It’s rather easy to write off Shokugeki no Souma as a one-track show. Chefs duel with other chefs in order to settle disputes. The winner is decided as the one who makes the judges experience intense and unrestrained excitement through cooking. Simple, right?
However, the protagonist of the series has always subtly represented a set of beliefs through his cooking. In Yukihira Souma’s mind, chefs don’t have to receive fancy education or use high-quality ingredients or strictly stick to a single “type” of cuisine to be successful. He firmly believes that chefs can succeed through hard work and that he should stick to his roots when it comes to expressing himself on the plate (or bowl). Most of his opponents who disagreed with his mindset thus far have lost. In fact, every chef has his or her own beliefs about cooking, but Toutsuki Culinary Academy is an environment where might makes right. And due to his dominance, Souma has proven that his beliefs have at least some merit.
With Shokugeki no Souma: San no Sara, however, comes more characters and more opponents who won’t be silenced by Souma’s results because they’re strong, confident chefs (in a world where, as mentioned earlier, cooking ability is everything). They also hold beliefs that just so happens to clash with that of Souma’s.
The primary antagonist for the first arc in this season is Kuga Terunori, the current 7th seat who claimed that he would accept Souma’s open challenge to the Elite 10 if Souma manages to beat him at something. Ever the daredevil, Souma decides to see who can sell more food during a schoolwide festival despite the fact that Kuga’s booth is almost guaranteed to secure first place. Nevertheless, Souma manages to best Kuga on sales during the second-to-last day and proves that ease of access (since his dishes were not as outrageously spicy as that of Kuga’s, which proved to be simply too spicy for some customers despite being very delicious) and adaptability (Souma incorporated aspects of Taiwanese cuisine into his cooking whereas Kuga stays firmly entrenched within traditional Szechuan dishes) is not guaranteed to lose against sheer numbers and blind coherence (since Kuga’s grunts were all extensively drilled into following his recipes, which meant he could not easily adjust his menu after Souma started showing results).
Mass production, or Sameness, for those of you who have read The Giver, being compared to individuality isn’t exactly an uncommon theme in anime and fiction in general, it should be noted. Wake Up, Girls! explores the topic by pinning the titular indie idol group of 7 against the I-1 Club, who has hundred of members and any member can be replaced at any time. At any rate, neither side emerged victorious since both Souma and Kuga were aiming for a decisive, clean victory, but it is implied that Kuga should branch out in order to improve further as a cook.
During the fifth episode, the audience gets to learn a bit about Tsukasa Eishi, the current 1st seat, and Nakiri Azami, Erina’s father. As it turns out, Tsukasa holds the exact opposite beliefs compared to Souma. Time and time again, Soma tries to imbue his dishes with his own personality by drawing from his upbringing, using his experiences gained from working at a diner for several years in order to think on his feet, following his father’s footsteps by mixing and matching cooking techniques as he sees fit, and so on. Furthermore, he has no qualms in using lower quality-food for specific purposes. Meanwhile, Tsukasa aims to erase himself from his cooking in order to focus on the high quality ingredients he uses for his dishes. It can even be observed in how the two operate their booths during the Moon Banquet Festival. Both Souma and Tsukasa run small stalls, but Souma lets his friends help him out by leaving parts of the cooking to them whereas Tsukasa is too paranoid to let anyone else help him cook, which means he’s left alone in the kitchen.
Interestingly enough, Azami’s beliefs partially aligns with that of Souma’s. Yes, it is true that the two disagree when it comes to demographics since Azami believes only the elite can truly appreciate food. Meanwhile, Souma has always focused on making sure the food he produces can be enjoyed by anyone and is proud of his father’s recipe for mapo tofu for being mild compared to Kuga’s overly spicy mapo tofu. Be that as it may, Souma and Azami both believe that using high-quality ingredients doesn’t automatically make a dish delicious.
The end of the episode culminates with Nakiri Senzaemon clashing with his son-in-law who he had exiled years ago. While Senzaemon is willing to expel students who don’t meet the academy’s standards, he still believes that anyone who can cook can attend Toutsuki regardless of social status. On the other hand, Azami, as mentioned earlier, is basically an elitist.
There’s more to be said about Azami, but that’ll venture into spoilers territory. I’ll end this article by pointing out how Kuga and Souma also share some similarities. Not everything is black and white, after all, despite Nakiri’s Azami’s beliefs and wardrobe. Kuga also challenged the people within the current Elite 10 to a shokugeki (in the previous year) just like Souma. The fact that he chose to not support Azami’s takeover by not signing the petition also shows that he disagrees with the man’s beliefs, much like Souma does, too.