Do you ever wonder why food at restaurants is so much better than what you make at home? Honest chefs will tell you that, outside of skill and knowledge, they just have better tools at their disposal. In lieu of spending a fortune on buying your own mandolin, beurre mixer and a really expensive set of chef knives, check out some of the top apps for chefs and foodies. You will be on your way to creating culinary masterpieces in no time.
Matthew Kenney's Raw Express
($4.99 -- iPad)
Raw food is terrific for you. Raw food is also very difficult to make right if you want to do more than just gnaw on carrot sticks all the time. Chef Matthew Kenney has a new iPad app that takes you through the basics of raw food preperation. There are 12 full-length videos (like, how to crack a coconut, which is a lot harder than you might think), 45 recipes, nutritional information and shopping list integration. Raw-food diets are tough to maintain and even harder to keep creative. Pick this one up if you are interested in a raw-food diet or if you are just trying to impress that special someone with your knowledge of raw-food preperation. Hey, everybody loves a cook with a little bit of an esoteric repetoire.
Food Network: Cupcakes!
($2.99 -- iPad)
If you keep up with the hottest culinary trends, you know that cupcakes are all the rage these days (along with gourmet food trucks). This app has more than 100 cupcake and frosting recipes for those of us with a wicked sweet tooth. There is a frosting guide, a decorating guide, an ingredients guide and more. This one could be serious trouble for those of us trying to watch our weight.
Food Network: In The Kitchen
If you are a foodie and watch the Food Network and do not like Alton Brown, there is something completely wrong with you. Now, you can cook just like Brown, too. There are thousands of recipes that can be saved and modified. Shopping and comparison lists help you get the right recipe with the right ingredients for just the right occasions. There are ads in the app, even though it is a paid app, which turns some people off. Otherwise, In The Kitchen is a fine resource for the amateur cook.
AllRecipes.com Dinner Spinner
This app has been around for a while, but it is still a good one. Don't know what to cook? Give your phone a shake and come up with some interesting recipes to try out on your guinea pigs (err, your friends and family). Add ingredients to your spinner and come up with new ways to use them with AllRecipes index. The app now has a scanner that allows you to scan an ingredient and find all kinds of great uses for it. It also has shopping lists and search options. The paid version is available for $2.99.
Epicurious, especially for the iPad, is one of the best tools for looking up a diverse array of recipes, accumulating shopping lists and finding nutritional information. The Epicurious.com database has 30,000 recipes from food magazines, top chefs and user submissions. It is easy to use and has tons of great recipes for the chef looking up how to make cassoulet on the go, or the amateur trying to figure out how to make focaccia.
Top Chef University
($3.99 -- iPad)
Fun fact: In my former career in the kitchen, I was once fired by a man that won Top Chef. Anyway, if you like the Top Chef TV series, you will love this app. It features more than 60 hours of instructional video in several gastronomic tracks from 11 of Top Chef's finest contestants. It is heavy on in-app purchases to unlock new lessons, with the entire set coming in at a whopping $79.99. Probably better to just go a la carte and purchase some of the better lessons, like "Stocks and Soups" or "Basics and Techniques" (i.e., how to not cut off your thumb with a cleaver).
(Free -- iPhone)
BiteHunter is a real-time location-based app that aggregates restaurant deals. Find local dining deals from Groupon, LivingSocial, Restaurants.com and more. The value of BiteHunter comes with its real-time tracking of deals to let you know where you can save a couple of dollars when searching for culinary secrets in your city or while traveling. Purchase deals straight from the app, and share them with your friends through Twitter or Facebook before heading out for a night on the town.
Rate the dish, not the restaurant. Foodspotting is an app for discovering the best dishes near you through pictures. Was that beef bourguignon at the little French restaurant around the corner to die for? It is an easy dish to make, but a difficult dish to do well. Snap a picture of it, and share it with the Foodspotting community. This is a great app for local food discovery and restaurant deals.
Urbanspoon lets you shake your phone to find restaurants near you. Have you ever sat on the couch with your significant other and asked the basic question, "Where do you want to eat tonight?" Everybody has done that. Urbanspoon is serendipitous mobile restaurant discovery at its most fun. See all nearby restaurants, book a table or set parameters for a search by price and cuisine type, and then give your phone a shake. Maybe you'll find that hidden gem down the street that you never knew about.
The former CIO of the federal government once praised this app as one of the greater innovations in mobile consumer technology during the past five years. OpenTable allows you to make a reservation from your mobile phone anytime, anywhere. There is power in that kind of simplicity. OpenTable also offers restaurant deals and the ability to manage your reservation from your phone. If your city does a local "restaurant week," OpenTable is an invaluable tool to make sure you get the reservation where you want, when you want, and to ensure that you beat the crowd. When you buy a new smartphone, OpenTable is one of the first 10 apps you need to download.