The last time I found myself in a kitchen, becoming a chef in Cooking Simulator, it was a nightmare that even Gordon Ramsay couldn’t fix. It was bad enough to put me off the vocation for a long while.
Alas, I’m ready and willing to give cooking another go with the arrival of Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator. It’s time to open up a fancy new restaurant, but is Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator a fine dining experience worth recommending, or have developers Cyanide Studio made a dog’s dinner of it?
From the outset you’re given access to a brand new restaurant, which is kitted out with everything needed to get started in this sector. It’s a long-term dream to turn the place into a Michelin-starred establishment, but for now you’re just the newest chef on the block with a humble little diner and a small amount of capital. Garnering the famed star from the Michelin Guide is the main goal of the sole campaign mode; there’s a lot to learn though if you’re going to come close to achieving it.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of hand-holding, covering the absolute basics all the way to the point where it goes through how a typical service would unfold in its entirety. As the kitchen is a completely new environment, you’ll learn about each workstation and the location of ingredients. From chopping shallots and cutting beef joints, to frying fish and boiling green beans, you’ll be trying it all. There are even tips on how to achieve top marks for your food in regards to seasoning and cooking techniques – the better the overall quality, the more satisfied diners are.
None of the actions are complicated to perform either, meaning anyone can have a pop at pretending to be a chef and do well at it. Every button prompt is displayed and there are clear gauges to confirm your timings are spot on. In other cooking simulators, precision is often required to handle knives and such, but here it’s just a simple mini-game that might have you rotating or holding the analog stick in certain directions for the animation to play out. It’s a smart move as it eliminates the prospect of any dodgy physics issues.
There’s also a recipe book to hand, with full explanations of how to create each particular dish, step by step. You can pin the important recipes to show a rough guideline of the different steps as well as the list of ingredients, which is incredibly handy when you need a little reminder. I do like the fact that with every dish successfully recreated, not only does it provide knowledge points to unlock new recipes, but it increases your expertise of a particular dish and soon it’ll be upgraded to a more complicated, pricier, version.
At risk of potential snobbery here, the recipes are very fancy and it’d probably make sense to start off simpler with bangers and mash or gammon, egg, and chips, before leading into the finest ones. Instead it’s cuisine like sole meunière and green beans, blanquette de veau, and cacio e pepe. With lots of recipes to unlock, you’ll find hours and hours of play in Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator, especially if you’re looking to taste test the entire catalogue. It would have been nice to see extra variety though, as classic French and Italian food overwhelmingly dominates.
As for an actual dinner service, and wow, the heat is on. Customers want excellent execution and timely delivery of orders to their table, which is darn tough even when you’ve prepped multiple aspects. It’s too easy to get flustered, especially with recipes consisting of many processes to complete. I dare say it’s far too demanding from the outset in that regard.
Rather thoughtfully though, developers Cyanide Studio have included a selection of settings that could alleviate the potential stress. Settings which ensure customers never become impatient, fewer customers actually come through the doors of your establishment, dishes cannot be failed or spoiled as a result of burnt items, and certain recipe details are displayed while cooking. These options are a lifesaver for anyone struggling to cope with the intensity and pressure of running a kitchen.
As you progress, kitchen staff are eventually on-hand too; ready to clean up and prep parts of the meals on your menu. It’s super easy to give them instructions and it’s clear as to what tasks they prefer to undertake. The more you make use of their skills, the more they level up and can take on the complex aspects. I’m still undecided as to whether this idea is a help or a hindrance however, and I’ll explain why.
When following recipes and repeating the steps regularly, the entire process of making a dish becomes ingrained in your memory. Removing the parts handled by employees causes confusion and I often found myself grabbing ingredients that were unnecessary for the aspects that were still under my control. While it’s better to have the opportunity to share the workload than not, chances are it might throw you off-course.
Every little helps as the restaurant gets bigger and garners increasing attention, but progress is rather slow. You see, prices for dishes are set in stone and even with punters throwing a few extra coins in the pot after a good evening, profit is small. Given that you can buy all kinds of decorative items and useful stuff like another fridge or an oven, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford much. Allowing the player to tinker with the financial side more would be beneficial here I believe.
What doesn’t help matters are the other ways to earn cash – as well as coupons – which are challenges and requests to fulfil. The challenges aren’t well thought-out, such as asking you to complete time sensitive tasks that you don’t even possess the recipes for yet. The requests from people can be pretty long-winded, but the window to achieve them is far more forgivable at least.
One feature that seems utterly pointless in the grand scheme of proceedings is plating. While constantly rushed off your feet, I highly doubt folks want to spend time organising and layering the individual food items on a plate. I wouldn’t mind if the dishes were aesthetically pleasing, however they don’t look too good before or after you play around with a setup. It’s optional though, so ignoring it is a viable choice.
Before wrapping up, a few niggling issues deserve a mention. Firstly, the AI staff are idiotic and often walk into you during the day. Secondly, the preparation phase needs the finer details explained better; I noticed dishes disappear from the plate warmer, yet pans of food remain. And finally, there needs to be a manual save system to allay fears because if you mess up a shift or do something you wish to undo, you simply cannot due to auto-save.
All in all, Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator falls a little short of a Michelin-starred fine dining experience, but still cooks up a storm. It’s easy enough to get to grips with, features a decent selection of cooking apparatus, and is chock full of recipes for posh nosh. While it’s super stressful, certain settings allow those who can’t handle it to lighten the load and keep at it. Progress in terms of improving the restaurant is too slow however, with hours passing by and the bank balance barely moving upwards, meaning it’s a real slog.
Looking past the flaws, Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator is a good way for foodies to indulge in the finer things in life.
Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator is out now on the Xbox Store