I was helping cook Thanksgiving dinner last week, dicing an onion, when my nine-year-old niece sidled up to me and watched for a minute. “That’s how to dice an onion,” she said in a very matter-of-fact tone. I told her I agreed. “That’s the same way I cut it, too,” she added. And I thought, a nine-year-old who knows how to dice an onion—very cool. Then I thought, wow, a nine-year-old who plays with sharp knives—maybe not so cool. So I asked for details, and she explained: She wasn’t dicing real onions, just virtual ones on her Nintendo DS game, Cooking Mama by Majesco.
She brought her game over as I worked on the stuffing and showed me how to play. It’s a kind of cooking simulation game where you follow onscreen instructions to prepare and plate a meal—chop and slice veggies, cut up and sauté meat, boil pasta, any number of kitchen tasks. Unlike some uninspiring yet highly addictive video games and apps out there (I’m looking at you, Angry Birds), Cooking Mama nurtures a child’s budding interest in food and cooking. As a culinary training tool, it’s about as effective as an Easy-Bake Oven, but it does impart a few lessons here and there.
My niece wanted to help me cut celery. She set a couple of stalks on the butcher block and made imaginary chopping motions with her right hand, while with her left “guide” hand, she showed me that she knew to keep her fingertips and thumb tucked in, a technique she learned from the game. For now, her knife skills are virtual, but her desire is very real, which thrills me. And so guess who’s getting Cooking Mama 2 for Christmas?