When you have a conference focused on the future of food and cooking, people inevitably ask you what the kitchen of the future will look like.
That usually means talking a lot about emerging cooking technologies, new appliances and futuristic kitchen designs — but what if the answer to the question about what happens to the most central room in the home is that, in a world with push-button food delivery, grocery store meal kits and the eventual rise of cooking robots, the kitchen as we know it might cease to exist?
It’s certainly a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few months, so I figured what better question to ask during the opening session of the Smart Kitchen Summit.
When I put the question to Hestan Smart Cooking‘s Jon Jenkins, he said that when framed in pure economic terms, doing away with the kitchen makes lots of sense.
“It’s hard to make any kind of economic case that it makes sense for you to be doing cooking at home if all you’re cooking for is to get food to fill your stomach up,” said Jenkins.
In other words, if a kitchen’s sole purpose is sustenance, there are lots better ways to spend your money than sinking a whole bunch of it into a space that’s almost always the most expensive room in the house.
That’s why, according to Jenkins, the act of cooking and creating food needs to be about more than just putting fuel in the tank.
“We better hope there’s something more that you get from cooking, that there’s some amount of pride in the thing you created,” said Jenkins. “If that’s the thing we manage to enable with these technologies, then I think all have a really bright future.”
According to Dana Cowin, host of the Speaking Broadly podcast and longtime editor of Food & Wine magazine, it’s this emotional connection to cooking that needs to be the focus for those industries with the most to lose.
“What that means is anyone who is invested in appliances, in cooking, in teaching, in gathering, needs to create even more of a movement of explaining what the value is, and really not actually selling the appliance,” said Cowin. “It’s really what is the emotional transaction that happens here because the physical transaction can be so easily replaced.”
Cowin also felt that the most likely evolution path for the kitchen is that it will morph over time to better fit how people use them.
“One of the things to keep in mind is all kitchens and all people are not created equal,” said Cowin. “Right now we have one kitchen model that people plug into. What we’re gonna see with kitchens of the future is lots more flexibility and a reinvention of what that kitchen model looks like.”
So how might the kitchen adapt to changing consumer behavior?
According to Cowin, kitchens in the future will have smaller appliances, have a bigger focus on recycling packaging from delivery, and may even have managed fridges stocked with food from a service provider.
“I can see a kitchen supplied easily by an outsider like a Farmer’s Fridge, except the home version,” said Cowin.
Ultimately, while both panelists felt that more technology in the kitchen is inevitable, the future of cooking and the kitchen itself will depend on how well the technology serves the consumer beyond simply automating tasks.
“Everything we use in the kitchen aside from our hands is technology,” said Cowin. “It’s investing the intellect in the way food is being made rather than pressing the button.”