Review: ‘The Professional Chef’ Goes Digital

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in: Book Reviews

Today’s latest generation of chefs have never known a world without the Internet. They grew up with instant access to almost everything — from text messages with foodie friends to the smallest details about obscure ingredients that spark their culinary imagination. They might have a whisk or a chef’s knife in one hand, but they always have a smartphone in their pocket or an iPad in their bag.

With the ninth edition of “The Professional Chef,” a book long acknowledged as the bible for trained chefs and chefs-in-training, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) embarked on an entirely new way to spread the word among its digitally-savvy student body. The CIA turned its 1,212-page, seven-pound, latest edition of “The Professional Chef” into a digital version capable of going viral.

BOOK AND APP REVIEW


 

TITLE: "The Professional Chef"

AUTHOR: The Culinary Institute of America

This is the first edition of the core textbook to fully embrace the next paradigm of publishing. A comparison between the hardbound classic and its new digital edition, an app created for Apple’s iPad, reveals just how much digital publishing can add to an education in the kitchen. Design-wise, it looks like the app led the way. The printed book includes sidebars, like “Method at a Glance” and “Method in Detail,” that mirror the app in content and style, but lack the interactive advantages of the electronic version. Unlike many e-books, this app is not just a digital replica of the printed page. It is an incredibly-packed kitchen reference for professionals and home chefs that takes learning to a new level.

‘The Professional Chef’ App has added features

What makes this zero-ounce offspring so much weightier than its seven-pound parent? First off, “The Professional Chef” was never designed to be a cookbook that you would curl up with to pore over recipes, inspiring photos and witty repartee. Like Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, it was conceived and created as an encyclopedic tool providing detailed explanations of cooking methods, so employing the newest training techniques to inform the student just makes good sense. Second, there is nothing in the original that isn’t in the digital version, but there is plenty in the app that isn’t in the printed book.

The app follows the logical, progressive structure of its parent, with a chapter-by-chapter explanation of basic culinary techniques supported by hundreds of recipes showcasing the international world of cuisine. But this is where the commonalities end. As soon as you start to tap and swipe your way around the menus, you discover how easy it is to navigate through 1,200 pages of information, and how much more content and functionality is built into this interactive publishing platform.

The app version becomes the ultimate cross-reference tool for any chef, anywhere. Core recipes are embedded in derivative recipes — a pop-up box explains how to make Pastry Cream when it’s called for in the Diplomat Cream ingredient list.  Don’t remember what mise-en-place means? No bother — tap the word and the definition is revealed. Like a particular recipe well enough to bookmark it for the future? One tap. Want to embellish a classic with some changes of your own? Make a note of it right on the recipe card. You can even test your culinary mettle with an interactive quiz at the end of every chapter. In the unlikely event that you find any errors in any of these incredibly well-vetted recipes, you can make notes of those too.

Video training on chefs’ technique, recipes

Then there is the big plus: 105 video training segments on everything from the proper way to trim a strip loin to the technique for preparing fish en papillote. They are well-filmed shorts embedded in chapters on technique, in recipes and in their own compiled index. It’s as close as you can come to having a world-class chef instructor from the CIA at your beck and call.

Finally, the appendix covers every essential piece of information from weight, volume and temperature conversions to details like cooking ratios and times for legumes, pasta and grains. And the omnipresent search engine icon covers the rest. In other words, if there is a culinary question you have, the search engine will find the answer. Even if it has to go to the web with automatic links to Google and Wikipedia.

The Culinary Institute of America, based in Hyde Park, N.Y., is the industry’s top culinary school in the United States. It brought in Inkling, a creator of electronic textbooks, to manage the transition of its definitive reference text to 21st-century training.

Attention, chefs: A digital requirement

As the authors pointed out in the book’s introduction, “The new look in this new edition reflects the way we think about teaching cooking. We learn best when we understand not only how to do something, but why we should do it that way.” Nowhere is that credo more apparent than with the new iPad app. In fact, the CIA will make this tool as much a classroom requirement for its students in the future as a basic set of chef’s knives.

So, could this $50 app replace the CIA’s $115,000 tuition? Of course not, but in its digital ink, its search engine and its videos, it contains the backbone of the school’s curriculum. It moves a classic into its rightful place in the next generation of kitchens.


Zester Daily contributor Caroline J. Beck is a freelance food and wine writer and a strategic adviser to specialty food startups. Her articles and columns have appeared in such publications as the Santa Ynez Valley Journal, Michigan BLUE -- Michigan's Lakestyle Magazine, and The Olive Oil Source, the world's top-ranked olive oil-related website, where she has served as editor since 2007. Beck's website, www.carolinejbeck.com, provides common sense advice for enthusiastic entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the specialty foods business.

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Comments

Robin
on: 7/19/12
I have had the app for a couple of months now; it's great. The only problem I have with it is that you need to scale the down the recipes.
Caroline J. Beck
on: 7/19/12
Thanks for the comment, Robin. I found it to be an impressive app for professionals and at-home, with a few adjustments as you note.
LR
on: 7/20/12
This sounds like a great gift for all my friends that love to cook!
Josh
on: 7/31/12
When will this be available on Android?
Caroline J. Beck
on: 8/20/12
To answer your question, Josh, the digital publisher, inkling, might be able to give you some guidance about your question. I'm unaware of any plans to publish an Android version.
Benjamin
on: 1/2/13
One of the reviews on the app store claimed that a constant Internet connection is required. I live in Africa so I need to be able to view the book offline. Any clarity on this?
Caroline J. Beck
on: 1/4/13
Thanks for the question, Benjamin. From my own tests on an iPad, I found that all fixed image content of the book is available in its entirety except for the videos, which require data streaming. You can view the book as you would a printed copy, with the added functions of pop-up explanations, slide shows, notations, highlights and bookmarks. I hope this helps to clarify your question.

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