We have a cooking crisis on our hands.
At least that’s if you believe those who suggest Millennials are not mastering basic physical world skills -- like cooking -- as they wile away the hours staring at screens.
While surveys, including our own, have shown that Millennials are in fact cooking, there’s no doubt they (and my fellow busy Gen-Xers) could benefit from mastering some basic cooking skills. Coming up with reasons for cooking skills education is easy -- you can save money, impress friends, try new kinds of food -- but perhaps the most convincing argument is there’s a growing body of research showing a correlation between cooking at home and better health outcomes over time.
So, if cooking is good for us and society at large, doesn’t it make sense to get young people cooking more? And if so, the question becomes how to do that?
One way is to bring cooking and food information to young people in a format they can appreciate. Buzzfeed and others racking up billions of views monthly by creating highly shareable content in the form of visually fun cooking videos. YouTube and Facebook are enabling the rise of independent content creators as well as food-focused multichannel networks like Tastemade which tap into a growing hunger for food-specific content.
Another idea is teaching kitchens, which have become fashionable in places like Japan. ABC Cooking School has 125 locations in Japan, and the primary customer for the schools are young Japanese women (9 out of 10 students are women) who want to learn basic cooking skills.
But as most of us in the tech world knows, maybe the most surefire way to create more engagement in an activity is to add a layer of gaming to it.
One way to do that is through gamification. Gamification is the concept of adding game dynamics to almost any online activity. Whether it’s in the form of virtual rewards for your bank or badges from that online class you’re taking, most of us have used some form of gamification, and now cooking apps like SideChef are using game dynamics to get consumers cooking.
Then there are actual video games created to increase interest in a given topic. There’s no shortage of basic video games that integrate some cooking concept, from Nintendo’s Cooking Mama series to Overcooked from Steam, but where these games fall short in that they don’t put cooking tools in your hands. While you may be chopping veggies insanely fast on Cooking Mama, this doesn’t directly translate since you can’t use a game controller to make dinner.
But what if we were to make game controllers out of actual cooking tools? In other words, what if the knives, spoons, spatulas, and pans we used to make dinner with became part of the video game itself?
I know it sounds crazy, but bear with me. If you look at other physical crafts like knitting, creators have already started to make the actual craft tool one in the same as the video game controller.
Take Loominary, an open source game where the video game controller is a tabletop loom. The game’s creators created a computer software game that takes inputs from RFID tags on the loom shuttles and then registers choices made by the user as they start weaving on the loom.
You can see Loominary in action below:
Loominary uses RFID tags embedded in loom shuttles, but there’s no reason cooking tools couldn’t also use other sensors much the way today’s smart footballs and basketballs pack in sensors like accelerometers to track performance, speed and technique. Add in things like machine vision -- and there’s no shortage of efforts to layer machine vision with food -- and you may have the makings of an interesting video game concept: making dinner.
Imagine being immersed in a video game where you are egged on by a virtual Top Chef panel of judges as you cook a meal. You can compete against yourself, someone in another city, or against a virtual Heston Blumenthal.
At the end of the game, you not only have a score, but you have a dinner to eat.
While the Tasty One Top isn’t a game platform, there’s no reason it couldn’t be. If the company mapped all those Tasty cooking videos to work with the cooktop, why couldn’t they eventually track behavior and even have competitions for the best rendition of Tasty meals made at home?
And who’s to say you couldn’t combine cooking with virtual reality experiences. I’m sure Apple has thought about how the iPhone X’s augmented reality could be applied in the kitchen.
So maybe cookware companies aren’t gaming companies. But, with increasing investment in software and sensors, the arrival of machine vision and augmented reality, I’m betting some companies will look to create a tasty combination of cooking and gaming to get millennials to put on the cooking apron.