Francis’ warning sounded rather ominous. Basch could just envision the British station exploding after the addition of some terrible ingredient, those little truffle bombs exploding and launching sugar needles all over the room, taking out cameras and leaving people with more piercings than they’d come in with. How terrifying. There was no way the easygoing Italians could have concocted something as menacing.
The familiar Sicilian ingredients were a welcomed sight and scent. Bright citrus notes and creamy hazelnut were completely innocuous in comparison to the previous prickly pear bombs. In truth, with his own Italian population and his close borders, the Swiss man did like a nice limoncello every now and again, and the tangy smell of the curd reminded him of just that. All packaged in a white chocolate shell, it was comforting, almost nostalgic in a way. (Not that it would be easy to defeat those Danes in his book, and of course his own team would outdo them.)
The Frenchman’s reaction came across with a smidge more ambiguity, his, “Interesting,” saying nothing particularly negative nor positive about the Italian creation.
“Mmhm,” Basch concurred as he scribbled away, full of nothing but positive reviews which, by his standard, proved his excitement. His one criticism centered on the fact that the Italians were impossibly noisy as they worked despite the fact that their team was no larger than anyone else’s, but in fairness, that reproach could not rightly affect his judgment on their product. It looked delicious no matter how obnoxious the chefs were.
From overhead, a PA system crackled before a woman’s booming voice filled the room with echoes, alerting all competitors, judges and bystanders that the first leg of the competition was drawing to a close and that the judges should report to their stations for tasting.
“So soon?” Francis exclaimed, a bit too dramatically in Basch’s book. “That leaves us just about enough time to see one more table.” Prompted to meet the Frenchman’s gaze by an elbow gently to the ribs, the shorter of the two was given his orders. “You should pick our next victim.”
It seemed obvious, at first, to observe his own team. He was eager to see how crafty they’d been at designing their truffle and wanted to know how wide a margin would be created between the Swiss chefs and the second place team. But with some extra thought given to the fact that they’d already have enough pressure on them to perfect the chocolates in the final few moments of the round, having additional eyes on them might make them waver.
“We haven’t looked at anyone from the Americas yet,” Switzerland announced. “The Chileans are the closest,” was his call to begin the march a few rows over to Team Chile.
Of all the teams he’d witnessed so far, the Chileans had the most unique shell on their truffles. The coating seemed to be milk chocolate swirled with streaks of bright orange, topped with bits of candied orange zest. Listening in on a conversation with one of the English interviewers, the Chileans were going for a home favorite – a truffle-ized version of picarones with chancaca sauce. The orange in the shell was a white chocolate infused with orange liqueur, and the filling was a honeyed yam and pumpkin paste moulded around a crystallized molasses center.
“Seems sweet enough,” Basch murmured, noting on his clipboard that he’d never heard of these pikaronis and would have to investigate them online at some point.
As he jotted his last i, the buzzer sounded, announcing the end of the round. All around the room, chefs dropped what they were doing and stepped back to admire their plates, some of them clapping their sous chefs proudly on the back or exchanging relieved hugs. Tiny saucers proudly displaying their edible works of art sat ready for approval.
“Well,” the Swiss man sighed, tucking the pen behind his ear, “Looks like it’s time to report to our spots.”