When Chelsea Monroe-Cassel finished reading A Game Of Thrones, she was so inspired by Sansa Stark’s love of lemon cakes, she came up with a recipe of her own. What she baked up was more than delicious; it was intellectually stimulating. Monroe-Cassel and her friend, Sariann Lehrer, soon began tackling other dishes from the series. Neither of them had much of a cooking background, but they found they had a knack for bringing imaginary dishes to life. In 2011, they began posting recipes on their food blog, The Inn At The Crossroads, then emailed George R.R. Martin about it—and to say, “If you ever want to do a cookbook, just let us know.” Martin brought the idea to his publisher, and within a year, Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer had released A Feast Of Ice And Fire: The Official Game Of Thrones Companion Cookbook.
From there, Monroe-Cassel struck out on her own to tackle the dishes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s food-obsessed hobbits with The Shire Cookbook, while also compiling recipes from video game franchises including EverQuest, The Elder Scrolls, and Final Fantasy. There may be no smaller niche in cookbook publishing than interpreting the cuisine of fictional worlds, but Monroe-Cassel has become its most popular author.
This month marks the release of Monroe-Cassel’s latest, World Of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook. If there’s any game suited to having a cookbook crossover, it’s World Of Warcraft. Food has always been an integral part of the series: It helps the game’s characters heal and replenish their magical abilities faster, and it also provides power boosts that help defeat foes. Players almost always carry around a few meals with them, and they can buy food and drink from taverns or collect recipes to cook their own dishes using seafood they fish from Azeroth’s rivers and oceans—or body parts from the monsters they’ve killed. The game even has its own holidays, like Brewfest and the Feast of Winterveil, where players are encouraged to make and share festive food.
With each of World Of Warcraft’s six expansions, the game’s designers have introduced new dishes meant to evoke what might be eaten in the Azeroth’s diverse environments, from bucolic farmland to tropical jungles and frozen tundra. Of course, since some of that food is made by goblins, trolls, and orcs, it’s not so translatable to the real world. That’s where Monroe-Cassel comes in. She spoke with The A.V. Club about how she turns those fantasy foods into reality.
The A.V. Club: How was designing recipes based on a video game different than using books of fiction?
Chelsea Monroe-Cassel: It turned out to be pretty different. Game Of Thrones is based largely on real history and the real world. You can make a corollary between, say, King’s Landing and Istanbul. You can examine how trade works and take all that into account. I tried to take the same approach [with video games]. I describe it as “fictional locavore.” I take into account the culture of the place, who’s making it, what ingredients they have. Are the ingredients local, or do you have to trade for them or buy them off of merchants? I think that helps ground fictional food in a sense of place. Warcraft is completely immersive and rich enough to be able to imagine a lot of that.
AVC: Do you try to associate any of those recipes to specific real world foods?
CM: I did a little bit with the fry bread, which tends to be a Native American staple food—and that does show up in the Tauren regions, which are vaguely Native American. All the races are conglomerates in the game of various influences. The in-game icons were hugely helpful. I tried to start there and work backwards. Then I’d look at where you can buy this food in the world. If it’s only in dark, underground Horde-filled places, then it might be a different recipe than if it’s in the beautiful autumnal forests with elves rolling around in them. I just tried to vaguely match cultures.
AVC: How did you come up with substitutes for ingredients that aren’t typically found in the real world, such as buzzard meat or bat wings?
CM: Those were the trickiest things, obviously. You can’t just hop out to the corner store and get bat wings. I looked at the pictures and thought, “What is this supposed to be?” So, like the Kickin’ Chimaerok Chops: When I did polls online, that was one a lot of people expected to see in the cookbook… The chimaerok is this mythical creature. When we think of chops, we think of pork chops. But a chimera in classical literature was part goat, so I went with lamb instead. It’s a very roundabout parsing of the names of the dish and the names of the animals. “It’s complicated” is the short answer.
AVC: What about, say, substituting kale for lichen?
CM: That one was mostly based on the picture… Frankly, we could use a few more green things. We were getting a little butter-heavy, which is a problem with any good cookbook. I was at the store getting ingredients, and I saw this bunch of kale that looked so like that picture. I’m not a big kale fan, but I grabbed it. I’d never been so excited about kale.
AVC: Was there any recipe that was particularly difficult to translate?
CM: One that I tried and failed to really nail down was the Mogu Fish Stew. It uses salmon, pumpkin, and crocolisk, so… crocodile, probably. I couldn’t get past the salmon and pumpkin combo, honestly. My parents were taste-testers for that, since my husband doesn’t eat fish, and they said it was “interesting.” I suspect they were just being nice.
AVC: What was the most exotic ingredient you used?
CM: I think it’s less about one ingredient and more about using different unusual ingredients together to make the familiar more otherworldly. For example, the Bloodberry Tart recipe from the WOW cookbook had to look a certain way to match the game image, but I didn’t want it to taste familiar. I mean, none of us are used to snacking on bloodberries, right? So I combined raspberries for filling and flavor, blueberries for the appearance, and some spices and other flavorings for pizzazz.
AVC: Did you get any pushback from fans?
CM: There are a few folks I’ve heard from who were disappointed there wasn’t more weird stuff, like Gooey Spider Cake. But I didn’t want to just throw normal recipes into the book and label them with names from the game. I think that’s unfair to the fans, and doesn’t make for a cookbook that feels like a part of the world. For me, it’s all about finding the right balance between something delicious that people will actually make and staying as true as possible to the aesthetic of the source material. Because I pull the inspiration for my recipes directly from the source material, I think they end up being pretty accurate. The Game Of Thrones dishes were taken from quotes in the novels and then paired with both historical and modern recipes. There’s often some room for interpretation with historical cooking, which was looser in terms of quantities, bake times, etc. so it can get a little tricky there.
AVC: The main reason to eat food in WOW is for an edge in fights. Did you try to replicate some of those in-game benefits?
CM: For better or worse, I can’t make a dish that makes people breathe flame. I don’t know what kind of waiver you’d have to sign to buy that cookbook, but I bet it would be pretty lengthy. For the most part, I tried to make simple foods. A lot of the Game Of Thrones food I’ve done is based in historical recipes, and so it’s a little wackier, it’s a little more offbeat. This I tried to just keep straightforward and make good food.