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Cookbook usability

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When writing about the So schmeckt’s besser cookbook the other day, I lauded its usability. And it drove home the point my bookbinder friend Benjamin keeps making: a well bound book is easily opened to any page and it remains opened at that page. It also opens wide enough to lie flatly on a table.

These things really do give rather good usability. And they are also pretty rare in books you see today which tend to be very stiff and like to flip their pages around as soon as you stop holding them.

I did a quick test of a few of my cookbooks to check how well they do.

Bocuse

Paperback books are bound to fail (pun intended) in this respect. They are simply too flexible and their pages will move as soon as they aren’t fixated. However, ‘cheap and cheerful’ is an argument as well when buying and my edition of Paul Bocuse’s massive standard work was bought with that in mind.

It’s actually quite a good book, mind you, as it both contains a good narrative about how things should be done along with loads of non-exciting standard recipes all of which presume you have a really good market around and that you don’t mind using tons of butter. I’d also like to laud the book’s translators who seem to know what they’re doing and even ‘localised’ the book a little with notes about how the ingredients translate into German meat cuts or which of them you simply can’t expect to find around here. That attention is quite rare these days.

Binding-wise, however, the book predictably fails. Sometimes you can reach a ‘stable’ state of it by pressing it hard. But a little touch is enough to flip a few pages or even make the whole book close.

opened Bocuse cookbook

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Naked Chef

Let’s move on to the hard covers. Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef cookbook is bound, but the binding is a bit too ‘stiff’ to let pages really lie down flatly. You easily end up having some of them stick up - and thus flip over.

Add snide remark about this being an English cookbook and made for the coffee table rather than the kitchen at your discretion.

Binding of Naked Chef cookbook

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Sushi

The lovely sushi book by Kimiko Barber and Kiroki Takemura which I got from my mum with all its pretty pictures and even a few useful hints in there which I can read up on when wanting to try something that Chiho didn’t teach me right away, is quite similar to the Naked Chef ones in style and behaviour. But there seems to be less tension in the more glossy pages and I find it remains on the right page a bit more easily.

Binding of Sushi book

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Sushi

The lovely sushi book by Kimiko Barber and Kiroki Takemura which I got from my mum with all its pretty pictures and even a few useful hints in there which I can read up on when wanting to try something that Chiho didn’t teach me right away, is quite similar to the Naked Chef ones in style and behaviour. But there seems to be less tension in the more glossy pages and I find it remains on the right page a bit more easily.

Binding of Sushi book

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Jewish

This very interesting book on Jewish food is a massive paperback. It’s impossible to use in the kitchen on its outer pages, but due to its sheer mass, it remains open rather well on the middle pages.

It’s more for reading than for cooking anyway and the interesting bottom line - apart from the sheer religious idiocy of refusing to eat lasagne - is that there are two main lines in Jewish cuisine, none of which I would have recognised as Jewish, if they hadn’t labelled it. One of them is the disgusting potato rich variant I’d consider German or Eastern European while the other one is what I’d consider mediterranean Arab and it sounds rather cool (and makes you wonder how this Jewish-Arab hate could survive for so long - Liebe geht durch den Magen and all).

Binding of Jewish  cuisine book

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Chemical

Hervé This(-Benckhard) has been geeking out in the kitchen since the 1990s, well before all the ‘molecular’ cuisine became popular. And I really love his approach of not making everything foamy, bubbly and invariably expensive but rather aiming at educating people about what happens on a molecular level when heating, frying, salting, boiling. Once you actually have an idea what’s going on in your food, your chances of coming up with new idea (or, more profoundly, rescuing a failed experiment) rise a lot.

The books I have (Révélations gastronomiques, published by Belin and the translated Rätsel der Kochkunst with mostly text amusingly published by Springer) are quite good at explaining and perhaps they won’t see too much use in the kitchen, still they do reasonably well with a few problems at the very beginning and end of the book.

Binding of Hervé This' book

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Handbuch Kochen

This book is not a traditional cookbook but rather a collection of simple processes. Need to know how you skin a peach, fillet a fish or make pasta? You’ll find simple steps for that - illustrated with step-by-step photos - in there. This book won’t give you new culinary ideas but it tells you how to do things.

And it has a rather good binding as well. Even to the pages at the front and back it opens well and it won’t flip over to the next page once you’ve given it a light press. As the book looks rather mainstream, I was quite surprised by how well it handles.

Binding of Handbuch Kochen

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

So schmeckt’s besser

Finally: So schmeckt’s besser which made me think about this issue to begin with. It wins the competition hands down. Both due to its binding and due to its very wide pages it never flips to the wrong page and lies on the table in a nice and flat manner.

Binding of So schmeckt's besser cookbook

Covers

Going through this also made me think about covers. And I am tempted to think that it’s just a stupid idea to have a protective jacket on a cookbook. There may be dirt in the kitchen and it will likely manage to get beneath the cover. If you then have a cloth bound book, things will be messy with a potential of ending up disgusting.

It may be more reasonable for a cookbook to have a shiny swipeable cover that cannot soak up things. Interestingly, the books that have a useful binding come with such a cover. And So schmeckt’s besser even is structured in an interesting way. Now I wonder how much of this happens by coincidence and how much happens by design.

October 23, 2008, 18:10

Tagged as books, cooking, design, so schmeckts besser, usability.

Comments

Comment by Good Usability: User icon

This is an interesting point, I’d never really though about it before. My girlfriend would argue that it’s because I don’t cook enough. The quality of paper has to be important too. Whenever I do cook, the recipe page gets covered in ingredients and thumb prints. It’s nice when they wipe off.

October 26, 2008, 19:50

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