Two years ago, Emily Wilson left a catering job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to take another job developing menus for galas, family events, and nonprofit dinners for the American Museum of Natural History. Her roommate’s then-boyfriend, Jonathan Vlock, approached her about helping to develop a food-related app and website, Cooking Planit, in which you locate a recipe and follow step-by-step instructions to plan a complete menu. Vlock and fellow cofounder Tripp Wiggins were looking for “a more streamlined source that could give them the full meal package, especially with dietary restrictions, rather than scouring the Internet for recipes,” Wilson says. “It was sort of a dream job because I already thought about food all the time. Now, I was going to have a place to put all my recipes.” Cooking Planit launched as a paid app in August 2012, with Wilson as its executive culinary director. It now has more than 500 recipes, and Wilson adds at least a few more each week, as well as meal pairing suggestions.
Q. Meal planning apps are really competitive right now. What differentiates Cooking Planit from the others?
A. Not only do we help with the meal planning and giving you ideas for full meal combinations, but once you decide what you want to make and you hit “Prep and cook,” which is basically our start button, it walks you through the cooking process from start to finish so all of your recipes end up ready at the same time. You don’t have timing issues of one being done and another thing overcooking or taking another hour to finish. We sort of equate it to GPS — turn-by-turn instructions. We even walk you through all the prep stuff so that you’re not getting to a certain step in the recipe and being like, “Oh, I forgot to chop my garlic.” That way, once you get into the actual cooking process, you’re ready to move. You might have three recipes that are very active and we’re working through them with you.
Q. So it adapts to your schedule as you cook?
A. The great thing is, if your phone rings or your kid falls down and hurts himself and is crying and you have to be pulled away, you never lose your mark. Our screen is up and once you’ve tended to that matter, maybe your end time was originally 7 p.m. but now it says it won’t be ready until 7:05. You just pick up right where you left off. So it actually helps you turn off your brain which, when people are as busy as they are, coming home and cooking dinner is like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine thinking through everything I need to think through or reading this recipe.” We kind of take care of all that. You follow along with us and we get you to the end goal.
Q. Are you seeing that your users are experienced cooks or people who require more handholding?
A. I think we serve both. For people who don’t know how to cook and are afraid of it, we’re a great handholder and they can learn as they go, which will build confidence and they’ll cook more often because they’ll enjoy the experience. But I also think that it’s great for people that are familiar with their kitchen and might not need as much instruction, but they like the idea of when they’re busy, being able to rely on us to do it for them. They might know exactly what tools to use every step of the way and they may even improvise. I know people who use Cooking Planit who go on their own little tangent but are using us as the skeleton to get them through the meal and think less about it.
Q. Cooking Planit uses an ingredient filtering system. Is that to help with reducing food waste?
A. Things that you have leftover, you can kind of search by that, and then find that ingredient to use it. Like hoisin, for example, somebody’s going to be like, “I have to go buy hoisin sauce for this recipe, what else can I use it in?” I try to keep that in mind so there are a few different hoisin recipes so that if you have that jar sitting in your fridge, it’s not going to go to waste. So that dollar stretches further for you. Same with vinegar. Don’t look at it like that $5 or $8 bottle of vinegar is for that one recipe. That’s something that’s going to maintain in your pantry and you’re going to be able to call on it the more often you cook at home. It’s investing in your pantry.