Video Game Cookbook Author Holly Green on Giving Gamers Kitchen Cheat Codes
It's not exactly a health food movement, but button mashers are moving past Mountain Dew and Doritos.
Holly Green has spent the last few years reporting on video games for Gameranx and, because she’s a human being, eating food. Her dual passions — well, her passion and that thing she is biologically compelled to do, but choose to do in an informed way — meet in her latest project: Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. The book is basically a guide to eating like an adult while playing video games like an adult. As such, it’s part of the ongoing effort to recontextualize conversations about gaming culture in the everyday life of professional people and forever ditch that living in mom’s basement generalization. Green, it is worth noting, isn’t into generalizations. She talks about the specifics of her life with an admirable openness and about cooking with an admirable practicality.
Inverse chatted with Green about her OCD, Twitter presence, love for Fallout, and Alton Brown, foodie Batman.
Holly, you’ve reinvented yourself as this cookbook author slash game guru, and you’re the only person I can think of occupying that space. What spoke to you about being a chef? Was this a new fascination for you or have you always been foodie?
Well, long before I was struggling to make ends meet as a writer, I was struggling to make ends meet in various branches of the food service industry, first in meat and seafood cutting and later as an assistant baker. That combined with about a decade of experience in the restaurant biz made me feel very comfortable making the transition. I was cooking for my family from a very young age and it’s always been a passion and a hobby so combined with what expertise I have, a basic beginner’s cookbook wasn’t a stretch for my skills. I considered both the chef and the chocolatier programs at South Seattle Community College, among the best in the nation, but unfortunately with my back problems, I can’t hack the long hours standing up in a hot kitchen. Writing a cookbook was a great way to experiment and hone my favorite recipes on my own time in a pressure-free environment. As it turns out, being a reporter helped a lot, as I already knew how to do my research.
Is the food service world in Seattle a pretty cool scene?
Personally I love it. In the Belltown and Queen Anne area where I live, it’s a bit like a family; a lot of the servers and bartenders know each other from working all the local spots, and we look out for each other, pass shifts along, give tips about places looking for help, even give a bit of a discount to each other when we stop by for drinks after a rough shift. It’s kinda nice, I have about five little bars that are my own personal Cheers. It’s nice to get that warm greeting when you enter the door. Great bunch of people — you gotta be tough but have one heck of a personality to hack it, and once you’re in you’re in.
When did you start experimenting with your own recipes? What was your inspiration to make that jump?
Well I’d always been experimenting with recipes over the years simply out of boredom and personal preference but it was Fry Scores that gave me the chance to write down some of my favorites from over the years. For instance, my roast chicken and clam chowder recipes are treasures I’ve improved over the past decade. I’m genuinely proud that people will eat them and get to enjoy them. Also, Guy Fieri. He’s just a giant inspiration to me, as a person and a cook, and a fashion icon.
Are you being serious about Guy Fieri?
I am never being serious about Guy Fieri. I was shocked several times while giving interviews for Fry Scores because I ran into so many folks who took my interest for a genuine love of Guy Fieri. I was like really? You think 200+ merciless jokes about his taste in food and clothing is love? Did your parents not show you affection as a child?
Yeah, but I don’t know about your parents. Did the interview just turn hostile?
You see? You see what happens when parents don’t hug their kids enough? They turn into me. Don’t make your kids me. Hug your kids.
Or they become games journalists?
Games journalists don’t have parents, because we’ve all been disowned.
My dad just texted me to suggest that I should make a video edit that mashes up Batman and The Shining because that might do very well on the internet. I’m not disowned but watching my father slowly discover clickbait is somehow worse.
My mom and my aunt simultaneously discovered Minions memes and the “Share” button on Facebook. Which is worse?
Point taken. So if Guy isn’t a hero, who do you look up to in the culinary world?
I’m seriously into Alton Brown. The Good Eats era Alton Brown not the “live long enough to see yourself become the villain” Alton Brown that’s on Cutthroat Kitchen now. What’s great about Good Eats is that it provided a scientific foundation for cooking instruction that makes it much easier to internalize and remember the information presented in each episode. You’re getting an actual education. It’s rare to find that on TV these days. I also idolize Anthony Bourdain, both for his taste in food and drink and because I identify with his dryness quite a bit. Also he’s tall, and tall people are just better.
You’ve been very public about your struggles with OCD. Does that help or hinder you in the kitchen?
I think my OCD helps in the sense that cooking can really benefit from the foresight and planning that manifests with my illness. Keeping a clean area, washing hands and surfaces a lot, avoiding cross contamination, organizing ingredients in ramekins, etc. I can’t speak for everyone with OCD but for me, it makes me hypervigilant which is also very helpful for cooking, as it benefits greatly from a constant watchful eye. One area it hinders though is that I over-prepare and send myself into an exhausted frenzy trying to do too much for my limited energy.
You write about games full time. Is that what made you decide to do a game-based cookbook or is there a connection between video games and cooking that you think deserves more attention?
I’m the managing editor at Gameranx, which means I do the site’s editing as well as daily reporting, in addition to managing our writers, assigning stories, and making decisions on formatting and other issues as they arise. I’ve actually been reporting about games since about 2010. It was during my time at one of the many sites I’ve worked for that I wrote an article entitled “Ten Video Games That Make Me Really Hungry,” which was a lot of fun to put together. In the comments section of the post arose the idea to do a community cookbook. From there, the idea to make a video game food cookbook evolved. I ended up leaving the site before the project was announced or officially launched, so I took my baby with me on the way out. From there, I wrote and photographed all 25 recipes myself.
As a 30 year-old dude who has just started getting into cooking (and has two bandage wrapped fingers right now to prove it) I wonder how much of the current trend in video games having crafting systems prepared me to do this kind of thing?
Most of the time you get some really shitty ingredients and no information on quantities or preparation methods. Writing instructions for Apple Cabbage Stew from Skyrim, for instance, was difficult for that reason. Plus half the time it’s some junk like, hey add some turpentine to a bottle of soda and also some ant-venom. That was actually an obstacle to a few of the recipes I wanted to write. Some fictional items I was able to fake an approximation of based on screenshots, but some of the stuff was just impossible.
You’re the biggest Fallout fan I’ve ever known. Weren’t you thrilled by the way cooking expanded the latest installment?
Ehhhh. I’m more excited about what modders will do with it. Given how Bethesda passes new features back and forth between Elder Scrolls and Fallout like a disease, I honestly expected more given what we saw in Skyrim. Instead, there were actually less recipes, with few player benefits that made the process even worth it. They’ll probably add more recipes with each of the DLC chapters but I think the base game should have had more to begin with. If you’re going to make me drag Cram and Radscorpion Venom all over the Commonwealth, at least make it worth my time. A Vault Dweller cannot survive on Mirelurk Cakes alone.
You wrote a cooking guide for Fallout 4 that I thought was pretty killer.
I like to be immensely thorough. After all these years of writing on the internet I’ve figured out how people look for and index information, and I use that to help people find what they need. I enjoy it. I’ve often said that if the internet hadn’t come along and distracted me with dicks and cat pics, I’d probably have been a librarian. I like to anticipate a question or a gap in the information people need, and then fill in that gap. It’s the best part of my job. Besides all the sweet blow in the Ubisoft VIP lounge during E3. Hahah j/k the blow belongs to Nintendo. It’s never the ones you think.
Wow. Really makes you think. I had wondered why the newly announced Smash Brothers characters were Robert Evans and a late-‘80s Robert Downey Jr. You’ve got plans to do a follow-up cookbook that is video game themed cocktails, correct?
Actually, right now I’m in the process of photographing and editing the official Drunken Moogle cocktail book! It’s a bit like being a producer; I’m re-writing the instructions for each of Mitch Hutt’s marvelous video game themed recipes, sampling each drink and making suggestions for new variations, and of course, photographing each one and putting it together for our ebooks distribution. Right now I’m actually drinking the Articuno, a gin and Hypnotiq concoction.
What was the hardest video game item to reverse engineer a recipe for?
Definitely the soup from Twilight Princess. Most of the recipes are challenging enough as it is, but that one in particular had ingredients that tested the limits of my creativity: pumpkin, salmon, and goat cheese. I’m so proud of how it turned out. I blended a cream and cream cheese base with a bourbon goat cheese, then added pureed pumpkin to make the soup itself, then topped it with caramelized salmon to enhance the smokiness and tie all three flavors together. It’s so good! And as with many of my recipes, it has a variation, one that goes with a curry flavor instead.
Yours is the first cookbook I’ve ever tried to work through (kudos for the tip about pickle juice in deviled eggs by the way) so what’s your sales pitch to people like me who have never been “the cooking type” or “adults”?
I think my cookbook is very accessible to the novice cook, I tend to avoid culinary jargon while never assuming the reader knows more than they do, so the instructions are more thorough and thoughtful than many other cookbooks. I have tips sections that give pointers I learned from working in food service over the years, and there’s even a list of the equipment and spices a beginner would need to adequately stock their kitchen. I wrote the book with the novice in mind, and made it a goal for the reader to come away with knowledge of essential basics like making stock or roasting a cut of beef. While you won’t learn everything about cooking from my book, you don’t need a lot of experience in the kitchen to enjoy its recipes.
Is there a video game that gets cooking right?
I think Cooking Mama actually comes pretty close! It doesn’t give quantities for each of the ingredients in its recipes but it does educate on basic techniques, which is unique in and of itself. You can learn a lot about Japanese cuisine from Cooking Mama, actually. The entire series naturally focuses more on Japanese food than any other type of cuisine and you run into a lot of dishes that aren’t common in Japanese restaurants in the States. One thing that I think is very important about writing a recipe is finding out the roots of the dish, what gives it its identity — the ingredients and techniques that simply must be there lest the dish loses its identity. Often that means researching its origins, tracing the line back to where it was first made, and modifying from there. That’s what I like about Cooking Mama, you find out the techniques and ingredients that comprise the dishes’ identity, without being given exact quantities to replicate it yourself. It doesn’t hold your hand. You have to find the rest of the way yourself. If you’re not willing to do that, you don’t respect the dish. And with that, I just got way deeper than anyone should ever be about a DS game, ever.
So we’re a week into 2016. What’s the one game you’re looking forward to the most, and the one culinary creation you’re looking forward to figuring out?
Well, I’m an Uncharted fan, so my first instinct is to say Uncharted 4 but actually Firewatch comes out in February and I have a feeling that game will be a huge rabbit hole for me. I love games that are set in the woods (I even have a Steam curator list for them) and I already find Firewatch inspiring as a writer. I just wanna go fuck some shit up in the woods or have my shit fucked with. As for culinary creations, I’ve decided that this is the year I perfect Hollandaise sauce. I’m horribly intimidated by it but it’s one of my favorite things to eat and it would be a merit badge on my chef sash to finally conquer it. And this fall, should all go well with the cocktail book, I may be able to start the Fry Scores sequel, and I’m ridiculously excited about some of the recipes I’ve chosen for it. There’s even my favorite dish! Chicken pot pie! I got so impatient I actually already wrote that recipe.