A couple of years back, Jean-Yves Hepp was driving down the Champs-Élysées and dreaming of couscous. Specifically, he was thinking of his own mother’s rendition of the classic Moroccan semolina stew—and of the fact that maman had reached her 70s and might not be around forever. If something happened to her, who would teach him the secrets of her recipe? After all, the dish is notoriously difficult to reproduce from a cookbook. One needs to see the master in action in order to understand the proper couscous technique.
On a whim, Hepp called his brothers and told them, “We have to film her to keep the recipe in the family.” The siblings agreed and pretty soon, Mom was in front of the cameras teaching the boys how to make the dish in the traditional way. While they were at it, the brothers also decided to ask their favorite Parisian chefs to film a few recipes. The plan worked so well, Hepp—a former chairman of McCann-Erickson in France—realized he had the glimmerings of something profitable on his hands.
Now, the end result of that culinary “Eureka”—a sturdy little tablet called QOOQ—is on sale just in time for Christmas. Retailing at around $400, the device is a cookbook, shopping list, TV cooking show, gastronomic encyclopedia, Web browser, nutritionist, and sommelier all in one. More simply, in Hepp’s words, it’s an “instant chef in your kitchen.” With a 10.1-inch touchscreen and eight gigabytes of memory, it holds thousands of recipes and is built to withstand the messiest of kitchen accidents. “You can throw whatever you want on it,” Hepp promises—from eggs, milk, and flour to (on the fancier end of the scale) honey, crème fraîche, and champagne. It’s got anti-slip feet to anchor it to the countertop, and when it lies flat, there’s enough space for liquid to flow beneath it, to protect from spills. It’s water-resistant, heat-resistant—at least up to 140 degrees—scratch-resistant, and generally indestructible. And for the design-conscious, the tablet comes in a variety of colors, from cherry red to apple green—a special request from Oprah, Hepp says, to match the colors of her own kitchen.
Hepp and his team debuted QOOQ, pronounced “cook,” on Nov. 12, and say that orders have already been flooding in for the holidays. The company designed and assembled the device from the hardware on up, opening a factory in Burgundy for its production. When the time came to add content, Hepp hired more than 100 chefs working in France, from bistro cooks to Michelin-starred masters, and recorded detailed cooking lessons in an in-house studio. He also brought 10 sommeliers on board to conjure up wine pairings. While most of the recipes are French in nature (the videos are translated via voice-overs), a smattering of Italian, Spanish, and Japanese dishes do appear, and Hepp says the company added hundreds of American recipes in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
One of Hepp’s main goals was to make QOOQ easy for the whole family to navigate, from the kids on up to grandma. (Lately, his 11-year-old daughter has been using the tablet to learn how to bake cookies and cakes by herself.) He also wanted to help the harried home cook who might suddenly find himself confronted with a lack of meal ideas. To that end, the tablet tries to provide inspiration and adjusts to your level of cooking expertise. Scroll through appetizers, entrees, and desserts to see if anything looks tasty, or search by cooking time, low-cal options, seasonal produce, even by allergies. (If the sight of a macadamia nut paralyzes you, for example, you can opt to remove all recipes with the offending food.) If you’re a novice, it will suggest easy recipes, until you decide it’s time for something more challenging. It also asks for feedback (“Like this ingredient? A lot, a little, not at all … ”). Ultimately, Hepp is hoping that QOOQ will even be able to take into account specific health problems such as diabetes or high cholesterol. “The more you use it,” Hepp says, “the more QOOQ knows you.”
Other nifty features include detailed tutorials on kitchen techniques—how to correctly core an apple, how to dice a mirepoix, etc.—and an interactive list that allows you to type in the ingredients in your fridge and find a corresponding recipe. The tablet also adjusts recipes according to the number of guests coming for dinner, and will even email you a shopping list of the necessary ingredients and their quantities. On the downside, the featured chefs will be largely unknown to an American audience, and the tablet doesn’t download recipes found on the Internet (although you can hand-type them in). At the moment, QOOQ may be more appropriate for that Francophile foodie on your gift list than the grill-master or the David Chang fan, but for those looking to make a superb couscous, Hepp has got you covered.