What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’? | Tool Time with Cook’s Utensils in 5E D&D
Okay, I know I started out the last article mistakenly talking about the wrong type of cobbler but this time fruit cobbler applies! Desserts! Breakfast! Elevensies! Lunch! Afternoon tea! Dinner! Supper! Yep, we’re talking about food today so get cozy with your favorite snack as we dive into a conversation about cook’s utensils! Tool proficiencies are a staple in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons and their relationship to skills is muddy, at best, as we’ve already discussed in a previous article. That being said, every Dungeon Master treats tool proficiencies a bit differently so if you’ve got questions, ask your DM how they treat tool proficiencies. All DMs are encouraged by the Dungeon Master’s Guide to adjust rules to suit their tables, so be flexible with your DM. With all the disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about cook’s utensils in 5E D&D.
5E D&D tool time — cook’s utensil’s
Gateway to culture
Oh boy, have I been eagerly waiting to do this article. You might say I’ve been salivating with anticipation.
Food is a massive part of culture and society. Just look to channels like the Food Network, Travel Channel or any number of Netflix series (like one of my favorites, Nailed It!) and you’ll quickly understand food is integral to our human experience. It’s true food is necessary for our survival, and while I know many DMs who hand wave food and rations because they think it’s boring, I advocate for the reverse.
Food doesn’t detract from the story. Conversely, it serves it in a tremendous way. After all what a culture eats and how they eat it serve as indicators as to what they hold dear and what is less important.
Your player characters can gain tremendous insight into a foreign culture by sharing a meal with them. What one culture views as rude may be polite in another, such as slurping soup loudly. Is meal sharing a staple time for stories and introductions, or is eating a private affair? Is it formal, with prayers and rituals preceding or following the meal, or is it casual? Are meals eating with boisterous laughter and boasting or is food to be eaten quietly? The possibilities are endless when it comes to developing cultures and their eating etiquette.
What a culture considers edible is just as telling too. What one group eats as a delicacy another might not even consider edible. If a culture eats something as a staple for their diet chances are it’s made from resources abundant in their environment. This can tell your players what the land produces and what sort of environment they’re in.
Remember when describing food to keep it evocative. If you really want to twist the proverbial knife, maybe describe how the only inn in the whole village has gloopy brown slop served over stale bread with chunks of vegetables splotched throughout the mess. Alternatively, maybe the food presented to the characters smells of quality, its rich, peppered meats mingling with the buttery starch side. Descriptions of food can easily evoke a mood.
An example of this comes from my novel The Mis-Adventurers: An (Almost) Epic Tale. In it, the squeamish Henry is confused by being presented with giant, steamy insects for main courses, because they smell of garlic, herbs and butter — all things usually considered appetizing. By evoking both tastiness and a discordant aesthetic, the scene achieves a confusing and humorous tone.
Avoid using vague, subjective phrases like delicious, yummy or gross when describing food. When you use subjective language like that, it works against your narrative. Show, don’t tell, and all that. By describing objective sensations — such as spicy, bitter, buttery, crunchy and so forth — you grant the players agency to decide for themselves how their character views the food. Just as not all people enjoy spicy food, not all characters will necessarily enjoy the same foods. Allowing your players to decide what their characters think of the food forces your players to, well… actually think about the food, thus immersing them more into the narrative and utilizing an often neglected sensation.
Food is a fantastic way to immerse your players and bring new cultural insights to your races. This is especially true if you subvert expectations. Maybe don’t have the elves eat only salad (looking at you, Hobbit movie). Think about where the race lives. What resources exist around them? In the Dragon Age franchise, a staple of dwarven diets are nugs (small piglike rabbit creatures living primarily underground). Something as simple as food can deeply enrich your worldbuilding and offer your players insights, allowing them to draw their own conclusions about your setting.
Cook’s utensils and skills
Now that I’ve whet your appetite, let’s talk about how your characters can use cook’s utensils. To begin, let’s define what’s contained in cook’s utensils, as defined in the rules.
“Cook’s utensils contain a metal pot, knives, forks, a stirring spoon, and a ladle.”
As for skills I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little biased in favor of cook’s utensils as a tool set so we’re going deep with this one. Also, there are spoilers for Critical Role campaign 2 under Arcana, so if you want to avoid that just skip reading about Arcana.
Animal Handling. Cook’s utensils would likely offer insight into how certain animals taste when prepared in certain ways, and it might also provide knowledge about foods certain creatures prefer or avoid, such as the myth that mice prefer cheese to peanut butter or cats actually can’t digest milk. It could also offer insight in how to present food to an animal or help you discern an animal’s favorite food.
Arcana. When it comes to Arcana there may very well be magical elements to certain foods. Proficiency in cook’s utensils might offer insight into certain magical foods or foods requiring magic to prepare. The dust of deliciousness used by Jester in Critical Role’s second campaign comes immediately to mind, here, as she used some magical sprinkles to get one over on a hag that had cursed Nott.
Deception. Proficiency in cook’s utensils might allow you to fudge information about food or, I don’t know, seduce someone with a cooking fetish? Look, I just wanna include as many possibilities as I can think of here, okay?
History. Okay, this one is actually listed in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Since history works to know cultural lore as well, proficiency in cook’s utensils would allow you to know about significant foods in a given culture. Things like latkes for Hanukkah, moon cakes during Chinese New Year and turkey for Thanksgiving come immediately to mind. Add a fantasy twist and you’ve got some development for your cultures and holidays!
Insight. Perhaps cook’s utensils would offer you ability to discern foods someone might especially enjoy or despise? Food allergies are also a thing, and noticing a lack of peanuts in a home located with a healthy peanut supply might also clue you in to such things.
Intimidation. Skill. With. Knives. And. Open. Flame. Need I say more?
Investigation. With proficiency in cook’s utensils, you would likely be able to tell if food was not prepared properly, if it was expired, if it were tampered with (i.e. poison), and you might also be able to discern the origin of trace amounts of food or what sort of creature had prepared or consumed a certain dish.
Medicine. XGtE offers an interesting twist here. While I would recommend certain foods might have medicinal properties (such as chicken soup or hot tea), it’s also stated you might use cook’s utensils to make medicine with a displeasing taste more palatable.
Nature. Knowledge of edible plants and animals is essential to any chef worth his salt. Thus, nature has a plethora of applications drawn from cook’s utensils. You might also know what plants and animals are normally toxic unless prepared properly, like puffer fish.
Perception. Every chef should have a developed palate, and tasting would definitely be augmented in a cook. Smelling, too.
Performance. Okay. Hear me out for this one. Ever been to one of those hibachi places where the chefs are throwing knives and twirling spatulas while simultaneously setting massive fires on the grill? These people are experts at performance with cook’s utensils. I even played a hibachi chef monk in a past Nerdarchy team game and he was a blast.
Persuasion. You can’t tell me presenting someone with a freshly cooked meal isn’t an easy in to win them over. I dare say the benefits of cook’s utensils are obvious.
Religion. Many religions hold certain foods as important or taboo, not to mention the aforementioned holidays aplenty with their own special cuisines. Cook’s utensils would definitely offer insight into these things.
Sleight of Hand. Slipping poison or allergens into someone’s food without their notice is much easier when you already know what you’re doing in the kitchen. You would likely also know how to concoct flavors to mask certain obvious signs of these elements.
Stealth. Offhand, I can’t necessarily think of a reason, per se, that someone would need to cook a whole meal silently, but I’ve learned to never say never with D&D. So, yeah. Cook’s utensils proficiency would definitely help you cook without being noticed.
Survival. With as obvious a name as Survival, I feel like this skill’s relation to the topic is pretty clear. You can stretch ingredients further than usual, make due with what you have and take a minimal amount of resources to craft something exponentially delicious.
When it comes to suggested activities for cook’s utensils, XGtE suggests that making a meals of various qualities is achievable, as well as spotting poison or impurities in food, as we’ve already mentioned.
What do you think?
Wow, this post blew by quickly! In case it wasn’t obvious, cook’s utensils is my favorite tool set in 5E D&D. My characters almost always possess this proficiency and I love sharing ideas for food in D&D. But I want to hear your thoughts. What do you think about cooking in D&D? Have you made a memorable character who used cook’s utensils to great effect? Tell us all about it in the comments!
We’re still going strong with our Tool Time segment, so come back next week for more, and make sure to return to our blog daily for more quality content! Until next time, stay nerdy!