Third time’s the charm, right? I’m going to try this recapping thing again, with a slightly new style, and hope that it sticks.
I’ve been on an Ivy Shao-Taiwanese drama roll right now, having just watched Love and Pi and Back to 1989, so I thought I might as well continue it by watching The Perfect Match (极品绝配), since I also love food.
The first episode of The Perfect Match establishes our lead characters as polar opposites who naturally butt heads.
Huo Ting En (Chris Wu) is the meticulous, micromanaging visionary executive chef behind La Mure, a Michelin star restaurant. Though his role is primarily managerial, his passion is clearly cooking — when his head chef falls ill, he swiftly dons an apron and takes over to prep dinner and his signature curry lobster for his mother and VIP guests, Chairman Meng and his daughter Gina aka Meng Ru Xi (Xiao Man), a world-famous food critic. The dinner is clearly the parents’ attempt to set up Ting En and Ru Xi. Ru Xi is obviously interested after tasting Ting En’s food, while Ting En seems blase, but their parents are pleased to watch them exchange business cards and numbers.
Meanwhile, Wei Fen Qing (Ivy Shao) aka “Qing Ye” (“Master Qing”), is a night market stall owner best known for her curry shrimp slider, a night market imitation of Huo Ting En’s curry lobster. She’s strong, independent, and a bit reckless, riding her motorcycle down sidewalks and through narrow passageways, but beloved by her night market coworkers.
The show immediately establishes a classic Taiwanese rom-com tone with plenty of cheesy, overdramatic sequences. Our introduction to Qing involves her sending her motorcycle airborne to rescue a child’s runaway balloon, then single-handedly (literally) saving her night market peers by delivering a propane tank after their supplier gets caught up in an accident. Later, she and her fellow night market cooks end up in a strange, commercial-like musical dance sequence celebrating the opening of the market for the night. It’s SO cheesy, but done right can be part of a drama’s charm, and I love badass female leads, so I’ll roll with it for now.
Qing first comes to Ting En’s attention when La Mure’s restaurant manager and his good friend, Peng Xiao Bin (Liu Shu Hong), sends him a blog post claiming that she’s the night market “people’s version” of Huo Ting En. But she doesn’t catch his eye until he happens to walk by her night market stall and her voice and mannerisms remind him of a woman he once knew. Later, we learn that she reminds him of his sister, Huo Ting Li, who had wanted to make it on her own as a night market curry shop.
Ting En tries Qing’s curry shrimp slider, but tosses it aside after one bite, saying it’s clearly night market-quality food: sour and undeserving of praise. He proceeds to one-up her by remaking her dish at her stall in front of all her peers. And he does it better. After putting her down by saying that she’s now tasted real curry, he tells her to stop claiming to be the people’s version of Huo Ting En: she’s nowhere near as good.
Qing’s goal is to keep her late father’s memory and legacy alive by recreating his curry, so naturally Ting En’s criticism hurts. When her father was alive, he was known as the “King of Curry.” But all she has left of him are his old notes, and she spends nights poring over them, hoping to glean some insight into what she’s missing.
The next day, Qing calls up Zhen Zhen (AnGill) and Nai Nai (Kiki Lin), two of her night market coworkers and good friends, and goes to La Mure to challenge Ting En to a cook-off. She claims that she can recreate his curry lobster after tasting it. Amused, he agrees. To his surprise, she’s able to identify most of the ingredients he used, but she admits that her recreation is close, but missing something. She asks him to teach her, claiming that if she spends a week in his kitchen, she’ll be able to perfectly recreate the dish. She’ll do anything he asks as long as he agrees to teach her. To everyone’s surprise, Ting En agrees. She reminds him too much of his sister, and he’s still plagued by the guilt of abandoning Ting Li in her time of need.
Ting En doesn’t let Qing get by without some hazing. The first night, he tells her to single-handedly move a delivery of ingredients up to the kitchen. He estimates it’ll take at least 10 minutes; she claims she can do it within five, and even though she struggles with the last few bags, she proves true to her word. Later, he has her blind taste several different curry powders, then tells her to order the physical jars of powder in the sequence in which she tasted them. They’re interrupted by an earthquake and power outage. For all her bravado, Qing is terrified of the dark, and physically clings to him until he gives her his cell phone as a flashlight.
Once Ting En turns the lights back on, Qing hands him a handwritten contract to sign establishing the terms of her working at the kitchen for the next 7 days. Included is a clause that he must never tell anyone that she’s afraid of the dark. Ting En dismisses Qing with a tip on her curry shrimp: she used too much baking soda, which was why it turned sour. After she leaves, he considers her contract with amusement. Isn’t the contract written evidence of her fear that he should destroy for her? He considers ripping it up, but then keeps it instead.
Qing’s friends surprise her when she returns home and congratulate her for challenging (and failing) against Ting En two nights in a row. It doesn’t seem like an accomplishment, but the fact that she’s now apprenticing in his kitchen as a direct result of those losses is. Ah Wei (Ben Wu) reminds her that following her father’s footsteps is her dream, and this is her best chance at chasing that dream. He’ll cover for her at her night market stall. He also tells her to let him know if Ting En bullies her at all: he’ll protect her.
Ru Xi writes a glowing review of La Mure and considers how Ting En hasn’t even texted her yet despite having her number for two days. She thinks he’s playing hard to get, which she finds attractive, so she decides to play along and sends him a text asking him to teach her how to make curry lobster. Unknown to both of them, Qing still has Ting En’s cell phone, which he doesn’t realize until the next morning when Xiao Bin calls him on his landline. Does he just not check his phone? I find it impressive in the modern day that he can just lose track of his phone for a whole night without noticing!
Ting En calls his own phone and Qing picks up, to his relief, but almost immediately she screams “Help me!” and the line goes silent.
I’m pretty into this so far! I love it when one of the leads has a colorful, fun group of family/friends, and the night market crowd seems appropriately adorable. I also love when the romantic leads challenge each other and each other their own strengths, rather than the tropes where the male lead is often rescuing the female lead. So two positive boxes checked off here!
There aren’t really any surprises with this show. The whole set-up is super obvious: Ting Li, the sister, is probably dead, and the romantic rivals are clearly Ru Xi and Ah Wei, but it’s always interesting to see how it all plays out.