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Food Fight: A Real Chef and Nintendo DS's America's Test Kitchen Get Competitive Over Green Beans

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 "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. The first two competitions, a tomato-and-mozzarella tart and pork chops both went to the machine. This week, we tackle a side dish of bacon-braised green beans.

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Getting Started
It was unseasonably hot in New York last night, so our obvious first step was cold beers.

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A calm had come over Dan, which unnerved me. He'd invited a guest, Julieanne, who is practically the only person on earth who doesn't love bacon. Diabolical Dan! We must now amend the recipe. The machine would never pull such a move.

Advantage: Machine

Prep
While I'm following the DS's instructions of mincing an onion, Dan gets to work creating a companion dish—a spring coleslaw. He's shredding cabbage, cutting up cilantro, and slicing up a beautiful poblano pepper. As the DS tells me in its flat, regionless voice —why not give it a Super Mario accent, or make it a her, and make her British? Who doesn't like a female British accent?—Dan's doing his Bob Dylan voice—Blonde on Blonde is tonight's music—and making Julieanne giggle while he whips up a mean sauce of mayo, milk, relish, cumin, chile powder, and salt. We've got a personality imbalance here. The DS drones on and on while Dan's Jackson Pollacking the slaw with a healthy dash of sriracha, laughing, then pointing at me and the machine, saying, "flavor fucking city."

Advantage: Dan

Cooking

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Because Julieanne said no to the bacon, we've subbed in chicken as a protein, which Dan's cooking outside on his grill. I'm inside, frying up my onions per the DS's request in a bit of oil. Dan's got the slaw in the fridge—as he says, "When I serve it, you'll know what patience tastes like." He's giddy and appears to be half drunk. When the DS robot voice instructs me to add the beans with very precise quantities of broth, vinegar, sugar, thyme, salt, and pepper, Dan says no. He eyeballs the ingredients, a pinch of this, two pinches of that. "Cooking isn't about exact measurements, what are we, math geeks?" No? We bring the mixture to a boil and cover.

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Advantage: Dan

Result
The beans tasted good. They were firm and properly salty and had a nice caramelized onion flavor. But you'd never just eat beans for dinner, even if we had braised them with bacon. They're a side dish. The simple fact is the DS has 300 pretty great recipes, but they're all single-items—beef burgundy, chicken dumplings, rosemary focaccia. To cook a meal, you'd need two of them, or three.

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Dan can do that thanks to what he's got in his big head. His barbecued chicken was tasty, and his homemade coleslaw was outstanding. A mixture of sweetness from the mayo and milk and a lasting, beautiful heat carried by the sriracha and cumin, all held by the cabbage, which was cool on the tongue. Yep, tonight was a slaughter.

Winner: Dan

—Bryan Abrams

Previously: A Real Chef and Nintendo DS's America's Test Kitchen Square Off Over Pork Chops
A Real Chef Goes Head-to-Head With Nintendo DS's America's Test Kitchen

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