From tablet to table

June 17, 2012

A digital native, he sought information the way he always does, electronically. He wanted chocolate cake so he downloaded the Allrecipes app to my iPad so he could make one.

At first, I was amused by how inspiring a sugar addiction could be. But within days, his method for finding his way around the kitchen had transformed the way I cook. In fact, it transformed how we eat.

It started slowly. I was looking for inspiration and clicked the “Inspire Me” button in that Allrecipes app. An hour later, I’d moved on to my favorite food blogs. I enjoy exploring the minds of other cooks at NoRecipes.com, Smitten Kitchen, Chez Pim, 101 Cookbooks, and others. But food blogs, while inspiring, are not great cooking references.

So I installed ChefTap on my Android tablet. This app brilliantly parses a Web site looking for a recipe. When it finds one, it stores it to the tablet and breaks it down into steps. When it has worked its magic, I have a clickable tutorial – as if that recipe writer was there in the kitchen with me – to help me as I cook.

At this point, I moved all the cookbooks out of the kitchen. I had moved on. And I’m not the only one who has. Since the iPad’s launch, experts have hailed the potential of the tablet in the kitchen.

But with the availability of apps that do much more  — video and animation that bring experts into your kitchen — than a cookbook ever could, cooking apps are selling well while cookbooks are suffering. And a Google survey found, not surprisingly, that the kitchen is in the top three when it asked people where they use their tablet.

I have long used the Internet for culinary inspiration. But the tablet lets me bring the process into the pantry as I check for ingredients. I can hand a video to my daughter so she can gather ingredients while I get meat out of the freezer. It is a great equalizer and has transformed the process from one I do alone to one that happens while we – now a family of cooks — hang around the kitchen hungering for a meal.

Recently, for example, I had a craving for Larb Gai, a spicy ground Thai chicken salad. Suggesting this dish to my American teens would have previously sent them skittering. And I had no idea how to make it. But I quickly solved both problems with the ImportFoods app on the iPad where I found not only a recipe – complete with photo instructions – but also a video of the dish being prepared by a Thai street vendor in Bangkok.

I passed the video around to whet our appetites. I figured if a Thai street chef could make it in a kitchen she strapped to a motorcycle, I could do it from a fully equipped kitchen. And my teens were not only on board for eating it, they wanted to help make it.

It required a lot of cutting and chopping so I pulled up renowned chef Jamie Oliver on his iPad app and let him teach them to handle a knife properly while I ground the chicken. An hour later, we were all enjoying a spicy meal and planning a family visit to Thailand.

Before my son downloaded that app, I was tired of cooking by the end of the week. Friday had become restaurant night. But these days, Friday is the day we attempt dishes we didn’t have time for midweek. I pull up The Photo Cookbook for a visual lesson in something we once only ordered out. Or we watch a cooking class from one of the chefs at Appetites and tackle something new.

If we really want to “go to school” we might go deep into a subject with the visual textbook The Professional Chef from the Culinary Institute on the Inkling app. My husband even joins us – though he usually tends bar.

We get out the deep fryer. We attempt egg rolls. We make won ton. We whip up fancy deserts. We sip blended drinks. My daughter has a signature green bean dish. My son can pan fry a perfect steak. Sometimes we drop $3 or $5 on a new app, a collection of recipes to flesh out one of these apps, or a book chapter. But it’s never more than we would have spent on a cocktail in a restaurant.

It took me years to become a competent cook. But, from where I sit, it looks as if my kids will accomplish it before they graduate high school. These days, we enjoy preparing a meal together just as much as we enjoy watching a movie together. And we usually do it with a tablet at hand.

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