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Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator

Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator

Written by Jason Dailey on 3/27/2023 for PS5  
More On: Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator

Do you ever watch one of the many cooking challenge shows on television, see how delicious the food looks, and wish that you could cook like that? You’re not alone, and I think that is one of the major reasons simulators appeal to folks like me – they allow us to explore skills and talents that we’ve never had, or will ever have. Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator does a pretty good job of making you feel like a highly skilled professional, but at the same time it feels lacking in a way that the best simulators do not. It’s missing that special sauce of a truly accessible and addictive gameplay loop, which ultimately holds this chef sim back from earning the almighty Michelin Star.

As is standard in most simulators, be prepared to follow instructions in Chef Life. Lots and lots of instructions to be exact, step by step (see: recipe). That’s probably not too hard to believe considering this is a game about being a professional chef, but Chef Life requires you to color within the lines rather stringently, even by simulator standards. As a pathological box-checker, this didn’t bother me all that much, but you need to understand what you’re walking in to. In other words, there is no “freestyle mode” here when it comes to cooking dishes.

As a young, up-and-coming chef trying to get your restaurant off the ground, you begin with recipes that are rather simple and build from there. The game gives you a three-day head start prior to the grand opening of your eatery to teach you the basics, which it does a pretty good job of. You’ll live and die by your trusty recipe book, which outlines all of the ingredients a recipe requires, what steps to perform, and at what kitchen station to do so. The recipe book also outlines the finer details, like if a component can be refrigerated prior to cooking, at what temperature it should be cooked at, or if it needs to be stirred, for example.

Before you can begin whipping up things in the kitchen, you’ll first need to decide what the day’s menu will be and then source the proper ingredients. Chef Life operates one day at a time, with each looking something like this: choose the menu for the day, order ingredients, stock said ingredients, prep recipe components, and prepare dishes during service hours.

Ordering ingredients is also one of the primary business management functions in Chef Life, as you’ll need to determine each day if you want to spend more money on higher quality, locally-sourced ingredients, or go for the cheap, imported stuff that was stuck in a cargo container for who knows how long. I typically opted for the good stuff, as it raises the overall quality of your dishes, and ultimately the satisfaction of your customers.

Once you have ingredients on-hand, it’s time to open up the recipe book and get to the meat and potatoes of Chef Life. As I said, you’ll begin simply by cooking dishes like steak and fries (steak frites, if you want to be fancy) or pasta with Italian cheese. Cooking a dish enough times will allow you to upgrade it to a more advanced version, and as you successfully serve customers you’ll also gain Knowledge Points, which are used to unlock new recipes to expand your menu. The level of detail in each recipe is quite impressive, and I’d argue that the game could actually be called Chef Life: A Recipe Simulator.

The cooking itself is pretty intuitive thanks to a solid user interface, minus a couple of hiccups, with simple flicks of the right stick making cuts, or rotating the stick stirring a dish, for instance. Thankfully, you can also pin recipes to the UI so that you don’t have to constantly walk back-and-forth to the recipe book station. Speaking of stations, they’re where the magic happens. All recipes are a series of steps that require you to gather the necessary ingredients and perform the appropriate action at the appropriate workstation. Using steak and fries as an example, you’ll need to grab a side of beef from the fridge, take it to the cutting board, and slice off a piece of steak. Then grab a potato and slice it up into fries before dropping them into the deep fryer. Meanwhile, you’ll grab a frying pan from the cookware station, place it on the stove, turn it on, and throw the steak in. The job is not done by any stretch of the imagination, however. Instead, you’ll need to ensure the steak is perfectly seasoned by tapping triangle (or your controller equivalent) to activate Chef Sense, which will prompt you with which spices to add to a dish. Your honed chef’s nose will decipher if a dish “needs a lot of salt” or has “too much pepper”, for instance.

Every action in the kitchen has its own timeline of events as well. Sticking with our steak recipe, the first phase is to sear it, the second phase will require you to season it properly and add scallions, then you’ll want to be sure to flip it at the start of the third phase or it won’t cook evenly, and finally, after the third phase, you’ll need to pay attention to how long it stays on the heat so that it’s cooked to the properly ordered temperature (well done, medium rare, etc.). If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it definitely can be, especially early on. In fact, it’s a gameplay loop that I fear will turn some people off.

Once everything has been prepared for a dish, you’ll head to the plating station for the final step before sending it out to your famished guests. Here is where you can get somewhat creative, should you choose. You have the option of simply selecting the standard plating layout for a dish and letting the game do the rest, or if you prefer to add your personal flavor, you can make a custom plating and save it for each dish. The plating station is also where you’ll get a technical execution grade for a dish, which determines how well you did. This grade is affected by several factors, including abiding by proper cooking times, adding ingredients at the right phase, utilizing the correct amount of spices, and performing chef actions such as flipping a steak.

It was really satisfying getting into a rhythm, nailing dish after dish and getting an A+ grade, but almost equally as frustrating getting a low grade and not understanding exactly what I did wrong. There are some other annoyances as well, like certain items not carrying over from the prep phase to the service phase of the day, forcing you to re-make them. Why does a pot of spaghetti noodles stay on the warmer, but others items don’t? Why do spices disappear from my inventory between those phases? I’m guessing these are intentional and not a glitch, but they’re annoyances nevertheless.

At the end of each in-game day you’ll receive a recap of how you did on each order and the customer satisfaction level, and while the report does reveal any issues a customer had with their experience, it is not always clear in the moment on how to avoid those issues. I don’t recall a single day that I didn’t deliver at least one customer’s order late, and that is one of my larger gripes with the game in that I don’t feel it gives you enough time to do what is expected of you. The gameplay feels unbalanced in that regard, but then again, maybe I’m just not a very good digital chef (or a real one, for that matter). Still, at one point I had to remove items from my menu because it was just too much to deal with. Along those lines, the service phase of the day can get hectic, and you’ll constantly be running around preparing or cooking something, particularly if a table of four each order a different dish. In those instances, I lamented the absence of a sprint button, but I guess chefs don’t sprint through the kitchen – or do they?

Eventually, the cavalry somewhat arrives as you gain the ability to utilize sous chefs, who make (chef) life marginally more manageable. You can give them tasks like preparing ingredients or cleaning the restaurant. Completing tasks in the kitchen levels them up and eventually they’ll become even more useful, gaining the ability to prepare entire dishes, albeit with a major caveat early on – the quality of their dishes is subpar, which negates their usefulness from a grading standpoint. You’ll also have to manage their morale a bit, as they do tire of constantly doing dishes, but relish the opportunity to work in their area of specialty.

As this is a restaurant simulator, there is also a certain amount of customization that you can do to the physical space itself. You’ll find that unlocking new recipes means you’ll also need the proper equipment to prepare them. Equipment can be purchased with your daily profits, which requires you to be efficient when buying ingredients and also to maximize revenue by serving as many menu items as you can, to as many customers as you can. Later on, the kitchen and dining room can be expanded as well, allowing you to serve more customers, and cook more dishes. Cosmetically, you can alter the look, layout, and color of items in your restaurant as well.

In terms of what’s driving you, there are some light story elements that I alluded to earlier. As the new chef on the block, you’re ultimately chasing prestige. Special guests occasionally drop in unannounced, ranging from fellow chefs to a guy that works at City Hall. They’ll usually have requests to give you, but I never really got a sense that they were all that important. Some are labelled as story missions, but the game never really pushes you to make sure you complete them. In fact, you likely won’t even know they exist or how to accomplish them unless you make a point to visit the corkboard in your office each day.

Chef Life really nails the minutia of professionally preparing food, almost to a fault, as it nearly forgets to make the game consistently fun to play. Simulator fans will likely enjoy the satisfaction of preparing dishes they could only dream of making in real life, but those looking for something more pick-up-and-play are probably going to quit cold turkey. It forgoes the creative freedom that you see utilized by reality TV chefs for a more formulaic approach, which works fine for box-checkers like me, but it won’t for others who will find it rather rigid. That rigidity is acceptable when everything else coalesces to keep you engrossed in the experience, but in Chef Life’s case, this is a dish that will not be seasoned to everyone’s taste.

Chef Life: A Restaurant Simulator nails the minutia of cooking, with impressively detailed recipes that most people could only dream of making in real-life. Unfortunately, the gameplay loop struggles to keep you engrossed, and the experience is rigid in ways that won’t be palatable for some.

Rating: 7 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Hello! I'm Jason, the resident noob here at Gaming Nexus. When not working my day job, I moonlight as a husband to a human and a father to two canines. Of course, I am also an avid gamer and general nerd. My favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports games, RPGs, and shooters, but I don't limit myself to those. My favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2 and I have somehow played it for nearly 1,000 hours.

My first video game system was the NES and I never looked back. I currently play on PS5, PS VR2, and PS Vita, although I've dabbled in Xbox Game Pass on PC in the past. I co-host a weekly PlayStation news podcast with a lifelong friend/family member called The Dual Sense Podcast, so I stay pretty well versed in that ecosystem. Before that, I co-hosted a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.


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