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What would you like to do?
Are recipes hard to follow?

For context, I am building an open source recipe site that addresses the issues that I tend to find people having when attempting a recipe. I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this topic!

Two years ago, I was using canned chili and soylent as input to my biological computer (ie. I ate food, I didn't make food). Once I was exposed to resources like The Food Lab and SFAH, like many of you here, my life changed. I was repulsed by dishes that were not treated with care, and my mind's eye was opened to this new state of being. Chicken that didn't feel like rubber, eggs that weren't stink bombs, salad that I would actually look forward to eating. I evangelized The Food Lab to my friends and family, I bought them the book and delivered it to them, I did everything short of going to their door and asking "Do you have 10 minutes to talk about our Lord and Savior Kenji Lopez-Alt?". But there was no crispy oven potatoes made, or dead simple spatchcock chicken. Why wouldn't people read this damn book?

I realized I was expecting people to read a textbook written about cooking. Cookbooks, as they traditionally are, aren't something that you read, you follow the recipes on their pages. Reading from a good cookbook will give you directions for different techniques and shortcuts, but there is not very much explanation of why you do something. Rarely you will find directions for how to recover from a failed step, which is often critical for someone's moral for attempting to cook again.

Watching people cook is something that I have realized encourages me a lot to go to the kitchen and cook. On YouTube, Joshua WeissmanAdam RaguseaKenji Lopez-AltBinging with BabishAmerica's Test KitchenChefSteps and many others make well produced, engaging and educational content that bring excitement to the kitchen. The videos you see on instagram, tik tok, facebook, usually have too quick of cuts and insufficient playback abilities to be able to follow along. Videos are great when you have time, but often I find myself on ATK, serious eats, or epicurious the vast majority of the time since I know they are going to have a recipe for the thing that I want to cook that is well researched and written. When you know what you are doing, you really only want to see what ingredients are involved and then how to combine them together with the cooking techniques you already know how to do.

It is my dream to give someone a resource that encourages them to cook and when things aren't going as expected, support and educate the chef making the recipe to adapt. Meaningful kitchen hacks should be included in every recipe, regardless of where the recipe came from. If it is the first time someone is attempting to flip a pancake, a video of someone guiding them through the process would give someone the confidence needed to make that decisive maneuver. Don't have buttermilk? What about milk and lemon juice? Distilling recipes into their functional components opens the door for the possibilities that already exist in someone's kitchen. As of writing this, my roasted chicken wasn't getting crispy so I turned on the broiler. If I had followed the recipe to a T, and took it out after 40 minutes, it would have been less than optimal. Is a recipe writer going to include this intuitive step for every recipe that involves getting skin crispy?

I am not sure what it would look like to make a recipe more accessible to people, but I have been doing research into what it could be. Here is a mind dump of where my brain has been at

  • For starters, information about ingredients and substitutions such as that found on The Cook's Thesaurus (first published to in 1996 and last published in 2006) should be referred to when someone is making a recipe when they are told to use an ingredient they haven't used before, or don't have. It blows my mind that I have only ever seen a single link to this site.

  • I really like the work that Yummly is doing with their Pro subscription. Their follow along recipes have a video for every step and ingredients needed.

  • Similar to Yummly, the Chef IQ Pressure Cooker videos integrate with their app and let you follow along with your own pressure cooker. I really like that the environment in the video and your own setup matches 1 to 1. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to recommend this product, the one that I owned would shut off seemingly randomly. If this device were more reliable, I would recommend that everyone, who can afford it, own one.

  • It baffles me that more people don't know about sous vide. I was skeptical at first about it, but it took one effortless steak to convince me. What is going on with that? Can we not pry the crockpot out of people's hands? Also it seems that people severely under use their pressure cookers (unless your eyes have been open, then your are an Instant Pot fiend). And for space constrained environments, a portable induction burner is indispensable. I really, really would like to push people to use technology that would make their cooking more fool-proof.

  • Frequently suggested by engineers, coincidentally, a recipe can be represented with a GANTT chart like the ones found on: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/.

  • There is an interesting conversation on HackerNews about this.

  • I really like this visualization on Epicurious for making cocktails based on what ingredients you have on hand.

  • I found this visualization for the steps in recipes to be pretty interesting. It groups similar recipes together using ML.

  • There have been a couple of research papers I have seen that discuss the possibility of turning recipes into finite state machines which would open up the door to being able to do things concurrently. https://arxiv.org/pdf/2011.05039.pdfhttps://www.researchgate.net/figure/Recipe-state-transition-diagram_fig1_242146263

The layout of a recipe is really only the tip of the iceberg in my head, but for scope creep reasons I am focused on this for now ;) CSAs and farmers markets are grossly under utilized. Putting the power of technology in the hands of farmers would disrupt distribution chain monopolies taking home their hard earned money. Cooking with local, seasonal foods saves energy and makes food taste better. Heck, I have a hydroponic garden in my closet growing tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs. I would love to have that integrated into my recipe site: "Step 1 Plant your lettuce seed Step 2 In a month, harvest your lettuce Step 3 Enjoy your salad".

If you made it this far, I appreciate you coming to my TED talk :)

If you are interesting in working on this with me, I am looking for people to help me develop the site and/or find content to put into the site, whether that is recipes, pictures of completed recipes, images for ingredients, ingredient substitutions, and anything else you think deserves to be on a recipe site. I have put together a demo on my site which shows where I am at with figuring this out.

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