In truth, the iPad was really made with one thing in mind, wasn’t it? That’s right – recipes.
I suspect that wasn’t the first thing that sprang into your mind, but it would be fair to say that, as a device, the iPad is perfect for culinary education. You can access as many recipes as you like, get information on ingredients, and browse suggestions for recipes to try.
Or, at least, that should be the case. Unfortunately, many food apps feel like cash-ins, simply providing a vaguely more interactive version of the over-priced hardback books already available.
It would seem that legendary restaurateur Alain Ducasse and his team have set out to do something different with their app, My Culinary Encyclopedia. But does this particular entrant to the food App Store charts cut the mustard?
How It Looks
Open My Culinary Encyclopedia, and, instantly, the food leaps out of the screen at you. The high quality photography, which has clearly been commissioned specially for this app, makes the dishes look spectacular – feasts for the eyes.
The interface itself exudes quality. It is dark, understated and sleek, providing the perfect backdrop to those mouth-watering photos.
This app is also extremely easy to navigate. The main menu is split into five tabs – Recipes (full-blown dishes), Basics (individual foodstuffs), Ingredients, Techniques and Utensils. The lists of individual recipes and videos are presented as a long, beautiful, horizontal line of captioned images, but should you need to find something in a hurry, a permanently available search bar is always at the top-right of the screen.
Let’s Get Cooking
When you can tear yourself away from the mouth-watering pictures of the food, and actually get down to the business of cooking, you’ll find plenty of ideas to get started on.
Recipes are sorted into a number of groups, but rather than splitting them only by their geographical heritage or their ingredients, My Culinary Encyclopedia goes for the less logical, but more human-like approach of mixing these groups together. For example, you can choose from (among others) Mediterranean, Desserts, or Sea, all from the same menu.
Tapping on a recipe provides you with a brief description of it, but peeping at you on the right edge of the screen is the list of ingredients. Should you be impressed enough with the dish to want to prepare it, you simply swipe the ingredients into full view. For ease of use in a kitchen environment, My Culinary Encyclopedia offers the ability to adjust the text size, and it also offers the opportunity to Mail or Message the recipe to your friends.
While you’re viewing the ingredients for a dish, the preparation instructions move into the edge-of-the-screen peeping position. Swipe the instructions across, and you’ll find that they are easy to follow, and filled with helpful links. Words like “drain,” “peas” and “mixing bowl” are underlined, and tapping on them takes you through to further information, or to an instructional video.
I would say that, in total, the Recipes experience in My Culinary Encyclopedia can be described as satisfactory. If you put to one side the in-context information links, My Culinary Encyclopedia feels very much like a glossy cookbook. That’s fine – that’s how most people get their gourmet fix – but for an app priced at $33.99, I was expecting a little more.
If you are looking for something a little less ambitious than a whole dish, you’ll want to head to My Culinary Encyclopedia‘s Basics section.
Everything from chestnut flour pasta dough to chocolate cookies can be found within the Basics section, although sadly, there is no Recipes-style sub-menu to be found here – you just have to scroll to find what you’re looking for.
As with Recipes, Basics are delivered with their ingredients and preparation instructions, but each of the Basics also sports an instructional video. These videos contain no speech, but they give us a “look over the shoulder” of a chef preparing the dish in question.
These videos, like most other elements of this app, are beautifully made, providing a clear view of the techniques, whilst remaining to the point in terms of play length.
Information at Your Fingertips
The area in which My Culinary Encyclopedia seems to shine the most is with the Ingredients database. The catalogue is impressive, and every ingredient has been captured as a 360º image, meaning you are free to inspect unknown ingredients at your leisure. Each ingredient is also accompanied by a considerable written description, which includes information on its anatomy and history, as well as its culinary uses.
My Culinary Encyclopedia also contains two further guides, labelled Techniques and Utensils. Techniques are delivered in the customary video format, and examples include the tempering of chocolate, and the lining of a tart case.
Most of the items listed within the Utensils guide are the very basics of any kitchen, but each item’s page holds nothing more than a paragraph-length description – again, it feels like they could have added more here.
Possibly the neatest feature of all in My Culinary Encyclopedia can be found at the bottom of the screen.
While viewing any item in My Culinary Encyclopedia‘s catalogue, you can tap the + button to add the item to the area known as your Pass; items in the Pass remain visible and tappable at all times, meaning they can then be retrieved with ease.
Groups of items can also be saved for later use in the Chef’s Office. This can be accessed by dragging it up from the bottom of the screen, and within this drawer you can save multiple notebooks – ideal for collecting everything relating to a particular recipe, for instance.
There is no doubt that My Culinary Encyclopedia is beautiful to look at and smooth in operation, and credit must go to the developer. That said, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that My Culinary Encyclopedia is more of an interactive cookbook than a fully-fledged app. Whilst the links within Recipes are extremely useful, and the Techniques videos are very much worth a watch, the moderate size of the Recipes list, and the inability to add to it are both factors which restrict the longer-term value of this app.
Ultimately, however, My Culinary Encyclopedia is a product that foodies will enjoy. Taking into account the ongoing usefulness of the Techniques videos and Ingredients catalogue, I feel that My Culinary Encyclopedia is a worthwhile, if expensive, purchase for anyone wishing to release their inner chef.