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Ditching the Cookbook: Streaming Your Way to Dinner

Ditching the Cookbook: Streaming Your Way to Dinner

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.

Making Gnocchi

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?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


+ add your own
8:36PM PST on Dec 31, 2010


7:57AM PST on Dec 28, 2010

I love online recipes but there is just something about having a book. Not to mention I hate bringing my laptop in the kitchen

11:42PM PST on Dec 16, 2010

i used to love to cook and learned many greek recipes for main dishes and pastries from my aunts....i can still remember the wonderful smells from their kitchens....and the one thing i learned about every greek recipe is that there was always something that needed to be shown which couldn't be included in the printed made no sense until you saw how the "chef" actually did it...then it made sense.....many complex recipes are like this.....handing down the recipes through the generation, as well as the process was part of our family tradition...all of us learned to cook with our "elders" was great fun and such a close bonding experience with our aunts.....

3:28PM PST on Dec 15, 2010

I find it SO much faster to find recipes online than to page through cookbooks. But I too refuse to give them up.
Maybe we need a clear plastic laptop cover to protect our machines in the kitchen. Inventors?

1:30AM PST on Dec 15, 2010

I have taken to finding recipes online and copying them in my OneNote, a wonderful program that is underutilized on most updated Microsoft Computers. That way I can have a picture of the finished dish, ingredient list, and cooking instructions all on the same "page" of my computer cookbook. I have divided my cookbook into types of meals (desserts, brunch, snacks, beverages, etc.). That way, if a recipe doesn't work, or I decide that I simply hate it, all I have to do is delete instead of tearing a page out of my lovely heirloom cookbook. If a recipe goes well, then I transfer the data by hand. It is silly not to use technology to our benefit in all realms of life.

10:36PM PST on Dec 14, 2010

Hands down, I think it's the best thing since slices bread. Nevertheless, I'm not ditching my cookbooks. I like the inspiration of the photographs.

7:35PM PST on Dec 14, 2010


7:09PM PST on Dec 14, 2010

My husband believes that if you need to follow a recipe then you are not really practicing culinary arts. He believes that a person should be natural at spicing etc. Everyone is different I guess.

4:04PM PST on Dec 14, 2010

Not a good idea to cook with your computer in the kitchen. All the grease in the air and other by-products of cooking (including food-covered hands) are absolutely wonderful for gumming up the keyboard, clogging mice and choking up the fans on your hard drive. Computers are not designed for a kitchen environoment.

Add in my personal take that I don't want to have to constantly run the vid back to keep it synchronized with what I'm doing. I'll stick with printed recipes.

Of course, I am inputting my recipes into my computer for sharing... Hopefully, they'll print them out rather than taking their computer into the kitchen to gum it up.

4:03PM PST on Dec 14, 2010

I do it and have enjoyed it! Thanks!

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