My whole family cooks. My mom cooks like Bruce Willis fought in Die Hard, with a blend of heart and cunning that could probably save the world. My sister takes after her: good at everything, particularly great at a few things. My dad and brother turn cooking into an event; eating the meal is at once a performance and the reception of a gift. When everything clicks, their meals are transcendent. I am probably less ambitious—I cook things to which I can add hot sauce—but I’ll try anything if there’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for it.
What my family really does, though, is watch cooking shows, and there is no cooking show that defines our predilection for cooking shows more than the original Japanese Iron Chef, which was filmed in the early 90s but premiered in the States around the millennium. There was, sure, some culture-gap chuckling to be had in that show—its stoopid William Shatner-ized American version played this up—but what it really got at was the great passion and, indeed, the brutality of cooking. The first half hour was all fire and cutlery, and, depending on the secret ingredient chosen, slaughter; there were moments of quiet beauty, as the announcer lavished attention on the dishes; shows ended with geniune despair, anguish, and triumph. If cooking is part of life, so is competition; Iron Chef just brought them together.
Battle Chef Brigade, which is being made by a trio of Chicago developers, looks to dramatize the glory of cooking, and of Iron Chef. From the opening glorious apple-bite of the trailer, it’s clear where the inspiration has come from. And while it does, yes, feature two-headed anime men and apparently dragons, those look to be exaggerations of the show’s drama rather than left-turns. It comes together, in large part, because it’s all drawn with a Miyazaki-like cleanliness—confident, characterful lines, with a soft sense of color.
The developers are aiming to evade easy Cooking Mama mini-game reductionism. The cooking itself involves the careful blend of science and art at the heart of great cooking, where creativity is rewarded but the final dish has still gotta click. (That we don’t know what dragon meat tastes like will presumably be addressed in some sort of tutorial.) Because this is anime-influenced, magic is also involved, but I’m also not sure how else I could describe certain things I’ve seen my mom do with a potato.
After the meal is cooked, it’s tasted by a trio of judges—just like on Iron Chef. The place where Battle Chef Brigade seems to italicize that show the most aggressively is in the acquisition of ingredients—which is sort of a quick sprint on the show, and here is a full-fledged journey out into the world, where you high-kick your preferred ingredients out of the sky. This is a detour, obviously, but an interesting one, as it places a Michael Pollan-esque “ethical eater” slant to the proceedings. Eat too many birds, and you won’t have eggs in the next round, they promise. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a farm-to-table slant bleed back into Iron Chef itself. That might get a little hectic, but I could see my family watching it as we digest Thanksgiving dinner.
You can back Battle Chef Brigade on Kickstarter here.