Pop CultureApril 23, 2019

How Overcooked 2 taught me to be a better cook (and person)


Alex Casey plays chaotic cooking game Overcooked 2 and learns some very valuable lessons.

Three pots of rice are on fire and one pan of sautéed mushrooms is starting to smoke. I’ve thrown dry pasta all over the floor. The dirty plates are piling up. My colleague is swearing at me from across the kitchen. The orders, they just keep flooding in. There’s too much to do, so I just keep frantically chopping up raw fish. “I’ve fucked it,” I sob. “I’ve absolutely fucked it.” I’m overworked and underpaid. I’m actually not paid at all. I’m also a panda. This is Overcooked 2.

When my partner bought Overcooked 2 for our Nintendo Switch, promising it would be fun for us to play together, I just assumed it would be like the time he took me to see noise artist Merzbow: a bloody headache. Plus, I have a real problem with doing someone else’s real job under the guise of ‘fun’ or a so-called ‘game’, which is why I don’t like playing Monopoly (just call a real estate agent) or Pandemic (get your own medic ffs).

A fiery kitchen to be sure

I was wrong about everything. Overcooked 2 is a truly incredible game, a fully hectic shift in kitchens so hellish that even Gordon Ramsay would be quaking in his leather slip-on shoes. You embark on your quest in a mini retro van not unlike the Moustache bus, travelling down ramps and up hills from restaurant to restaurant. Things start easy: a tomato and lettuce salad. Another tomato and lettuce salad. Then, a challenge: a tomato, lettuce and cucumber salad.

Every ingredient must be treated in some way before it can be plated: rice must be cooked, pasta boiled, mushrooms chopped and chicken fried to perfection. You slowly learn the necessary skills to chop fast, to throw ingredients accurately across the room, to put out fires and to properly communicate with the person sitting next to you. Because communication in Overcooked 2, just like Max, Kyro the Pomsky and Bronagh, is absolutely Key.

On the first play of Overcooked 2, I was so focussed on my many, many duties as sous chef that I zoned out and forgot that we were also talking to each other on the couch, in real life, the whole time. And when I say talking, I mean shouting. A lot. “I need two fucking mushrooms now,” I snapped “AND I NEED THEM RAW.” “Beef me,” he would squawk back. “BEEF ME.” Frequently, I’d buckle under the pressure and throw the beef in the bin by accident. Restart.

Sidenote: it’s also extremely hilarious how quickly the poncey language from Masterchef pops up unironically, whether you are ‘plating’ up, ‘travelling’ with a dish, or ‘balancing’ the plate. “And bit of cucumber to cut through,” I’d mutter to absolutely nobody.

Me giving orders after playing Overcooked 2 once

Bizarrely, as the challenges of Overcooked 2 became more and more outlandish – you don’t know stress until you’ve had to make a beef burrito while plummeting to the ground in a hot air balloon – I noticed that my real life became much calmer. More specifically, my cooking got better. Dramatically better. Scarily better. Granted, our unnamed delivery meal kits are pretty hard to fuck up, but you try telling my endless pots of drowned, gluggy quinoa that.

Since being put through the virtual wringer of Overcooked 2, I have developed a monk-like clarity and zen in my real-life kitchen. Where I used to set pots on fire and stand there, watching the flames, saying my final words, I now to keep one eye on every hot element. Having been on dishes duty on Overcooked 2 night after night, I am now much more adept at cleaning up as I go, instead of piling up an overwhelming Ben Nevis of greasy plates and bowls. While things are being boiled, I chop. While things are being fried, I clean. While things are being cleaned, I plate.

No more getting distracted and watching a Jeffree Star unboxing video. No more fires. No more stress.

Me in my kitchen, smiling, after playing Overcooked 2

But wait, there’s more. The Overcooked 2 methodology has also subconsciously spilled over into other aspects of my life. Instead of tearing through my brain like a Sharknado, work tasks now drift in as individual orders to my mind kitchen, each one then being broken down into manageable steps, chopped up, fried and then plated up. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Overcooked 2, it’s that everything is basically a burrito if you think about it long enough.

And if you can’t be arsed being organised, Overcooked 2 is a great test kitchen for real life frustrations. In it you can swear all you like, set all your pans on fire and throw as many chicken legs into the sea as you can carry. You can put searing pots on the floor, chuck dirty plates in the bin and frisbee steaks across the room at your boyfriend. It’s The Purge of the cooking world. It’s a paradise, it’s a war zone and it’s the most fun you can have without taking your chef hat off.

Keep going!