Funny Business with Jane Wells

A new cooking app that works like your car's GPS

New cooking app more like kitchen GPS

Does the idea of holiday cooking have you feeling sliced and diced?

There's an app for that.

SideChef is a new app that talks you through each step of a recipe using audio commands and pictures. There are even short tutorials in case you don't know how to mince garlic or toss a salad. Yes, it's that basic. Naturally, it was created by a man. (Oh yeah, I'm going there.)

"SideChef is very similar to how GPS works," said creator Kevin Yu. "GPS helps you get to a location by giving you lots of step-by-step instructions."

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Yu is a former game developer who worked on World of Warcraft for Activision Blizzard before striking out on his own. One Valentine's Day, he tried to whip up a three-course meal for his sweetheart.

"I set up my computer, had YouTube running at the same time, and I was trying to open all these things and, like, cooking, throwing in ingredients." The result? "Honestly, it was a big mess."

SideChef app
Source: SideChef

Yu said he realized many mistakes in the kitchen "are simple mistakes," and he thought there might be a business opportunity. While there are hundreds of cooking apps, he couldn't find any that walked him through each part of the cooking process with pictures and audio cues. SideChef was born.

"We wanted to reinvent the cooking process," he said. "We wanted to break down these text-based recipes into smaller parts."

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The app launched two months ago with $150,000 in funding, including some from a Kickstarter campaign. Yu hired food bloggers such as Michelle Wagner of The Curious Fig to translate their own recipes into the new format.

"You really have to be mindful of your methodology when you're breaking it down step by step, and you're matching a picture with each step," Wagner said inside a test kitchen at the Surfas Culinary District in Culver City, California. "You think even more deeply about what your recipes are really demonstrating."

Currently most SideChef users are men, and the most popular recipes involve salmon. However, I tested the app out in my own kitchen with a recipe I probably never would have attempted on my own. (I'm a mediocre chef.) The recipe was Farro Risotto with prosciutto and brussels sprouts. Watch the video to see how it turned out.

So when will Yu make money on the app?

"That's a really good question, one that our investors ask all the time," he said. SideChef was one of the most popular apps on iTunes when it launched for the iPhone in August. It was even popular in non-English speaking countries like Spain. "We had a bunch of emails come in, like, 'How come this isn't in Spanish?'" Yu said.

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Other languages are in the future, as are hopes to monetize the free app with premium add-ons like delivering ingredients for recipes. An Android version just launched, and SideChef for the Apple iPad is slated for December.

Bottom line, even though he now knows how to use a whisk, Yu mostly hopes he's cooked up a recipe for financial success.

"We built an app that basically keeps track of all these different things," he said, "to help you focus on having fun in the kitchen."