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A kitchen is operated by a dwarf with the cooking labor enabled. It is used to cook prepared meals and render fat from butchered animals into tallow. Cooking meals applies a quality modifier to each ingredient, which drastically increases the food's value (up to 100×). Cooked meals count as each of their ingredients for the purpose of satisfying your dwarves' preferences, increasing the likelihood of happy thoughts while eating. Finally, cooking spoilable foods such as meat, fish, and plants will deter rot, but any seeds from cooked plants are lost.
Types of meals
There are three different types of food to be cooked:
- An Easy meal uses two ingredients and will result in biscuits.
- A Fine meal uses three ingredients and will result in stews.
- A Lavish meal uses four ingredients and will result in roasts.
Lavish meals result in larger stacks of higher-value food. They take a bit longer to produce and result in less experience gained for your cook per ingredient. With a greater variety of materials in the prepared meal, there is a higher probability a dwarf will get something they like, giving the eater a happy thought.
Easy meals will give more experience per ingredient and result in twice as much hauling after cooking.
Using liquid ingredients
At least one stack going into a prepared meal must be a solid item - if you have only booze, milk, and syrup, your cooking jobs will get canceled. However, a single plump helmet can be cooked with ten dwarven wine, ten dwarven milk, and ten dwarven syrup, to make 31 +Plump Helmet Roast+ without issue.
What to cook
You may want to adjust what your dwarves are allowed to cook. For example, your dwarves may happily cook away all the seeds you need for planting, or use all your booze as ingredients, a good way to create fun in the early stages of the fortress. Additionally, cooks seem to prefer some of the worst ingredients (single units of low-value materials like tallow). To suppress the cooking of certain items (such as booze, seeds or tallow) go to the status screen (z key) and then go to Kitchen to toggle (red is forbid). Every cookable and/or brewable item in your fortress will be listed. Once you allow or forbid the cooking or brewing of some kind of product, it will be used (or not) accordingly. Note that any cooking jobs in progress will be canceled if you disallow one of the cook's chosen ingredients.
Cooking with alcohol usually results in large stacks of prepared meals, because alcohol typically has large stack sizes. It is assumed that since all dwarves have a preference for at least one type of alcohol, cooking with alcohol improves the chance of happy thoughts from eating. Of course, you then need to ensure that you have enough alcohol left for your dwarves to drink; cooked alcohol does not count as drink.
One (relatively safe) method to include a limited amount of alcohol in your meals is to create a small (one-or-two tile) food stockpile next to your kitchen that only allows types of alcohol that your fortress has in large quantity, and set it to "take" from your larger drink stockpile and "give" to your kitchen(s). You can then use work orders to limit the number of prepared meals that will be created to ensure this stock is not itself rapidly drained by experienced cooks.
Ideally, you want to combine four different ingredients in each meal to maximize the chance of a dwarf experiencing a happy thought due to a preference. Unfortunately, when left up to your cook, you'll likely end up with an endless string of tallow roasts. To enforce variety, you can create a series of single-tile, barrel-less "feeder" stockpiles, each of which allows a different type of (cookable) food, all set to "give" to your kitchen.
Individual types of prepared meals are not listed in the middle column or right column of the stockpile menu for the Food category. The switch for allowing or banning prepared meals in a stockpile is displayed underneath the right column and toggled by pressing the u key.
The size of a prepared food stack varies according to the sum of all ingredient stacks; with large input stacks your kitchen will create a stack of prepared meals that is too big to fit into a barrel or pot (capacity 60). If you want to designate a stockpile as the destination for your kitchen's output, be sure that the number of barrels allowed in the stockpile is lower than the number of squares in the stockpile. That way there will be a few non-barrel squares for your haulers to deposit overly large stacks of prepared meals. Given that food left in the open will attract flies, causing unhappiness in dwarves who encounter them, it may be best to store prepared meals in an area of less traffic than the rest of a food stockpile. You can also "break" large stacks into smaller stacks (for a fee) by trading them to a caravan and then purchasing them back in smaller stacks.
Be aware that food that is not properly stored in a stockpile rots quite fast. Rotting is the worst possible fate for a masterfully prepared meal. The chef would have every right to be angry about it, since all of his effort spent preparing the meal literally went to waste. Prepared meals can also trigger masterwork destruction if they are eaten by vermin.
Prepared meals are excellent for trade since they are high-value, renewable/sustainable, easily transported, and easily sub-divided. A high-quality prepared meal stack can surpass all but artifact, adamantine, and heavily decorated items in total value.
Even a novice cook will greatly increase the value of raw ingredients. For example, cooking 10 plump helmets (total value 40) in a "Lavish Meal" will produce a stack of plump helmet roast with minimum value of 260. A modest cooking skill can easily double that value, while a legendary cook is theoretically capable of producing a total value of 3120, a 78x increase over the raw ingredients.
Because of the way meal value is calculated, cooking large stacks of common ingredients with small stacks of high-value ingredients results in a large stack of high-value meals. As an example, cooking three single unit stacks of whip vine flour with a stack of 7 plump helmets yields a theoretical maximum value of 10,680 from a raw ingredient value of 103.
The quality symbols shown in the name of a meal reflect the highest quality involved in its making, looking at the overall preparation as well as the mincing of each ingredient. With up to five jobs involved, monetary values of apparently same-quality meals can vary a lot, and a lower-quality meal can be more valuable than a higher-quality meal cooked from the same ingredients.
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