I'm not a professional chef, but I love to cook and serve up 30 plates of food each day. Like many amateur cooks, I struggle with recalling the differences between sauteing and braising and what makes a roux, a roux. That is why I was so excited to see The Professional Chef land on the iPad. Created by John Wiley & Sons and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the digital version of the chef's ultimate bible contains 1,200 pages filled with cooking information. There are 100 videos, 850 recipes, 175 figures, and 750 photographs of food. There's so much content packed into its 36 chapters, it's almost overwhelming, but in a good way.
The app uses Inkling, an interactive learning framework for the iPad, to organize and present its content. The app was designed as both a learning tool for professional chefs and a reference guide for amateurs. Besides its wealth of food information, The Professional Chef includes quizzes to measure your mastery of the content and a searchable glossary to help you brush up on your cooking terms. And if the glossary isn't enough, you can also access Google and Wikipedia from within the app. There's even a virtual notebook that's useful for storing bookmarks, highlights and other content you want to review.
The Professional Chef has a social component which includes a note-taking and discussion feature that lets you share your thoughts with others. These social features are great for chefs that want to share what they know or have discovered about the techniques in the book. They also fit in perfectly with a classroom scenario. Students can add notes and discussion topics to content within the book and then view responses left by the instructor and other students. You'll have to create an account to access the social portion of the learning network, but you can login using your email or Facebook account.
The interface is clean and very usable. You can tell the designers spent a lot of time organizing even the smallest details, like the navigation bar on the left which shows your relative location within the book and within a chapter. There's also an adjustable font size so you can pick one suitable for reading close up and another for when you are using the iPad book in the kitchen. This attention to detail makes using The Professional Chef a pleasurable experience.
What really sets this iPad book apart from others is its stunning content. The cooking and food information is very well organized into discrete chapters and each chapter is subdivided into individual topics. My favorite is the chapter on cooking eggs which is broken down into frying, poaching, scrambling, omelets and more. Each individual sub-section has a high-res picture of the topic, a comprehensive description of the food item and details on how to cook it.
Most sections also include a short video that demonstrates the cooking technique. The video isn't from your typical homegrown cooking show either; each one is a high quality production that makes the recipe or cooking technique look stunning. The video of the fried eggs will leave you wishing every meal was breakfast.
Best of all, the book covers more than just recipes. It contains cooking information and buying tips so you can learn how to identify the right type of food, select the freshest item and discover the best way to prepare it.
The 36-chapter Professional Chef costs a pricey $49.99, but you do get a wealth of cooking information for that money. Value-wise, I think it's worth it to get all that information packaged into one iPad app, but the casual chef who doesn't need all this information may not agree. Those who prefer not to buy the whole book can purchase individual chapters for $2.99 each, and the soup chapter (Chapter 14) is available for free.