I’m not a bad cook, but I’m not a confident one either. I wish I were more like my fiancée, for whom cooking is a relaxing way to unwind at the end of the day. I’m the opposite. Any recipe more complex than a one-pot or a bolognese is a source of stress and anxiety; I’m bad enough at keeping track of one pan, let alone two, three or four.
So I came to Lost Recipes, a new Meta Quest cooking sim from Schell Games, not just with curiosity but with a little trepidation too. Other culinary-based games like Cooking Mama or Overcooked are often frenzied, fast-paced affairs; I enjoy these games a lot, but I can only handle them in short bursts. Would the added immersion of the Meta Quest make this experience even more frenetic?
Lost Recipes review
The good news is that Lost Recipes is completely uninterested in raising your heart rate. The game provides a calm environment in which to cook, with a soothing soundtrack that encourages you to relax. Don’t get me wrong: you can definitely screw these meals up if you’re not careful. For the most part, though, Lost Recipes is about taking your time and preparing food correctly, not quickly.
Moving around each simple but pleasingly-rendered kitchen is made easy by the use of a teleportation system. If you’re new to VR, this basically means that you use an analog stick to point to where you want to go, and immediately find yourself there upon releasing it. You can also use the grip buttons on the Quest controllers to pull yourself along kitchen surfaces, which comes in handy when you need to stoop down to add wood to a fire.
When you’re at a surface, you’ll use your glowing blue hands to slice, dice and combine all your ingredients. The controls are incredibly responsive; while chopping up a joint of meat, the game recognised that I was cutting unevenly and produced chunks of mismatched sizes (which is very similar to my real life experiences with cooking). While haptic feedback from the controllers is mostly subtle and unnoticeable, they’ll rumble heartily if you place a hand near open flame or touch one of the game’s ghost chefs.
Dear sons and daughters of hungry ghosts
Oh, yeah, the ghost chefs. Your teachers are the spectres of chefs from civilisations past: specifically, from Ancient Greek, Chinese, and Maya civilisations. Each ghost will instruct you how to cook three ‘lost’ recipes from their culture. Whether you’re making Greek souvlaki or Chinese tanghulu, they’ll guide you through each step and gently remind you when you’ve left something cooking for too long.
In an era of greater sensitivity to cultural appropriation, this premise might raise a few eyebrows. To their credit, though, the developers seem to have done their homework. Native-speaking actors voice the chefs. The game’s website cites consulting historians from Carnegie Mellon University. Schell Games has even uploaded a detailed recipe book to recreate these meals yourself. All of this lends the game a ring of authenticity that feels loving and respectful, rather than exploitative.
Lost Recipes’ chefs even teach you about their culture’s traditions as you cook. I learned that Greek kylixes were often adorned with eyes so that it resembled a mask when someone drank from it, and that mukbil pollo is traditionally made to remember someone who has died. It’s not quite a comprehensive history lesson – you won’t be writing a research paper when it’s over – but these nuggets of information provide a cultural context for the food you’re preparing.
Sweet and sour
Once you’re done, those same ghosts will eat your food and let you know how you did. You’re rated out of five stars in four categories: ingredients, recipe, cooking and presentation. These scores are then averaged to give you an overall rating. Earning an overall five star rating feels very satisfying, even though I seldom achieved it. The game provides constructive criticism to help you improve next time; I was very helpfully told that my pitas didn’t have enough salt, water, oil or milk. You know, basically all of the ingredients of pita bread.
As pleasurable as it is to play, Lost Recipes isn’t without its foibles. Interacting with objects can be fiddly at times, and downright glitchy at others. On multiple occasions I would go to grab a pan or bowl, only for my hands to clip inside it and grab a chunk of pork or chicken instead. Janky object interaction like this isn’t uncommon in VR, but it can be frustrating to grab the wrong item when your loukomades are about to turn from golden brown to crispy black.
The game is also a little inconsistent in when and how it chooses to hold your hand though the recipes. As well as the ghost chefs’ verbal instructions, an onscreen tablet also provides the steps for you to flip through at your leisure. Sometimes these steps will be accompanied by images so you know what you’re looking for, but not always. When you haven’t quite learned the names and appearances of three different Maya cooking implements by heart, this can be confusing. Elsewhere, three bowls of herbs labelled with near-identical icons made it hard to know if I was spooning rosemary, thyme or parsley into my marinade.
These are relatively minor inconveniences, however, and they don’t detract too heavily from an enjoyable but all too brief experience. Like many VR games, Lost Recipes is short and sweet; I finished all nine recipes in around two hours. Replaying stages to get those elusive five star ratings adds some replay value, but there’s not much to keep you coming back other than the chill vibes. Hopefully Schell Games will expand the game in the future; the possibilities for new dishes from different cultures are nearly endless.
Thyme well spent
Lost Recipes is a game about the simple pleasures of cooking: the sizzle of meat in oil, the softness of dough in your hands, the gentle warmth of a charcoal fire. It’s a lovely demonstration of the vital role food plays in our lives and families, and how it links us to our ancestors.
Some technical hiccups aside, there’s a lot to like in Lost Recipes. It’s over far too quickly and feels more like a starter than a main course. Still, it managed something I didn’t think possible: it made me genuinely enjoy the act of cooking. If there’s one thing I’ll take from Lost Recipes into my real life, it’s that cooking doesn’t always have to be a mad rush. Sometimes it’s about slowing things down and savouring the moment, too.