On more than one occasion, I’ve dragged my laptop into the kitchen and awkwardly propped it up as I attempted to cook a decent meal from a how-to video or recipe. The results? Usually a sub-par meal and some spattering of sauces on my keyboard. So even though I’m not a big follower of the “Naked Chef,” Jamie Oliver, I was intrigued to see he had developed his own virtual cookbook app.
Sure, there are plenty of cooking apps available, but Oliver seems to have nailed this “20 Minute Meals” app with a variety of extremely helpful features, including videos, a shopping list, photos, and step-by-step note card directions for a variety of recipes. It’s, by far, the must inclusive cooking app—more like cooking sidekick—available in the App Store.
When you first open the app, you’re greeted by a short video of Oliver welcoming you to the app and explaining how to use it. The intro video definitely gives it that at-home, old school cookbook feel, even though you’re currently viewing the most advanced cookbook ever.
I admittedly don’t watch Oliver’s shows often and am not generally a fan of his recipes/dishes (picky eater, here). However, the man is a fierce media personality and knows what people need to get them out of the drive-thru and into the kitchen. So it’s fitting that this app lists his recipes—the meat of the app, if you’ll excuse my pun—in a simplistic, attractive, and user-friendly way.
Start by either viewing recipes by category (classic meat, easy pasta, gorgeous desserts) or using the search option to find a particular recipe. There are 50 recipes available, all of which Oliver created especially for the app. After you’ve browsed through a few recipes, you can also see a list of the recipes you’ve recently viewed.
Once you’ve opened a recipe, you can view the summary of the dish with a short quip about its deliciousness (and easy prep…it is “20 Minute Meals,” after all), a great photo of the nicely prepared dish, and a few how-to videos that will help you in your preparation of the meal. These videos don’t show Oliver making that specific dish; instead, they’re more general videos on things like “Chopping an Onion” or “Knife Skills.”
Within the recipe, you’ll also find the “You’ll Need” tab, which lists all of the ingredients needed for two people (this can also be changed to show what you’ll need for four people). It looks just like any traditional recipe listing you would find in a cookbook—definitely a nice touch to a simple feature. At the bottom of the ingredients list, you can also tap the option to “Add to Shopping List.”
The “Steps” tab is where the app really kicks everything into turbo mode. If you’re holding your iPhone in portrait position, you can scroll through the notecards that list the directions in a step-by-step fashion. It’s definitely much more of a beneficial experience if you rotate the iPhone to landscape mode, where the app becomes full screen. The notecards resemble ones of actual size, and you can see a photo that accompanies each step. And, as a fun little surprise, a sound byte of Oliver will randomly pop up with a step, guiding you through the recipe.
When you’ve found a recipe you want to try out, tap the “You’ll Need” tab in the recipe and tap the option to “Add to Shopping List.” The entire ingredients list is then saved in your “Shopping List” in the app that you can take with you to the grocery store. Worried about service being spotty inside of the store, with no access to your list? Not to worry. The app doesn’t require an Internet connection. It really IS like a virtual cookbook!
Even better, instead of wandering around the entire store looking for some strange ingredient, the shopping list can tell you what aisle or section you’ll find said ingredients in. This feature will sort your list by each area, so you can get everything you need from the dairy section before moving onto the bread aisle. Once you’ve picked up an ingredient, tap it to cross it off your list and move on.
Another part of the Shopping List feature I found helpful was the e-mail/share option. Many folks would likely use this type of app during a commute or a break in the day to decide what to make for dinner that night. But if they didn’t have time to run to the store for the ingredients, they could easily e-mail a spouse, child, roommate, etc., the list to run and grab the ingredients for them. Problem solved.
Lastly, the Shopping List also has a badge push notification that shows, both on the home page icon and the Shopping tab at the bottom of the app, how many ingredients you have left to pick up from a recipe. Seems like a cruel reminder of what you’re procrastinating on, but I suppose it was created for the greater good of home cooking.
More than an hour of video footage is included in the list of 18 videos included in the app (and made exclusively for the app, I might add). There aren’t a ton of features within this section of the app, but the videos themselves are enough to impress. Some are a quick three minutes, while others are extensive 10-minute videos of Oliver walking you through some of his basics of cooking a good meal. These videos are tacked onto recipes as they relate to them, similar to a “related videos” list in YouTube, such as “Cooking the Perfect Steak” (which is my personal favorite) included with a steak stir fry recipe. Not only did it make me crave a steak so badly that my mouth literally started to water, but it taught me some serious steak cooking tips that I will definitely attempt the next time I try not to burn my kitchen down.
Lastly, Oliver gives his suggestions on what essentials you need in your kitchen to build the perfect meal. He has two separate videos of him walking you through what essentials you need for your ingredients and also for your kitchen tools. Then, you can also view the essentials in the same list format that you can view your ingredients in a recipe app and add them to your shopping list. Major win, in my opinion. I could remember to get things for a recipe, but I would most likely forget to get the essential mustard or dressing, therefore killing the meal.
Recap & Conclusion
Released: Oct. 9, 2009
Average iTunes review rating: 4.5/5
Our grade: A+
+Shopping list available without the need for Internet connection
+Helpful step-by-step note cards, in the fashion of a recipe card
+Easily navigable features and recipe lists
- There aren’t more apps like this from other amazing chefs
It’s difficult to explain how finely executed this app is. I didn’t expect much from a cooking app, to be honest, but everything, from the food photography to the integrative shopping lists, is high quality and helpful in every way. The price might seem a little high for an application, but you have to think of it more as a price for a video cookbook than an app. It’s a completely reasonable price, and I love that it can be a permanent fixture on your iPhone, not needing the assistance of a wi-fi connection. Other developers looking to create interactive cooking apps need to follow the lead of the 20 Minute Meals app, for its practicality and usefulness. I may not be a big fan of Oliver’s ideas for pasta, but I love that he took the initiative to create the best cooking app available right now.