Recently my wife and I unearthed some very old film footage of her father, as a child age 4, cooking alongside his Italian grandmother as she tirelessly, and sometimes not all that gently, instructed him how to make the Italian dumplings known as gnocchi. The film, while grainy and lacking audio, is exceptionally endearing and captures a brief moment in time spent in a 1940s kitchen with a grandmother and her young apprentice. What it also provides is a somewhat extraordinary document of how old Nona’s, straight off the boat from Italy, made gnocchi a near century ago. For my money, this was far more powerful than cracking open a comparatively static recipe book.
And therein lies the issue. While cookbooks maintain much of their allure, consumer appeal, and bookshelf glory, and there remains indisputable value in the written recipe, alternate forms of media have proven to be more varied and useful when it comes to sharing and demonstrating recipes. Granted, 70-year-old film footage may not be the most effective means of teaching someone how to roll pasta dumplings, but between smart phone apps and the wealth of online videos out there, we have a small recipe revolution on our hands.
Scarlett Lindman, a NYC-based food writer, recently tackled this subject head-on for The Atlantic, in her piece titled, “YouTube: Better Than Cookbooks.” Lindman champions Youtube as, not just the source of an endless stream of perpetually amusing videos, but as a living archive or cache of videos for the ” gastronomically obsessed.” ” YouTube taps into our humanistic impulse to document—to film, to have, to preserve not just recipes but the people who create them.” Claims Lindman. ” It can give us a closer glimpse of a cook’s life, more intimate knowledge of her technique, and most importantly, access to her so we can benefit from it.”
Video Recipe for Tiramisu
Cutline Communications, a consumer technology PR company, has noted that “more Americans are turning to YouTube to learn how to prepare all kinds of foods,” and that there is a “growing trend of chefs posting cooking videos to the site.” Indeed, the volume of searches for the term “recipe” on YouTube has quadrupled since January 2008. In addition to all of the YouTube action, there are hundreds of iPhone and iPad apps that offer all manner of cooking help (with I am sure a generous helping of Android apps in the works), providing video clips, interactive recipes, and a myriad of functional tools to help you gather ingredients, sharpen technique, and just cook more deliciously and effectively.
These multi-media developments not only move us beyond the rather pedestrian cookbook, but help us (the home chef and enthusiastic amateur) to break our dependency from “foodie” television like The Food Network and the like. While cooking apps on the iPhone lack the tactile intimacy that a dog-eared recipe may offer, there is something exceptional about standing in your kitchen and watching someone a million miles away, or decades past make something like gnocchi with such expertise and generosity. In just warms the heart.
Are you a cookbook purist who doesn’t have the patience for video or finger-tapping apps in your kitchen? Or do you think this informal archive of cooking expertise is the best thing since sliced bread?