Food + Drinks

Food Fight: A Real Chef Goes Head-to-Head With Nintendo DS's America's Test Kitchen

My friend Dan has been teaching me how to cook for a few months. Dan has been cooking for close to 20 years, and he apprenticed in a kitchen in Argentina. Nintendo DS's America's Test Kitchen, a popular PBS program turned into an instructional cooking software "game" with 300 step-by-impossibly-detailed-step recipes, can also teach you how to cook, but does so without mentioning how many stamps are in its passport. I decided to pit man against machine to see who was the better instructor, the flesh-and-blood, South American-trained gourmand or the company that brought you The Legend of Zelda. For the first competition, we chose a tomato-and-mozzarella tart because it offered a good mixture of prep (rolling dough, slicing tomatoes, grating cheese) against balanced, must-be-followed baking directions.

testkitchen.jpg

Getting Started
When Dan and I begin cooking, we wash our hands, fill our wineglasses, and turn on some music—preferably something old-timey that makes you want to drink (think Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan). The Nintendo starts off by asking you to fill out personal information and blaring some sort of clown-car Muzak. Completing census information and hearing an oboe die is a bad start.

Advantage: Dan

Prep

Here the Nintendo is actually pretty sweet. The top half of the screen gives you tips and advice ("to prevent the crust from being soggy, bake it through before adding the tomatoes") while the bottom half lets you select ingredients, view steps, and start cooking. Dan usually barks, "chop this, rinse that, shut the fuck up about Lost."

Advantage: Machine.

Cooking
By the time we're ready to start cooking, Dan is typically drunk and Texas Football Dad-ing me ("the way you oil a pan is a disgrace!") The DS was much friendlier and almost hilariously idiot-proof. Step one was lightly beating an egg in the bowl. In case you'd never seen an egg or a bowl, there are helpful pictures. You simply click through the steps and follow the instructions. The process was really well designed.

Advantage: Machine

Result
The tart came out great. The crust was flaky, the tomatoes and mozzarella had formed a glorious union of soft and juicy textures.

testkitchentart.jpg

Yet, there wasn't much room for creativity, whereas with Dan, he's liable to (drunkenly) suggest stuffing chicken with goat cheese or heading to the spice rack to "flavorfy this motherfucker." Cooking with Dan offers curse words, improv, and free booze—he's not in journalism so he has actual money—but Nintendo DS worked pretty perfectly for the tart, because there's not much free-styling you can do with this dish. It'll be interesting to see who comes out on top next week when we move onto pork chops. Round one, however, goes to the machine!

—Bryan Abrams

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