Note: You can also read this story in German.
Since 2013, Kitchen Stories has been developing approachable and high-quality step-by-step cooking instructions. The German company aims to help everyday cooks by providing simple recipes that anyone, even novice home cooks, can attempt. The company’s award-winning, video-based cooking app offers recipes that involve, at most, five cooking steps.
While Kitchen Stories first developed its app for tablets and smartphones, the company also aims to stay at the forefront of new technologies. When the Amazon Echo launched in Germany last year, Kitchen Stories developed a skill for Alexa to reach home cooks where they are.
“The arrival of the Amazon Echo in Germany offered us a wonderful opportunity to gain experience with Alexa and voice technology,” says Hannes Hegewald, Product Manager at Kitchen Stories.
The Kitchen Stories skill for Alexa provides aspiring cooks and passionate foodies with inspiration and suggestions through simple and intuitive voice commands. When a customer makes a request like, “Alexa, ask Kitchen Stories for Italian recipes,” the skill responds with several choices that the customer can choose from.
Now, with the announcement of Echo Show in Germany, Kitchen Stories has updated its Alexa skill to leverage Echo Show’s high-quality screen. Using the new display templates in the Alexa Skills Kit, Hegewald and team added images, photos, and video tutorials to enable customers to interact across voice and graphical user interfaces.
Adding Visuals to a Rich, Voice-First Experience
The Kitchen Stories skill now includes photos and videos that provide an engaging customer experience on Echo Show. However, Hegewald stresses that the screen isn’t necessary for interacting with the skill; it enhances the user experience without being the focal point of it.
“The main thing we paid attention to is to make sure that the user can experience the full richness of the skill, with or without a screen." says Hegewald.
For example, home cooks can say, “Alexa, ask Kitchen Stories for a vegetarian recipe with pumpkin,” and hear a list of matching recipes to choose from. With Echo Show, they can also see the list, ask Alexa to pull up a recipe on that list, and see high-resolution images of the dish. Many recipes also offer video showing how to prepare the dish.
"I remember the moment when the first recipe video was playing on the Show,” says Hegewald. “We all were very happy to see our videos running on the screen, just by asking Alexa to play them.”
Managing Session State to Enable User Flexibility
In enhancing the skill for Echo Show, the Kitchen Stories team learned an important lesson on session management. Today’s kitchen is full of distractions, highlighting the unique challenges of both visual components and long-running interactions. After all, not every cook dices an onion in the same amount of time, nor even stays on the same recipe until completion. And when you add the option of viewing lists, images, and video on a screen, maintaining state and timing between interactions becomes crucial to the experience.
To address these issues, the Kitchen Stories development team built in more robust session management to allow the cook more flexible timing between steps. By storing away detailed state information, the Kitchen Stories skill lets users flow easily between recipes or pause and resume a recipe without missing a beat.
“By adapting the script and managing session state, we provide more flexible options,” says Hegewald. “The new skill seamlessly adjusts to the pace of your real life.”
Inspiring and Empowering Home Cooks with Alexa
According to Hegewald, working with the Alexa Skills Kit to add the new enhancements was an easy process.
“Infrastructure-wise, we basically already had everything we needed. We could use our existing APIs without changes and our digital media streaming servers to provide recipe recommendations as well,” he says.
While Kitchen Stories built the Alexa skill in-house, Hegewald found working with the Amazon team was a key element to the success of the skill, including plenty of feedback and suggestions for improvement.
“All in all, this was a very interesting process that I really liked. We worked at a good pace, and we were effective. I'm quite happy with the outcome,” he says.
Hegewald says there is more to come for Kitchen Stories and Alexa. For one thing, the team wants to bring their Alexa skill to the US to continue their mission “to shape the digital food space with leading technology and content.”
“The Kitchen Stories skill for Alexa provides inspiration for home cooks, and with the Echo and Echo Show, we’ll continue to build more features to help those cooks succeed,” says Hegewald.
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