Cooking “for Nintendo DS brought us all to the kitchen

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welcome to Players’ week, in which The Takeout will celebrate the edible side of video games throughout the week.


In 2008, before food writing on the internet reached its absolute zenith (welcome back to Takeaway meals) and Nintendo was just starting to experiment to appeal to casual gamers, the company quietly released an English port of a Japanese cooking practice game for the Nintendo DS. It was released in America under the name Personal trainer: cooking in the summer of 2008, a few years later Brain age and ruining-your-TV-by-bowling-a-controller-in-the-box had proven successful in attracting casual and non-traditional gamers.

The iPhone was a far cry from global domination, and recipes online always consisted of (sometimes poorly) transcribed versions of all the smiley, hectic dishes that were on Food Network at any given time (what’s up, Rachael Ray’s Late Night Bacon!). And for a moment, my favorite digital kitchen helper in the world was a cartridge. Let’s go home.

Note: I would have liked to have had more information on the creation of the game, but apparently no one from the development team stayed. I couldn’t even get the resources from the original version because they were memory hole at one point. It was disappointing, but now we can all just mythologize how this delicious artifact came to be. Game development is usually more interesting in your head anyway.


Nintendo DS opened at the home screen on a cutting board

Photo: John carruthers

Turn on your dual-screen laptop and a strangely soothing mustached chef greets you (“Good evening / morning” depending on the time of day – I was impressed with that at the time) and says ” Let’s start cooking ”. Yes sir.

The menu music will accompany you for days. It’s the Nintendo sound of the 2000s, like waiting to board a cartoon streetcar. Playful, spirited, slightly meditative and a bit of another world. For example, if you owned a store that sold magical turtle hats, it would be the music bleeding from the mall lobby.

Now, there are many ways to navigate the bounty of our disembodied chef (alphabetically, by number of times cooked, by ingredients, by difficulty, by time, and more), but there really is only one. best way to do it: you click on the globe and see what this big tasty bastard has in store for you today. Use your very 2008 stylus to tap on a map of the globe (part of it, anyway; more on that later) and see where it takes you. Go to Japan and learn how to make sushi, tempura or katsu? Souvlaki or moussaka in Greece? Or empanadas and chimichurri steak from Argentina? The mind is spinning. You can (and I did) spend way too much time flipping from country to country while still trying to remember what exactly is available in the pantry.

But once you do, it becomes a futuristic adventure (2008 era)! Remember that 2012 commercial where Samuel L. Jackson has what looks like a ton of fun cooking in his kitchen with hands-free Siri? Using the DS’s built-in microphone, you can command our disembodied chef to “CONTINUE” and take the next step without having to put down the knife. You could also blow into the mic, but the Stentorian acceptance of your current progress seemed much more futuristic. And if you stop raging (I used to stop a lot of rage back then) it will save your place without judgment. The chef doesn’t even show up to give me that look Mrs. McDonnell used to get in college with every math test she handed in. People might not understand you, but Personal trainer: cooking Is.

Once you are done with a dish, the game cheers and cheers you on. Considering the low-key presentation of the rest of the game (if you can think of it as a “game”), the applause equates to this game losing its shit. For a moment, the Chef has a full body (or at least a torso) and he is over the moon for your success. When you mark the recipe as complete, it shows up as a completed Mario level, but not before he tells you “well done” and bows in front of you. It’s the exact opposite of when my kids yell at me for serving them the same chicken they really liked the other week. I think you will find it affirmative as well. I bet this is how a CrossFit person feels when a trainer shouts “YEAH” at their face at a volume louder than Papa Roach on the speakers. The Personal trainer The chef is my hype man and I love him with all my heart.


Stuck on a step? There are a ton of PBS looking but detailed and informative videos built in. They’ll show up as an optional visualization once you’ve hit the correct step in a recipe, or you can go to the main menu and watch them all at your heart’s content. I took a lot of these expensive cooking classes when I was younger, and basically everything you learn about them is summed up here. Frankly, the dumpling instructions alone were worth the price of admission at the time. And as Certified Pizzadad, I can tell you that the kneading video does a great job with the storage limitations of a DS cartridge. Want to prepare some calamari? Roll sushi? Clean a rainbow trout? They had. The chef doesn’t even tell you to mash the Like and Subscribe button.

Nintendo DS displaying French onion soup recipe

Photo: John carruthers

The personalization is really great for the time. You can exclude any allergens or items from the settings menu and they would be banned forever. You can get the chef to speak very quickly and in a truncated fashion, or slow him down so much that it looks like you’ve been drinking recreational cough syrup in Twin Peaks, WA. The thing will spit out a shopping list at you or suggest recipes based on the list of what you have. You can customize the portion size and the ingredients will automatically adjust before you start. It’s just incredibly useful.

There is also a “Homemade Ingredients” section which could be a whole different article. But suffice to say, it’s full of gold: bolognese, two kinds of dumpling wrappers, tortillas, and the aforementioned pizza dough. There are a lot of basics to dig here after mastering a few of the recipes.


Personal trainer: cooking is not a perfect representation of the food world. Africa is noticeably short, with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt grouped together under the name “North Africa” ​​and receiving all four courses (not a tagine in sight). The Western Hemisphere is also fully represented by Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and the United States. [Sighs in Canadian.] Even where some countries are represented, they are neglected. Portugal gets two dishes, Turkey five, and India seven. I’m by no means an expert on Chinese cuisine, but several of the dishes attributed to this part of the menu seem oddly familiar.

At the time, it still seemed like a lot to explore. It was rightfully the first time I tried Vietnamese food outside of what the banh mi place across the street served, and the first time I noticed how many delicious Korean food hit the spot. all my buttons at once. Heck, my current borscht recipe is just an evolved version of the one here.


But it wasn’t a real dive into that pool of nostalgia until I relaunched it and was one of my old favorites. I would have loved to give you recipes here, but Nintendo advised me to hire a lawyer to explore reprinting a recipe. And it may shock you, but the compensation I get for these enjoyable articles puts me just below “eccentrically rich” in the overall scheme of things. So a quick overview.

  • Chicken Tikka Masala is still a tasty standard bearer for British mashup. It’s tasty, spicy and a good foot in the door to marinate with yogurt. I probably wouldn’t recommend scaling it down to the two-serving version (you’ll end up burning a bit of spice in a bit of converted oil), but it’s a solid dinner and even better working lunch on the mic. waves. .
  • Gnocchi with Gorgonzola is different now that I have become a Stinky Cheese Boy as I always swore never to. I was just making the dumplings and throwing another sauce on top. But revisiting, it’s one of the best beginner’s guides on what can be a frustrating meal. And the bite of white wine and tangy cheese that I’ve ignored for years laughs at me ignoring me younger.
  • Open sandwiches with shrimps and pâtés were basically smørrebrød years before I knew what it was, and remain a dynamite way of eating 26 of something in different tiny portions. This time around I slipped in some pickled shallots with the rich liver and salami and ooooh baby. I’m making a set the next time I can host people without the existential dread of being the final guest.
  • Welsh Rarebit is melted cheese on toast. Who (besides the lactose intolerant and avoidant) can’t like this? I was not a monster then and I am not a monster now. Thanks Wales!
  • Kimchi Fried Rice was not only still tasty (it was one of the first fried rice dishes I learned) but also served as breakfast for an entire week.
  • Australian meat pie was strange. In the middle of the recipe, I met a Belgian. He was huge. Almost seven feet tall. Full of muscles. I didn’t know if he spoke English or just French or Flemish Dutch or whatever. He just handed me a Vegemite sandwich with a weird smile. So I never got to eat the meat pie, but 11/10 would definitely recommend.

Sauté pan on the stove next to the Nintendo DS

Photo: John carruthers

I suspect this game worked quite well, as years later a spiritual sequel developed in the United States came out with the official Imprimatur of The American test kitchen. But the card was gone and the fun was gone. Things were classified, boring, like soups / appetizers / meat / etc. and it looked a lot less like a hard game by Carmen Sandiego. The same steps were all there, but it was pretty trivial.

Finally, I stopped playing with the Nintendo DS around the third part of the trigger of a stopwatch and went much further on my own culinary journey. I did a few books and a few articles and more than a few popups. Personal trainer I haven’t seen the light of day for years, but survived three moves because I’m an unholy pack rat.

I was worried it might not be as fun, weird, and interesting as I remembered it. I shouldn’t have worried. Dig up that old DS (they’re absolute tanks – mine was only a few dead pixels worse for wear), grab a copy, and get your retro food. Let’s start cooking!


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