Forget Top Chef. The most interesting contest in the kitchen in recent years has been the battle to become the all-in-one cooking appliance.
But what if an entirely different category of cooker won the hearts and minds of consumers as the indispensable kitchen helper? That’s the hope of Khalid Aboujassoum, founder of Else Labs, who makes a little device called the Oliver.
So what exactly is Oliver?
“It’s a smart cooking robot,” said Aboujassoum in an interview with The Spoon.
The kitchen robot is something we’ve been writing about here at the Spoon since early days and, while we all like to envision science fiction futures with a robotic chef cooking for us every night, the only kitchen robots that have found any success so far are uni-taskers like the Rotimatic.
But according to its inventor, Oliver can do much more than one thing really well.
“It’s a recipe library, meal planner, shopping assistant, and expert chef all in one,” said Aboujassoum,
While you wouldn’t exactly call the Thermomix or other digital powered kitchen multicookers “robots”, these appliances are popular with chefs and home cooks alike because they can do so much. And the thing is, they’re adding more functions all the time. The Thermomix recently added shopping capabilities that allows the user to essentially make meal kits and order them on the fly.
But according the Aboujassoum, the major difference between Oliver and the multicooker is how much they can do during the cooking process.
“They (multicookers) are guided cooking,” he said. “The Oliver can do unattended stovetop cooking.”
What he is talking here about just how much a device can do without the consumer being involved. According to Aboujassoum, Oliver can cook the entire meal while the user goes off to take a nap or watch some TV.
“The user basically browses the recipes, selecting a recipe, loads the ingredients and then walks away,” said Aboujassoum.
This is where it’s worth looking at how the Oliver works. The user preloads the prepped ingredients into dispensing chambers that sit on the lid. Once the user selects the recipe on a connected app and hits cook, the Oliver dispenses ingredients into the single pot cooking chamber where a stirring arm mixes the food.
Ultimately, a conversation about unattended vs guided cooking is one about where and when the consumer gets involved in the cooking process. Multicookers like the Thermomix guide a cook through a meal with step-by-step recipes, and can do pretty much everything including chopping and grinding ingredients.
With the Oliver, the unattended part is true but, because it doesn’t have a built-in blade, the user may need to do a little more up front work to prep ingredients in advance and put into the ingredient chambers.
I do think the concept of a home cooking robot is promising. I’m sure there are many busy folks who would be happy to let a robot do the heavy lifting while they go do chores or relax.
Consumers who want to get their own cooking robot will soon be able to back Oliver via crowdfunding. The device will launch on Indiegogo on September 29th and early backers can get in on the appliance for $530.
For those of you who are wary of backing hardware on crowdfunding sites, you might be assured that folks behind Oliver have been working on the product for a good part of a decade (an early generation prototype of the Oliver was on display at Smart Kitchen Summit 2016) and, according to Aboujassoum, the product is ready to go.
“We could have launched two years ago or three years ago,” said Aboujassoum. “We refuse to sell unfinished product. That’s kind of our story, our strategic execution philosophy. And today we are done with the product.”
Aboujassoum said backers of Oliver should expect to get their cooking robot in June of 2021.
With the Oliver hitting the market and the Nymble on its way as well, 2021 could prove an interesting year for cooking robots. Others, like the Gamma Chef, are still in development and could make an appearance.
So hopefully we’ll know soon if the era of unattended cooking is upon us.