There’s an entire industry out there for helping people learn to cook on their own. Think “Hello Fresh” and “Blue Apron,” meal kits complete with step-by-step walkthroughs to allow anyone to make a great dinner. However, you don’t need to spend a decent chunk of change on someone else’s groceries in order to learn how to cook. If you’re looking for something a little less involved, consider Zest—basically, the Duolingo of cooking.
What is Zest?
Duolingo, as you might know, is an app designed to make learning languages easy. A bright, simple UI guides you through what you need to learn with each lesson, with options for both free and paying customers. Zest employs the same philosophy; however, instead of learning languages, it teaches you all about food.
As soon as you set up your account, you’re greeted by a friendly tiled UI: The first, a large “Recommended Lesson” (mine was a “Cooking Foundations” lesson called “Tastes.”) Below that, you’ll see “Next Up” lessons, including things like “Fat & Acid,” “Pans and Skillets,” “Ovens,” and “Extracting & Infusing.”
Tapping on one of these gives you an overview of the lesson, including your current progress (which will be 0% if you just tapped on the lesson), an Instagram-like highlight section for quickly accessing different parts of the lesson, the number of recipes you’ll learn, and a full summary of what you’ll be doing.
With each lesson, you’ll see a video walkthrough. The videos themselves feel a bit homespun, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They’re still full of good information about the topic at hand.
Can Zest teach me how to cook?
You can check out the recipes relevant to your lesson at any time. For instance, the “Tastes” lesson highlights dishes like “Pasta w/ fresh tomato sauce & capers,” “aloo gobi w/ raita and naan,” and “spiced cod w/ sweet peppers & lemon.” If you like a recipe, you can add it to your account’s “Menu,” so you can quickly access your favorites at any time. According to Zest, these recipes are also catered by two “expert chefs,” so they should, in theory, be pretty solid.
Recipes also come with a friendly layout, including the option to specify how many people you’re cooking for (the number of ingredients changes depending on your headcount). The rest, at first, appears like a normal recipe, save for one difference: Any time there’s a slightly complicated action, like finely dicing shallots, there will be an option to view a video walkthrough of the task.
This, in my opinion, makes the entire experience: You don’t need to stumble over to YouTube to learn how to chop basil leaves in the middle of prep. You’ll have handy video examples to guide you throughout the cook. Recipes are also thoughtful, using similar ingredients to each other so you aren’t buying an entire tub of sour cream for a single dish.
I also like the little things, like the optional sauce recipes: They call iconic condiments other names, like Lowering Cane’s sauce and Not McDonald’s Special sauce, but they walk you through making something you might not have thought to create yourself.
Zest is clearly a passion project. The app looks great, the videos are helpful: It feels like an app made by people who want to teach people how to cook. While the free app is a bit limited (the $9.99/month option includes all lessons and recipes, and new meals every week), it’s enough to make a few dishes on your own. Unfortunately, the app is only available on iOS at this time, but Android users aren’t out of luck: You can enter your email on Zest’s website to receive the free recipes you’d get from the app, including all the videos.