Foodie Tuesday: Mario Batali Cooks!

Today I’ve got an oldie but a goodie for all the foodies out there: Mario Batali Cooks! The man is now an empire of restaurants, author of many cookbooks and TV show host. He’s a visionary, cofounding the world famous Italian market, Eataly with the Bastianich family (and others). The man is obsessed with Italian cooking, and I love the detail and authenticity he gives in every recipe. First released in September of 2010, the app still gets excellent reviews in iTunes, but it hasn’t been updated since 2010. Is this a recipe for disaster, or a timeless classic?

Keep reading to find out.

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Getting Started

You might be thinking an app with 63 recipes and videos would take a long time to download (like some of the recipe apps in iTunes), but High Five Productions designed it so you download videos only when you decide to watch them, so you don’t have to wait on a huge download. Launch the app and you’re greeted by Batali’s smiling face. He kindly offers to show you around the app before you delve in. The tutorial is perfect: short, sweet and to the point.

Launch the app and you’re greeted by Batali’s smiling face, plus a short, helpful tutorial.

Launch the app and you’re greeted by Batali’s smiling face, plus a short, helpful tutorial.

After the tutorial you land on the home screen with a menu of options. For an app that hasn’t been updated since 2010, the design is still fresh and fun. The app utilizes multiple gestures to keep users interested, for example, tap on the Recipes, then and swipe through the options that appear on the chalkboard.

The home screen is a dial of options for exploring the app. Make sure to watch the welcome video before you get cooking.

The home screen is a dial of options for exploring the app. Make sure to watch the welcome video before you get cooking.

At this point it’s not exactly obvious what to do next. You can explore the recipes or find out more about Mario, but you’ll find a welcome video if you tap on the video section. What if you’ve already explored half the app before you find the welcome? This video should really play the first time you launch the app, and then be archived.

Recipes

The app offers several ways to view the collection of 63 recipes: By Region, By Course, By Season, Things That Kids Love, By Bookmarks, Quick Meals, Building Blocks and Category. If you love to geek out on Italian food, you’re going to love Mario’s interactive maps for viewing recipes by region. It’s also a great design feature that’s really helpful in giving users an understanding of Italian cuisine.

Recipes can be viewed by region using an interactive map. Tap an area to zoom in and view all the dishes from that part of Italy.

Recipes can be viewed by region using an interactive map. Tap an area to zoom in and view all the dishes from that part of Italy.

It’s nice to be able to see how many recipes from the app come from each specific region. Find a place that interests you and tap it for a full description of the place, the cuisine and Mario’s personal memories. If you’re a true Batali fan you won’t mind that he goes on a bit, he’s not known for being a man of few words.

Select a region (like Campania) to read more about the food, scenery and lifestyle, then browse a bird’s-eye-view of all the recipes from that region.

Select a region (like Campania) to read more about the food, scenery and lifestyle, then browse a bird’s-eye-view of all the recipes from that region.

Below the description of the region is a list of associated recipes, each represented by a photo with number of servings and cooking time. It’s nice to be able to get a bird’s eye view of all the dishes, which gives you a bit more understanding of the regional cuisine. For example, Mario’s recipes for the Southern Italian region of Campania include shrimp, clams, colorful vegetables (Caprese and Peperonata) – all ingredients that would be plentiful on the sunny Mediterranean coast.

Select a recipe to view the steps or download Mario’s video demo.

Select a recipe to view the steps or download Mario’s video demo.

Tap on a recipe to view the steps. The app gives you two options: swipe up and down the screen to scroll through the steps, or turn your phone to landscape view to see one step at a time. Tapping the camera icon on each step for a photo. Mario Batali Cooks! has gone above and beyond in so many ways, it would be nice if they offered hands-free recipe navigation like some of their peers.

The app compartmentalizes information so ingredients lists are easy to read and it’s good to be able to track multiple timers.

The app compartmentalizes information so ingredients lists are easy to read and it’s good to be able to track multiple timers.

The steps make mention of videos demonstrating technique, but rather than linking to the video, they make you go look for it by leaving cook mode. On the positive side, a timer is included in steps that require timing. It’s great to be able to tap the clock icon, which is already set for the appropriate time, and adjust it yourself if needed. You can even track multiple timers. The only problem: if you leave the app, you won’t get an alert when the timer goes off. This is a huge problem that really affects the app usability.

It’s handy to be able to tap the video icon for all demos associated with the recipe. You can also bookmark steps if you’re cooking multiple recipes at one time.

It’s handy to be able to tap the video icon for all demos associated with the recipe. You can also bookmark steps if you’re cooking multiple recipes at one time.

If you set a timer, the recipe step is automatically bookmarked so you can locate it quickly. This is especially helpful if you’re cooking more than one dish at a time. The app includes standard shopping list capabilities you would expect. Mario adds value to each recipe by recommending a wine to go with the dish and a complimentary recipe from the app. It’s great to have so many video demos at your fingertips, but painfully slow waiting for a single video to download. Given that the app features 5 hours video total, it would probably be better if this were streaming over the Internet. At least the videos are worth the wait—Mario shares tons of great tips that really enhance the recipe.

Conclusion

One thing I really love about Mario Batali is his encyclopedic knowledge of Italian cooking. He’s obsessed with authenticity and his passion for preserving Italian culture is truly evident in every project he undertakes. When Mario does something, whether it is a cookbook or a restaurant, he goes all the way with it. This app is no different. If you love Italian food or you’re a fan of Mario Batali, you’ll feel the $9.99 is well spent on his app. I was weary of the fact that the app hasn’t been updated since 2010, but it seems Mario and the team at High Five labs made a huge effort to put out a great app that was way ahead of everyone in 2010. It’s still a good app today, but an update addressing a few usability issues mentioned in this review would be much appreciated by users.


Summary

Mario Batali Cooks! is a fun and authentic collection of 63 recipes and instructional videos that his fans and Italophiles will love.

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