SideChef Cooking and Recipe App: A New Way of Cooking and Learning

As easy as following GPS instructions

Never worry about making a mess of a recipe again when you use Kevin Yu’s the SideChef app in your pocket.

If your idea of cooking is opening a glassine package of ramen and nuking it in the microwave, or failed white-knuckle attempts have kept you from cooking in the past, the SideChef mobile recipe app will change that. Listed as one of iTunes Stores’ Top 10 Apps in the Food & Drinks category, featured in the Google Play Store, and named on USA Today’s Best Apps of 2014, SideChef is the vision of CEO Kevin Yu, gaming guru and community builder turned app entrepreneur.

However, SideChef is more than just a platform for recipes; it’s a bone fide revolution in the cooking app environment. Kevin Yu took gamification approaches to the user experience and carefully honed community building talents developed while at Blizzard Entertainment, and used them to build a scalable app that offers users the ability to grow their cooking skills and engage with other like-minded foodies in a collaborative online community.

This new app takes what is usually a static, two-dimensional experience and turns it into an intuitive, interactive process that makes it feel like you are being coached through each recipe by a friendly authority. Kevin Yu says his app “makes cooking as easy as following GPS instructions.” Here’s how: as you prepare each recipe, a combination of visual and verbal step-by-step instructions take you through each stage of preparation and cooking. Along the way special cues appear on the bottom of your screen that include videos or windows that demonstrate special techniques listed in the recipe or explain cooking terms or definitions.

Here are just a few of the apps great features:

  • Includes more than 2,000 recipes.
  • Allows cooks to share their own and other cooks’ recipes in personal lists of recipes or “cookbooks.”
  • Each time a revision is made to a recipe, it’s immediately uploaded.
  • Lists are created and tested by the SideChef team as well as users and content providers.
  • Some of the content providers include PopsugarCoolhausBob's Red MillHalf Baked HarvestLady & PupsEdible PerspectiveCookie + KateOh Bite It, and Closet Cooking.

We interviewed Kevin Yu last week and learned firsthand what inspired him to create an app that uses gaming approaches to learning, cooking, and community building.

The Daily Meal: Your background is in business and you were a trailblazer in gamification and community, especially at Blizzard Entertainment. Why design a cooking app?
A few years ago, despite any real cooking skills or experience, I decided to surprise my girlfriend and cook a romantic meal for Valentine’s Day. I figured, “after all, how hard could be if you had a recipe?” Confident I could pull it off and impress my girlfriend, I chose a couple of recipes I thought she would like and plowed right in. I’d seen plenty of cooking demos on TV that had made things look quick and easy, but I quickly realized I didn’t know how to read a recipe and was in over my head.

Confused by unfamiliar terms and techniques, I was frustrated by my lack of knowledge. I kept thinking to myself “I’m a smart guy, why can’t I figure this out? There has to be a better way to do this. What I need is a step-by-step guide that keeps my hands free and tells me what to do while showing me each step, like GPS does with driving directions.”

I knew that if I’d had a coach who could walk me through the steps my dish wouldn’t have literally gone up in smoke. That cooking disaster, and a few other unsuccessful cooking sessions convinced me there had to be a better way to learn how to cook or make a new recipe. A thorough search for an app proved fruitless and that inspired me to find a solution that would make cooking and learning new recipes fun, easy, interactive, and scalable. And that’s when the germ of the idea for SideChef mobile app took shape.

What approach did you take during conceptualization and then later during design? 
Realizing I probably wasn’t alone and that there were other cooks looking for help, I applied what I had learned at Blizzard and created an app that was part hardware and part community. I knew that a database for recipes, along with an audio instructional component that mirrored the steps in the video, would help encourage even the most inexperienced or timid cook but the app had to offer more than just directions.

If you stumbled while you were preparing a recipe or didn’t understand a term or technique, a more interactive feature would also be useful and that’s how the side videos came about. They are available right on the screen and make it possible to continue cooking and pause, just briefly, to look up an unfamiliar technique or term. Because your hands get dirty when you cook, I knew the app had to offer audio instructions and when I designed the interface, I relied on input from home cooks, foodies, friends, professional chefs, recipe developers, and database experts to create a more intuitive and interactive way to share, create, and update recipes. From the outset, I wanted this to be a fantastic user experience.

What do you want people to know about your brand?
We want to democratize and simplify cooking and make it less intimidating. The more knowledge we all share with each other, the more fun cooking and building skills will be – and the more confident people will be about trying new ingredients and cuisines. This will help build the confidence of people who might not have done much cooking before. They can learn from more experienced cooks and professionals willing to share what they know.  

What do you see happening with the app in the short term?
In the short term, we will soon be releasing SideChef 2.0 and it will offer new ways to deepen relationships with the rest of the community, include enhanced voice guidance and commands, 

and continue to enhance our goal of making cooking for everyone. SideChef 2.0 will introduce a whole new look, feel, and experience for the user. The new homepage will have a featured recipe that changes daily and includes explore points that provide interesting, fun facts plus helpful cooking hints, tips, and tricks for specific ingredients used in the featured recipe. 

2.0 will also introduce Wiki Pages for ingredients so users can:

  • Discover the origin of recipes
  • Watch more how to videos
  • Find out what foods are in season
  • Learn new preparation and cooking techniques
  • Find more clever cooking and recipe tips and uses
  • Get nutrition information
  • Learn more about the science of food, safety, and proper storage (include waste prevention
  • Discover other uses and recipes for ingredients included in each recipe

What’s your long-term vision for the platform?
By developing the same kinds of tight-knit communities common in the gaming world, users can compete with themselves or members of their community to improve their cooking, grow their repertoire of recipes, expand their knowledge of cuisine, and find out more about the back-story to different recipes. They will also be able make new online and offline friends that share a common interest.

We want to welcome foodies of all ages and backgrounds to pursue their hobby and discover the cultural aspects of food. For me, cooking is a passion – I want the app to help people connect and enjoy good food they can share with family and friends without having to watch TV programming or buy expensive cookbooks.


Summer Whitford is the D.C. City Guide Editor at The Daily Meal and the DC Wine Examiner. You can follow her on Twitter @FoodandWineDiva.