This past week I found myself struggling with a technology that people have predicted is “just around the corner” for the past fifteen years.1 While it has some limited usefulness, it will probably remain out of reach despite the wishes of its enthusiasts.
At the same time it struck me that the cookbook is something that is undergoing enormous change. A few widely available technologies - iPads and apps - have created a platform for a very inexpensive and useful sort of amateur education.
We probably have several hundred cookbooks. In the past year I’ve been buying some cooking applications for my iPhone and Sukie’s iPad. The genre is still developing. Mark Bittman has three applications that are not much more than conversions of his excellent existing books into searchable format that fits well on the iPhone’s screen. They are extremely useful when I’m walking through the market and see some outstanding produce that is in need of inspiration. I can quickly find recipes and pick up other ingredients while I’m at the store. They are also cheap at about a quarter the price of his physical books. More useful and less expensive is a good combination. Others have discovered this and his apps are in the million sales range. Not bad for repurposing existing content. It is a shame he doesn’t own the rights to his excellent The Minimalist series. He created dozens of excellent videos that would be fantastic in the kitchen on an iPad. The New York Times is missing an opportunity by not creating an app that would put this series where it is useful. I'm hoping Mark is creating new video content on his own as he is a great teacher.
Mario Batali's app goes a bit further ... He has a few recipes and the scope is much more limited than Mark Bittman's apps, but he has some polished videos showing technique. It is aimed at the beginning cook, but is better than any television cooking show I’ve seen as it is usable in the kitchen and searchable - plus, like Bittman’s, you can use it for inspiration.
The genre is still developing and cooking schools are filling a need - The Culinary Institute of America has a fine $50 app called the Professional Chef that teaches some series technique with well produced videos. It and an iPad may teach you much more than cooking lessons for the same price. You can also buy it in smaller bits - something useful to me as I don't eat meat.
I’m aware of several very interesting app projects underway - connections to other cooks and authors are being investigated and applications along with applications that learn your interests and abilities. Some have built in timers and recipe conversion calculators. You can dream up a lot of other possibilities and many experiments are underway. I expect dramatic change in the next year.
This is a type of book that just works better on a tablet or phone. Some are going to be better for carrying around in the store and others - particularly those with video instruction - are going to be better in the kitchen.
A seriously good personal chef told me she has converted a few hundred of her recipes to pdf and has them, along with photos of many, on her iPad. She also can easily calculate nutrition labels for what she makes using an inkjet printer in her truck for the final label. She said it has fundamentally changed how she interacts with clients and has improved her business. She's telling home cooks the two most important tools they should buy are a good chef's knife and an iPad.
Several do-it-yourself activities are more practical on an iPad than in printed form. Some applications are appearing for home repair, dress making, crafts, photography, and probably much more. For a modest amount of money any expert in some DIY field can contract with an app writer and a videographer and have a product. There will probably be explosive growth.
At this point in time apps on tablets make more sense than direct Internet connections due to connectivity issues - plus there is a well established market. This is a great example of a major change in education.
Inexpensive and effective ongoing education for the motivated amateur. How great is that?
1 3d printing... grrrr