How cooking games are highlighting the cultural importance of food

Although franchises like Cooking Mama have made cooking games a popular genre, more games are putting emphasis on the cultural aspects of food.

Why it matters: Food preparation isn’t just about following recipes and creating delicious meals — there’s history behind some culinary creations and meaning to how they’re prepared.

  • In “Soup Pot,” a new game from developer Chikon Club launching later this year for Xbox Series X|S and PC, players cook different local or traditional Filipino recipes while juggling social media and livestreaming for an in-game audience.
  • Art director Trina Pagtakhan told Axios, “It’s the first time you’ve ever seen Filipino food be the main spotlight in the game. … To be able to see a dish that [Filipinos] grew up with and make it on their own for the first time, I think that will really have a special meaning.”

Soup Pot” isn’t meant to be an ultra-realistic dive into cooking, however; ingredients will scream their names. Pagtakhan’s art, though meticulously rendered, reflects that personality.

  • “I don’t want to go too realistic with the food,” she said.
  • “I want to have this sort of balance between being stylized and being real. I want to have its own personality, so to speak.”

Between the lines: Making food you can’t taste, touch or smell look mouthwatering requires a lot of playing with textures and lighting. Pagtakhan says she researched food photography to figure out how to best present any given dish.

  • YouTube videos, which provide a fuller view of food prep than any recipe photo, were also important to her process.
  • “There’s this one recipe where we have to make soup and then we have to wrap it inside a banana leaf,” she said. Photos can’t capture the motion of it, which is crucial for the game.

The big picture: For Pagtakhan, who loves to watch cooking videos, food is a way to de-stress. “I am a very introverted person, and I don’t have any other outlet to de-stress,” she told Axios.

  • “I really like making my own food because there’s just something really homey about home-cooked food that takes away the stress of daily life.”

But Pagtakhan says she spends “an unhealthy amount of time” staring at food as part of the job, at least eight hours a day.

  • “I’m up from 1am to, like, 6am trying to nail certain parts of the model, so I’m just at that time looking at videos and pictures of so much food.”
  • Eventually, it’s bound to make a person break. “Yesterday, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I ordered McDonald’s at like 3am.”
Image: Trina Pagtakhan

When it comes to her own art, however, Pagtakhan has literally seen too much of the sausage being made to find it appetizing.

  • “When I look at my art, I only see, mm yes I made that texture using this method. So it becomes really fake for me.”
  • “I only look at this as a collection of models and textures and lighting.”

As part of her process, Pagtakhan keeps a mood board to set the tone for recipes showcased in “Soup Pot.” “Sometimes I kind of lose track of my original vision,” she said.

  • With the mood board, it helps her to quickly reference both ingredients you’ll find in the game, as well as the vibe of the Philippines.
  • “I wanted to reflect that by making the palette really warm. It’s really hot here,” she said. “And I wanted the overall feel of the game to feel like it’s happening in someone’s kitchen here in the Philippines, in real life, or someone’s grandmother’s kitchen.”