Frimdy Cranks the Heat to 800
Welcome back to Day 10 of the Great Pizza Proving Grounds. We’ve asked our ten remaining bakers to break for lunch at our lovely sponsor, Pizzaroo, while we set up a special surprise for them.
Frimdy, our Brown Hissi, was the first to notice. "What in blazes is that?"
Two Grundos – burly even by Mutant Grundo standards – swung wide the doors of Pizzaroo. The bakers broke out in laughter. Atop the Grundos’ shoulders, supported by a team of Mutant Chombies, rode their emcee on an Arkmite Pool palanquin, hands held up like the statue of the Techo Master’s Master. The bakers had grown accustomed to the Sponge Quiggle’s flamboyance, but this time Koidoroi had outdone himself in an undulating Golden Underwater Wig and a ravishing lavender Sea Shell Bathing Suit. He nodded imperially downwards to acknowledge the bakers’ applause.
"This morning, my splendid pizzaioli, we asked you to make an innovative sauce. This afternoon, you’ll need to raise your innovation skills to a whole new level. Lads?" Koidoroi snapped his webbed fingers, at which command his attendants carried him back outside, and gestured to the bakers to follow.
The Neopian Plaza was a lovely 20 degrees, with a slight breeze and patches of sun – perfect weather for outdoor baking. Koidoroi alit in front of the Welcome Centre, literally taking centre stage, as the Plaza consisted of a central green ringed by a walkway that in turn was encircled by the Plaza’s shops. Today, however, the usually empty walkway was punctuated by ten baking stations.
"Innovation is all about taking the tools you have at hand and taking them in unexpected directions, to take us from the old into the new. And now – hello! – your celebrity judges will explain this afternoon’s challenge. Captain Hackett, would you do the honours?" Koidoroi welcomed forward the judges.
The Pirate Lupe, best known as the no-nonsense owner of Krawk Island’s Golden Dubloon, growled. "Yer challenge today be to take the sauce ye made fer this marnin’s challenge, and add a contrastin’ element to make a pizza the likes o’ which we’ve not seen."
Arista, the charismatic Maraquan Uni beloved by all Kelp customers, stepped forward. "But it’s not enough to simply combine random or incongruous elements. Innovation is more than experimentation. It has a purpose. So each of your pizzas has a context." She gestured panoramically. "Each baking station has been dedicated to one of the nearby iconic locations here in the Neopian Plaza: School Supplies, the Second-Hand Shoppe, the Music Shop, the Defenders’ headquarters, the Pound, the Hospital, the Kadoatery, the Wishing Well, the Vending Machine, and the Plushie Shop."
"No one gets Pizzaroo?" interjected Koidoroi.
"Oh heavens, no," nickered Arista. "That would be a little too meta." She summed up: "Each of you must combine your sauce with a contrasting element to create a signature pizza for your designated Plaza location. We will be looking for a pizza that effectively uses your innovative sauce, for a contrasting element, and for a genuine thematic connection to your plaza location."
The third and final judge, Pizzaroo’s own eponymous Blumaroo chef known simply as "the Pizza Roo," concluded: "Today, you’re cooking outdoors. Make sure you bake your pizzas properly. Make sure they live up to Pizzaroo’s promise of uniquely flavoured pizzas straight from the oven."
Koidoroi injected, "And never, ever give out your password!" The judges glowered dolefully, to the amusement of the bakers. "Go find the station with your signature sauce. You have one hour. Now, my pizzaioli, pronti, ai forni, via!"
At his command, the bakers sprinted, flew, and bolted to locate their cooking station somewhere around the plaza.
Frimdy grabbed hold of Whitkey, the Magma Techo from Moltara, who had started to head north towards the Plushie Shop. "Hold on there, buddy! You’re going the wrong way."
The Techo’s dark visage darkened even more. "Good thing you’re used to working with ovens, Frimdy. It’s not a good idea to touch a Magma ‘Pet with your bare hands."
Frimdy held up his unburnt wingtips and shrugged with a grin. "I know how to work with fire, my friend. Anyways… first, it’s never wise to walk widdershins around a loop. Also, I think I see your bakeware over yonder, in front of the thrift shop."
"And isn’t that your sauce on the next station over? Good thing we took this route!"
"Lucky indeed! Unless I miss my guess, we’re neighbours." Frimdy arranged his utensils atop his workstation. A laminated sheet on his station read simply, "Defenders HQ." Frimdy peered over his shoulder to peer at the HQ, which loomed right behind him, only to be nearly bowled over by Jaagup, a Tyrannian Jubjub, barrelling past him. His translator, a Yellow Hissi named Oriscus, struggled to catch up with his charge.
"I’m so sorry," panted Oriscus. "Are you okay?"
"It’s all good," said Frimdy, dusting himself off. "Looks like you’re next over, then?"
Oriscus peered at the placard at the next station past Frimdy’s, just between the Hospital and Defenders Headquarters, dodging the flurry of the Jubjub’s feet. "Why, yes! Looks like we’ve got the Pound."
"I’ve got the Music Shop," called Whitkey. "Also, I figured out why they gave us a whole hour. The ovens have no heat source."
Frimdy inspected the oven. Below the grill was a tidy but empty firepit. "Lots of time to stoke a fire," said Frimdy, "but we’d better begin right away." Across the plaza, he could hear Captain Hackett lecturing Chryodoppl, one of the other bakers, on how long to prove his dough for a proper deep-dish pizza. "The doomsayers are on their way."
"Fire?" laughed Whitkey, his white teeth blazing against his obsidian face. "I’m using magma." With much clanking, he extricated a long pipe with a metallic Drillaroot on the tip. "Portable drill. Never leave Moltara without it."
Fifty-five minutes remained. Frimdy’s mind raced. He needed to invent a Defenders-themed pizza using his gelatine-based sauce from the morning’s challenge, but his first priority had to be starting the fire. Neopia Central had no shortage of trees from which to collect firewood, but the choice of wood would contribute to the essential flavours of the pizza. He mulled briefly, staring at the Headquarters’ façade, then smiled and flew off to gather his wood.
Neopia Central might be one of the most concentrated urban areas to be found anywhere, but it was also blessed by an abundant variety of trees and shrubs. Frimdy knew the wood he chose would either subtly enhance or ruin the flavour of his pizzas, and set about scouting the area. Heading clockwise around the plaza’s loop, he spotted a grove of Blushing Birch Trees towards the west, nestled between the Hospital and the Kadoatery, just beyond two of his competitors’ cooking stations. Curiously, though, neither station’s chef seemed to be around.
The Hospital door burst open, and Frimdy narrowly dodged the flour-coated Scorchio leaping from the steps. Her Split face was flushed to vermilion and periwinkle. "Lighten up, Mingue!" laughed the Hissi. "I take it you got something from the healers?"
"Botago Potion," grinned the Scorchio. "I’m going to use it to miniaturize some Millennia Eggs. My Hospital Pizza is going to use my Tigerbuggle purée base, smothered in Seaweed Tentacle Kimchee – "
"…and the eggs will soften the sharpness of the pickling. Healthy, and crafty. A bold choice," nodded Frimdy.
The pair continued west along the loop towards Mingue’s baking station. Her heavy brows lowered. "You’re looking for something yourself, aren’t you?"
"You caught me. I’m seeking some good firewood, and saw the birch grove. Blushing Birches, to boot. Shall I gather you some?"
The Scorchio’s eyes brightened. "Oh, thank you, Frimdy. I hadn’t even started thinking about the firepit yet. You’re like the Space Faerie in a good mood, dropping a treat right in my lap!"
"What treat is this?" inquired the oddly autotuned voice of ZE4ina, an 8-bit Lenny from Virtupets. The holographic baker was deftly spinning a Levatato Ray in small circles to levitate and stretch her dough in mid-air.
"Frimdy here is making a birch run, Zephyr."
"I reckon you’ll be wanting me to gather some up for you, too?" offered the Hissi.
"Oh, no, thanks ever so much," chirped the Lenny. "I’m covered." She drew a second ray gun from her holster, a slate-grey, top-of-the-line QX-92 Neutrino Blaster. With a flick of a wingtip she adjusted the setting to "combust" and discharged a fiery energy bolt into the oven. The irradiated metal instantly began to glow; Frimdy and Mingue instinctively took a step backwards.
Zeph’s jawline crackled with frustration. "My real problem is making a pizza that will satisfy the tastes of all the Kadoaties at once. I’ll have to transmogrify each slice separately."
"Ooh, the judges won’t like that," cooed the Scorchio. "Speaking of which, the judges are almost here, Zeph. Good luck!"
Frimdy continued on his quest for the perfect firewood, giving a respectful berth to Twillius, a Faerie Draik, who was subjecting his "Dream Come True" Wishing Well Pizza concept to the judges’ withering scepticism. "I understand that your berry compote sauce is the well water, and the Lucky Chocolate Coins are the coins resting in the water, but how will you keep the chocolate from burning?"
Frimdy winced. He didn’t envy Twillius, who had almost been sent home last week for inadequate dough rise, resulting in a Cloud Pizza that the judges found singularly Un-Yummy.
He paused at the next station, where two of the chefs, Chyrodoppl and Remige, were amicably bickering.
Remige snorted. His Red Elephante trunk almost turned the snort into a blast. "Chy, you’ve got it easy. How am I supposed to work with the Vending Machine?"
"Are you kidding?" retorted the Royalgirl (though male) Korbat. He paused to utter a supersonic shriek into his dough, pounding it with Brownian motion. "Just make a Gross Food pizza. I wish I’d gotten your station. My Walnut Ketchup remoulade would have worked perfectly with Gross Foods."
"Well, of course it would," trumpeted Remige disdainfully. "But what about the contrasting element part of the brief? I can’t just put gross toppings on my peanut sauce. I need to make this pizza elegant somehow."
Frimdy poked his head over the Korbat’s workspace. "Chy, I don’t mean to tell you your business, but I’m worried you’re overworking your dough."
"No worries, pal," answered Chy. "I’m making a pizza for the Plushie Shop. It’s got to be almost as fluffy as bread to feel like plushie stuffing."
"That’s one mighty gamble you’re taking."
"Go big or go home, am I right?" chuckled the Korbat. "What brings you here, Frimdy?"
Frimdy patted his bindle filled with birch. "I still need something sweet-smelling. Have you seen any apple trees nearby?"
"Apple wood? I’ve got some," said Chy and Remige in unison, then laughed. Chy continued, "I’d suggest you use Remige’s extra applewood, Frimdy."
The Elephante handed over a bundle of apple twigs. "Thanks so much, friend," gushed Frimdy. "They should put your likeness up in stained glass."
Remige roared in triumph. "Oh, you’ve just given me the best idea, Frimdy. I don’t need an elegant pizza topping. I’ll use an elegant cut for the slices instead."
"What’s wrong with your applewood, though, Chy?"
"Nothing, really. It’s just that the Brightvale apple orchards are likely to have a sweeter scent than my ‘Haunted Wood.’"
Frimdy’s eyes lit up. "You know what would be helpful… Chy, would you happen to have any Brain Tree Splinters you could spare?"
The Korbat flicked up a thumb with a toothy grin.
Frimdy returned carrying a bindle full of twigs and branches. Thirty-four minutes remaining. Not ideal, but still enough time. His firepit was soon crackling and perfuming the air with a delicate smoke both sweet and pungent. He held back from stoking the fire too much; there was plenty of time for it to reach 450 degrees, and he didn’t want to cook the pizza itself until the last ten minutes.
His dough had proved just enough to toss. Frimdy always loved this part of preparing pizza; it looked so theatrical. He took his first ball of dough, rolled it flat into a rough circle, and flung it into the air. The centripetal motion stretched the dough outwards from the centre. Dextrously he caught the dough on the back of his knuckles; his wingtips would have punctured straight through the dough. Hearing the sound of applause, he looked up, only to realize that even his skilled technique was completely upstaged by the Jubjub to his left. Frimdy smiled. The crowd might love to see a good dough toss, but nothing could compete with a dough toss using only your feet.
It was just at that moment that the judges arrived at the Jubjub’s station. Oriscus hurried over to translate. "Lovely technique, Jaagup," enthused Arista. "Can you tell us about your pizza?"
Following an extended series of ugs and other ug-like syllables from the Jubjub, Oriscus turned to the judges. "Jaagup is making a Stone Pizza as a tribute to the Pound."
"Because ye be poundin’ the stone flat?" mused Captain Hackett.
Jaagup snarled. "Ugg! Gulga-grub gagga ugga ugg. Grrug arg-sar ugg."
Oriscus shook his head. "Not at all. The Stone Pizza is meant to contrast with his Cactus Leaf sauce, which is 99% water. He’s adding Archaesaurus Tail as the main topping, to represent how an apparently discarded item can in fact be the most precious and valuable part."
"Grugga-ugga gub," added Jaagup helpfully.
"In this way, he hopes to make immanent the external manifestation of an internal transformation as Neopets create hitherto unimagined joy when they are at last adopted, thus making his pizza a symbol of the autocracy of freedom."
The Jubjub grunted gutturally.
"I’m sorry," corrected Oriscus, "that should have been the ontology of freedom."
The third judge, the Pizza Roo, leaned critically back onto his tail. "Jaagup, during this competition you’ve made Mud Pizzas, Yummy Muddy Pizzas, Edible Tar Pizzas, and Four Dirt Pizza Blocks. This is more of the same, isn’t it? We’ve warned you before about relying too much on the same technique. We want to see a variety of skills."
Arista nodded. "Solid Stone Pizza is fine, and it’s certainly within our brief as a contrast to your sauce, but if you’re going to make something simple, we expect a perfectly executed pie."
Oriscus relayed the judges’ concerns. The Jubjub nodded, subdued.
"Now then, who’s next?" asked Arista brightly, moving with surprising grace for a landbound Maraquan Uni. "Frimdy! You have the Defenders HQ, don’t you? Your pitfire smells delightful. What are you using for your fire?"
Frimdy smiled. "Apple Tree branches for smell, and Blushing Birch for heat. Brain Tree Splinters for the kindling, to acknowledge how they once overcame that great foe. Last, some Cliffside Tree wood, betokening how they stand and keep watch over us."
The Blumaroo judge nodded sagely. "Interesting mix of firewood, Frimdy. Apple wood is time-honoured for giving sweetness to woodfire pizzas. The Brain Tree will add a note of sharpness, and the Cliffside Tree should bind them together. Well chosen! Tell us about your pie."
Frimdy swallowed. "We’re standing in the shadow of the folks who ward off evil, who shield us, so I’m making my pizza into a shield."
Arista frowned. "This just looks like a hexagon to me. May I?" Gently she prodded the dough, and frowned again. "How long did you prove this dough?"
"I let the yeast rise a little longer for this pizza, because I need the dough to be slightly more breadlike. As for the shield, watch!" Frimdy folded the hexagon nearly in half. "Six sides, one fold, two shields."
"Arrr…." growled the Captain. "’Tis no calzone that we be wantin’ here, lad."
"It’ll be a flatbread… only not your everyday flatbread, if what I’m plotting works out."
Arista smiled. "All right, Frimdy. We look forward to it." The judges moved on to Whitkey’s station, with Frimdy and Oriscus following to watch. "Whitkey, tell us about your pizza… and what in the world is that?"
The Magma Techo grinned. "That," he boasted, "is a magma conduit. Instead of a bonfire, I’m using Neopia’s own internal heat to bake my pie." He held up his hands at the judges’ worried expressions. "Don’t worry. It’s completely safe, and I’ll seal the vent when we’re done. You won’t even be able to tell it was ever there. Besides, my sauce is a magma sauce. It would be hard to get a bonfire hot enough to even soften it."
The Pizza Roo sniffed the magma sauce appraisingly. "Your sauce has cooled to stone already."
"I’ll have it heated up in plenty of time. In the meantime, I’m working on my toppings. My pizza celebrates the Music Shop, so to contrast with the silent, smooth magma sauce, I’m using a Cookie Pizza base with banana celery to create a pizza with a nice sonic crunch."
Frimdy interjected, "How about throwing in bell peppers?"
Whitkey grinned. "Because they’re like musical bells? That’s perfect!"
The judges chuckled. "Just make sure that Cookie crust really snaps, especially given your theme." The Techo nodded.
As Frimdy returned to his station, Oriscus sidled up to him. "Frimdy, my day job is researching ancient history. That’s why I moved to Tyrannia. I spend a lot of time studying ancient tongues, and I couldn’t help noticing that you have some old-fashioned speech patterns. Where are you from, if you don’t mind my asking?"
Frimdy paused. "Nowhere you’d have heard of. I guess my folks always did hew to their timehonoured ways. I don’t think twice about it."
Oriscus stroked his chin. "I figure you were planning on calling your pizza the ‘Shield Sandwich’ or some such, am I right?"
Oriscus leaned in. "I have a suggestion that might be a little more… trendy."
Frimdy was intrigued. "Trendy is good – " he began, but stopped at the sudden sound of a spatula clattering against stone.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no! wailed Whitkey. Frimdy and Oriscus rushed over to help.
"What in blazes is wrong?" asked Frimdy, tasting the air with his tongue. "I don’t smell anything burning."
"Exactly! I can’t get my sauce to boil back into magma. I don’t understand what’s going wrong. My E-Z Brand Thermometer says I should already be at 800 degrees."
Oriscus frowned, puzzled. He poked carefully at the cooled magma sauce. "What is this? It looks like some kind of amphibole. Hornblende, is it?"
Whitkey nodded. "The manganese gives the flavour some spark."
Oriscus tilted his head. "That should melt, or at the very least, soften, at 800 degrees…"
Frimdy blinked. "Whitkey, that heat hardly feels that hot. Let me see…" Frimdy buried his snout in his wings, then looked up, already knowing the answer to his question. "Whitkey, is that 800 in Fahrenheit?"
The Techo turned ashen. "I was sure my thermometer was set to Celsius. Even if it weren’t, this subterranean magma should be much hotter than 800 degrees Fahrenheit."
"In Moltara, I’m sure it would be," Oriscus mused, "but we’re much farther from Neopia’s mantle here."
"Maybe after flowing so much farther, it’s cooler than below ground?" Frimdy figured.
"That’s it, game over," panicked the Techo. "I’m the one going home today."
"Settle down, Whitkey. This smarts, but we can make this right." Frimdy checked the time. "There’s time left yet."
"But Frimdy," fretted Oriscus, "we would need to raise the temperature from 800 Fahrenheit to, let’s see, times 9/5, plus 32, that’s 1,472 degrees? That’s nearly twice as hot. Does wood even burn that hot?"
"A freestanding fire can… but we’ll have to be crafty about it. We’ll need to burn the wood until nothing’s left but charcoal and ashes, and then burn those. Charcoal would wreck most pizza…"
"But not mine," agreed Whitkey. "This will work?"
"It should… but we’ll need some kind of bellows."
Oriscus and Frimdy looked at one another and smiled. "Like wings?" "Like wings."
All too soon, the time for judging arrived. Frimdy waited for his turn anxiously, wondering how all the others had fared.
The judges found Chyrodoppl’s overproving and overworking risky but effective as the Plushie Shop pizza, but the Pizza Roo questioned why he hadn’t make a full-fledged Pizza Block instead of a deep-dish pizza. ZE4ina had finally settled on using her Virtupets technology to create a pizza topped with Franken Apples, each of whose slices tasted like a different food demanded at the Kadoatery.
Arista praised Zeph’s molecular gastronomy, but Captain Hackett declared that the taste made him want to cry as loudly as any Kadoatie. Mingue’s Hospital Pie earned high marks for healthiness, but the Pizza Roo felt the lack of Healing Potions in the sauce was a missed opportunity for both flavour and theme.
Jaagup earned praise for the sharp snap of his stone crust and artistic fault lines, but the judges faulted his pizza for inconsistent thickness and lack of innovation. Arista correctly suggested that Citrusquash zest would not only have fit his pizza’s "discarded" theme but also added a sharp contrast to his sauce as well as much-needed nutritional value, leaving the Jubjub thoroughly chastened.
It did not escape the judges’ notice that Whitkey’s pizza had been rushed, but they did approve of the acoustic theme and the unexpectedly effective combination of magma and bell peppers. The Techo made sure to acknowledge Frimdy’s contribution.
Finally it was Frimdy’s turn in the hot seat. "So, lad," muttered the Captain, "this here pizza be called ‘The Heropian’?"
Frimdy nodded. "I owe the name to our handy wordsmith over there." Oriscus ruffled his wingtips in an "aw-shucks" gesture. "It’s a new word made from mingling two old words."
"Arr, ’twould be a portmanteau, lad."
"And an excellent example of innovation," added Arista, "creating something unique and new."
The Pizza Roo sampled another bite of pizza. "Your sauce was a Cheese Jelly sweetspread, contrasted with a nicely smoked applesauce – "
"Super Chunky Superhero Applesauce, if I’m not mistaken," interjected Koidoroi approvingly.
"…with Pastrami topping on a rye pizza dough. Nicely done, chef," concluded the Pizza Roo, shaking Frimdy’s hand. "Excellent execution and innovation here."
Frimdy smiled and lowered his head as his fellow chefs applauded.
Who will earn the honour of this week’s Pizza Topper… and who will be asked to leave? Find out right after these messages!
Koidoroi appears courtesy of tizzlestix