I’ve had my eye on The Spoon Magazine for iPad for a while now. Each quarterly issue is released as a standalone app with a seasonal theme. For months I have hesitated before downloading this app. Why? My gut feared it would be all fluff and no substance. No one in the food world seemed to be talking about The Spoon or rating it in iTunes. When I came across the newly released The Spoon | Volume 6: It’s Time For Magic I couldn’t resist downloading. The app features 25 holiday recipes and the iTunes screen prints feature beautiful food photography, but the rest is a mystery.
Is The Spoon the best kept secret of cooking magazines or nothing to write home about? Keep reading to find out.
The app launches with music (Jingle Bell Rock) and a cookie animation. It’s a slow reveal, almost too slow, and then I remember these words from the iTunes description, “The Spoon was designed for slow consumption. Do not rush through the pages; just enjoy it slowly to be able to taste every bits of it like you would taste a good wine or an exquisite meal. If you just run through it you might miss some unforgettable moments.”
It’s a smart tactic. From the very start, The Spoon let me know it’s time to slow down and savor the season. I felt the urge to put the kettle on and snuggle up next to the fire with the app. I was curious and engaged, ready to see what was next. After the cookie animation the app ruined my buzz a bit by dumping me into a page of straight text. I found the Editor’s Letter font difficult to read, even though the story does add an unusual personal touch to the coldness of technology.
Next the app encouraged me to join The Spoon newsletter, which I found annoying since we’ve only just met (maybe try me at the end of the magazine). Finally I reached the first chapter. The first two screens minimally designed with instructions to tap to reveal the content. Instead of feeling engaged by the interactivity, I’m starting to feel burdened.
Finally I came across a beautiful photo of The Main Christmas Menu, a grand table set with festive roast turkey and sides. I think all the design and buildup is too much — it’s the gorgeous food photography that keeps users engaged, put that at the forefront. Each dish has a “tap” button to view the recipe, but it would be less cluttered if the app would just teach users how the app works once instead of saying it over and over. I got it.
In each section of the app there are two ways to browse the recipes: by tapping on dishes from the set table and by scrolling through each dish one at a time. Scrolling through each dish one screen at a time revealed animations, like the plate moving across the screen or slices of a pie disappearing one by one. Once the animation finished the app prompted me to swipe my finger on the picture, which was like a game reversing the action of the animation. I’m sure it’s intended to be whimsical and fun, but I didn’t find it interesting or entertaining, mostly over-designed and gimmicky.
To view the recipes I could either tap the dish or rotate the iPad from portrait to landscape for cook mode. I was disappointed to find there’s really not much of a difference between the two views. Using this app is like navigating a maze and I don’t understand why they offer so many wearisome options for viewing the same information. On the positive side, the recipes are simple and it’s easy to switch between U.S. and metric measurements.
The app continued along the same riff for a total of 5 chapters: Leftoveres, Low Carb Xmas, Cookie Classics and Xmas Sweets. Each chapter includes a thoughtful Christmas quote, like Roy L. Smith’s, He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” A lot of the dishes are somewhat exotic, and so it would be nice to have recipe introductions to explain ingredients and give a bit of backstory on dishes like the Sweet Potato Piadina or Spiced Blutwurst Stuffed Turkey. I had to Google “blutwurst” (it’s blood sausage, FYI).
I found the chapters somewhat random and struggled to identify with the themes — why a Low Carb Xmas? One chapter that seemed to bring everything together perfectly was the Cookie Classics. I loved it all, from the Charles Dickens Christmas quote to the food styling and photography to the intriguing mix of old and new world cookie recipes.
I’ve been pretty hard on The Spoon | Volume 6: It’s Time For Magic. On the positive side this app does have beautiful food photography and some creative Christmas cooking ideas. Dishes are simple and straightforward, which will appeal to novice cooks. It’s obvious the app creators have put a lot of care into the app, with thoughtful quotes and lots of animations. I’m just not in to so much fluff and think the app is over designed. It feels like they are trying too hard. As the saying goes, sometimes the simplest way is the best. The price point is very reasonable for what the app delivers and I do think most people will be inspired to try a couple of the recipes. I should have gone with my gut, because I just didn’t feel the magic with this issue of The Spoon.