Cookie Fonster Reviews Every MLP Episode Part 67: Spice Up Your Life

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Season 6, Episode 12

I decided to give this episode and the next one both their own posts because my review of Spice Up Your Life turned out longer than I expected, and my review of Stranger Than Fan Fiction will inevitably be super long. And also because I scrambled to finish this post today, publishing it a few hours later than the usual time. I haven’t started writing the next review yet.

Season 6 Episode 12: Spice Up Your Life

In five words: Family restaurant suffers blind judgement.

Premise: The Cutie Map sends Rarity and Pinkie Pie to a family restaurant in Canterlot that is struggling to stay afloat due to a family conflict, but there’s a greater problem that they aren’t yet aware of.

Detailed run-through:

To start the episode, Starlight Glimmer and Twilight Sparkle perform a magic spell to restore the Cutie Map, whose functionality apparently ceased when Starlight Glimmer used it to rampage through time. I’m not sure why the episode goes out of its way to show this restoration; it feels like this was meant to be a difficult challenge to take up the plot of an episode, but maybe an episode focused on this premise wouldn’t have been interesting enough, so they instead decided to do this at the start of this episode.

This makes for one of those weird cases where Starlight Glimmer is there, but only for one small role or plot point fulfillment. But frankly, complaints about Starlight Glimmer stealing all the spotlight in season 6 are silly. We’re twelve episodes in, and so far, she’s played a significant role only in the premiere, sixth, and eighth episodes of the season. She’s a wonderful character who I love dearly, but she’s still a supporting character.

I have to admire how well Pinkie Pie has memorized the map of Equestria.

The Cutie Map flashes between several random pairs of Mane 6 members in random locations, including Twilight and Twilight in Twilight’s castle. We’re supposed to assume those are glitches, but are they really? Maybe those are friendship missions that the ponies missed out on when the map was dormant, and the missions eventually solved themselves. And who’s to say Twilight never had another mishap with alternate selves offscreen? There are plenty of possibilities!

Rarity’s gotten lucky with her friendship missions. She’s now been sent to both of her favorite cities in Equestria!

Here’s how Rarity and Pinkie Pie react to their new mission:

Rarity: (long gasp) Canterlot! This is wonderful. I can check the boutique! Perhaps there will be some social events that we can attend. Oh, I’ll have to pack extra outfits! What will I wear???
Pinkie Pie: You know, some ponies get excited about the silliest things.

Yes, some ponies do get excited about the silliest things. In fact, that’s one of the biggest similarities between Rarity and Pinkie Pie. Both have similar ways of bouncing off the walls in excitement, and as with any cutie map episode, we’re going to explore the traits that these two have in common.

When Pinkie Pie and Rarity discuss how they’ll find the friendship problem, they agree it’s best to find it naturally, as has happened the last few times. And find it naturally they do, specifically when Pinkie Pie gets hungry.

I like to think that when Pinkie Pie was little, she thought stomach growling meaning that she’s hungry was an aspect of Pinkie Sense, not something that all ponies experience. Maybe the first time someone else told her that their stomach is growling, Pinkie Pie jumped in excitement and said, “Wait, are you telling me that you have Pinkie Sense too???” And then she blushed in embarrassment when she learned the truth.

Note that no one around the Restaurant Row buildings looks at all excited to dine in them.
Maybe it’s the time of day?

Pinkie Pie and Rarity arrive at a street called Restaurant Row, and here’s what Rarity recommends:

Rarity: Any establishments that have this. The three-hoof rating.
Pinkie Pie: Um… whose hooves?
Rarity: Why, Zesty Gourmand! The queen of cuisine. When it comes to food, she is the ultimate authority in Canterlot, and thus all of Equestria. She judges a restaurant on cuisine, décor, and presentation. Without her approval, a restaurant simply cannot survive.
Pinkie Pie: What’s so important about her approval?
Rarity: Zesty grew up around fine dining, and everypony hangs on her every word when it comes to cuisine.
Pinkie Pie: Wow, then the food here must be AMAZING!

Even though we haven’t even met Zesty Gourmand in person yet, this passage already shows us that her tactic of celebrity stamps of approval works in her favor. Rarity follows Zesty Gourmand’s words to the letter, even though as we see right afterwards…

There is absolutely no conceivable way that Rarity would speak of Restaurant Row with so much enthusiasm if she had actually eaten there before. This proves how much she’s fallen into the trap of trusting what some rich snob says about restaurants. Not even Rarity, our beloved pony everypony should know, is immune to blind judgement. (And that’s why we love her.)

I’ve said this since season 1: if even Pinkie Pie finds something inedible, that’s how you someone royally screwed up. She would make a terrible food critic for the opposite reason as Zesty Gourmand: her standards are just too broad. But she would be good at telling others when something isn’t food.

The other restaurants have exactly the same food and design as this one, as we see in a little montage. An interesting detail is that the waiters’ cutie marks are all a plate with a miniature amount of food on them, differing only by where the food is placed. This suggests that while these restaurants are in a bad situation, at least they hired waiters who do what they love. And by “love”, I of course mean “express subtle, professional approval towards without actually smiling”.

Pinkie Pie is a simple girl. When she sees bright colors, she knows something is promising.

One thing Pinkie Pie excels at is going with her gut, which is exactly what let her sense something was wrong back in The Cutie Map. Like a dog, she bounces around sniffing every restaurant until she finds a place tucked away in a corner that smells like actual food: The Tasty Treat. A bit of an uncreative name for a restaurant, but it fits because this place is owned by a humble family without much professional experience. Rarity has her doubts since the restaurant is unrated, but she joins Pinkie Pie anyway.

We quickly find that the two ponies who run the restaurant, Saffron Masala and her father Coriander Cumin, are another example of season 6 ponifying real-life cultures. Coriander Cumin is like a commonly portrayed strict Asian parent who frequently reminds his kids how difficult things were in his home country—he mentions he moved halfway across Equestria while grumbling about how unsuccessful their restaurant is. Saffron Masala is the typical level-headed child of foreign parents (think Connie from King of the Hill*); she is joyed to finally have some customers in her restaurant and annoyed her dad is complaining so much.

I think you can also gather something from the similarity between these two ponies’ names. Both are named after spices, and if you are to assume Saffron Masala has had her name since birth, it sounds like Coriander Cumin is the kind of parent who raised his kid to be as much like him as possible. While they have a lot of conflict now, it’s clear later in the episode that their special connection really worked.

* Somehow, I’ve managed to bring up that show exactly once per season since season 3.

After Pinkie Pie and Rarity try the food and both enjoy it, they’re confident about what the map sent them to do.

Rarity: The flow has led us here! This is our mission! We are going to get you a three-hoof rating and save your restaurant! I can get Zesty Gourmand here.
Pinkie Pie: And I can pack this place with ponies!
Coriander Cumin: Hm! And how do you intend to do such a thing?
Rarity and Pinkie Pie: Just leave it to us!

The more cutie map missions these ponies do, the more overconfident they become. Rarity and Pinkie Pie both pick the roles that seem the most fitting to them on the surface—gathering a crowd of ponies and winning the approval of a Canterlot celebrity—without considering that Rarity’s specialty isn’t cooking, and Pinkie Pie never fit in the uptight atmosphere of Canterlot. I think the map is deliberately throwing the Mane 6 some curveballs, making the challenges not be what they seem at first.

Saffron Masala responds to this promise with a smile, while her father raises an eyebrow in doubt. He acts pessimistic throughout this episode, like he begrudgingly accepted that his dreams of opening a restaurant in the other side of Equestria weren’t meant to be.

Rarity reveals that she’s convinced Zesty Gourmand to come to the restaurant, but Coriander Cumin correctly guesses there’s a catch: the only time Zesty will be available is tonight. I think the cutie map purposely gave Rarity and Pinkie Pie a narrow timeframe to get this done, because it would rather teach the Mane 6 friendship lessons than solve problems before they get bad, which you could argue is for the greater good because it helps these ponies become stronger. This unusual morality sounds a lot like Discord, doesn’t it?

Right after Rarity and Pinkie Pie break off to each do their part of the job, we learn that their visions are VERY different:

Rarity: Coriander, I understand your trepidation, but I promise you we will get those hooves by making this place feel just like all of the other restaurants on Restaurant Row!
(scene switch)
Saffron Masala: Oh, I hope my father doesn’t drive Rarity crazy.
Pinkie Pie: It’ll be fine. Rarity’s gonna make sure that The Tasty Treat is the most unique and beautiful restaurant in Canterlot. Not like all those stuffy places on Restaurant Row.

It’s a common trope for two friends to think they have the same idea for how to solve a problem, only to be proven wrong. Rarity wants to please the snooty food critic, while Pinkie Pie wants the people of Canterlot to see this restaurant for what it is. This contrast leads to the musical number of this episode: an Indian-inspired song called It’s Gonna Work.

Fun fact: neither Rarity nor Pinkie Pie’s usual voice actors are singing this song!
I’m pretty sure this is the only multi-character song in the show where this is the case.

In this song, Rarity and Pinkie Pie alternate between singing corresponding lyrics, both equally confident in their plans to make the restaurant succeed. Rarity shows Coriander Cumin a guide to making a fancy style restaurant and hires some workers to revamp the place. It may seem weird that Rarity is yet again bending backwards to please the tastes of others when she learned in several episodes why not to do that, but I have a theory. Maybe Rarity thinks it’s her absolute dirtiest, most embarrassing secret that she can’t stand haute cuisine—she knows she should like it, but every time she tries it, she gags a little. This is a lot like my opinion on wine: it tastes horrible, but people get all pretentious about liking wine because it’s seen as fancy and proper, instead of a drink that ACTUALLY TASTES GOOD like grape juice, putting people who appreciate the “subtleties” of wine above those with less “refined” tastes. It’s all a load of nonsense, because wine simply doesn’t taste good.

Wine rants aside, I can see why Coriander Cumin is going along with his plan. For him, The Tasty Treat as it stands is a failure, so he has nothing to lose by revamping the restaurant to fit elitist tastes.

I wish Minuette recognized Pinkie Pie in this scene. That would have been a fun callback.

In Pinkie Pie’s side of the song, she teams up with Saffron Masala to advertise the restaurant, which would work much better in Ponyville than it does in Canterlot. Worse yet, they’re unwittingly doing some false advertising, all because they didn’t know their plans conflicted.

It may seem strange that there are so many nearly identical waiter ponies who Pinkie Pie is telling Saffron Masala not to be like, but is it stranger than the royal guard ponies in the early seasons who look completely identical? Actually, the conformity of the waiters’ designs might be stranger, because they also have almost identical cutie marks. I’m going to guess those marks were the result of a freak accident that never got resolved.

The chorus of the song consists of Rarity and Pinkie Pie singing the same lyrics in a duet with different intentions, with the same symmetric visuals shown above repeated three times almost like a fanmade music video. There’s a bridge section between the second and third verses where they alternate between opposing lyrics, and the song ends with the restaurant prepared to serve ordinary fancy food, and Pinkie Pie still struggling to attract guests.

The two ponies on the right are yet another ponification of a real-world culture: this time, Midwestern Americans.

After being told off by two Canterlot residents who aren’t interested in restaurants without ratings, Pinkie Pie and Saffron Masala encounter a pair of travelers from Whinnyapolis who want a change of pace from all the samey fancy restaurants they tried.

Apparently the whole building was overhauled in one day, just like a deserted building was revamped into a boutique three episodes ago. But this time, there’s a little more realism to it: we saw several construction workers redesign the place during the musical number.

Pinkie Pie: Rarity, what did you do?
Coriander Cumin:
Welcome to The Tasty Treat. You can eat here if you want. Or not. Who cares.
Rarity: I know. Isn’t it perfect? Zesty is sure to love it.
Pinkie Pie: I thought we were trying to make this the most unique and beautiful restaurant in Canterlot! Not make it exactly like every other restaurant.
Rarity: (laughs) Oh, we want to help our friends by giving them three hooves. That will only happen if this is like every other restaurant.

Now that I think of it, what exactly would a restaurant with less than three hooves look like? Has Zesty Gourmand ever given a restaurant a one or two-hoof rating? Or does she only ever give restaurants three hooves if they match her standards and refuse to rate them if they don’t? This is why I hate numerical ratings. They just cause too much confusion and ambiguity, and letter grades will always be superior. The lack of acknowledgement of intermediate restaurant ratings is one of my biggest problems with this episode.

However, Rarity’s excitement to showcase the restaurant is understandable, assuming she did the visual design. It looks more colorful than the other generic fancy restaurants, and maybe she feels she struck the right balance between originality and appeal to the customer—two aspects she’s always struggled to balance.

Pinkie Pie and Saffron Masala are horrified to see the restaurant has switched to fancy food, while Rarity is proud and smug about renovating the restaurant. Pinkie Pie reveals that she only found two customers, and that’s when she and Rarity both realize how badly the other messed up. They scramble to get in their places when the guests arrive.

Now, we finally meet Zesty Gourmand in person, and this is the first impression we get from her:

Coriander Cumin: Welcome to the Tasty Treat. What can I get you this evening.
Zesty Gourmand: I hardly think it matters, but by all means, try your best to impress.

If you are a fan of this show, or a fan of any media, surely you’ve encountered someone with an insufferably pretentious attitude about it, who never actually seems happy when discussing the media they’re a fan of. They just talk about the few parts they like with an elitist “smarter than you” attitude and dismiss the many more parts they dislike while refusing to listen to other people’s opinions, and Zesty Gourmand is the same way with food. The show could have almost portrayed Rarity as similarly pretentious, and it kind of did early in the first season, but thankfully it instead made her a precious, lovable dork.

As she scrambles to prepare her family’s style of food, Saffron Masala sips some sauce out of the spoon and then puts it back in the pot, potentially spreading germs. This indicates that The Tasty Treat has questionable sanitation standards, and the only justification I can think of is that Saffron is in a huge hurry.

Coriander Cumin: Saffron Masala, what are you doing?
Saffron Masala: I’m trying to save our reputations! I’ve given it at least a little bit of flavor.
Rarity: No no no no no, but that’s not what Zesty wants.
Pinkie Pie: What kind of food expert doesn’t want flavor? THAT’S INSANE!

Rarity and Pinkie Pie’s roles in this episode are inverted from the last time they were paired. In The Gift of the Maud Pie, Pinkie Pie gives up an item dear to her to please her sister, and Rarity is shocked she would do this. Here, it’s the opposite: Rarity redesigns the restaurant to appeal to a haughty food critic, and Pinkie Pie thinks she’s out of her mind. Even though Rarity and Pinkie Pie were always considered a rarepair, these episodes together show that they’re like-minded in many ways.

If Pinkie Pie had unicorn magic, Rarity wouldn’t be able to do this.
Proof that unicorns are overpowered.

Pinkie Pie gets ready to deliver the sauce to the customer, but Rarity stops her, and this happens:

The other two guests also got sauce spilled on them.

Chargrill Breadwinner is the teal guy at the table.

So Zesty isn’t even giving a second chance to try the food after this clumsy mishap?
I’m not sure if this is illogical, or if it simply shows how haughty she is.

I like Rarity and Pinkie Pie’s expressions as Zesty Gourmand tells off the people at the restaurant for their cooking. Rarity looks heartbroken that the food critic she looked up to would be this snooty and dismissive, while Pinkie Pie sternly knows that Zesty is full of nonsense. She looks to be more mad at Zesty than at Rarity for spilling the sauce, showing that Pinkie Pie forgives her friends for their mistakes.

Zesty Gourmand: I think we are done here.
Rarity: Zesty, please wait. Allow me to explain.
Zesty Gourmand: Rarity, when it comes to fashion, you are adequate. But take some advice from a friend. Keep your opinions out of restaurants. Substandard food, laughable service, and I would think even you could recognize that the décor here is trying desperately while desperately failing. Recommending a disreputable place such as this could do serious damage to your social standing.
Pinkie Pie: Disreputable? You mean a place with actual food that tastes good?
Zesty Gourmand: Anypony can throw ingredients together and create an obvious taste that uncultured ponies like those two can register.
Chargrill Breadwinner: Hey!
Zesty Gourmand: But it takes a true culinary artist to create a subtle taste. The barest hint of a sensation. That’s what I bring to Canterlot. That’s art.

Unfortunately, people who act this pretentious about “true art” really do exist. You’ve probably heard of memes based on this insufferable elitist attitude, like “to be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty”, or “it’s bad on purpose, therefore it’s good”. People like this misunderstand the skill needed in critiquing art: it’s not about being able to tell when something is good, but knowing how to pinpoint what makes something good and go into detail about how it could be improved. Rarity understands this skill, and Zesty Gourmand doesn’t.

The funniest part about Zesty’s attitude is that she forgets the entire purpose of restaurants. People go to restaurants because they’re hungry, not because they want to experience “true art”.

As Rarity and Pinkie Pie apologize for their mishaps, Saffron Masala provides bowls of noodle soup that they all enjoy. She and her father share a laugh over how when Saffron was little, she would hide all the ingredients she didn’t like, and apparently it took an intervention sent by the Cutie Map to make this family realize why they started their restaurant.

Soon enough, Rarity realizes she and Pinkie Pie had the right idea in mind, but they had the wrong roles. She goes outside to convince the residents of Canterlot to give the restaurant a chance, while Pinkie Pie stays inside and fixes up the restaurant. This time, I think the map sent the two ponies who would complete the job most efficiently, not the ones that would lead to the most interesting story—Rarity knows the ways of Canterlot best of the Mane 6, and Pinkie Pie is relentlessly honest in her culinary tastes. The main problem was simply Rarity and Pinkie Pie’s overconfidence, leading them to step into the problem without thinking it through.

The second stallion from the left looks like he’s attracted to Rarity. Who can say no to someone as fabulous as her?

Zesty Gourmand was right about one thing: in Canterlot, approval from a big name will make people flock towards anything. Rarity is one such big name, and she uses this to full advantage despite not being a restaurant pony. All this is done in a montage set to an instrumental of It’s Gonna Work.

Also during the montage, we get a cute little gag where Saffron Masala reveals she hid a spice behind the boiling pot. But she adds some of the spice in, showing that she hid the spice as a silly throwback and learned to like the ingredients she used to hide.

I have no idea what the girl on the right is named, or if she even has a name, but her design is super cute.
(And she probably bakes INCREDIBLE cookies.)

As a crowd of ponies walks into the boutique, it’s worth noting that many of the background ponies are familiar faces in Rarity’s prior Canterlot episodes, like Sweet and Elite or Canterlot Boutique. The boutique customers have a prior record of trusting Rarity’s tastes, so it’s natural that so many of them would flock to a restaurant that she promotes.

Zesty Gourmand: What’s this? What is everypony doing here? This place has no hooves! It is not in keeping with the level of cuisine that I have set for Canterlot. Nopony told you this place was acceptable.
Cute cookie pony whose name I don’t know: Uh, Rarity and her friend said it was good? They told us.
Zesty Gourmand: They told you? And who are they to tell you anything? Rarity can tell you what hats to wear with which skirts. Her friend can tell you how to maintain a tragic look for a frizzy mane. They can’t tell you what food you can eat.
Rarity: No, we can’t. And neither can you. Nopony has the right to tell these ponies what to think. Zesty, you have very… specific—
Pinkie Pie: And very strange!
Rarity: Yes, and very strange opinions about food. And that’s your right. But just because you like your food a certain way, there is no reason to tell these ponies that they need to do the same.

I love how much of a buffoon Zesty Gourmand looks like, complaining about this restaurant while surrounded by all these ponies who are enjoying it. She’s like a cranky film critic walking in on a movie theater who’s trying to tell everyone, “guys, this movie actually sucks for reasons you idiots aren’t cultured enough to understand, so stop having fun!” There’s a little something called the wisdom of the crowds—if a whole bunch of people are enjoying something and just one person is complaining about it, then it’s probably well worth checking out.

In response to Rarity’s statement, several owners of Restaurant Row places declare that they will go back to their styles of cooking, rather than making the pretentious fancy food that Zesty Gourmand favors. If one person expresses an opinion to the public that everyone thinks they aren’t “allowed” to have, others will come forward and reveal they share that view, hopefully giving comeuppance to whoever has been forcing suppression of all these stances.

Rarity: Zesty, are you sure you wouldn’t like to try the food? Ignoring a unique and fresh establishment such as this could do serious damage to your social standing.
(Zesty Gourmand huffs and walks out the door)

Zesty Gourmand has no good rebuttal to her rude words being relayed back at her. That’s why she walks out the door without another word. If she stayed in for one moment longer, she’d be forced to admit she’s wrong, and now she’s going to spend the rest of her life being the laughing stock of Canterlot. Well, unless someone takes up the task of reforming her, which I’m sure has been done in some fanfics.

When Rarity and Pinkie Pie’s cutie marks start glowing, Pinkie Pie provides the final words of this episode:

Pinkie Pie: Nothing can stop the dynamic duo of Pinkie and Rarity!

Pinkie Pie is right: she and Rarity really are a dynamic duo. Previously considered the friends who never hang, this season went the extra mile in showing they have a tight relationship. They might not seem very similar, but they’re both bubbly and excitable, they love going exotic places, and they’ll make great sacrifices to make their friends happy.

Overall thoughts:

This episode has a good combination of Mane 6 members, a catchy musical number. and a well-deserved comeuppance to its pretentious antagonist, but a lot of its plot leaves me scratching my head. The three-hoof restaurants in Canterlot don’t seem to be attracting much business at the start, which makes me wonder, how do they even make money? Is it through extravagantly high payments from Zesty Gourmand? I can’t imagine one wealthy customer enjoying these restaurants is enough to keep them afloat, but I also can’t imagine Restaurant Row is normally bustling with activity and Rarity and Pinkie Pie happened to come in at a quiet hour. I also feel like this episode forgets a lot of prior friendship lessons about rejecting cookie cutter similarity and embracing uniqueness, an especially common theme in Rarity episodes, and Rarity’s insistence on theming a restaurant upon food she secretly hates is necessary for the plot to happen.

And yet, despite all these criticisms, this review somehow ended up a lot longer than I had expected. Maybe it’s just because like with so many other season 6 episodes, there is a hefty amount of details and callbacks that were just waiting to be picked apart in-depth.

Grade: C

This is one of the weaker cutie map episodes, especially because it doesn’t bring much new to the table compared to the other ones.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Typing Zesty Gourmand’s name in this review was so annoying, because I just got done reviewing an episode with a different character starting with “ze”, and because her name consists of words that I would never ordinarily type. Why do the names of season 6’s new characters have to be so unusual?
  • Another detail about the waiters at the fancy restaurants is that they all have the exact same mustache shape. I find it really funny to imagine that was another thing Zesty Gourmand mandated, putting her tastes into the level of comically absurd.
  • As weird as it feels to admit it, the sentence “I don’t want to come off going all ‘true art is about subtleties that only those with the most divine tastes can appreciate’ or some horseshit” in my final Homestuck post was inspired by Zesty Gourmand’s demeanor in this episode. Also, my final Homestuck post is by far my favorite of the entire post series, which is why I linked it.

Next up, we meet a stuck-up critic not towards a restaurant, but towards a book series.

See you next week in two weeks for the bodypillow episode. For real this time.

>> Part 68: Stranger Than Fan Fiction

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