Anyone who has ever cooked is familiar with the format: a list of ingredients followed by a few paragraphs explaining what to do with them. It’s called a recipe. And until now, it was the only thing we had to explain, guide, pass on through generations and execute culinary creations.
But the truth is that food and cooking is about so much more than words on a page. It’s a visual, sensual, on-your-feet, fast-paced, hands-on experience. Basically, when you’re ‘in the weeds,’ (a restaurant term for overwhelmed) hands covered in flour, greasy with butter or raw chicken juice or whatever it is you’re trying to make, the last thing you feel like doing is flipping the page of a beautiful new cookbook and squinting your eyes to re-read an instruction that is simply easier to understand by watching. Yes, there are also cooking shows out there, but the edited time-lapsed nature of television programming does not lend itself to viewers following along easily in their home kitchens.
Thankfully, some clever entrepreneurs were aware of this and have developed apps that could change how (and who) cooks this holiday season. Imagine having a step-by-step cooking demonstration in your own kitchen at your fingertips — literally. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it because it’s here.
Forget those grease-splattered cookbook pages, the butter-smeared iPad screens or crusty laptop keyboards. SideChef, a new iPad app available for free from the App Store, is voice-enabled. In addition to organized shopping lists and a large library of chef and blogger-contributed recipes with pictures and videos to guide you through every step, SideChef gives you the option of uploading your own recipes, allowing for a social networking component. It's like your mom's old recipe exchanges for the modern age, but instead of flowery boxes of notecards, it's pictures, videos and an opportunity to create your own web presence. There is no question that founder Kevin Yu's Kickstarter-funded concept is revolutionary. However, it's not the only one on the market.
Drop is more than just a recipe app. It's also a baking scale. Yes, you can buy baking scales at Williams-Sonoma, but this one is different. It's perfect for those who love baked goods but hate baking as it requires little or no skill to use. Simply place a bowl on the scale and the app will guide you. Again, after each step just tap on the scale, avoiding damage to your iPad screen. But what makes Drop so clever is that the scale senses when you've added the appropriate amount of each ingredient, making measuring cups unnecessary. It then automatically takes you to the next step. Don't understand what “whisking” means? A video pops up to show exactly how it should look. Though you will take full credit for the perfect ginger spice cakes pulled from the oven thanks to Drop, it will feel as though they baked themselves.
Some critics could argue that such a measured approach to cooking discourages creativity. Drop CEO Ben Harris, who developed the product in his native Ireland, stressed that the app does allow for tweaking recipes and giving feedback. However, users are limited to using only the couple hundred recipes provided by the company's in-house pastry chef.
It might seem far-fetched to imagine all home cooks and bakers foregoing their cherished cookbooks for voice-activated instructions and weight censored scales, but a few decades ago, consumers may not have thought that soon everyone would have their own smart phone, and with them, the internet at their fingertips to make restaurant reservations, order groceries, video chat with friends and guide them to where they're going.
A lot can change in a few years, and for a pastime like cooking, which lends itself to tradition and the attempt to achieve authenticity, innovations in technology in this realm could be met with trepidation. But perhaps despite the inevitability of change, one can find comfort in knowing that one thing will always stay the same; everyone wants to eat delicious homemade food no matter how it came to be.