My great-grandmother DeeDee was born over a century ago. In the 90+ years of her life, she witnessed everything from the Great Depression (that’d be 1.0), and the golden years of Ford (not 2008), to the proliferation of telecommunications and the personal computer. She nearly saw Al Gore invent the Internet.
But if there was one thing in the 21st century that would have really surprised her — I mean blown her out of the water — it’d be the Nintendo DS Personal Trainer: Cooking.
You see, before Nintendo, DeeDee was the original “personal trainer of cooking”. DeeDee was an unbelievable cook. Her apple pie was the kind of dessert that could bring a dueling family together. She spent decades coaching my mom on the secrets of perfect pie dough, buttery ruggelah, moist roast chicken — and there was nothing she cherished more. Some of my earliest kitchen memories are of DeeDee, my mom, and my cousins, gathered in her yellow kitchen tasting and laughing away. She embraced the true spirit of the kitchen, sharing the love and adventure that went into each recipe, and it showed in her food and in the memories that were created. It’s been over 15 years since DeeDee passed away, and the smell of a perfect apple pie can still bring my mom to tears.
The problem of course, is that Nintendo-generated cooking “lessons” (and in fact there are others — over 30 cooking apps on the iPhone alone!) are actually setting out to eliminate the priceless moments I shared with DeeDee in her kitchen — the very human experience that is cooking! The conversations, the friendships, the tasting, the sharing, the mistakes — the highly cherished passing down of family recipes from generation to generation!!! Can a computer take this away?
I can almost hear it now:
“So, Chef, where did you learn to cook?”
“Well, my first “real experience” was playing Cooking Mama, the absurdly popular cartoon game that pre-dated Personal Trainer, when I first used a chefs’ knife. Next, I learned to use a can-opener in that very same game! Before I knew it, I was working with real knives, and I stir-fried some chicken with my GameBoy guiding me every step of the way. I scored a thumbs-up, moved onto quiche 101, and I’ve been the executive chef at Le Cirque ever since.”
It’s as if the makers of Nintendo have already heard my complaints and have their defense ready. A page on the website for Personal Trainer: Cooking, features 3 different videos showing 2 friends, a family, and a couple, all cooking together with their Nintendo DS coaching their every step. (And I mean literally, Every. Single. Step.) The videos are painful to watch. The young couple acts like they’ve never been to a grocery store or made a grocery list, never held a knife, never boiled rice. (Which, by the way, they do with a rice cooker, so we’re not exactly talking brain surgery here.) It takes them 6 long and slow steps just to cut a cucumber.
While I realize not everyone has a DeeDee to help coach them through the basics of cooking, I just can’t accept that learning from Nintendo is a substitute. There are neighbors and grandmas, uncles and aunts, who are eager to share their love for homemade goodness. Families who cook together share experiences that can’t always be had outside of the kitchen. DeeDee passed on her passion and enthusiasm for cooking to my mom. And my mom gave me that very same gift. Would I really be excited about cooking dinner 7 nights a week if I had learned to cook from an electronic machine?
My favorite line of the video is when the young man remarks, “Wow, I can’t believe Nintendo is going to tell us what to eat for dinner!”