The only thing harder than being a genetically-modified super soldier in power armor who’s trying to save the galaxy from a cabal of religious fanatic aliens is trying to decide what to make for dinner before the universe is cleansed of all sentient life by a giant ring hula hoop. Or at least it used to be. Now, you just have to consult Halo: The Official Cookbook (hardcover, Kindle) to find whatever you need to satisfy your universal hunger. In the following email interview, Cookbook author Victoria Rosenthal details what went into this recipe collection, and without ever uttering the phrase “out of this world.”
To start, what is Halo: The Official Cookbook? Is it recipes for normal foods but with Halo-ish names or how to make the foods they mention in the games and books? Or both? Because I don’t remember Master Chief ever eating anything. Which is weird, now that I think about it…
Halo: The Official Cookbook is an in-universe cookbook written by a new character to the series, Arturo Bustamante. His previous job took him across many of the different worlds featured in the Halo universe, but Arturo himself only knows as much about Master Chief and the Halo rings as what he’s seen on the news. In his retirement, Arturo wrote a cookbook because he wanted to share his experience interacting with all of the people that work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep people supported and fed across the galaxy. Traveling on UNSC vessels (strictly on business), visiting Reach before the fall, exploring the side streets of New Mombasa, Arturo’s hope — and my hope as well — is to bring more to the Halo universe and expand on an already rich lore with rich food.
Now, I know a lot of people are thinking: There is no food in Halo. Well, sure, food is never the focus of the series. But many of the levels and books throughout the years of the franchise have had references and shout outs. Each of the locations highlighted in the cookbook are based off of a level in the game or a story beat from one of the novels. For example, World Cuisine was a popular franchise on Reach. While going through the campaign of Halo: Reach, you’ll find yourself in New Alexandria running past several World Cuisine stalls. I imagine a lot of people will ignore these kinds of set pieces, but any time I see a hint of food in a game, I stop and take a deep look at what the developers have placed there. On these stalls are menus with 8 items that they serve up. There are no descriptions, just images of the combos they are serving. From there, I took inspiration from the context and the setting and expanded those menus by detailing out what World Cuisine served.
It seems like while these are regular foods, you put interesting spins on them. Like your recipe for Hot Chocolate includes honey and peanut butter. Did you have these recipes already or did you come up with new things for this book?
It depends on the recipe and the game I’m working with, but they all are created during the process of working on the cookbook. I always take a deep dive through the game for any food references. After my initial search through the game, I start to think about how I can approach a recipe. If a game gives more details like ingredients used, I try to make sure they are included in them in the end result. With Halo, I had a lot more freedom. Many of the items in the game were either names mentioned on a sign or simple images. With limited information, I try to do some less expected things, like the hot chocolate. What if I combine the wonderful flavors of peanut butter in a hot chocolate? Sometimes those crazy ideas work. Other times, my more unique ideas require a few adjustments and iterations before they turn out the way I want them to.
As you said, these are not real recipes with jokey names. But I have ask: No Master Quiche? Seriously!?!
I usually try to avoid pun driven recipes. Sometimes I can’t help myself, but my cookbooks are always grounded in the game universe. Arturo, as an example, never interacted with the Master Chief. He does, however, note how ironic it is that Halo-Halo, a Filipino dessert and one of the most amazing desserts in the world, sounds an awful lot like the things he keeps hearing about.
Now, as you said, Halo: The Official Cookbook is “written” by Arturo Bustamante. Who is he?
Arturo Bustamante was created by myself and my husband, Jeff. Huge shout out to him because with every one of these projects, he helps a ton with the development of the lore voice in each of these books. When the project was presented to me, the team made it very clear that they wanted the book to be written through the eyes of a civilian, someone who has minimal knowledge of the actual war tactics or involvement within the UNSC. They were completely fine with us creating a whole new character. Jeff and I started discussing what could be a fitting voice for the book. Right away I knew I wanted to take inspiration from one of my all-time favorite chefs, Anthony Bourdain. His view of food and exploration has all been a huge influence on my culinary journey. During the whole process of working on the books, we would rewatch episodes of Parts Unknown to really get Bourdain’s style of speech into our heads as we started writing. I think the introduction for the book really does a good job of this.
Arturo was once a corporate manager for Yaka Frutas, an intergalactic fruit company in the Halo universe. He handled a lot of contracts and other soul-sucking corporate work, but it sent him all across the universe to different colonies, outposts, and cities. He retires, very much so done with the business world, but he wants to remember all the hard working people that he interacted with and the wild locations he got to visit. He decided to write this cookbook to help those without the connections to zoom around space experience some of the cuisine and culture that he got to experience during his job.
And did you write those parts of Halo: The Official Cookbook, the parts where he talks about where he got that recipe from?
Yes. The 343 team gave me an overview of what they were looking for and I got to run with it.
Some of the recipes in Halo: The Official Cookbook are more complicated than others. Given that not everyone reading it will be a master chef, what recipe in Halo: The Official Cookbook would you suggest they start with and why that one?
I admit that I like to push my readers to challenge themselves in the kitchen and always want to include some more advanced recipes. But there are many great recipes to start. The one I would recommend to someone new to the kitchen is the Tallarines Verdes (pg. 125). This is a nice Peruvian spin on a pesto pasta. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by a blender and it makes a decent amount of leftovers.
And for those same people, but ones that are hoping Halo: The Official Cookbook may prompt them to cook more, is there one or more that you’d suggest they do because it will teach them a helpful skill?
All of the recipes have a difficulty rating on them, which is a good starting point for what recipes they should attempt. I think when a lot of people think of cooking, they immediately jump to baking. Baking is probably one of the more technical skills in the kitchen. For someone who is completely new to baking, I think the Chocolate Chip Scones (pg. 49) is a great starting point. This will teach you several things like working with butter. A lot of times with baking, your butter will need to be at a specific temperature to work correctly. With the scones, we want the butter to be nice and cold so it will give us some lovely layers.
Another skill this recipe is gonna teach is not overworking your dough. Often, when someone mixes flour, they might think they really need to work it to make sure it is all well combined. The big issue here is the more you work with the flour, the more gluten will form leading to a chewier texture. Sure, you want to do that for breads but we don’t want our baked goods to have that consistency.
Now, Halo: The Official Cookbook is not the first cookbook you’ve written based on game. You previously wrote Destiny: The Official Cookbook, Street Fighter: The Official Street Food Cookbook, Fallout: The Vault Dweller’s Official Cookbook, My Pokémon Cookbook: Delicious Recipes Inspired By Pikachu And Friends, and The Ultimate Final Fantasy XIV Cookbook. What is it about these kind of cookbooks, and the intersection of food and video games, that you just enjoy writing about so much?
I grew up playing a lot of video games. They have been a big part of my life. At one point, I was hoping to make my way into the game industry. Well, that never happened, but I really wanted to start creating content expressing my appreciation for all of the amazing games being created. Food has also been a very important part of my life. I enjoy experimenting and trying new things whenever I can. Food is the thing that brings people together and I love that so much. I wanted to bridge those two loves and in 2012, I decided to start my blog, Pixelated Provisions. Each week I was finding a new recipe in one of the games I was playing and recreating it for others to enjoy.
Around this time, I noticed more games were starting to include more detailed meals, images, and recipes within the games themselves. Guild Wars 2 is what started this whole project of mine. The devs took such care to be very detailed on how your character would make a meal. You would have to mix some basic ingredients together and then use that end result in another craft to finally get a meal that would give your character a bunch of extra stats. It got me thinking and ever since then I’ve been keeping my eye out for any food in games. I’ve trained all my friends well that I’m constantly getting photos of food items they are finding in the games they are playing.
Food has become an important part of games. Many of them have it either as a mechanic you can utilize or just laying around in the environment to tell a story. Who would have ever guessed that Link would be out in the wild cooking full meals when all he needed before was a few potions and fairies to survive?
When I started all that, I never really imagined I would start writing official cookbooks. It shows that even the game developers are very excited about the food they are adding to their games and want to share recipes with their fans. These books are not only recipes books but they give a lot of extra lore, helping build the universes of those franchises.
And how often does your momma ask you, “When are you going to write a regular cookbook, sweetie?”
I actually can’t think of a time she said that. I think she was more shocked that I was writing. I hated writing growing up. I never saw myself becoming a professional writer. I guess in the end, the subject matter is what really matters.
So is there anything that you learned from one of your previous cookbooks that had a big influence on Halo: The Official Cookbook?
The Destiny one for sure had a lot of influence. They are both games that really don’t have a focus on food, but plenty of references scattered across the game. There was a lot of lore reading for these two projects to make sure that any of the recipes picked made sense in the context of the franchises.
And in a similar vein, are there any so-called “normal” cookbooks that had a big influence on Halo: The Official Cookbook?
As I mentioned earlier, Anthony Bourdain was a pretty big influence in this book. His ability to tell a story and describe food really helped with developing this whole project. Traveling around and giving his very honest thoughts on what he was eating and everything you, the reader, were missing out on.
A week before I was pitched this interview with you about Halo: The Official Cookbook I got a similar pitch to interview Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, who’s written a bunch of movie, TV, and video game-related cookbooks, including the upcoming Star Trek Cookbook. Why do you think people like cookbooks based on movies, TV shows, and video games so much?
Chelsea is such a wonderful author and I love her work. I’m excited that you’re going to speak with her.
I think one of the major reasons why fandom cookbooks have become so prevalent is it is a great way for people to connect to food. It is one way people can be transported into their favorite universes. I’ve had many parents reach out to me and tell me how excited they are that their child wanted to get in the kitchen and cook up a meal for them. That is my biggest goal with all this. Convincing people, who may have very little experience, that the kitchen is not that scary of a place. With a bit of practice and these recipes you’ll be able to improve and cook delicious meals based on your favorite franchise.
So, if it was up to you, what game or series of them would you most want to write a cookbook for?
Yakuza. Easy. Yakuza is my all time favorite series. The story and characters are just so wonderful that it is a series I recommend to everyone. Food is everywhere in this game. There are several restaurants (including real chains that exist in Japan) placed throughout all the cities you play throughout the series. In Yakuza: Like A Dragon, there is a karaoke song that is all about a spicy hell stew, which I have on my blog already. Food makes many appearances throughout the series and since I started working on cookbooks, the Yakuza series has been my big dream project. Hopefully one day. If you haven’t played any of these games, please check them out. They are hours of fun and just outstanding story telling.
Finally, if someone enjoys Halo: The Official Cookbook, which of your other cookbooks would you suggest they pick up next?
It honestly depends on what games they like. The ones I cook from the most are the Destiny and Final Fantasy XIV cookbooks. Both have a wonderful collection of diverse recipes with varying difficulty just like Halo: The Official Cookbook. If you like the style of my recipe writing, any of my cookbooks will be a wonderful addition to your collection.