It took Gojee just a year to go from zero to 500,000 registered users, and it managed that feat by addressing only half of its potential market. The online recipe aggregation, search and curation service prides itself as being an object of pure culinary beauty as well as a utilitarian cooking tool, but until now its lack of mobile apps has favored the aesthetic aspects over the practical.
On Wednesday, though, Gojee launched native apps for the iPad, iPhone and Android devices, which allow its users to take Gojee into the grocery stores where its recommendation engine and pantry tracking tools can prove the most useful.
For those of you unfamiliar, Gojee has aggregated about 10,000 recipes from 300 contributors ranging from crowdsourced food portals like Food52 to individual food bloggers. The site, however, doesn’t allow you to search for specific types of recipes like you would on a traditional food site like Allrecipes.com. Instead you search by key ingredient, and it then begins recommending recipes one by one where that ingredient features highly.
The recommendation service, however, truly becomes useful when paired with its pantry features. Anytime an ingredient appears, you’re given the option of adding it to your list of “I have” items. This causes Gojee to recommend dishes not just based on the key ingredient, but the items stored in your fridge or cabinets. You can even “dislike” certain ingredients.
So say you’re in the mood to cook chicken and have on hand chickpeas, lemons and olives, but you also simply despise the taste of ginger. Gojee crunches all of this variables, and then spits out recommendations for Mediterranean dishes over, for example, Asian dishes. Not only does Gojee know I would probably like those recipes, it also knows they would be the easiest recipes to shop for.
Meal planning on the fly
I’m a regular user of Gojee, and while I love its concept of ingredient-based search – as well as the recipes it serves up – I am often frustrated by its lack of portability. I’m forced to plan my meals before I leave for the store. The smartphone apps, however, now allow me to be far more spontaneous in my meal planning.
For instance, if I’m at the butcher shop and discover short ribs are on sale, I could immediately do a search for short ribs on Gojee. Not only would it recommend recipes, but it would notify me of the exact ingredients I need to buy to make those recipes. Since it knows what I already have it saves me a return trip to the store and from accidentally doubling up on staples already in my pantry.
According to Gojee CEO and co-founder Mike LaValle, Gojee always intended to make mobile a key part of its strategy, but the NYC-based startup wasn’t willing to sacrifice the aesthetics of the service just to throw a quick mobile app into iTunes.
“We want to understand how our users engage with food both physically and emotionally,” LaValle said. “We’ve been developing the mobile app since we launched the site last year. We spent that time obsessing about the design and talking to a lot of customers. We knew how we could take Gojee’s utility mobile, but the bigger challenge was how to create a natural mobile interface that would occupy a new corner of the web.”
Gojee’s meticulous efforts certainly paid off. Recipe apps on smartphones tend to be clunky affairs, shoving as many recipe recommendations, ratings and info into a small screen as possible. Gojee maintains its voluptuous web user interface in the mobile apps, offering up a simple “I crave” search bar and presenting full-screen photos of each recipe, which you can flick through one at time. Each photo has a pull up tab that allows you to preview the ingredients needed and an option to go to the recipe’s web page.
At that stage, the presentation gets a bit awkward as most of Gojee’s partners haven’t optimized their sites for mobile browsers. Gojee offers in-frame tools that allow you to easily zoom in and out on the relevant ingredients, directions and cooking times. An in-app mobile recipe template would be ideal, but that would contradict Gojee’s mission of directing users its partners’ sites. It’s a minor problem, though, in what overall is an incredibly useful and beautiful cooking app.