• 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 Three)

Mid-morning on Sunday found the gym at Canterlot High packed. Most of the student body who weren't involved with the bake sale had assembled to watch the semifinals of the cooking contest. Four elaborate modular kitchen setups had been constructed in the center of the gym.

Applejack and Pinkie Pie sat with Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle in the bleachers. "Where's Fluttershy?" Apple Bloom asked.

"She's restin' at home today," Applejack said with a grimace.

"Is she sick? Did she have a bad reaction after she came down?" Pinkie asked.

Applejack shrugged. "Honestly? Ah think she's jes' too embarrassed t' show her face."

"What happened?" Scootaloo asked.

Pinkie Pie sighed. "Let's just say Fluttershy and marijuana aren't the best combination."

The younger girls looked at each other with wide eyes. "Fluttershy got high on weed?" Scootaloo asked.

"Not on purpose," Applejack said. She shook her head. "Anyhoo, we'll jes' hafta cheer th' girls on twice as hard t' make up fer Fluttershy not bein' here."

"Wouldn't we have to cheer them on twice as hard even if she was here?" Sweetie Belle asked. The other girls giggled.

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Alright, y'all."

The lights suddenly dimmed. The staccato pounding of snare drums filled the gym as the Canterlot High marching band entered, forming two lines leading from the north entrance to the kitchen stations. Spotlights snapped on, illuminating the path between them as well as the judges' table, where Principal Celestia, Ms. Harshwhinny, Dean Cadance, and Rainbow Dash sat.

"Welcome, everyone, to the semifinal round of the Canterlot High Cooking Contest!" Celestia greeted grandly. "In just a moment, four contestants are about to enter. Of those four, two will advance to this afternoon's finals! By the end of today, we will crown one student or group of students the supreme student chefs of CHS!

"Please welcome the students who will be competing in our own kitchen arena today! First up, three girls who certainly need no introduction, who have shown us all the magic of friendship! Please welcome Sunset Shimmer, Rarity, and Twilight Sparkle!"

The band drummed wildly as the three girls entered the gym, waving to the cheering crowd. They jogged over to their designated kitchen station, where their equipment and supplies were already waiting for them.

"And their opponent, a girl who aspires to be both a rock star and a stage magician, and certainly worked her magic with food yesterday—please welcome Trixie Lulamoon!"

Before the band could even start drumming, a plume of blue smoke and a shower of purple sparks erupted from the second kitchen station. Trixie appeared with a flourish of her cape, which she tossed aside along with her pointed magician's hat. She gave her hair a flip and posed with a hand on her hip to mild applause.

"Next, we have three rockers who showed us yesterday they can rock a grill: Flash Sentry, Skunk Rock, and Beats!"

The guys strolled out to the marching band's drum accompaniment and generous applause, heading for the only station with a barbecue grill set up.

"And finally, their opponent, the mysterious and taciturn master of Mexican cuisine, the blue corn king, Negra Arroyo!"

Very little applause heralded Negra Arroyo's calm, no-nonsense entrance. He walked up to his station, took off his porkpie hat, rolled up his sleeves, and went right to work.

The lights snapped on and the brackets appeared on the scoreboard above the judges.

"Contestants, you have three hours to prepare your dishes. As before, judging will take place when each contestant's submission is ready to be served. Octavia Melody will be wandering the floor, asking questions of our cooks and reporting on the floor action." Celestia raised her hand into the air.

"Let the cooking...BEGIN!"

* * * * *

"Excuse me. You're Twilight's friends, right?"

Applejack and Pinkie Pie looked up to see a woman who looked like an older Twilight with light grey-white skin and lavender hair with two ivory streaks. To one side of her stood a blue-skinned man with dark blue hair; to the other stood a pale cream-white boy about five years older than them with shaggy two-tone blue hair. "Yeah," Pinkie Pie said. "You're her mom and dad and brother, right?"

"That's right," Twilight Velvet said. "Do you mind if we join you?"

"Sure!" Pinkie Pie scooted around to make room for them.

"Thank you, dear." Twilight's family sat down between the three younger girls and Pinkie Pie.

"We almost didn't make it," Night Light said. "We got held up by the tail end of the Buffalo Pride Parade."

"That's STILL goin' on?" Applejack cried. "Ah thought that was jes' th' one day!"

"Oh, it's making its way west," Shining Armor said. "It started out here in the sticks, then today it moved into the city where we live."

Applejack frowned. "Hey now. This here's th' suburbs, not th' sticks."

Shining Armor rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Sorry," he said. He sighed. "Man, Cadance is lucky. What I wouldn't give to be on that judging panel today."

Velvet rolled her eyes. "Come on, boys, you already demolished one whole platter when they learned the recipe."

Sweetie Belle tilted her head. "So you guys know what they're gonna make today?"

Velvet smiled. "Oh, we certainly do," she said, her eyes twinkling mischievously.

* * * * *

"I dunno, dude," Beats said as he and Skunk chopped potatoes and carrots while Flash got the grill going. "I don't like our chances against that Negra Arroyo guy."

"I know," Flash said with a resigned sigh, "but we gotta do our best."

"And yet you're barbecuing again," the cultured voice of Octavia Melody broke in as she approached with a microphone. "You managed to do quite well sticking to your one trick, but do you really think cookout food is going to do the trick here?"

Flash shrugged. "Probably not, but it's all we've got," he said.

"Really," Octavia drawled. "You didn't bother to learn how to do anything else? Not even proper side dishes?"

"I can't even boil an egg, dude," Skunk said.

Octavia made a face. "Interesting choice, then, to enter a cooking competition. If I might ask, what was your motivation for entering when none of you can properly cook?"

The guys looked at one another, then at Flash. Flash sighed and looked away. "Well..." His shoulders slumped. "I screwed up so bad at the Friendship Games, I wanted to kinda, y'know, maybe make a comeback from that? Earn back some cred?"

"Hmm, I see," Octavia said. "Well...win or lose, you boys did make it to the semifinals, against all odds. I'd say job well done." She looked over what the three boys were doing. "So, am I to assume you're going to be making some sort of kebabs?"

"That's right," Skunk said. "Thought we'd change it up a bit and do mutton today."

"I see. That's certainly a change of pace."

"We're also gonna roast some ears of corn," Beats added.

"Well, good luck to you," Octavia said before walking away.

Across the gym, Sunset shot a pensive look at the boys. "So that's what this is all about," she said. "Here I thought he was just trying to show off for..." She trailed off. "Nevermind."

"Oh, SHOOT!" Twilight suddenly yelped. "Girls, we've got a problem!"

"What is it, darli—oh. Oh no."

The girls stared in dismay at the block of cheddar Twilight had just begun cubing...which was encrusted in blue and white mold.

"Crap!" Sunset spat. "How the hell'd that happen?!"

"I dunno, but it's a problem," Twilight said worriedly.

"It's not our only problem," Rarity moaned as she held up their onion. Which, once the outer skin had been removed, was revealed to be partially rotten.

"Gah," Sunset said.

"What're we gonna do, girls?" Twilight moaned.

Rarity sighed dramatically. "We are in a pickle, aren't we..."

Sunset took a deep breath. "No, we can handle this," she said. "You girls check and see if anything else went bad on us. I'll check to see if the judges'll let us make an emergency trip to the store."

"But...none of us can leave the gym during the contest, right?"

"I've got it covered," Sunset said. "At least, I hope." With that, she took off running for the judges' table.

"There seems to be some sort of commotion," Cadance informed the crowd as Sunset pelted toward them. Celestia motioned down the table, and all four judges killed their mics as Sunset skidded to a halt, leaning against the table, chest heaving as she panted for breath.

"What seems to be the problem, Sunset?" Celestia asked.

Sunset took a deep breath. "Some of our ingredients went bad," she said. "We caught it in time and we can still finish up well inside the time limit if we can send somebody on a quick food run. Is that allowed?"

The judges looked at one another and shrugged. "I don't see why not," Celestia said. "As long as you finish and present your dish within the time limit. Will one of you be leaving?"

"No, I'm gonna send Pinkie Pie," Sunset said. "She's a fast shopper and I trust her to know her foods. I mean, if that's allowed."

"Sure, go for it," Rainbow said.

"I have no objections," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "It would be a shame to have a similar tragedy occur as what happened to Ms. Masala yesterday."

"Yeah, do what you gotta do," Cadance agreed.

Sunset beamed gratefully at them. "Thanks," she said. She rushed back over to the others, waving desperately at Pinkie Pie as she passed.

The judges cut their microphones back on. "Pinkie Pie, please report to the floor," Celestia said. "Also, I have an announcement at this time. If any contestants discover missing or spoiled ingredients, please alert us immediately. You will be allowed to send a runner to the store, so long as you will still be able to finish cooking in time."

Pinkie Pie vaulted over three rows of spectators and landed on the floor, sprinting over to her friends just as Sunset made it back. "What's up, girls?" she asked.

Sunset looked to the other girls. "Anything else turn up bad?" she asked.

Twilight shook her head. "Just the cheese and the onion," she said.

Sunset sighed with relief. "Good. Okay, Pinkie, we need you to run to the store for us real fast."

"Sure," Pinkie said. "But it'd be faster if I took my scooter."

Sunset facepalmed. "Yes, by all means, please take your scooter," she said flatly. She fished a handful of bills out of her wallet and handed them to Pinkie. "We need a large yellow onion and a pound of sharp cheddar cheese."

Pinkie saluted. "Right away, Cap'n Cook ma'am!" She bolted for the exit.

Sunset took a deep breath. "Alright, so we can't get to work on the meat yet, but at least we can get a head start on cutting everything else up."

Octavia walked up to them. "So, you girls ran into a little problem?" she asked.

"Yeah, we had some moldy cheese and a rotten onion," Twilight said. "Could've been a disaster if we didn't have time to get more."

"Well, while you wait for your friend to return," Octavia said, "would you spare a few words for everyone?"

"Sure," Sunset said as she diced a tomato.

"Yesterday, you offered up a Prench dish and a Neighponese dish," Octavia said. "Will you be similarly exploring world flavor today?"

"Absolutely, darling!" Rarity said as she sliced jalapeños. "For the semifinals, we'll be presenting a Mexican treat." She shot a catty smirk at Negra Arroyo, who looked up briefly from his preparations and glared at them. "For the finals, we'll be dazzling you all with a taste of Bitaly!"

"You seem confident you'll advance to the finals," Octavia said. "I take it then that you don't view Trixie as a threat?"

The three girls looked at each other, then over at Trixie, who was scowling at them. "Trixie's good," Sunset admitted. "We honestly didn't expect that. But you don't win with a 'maybe' attitude."

That statement earned wild applause from the crowd. Trixie snorted and looked pointedly away.

"So what precisely are you girls making today?" Octavia asked, looking over their ingredients. "The flour tortillas would seem to indicate some sort of burritos, or perhaps soft tacos?"

Sunset smirked. "Actually, we're making nachos."

This drew some murmurs from the crowd. Octavia tilted her head. "Nachos?"

"Nachos," Twilight affirmed with a confident smile.

Octavia craned her neck and scanned their ingredients. "But...I'm sorry...the flour tortillas, then?"

The three girls looked at one another. "Shall we spoil the surprise, girls?" Rarity asked.

"Sure, why not," Sunset said. She looked around at the other competitors, at the judges, and at the audience. "We're making nachos with flour tortilla chips," she announced loudly.

Negra Arroyo looked up sharply, surprise evident on his face. Flash and his friends blinked and looked at each other in confusion. Interested and excited murmurs rose from the crowd. Even the judges leaned forward in interest.

Celestia covered her mic. "Rainbow Dash, did you know about this?" she whispered.

Rainbow shook her head. "First I've heard of it," she said. "So they're doin' like what, taco salad but as nachos?"

"Sounds like it," Cadance said. "This should be fun!"

Octavia's brow furrowed. "So then the flour tortillas you have..."

"We're going to fry them!" Rarity sang. "We're going to cut them up and fry them for fresh, crispy flour tortilla chips."

That got everybody excited.

"Well then," Octavia said, "that should be quite the treat for our judges! If all goes well, I expect you'll have half the school asking for this recipe later."

Sunset laughed. "They'll have to ask Twilight's mom, it's her recipe. It's not ours to share."

"I see," Octavia said. "Well, best of luck to you girls!"

"Duuude," Beats said as he put chunks of mutton in a bowl of sauce, "that sounds freakin' sweet."

"Yeah," Flash agreed. "I'm glad we're not up against the girls. We'd be so boned."

"We're boned either way," Skunk pointed out as he rolled carrots in a separate bowl. "I think that Negra dude's pissed now."

Flash looked over at Negra Arroyo and frowned. "Yeah, that little announcement kinda set him off..."

Octavia approached Trixie. "So, you've heard what your opponents are making," she said. "Would you care to share your menu with the audience?"

Trixie gave a haughty sniff. "Well, those girls may be bringing the appetizer, but TRRRRIXIE is delivering the MAIN COURSE!" She stepped back and gave the audience a theatrical bow. "Today, Trixie will be demonstrating her versatility with something..." She laughed into the back of her hand. "A bit more down-home. Something you might find in Applejack's little country kitchen."

"Oh? And what might that be?" Octavia asked.

"Well, if you must know," Trixie said haughtily, "Trixie is preparing traditional country fried steak with cream gravy, fried okra, and handmade seasoned crispy tater tots!" She fanned herself. "Yes, I am that amazing."

Octavia's brow furrowed. "If I remember correctly, yesterday you made pepper steak and steak pot pie. Now you're offering yet another steak dish?"

Trixie's haughty expression turned to an annoyed scowl. "I had a lot of steak," she snapped sourly.

"Well, your reputation is certainly at—ahem—steak," Octavia said, earning chuckles and groans at her pun. Trixie rolled her eyes and pointedly returned her attention to her preparations.

Rainbow Dash snickered. "Same old Trixie," she said.

"Do you have some sort of rivalry with that girl?" Cadance asked.

"Couldn't you tell?" Celestia said with a teasing smile. "They're competing for title of Bluest Girl At CHS."

Rainbow Dash blinked at that. "Uhh...we kinda threw down at the Battle of the Bands," she said. "Actually, we had a shred-off over this sweet guitar a while back, but I ended up letting her have it even though I totally won because I liked the one I was playing better and the other one was ten thousand bucks anyway."

"Ouch," Cadance said.

"Anyway, Trixie's an arrogant show-off," Rainbow said.

Ms. Harshwhinny stared at her incredulously. "And you aren't?"

"Hey, at least I got the skills to back it up!" Rainbow retorted hotly.

"If you say so," Ms. Harshwhinny drawled.

"And lastly," Octavia said from the floor, "I'd like to get some remarks from Negra Arroyo. Err, would you do us the courtesy of actually speaking to everyone this time?"

Negra Arroyo glanced at her, then shrugged. "Alright," he said as he sliced something on a cutting board.

"Very well. What are you planning to prepare for the judges today?"

"Well, since Ms. Harshwhinny criticized my reliance on restaurant fare yesterday," Negra Arroyo said, "I decided to start off with one of my own original recipes."

"Really?" Octavia said. "Tell us more!"

"I'd rather not divulge anything," Negra Arroyo said as he finished slicing and scraped his ingredients into a shallow skillet. "What I will say is that you ladies are in for something I know you'll all love."

"I see." Octavia looked over his station. "You also have flour tortillas. May I assume you're going to use them in a more traditional way than the ladies over there are?"

Negra Arroyo frowned. "I have to give those girls credit," he admitted. "Flour tortilla chips aren't something you run into anywhere close to often enough. Even if all they're making are nachos, judging by what I see going on over there, I don't doubt I'll be facing those three in the finals."

"Oh? You seem confident you'll win this round."

Negra Arroyo snorted. "Please," he said. "I think we all know by now how this is gonna play out."

"Well, there you have it," Octavia said. "I'll be reporting on the action for the remainder of the day, but for now, I believe I need a break and some water." The audience applauded as she walked over to a chair at the end of the judges' table and sat down.

"You know," Shining Armor said thoughtfully, "I think maybe going to Crystal Prep was a mistake after all."

"Oh?" Velvet asked, looking over at him. "Why's that?"

Shining Armor looked down at the floor, then around the stands. "This school is wall-to-wall hot girls," he said. "It was never like this at Crystal Prep!"

Applejack raised an eyebrow. "Ain't you a little too old t' be oglin' high school girls?"

"What? I'm not that old," Shining Armor said defensively. "Besides, I'm just sayin' it looks like going here woulda been more fun. Y'know, if I was still a teenager."

Applejack rolled her eyes. "Whutever you say, pard," she drawled.

"I dunno, I thought Crystal Prep had some really pretty girls," Sweetie Belle said.

"Not when I went there," Shining Armor said. "Well, except for Cadance."

* * * * *

The contest had been in full swing for a good twenty minutes when Pinkie Pie rushed in, a grocery bag swinging from her hand, and skidded up to the girls' station. "Here you go," she said.

"Thanks, Pinkie, you're a lifesaver," Sunset said. She took the bag, extracted the onion and the cheese, then handed the latter off to Twilight while giving Rarity the onion. "Okay girls, let's pick up the pace!"

"Anything else I can do to help?" Pinkie asked.

"Nope," Sunset said. "Appreciate the save, though."

"Okay, I'll head back up to the stands now," Pinkie said. "By the way, Twilight, your family's here watching!"

"I know," Twilight said with a smirk.

As the day wore on, Octavia wandered around the gym floor, asking the chefs questions and commenting on their preparations. Trixie was the first semifinalist to present her dishes to be judged. "Ladies," she said primly as she wheeled her serving cart to the table. With a magician's flair, she plated four piping hot, golden brown country fried steaks, ladling white cream gravy over each. She then added a generous spoonful of crispy fried okra to each plate, followed by several tater tots. As she placed the plates before the judges, she said, "The steaks and okra are hand-floured and hand-breaded. The okra is fresh, not frozen, of course, and has been lightly seasoned with my own herb mixture. The golden potatoes I used for the tater tots were lightly roasted in bacon fat and olive oil before I shredded them."

"Well, I must say I'm impressed," Celestia said. "You may have a somewhat...unfavorable reputation among your peers, but you are indeed a young woman of many talents."

"Yeah, if you weren't such an obnoxious loudmouth, you'd be pretty cool to hang out with," Rainbow agreed as she cut into the steak. She took a bite and closed her eyes. "Oh yeah, that's good," she said.

Cadance chewed a piece of the okra. "Your okra is perfect," she said. "Crispy, tender on the inside...the herbs you use really enhance the flavor."

"I think perhaps the tater tots are a bit of an overreach," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "They're good, but from the sound of it, you wasted a great deal of effort on a basic side that could've been expended on creating a more innovative menu."

"I'm curious as to why you chose this for your semifinal round entry," Cadance said. "It's good and all, but after your pepper steak and your pot pie, this feels like a step backward."

"I'm afraid I have to agree," Celestia said.

"Yeah, even I'm kinda steaked out by now," Rainbow agreed. "This is good, don't get me wrong. It's not quite on Granny Smith's level, but she's been makin' this kinda stuff longer than our folks have been around. I think your pepper steak was way better than this. You shoulda saved it for the real fight."

Trixie frowned. "I hate to admit it, but...you may have a point."

Celestia smiled. "Selecting the order in which to present your dishes can be one of the most challenging parts of a cooking competition," she said.

"It's still very good, though," Cadance said as she wiped her mouth daintily. "You should be proud of yourself for a job well done, no matter what the outcome."

Trixie smiled. "Well, it's true. Once again, I have demonstrated my amazing talents to everybody at CHS." She tossed her hair.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. "And you still have more ham than you've got steak."

Celestia sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Judges, let's give Trixie her scores, shall we?"

SEMIFINAL ROUND - CONTESTANT(S): TRIXIE LULAMOON

PREPARATION: 9.75/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 10
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 10
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 10
PRESENTATION: 9/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 9
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 9
CREATIVITY: 7.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 7
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 7
TASTE: 9/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 9
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 9
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 9

"I'll be frank, Ms. Lulamoon," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Your mistake was in the order of presentation of your dishes. Had you selected this as your preliminary round offering, then presented your pepper steak in this round, your chances of advancing would be greater. As it stands..." She shook her head. "Well, you still received an excellent score, but your chances of advancing to the final round are slim."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure my friends have you beat on creativity," Rainbow agreed. "I mean, good try and all, but you shoulda switched it up more, y'know?"

The audience applauded politely as Trixie returned to her station to clean up. Octavia caught up with her halfway. "It looks as though your overuse of steak and your poor choice in presentation order affected your score," she said.

Trixie sighed. "Yeah," she said. "I guess I kinda deserve the bad score on creativity. Still, other than that, I'm satisfied with my scores. Trixie is far from defeated!"

Sunset, Twilight, and Rarity looked at one another. "Looks like it's all riding on creativity," Sunset said.

"Well in that case, we've won," Twilight said.

"Don't be too sure, darling," Rarity said. "Let's focus on finishing up and making our presentation. This needs to be perfect."

* * * * *

Negra Arroyo approached the judges' table with his serving cart, on which three skillets sat. On each serving plate, he spread out one large flour tortilla; he carefully portioned out a mixture from one skillet which consisted of diced tomatoes, diced chiles, slivers of onion, whole kernels of blue and white corn, and thin slices of pale, spongy-looking meat that was crispy and crinkled around the edges of each round, quarter-sized slice. On top of this mixture, he spooned guacamole, then folded each tortilla over and slid it to the side. Next, he added half of a fried corn tortilla to each plate before topping it with a sunny-side-up fried egg and salsa. Lastly, he spooned a portion of refried black beans onto each plate. "Judges," he said as he placed a plate before each, "today I have for you my original recipe, Pito Fernando. I've chosen to serve it with huevos rancheros and refried black beans."

"It looks good," Cadance said. "I recognized everything in the main dish except one ingredient."

"Ah, that would be my secret ingredient," Negra Arroyo said. "It's a delicacy."

"Oh?" Celestia asked as she picked up her tortilla and took a large bite.

Ms. Harshwhinny extracted a slice of the round, spongy meat from her tortilla and examined it intently. "Most curious," she said. "I don't recognize it. What is it, if I may ask?"

Negra Arroyo gave her a scrutinizing, ponderous look for a moment before replying, "Verga del toro." He smiled. "Trust me, you'll love it."

"It's not like, tongue or something, is it?" Rainbow Dash asked.

"Something like that," Negra Arroyo said. "Just try it. You'll like it."

Rainbow shrugged. "Haven't gone wrong with your cookin' yet." She picked hers up and took a bite, even as Ms. Harshwhinny experimentally chewed a slice of the secret ingredient.

"Well, this is prepared with your usual skill," Celestia said. "Everything works together perfectly, your seasonings are just right...that meat, it's a bit on the tough side, but it has a sharp flavor that goes well with the rest of the ingredients."

"It reminds me a bit of alligator tail," Ms. Harshwhinny said as she picked up her entree and tasted it.

"I like this," Cadance said. "I'm not going to pry as to what your secret ingredient is, because every chef is allowed their little secrets. Honestly, I think I'd have preferred grilled chicken in this, but this isn't about what I like, it's about you showing us what you can do." With that, she attacked her huevos rancheros. "Your eggs are perfect," she said.

"Oh yes, the decision to plate this with huevos rancheros was a good call," Ms. Harshwhinny agreed. "Perhaps a bit too much tomato and chile with the two dishes paired together, but it's a combination you can't go wrong with."

"The refried black beans are a nice touch," Celestia said. She looked down the table. "Judges? Are we ready?"

"I believe so," Ms. Harshwhinny said as she picked up her tablet. The others did likewise...

SEMIFINAL 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: 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

Applause greeted the score. Negra Arroyo sketched a small bow as he returned to his station. Once his back was turned to the judges, a satisfied smirk crossed his face.

In the stands, Pinkie nodded. "Yeah, it's gonna be him and the girls in the finals," she said. "They're the only ones that have gotten an all-tens score in this whole thing."

"What'd they get all tens on?" Velvet asked. "Twiley was too tired to say much more than they won when she got home yesterday."

"The okonomiyaki in the quarterfinals," Pinkie said. "Until now, they had the only perfect ten score in the whole contest."

"I wonder what verga del toro is," Applejack said thoughtfully.

Shining Armor took out his phone and tapped at the screen. A minute later, his face turned green. "Uhh...you don't wanna know," he said. "And...neither does Cadance. Like...ever."

"It can't be that bad," Pinkie said. She craned her neck to look over Shining Armor's shoulder. Her hair exploded outward. "Oh," she said. "Huh." She shrugged. "Eh, I've heard of worse."

* * * * *

"Okay, that's the last of them," Twilight said as she took the last chips out of the fryer and seasoned them.

"Alright, let's get to work," Sunset said. Working swiftly, the girls spread half of the chips on the serving platter, then began adding layers of toppings.

"Wow, putting this all together goes a lot more smoothly when we have this much counter space to work with," Sunset said.

"It does help that we could work directly on the serving cart," Rarity said.

Massive applause broke out as Sunset, Twilight, and Rarity wheeled their serving cart to the judges' table. "Oh man," Rainbow Dash said, eyes wide and mouth open in excitement. "Those. Look. Awesome!" She pulled her phone out and held it up. As the girls approached, she took a picture of the platter of nachos.

Cadance laughed. "Well, I think Rainbow's a fan," she said.

"That is quite the impressive platter of nachos," Celestia said. "Why don't you tell us all about it while you plate them?"

"Of course," Rarity said. "These nachos consist of freshly fried seasoned flour tortilla chips topped with seasoned ground beef, black beans, sweet and mild taco sauce, a creamy cheese sauce prepared in a double boiler which consists of cheddar and jack cheeses with just a hint of sriracha sauce, diced fresh tomatoes, sliced jalapeños, and sour cream." As she spoke, Sunset carefully plated four servings of nachos, and Twilight passed them down the table to the judges.

"Wow, talk about loaded," Cadance said.

"The last time I had nachos with that many toppings," Celestia began. She paused. "I actually can't remember!"

"I would honestly say this seems more like an elaborate taco salad served in nacho form," Ms. Harshwhinny said as she hefted a sizeable bite of toppings and chip to her mouth with a fork. After chewing and swallowing, she continued, "Nevertheless, your presentation is outstanding, the creativity on display with the use of flour tortilla chips is impressive, and these are absolutely delicious. I particularly commend you on the decision to season the chips. That was an extra step most would consider unnecessary."

"Holy crap these are the best nachos ever," Rainbow Dash said.

"I love your presentation," Cadance said. "I'm glad Rainbow Dash thought to take a picture, this is definitely food art." She giggled. "You've taken ordinary junk food and turned it into something special."

"I'm particularly impressed that you used a double boiler for the cheese sauce," Celestia said. She tilted her head. "You say this recipe came from Twilight's mother?"

"That's right," Twilight said. "Mom came up with this recipe a long time ago, including the flour tortilla chips. She shared it with us for the cooking contest."

Cadance smiled. "So these are the famous 'special nachos'," she mused. "I always wondered."

"Well, even if the recipe isn't yours personally, there's still quite a bit of creativity here," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "Also, the fact that you encountered a problem and dealt with it swiftly will be taken into consideration."

"Just out of curiosity, what are the chips seasoned with?" Celestia asked.

"Crushed roasted red peppers, parmesan cheese, and salt," Rarity said. "Mrs. Velvet's recipe calls for powdered blue cheese, but it's expensive and difficult to obtain, so on her recommendation, we substituted parmesan."

"Sounds like they'd be perfectly delicious all by themselves," Cadance said.

"I like how they're not too spicy," Rainbow Dash said. "You'd think with jalapeños and sriracha they'd be spicy, but the cheese and sour cream make up for it."

"Yes, my main complaint about spicy foods is when chefs do little to offset the spice," Celestia said. "Here, you've offset the spiciness just enough that the flavor of the peppers and sriracha can be enjoyed fully."

"These were a lot of work to make, weren't they?" Cadance asked. "I mean, a lot more work than nachos usually need."

"It is...a rather involved recipe," Rarity said, looking back at their station, which was covered in bowls, pots, pans, and skillets.

"Well, girls," Celestia said with a broad smile. "I must say you've outdone yourselves once again. Judges, are we ready to score?"

"You bet we are!" Rainbow said enthusiastically, licking cheese sauce from her fingers and picking up her tablet.

SEMIFINAL 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

A wild cheer erupted from the crowd. The three girls whooped excitedly and jumped up and down, hugging each other.

"Congratulations, girls!" Celestia said brightly. "You three will be moving on to this evening's finals. Good luck!"

As the beaming girls wheeled their serving cart back to their station, they were intercepted by both Octavia and Trixie. "Trixie will be the judge of how good these nachos are!" Trixie erupted, snatching up a paper plate and a spatula and serving herself a helping. With a haughty sniff, she took a bite.

Her eyes widened.

Without another word, she wandered back to her own station, happily munching away. Rarity and Twilight giggled. Sunset rolled her eyes.

Octavia shook her head. "Well done, girls!" she said. "Once again you've achieved a perfect score!" She idly helped herself to a flour tortilla chip. "It seems it will be you three versus Negra Arroyo in the finals. Are you nervous?"

"A little," Twilight admitted. "I mean, we've saved our best for last, but that guy's pretty intense."

"I would be lying if I said I weren't nervous," Rarity said. "But mostly, I'm pleased we've made it this far." She smiled. "We have quite the finale in store for you all!"

"Well, I'm sure we all can't wait to see what you girls come up with for the final round," Octavia said. She accepted a small plate of nachos Sunset offered her with a smirk, then returned to her seat near the judges' table.

"I think your mom's recipe is gonna go viral," Sunset said.

Twilight giggled. "I don't think she'll have a problem with that."

"Only one entry remains," Celestia said into her microphone. "Boys...good luck."

Flash waved weakly at the judges' table. He and his friends looked as though they were resigned to their fate, and were tending their grill mechanically, listlessly.

* * * * *

"Well guys, let's face the music," Flash said. The three boys prepared a plate for each judge, then wheeled their serving cart to the judges' table.

"And here come our final contestants," Celestia said. She smiled reassuringly at the boys. "Now boys, there's no need to look like you're marching to the gallows. So long as you tried, that's all that matters." Earnest applause met this statement.

"Thanks," Flash said. He placed a plate containing a mutton kebab and a half ear of corn in front of each judge. "So we've got barbecued mutton kebabs with roasted red potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms. We used the same sauce we've been using all along for the mutton, but the potatoes and carrots, we did something different. We melted some butter and added some garlic and onion juice and rolled the vegetables in that. The corn's been dipped in melted butter."

The judges looked at the kebabs and corn, then at each other. "Doesn't look as awesome as those cheeseburgers, but I guess you guys did alright," Rainbow said. She picked up the kebab and bit into a chunk of mutton. "Huh. Not too bad."

"I'll be honest, boys," Ms. Harshwhinny said. "To have made it this far with your minimal approach to cooking is not something I anticipated, and had your opponents in the previous round not completely blown it, you wouldn't be standing here right now. That having been said, if nothing else, you have at the very least proven that you three are adequate to the task of hosting any backyard barbecue." She sampled her kebab. "This is well prepared, mind you. It is too simple for a competition that had reached the level the other competitors have shown, unfortunately."

"The next time there's a grilling contest in town, you three should consider entering," Celestia said. "I've never had a grilled mushroom before. I think I'll give you a point back for that alone."

Cadance sighed. "You tried, guys. That's all that matters in the end." She smiled. "Thank you for participating. It takes courage to put yourself out there, in front of all your peers. And hey, you made it pretty far."

Once the kebabs were consumed, the judges looked at each other, then picked up their tablets.

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

PREPARATION: 8/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 8
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 8
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 8
PRESENTATION: 6.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 5
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 7
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 6
CREATIVITY: 5.5/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 7
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 4
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 6
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 5
TASTE: 8.25/10
Judge 1 (Principal Celestia): 9
Judge 2 (Ms. Harshwhinny): 8
Judge 3 (Dean Cadance): 8
Judge 4 (Rainbow Dash): 8

The boys looked at each other and shrugged. The audience clapped politely for them. Some shouts of encouragement rang out, and they smiled and waved like good sports.

"And that concludes the semifinal round of the Canterlot High Cooking Contest!" Celestia called. The scoreboard changed to show a portrait of Twilight, Sunset, and Rarity on the left and Negra Arroyo on the right. "Our finalists are Twilight Sparkle, Sunset Shimmer, and Rarity versus Negra Arroyo!"

The audience cheered wildly.

"Congratulations to our winners, and let's have a big round of applause for the third and fourth place contestants!" Once the applause subsided, Celestia continued, "Now, we're going to take a little break before cooking for the final round begins. Unlike previous rounds, the final round judging will commence for both finalists at six this evening, so girls, Negra Arroyo, please plan your prep and cook time accordingly so that your final menu will be ready for plating at that time.

"And now for a special treat: since we don't have a potluck set up at the back like we did yesterday, we've arranged to have a pizza buffet catered courtesy of Pizza Shack! They'll be arriving shortly and setting up at the back of the gym, and I know you all must be getting hungry by now, so feel free to dig in once the pizza's here!" As the crowd cheered wildly, Celestia smiled and waved them down. "And while this pizza is being provided free of charge, we do encourage everyone to contribute to the CHS electives and activities fund. The donation boxes are located right next to the buffet table." The scoreboard overhead lit up with a view of the empty buffet table at the opposite end of the gym, highlighting four locked boxes with slots on top and the Wondercolts logo on the front.

Sunset frowned. "Crap. We gotta make sure the judges stay away from that pizza buffet, especially Rainbow Dash."

Rarity snorted. "Puh-leeze, darling. As if cheap pizza from Pizza Shack will compare to our deep dish delight."

"She has a point," Twilight said. "Besides, they're too full from the semifinals to even touch a slice of pizza. I mean, even with just four entries, they ate a whole lot."

"I will never judge a cooking contest," Rarity said, making a face. "It would positively destroy my bikini body."

"I'm a little surprised Dean Cadance agreed to this," Sunset said. "You'd think a woman that gorgeous would watch what she eats like a hawk."

Twilight laughed. "Cadance loves food," she said. "She works out at least two hours a day so she can eat like a horse."

Sunset shot her a dirty look. "Excuse me," she said. "I'm a horse and I eat very sensible meals."

Twilight paled, eyes wide. "I-I'm sorry!" she stammered. "I didn't mean to—"

Sunset tweaked her nose. "I'm just messin' with ya," she said. "C'mon, let's go hang out with your folks until it's time to set up for the finals."

Across the gym, Flash sighed as he raked ashes over the charcoal and closed the lid on the grill. "Well guys, we fought the good fight, I guess. Thanks for doin' this thing with me."

"Anytime, bro," Skunk Rock said, holding out his hand for a fistbump. Beats did likewise.

After they bumped fists, Flash stretched and rubbed his shoulder. "Alright, guess we'd better start clea—"

"Boooooooooooooooooooooooyyyyyyyyyyyyyy."

Flash and his friends jumped in alarm as Angus Sentry materialized out of nowhere in front of them.

"G-Grandpa!" Flash stammered. "H-how'd you..."

Angus dipped his finger in the jar of sauce still sitting open on the counter, then tasted it. For a moment, he did nothing except stare at Flash, his face set in an impenetrable scowl.

Then...he smiled a ghastly smile.

He clapped Flash on the shoulder with one hand. "You done good, boy," he said in a harsh, growling tone. "The sauce recipe...it's yours now. Guard it well. Keep it safe. Make me proud."

Flash blinked. "Uhh...thanks?" he said uncertainly. "But...we lost..."

Angus grunted. "Course you lost!" he barked. "You can't barbecue your way through this kind of contest! All those cookout competitions I won? It was all about grillin' and sauce! Even I wouldn'ta won a contest like this!"

"Oh," Flash said.

"Keep that recipe in the family, boy," Angus said sternly. And then, to Flash's astonishment, he began to fade from view.

"G-Grandpa?!" Flash's eyes widened as he could suddenly see his friends' shocked faces on the other side of the rapidly fading old man. He looked wildly around. "Somebody help! Get a doctor, call an ambulance! My Grandpa—"

"Don't be stupid, boy!" Angus boomed, his voice taking on an eerie echo. "I died twenty years ago!" And with one last menacing cackle, the ghost of Angus Sentry disappeared completely. His silver ball-topped cane clattered noisily to the gym floor.

"...dude," Beats said.

Sunset, Twilight, and Rarity stared. "Uhh...Sunset?" Twilight asked in a confused, nasal tone. "What...just happened?" She pointed a shaky finger in Flash's direction. "Was that...was that Equestrian magic?"

"I don't think so," Sunset said, shaking her head, her eyes wide and her irises contracted to pinpricks.

"S-so...th-that was a re-real g-g-ghost, then?" Rarity stammered.

"You know, I...really don't wanna think about it," Sunset said. "I don't wanna think about it at all." *Though it does explain a lot,* she mused.

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