In Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat promises that after reading her cookbook, you’ll use recipes like professional chefs do: “for the inspiration, context, and professional guidance they offer, rather than by following them to the letter.” By relying on instincts and our senses, she believes everyone can become competent and confident in the kitchen. She’s not alone in thinking traditional recipes help home cooks get from A to B without giving them the tools to map their own routes.
Food Network star Tyler Florence agrees, and has recently paired with Innit, a company that wants to digitize food and get home cooks the instinctive tools they need to be successful in the kitchen.
“The technique is where it’s all at.”
“We really started to come back to this same point over and over again, that recipes are beyond broken, that recipes don’t really work,” Florence told Digital Trends at the Smart Kitchen Summit, held this week in Seattle.
As someone who’s created thousands of recipes, Florence thinks they’re akin to using a paper map instead of GPS. The cooking app he’s working on with Innit will not only take into account your dietary preferences and the amount of time you have to make a meal on a Tuesday night, but will also give you some instruction on how to make your dinner come out the right way. The app is scheduled to be released later this year.
How will the Innit app differ from traditional recipe apps that also include video accompaniment? Florence says the team at Innit has been filming “micro-cooking content” for the past six months. With thousands of videos, users can select each aspect of the meal, and the algorithm will arrange them into a unique video with all the steps in appropriate order. There will be familiar categories, like entrees, light and healthy, and burgers. If you opt for burgers, you’ll get to choose each aspect — the bun, the patty, toppings, and what Florence calls the “over-the-top” feature, a fried egg, brown-sugar, or rosemary bacon. Your video will look different based on whether you’re making a beef or turkey burger. Though it won’t be a feature at launch, users will eventually be able to create their own recipes in the app as well.
“A lot of recipes feel kind of scary,” Florence said. “The mountain is scary, but if you break it up into smaller particles, you can walk through anything. You can understand what it means to sear and broil and roast and bake. The technique is where it’s all at.”
Once you have broiling down, he thinks you’ll have the confidence to apply it to other meals, too. The app can grow with you, taking the training wheels off as you master the fundamentals.
“We talked about limiting what you can associate with what,” said Innit Chief Operating Officer Josh Sigel. “Maybe in a beginner mode, we guardrail it so we only let you pick the right types of ingredients or meal combinations.”
The app experience will vary in other ways, too.
“For novices there’s a terrific, rich video path,” Chief Marketing Officer Susan Doherty said. “You don’t know anything? It’s going to show you. If you’re super advanced and you don’t need to know how to cut an onion, there’s a path for you too, and you’ll still reach the same result.”
Having step-by-step videos that show you exactly how to do basic kitchen tasks isn’t new. The Tasty app, for example, has lots of its trademark “hands and pans” videos for many parts of its recipes. However, you can’t pause or rewind these videos, though they do play on a loop. Hestan Cue ’s app — the smart induction burner and pan combo — also has a video for every step, one that is controllable. (The sound never seems to work for us for some reason.) Neither seems to offer what Innit is promising though: the ability to mix and match bite-sized snippets that fit themselves into just the right sequence. Whether or not you can learn to flip an omelet from a video as easily as you can learn to julienne a carrot remains to be seen.
Innit doesn’t just want to be an instructor, though. It wants its app to know everything about you. The “digitized food” piece isn’t quite in place yet, but eventually all aspects of meal planning will be possible from its app.
“This is built for that smart-kitchen relationship, because as soon as you pick your own custom meal track — what you want to make tonight — you can hit another button and your oven will turn on, and hit another button and your smart cooktop will hold the perfect temperature, and you can hit another button and have the groceries delivered to your house,” Florence said.
Innit plans to do all this through partnerships, so you could get your groceries from Amazon or via meal kit and the cooktop could be a Hestan Cue. The platform should be compatible with Alexa and Google Home, too. Where the company is in terms of these partnerships isn’t clear, though. Innit and Whirlpool were once partnered up, but have since parted ways.
Many smart kitchen device makers say their goal is to remove uncertainty, not creativity. Florence feels the same way about the app.
“I think when people feel really confident, from a technique standpoint, they can switch gears and pivot based on what they really have,” he said. “I think it’s going to unleash the power of creative cooks, where their ambition is at one place and their ability is at another, and I think it’s going to create equilibrium between them both.”