Paella has an almost mythic quality about it. Making paella signifies some sort of special event. The dish has its own pan, for goodness sake. I addition to the technical aspects of making paella, there’s an emotional component to it. I mean , just read this bit from Fine Cooking’s paella recipe:
… paella perfection comes about when the person who is cooking it has an almost tangible affection for the dish itself, for the process of making it, and for the people who will be eating it.
If this is true, what happens when there is no person making paella. I don’t mean in a if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest philosophical kind of way. I mean that literally a person isn’t making the dish — is a robot. The Guardian has a story up today about just that — a paella making robot from the startup be robot 5 (br5) and paella stove maker, Mimcook.
The robot automates everything a human cook would do. It adds the rice and stock, mixes, lays in the shrimp and even gets that nice crust good paella is supposed to have. All without, presumably, any tangible affection for what it is making because, well, it’s a robot.
The folks at br5 told The Guardian that its robot is merely an automated assistant. Like other food robots, br5’s machine is meant to take over some of the mundane work associated with restaurants and making food. In fact, the br5 robot is only making paella because it is hooked up to the paella stove. It can work a grill or a fryer just as easily.
We’ve covered plenty of robots that will make you all types of food such as pizza, burgers, tokoyaki and more in the development. But those are all examples of food that is meant to be cooked quickly in high-traffic areas. They can all pump out lots of food consistently around the clock. Br5’s paella bot helps illustrate how sophisticated cooking robots are getting. This arm is doing more than flipping burgers or dunking frozen fries, it’s coordinating a complex, multi-ingredient dish.
Cooking robots are only going to get even more sophisticated. Take Blue Hill Coffee’s robot, for instance. It uses computer vision to “watch” and learn from human baristas. The robot can replicate the same motions as a human and even make latte art. Whether its through computer vision or motion capture, it’s not too long from now that cooking robots will be able to download the movements of famous chefs. This means they will be able to execute more advanced techniques and make even more complex meals. This automated chef replication may be great for our eventual home cooking robots, but how will they play in restaurants?
I think it will ultimately boil down to context and quality. People at the airport probably won’t care if a robot whips up a pizza for them as they rush to make their plane. They just want sustenance. But someone paying top dollar at a fine dining establishment is shelling out that premium for a more individual experience — something that can’t just be replicated the exact same way 400 times in an hour.
Superseding all of this, of course, is whether or not the food is good. People won’t eat bad food, no matter who or what makes it. The robot may not put love into it — but if the food is good people will love eating it.
We’ll be discussing these types of weighty questions around automated artistry and convenience at our upcoming ArticulATE food robotics virtual summit on May 18th. Companies like Karakuri, Yo-Kai Express, Piestro, Mukunda Foods and more will explain their approach to food robotics and what that means for the future of restaurants. Get your ticket today to be a part of the discussion!