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Given how many recipes are available on the Internet for just a few clicks, the only reason to buy a recipe storage program like Chef Master ($15, limited demo)is because of a superior interface. Unfortunately, this interface is not quick or easy to use. It’s simple and cute, with a blinking animated chef in the upper left and a nifty map of world continents that you can click on to bring up a list of countries. But once the novelty has worn off, Chef Master doesn’t do a good job of accessing recipes quickly and easily. Structuring it hierarchically by continent and then country means that you have to do much too much clicking to get to individual recipes. There’s no search function on the main page or even within the list of countries. You have to click the Recipe button at the bottom of the main screen, then click on Browse all Recipes in order find a search bar. That’s a long way to go to get to a shortcut.
Other recipe database software, like BigOven, for instance, offer a much more intuitive design, with a prominent search bar, MS Word-style interface, and tabs to make it quick to switch among functions. BigOven doesn’t have a focus on world cuisine built into its design, but it offers international recipes and makes it easier to find and access those recipes, which is what a database should do.
Chef Master claims that its edge lies in the community aspect of the program, which allows users to upload recipes to a server, which the software will access periodically so that new recipes are added continually and growing the database without users having to do it themselves This is a nice idea, but it’s not enough to make up for a program that’s difficult to use...and it's not that different from the way many recipe websites work, either.
Other features of Chef Master are kludgy as well. It expects that you will put in the ingredients you have on hand and then it searches to see if you need to buy anything before you cook a particular recipe. It requires you to choose a quantity for each item in your inventory but doesn’t include standard purchase quantities; for instance, there’s neither a gallon option nor a liter option for milk. If it doesn’t have an ingredient already in its database, then you must add it to the database and assign it to an ingredient class from a sparse and seemingly random list that includes flour, sugar, oats, and nuts but excludes more standard ingredient types like dairy and meat. Going through all of these steps makes adding ingredients time consuming and ultimately not worth the extra effort.
The software is populated with about 750 recipes out of the box, but the recipes are spread out by country, so there are fewer than 10 recipes for each country. Some of Chef Master's recipes seem slight and strangely categorized, too. For instance, one of the recipes for the United States is ham, brie, and apple quesadillas. Given that there are only four recipes in the United States category, there could have been a more representative American food chosen for it. The other recipes are ginger glazed salmon, slow cooker spicy game day meatballs, and tequila citrus chicken wings. It’s an odd combination. A recipe for pound cake lists Aruba as its country of origin, but the recipe consists of just lemons, sugar, eggs and a pie crust. It sounds tasty, but a few minutes of Googling turns up more interesting recipes to make from Aruba: cashew nut cake, coconut pudding, and bread rolls called pan dushi, to name a few.
If there’s one thing that’s easy to find on the Web, it’s recipes. Anyone can find any of thousands of international recipes online, often in a significantly shorter time than it would take to find one in Chef Master. It’s not worth paying money for Chef Master unless it becomes much easier and quicker to navigate.