Digital Cookery

NPR's Morning Edition just ran heartwarming but sadly flawed piece about how the cookbook "might be safe from the digital revolution." Sorry, cookbooks, they shouldn't have gotten your hopes up like that. The piece is hung up on two reasons why apps & mobile devices could never work in the kitchen: first, the "sticky fingers/expensive device" argument, second, the "apps aren't exactly like books" argument.  From the opening of the segment:

It's hard to imagine how the Web could replicate a cookbook's well-organized recipes or enticing illustrations

Actually, I don't think it's very hard to imagine that at all.

"People are very busy," she says. "They're maybe on the bus thinking, 'What am I going to have for dinner tonight? I've got to go to a shop and get it.' [The app is there] to help you shop."


What it's least useful for is in the kitchen," she adds. "You don't want a phone or any similar device right where you are spluttering with the pan."

No! Ten years ago, a device with the firepower of today's smartphones would have been the size of a ham, and would have cost as much as a gallon of extra fine black truffle oil. Technology evolves. It's easy to imagine, a few years from now, a device that combines all the functionality of an iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab into a device that's even more spaghetti sauce-proof than any book, and cheap enough to be your third, fourth, or fifth networked device. The piece continues:

"I think there's an inherent flaw in thousands or tens of thousands of individual cookbooks as apps," he says. "And the flaw is that the more you have the harder it is to use them."

"And as it's set up now, you would probably need to search each app individually, according to whatever criteria that app had. And in fact, most of the recipes in those apps wouldn't have been tagged with any of those terms."

The segment goes on to theorize about a "super app" wherein celebrity chefs could get together to sell their recipes for a small fee. Fuhgeddaboudit. Just as the proliferation of bloggers has diluted the power of the newspaper columnist, anybody looking to sell a recipe on the internet is going to drown in competition from regular, everyday cooks sharing delicious recipes of their own. And rather than isolating themselves in "tens of thousands" of individual cookbook apps, a platform will emerge to give cooks an easy, free space to find, share, and add their own recipes.

So what do I think is going to happen? Within the next decade (if not sooner), you'll have a specialized device in your kitchen-- smudgeproof, splashproof, burnproof-- that talks with your other devices (so the recipe you find on your smartphone on the way home appears on the screen in your kitchen),  and runs an elegant piece of software integrating the recipe with video and a social layer that allows you to find recipes recommended by friends and share tips back with them. Cool, right? Until that day, I'll have to go back to putting my iPad in a Ziploc bag, and going that route...