I'm not the world's biggest food manga fan, and I'm not afraid to admit it. However, I decided to give this shoujo a try.
Story: Kazami Najika, an orphan girl living at a wonderful little orphanage called Lavender House, is accepted into the elite section of a rich-kid school. She goes to the school in search of the boy who saved her and gave her a silver spoon--her "Flan Prince." At the school she meets more rude girls than the people Yagami Light kills... but she also meets a kind pretty boy and his tsundere-like brother.
And, for half of the whole series, this is basically the premise.
Sure, there are multiple cooking competitions and some VERY-original-for-fluffy-shoujo-manga scenes (which are, honestly, the only reason to read this manga), but most of the manga is just cooking and romance.
Think of it as the manga version of that movie "Ratatouille."
The only reason it may NOT be the manga version of that movie? This manga has as many plot twists as "Bloody Monday," some of them just as dark. It makes for an entertaining an unique shoujo read, even if some feel forced.
Art: The artwork is pretty and sparkly, with big eyes and pretty bishounen, but it is as typical as artwork can get. The character designs are straightforward and uninspired. The food, while far from photorealistic, looks tasty. One complaint is that the mangaka seems to have trouble drawing the elderly (most of them look like younger people with lines on their faces), but this is a rather petty problem. While the art is by no means groundbreaking or original, it is pleasing to the eye (the small-by-comparison eyes of the beholder) and never enters true chibi territory. (Though, I will say, a few of the scenes are completely moe.)
A few pictures so that you can judge the art for yourself:
Characters: ... Interesting cast.
Here's the deal: I have trouble finding pictures for obscure manga.
Kazami Najika: She has a lot of talent, as far as cooking goes, and she is very passionate about the power of good food. (She also is a big eater, but some archetypes should not be mentioned.) Her philosophy is that nothing is so awful it can't be fixed with a good meal. She is basically the shoujo equivalent of Kurosaki Ichigo: No matter how strong a hollow or rival chef, Najika/Strawberry can beat it. Love and friendship can only make you stronger, and love conquers all. Najika is practically invincible; her turbinado sugar is her zanpaku-to and her oven is her bankai. Her backstory is rather lighthearted (though I think the mangaka wanted it to be tragic), her motivations clear, and with her handy-dandy whipping cream at her side, nothing can stop her! (Which is good, because this manga deals with some mature themes, like death and eating disorders.)
Kitazawa Daichi: He is nearly a tsundere, but I don't think this was intentional. As far as love interest characters go, he is quite stereotypical and bland, and this never changes. His development is weak and he is not a strong main character.
Kitazawa Sora: Without spoiling, what he experiences halfway through the series... well, let's just say I did not see it coming at all. Save for that shocker, he is as bland as his brother.
Kishida Akane: She is likely the only character in the series who undergoes development. Originally just another enemy to Najika, she transforms into a jealous frenemy (what do you expect? If a girl has a crush, she does some crazy things), and finally into a caring friend to Najika. Due to this manga's portraying food as many manga portray tears (namely, food and tears heal ANYTHING), Akane opens up to Najika after tasting some nostalgic food made by Iron Chef here. After I got over my initial hatred of her, I learned that a leopard can in fact change it's spots. Akane is a great character.
Mizuno Seiya: He is as close to Near and Mello as a shoujo character can get. (And if you've read the series, you just might understand why I said that.) His slight development mostly revolves around his evolution from just a stuck-up master chef to becoming Najika's personal playboy.
There are other characters, but most suffer from no development at all. All in all, the mangaka seems to be at ease when creating well-rounded female heroines, but might need to work on her male characters.
Overall: A much denser read than it seems to be, "Kitchen Princess" is a good manga for the people who want a shoujo but can't stand fluff. Yes, it does have some moe moments and too many fluffy scenes, but it is darker than most shoujo manga out there. For comparison, think of "Mars" or "Fruits Basket," but for a younger audience.