In a recent review titled Mind Watering: Revolutionizing iPad Cookbooks, I looked at how Kinetic Art is utilizing innovative features to create “a whole new way of cooking” with their Look & Cook app platform. Today I’d like to share with you an interview with Kinetic Art’s co-CEO, Oran Huberman, who tells us more about this Israeli-based startup and how they work with talented chefs and cooks to create iPad cookbooks for the future.
You refer to Kinetic Art as an Israeli startup company—who is involved in bringing Look & Cook apps to life?
Kinetic Art’s first product, Look & Cook, is the result of over three years of complex and enjoyable teamwork. The company’s hardcore team consists of its three founders: Ronen Mizrachi, the product manager who designed the platform; Dudu Mimran, the director of development and technology; and me, responsible for all content and production. Yael Raviv joined the team two years ago and runs our business development in New York. Besides us we have a small team of Android and iPhone developers as well as a content production group.
Look & Cook is one of the few cookbooks developed, designed, written and filmed especially for the iPad. When we started, there was hardly any other company anywhere in the world with experience in creating something like this, from whom we could learn. Look & Cook’s creation and production were quite an undertaking. Just as a comparison, a printed cookbook usually has between 70-150 photos. Look & Cook has more than a thousand pictures and videos, which were carefully selected from over ten thousand photographs and videos.
Luckily, we had an extraordinary content team: the brilliant chef Meir Adoni; the talented photographer Dan Perez; the stylist Amit Farber and our editor Na’ama Abramovich.
How long did it take to develop the Look & Cook platform? What was the process like?
It took us over two years to develop the platform (including content creation tools enabling us to create more and more cookbooks easily). I personally bought a few hundred printed cookbooks just to figure out how the industry’s best do it. We must have developed hundreds of different mockups of the platform before we got something we loved. Then there were many uncertainties about the technology. When we started to work on the platform, most content app developers (there were only a few) were developing in the native OS language. We decided to write everything in HTML5 to give ourselves greater flexibility later on. Writing in HTML5 made it easier to change the interface quickly and to adjust the platform to Android, for example.
Everyone cautioned us that it would be impossible to produce a graphically intensive interface written in HTML5 but our technology team managed to do the impossible. I know of very few apps written in HTML5 that run as smoothly as Look & Cook. Programmers who use the app have asked to see the code — they don’t believe us that it’s HTML5.
I’ve got a huge collection of printed cookbooks and would love to go digital, but just don’t get the same satisfaction from a computer screen. What do you think is key to converting print enthusiasts to iPad cookbooks?
I completely understand how you feel. In my opinion, flipping through a printed cookbook is an experience that no screen, not even the iPad, can replace. But the iPad can offer a whole set of other things that no other medium (including paper!) can:
• The iPad’s amazing resolution, together with the strong backlight, makes pictures of food look more tangible and exciting than any printed image.
• The iPad’s speakers are exceptional at conveying sounds of cooking, like a steak sizzling in the pan or French fries frying.
• The fact that the iPad has plenty of memory space opens up new possibilities, like photographing each dish’s entire cooking process.
• The fact that this portable screen can be safely brought into the kitchen and used as a cookbook in real time, just like a printed cookbook. A laptop or cell phone is not as convenient.
The iPad has, of course, many other advantages. During our tests, we discovered that many people have trouble operating the iPad while they are cooking because their hands are otherwise occupied, so we developed voice activation that uses the iPad microphone for hands-free operation. To help people with timing stages of cooking, we included timers within the recipes themselves. We made sure all the recipes were in full retina quality. I think ours is the only food app that’s done this.
Your first Look & Cook app, Mind Watering, featured inventive techniques and modern flavors from Chef Meir Adoni. Who are you planning on working with next?
After Apple’s billboard campaign featured Look & Cook, we received many requests from chefs and talented food bloggers who wanted to explore the possibility of making their own iPad book with us. We are currently producing our next book, which will be published soon, and we are working on some very cool books with top American, European and Israeli chefs. Our next product will include also a cookbooks store, which will allow users to buy and enjoy the different cookbooks from within the same app.
Can you give us an idea of how you work with clients to bring an app from idea to the App Store?
The first step in developing a book for the iPad is really no different than developing a regular book: it should result from one person’s passion, from the story he wants to tell. A true obsession is needed to get the ball rolling.
What follows is a long process to determine the exact concept and the right recipes, testing and editing them and working out the nitty-gritty details of the recipe’s every word. Then you have to say goodbye to your wife and kids (or to your dog) and be prepared to sit in the studio for a long time. Photography is the most fun and rewarding part of the process but also the most difficult. After a month and a half, more or less, there is a cooking app.
The knowledge we gained over the past two years definitely shortened the process. A printed cookbook usually takes one to two years to produce. We can do it in ten percent of the time, despite the fact that we use ten times the number of images.
You’ve created a digital cookbook app format with intentions to market it to content creators, how do you ensure each Look & Cook app is unique?
Ronen Mizrachi, who designed the platform, was originally a newspaper designer. In fact, in Israel he’s considered a real guru in print design. His specialty is to take paper, which is essentially the same in all-print media, and make it look and transmit something entirely different in different newspapers and magazines. Early on, we identified Ronen’s talent as one of our company’s greatest advantages.
We wanted to build a platform that could hold thousands of cookbooks and our system’s architecture was built to allow flexibility for the design of each book. We can easily control typography, color palette, icons, how things sit on the “page” and, of course, how we choose to present the content: in photography and styling. It’s not that every book can look different from the others, but that it must look different. Otherwise, what fun would it be?
How have you learned from the mistakes of others to create an app that’s ahead of the pack, providing users with enhanced functionality for using the iPad in the kitchen?
When we started, we wanted to create a product that not only looked good, but also was also truly useful. We found that most (cooking) errors stemmed from one of four reasons (and sometimes all four at the same time):
• The recipe wasn’t specific enough.
• There were no pictures clearly showing the required consistency of the dough or the sauce.
• The recipe required an unfamiliar technique or the recipe had too many steps.
We tried to create a full-proof method. Because our platform has no space limitations, every step is described in detail and can be displayed in a larger font that you cannot miss. Each step has up to four images to help the cook to see if the dish is progressing properly. When a specific technique is needed, we include a high-definition video to clearly demonstrate what to do. Most importantly: our recipes are broken down into small and simple steps. All you need is to look at the screen and do exactly what you see. Once you’ve started to cook with the app we hold your hand throughout the process until the desired result is reached.
I think this is the reason, more than the beautiful pictures, that people love the app. To quote one of the responses we received in the App Store: “After you use this app once it feels strange to go back to cooking blind.”
What do you want Look & Cook apps to be known for?
We want our cookbooks to give the user an enjoyable, stunning and inspiring food experience. When someone decides to cook a recipe from our app, we want him or her to get it right and delicious 100% of the time.
If you could work with any chef or cook to create a Look & Cook app (living or dead), who would it be?
It would be a cliché to say, but Julia Child. I think she would have done things with the iPad that we can’t even imagine.
It’s Only the Beginning
Thanks to Oran for so generously sharing the story behind Kinetic Art. It sounds like this is just the beginning when it comes to the future of iPad cookbooks, and I can’t wait to see what the team at Kinetic Art comes up with next. I’d like to close with a final quote from Oran,
Television became great when we disconnected it entirely from radio and we started to use the new medium itself. This is what we are trying to do with cookbooks. We want to celebrate the possibilities we have and create new ways to enjoy food.
Here’s to the iPad cookbook revolution! And if you’d like to get in touch with Oren, then you can send him an e-mail personally.