Are Recipes Really Dead? I Don't Think So.

CC BY 2.0. Lily Bellow

Chef Tyler Florence thinks smartphone-based "micro-cooking content" is the way of the future, but I think cookbooks will always have their place.

Chef Tyler Florence has given up on cookbooks. Despite having published nearly one cookbook a year over the past decade, Florence believes that attitudes toward cooking have shifted so significantly that cookbooks are no longer relevant. Instead, the future lies in apps providing "micro-cooking content." (We can't call them recipes.)

An article in the Washington Post called "'Recipes are dead': What the future of cooking might look like" reveals that Florence has signed on to what he calls "the kitchen equivalent of GPS," a startup called Innit that's building a "connected food platform." It will be a way to create customized menu plans:

"First, you input some basic information — whether you’re allergic to shellfish or on the Paleo Diet. Then you pick a style of dish, like pasta or a grain bowl, select from an array of ingredients, and Innit will configure a recipe — er, some micro-cooking content — for you. It’s launching with a couple of broad templates — a few swipes will transform a chicken taco to a beet-pineapple salsa lettuce wrap, for example — with more to come."

But Innit won't stop there, as ingredient-layering websites already exist. Innit features how-to videos (many of which are filmed by Florence). Eventually it wants to suggest meals based on genetic profile or how many steps a fitness tracker has measured. It would be able to order groceries, preheat the oven, track what's in the fridge and how soon it needs to be used. In other words, the app would become a digital sous-chef, always at your side.

I find it amusing to read about Innit's aspirations, as well as other strange cooking apps in the works (like Bridge Kitchen, which, according to the Post, uses audio cues like sizzling to know where you are in a recipe). But I do not agree with Florence that this is direction in which cooking is going. I do not think recipes are dead.

Look at the numbers. Cookbook sales were up 6 percent last year, which means people are still buying them, even if they're not using them as fully as chefs like Florence would like. (He complains that a person might use only 5 out of 125 recipes in one of his books.)

Nor do I think an app can turn a non-cook into a cook. Breaking down food prep to a highly-simplified, step-to-step, video-assisted process is unlikely to make people more comfortable in the kitchen. If anything, it removes them even further from the trial-and-error, the basic flavor combinations, and the fundamental techniques that make cooking easier and more pleasurable. An app will not change the fact that most people don't know how to find their way around a kitchen.

I like how one commenter put it:

"Technique and fundamentals cannot be ignored when it comes to cooking. No amount of smart technology or newfangled ways of creating recipes can turn someone into a gourmet if they don't understand how or why to brown a piece of meat or thicken a sauce. [Cookbooks] are very useful to see how the pros use certain flavors and techniques to create something, which you can later take to your own place. But that's a classic way of doing anything. Learn the rules so you can later break them."

Cooking apps strike me as inefficient. They require more time to input data than it takes me to look at what's in the pantry and fridge. Then I want to view all instructions on a single spread in front of me, not requiring swiping or tapping; and I don't want to run the risk of splattering hot oil on an expensive screen.

Florence describes printed recipes as being outdated like paper maps, but I've been known to argue that paper maps have their place -- just like cookbooks. A cookbook allows you to wander into unfamiliar territory; it encourages you to try new things when a picture or description is captivating. It takes you to "places you never knew existed," whereas as personalized meal app keeps you right in your comfort zone.

You can't beat cookbooks when it comes to plain old cooking fun. I'm on the side of Rux Martin, an editorial director with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who told the Post that recipe apps are "just a blip in consciousness." He believes cookbooks are all about pleasure -- a deep pleasure that cannot be found by swiping through an app, but never seems to diminish when flipping the pages of a recipe book, old or new.

I hope Florence's new venture goes well, but I suspect we'll see more cookbooks published before his career is over.