electronic Gourmet Guide

The Computer Chef for Windows

by ESHA RESEARCH, Recipe Management Software.

Reviewed by Steve Holzinger


System requirements....Windows 3.1 (16 bit) PC 386 or better, 21 meg disk space, 8 meg of RAM

I must tell you, as I begin, this is not an impartial review of the ESHA Computer Chef. I have been using ESHA nutritional analysis software since early XT days, both in my computer classes and in my consulting practice. I choose ESHA Research nutritional analysis software then, as I still do now, on the basis of an indisputable basic computing principle, GIGO! Garbage in, garbage out is an inescapable law of computing, and the quality of the information, accuracy, completeness, broad coverage, and reliability is the primary requisite in my mind when choosing a database. It is my personal belief that ESHA Research has always kept this idea on the front burner, and it has a reputation in the industry for the quality of its nutrition data bases.

In the past, Chefs, cooks and serious at home cooks have been hampered in nutritional planning by the lack of an accurate and easy to use nutritional analysis program, that has a professional data base, and is designed to analyze recipes, instead of diets. The Computer Chef for Windows by ESHA Research was designed from the start to be used by chefs and cooks to provide them with accurate nutritional analysis and basic recipe management. This program takes full advantage of the Windows interface to make using the program user friendly. In my experience, it takes a great deal of thought and good programming to make a program that is easy to use. Anyone who knows how to write good recipes will have no problem using this program to do nutritional recipe analysis as well as to manage recipes. The program is easy and quick to use, and gives accurate nutrition analysis; Accurate analysis and ease of use are the primary quality that chefs need as a tool to create healthier recipes. As for recipe management, a distinct plus, there is the ability to create shopping lists; identify cooking methods, temperatures, times and categories; and the ability to scale recipes up and down as well as an easy way to include preparation instructions. You will be able to print recipe cards for any quantity to send into the kitchen for use.

The Recipe Card is just one of four basic reports you can print. You can also print a Composite Report, which provides a good overall nutrient data summary of the recipe. It displays data for all the available nutrients; contains a Source of Calories graph that shows the percentage of calories from protein, carbohydrates, fat, and alcohol; and lists the Food Exchange values for the recipe. I think the inclusion of Food Exchange values is of great value to the chef who wants to give nutritional information on the menu. The Food Exchange method is, in my opinion, probably the best and most easily understood nutrition information for the general public. The Spreadsheet Report shows all the values for all costs and displayed nutrients and indicates any missing values. Information is displayed horizontally, with totals at the bottom of the list. You can use the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen to view all the nutrients. A restaurant can use the Spreadsheet report to list the nutrient information for all their major entrees in a single page. They can just have it available if a customer asks. [Put each entree into the food list (like ingredients for a recipe) and print it. When you make the report for customers, erase the total line.]

The Label Report is one you will value if you do any manufacturing. After you have created your recipe, you may create and print a camera-ready label (mandatory nutrition facts panel). The on-screen Label view is a visual simulation of the printed page. The program currently meets legal requirements for labels, assuming of course your data is exactly correct, and you will get a good idea of what your product label will look like. The documentation was clear and well written, easy to understand and use, with a good index. Also worthwhile, was a one page getting started on "The Basics" card on heavy stock that was easily removed as a cheat sheet. The program was so easy to use that I didn't need it, but some busy chefs who use the program infrequently will find it a welcome convenience.

Best of all, in my view, was the keyword search feature of the program. When you write a recipe using a computer data base of ingredients, the most difficult and time consuming part of the process is finding the ingredients you want to use, in the form you want them. Computer Chef makes it quick and easy to choose from the possible ways an ingredient can be used, count, weight (grams or ounces) or volume measure( cups or metric) . The Computer chef has a number of ways to search. The Keyword search is useful for locating a specific ingredient rather than all ingredients containing a certain name. For example, if you enter SALT and press enter you will get hundreds of entries that include the word "salt," such as "Amaranth-Cooked w/Salt" or "Peanuts-Unsalted." However, if you type SALT and perform a keyword search, you will only locate just salt items, such as "Light Salt" and "Salt Substitute." The Keyword search will give you a selection of "salts," and exclude records that contain phrases such as "unsalted" or "w/salt." The result is a quicker search and a shorter list. Even better, imho, there is Whole Word (Dot) Search. This search is similar to the Keyword search in that it reduces the number of similar ingredients found. However, rather than locating items with designated keywords, this search finds whole words. Typing a period ( . ) after the name initiates the Whole Word search. This is fast and easy to do, and the method I most often use. For example, typing Apple ., will locate such items as "Large Apple w/Peel" and "Dried Apple Rings." In contrast, a Keyword search of Apple would have found items such as "Applesauce" and "Pineapple" in addition to the previous items.You can assign User Codes that are alpha-numeric codes up to 14 characters long that . These may be product codes or inventory codes, for example, which allow you to further identify specific ingredients in a database. They may be assigned both to ESHA foods and to foods that you have added to a database. Once you have assigned user codes to ingredients, you may look those items up by that code. You can also do a Food Group Search allowing you to search for an ingredient in a specific food group, such as Dairy or Vegetables. You may limit your searches to display only ingredients that fit within certain food groups.

This multitude of choices allows you to create your own working style that is quick and accurate, and that is the whole trick to good recipe analysis. Well, not the whole trick...... a good database will allow you to reuse your recipes as ingredients. You wouldn't want to have to recreate stock every time you write a recipe for a soup or a sauce. I saved my Bechamel Sauce recipe as 1 quart. Then, when I wanted to make a recipe for 1 gallon of Mornay Sauce, I used 3 quarts of Bechamel, added cream and two kinds of cheese, and saved it as a quart. Then I added 1 ounce of Mornay to a recipe for Baked Cod Au gratin. I was somewhat disappointed to not be able to find Stock as an ingredient in their data base, or in Bowes and Church , and no bones either! What's a poor chef to do? Well you could use water instead of stock. Frankly, I don't think the nutritional difference would be great....a little protein and fat, that's all. True, but I'm not showing a recipe that says water when I mean stock, and I think you will not either. Its a matter of image more than accuracy. It took me a while to think it through. Then I wrote my recipe for stock, using 1 lb of shin of beef instead of 10 lb of bones. I'll bet it won't be that far off the mark. No data I could find exists for fresh stock, only canned or dry base preparations, so I'll just make my own. I'm doing the same for chicken and fish stock. The important problem will be solved. My recipes will say, "Stock, beef," and the little extra food value will be added. (btw, in data bases, use noun first, adjective second. Things sort better this way. )

This brings me to an important feature of this program. While ingredients of a recipe are usually entered uncooked, the recipe is eaten cooked! This should not be news to anyone, but from a nutritional analysis point of view, it makes a significant difference in the accuracy of your analysis! The Computer Chef "cooks" ingredients for you, before doing analysis, if you choose. When searching for foods, the ingredient selection dialog box may contain indented items below a main food heading, such as in the following examples:

Beef Rib Steak—Broiled Lean
Meas Raw—Boneless
AP Raw w/Bone

Linguini Pasta Noodles-Cooked-Enr
Meas Dry

AP Whole

Meas Dry

If you select one of the indented items, the program will allow you to enter the quantity of the indented measure (AP Raw w/Bone, etc.). The program will then "cook" the item and provide an analysis of the finished product. This is the kind of software design thinking that you can expect from nutrition professionals. You may not find it elsewhere.

The software I used for many years from ESHA Research, the Food Processor for DOS, and its subsequent versions, was primarily focused on doing diet analysis for dietitians. It did that very well, and in addition, I used it for recipe analysis with very few problems. The Computer Chef for Windows is designed to do recipe analysis for cooks and chefs, a different focus. I would like more data on raw foods (they have the best raw foods data base going, so they could do it) and less on prepared foods. ESHA says that there is a large and growing group of users that are using more prepared items, and they need them in the database. From what I have seen, this is true, but not a big problem because the program comes with a utility to repack the database, so as to speed it up after deletions and such. So if you, like me, don't want some items, you can dump them. Chacon a son gout! This is rare in anything but custom jobs, and an example of the overall excellence of the program. Perhaps more importantly, if a food item you want is missing, and you can find it in Bowes and Church or some other source, you can add it to the data base, a big plus. So maybe I'll spend an hour or two "tweaking" the data base, seeing as I can repack it and get rid of the stuff I don't need, and maybe adding an item or new product or two. Most users won't need to, but its good to have the option. I like the idea that I can have my own customized data for very little effort. What you want to put in a database always involves some comprises between different users.

The program has good file and record handling capabilities. The software can be licensed to use on a network, or multiple stations like a computer lab. Special provisions are made for educational institutions, and I can tell you from personal experience as a teacher, that they are very good people to work with. ESHA offers free telephone support to registered users for up to forty five days after purchase. I use e-mail, its fast and cheap. Questions not covered by the documentation or due to software failure are free, but the install was so easy, and the documentation so good that I don't think its a problem. I suggest you turn on Animate Pictures under Preferences as they are fun, unless your graphic card is an old clunker. You can turn them off after a while, but it makes no noticeable difference to me. They will do Nutrient Data Research and Operational or Training sessions. Other data bases of food ingredients are needed, they can be purchased.

This is a program that will not be easily outgrown by even the most demanding nutritional requirements of the professional chef, and yet is easy enough to use for the average person interested in analyzing their own recipes. Usually, the learning curve for a program this powerful is steep. My guess is that most people will have analyzed their first recipe within 15 minutes of opening the box. Given the current wide interest in healthy eating, the Computer Chef provides an accurate professional tool for nutritional analysis of recipes that is much needed by the culinary community, along with a number of worthwhile recipe management tools. It was written by a company with a respected history in nutritional databases, who in the years I have been using their products, have constantly improved and added functionality and speed as the state of the art allowed. I rate this program at four Toque Blanche.


You can order the software from ESHA Research. PO Box 13028 Salem OR 97309, fax 1-503-585 5543. You can call free at 1 800 659 ESHA (3742) The price is $299 and it is available now (1996).


nb: Where a factual description of a feature in the program was needed, I copied it from the documentation, in the interest of accuracy. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own, and I have no financial interest in ESHA. I did receive a copy of the program for evaluation at no cost, which is common for reviewers.

  1. I checked a recipe analysis against the same recipe done in their most advanced nutritional analysis program (data base identifier numbers identical) and there was negligible difference, mostly due to rounding.
  2. Bowes & Church, Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Sixteenth Edition, 1994 revised by Jean A.T. Pennington Ph.D. R.D. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia
  3. idem

© 1996, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.

This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

This page modified February 2007