Darren Vengroff, Chief Scientist for Hestan Cue

Besides fire itself, there’s nothing more old school in the kitchen the good old pot or pan. And while advances such as non-stick surfaces and induction cookware have breathed fresh air into the cookware market every few years or so, the reality is that a pan is still a pan is still a pan.

Or is it?

Well, one way the pan could transform itself is through communicating with other devices around it, at least if cookware giant Meyer has its way. That’s because a few folks within an upstart division within Meyer called Hestan Smart Cooking have been busy at work creating an entirely new product called the Hestan Cue, a system which utilizes a Bluetooth connected pan, an induction burner and an app to orchestrate the entire experience.

At the center of the project is long-time cooking and tech industry veteran Darren Vengroff, who became the new group’s chief scientist when Meyer stealthily acquired his startup Meld last year. The acquisition came just months after Vengroff and his team had had a successful Kickstarter campaign for a Bluetooth connected knob that was retrofitted to existing stoves to add precision cooking capabilities.

As it turns out, Meld’s tech and the team was just the thing Meyer’s leadership felt could help them create a new approach to cookware and possibly cooking itself. We sat down to talk with Darren how he became a part of the Hestan Cue team and what exactly is this thing called guided cooking.

Wolf: How did Meyer end up acquiring Meld?

Vengroff: Last year, Christoph Milz (the Executive Director for Hestan Cue) called me up and he said, “Hey, I’m doing some consulting for Meyer,” which is a very large company that makes cookware under quite a wide variety of brands. He said, “Stanley Cheng, the CEO of Meyer, would like to come up. I’ve been talking to them and would like to come up and see what you’re doing.”

I said, “Sure, great.” This was on a Friday afternoon. They came on Monday. We gave them a little demo of what we were doing. It was interesting. It was Christoph, whom I had obviously known for many years, Stanley Cheng, the CEO of Meyer, and then Philip Tessier, a chef who I have heard of but I have never met before who actually worked for Thomas Keller at Per Se and The French Laundry and had represented the US in the Bocuse d’Or competition.

We talked them through, answered a bunch of questions, and to make a long story short, we shared a lot of common ground on the vision of where smart cooking and what we now call guided cooking was going, and we decided to join forces and Hestan Smart Cooking is the result of that.

Wolf: What is the Hestan Cue?

Vengroff: We’ve been talking a lot about temperature control, and temperature control is a great way to help people be better cooks. I think layered on top of that though is this concept of guiding, which I think is critical in helping build confidence and helping people essentially leveling up their games, so what we have in the app we think of it as sort of a GPS for cooking is the analogue.

You go through it step-by-step and when you get to a step, which in a normal recipe or an old-fashioned recipe would say put the pan on medium, well it says the pan on the induction burner and you do that.

It’s sort of giving out that guidance and also giving you that confidence because you know when you get to the step where the fish hits the pan. When someone like Phil Tessier (United States Bocuse D’or head coach and Hestan culinary director) cooks fish, that’s how it comes out. He knows what he’s doing. Most home cooks don’t cook fish often enough and don’t have the skill to produce that resulted and are intimidated and afraid and won’t try it, but this gives that guidance and confidence and sort of guaranteed results.

Wolf: What makes this system different? 

Vengroff: The idea that it’s a system is kind of the key. The three main components and there is the app with the guidance. There is the cookware with the embedded temperature sensors and the ability to communicate over Bluetooth, and then there’s the induction burner, which can communicate over Bluetooth as well and adjust the heat and power level accordingly.

I think if you had anyone of those things by itself or even any of those, you’re nowhere near what you have with the three put together. That’s how we will sell the system when it comes out as a package like that to get you started. I think once you have that system obviously, you can expand upon it and you can potentially add new things to it that work within the context of the system, but I think you’re absolutely right. The way people cook, they just don’t cook with one thing, right? They cook with a combination of different tools that are in their kitchens. Bringing the right tools together in the right way I think makes a tremendous difference.

Wolf: You guys (Hestan Cue) have the base of the pan, but you also have like base of the pot. I think there can be ultimately a degree of modularity, depending on what type of cooing you’re cooking. Do you think modularity is important?

Vengroff: Yeah, absolutely. We support a variety of different variety, both wet and dry cooking modes, some really cool things actually you can do in the pot that we’ll be talking about in the not-too-distant future. But there is some really interesting stuff that we’re doing there in our test kitchens that we’ll sort of be revealing soon.

But I think you’re right. It’s modular and it’s extendable, and I think it’s not it slices and dices. This one component does everything. I think again going back to where we started in sous vide and where we are now with this, it’s this recognition that certain tools are really good at certain cooking techniques and terrible at others. Let’s take the best of the way people traditionally cook or people with a ton of skill traditionally cook and some of the pieces that will let people up their game.

This post is a shortened and slightly edited version from a transcript of our podcast conversation with Darren Vengroff for the Smart Kitchen Show. You can read the full transcript here