Now we're cooking.
My friends are all well aware of it, but people who read my reviews on GR probably don’t know that at home I’m a cook – a very serious cook. Due to a small, and honestly quite silly run-in with the campus police early in my first year of college, I was moved out of regular student housing and into housing for “problem students”. This turned out to be an awesome upgrade, namely my own apartment with a full kitchen.
[image1]I had already discovered that the campus cuisine tasted as if the food had been trying to pledge a frat, died during hazing, hidden in the house basement, and discovered by the janitor several weeks later. Then reheated and served.
I suddenly acquired an incredible appreciation for my mother’s cooking that I never had before as an asshole teenager (we were all assholes, just admit it), and I decided to make my life that much better. So I bought The Frugal Gourmet, a cookbook that sounded just about perfect for a poor college student.
I then proceeded to make every single recipe in the book – not all at once, of course. Years later, Jeff Smith the author turned out to be a child molester, effectively ending his TV and book career. Fortunately, he left that recipe out of the book.
Instead I bought more cookbooks from other authors like Alice Waters and Joyce Goldstein and practiced and experimented until I really knew what the hell I was doing in the kitchen. These days I can whip up my own best recipe for veal piccata or steak au poivre, with sides, in 30 minutes. By the way, cooking is a terrific way to impress women. Trust me.
So when What’s Cooking? Jamie Oliver and Personal Trainer: Cooking (both for the DS) arrived in the office, instead of letting them languish in The Limbo of the WTF Game, I took them home to challenge them, Iron Chef style.
That turned out to be no contest at all, because while a friendly bloke and a good cook, Jamie's game is less useful in the kitchen than the fry-guy from McDonald's, and a completely unworthy opponent for the far superior Personal Trainer: Cooking.
The rest of this review is for Personal Trainer: Cooking , to read the rest of the What's Cooking? Jamie Oliver review (a game you should not consider buying) go here.
[image2]The great thing about Personal Trainer: Cooking is that it knows exactly what it wants to be, not actually a game, but a tool and a teacher to help you learn to cook and then get better and better at it.
While lacking a celebrity chef like Jamie, PTC features some solid recipes, some special standouts, and only a few losers. 245 recipes may seem like a lot, but when you consider that it's a worldwide cook book, and it's breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desert, it gets all spread out pretty thin. Clearly, the chefs who they consulted had an Asian cooking background, as those countries are well represented. The European stuff isn't too bad either, and even a north African lamb stew with couscous was a winner (I brought the leftovers in to work for lunch.).
However, having grown up in Los Angeles, I found the egregious "Mexican" recipes almost insulting. Note to Nintendo's chefs: To start with, you want to use cilantro, not parsley.
Both games allow you to sort recipes in all kinds of smart ways, by ingredient, prep time, or course. But PTC adds more options like difficulty and country of origin, and handwriting recognition to help find recipes even more quickly.
Once you've chosen a recipe, PTC helps you out from start to finish. The cooking tools you'll need are spelled out for you and categorized as necessary or just recommended. Then it reads you every step along the way, and gives you helpful tips. Not sure how to chop an onion quickly or clean a squid? Just click "learn more" and it's got video to show you the proper technique.
In fact, every single ingredient in the whole "game", from cumin to veal, can be clicked on to get more helpful information about it. Which makes it practically an interactive Joy of Cooking. And it trumps that essential book because any step that requires timing, like "grill for 20 minutes" pops up a little kitchen timer preset to the right amount of time. Awesome.
In an effort to keep your DS from getting sticky, all the mid-recipe options like "continue" or "learn more" have voice recognition as well. However, unless you cook alone in the kitchen in absolute silence, these basically don't work, as it will hop backwards and forwards at random all the time. No music or conversation for you. So I just turned the feature off.
[image3]You can also use the shopping cart tools to keep track of what you need to buy at the supermarket. Just select a recipe or three if you're planning ahead and tell the DS what you have and it will tell you want you need to get. Then just tick them off. It even has a little calculator if you want to pinch pennies.
Graphics stay simple but exhaustive with pictures of every ingredient as well as the final dishes. The sound is simple narration, but you'll need to get rid of the repetitive background music within minutes.
In the end, I absolutely love Personal Trainer: Cooking. If you're already a skilled chef, it's really more of a novelty, but if you're a beginner, this "game" can actually teach you to cook, and eventually cook well. It's informative, useful, well thought out, and exhaustive in it's attention to detail. Pick this one up for sure, and within a couple months you'll be able to hide the DS in a drawer and impress the girls with your real-life culinary skills. Now if only Rock Band actually made me into a guitar god.