Just in time to celebrate her 100th birthday, a Seattle-based company has released an app featuring 32 recipes from the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, plus clips from the DVD version of “The Way to Cook,” plus other content, including excerpts from the book. It’s $2.99 from iTunes and available on the Nook, too.
A lover of all things Julia, I tried it out on the iPad 2. The simple, classy design easily navigates among the 32 recipes. Each provides an image of the finished dish, the ingredients, equipment, tips and a brief video of Julia in action. Rounding out the content is a surprising amount of text lifted directly from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, among them tips on making stock, equipping a kitchen equipment, a primer on wine and even a glossary of cooking terms. There’s also a charming piece by her longtime Knopf editor, Judith Jones, on the story behind the book.
In terms of the recipes themselves, it was a walk down memory lane of my days at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. The recipes mirror the core curriculum of the Basic Cuisine course. Included are basic sauces such as bechamel, sauce brun and vinaigrette. Then it moves onto classics such as bouef Bourguignon, blanquette de veau, poulet roti, suprêmes de volaille, and pate de canard en croûte.
The videos included are short, yet highly educational snippets from her 1989 series, “The Way to Cook,” now available on DVD. (Judith Jones served as executive producer.) Watching Julia demonstrate searing beef or whisking up a hollandaise reminded me why she was such a great teacher: she was a great explainer with an understated sense of humor who was enthusiastic about every detail of cooking. “When my mother was growing up in the wilds of northern Illinois, you couldn’t get decent lettuce except in summer,” and then it was mostly iceberg, Julia says during her vinaigrette video. Then she exhales, “We are so lucky now!” and cheerfully showed off a variety of lettuces, including some “lovely” romaine.
While it’s handy to have a great sample of classic recipes together, the videos make this app worthwhile. It’s hard to resist her unspoken cheer of “You can do it!” My husband Mike was ready to pounce on the Vitamix to make a batch of fresh mayonnaise. Or, as Julia said it, maay-OH-naze.
The app has some sweet touches, such as a button that lets you hear Julia say the name of the dish in French. You can hear both her pride and precision as she carefully announces “beouf bourguignon.”
From a functional standpoint, it’s straightforward, with an easy-to-navigate format. (Some users have reported on iTunes that the app runs slowly, or they had trouble with the videos. I didn’t encounter any such problems using it on the iPad 2, but didn’t try it on the iPhone or Nook.) The division of the instruction from the ingredients list requires an extra click, and the length of the recipes means a fair amount of scrolling. This isn’t a problem if you’re browsing, but might be annoying when you’ve got dirty hands and need to have to click or scroll in the middle of making a recipe.
One thing that may feel a bit “dated” to modern cooks is the casual employment of butter – lots of it. After a couple weeks at LCB, I thought nothing of using a stick of butter in a recipe. (I also gained a dozen pounds.) I’ve long since given up using copius doses of butter in my own cooking. While nothing can replace the classic butter-dense Hollandaise sauce the way Julia demonstrates, I lean toward more heart-friendly options, such as this recipe from EatingWell.com.
The bottom line: This doesn’t replace owning a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but for $2.99, it’s definitely worth it to have a mini French cooking class led by Julia on a device you can actually take shopping and then set on your kitchen counter. If you ever wanted to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, but don’t have the $11,000 USD for the Basic Cuisine course, this inexpensive app offers a great primer. Of course, it also lacks the hands-on instruction from French chef and living in Paris, of course. It’s available for a limited time, so if you want it, go download it now.
If you’re vaguely interested in this app, I highly recommend the DVD collection of The Way To Cook. It’s Julia at her finest: funny, educational and highly watchable, plus it explores basics from knife skills and sauteeing, and reaches beyond French cuisine.