The Flavor App
a search engine for culinary creatives
Timeline: 1 month, 40+ hours/week
Role: Lead UI/UX Designer
Team: Brian Chow; CTO / Engineer,
Amelia Riely; Engineer, RJ Riley; Chef / SME
Brian, the engineer & creator wanted to learn to cook with local ingredients when living in Trinidad, but he didn’t know how to use them. He discovered flavor pairing books and their expansive knowledge of ingredients and their compatibilities. He realized that there is value in these texts that couldn’t be accessed in a linear book format. So, he indexed the contents of the books and wrote algorithms to find hidden patterns in the connections between ingredients. This is where The Flavor App began.
The Flavor App is a search engine for culinary creatives. Start by entering the name of an ingredient or food and pairings are presented that are immediately useful, trustworthy and inspiring. Flavor App allows for culinary exploration to operate at the speed of thought.
How are people currently finding flavor pairings?
We started this project by writing down our initial assumptions. Who do we think will benefit the most from this app? What will people use it for?
Our research began by looking at our competitors and understanding their user base. We then used r/cooking to get some insight on how people use flavor pairing books. This was extremely helpful in honing in on our target market which shifted from the average home cook to professional chefs.
Next, I conducted five 1 on 1 interviews with different types of professional chefs. We wanted to find out how, why , and for what chefs use flavor pairing books.
The Private Chef
Andrea creates 3-4 unique
dishes a week based on clients requests. Flavor pairing books are used to create well rounded menus and inspiration
The Executive Chef
Adam is in charge of 10 different restaurants. It's important to not be wasteful. He uses these books to find uses for excess ingredients
The Seasonal Chef
RJ creates his menu’s around local ingredients. He uses flavor pairing books to build dishes with available ingredients
From the interviews we learned that flavor pairing books are an essential item in a chefs tool box. From building new recipes, to finding substitutions, reference books are vital.
"I got a job as head chef at a dude ranch and there wasn't going to be anyone to hold my hand. I rely on books like The Flavor Bible to build the rotating menu" - Andrea
These findings helped us envision this app as more of a professional tool aiding in the research and development of recipes. We also discovered the Chef's main pain points with flavor pairing books
Books like Flavor Bible and Culinary Artistry don't offer all possible pairings
Recipe research and development can be a time consuming process
It can be hard to find compatible substitutions for ingredients
Using the job-to-be-done framework, we can discover the different jobs our persona, Andrea, might hire from the Flavor App. The minimum job for Andrea is the ability to discover which ingredients pair well together. During the interviews we were able to discover how chefs like Andrea are currently getting the job done and what their frustrations and roadblocks are with their current methods. Based on the above findings we found that in order to help Andrea we need to offer more possible pairings, reduce the time it takes to build pairings, and offer substitutions and alternatives.
We began to ideate on how to address Andrea's pyramid of needs. Creating a searchable database with linked ingredients was the first step. We started by exploring simple, brutalist marketplace designs (Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace) then we looked at other apps that are based around the search feature (Spotify, Google) and other food related apps.
We found that chefs mostly use flavor affinity/compatibility books for building recipes, finding inspiration and upcycling ingredients. This was important to keep in mind when iterating. With over 15,000 ingredients, we needed a way that a chef could easily see and build on their selected ingredients without getting overwhelmed. This led us to create the central page, Combinations, to allow for a quick tap / un-tap of an item, combined with a continuously filtering list of pairings, provide the most efficient way to build and experiment possible flavor combinations.
What have we learned?
Using our prototype on Figma, we conducted five usability tests on more professional chefs. We gave each chef a real life scenario in which they had to use the Flavor App. We asked them to talk through each step and their thought process behind it. We took notes of where they struggled and possible points of improvement.
• People are unable to activate the search bar after filters are applied, they would only be able to scroll. This was especially noticeable when a broad filter was chosen ie: Gluten Free
• Language needs to be more clear & concise
• Target market seems to be more for non-traditional chefs ( those who don't have a specific flavor profile or set menu)
Icon bar before usability test
Icon bar with search option
after usability testing
How do you use the Flavor App?
View Figma File
Remember who you are designing for
I found that we could easily get taken off track thinking of possible features or trying to broaden our target market. It was important to re-focus on our target market (professional Chefs) in order to create a well thought-out and crafted MVP.
Don't assume, ask a SME
During the design process, there were times we thought our design and information was clear until we asked a Chef, who would bring us new insights of how it works in the professional world. Ex: For the categories I assumed we could just put ‘pork’ without realizing the many different cuts and types.
Always involve the team
This was my first time working one-on-one with the owner/engineer of a project. At first I wasn’t sure the level of involvement he wanted in the design process but I realized early on that sharing and updating frequently leads to a healthy work environment, deep collaboration, and fresh insights.