How the author of the WoW cookbook turned rylak claws and spider kabobs into delicious meals

Chelsea Monroe-Cassel has made a career of bringing fantasy foods into the kitchen.

From the cover. Photo provided by Insight Editions from World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook. © 2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

There are about 200 recipes and 1100 consumable items in World of Warcraft, for spider kabobs and roasted kodo meat and crocolisk steaks—everyday dishes in Azeroth, but not something you'll find at the local grocery store. Within WoW, though, they feel very real. After more than 10 years, millions of WoW players have fond memories of these foods, the quests they come from and the detail they add to the game world. Surely some of WoW's fans would want to take their love of the game into their real kitchens, and so Blizzard's book publisher came to writer and food blogger Chelsea Monroe-Cassel with a challenge: turn weird recipes like dirge's kickin' chimaerok chops into reality. Naturally, she started playing WoW.

Food Week

It's Food Week on PC Gamer, and we're looking at all the interesting ways games and grub intersect. See all the stories in our Food Week hub.

"I'm the weirdo in the tavern spinning in circles trying to get a good screenshot of a bowl of fruit," she joked. World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook is 200 pages of recipes based on WoW's eclectic consumable items. The screenshots Monroe-Cassel took of those foods in-game were her reference photos, often the only inspiration she had for creating a real-life dish. In a way, the low-res food items in WoW were more than she had to go on when she wrote her first cookbook in 2012, featuring food from A Game of Thrones. There she just had descriptions. But WoW brought with it its own challenges.

"Game of Thrones is really heavily based in the history of medieval Europe. You can find similarities to different cultures, the War of the Roses, things like that," she said. "It's reasonably easy to pin down appropriate matches for food of the right region, the right time period, that kind of thing. Whereas Warcraft, arguably it draws from different cultures, historically, different aesthetics, but it's pretty much made up."

Monroe-Cassel takes her fantasy foods seriously. She's a fantasy buff, and she knows fans take accuracy seriously. This isn't food inspired by Warcraft. It's food from Warcraft. As she developed the WoW cookbook, she was set on following the recipes of any meal you could cook in-game as closely as possible.

Meet the author. Photo via Chelsea Monroe-Cassel
The WoW Cookbook

The World of Warcraft Cookbook is $23 on Amazon, though you can grab the digital Kindle version for $17.

"For some of them it was bizarrely specific," she said. "Like, the Delicious Chocolate Cake was especially challenging, because it has things like port and mageroyal, which looks like a big red flower. All of these oddly specific items. They had to go in [the recipe], for me, because if you've made it in the game you've made it with these ingredients. Objections would be made if they didn't go in, in the cookbook itself. Bizarrely, it doesn't actually include any chocolate. So I went with white chocolate, because the cake's in-game image looks white. So it might not technically be chocolate, but it was good enough."

Plenty of the recipes in the WoW cookbook take after the more ridiculous foods from World of Warcraft, but it's meant to be a practical tome for everyday chefs.  There are dozens of recipes like Crispy Bat Wings and Lukewarm Yak Roast Broth and Rylak Claws that aren't as exotic as they sound (you may be disappoint to hear those recipes aren't made with real bat or real rylak). They're practical recipes with a twist, to make them feel authentic to the version in World of Warcraft. A lot of that comes down to the presentation—dialing in recipes until they were reproducible and would look close to how they appeared in the cookbook.

"Sometimes it'll work beautifully the first time, but I'll get an unusable photo," Monroe-Cassel said. "But that's the best case scenario, I think. You can always come back and make it again once you have the recipe, until you get a photo that works."

Many of the cookbook's recipes were influenced by the time Monroe-Cassel spent playing WoW. Despite a tight deadline, she wandered from zone to zone, picking up as much as she could about the culture of each region and its inhabitants. The quests she did also had a major impact on which recipes made it into the book.

Inspiration to final product, via Chelsea Monroe-Cassel.

"I never especially leveled in the game," she laughed. "I'd always switch to a different region, different race, to try to experience broadly rather than deeply. But it was really cool when the next quest in whatever region happened to be a food-related one, because I'd say 'oh my goodness, anyone who's played in this area has done this quest. They'll remember this. It'll be recognizable.' In some cases that was a plus, and in some cases that was a challenge.

"The recipe for Cactus Apple Surprise was based on a quest. And it's clearly made with prickly pear cactus fruit. I live in Vermont. You can't get prickly pear cactus fruit up here, really. I saw it in the store once, and they made it into the cookbook photo, because that was the one time I'd ever seen them. But because that was such an early-on quest and a recognizable recipe, I really wanted to include that one in the cookbook, even though it was tricky. So I compromised with prickly pear syrup, which you can get pretty easily online."

Making a recipe: Firecracker Salmon

Photo provided by Insight Editions from World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook. © 2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

I had Monroe-Cassel walk me through the process of creating one of her favorite recipes from the book. It's a simple one, but she liked it enough to keep making it regularly after finishing the cookbook.

The key to the recipe is her Northern spices, based on the icy continent of Northrend. Her point of reference, unsurprisingly, was Game of Thrones' Winterfell. Juniper gives it a piney flavor, while cardamom is frequently used in Scandinavian cooking. There's also smoked salt, ginger, pepper, and allspice or nutmeg. "It just makes this sort of interesting mix, where you have a lot of typically warm spices, but then you have the juniper, which is sort of a cool feeling on the tongue," she said. "It's like eating things in a pine forest, because you have that piney smell and flavor.

"The Firecracker Salmon is a recipe from that same northern region. So while the spice mix doesn't have anything sort of hot spicy in it, I wanted to use that spice mix for the regionally appropriate dish. Then I added some sriracha sauce for some extra little zing."

She developed the northern spices to complement the salmon and a few other recipes that would use the same spice mixture. At that point, the rest of the salmon recipe came quickly. It was easy to start with the fish as a base, and add to it here and there, where something felt like it was missing.

"You start sort of simple and say well, it doesn't really have enough umami, so you add some soy sauce and some balsamic vinegar. Then you get that nice little pucker, but it doesn't really have enough heat to it. So you add some sriracha sauce. I think that one only took a few tries to really get it."

Two WoW cocktails. Photo provided by Insight Editions from World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook. © 2016 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantasy chef

Monroe-Cassel recently finished writing her third cookbook, this one about Blizzard's Hearthstone, which is due later this year. She's found a niche for herself as a fantasy chef. But surprisingly, she's not really in it for the cooking. She started her blog, The Inn at the Crossroads, as a diehard Game of Thrones fan. Her passion, she realized, was in exploring fictional worlds and bringing their foods to life.

"I have this great affection for all things treasure hunting," she said. "For me, I think building these recipes really weirdly ties into that. It's about researching the world. If the author or the game designers have done a great job with worldbuilding, it's much easier. It's about sort of figuring out what they used for sources or inspiration, and looking to those cultures or that history."

I have this great affection for all things treasure hunting. I think building these recipes really weirdly ties into that.

Chelsea Monroe-Cassel

We talked about other games that feature cooking, and how relatively few games there are devoted to the fun of the kitchen. But she came at that like a true fantasy fan. "If your main character's an aspiring cook, I think it would still be fun to have to run around the world and forage for herbs and find the little old lady who's the last surviving person who has the recipe for X item," she said.

"That's still what interests me in it, is the adventure and the exploring."
The Hearthstone cookbook, which will feature "more than 50 delicious bites and cocktails" and is due out in November, required even more creativity than the World of Warcraft cookbook. Because there are few actual food references in the card game, Monroe-Cassel had to imagine the foods and drinks that would be served in a tavern in Azeroth. She seems to be the official chef (and mixologist) of Warcraft, at this point, and was excited to mention there had been some talk of her appearing somewhere in WoW as an innkeeper. "That would be amazing," she said.

Monroe-Cassel doesn't have a new project yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her name pop up in connection with another game in the near future.

"I'm impossible when it comes to fictional food, at this point," she laughed. "Anything I read, I read with a stack of sticky notes, so that I can flag the pages. Nobody likes watching movies with me anymore because I'll yelp if there's a food that looks good in the movie or TV show, even. I'm really annoying."