Damn real: chapter 25

“Don’t do it, Namie.” Emiri’s voice could be heard from the other side of the phone call. She was talking to Namie about making this decision. “Well, you said that so quickly-” “Because it’s a dumb decision. You’ve been working your butt off just to get to this point, and to throw it all away? Both of us have made that mistake so many times already. Why bother repeating the same thing? You’re going to listen to whatever misguided instinct that nags at you, and that’s what will make taking that offer this much worse. You will know exactly what you have walked away from, and you won’t be able to ever feel like you made the 100% correct decision.” The engineer pointed out. She made a strong point there. Both of them had made countless sacrifices, in time, career opportunities, and educational opportunities, just because they thought that they were doing the right thing. Granted, this situation was slightly different. It was not another person who really was influencing Namie to make this decision. She could be happy being in finance, but she just felt that much happier when she was dancing. And to make that into a career and income, it would be a dream come true for her. It was not like her father or some sort of other figure was telling her to give up on finance to become a housewife. Even though Emiri saw taking the dancing job as a downgrade, for Namie, she saw this as a chance to make her occupation something she actually wanted to do and look forward to each and every day. It is a rare thing for people to be able to say that about their jobs. “Thanks, Emiri.” She hung up, still thinking about what Emiri had said. But at the same time, she was still thinking about whether or not the initial cut in pay would be worth it down the line.

“Can I get a glass of merlot?” Claire looked at their waiter. “I’d like the pinot griggio.” Namie answered, handing over her menu as well. “Very well. I will come back with your drink orders first.” The waiter bowed before leaving. “So you’re fine if I take the offer?” The two were undergoing their usual wine Wednesday routine after another mutually taxing day of work. “I mean, would I be sad that you’re all leaving me for Japan? Yeah. But at the end of the day, that’s how life is. People come and go.” Claire shrugged. She looked like she was trying her best not to cry. It was understandable too; Namie was one of her first close friends she made after breaking up with Frankie, and to see somebody she had relied on emotionally for so long leave, it was tough. But at the same time, the Director of Front Office wanted her best friend to follow her dreams. This time, they were at Blue Duck Tavern, which was actually a rather nice establishment given the not as elegant rituals they typically partook on these days. However, this day was different. It might be one of the last wine Wednesdays that the two could ever have together. “Look, it’s okay to cry, alright?” Namie sighed, as she felt tears welling around her eyes as well. She would be lying to herself if she said leaving Claire behind was hard. They were closer than family at this point. Every struggle, every moment Namie experienced since she started working at the Ritz Carlton, Claire had an impact. She was the overzealous front desk agent, while Namie was the withdrawn and untrusting general cashier, accusing people of stealing money. And now both of them have progressed so far in their respective paths. “Okay, I will then. I’m sorry.” Claire burst into tears as Namie joined her, hand in hand. “I just don’t want to say goodbye!” “Me neither, Claire!” They continued to cry as the waiter awkwardly placed their glasses on the table before nervously inching away. “Hey, where do you think you’re going?! We’re starving over here!” Claire barked at him while Namie started laughing. “Oh my god, I swear, we’re not lesbians.” The accountant began. “I mean, if you were, I wasn’t judging, but….” He started. “We’re not. This bitch is just leaving me for Japan is all.” Claire rolled her eyes, catching her breath. The two managed to quickly regain their composures. Hunger took precedence to them feeling sad.

“But yeah, no matter what happens, we’ll always be in touch, and we’ll always be friends. You better not forget that.” Claire smiled at Namie as they finished up their meal. “And I can’t wait to see you in Koda Kumi’s videos. I won’t necessarily understand what you guys are saying or doing, but I’ll still root for you.” “Thanks, Claire.” They hugged before going their separate ways for the night. It felt so final, even though Namie still had not fully committed to her decision yet. Nights like these, they were already sparse after Wei had left for her tour and both of them had been promoted. But even then, a part of her was not ready to let the happiness from being an accountant in D.C. go just quite yet. Shrugging to herself, Namie continued to wonder what exactly was the right choice for her in the Uber ride home. But she knew she needed to talk to a couple other people first. While she was leaning towards leaving for Japan, between Emiri’s doubts and not wanting to leave Claire behind, despite her insistence, it was hard to give that opportunity a resounding yes. And she wanted to make a resolute decision.

“Hey! Can you hear and see me okay?” Wei’s face appeared on Namie’s computer screen. “Yeah, I can see and hear you loud and clear.” She smiled in amusement as the idol continued to fumble around with her own monitor. “Wei, move back a little. You’re hogging up the camera.” Niall sighed, as he pulled her away just enough so that he could be seen as well. “Long time, no see.” He grinned at her. “Yeah, it’s a been a while. How was the tour been?” “Well, it’s been a lot of fun, but it turns out I won’t be going back to the states just quite yet.” Wei sighed. “Oh?” The accountant frowned in confusion. “What’s wrong? Did something happen with your visa?” “Oh, no. Not that. It turns out that this one… he got famous after just one follow-up performance to one of my shows.” She laughed, pointing to Niall. “Wait, what?!” “Yeah. I let him perform after one of my concerts, and the crowd went wild. And now he’s performing regularly on his own, and he’s just racking up a huge, huge, huge following.” She giggled. “Honestly, I think it was just because you used your fanbase to get me famous. I swear to god, my entire career is going to be based on gold-digging rumors now. People telling me that I was lucky to be dating a famous girlfriend, and how I used her fame to my advantage.” Niall sighed. “But at least you’re already a third as famous as I am on Instagram.” She nudged his shoulder playfully. “And so many girls like you. Aren’t I the lucky one here?” “Hey, shut up.” “Hey, can you guys just not do that right now? I mean, as much as I clearly love seeing this…” Namie frowned. “Okay, we’ll stop now. But anyways, what’s up?”

“Well, the point of this call was because I just wanted to get your input on whether or not I should take the job for Koda Kumi-” “You should. You absolutely should. Follow your dreams, Nams. You are smart and capable, and yes, that makes you a good accountant, but I’ve seen your dancing. You have the potential to be an even greater performer. Why throw that away?” Wei pointed out. “I agree with her, and trust me, that’s really rare.” Niall chimed in. “I followed my dreams, and tried my best to make them happen, and while yes, Wei’s influence had something to do with it, but now I’m a renowned violoncellist in Japan. Follow your passion, Namie, not just what pays the bills. Make your passion the thing that does pay the bills. Live for your work, you know?” Hearing this from him, it struck a cord with the accountant. Niall had a point. She would much rather be doing a job where she could look forward to it, and not just tolerate it. Seeing how happy Wei and Niall were, with their careers specifically, that was something she wanted for herself. “Thanks, both of you. Hearing that, it gives me a lot to think about, but I feel like seeing the two of you so successful, it does give me a lot more hope that if I do choose to become a dancer for Koda Kumi, then it would be a not as dumb decision as Emiri and my own conscious make it out to be.” She smiled as they ended their chat. Putting away her laptop, the accountant really started to think long and hard about this. It felt like hours of just sitting there, deep in thought. But in reality, the choice took about five seconds to make. She had already decided for herself to what she wanted to do.

“Hi, David. I just submitted my two weeks notice.” She popped her head into her Director of Finance’s office. “Oh?” It was an awkward talk and while it did not end well, Namie had finally quitted her job. Even after explaining how she felt to David, she knew he would not be fully supportive of losing her. But she did not care at that point. She was following her heart. Those last two weeks working at the Ritz Carlton, it was an awkward feeling. Namie felt as though she was disconnected from her workplace. Even her day to day responsibilities, like handling the cash or invoices, it felt like menial tasks that she did without even any real thought. In her head, she was thinking about the logistics. Packing her things, needing to return her keys, when to book her flight, finding an apartment in Tokyo. It was a laundry list of things to do, on top of needing to buy a new cellphone when she lands. Luckily, she knew that once more, she could live with Wei for a little bit, so that did ease the stress of the actual coming-to-Japan portion of her transition. But stepping out of the Ritz Carlton that last time, she could not help but feel sad. Even though a lot of her friends no longer worked there, she had come to see this workplace as a home. Shaking off her feelings of sadness, the now-former accountant had to remind herself that this place will always have a special place in her heart, whether or not she worked there anymore. It was the embodiment of her entire professional experience in both the finance and hospitality industries, and she also made a ton of friends along the way by being a part of it. Calling her Uber to here one last time, Namie smiled to herself. There was really no point to feel sad. All of those good memories at this hotel, she can live with them forever.

“Alright, I think that’s the last box!” Claire shouted out from the window. “Okay. You guys can leave now!” Namie smiled at the moving men. “Awesome! These boxes will see you in Japan then!” They called back as the truck drove away from her complex. It was her last day in D.C. Claire had helped her pack up the last of her things before she needed to head out to the airport. “Are you ready to head out?” Claire asked, walking out from the entrance. “Yeah, I think I am.” Namie sighed to herself, grabbing her luggage. Waving goodbye to Sky House one last time, she headed into Claire’s car. “Well, at least I finally got to use this damn thing.” The Director laughed, referring to the fact that she would normally walk to and from work every day. “Next stop, the airport.” The engine revved and the two took off. They drove past the waterfront and all of the beautiful modern buildings overlooking the river, as they made their way to Dulles International Airport. Parking in the structure, the two got off and headed towards the departures. How fitting. Namie thought to herself with a bittersweet smile. She was leaving behind this entire life. It almost felt unreal. But at the same time, it was anything but. This was the reality she chose to accept and walk down. She was about to transition from being an accountant in Washington, D.C. to being a full time dancer for one of the biggest names in Japan. This was actually what her life was about to be. No more simple hangouts or complaining about her father or even just hanging out with Claire and Wei, just the three of them. Accepting that was definitely the hardest part. “Well, it looks like this is it.” She sighed as the two hugged. “I’ll miss you.” “I promise we’ll always keep in touch.” “If we don’t, I’m going to start visiting Japan every single year, just to hunt you and Wei down.” Claire laughed, tears streaming down both of their cheeks. Wiping away at their own faces, the two girls smiled. “This is what is great about life though. Sometimes, dreams come true. And when they do, we get to live the dream.” Those words that Claire said to her, Namie continued to remember, throughout her career as a dancer in Japan. She was living her dream, and doing her best to let it be damn real.


How it is: Chapter 25

“It feels weird to be done already.” Tarou sighed, as he was putting away his things into boxes. Out of everyone, he finished his finals first, being done by the second day of finals. Valerie was finishing the day after tomorrow, and Timmy finished on the last day. Because he was spending the entire summer in Japan, he wanted to go back home to Queens to spend time with his family before heading out, so he was moving out earlier. “Wait, what’s this?” Tarou felt his phone vibrate. It was another email. “Wait, the program… oh shit.” He frowned. He misread the email. His offer was not just for the summer. It was from this summer until the following summer: he would be in Japan for an entire year. “Oh crap.” Hastily, he looked through the documents. He had already submitted his compliance for this. “Well, this is awkward.” He sighed. “Uh….” Thinking it over, the model decided he needed to commit to this. He could come back to school whenever, but working for Vogue, this could honestly propel his career to greater heights than he could have ever imagined. Tarou Shimizu, international supermodel, it was starting to sound increasingly like a possibility. Grabbing a pen and paper, he wrote a goodbye note to Timmy and Valerie. “Bye, guys.” He whispered, heading out.

“Ugh. He what now?” Valerie read Timmy’s text. She had finished her finals and finally turned back on her phone. Tarou was leaving for Japan for the next two years. That was the gist of what Timmy had said in his message to her. “Oh… well shit.” She whispered to herself. Unlike Tarou or Timmy, she was not going back to Queens at all after school. She was heading straight to compete on Warrior Chef: All Stars. Packing up her things, the Singaporean girl smiled to herself. It felt bittersweet to be leaving, but at the same time, this was her chance to do things right. “Redemption, here I come, hopefully.” She was ready to dive into the great unknown and finally be crowned Warrior Chef. “I’m ready to do right by everyone who has ever helped me get this far.” She smiled, putting her boxes into the moving van. Grabbing her suitcase and knife bag, she got into the taxi. “Where to” The driver looked over his chair at her. “JFK , please.” She smiled. “You got it, little lady.” And with that, Valerie left campus. Freshman year was on the lonelier side in terms of school friends, but the work friends she made were irreplaceable. Janice, I’m going to do my best to make you proud of me. Valerie smiled.

“It feels so empty.” Timmy yawned, finally returning to his room. He had finished his last final at this point. There was a sense of awkwardness, seeing Tarou’s emptied half of the room. It almost reminded him of their conflict. “No, it’s all in the past. We’re friends again.” The Taiwanese boy reassured himself, referring to the note the model had left for him. “Now, it’s time to get everything packed.” Timmy was going to be staying at an off-campus apartment during the summer, so he needed to first move all of his things into the apartment. Then he was going to spend some time at home before summer school begins. They were each going their own separate ways, yet Timmy did not feel sad. He felt excited about the opportunities still to come. Just because a couple doors closed does not mean that the entire world closed him off. ACU and TASA might have dropped him as an officer, but that does not mean it is the end of his college life. There were still many people yet to be met. To be befriended. Timmy, for the first time since he stepped foot into NYU, could not help but feel excited.

Arriving at the hotel where the All Stars contestants would be staying, Valerie got another text. It was a delayed message, an image of exactly what Tarou had written. Reading through it, the girl could not help but begin crying. “Oh, Tarou. Timmy. I’m going to win this for both of you. I swear on it.” She fought to not sob. “Oh, so this is our competition? Nice to meet you, newbie.” Valerie turned around, and saw the first of her competitors for the new season. “I’m sorry you have to see me this way. I swear, I’m not a big baby.” She insisted, wiping away the tears that had formed around her eyes. At the same time, Tarou was boarding his plane to Japan at the John F. Kennedy Airport. “Next stop, Narita Airport. Tokyo, here I come.” He whispered to himself, excitedly. Even though he was seated in the middle seat, the Japanese boy did not mind. He was too eager about what awaited him on the other side. He did not know what the future had in store for him. But the chance to become an internationally recognized model, that was incredible. Timmy was currently riding the bus on his way back to Queens. He was sitting alone, at the window seat, watching the city melt into the distance. In his hand, held tightly, was the paper Tarou had left for him. The Taiwanese boy was rereading it one last time before putting it away for good. The Taiwanese boy did not like to cry, but how could he not at what his best friend, the aspiring international model had written?
“Even when I was a fat, chubby little midget, I still had the two of you in my life. I am the person I am because of the friends I made, especially the two of you. Timmy, you’re going to be the best man at my wedding, whether you like it or not. We are more than just brothers, and nothing will ever change that. Valerie, your desserts always bring a smile to my face, but they also bring a smile to everyone around you. You will be successful in your future, because nobody can stop you at being yourself, and you are amazing. You guys mean the world to me, but I think we can all learn to be less sensitive about the little things. We don’t need to over think or overanalyze whenever somebody is acting weirdly or in an off-putting manner. If we have problems, we need to speak them and find ways to sort them out. And we shouldn’t worry about growing apart. Just because we are doing different things, and we do not know the next time we will see each other, we should not be sad or hung up about it. We can let things play out as they are, and roll with them. We’re simply living life. That’s how it is.”

-Tarou Shimizu

Warrior Chef 1: Finale Part 3

Carrie: This is it! The ending to the Warrior Chef finale! After several grueling rounds of competition, we have come down to the best three cooks here! Karen Laverre! A young prodigy, Karen has consistently delivered strong European and rustic dishes! And then we have Vanilla Cuylenberg! The Aussie fashion blogger turned baker, Vanilla won the Redemption Rounds and made her way back into the competition! And finally, Tadashi Hamilton! The Eliminator who has worked in multiple Michelin starred restaurants in Los Angeles, Tadashi has been one of the strongest cooks in this competition, earning a perfect score from the judges in the preliminary rounds. Tonight, one of these three cooks will be crowned Warrior Chef! Who will it be?

Vanilla: @Tadashi has a whopping 9 challenge wins, but I’ve got 8, and then Karen has 6. @Right now, Tadashi is going into this as the one to beat, haha!~ @But I know that I can beat him.

Tadashi: @Vanilla is my biggest competition by far. @Karen is a strong cook, but she’s not somebody that I would be too threatened by, just because Vanilla is that much of a threat compared.

Karen: @I’m feeling like this is going to be the hardest challenge of my life. @If I can come out of this the winner, then I would be blown away. @I really want to do this.

Carrie: Welcome to the Warrior Chef finale. So we have jus two more challenges before we determine who is going to be the winner. Let’s start with the high-stakes creativity challenge first!

Karen: @High-stakes? @That means that somebody is going home. @This is bad.

Carrie: We want you guys to prepare a memorable amuse bouche, which is a one bite start to your potential 3 course meal, in just 30 minutes. And your time starts now!

Karen: @For my amuse bouche, I grab the shrimp, and I decide to make shrimp and pate choux fritters with a caper-tomato relish. @I hope it all comes together and tastes delicious. @I need to focus on the flavors that got me to the final three, or else I’m going to be eliminated next.

Vanilla: @I’m making an apple roll stuffed with goat cheese, pickled raisins, and some hazelnut vinaigrette. @I’m making the roll using a slicer that will make the apple into this wrapper. @I think it’ll be ingenious, haha!~

Tadashi: @I’m feeling good about this challenge. @I’ve made the amuse at Melisse before. @I’m preparing a snapper crudo with spicy pickled cucumber and dehydrated olives. @I’m taking a risk with the dehydrated olives, but I’m not going to salt my dish just to balance that out.
Carrie: Time’s up!

Tadashi: @I’m feeling strong about my crudo, but there’s only three people left, and one of us is going home tonight.

Carrie: Your judges for this challenge are:

Aster Walker
Erwin Ko

Miriam Adjanti

Frank Torres

Chloe Lula

Missy Skies
Carrie and the judges taste the amuse bouches.

The judges then score each amuse out of 10 stars.

Carrie: So we have tallied up your scores for the amuse bouches. Let’s start with Tadashi’s scores for his snapper crudo!
Aster – 9 stars.

Erwin – 9 stars.

Miriam – 9 stars.

Frank – 9 stars.

Chloe – 9 stars.

Missy – 9 stars.

Tadashi – 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 + 9 = 54/60 stars

Tadashi: @That’s a solid score, but I’m nervous. @I really don’t want to get eliminated right before the last challenge.

Carrie: And next up are Vanilla’s scores for her apple rolls with hazelnut vinaigrette

Aster – 10 stars

Erwin – 10 stars

Miriam – 9 stars

Frank – 10 stars

Chloe – 9 stars

Missy – 10 stars

Vanilla – 10 + 10 + 9 + 10 + 9 + 10 = 58/60 stars

Vanilla: Yay! *claps hands* @I took the lead and I guaranteed myself a spot in the final challenge. @This is amazing!~
Carrie: Karen, you need at least 55 to beat Tadashi and enter the final challenge with Vanilla. Judges, what were your scores for her shrimp pate choux fritters?

Aster – 9 stars
Erwin – 9 stars

Miriam – 10 stars

Frank – 8 stars

Chloe – 8 stars

Missy – 8 stars

Karen – 9 + 9 + 10 + 8 + 8 + 8 = 52/60 stars

Chloe: Unfortunately, Frank, Missy, and I, we all got shrimp that were slightly overcooked, and that factored into our scores.

Carrie: Karen, I’m sorry, but with the lowest score, you are going home tonight. You may leave the kitchen.

Karen: Okay. @I’m feeling horrible right now. @I just got eliminated, and it was on overcooked shrimp. @I was so close to competing against Vanilla and it sucks.

Karen leaves.

Carrie: Tadashi, that means that you and Vanilla will now be competing head to head for the title of Warrior Chef!

Tadashi: @I’m feeling great that I’m going up against Vanilla, but I know that Karen would have beaten me had she not overcooked her shrimp. @This is the final challenge. @I can’t play it safe or else I’m a goner.

Carrie: So for the final challenge, we want to see you guys prepare the best three dishes of your life. And of course, you’ll need some help!

In walks Lucas, Fanny, Leona, Zack, Jackson, Jimmy, Vincent, Duncan, and Angelina

Carrie: Vanilla, you won the last creativity challenge, so your advantage is that you get to select your two sous-chefs first.
Vanilla: I’m taking Lucas and Fanny!

Fanny: @Vanilla is such a sweetheart and I can’t wait to be her sous-chef.

Lucas: @I’m stoked to be on Vanilla’s team, but Tadashi is tough competition. @She might not be able to take him down.

Tadashi: Alright then. @She took Lucas and Fanny, who are easily the two strongest. @But I don’t doubt the potential of everyone here. I’m taking Zack and Leona. @I pick the Eliminators, because we have been through this competition having been seen as the major threats.
Leona: @Being on Tadashi’s team, I want to beat Vanilla. @She’s not a chef in my eyes and I’m going to prove that tonight.
Zack: @I’m ready to show everyone why I did not deserve that early elimination. @I am a much stronger cook now, and I’m going to prove myself.

Carrie: You have one hour, time starts now!

Tadashi: @So for my final menu, I’m going to prepare a temarizuchi trio with blood orange, scallions, and wasabi, using hamachi, tuna, and salmon. @I’m taking care of the cuts because I want to prove that I have impeccable knife skills. @For the second course, it’s miso cod with uni risotto and pistachios. @I’m having Leona prep the cod and do the risotto and shell the pistachios, while I have Zack handle cooking the cod. @For the last dish, it’s dessert. @Castella with white nama chocolate, honey comb candy, and matcha ice cream. @Zack will handle the majority of the dessert, and I will step in to help him as he needs it. @I’m pretty certain I’m going to lose dessert, no matter what I put up, because Vanilla is that strong with pastry. @But I know my other two courses will be stronger than anything she puts up.

Zack: @I’m feeling pretty much in the weeds because I have to get the cake into the oven first, and then start on the nama chocolate, because that needs the whole hour to freeze. @Pastry is not my strength but I worked for Gordon Ramsay, so I know how to work under pressure and deliver the goods.

Leona: @The biggest pain is that I need to get the cod into the sous-vied after I filet and debone it, and then I need to rinse off the uni and get the rice going for the risotto. @And of course, I need to shell a shit ton of pistachios. @But I know that I am a strong asset or else Tadashi would not have chosen me. @I’m going to show why the Eliminators are the strongest cooks in this competition.

Vanilla: @For my first course, I’m going to prepare eggplant chips with lamb tartare and a yogurt skordalia. @I’m having Lucas handle the entire dish, because he knows Mediterranean flavors the best. @Fanny is doing the entree, which is coffee crusted kangaroo with cornbread, corn-peach salsa, and a brown butter-garlic cream. @For my dessert, it’s apricot-violet sorbet, homemade mascarpone cheese, violet syrup, and arlettes. @Arletts are caramelized puff pastry. @I’m making my own phyllo instead, just because I need to keep pushing myself. @I’m confident that I can take the dessert course, so that’s one down!~ @But I need to make sure that at least one of my other courses beats Tadashi, or else I’m not winning this.

Lucas: @The lamb tartare, the biggest thing I’m focusing on is the seasoning. @I got eliminated for not showing enough range, and this time, I need revenge. @I want to show that I can season aggressively, take risks, and show more range with the lamb and the skordalia, which is a garlicky hummus type of dip.

Fanny: @The roo filet is looking nice, but I need to make sure I cook it medium rare or else it will suck. @The cornbread, Vanilla is helping me on the batter because it’s not something that I am too familiar with. @But I’m glad Vanilla is trusting me, because my experiences with Jean-Georges will help me deliver on cooking these components.

In the judges room:

Miriam: This is the finale I think we were all waiting for.

Aster: All season, Vanilla and Tadashi have really delivered strong dishes. This is a true clash of the titans right now.

Missy: Seeing their menus, it’s interesting to see Vanilla go with more Western flavors, ranging from the Mediterranean to Australia to England. Tadashi is going full-blown Japanese, which is a bit of a departure from the French-Californian flavors I am so used to seeing from him.

Back in the kitchen:

Tadashi: @Time is winding down, but I’m proud of the first two courses. @The dessert, it’s looking a little sloppy to be honest, but I already knew that going into this finale that if I was up against Vanilla, my dessert wasn’t going to be the deciding dish anyways.

Vanilla: @My dessert looks stellar, but I need to really focus on the two savory courses. @Tadashi and I are both doing raw dishes to start, so I think that’s where the real competition is going to be. @The winner might just be decided in that first course.

Carrie: Time’s up!

Leona: *to Tadashi* Good job.

Fanny: *to Vanilla* You’re going to be Warrior Chef. Trust me.

Tadashi: @We finish and I’m feeling great. @It’s all up to the judges now.

Vanilla: @I’m feeling really nervous but we did all we can. @Hope it all works out!~

In the judges room:

Carrie: So here we have the first courses.
Vanilla – eggplant chips with lamb tartare and yogurt skordalia

Tadashi – temarizushi trio with blood orange, scallions, and wasabi

Erwin: Vanilla’s dish was really inventive. The usage of the eggplant as chips, it was clever. I loved the seasoning on the lamb tartare and the skordalia was tasty.

Chloe: The sushi on Tadashi’s plate was cut perfectly and the accompaniments were unusual but worked well with the sushi. Overall, a really strong start as well.

Aster: Trying to determine a winner between these two courses is going to be tough. Vanilla took more risks with this course, in my opinion, with those eggplant chips. But Tadashi using the blood orange was pretty ingenious as well. I loved both dishes.

Carrie: And now we have the main courses!

Vanilla – coffee kangaroo, cornbread, corn-peach salsa, brown butter-garlic cream

Tadashi – miso cod with uni risotto and pistachios

Missy: Vanilla cooked the kangaroo perfectly, so it was a nice medium rare. The salsa helped with the oiliness of the meat and the corn bread with the cream was delightful.

Miriam: Tadashi’s cod was delicious. The marinade really soaked in there. The uni risotto had great flavor and the usage of pistachios were surprising but tasty.

Frank: So far, we have had two great dishes from both menus. For me, I preferred Vanilla’s tartare, but Tadashi’s entree. Vanilla’s entree was just a tad cluttered for me.

Carrie: And now, we have the final courses!

Vanilla – apricot-violet sorbet, mascarpone cheese, violet syrup, homemade arletts

Tadashi – castella with white nama chocolate, honey comb candy, matcha ice cream

Frank: Vanilla’s dessert was elegantly presently. The violet was a surprising addition, but it worked so well with the apricot and mascarpone. I loved it.

Miriam: Tadashi made a nice castella but the dessert ate too sweet between the white chocolate and the honey comb. The dish just looked messy.

Missy: I’m feeling conflicted right now, before up until here, I slightly preferred Tadashi’s courses to Vanilla’s, but he dropped the ball on the dessert, while Vanilla’s meal ended on an epic high.

Carrie: So can we decide on our scores for their overall meals?

Erwin: We can.

In walks Vanilla and Tadashi.

Carrie: So tonight, one of you is going to be Warrior Chef. It was a really close call. The judges were split because quite a few of them preferred Tadashi’s first two courses just slightly more, but loved Vanilla’s dessert a lot more than Tadashi’s.

Tadashi: @Crap. @I might actually have lost the competition because of my dessert.

Vanilla: @I’m feeling it’s going to be close. @Tadashi did a great job with his savory dishes, so it’s a manner of if his dessert was that bad that I am able to squeak by.

Aster: We had to make our decision based on the meal as a whole. That being said, Carrie, please tell us who is Warrior Chef.

Carrie: Vanilla…. You are Warrior Chef! Congratulations! You won the title and $500,000!

Vanilla: WHAT?! OH MY GOD!

Confetti rains down as everyone walks over to congratulate Vanilla.
Vanilla: @I can’t believe I won!~ @I am Warrior Chef, haha!~ @Being able to prove myself and win the Redemption Rounds was huge, but to go on to win the entire thing was amazing! @I’m the winner!
Tadashi: @Seeing Vanilla win, I just feel horrible. @I knew that the dessert would be a huge factor, but I didn’t think it was the sole reason why I would lose. @I’m annoyed I didn’t win, but this is just another chance for me to learn and grow as a chef. @I really am appreciative of this entire experience. @I learned so much about myself and my love for cooking and food.

Vanilla: @Becoming Warrior Chef just helps me prove that I am going to make it in the culinary world. @This is my chance to make my dreams come true. @I can’t wait to open my bakery, and really make a name for myself. @I am not just a former beauty guru, haha!~ @I am a talented, passionate, and loving chef!

Road Movie: Chapter 25

Getting into her car, the brunette sighed to herself. This was it. This was her last goodbye to Illinois. Driving towards the highway, she noticed something. It was Cascade Drive-In. Open and showing a movie. The brunette frowned to herself. Come to think of it, she never saw that movie. Pulling into the movie theatre, she smiled to herself. She finally got to see a movie here. “Thank you for coming to Cascade Drive-In! Today, we will be showing the movie, “How to be Single.” The ticket lady said. “Thanks, I’d like one parking space, please.” “One parking space, that’ll be $8!” The brunette handed in her bills before taking a spot in the parking lot.

As the movie ended, Dakota could find herself feeling refreshed. Seeing the main character, Alice, finally setting out to do the things she wanted to do, with or without a boyfriend or man in her life, it just strengthened Dakota’s own resolve. She knew that this was right now, more than ever before. Pulling up her GSP, she smiled. It was going to be a long drive, but she was excited for this. It was finally time for her to say goodbye to Chicago. However, opening her glove compartment, she found something unusual. A letter with her name on it. The brunette tore it open, curiously.

“Dear Dakota, we will always love you no matter what. We hope that you’ll find this letter when you settle in your new city, but if you have not already, that’s fine too. We all love and miss you very much, but we are happy that you are finally pursuing something that you have come to love.  We will always support your decisions, because we want you to be living a life that you can genuinely enjoy. -Your parents.” The brunette could already feel herself fighting back the tears at that point. She did not expect to find something like this hidden away in her glove compartment. When did they have the time to put this there?

But the letter did not end there. “Hey there, photo-bestie. I’m so glad that I met you at that camera store. Sometimes, life just drops pleasant surprises in our lives, and you were definitely one of those I will always be grateful to call you my friend, and I am so glad I met you that day. I will keep submitting your photos behind your back, unless you finally start putting yourself out there more! I know your passion and now talent for photography will carry you far! Love you lots, Monique.” “Oh god.” The tears were rolling down Dakota’s face at this point. How much she already missed Monique and being able to photograph her way through Chicago together.

And then there were more letters to come. “Hey there, my little chickie. I am so glad that you came waddling back to Hillary Jenkins, because you were something special. You have a unique talent for being great at whatever it is that you like to do, and I cannot wait to see what you’ve got planned for your future. I support you 100% and I just wanted you to know that this letter was Frida Caldwell-approved.” Thinking about her time with Frida, Dakota laughed to herself. Frida was a crazy, crazy boss to work for and she knew that there would be no person quite like her. But that was part of the reason why working in Hillary Jenkins was so special. It would not be Hilary Jenkins without Frida leading the marketing department.

But the letters did not stop there. “Hey there, Dakota. I’m so glad that we were able to become friends, even though we had that awkward fight at first. You became one of my closest friends in Chicago and one of the reasons why I enjoyed working at Hillary Jenkins as much as I did. Please visit whenever you can. I miss you already! -Virginia.” Thinking about how Virginia went from being her workmate to her friend, it reminded Dakota that first impressions are not as important as one may think. So long as both sides are open to giving each other a second chance, then that was all that mattered: getting to know the real person beneath the facade that was an initial interaction or encounter.

Looking at the next letter, Dakota laughed to herself. “Hey there, buddy! I’m still so sad to know that you’re going to another city. But I’ve seen your growth in our company, and I know that you’re going to go somewhere far in whatever industry you are going to be entering. Keep up the good work, kiddo! -Justin.” She was not terribly close to Justin, so it was a surprise to see him write anything to her. But it was touching for him to point out that they have been working together for so long. Even though the two of them mixed like water and oil, they still had a love for one another that came in the form of respect.

There was just one more letter in that large envelope. The writing, Dakota knew who’s it was from the moment she saw it. “Thank you so much for helping me from the beginning of your time in Hillary Jenkins. Being able to see you grow up from being this shy intern into a capable young woman has been inspiring for me to watch. Dakota, you will be able to succeed in anything and everything you put your mind to! Never forget that! Love you and miss you lots! -Maria.” Maria was like her work-mom/older sister figure, guiding her through the company. She had learned so much from working under Maria, and Dakota was forever grateful for that. And just hearing the praise, it sent her over the mood. It helped the brunette remember that she had the ability to do whatever she wanted to, within reason. Nobody could stop her from that much. Her parents definitely put these in her car when she was not looking.

Wiping away the tears, and putting the letters away, Dakota sighed to herself. She was finally ready to move on. No matter where she wound up, she knew that her friends would be there with her, in spirit. Yeah, she knew that was a cheesy line, but it definitely applied here. Her friends would be there to support her, and give her the hope and confidence she needed to keep pursuing her career. “Goodbye, Illinois!” The brunette called, turning the key and igniting the engine. Pulling out of the drive-in movie theatre, she waved goodbye to Naperville, and then got onto the freeway. It was going to be a long drive. She was glad to be able to finally see a movie in the Cascade Drive-In. And the perfect one to close her story in Illinois, and to begin her new one, far, far away.

“Loving, caring, and hardworking. These were the qualities that described not only Phillip Hopkins, but his beloved Dakota Logan. May she live a happy life, in his memory.” Those were the words engraved on his tombstone. And they were the very thing he wished for his Ducky.