.

Saffron cringed, twisting the hem of her shirt in her hands. "Too spicy?" she asked.

"Where'd you get this stuff, out of a nuclear reactor?" Rainbow Dash said.

"I don't mind spice, but this is ridiculous," Cadance said. "And the meat tastes a little...off."

Ms. Harshwhinny carefully took another bite, chewing a piece of goat. She frowned. "Your meat is rancid," she said after spitting it out into a napkin and pushing the plate away.

Saffron wilted. "It...it shouldn't be..." She shook her head.

"Where'd you get this meat from?" Celestia asked.

"From the restaurant's freezer," Saffron said. "The label said it had only been frozen for two weeks..." She rushed back to her cooking station, rummaging through the freezer bags she'd disposed of. She let out a shriek of panic, then hurried back to the judges' table. "I—I'm sorry!" she gasped out. "I didn't..."

"What's wrong?" Cadance asked.

Saffron was in tears. "The date on the meat...it's dated from last year," she cried.

The judges looked at each other uncertainly. Rainbow Dash pushed her bowl away. The other judges frowned and did likewise.

Celestia coughed. "I'm...sorry, Saffron," she said. "Under the circumstances, I'm afraid you're disqualified."

Saffron bowed her head. "I understand," she said. "I'm sorry..."

"It's alright, dear," Celestia said soothingly. "Mistakes happen."

"We're not gonna like, get food poisoning, are we?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"Probably not," Cadance said. "Still, it wouldn't hurt to take a little stomach medicine just to be on the safe side."

"Miss Masala, surely you noticed when you taste-tested the vindaloo that your meat was rancid?" Ms. Harshwhinny asked.

Saffron sighed. "I'm so used to pungent flavors and gamey meats from Papa's cooking that I...I didn't notice." She hung her head in shame and trudged back to her station, pushing her cart.

QUARTERFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): SAFFRON MASALA

DISQUALIFIED

As the crowd murmured and muttered, Celestia looked around with a sad, pained smile. "Well...that's it for today," she said. "I hope we'll see everybody here bright and early tomorrow for the second day of the Bake Sale and the semifinal round of the Cooking Contest!"

Once the microphones were switched off, Cadance groaned. "Ugh," she said. "I'm gonna need to do like two hours of cardio tonight."

"Yeah, I'm gonna hafta jog an extra lap tomorrow," Rainbow Dash said with a grimace, patting her stomach. "Think I'm gonna lay off my usual evening run tonight, though. If I run on a stomach this full, I'm gonna get cramps."

"I feel sorry for Saffron," Celestia said. "She's not a bad cook. It's just...sad that happened."

"If she'd paid more attention to the labels on her meat," Ms. Harshwhinny said with a frown. "Or purchased fresh meat from the store instead of raiding her family's freezer."

"Eh, she took a risk," Rainbow said. "I can respect that. Even if backfired on her." She stood up suddenly. "Think I'm gonna go talk to her."

Across the gym, a group of girls had the same idea. Sunset, Twilight, Rarity, and Pinkie were converging on Saffron.

"Hey," Sunset said as she approached. "Tough break."

Saffron sighed and smiled. "It was my fault," she said. "I'm simply not cut out to be a real cook like my papa."

"Aww, don't say that," Pinkie said. "You had a bad day. Everybody has a bad day once in a while!"

"I know, but..." Saffron sighed. "I was hoping to use the cooking contest to stir up business for my family's restaurant. We're not doing very well at all."

"Really?" Rarity asked. "But...every time I've been past there, it's been packed!"

Saffron groaned. "With friends of my papa," she said. "They hang around and goof off, and nobody actually pays for any food. Then real customers don't bother to come in because the restaurant looks crowded. Papa won't do anything about it because he's convinced we've failed."

The girls looked at each other. "That's...that's awful," Twilight said.

Rarity frowned. "That simply won't do," she said. "It sounds to me like your restaurant needs an intervention."

"Ooh, you mean like that TV show with the angry shouty guy who swears a lot?" Pinkie Pie asked excitedly. "That sounds like a lot of fun!" She put on a mock-stern expression and started wagging a finger in an exaggerated manner. "Fuck your food and fuck your kitchen and fuck you too and what the FUCK is this?" She giggled.

Everybody stared at her. "Don't ever do that again," Sunset said flatly.

Saffron blinked slowly. "Is...is she alright in the head?"

"Compared to what?" Rarity asked. She waved a hand dismissively. "Nevermind her, darling. I would be more than happy to round up some volunteers to come to the restaurant next weekend, spend some actual money, and spread the word about the food!"

"Yeah, me too!" Pinkie Pie said eagerly.

"Count me in," Sunset said with a smile.

"Me too!" Rainbow Dash said as she joined the group.

"I...think I'll have to pass," Twilight said. "I can't handle really spicy stuff very well. But I'll be sure to tell my brother and my dad to drop by! They love spicy food!"

Saffron looked around at them, tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you all."

"Think nothing of it, darling," Rarity said. "Now, perhaps it's best if you dispose of that toxic vindaloo."

Saffron grimaced. "Yes, you are right..." She sighed. "I am so humiliated."

"The best thing you can do right now," a new voice intruded, "is to go back to your restaurant and do a complete inventory of your kitchen."

The girls all looked around. Negra Arroyo stood there, a folding cart loaded with his supplies next to him. He looked intently at Saffron. "Your dad had year old frozen meat in his freezer. That's not just a disgrace, that's a health code violation. You need to go through every inch of that kitchen and get rid of anything that's substandard, expired, or otherwise unacceptable." He leaned close, his eyes burning into Saffron. "Anything. Do you understand?"

Saffron nodded, shrinking away from him.

Negra Arroyo looked around at the other girls, his gaze lingering on Sunset, Twilight, and Rarity. "If you make it to the finals, I'll be waiting," he said. With that, he donned a black porkpie hat, smoothed out the brim, and turned to leave. He paused, looked back, and added, "Oh. And if you know what's good for you, don't cook anything Mexican." With a sinister sneer, he said, "That's my territory."

And with that, he left.

"What a jerk," Rainbow Dash muttered, scowling at his retreating back.

"Agreed," Rarity said.

Twilight paled. "Girls, our semifinal dish is Mexican! What do we do?"

"We cook it anyway," Sunset said. "The hell with that freak. He's not the boss of us."

"Yeah, he's pretty corny," Pinkie said. "Blue corny. Get it?" she added with a giggle-snort.

"We get it," the others said with resigned groans.

Flash walked over to the group. "So...hey, Twilight. Hey, Sunset. Congrats on makin' it through. Oh, you too, Rarity."

"Thanks, Flash," Sunset said. "Do us all a favor and kick that Negra Arroyo jerk's ass tomorrow, alright? We'd much rather beat you in the finals than have to deal with him." She grinned cheekily at him.

Flash smirked. "Heh. We'll see who beats who." He glanced at Twilight, then laughed shakily. "Uhh...of course, I think you girls are gonna go all the way. I mean, you rocked it with that...thing you made. Everybody was goin' nuts!" He backed away awkwardly, nearly tripping over his feet. "So, uhh...see you tomorrow! Good luck!"

Once he left, Sunset sighed. "Geez."

"Hopeless," Rarity sang.

Twilight frowned. "Why does that guy keep looking at me like that?"

"Don't worry about it," Sunset said. "Worry about getting a good night's sleep for tomorrow." She stretched and yawned. "I am exhausted."

"Me too," Rarity said. "I do hope they think to provide the chefs with chairs tomorrow. There's an awful lot of waiting involved in cooking."

"Not the way we do it there isn't," Twilight said. "Well...I guess it'd be nice to have a chair just in case." Her phone sang out from her pocket, and she pulled it out and looked at it. "My ride's here," she said. "See you girls tomorrow!"

"Later, Twi!" Sunset waved, then rubbed her back and grimaced. "Well, I'd better get going too. Rarity, can you finish packing up?"

"I'll help," Rainbow said. "I need to move around a bit after sittin' on my ass all day."

"Thank you, Rainbow," Rarity said. "Pinkie Pie?"

"I'm gonna head over to Fluttershy's place and check on her," she said. "I'll text you later." She sighed. "I have a feeling me and the girls are done with the Bake Sale."

"All because Fluttershy got into some hash brownies?" Sunset asked.

Rainbow blinked. "Wait, what now?"

"I'll fill you in later," Pinkie said. "And it's not just that. Our whole morning was a total disaster. We're not going through that again." She giggled. "Besides, we sold over five hundred bucks' worth today, I think we did our part."

The girls' jaws dropped. "Whoa," Sunset said. "Okay, see you all tomorrow!"

"Later, Sunset!"

"Sleep well!"

The gym slowly emptied out, volunteers helping the remaining contestants clean up and pack up. By the time the last person left and Principal Celestia locked up the school, it was already dusk. She found her sister next to their car in the parking lot. "So how was your day?" she asked.

Luna snorted. "Three students and Cheerilee tried to sweep some pot brownies under the rug without my noticing. I let them off the hook since nobody got sick and only one student was noticeably high before Pinkie Pie made the culprit stop selling the brownies."

Celestia blinked. "Seriously?"

"Well, you know what they say," Luna said. "It isn't a bake sale until somebody gets baked."

Celestia rolled her eyes and groaned good-naturedly. "Well I'm looking forward to a very long date with the toilet," she said.

"That is more information than I needed, sister!" Luna cried as she got into the car. Celestia laughed, got in, and drove off into the darkening night.

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