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Cooking with Dice: Making Delicious Food, RPG-Style

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Gamify your meal-planning!

I love to cook. I get a chance to do it quite often because I’m a single mom and I can’t afford healthy, gourmet restaurant dinners every night. I can barely afford pizza once a week!

I love gaming. That, I often have to skip because I also have to make money. My time is pretty much always taken up writing, trying to get more writing work, getting my school work done, and doing mom things.

So – I don’t always have time to game. I have a new PS4 I’ve barely touched. I have Zelda: Breath of the Wild, sitting in my living room starting at me. I drop my kid off at D&D games and then go home to study. This doesn’t stop me from sneaking a few minutes of smartphone gaming at bedtime and Pokemon Go when I’m out and about. But it does mean my gaming time is cut pretty drastically. Every year my #1 New Year’s resolution is to Play More Games.

So, what’s the compromise? This fall, I’m finding it in a little book called Cooking With Dice.

Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. A kitchen-based RPG. And it’s going to save my season!

What is Cooking With Dice?

This original game, the first in what will be a series, turns cooking into a game you can play alone or with the entire family.

This past spring, Cooking with Dice was a Kickstarter project offered by the people behind Adventure Scents. Creator Jennifer Howlett says that the project, and her company, started as a way of gamifying cooking to make it more fun for her kids, and to help her family connect. “I think that gamifying something is a great way to drive learning and motivation,” she says. “I love watching TV cooking competition shows (it’s a guilty pleasure) and have always wished I could capture that adventure in my own kitchen. I feel like Cooking with Dice has helped me to experiment more with cooking and try out things I’d never done before.”

She did plenty of research to create the recipes in the book, and utilized family members and volunteer play testers to complete the project.

There’s a story. You’re an adventure-chef, journeying through a fantasy setting with different scenarios. Like Dungeons & Dragons, there are classes and races, and you roll your dice to introduce an element of chance into your endeavors. Actually, you start out at Level 1 as a Plongeur (dishwasher), and work your way up to Chef de Cuisine (head chef).

And it’s fun. Using formulas and gaming tables rather than outright recipes, Cooking with Dice allows you to gamify different aspects of cooking. You can be more creative and flexible, and, as Howlett says in the book, add “your own personal magic.” This first installment of the series forgoes heat in favor of chemical changes caused by acid. Every food you create is a bit different, because the dice decide.

The Good:

Quickles (my version had rosemary)

I’m not really an RPG gamer. I don’t have any patience to read the manuals, and no one has ever invited me into a D&D session that evolved past character creation. But Cooking with Dice is short and the instructions are clear and simple.

But this concept has made my grocery shopping more interesting. I hate grocery stores. Now, though, I take my copy of this game, and a bag of dice, and I roll to see what ingredients I’m going to be buying. If you see a random person in the produce section trying to find a flat surface, then rolling a 20-sided die, that could be me. Or someone else playing the game.

Also, this type of cooking is unfamiliar to me. I tend to be more hit or miss when it comes to dishes that require chemical reactions as the main form of food alteration. However, this is giving me a chance to try things I’ve never done. It’s fun, and getting kids on board is easy. The writing is engaging and witty, and the recipes and instruction are creative, well thought out and simple.

I made pickles (see above)! In fact, I made quite a few items that are outside my comfort range, and my son helped. He hates pickles, but would eat the game’s Quickles all day. (Ours were cucumber seasoned with rosemary, based on our roll.)

So, success! Howlett’s goal worked for me. I’m sold! And my son has never had so much fun cooking. I haven’t quite finished the book yet, but I’m getting there. This is a really good way to get your kids involved in the kitchen.

The Bad:

I can’t think of anything, except that failure can be discouraging, and I failed with the cheese the first time because I used pasteurized milk. I also failed with the Dragonfly Jam because I could not locate the right kind of pectin. But those things aren’t Cooking with Dice’s fault. The book clearly said I could not use pasteurized milk, and I could not locate the correct kind of pectin. Oops. Like I said, this is not an area of cuisine that I’m terribly familiar with.

Ceviche Tomato Bombs (with shrimp)

To be honest, it’s actually taking me a long time to get through the game because I’m always so busy, and finding other ways to use up ingredients I bought for the game is sometimes beyond my mental capability, even though they aren’t weird or anything. So my son and I have to make an extra effort to do the game justice, but Cooking with Dice gives our kitchen a much-needed culinary spark on nights we decide to play. It’s a good thing the game is so easy and flexible, because otherwise it’d just be another Crock-Pot dump meal for us.

The Final Word:

In a world that’s becoming more and more digitized, in which we have much less free time than we’d like, Cooking with Dice is a breath of fresh air. My son isn’t always a super-adventurous eater but he’ll try new foods, especially if we make them ourselves.

Cooking with Dice lets us fit gaming into our busy lifestyle, and eat better food while we’re doing it. That’s a win-win in my book!

Howlett and her 12-year-old daughter are working on a sequel for 2018, which would contain formulas that are easy for kids to make with minimal supervision. I’m on board with that!

If you’d like more information on the book and Adventure Scents, visit www.cookingwithdice.com. Next month, Cooking with Dice: The Acid Test will be available via the website and through Amazon.com.

About Helen A. Lee


Helen is a veteran writer with credits in The Learned Fangirl, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Gamespot.com, Chicago Tribune and nytimes.com, among others (if pressed, she may cop to writing instructional guides to pop star hair and interviewing "Desperate Housewives" stars). She's a huge geek and her son, age 11, looks to be following in her footsteps.