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Food Fight: A Real Chef and Nintendo DS's America's Test Kitchen Square Off Over Pork Chops

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. After last week, when the machine just barely edged out Dan due to a basic pastry-pizza recipe that left him unable to improv, we chose something more complicated: pork chops.

Getting Started

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Dan arrives at my apartment with nostrils flaring. When he spots the Nintendo, he does that Italian fungool! thing, scraping the bottom of his chin with his fingertips. For its part, the machine says the whole meal will take 75 minutes. Dan finds this preposterous. "Shouldn't take more than 35 minutes, tops," he says, getting even angrier when he realizes that the pork chops we got aren't the Nintendo's recommended size. The DS assumes you have a local butcher, but I just got pre-cut ones from the grocery store, and the program doesn't tell you how to amend your cooking accordingly.

Advantage: Dan

Prep
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The Nintendo tells me to slice the onions, dice the garlic, and chop the thyme (it even makes the slicing, dicing, and chopping noises for you). Well, here comes drunken Dan wielding his battle-ax! "Chop the thyme? No. This machine is wrong. You have to pull the thyme off against the grain, otherwise it's stem city." I don't like the sound of stem city.

Advantage: Dan

Cooking

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The Nintendo has us salt and pepper the pork chops, heat some oil in a skillet, and brown the meat. I like how easy it is to follow the machine's instructions. "Add some chopped bacon," it says. Done. "Add the onions, thyme, and garlic." Sure will. "Cook these for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove them from pan and set aside on a plate." This is all very straightforward, whereas Dan would have me doing 10 things at once and barking like a mad dog the whole time.

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The Nintendo's main flaw here is that there's no pause button, so it occasionally moves on to the next step before I'm ready. It tells me to remove the bacon from the pan, add flour, and stir it in the bacon fat for several minutes until it turns a light brown. In goes the chicken stock, and Dan and I watch as the sauce thickens to a gravy. Then we put the chops and the onion mixture back into the pan. We just let these mothers cook, flipping occasionally. My apartment starts to smell so freaking good.

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Advantage: Machine

Result
Outstanding. The gravy was rich and sweet, and the meat was perfectly cooked. The entire process took longer than Dan would have liked, and he's offended by the assumption that everyone's got storage space for every conceivable piece of cooking equipment. "They should make a version of this thing for people who don't live in goddamn Litchfield, Connecticut," he smolders.

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For all the recipe's steps, the DS makes it easy—you can just click around on Nintendo's getting-easier-to-use software, and it tells you exactly what to do, how to do it, and for how long. Dan's human, so he gets annoyed by having to explain things over and over. Plus he's sort of a mean drunk. So Round 2 goes to the machine. Not looking good for the real chef!

—Bryan Abrams

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

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